Two members of the Black bourgeoisie - LeBron James poses next to Barack Obama while holding an Obama basketball jersey.
Two members of the Black bourgeoisie - LeBron James poses next to Barack Obama while holding an Obama basketball jersey.

The Role of the Black Bourgeoisie in Coopting Our Movements

This past week there was an extraordinary demonstration of bold militant action from professional athletes to speak out against police terror against the African masses.  The National Basketball Association (NBA) called off its playoff games.  Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Football League (NFL), Major League Soccer (MLS), individual tennis players, and even the National Hockey League (NHL) called off games, matches, and practices.  As Sekou Ture told us years ago, these things happened because the athletes, being nothing more than conduits of the desires of the masses of people, felt compelled to act because the masses of people are acting.  In other words, its pretty safe to say that if there were no mass demonstrations against police terror, the actions from the major sports leagues would never have happened.

And, those mass protests themselves always start out with a strong and uncompromising militancy.  That spirit was felt at the 57 year commemoration of the original March on Washington held on August 28, 2020, just like it was felt at the first march in 1963.  Despite the spreading of false narratives to define these protests as exercises in “rioting and looting,” by the capitalist system’s propaganda mechanisms, millions of people are apparently willing to openly support these protests.  This is good because it proves that most people are refusing to accept the backward analysis that murdering protesters to protect property is OK, while damaging property to protest murder is an unforgivable act. 

Still, there is a very insidious, almost invisible to the naked untrained eye, process taking place that always takes place whenever there is mass resistance to oppression.  In the 1963 March on Washington, the spirit was one not very different than the spirit being articulated today.  Two hundred and fifty thousand people descended upon D.C. in August 1963.  Up until the Million Man March in 1995, that 1963 event was the largest ever held on the Washington D.C. Mall.  People sold their belongings in 63 to get to that march.  The reason they did this was because they had an uncompromising desire to see freedom resonate everywhere that we as human beings take breath.  And, the original make up of the march was designed to ensure that mass militancy had voice.  The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had a very militant speech planned that contained clear references to the class question of “the haves and have nots” being the primary contradiction in perpetuating white supremacist policies and actions in this country.  For any public speech, especially by an African organization, to express an open challenge to capitalism in 1963, during the height of the cold war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, was unthinkable.  Yet, SNCC was prepared, as they always were, to step into that historic role.  Writer James Baldwin was to be touted as one of the main speakers.  And, calls from all over the country were being made louder and louder for the march to focus on challenging wealth disparities and a plan for the disruption of systemic white supremacy.  This was in 1963.  And, the question many will be asking is “if we were talking about the exact same things 60 years ago, why are we still talking about those same things today?”

A fundamentally sound response to that question can be found in looking at the role of the African bourgeoisie/petite-bourgeoisie.  By Bourgeoisie we mean those class elements within the African community who serve as either the spokespersons for the capitalist ruling classes (bourgeoisie) and/or the classes of African people who serve as capitalist’s middle level managers (petite-bourgeoisie).  These elements of African people benefit from aligning themselves politically with the capitalist system, but this system of class struggle is extremely complex.  Its actually quite common for many of these bourgeoisie spokespersons, for example, to speak regularly about African upliftment, even to have programs allegedly committed to achieving this objective, while in actuality, their primary focus is on integrating as many of us into the system as possible.  What doing this accomplishes is to preserve the sanctity and security of capitalism by eliminating militant action that would potentially threaten the ability of the capitalist system to continue to function unabated.

For the 1963 March on Washington what happened is the Kennedy Administration, being the liberal voice for that branch of the capitalist bourgeoisie class, became increasingly concerned about the moderate elements of the march planning process losing control of the message.  As a result, the administration scheduled a series of meetings with the national Black bourgeoisie civil rights leadership to “order” them to get the march under control.  By national Black bourgeoisie leadership we mean Roy Wilkins, the then Executive Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Whitney Young, the National Director of the National Urban League. (NUL).  Although each organization, particularly the NAACP, have reputations for the local chapters being often much more militant than the national leadership, in the case of Wilkins and Young, neither ever saw a statement for African self-determination that they liked unless it was endorsed by the capitalist class leadership.

So Young and Wilkins led the charge, at the orders of their puppet masters, to strive towards influencing Dr. Martin Luther King and others to submit to changes in the march format designed to soften the message.  By others, we mean primarily the so-called “big six” i.e. the leaders of the major civil rights movements of that time.  Those six were Young (NUL), Wilkins (NAACP) King (Southern Christian Leadership Conference – SCLC), John Lewis (SNCC), A. Philip Randolph (several organizations over the years), and James Farmer (Congress of Racial Equality – CORE). 

A number of meetings were held, some of which reportedly had participation from members of Kennedy’s administration.  And, ultimately, the six leaders came to a point where several compromises were made.  I say compromise because what we know is there was resistance offered against smashing the militancy of the people made by Lewis of SNCC and even King, but eventually, as the threat of sponsors pulling out and losing the support of the Kennedy administration, these reductions were accepted.  As a result, those 250,000 never heard the militant message of challenging and potentially dismantling the capitalist system.  Instead, they heard a vastly censored speech by Lewis that, despite the deep cuts to the spirit of his speech, ended up being by far the most militant statement of the day.  James Baldwin, a person of integrity who would never accept censorship of what he wanted and needed to say, was removed from the program at the direct request of the Kennedy administration.  He was replaced by the moderate put you to the sleep speech given by actor Burt Lancaster.  And, today, what is most remembered about a day originally designed to showcase the determination of a quarter of a million people to express the demand from the masses for a complete overhaul of this backward system, is a tame speech by Dr. King i.e. “I have a Dream!”  For anyone who actually studies Dr. King, and by study I mean reading his books and studying his work in the SCLC, you know that speech was easily one of his lightest. 

Yet today in 2020 and beyond, that speech King delivered has been paraded in front of us for the last almost 60 years as the groundbreaking statement of the civil rights movement.  Countless multi-national corporations will include portions of that speech in their advertisements.  And, today, people who 100% opposed everything King stood for during and after his lifetime, readily mischaracterize his words and actions to serve their anti-people agendas.  And, central to their ability to accomplish this is us understanding the role these Black bourgeoisie like Young and Wilkins played then, and continue to play today, in selling out the militant and justified aspirations of the people. 

And, those NBA players, who came very close to voting to cancel the entire rest of their season, something that would have been an overwhelmingly powerful act, instead will presumably resume playing this weekend or soon.  And apparently it was that prince of Black bourgeoisie politics – Barack Obama – who helped convince these NBA players such as LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, etc., to return to the court.  So, thanks to Obama’s influence, instead of a militant direct action, what we are left with is NBA arenas being set up as voting centers.  Centers that give us the option of choosing an ignorant fascist or a neo-liberal.  Centers that ask us to accept that a former prosecutor, who has played a hand in incarcerating countless numbers of African and other poor people, is now going to do something to bring us closure to police terrorism against us.  Maybe those people believe locking us up is progress beyond just killing us on the street?

The original comment in this piece about the Black bourgeoisie is that their primary loyalty is, and will always be, to the capitalist system.  Their job is to continue to convince us that the only problem we have is that we just have not worked hard enough, or even received enough support and incentives, to properly integrate ourselves into the capitalist system.  As a result, the Black bourgeoisie preside over programs and actions designed to further facilitate us putting into place mechanisms to supposedly quicken our capacity to just buy that piece of capitalism that has eluded us for 500+ years.  From Young and Wilkins to Obama, the snake oil being sold to us is that our acceptance and ability to function effectively in capitalism is just around the corner.  That same corner we have been turning for centuries.  They are the rabbit in front of the dog racers.  And, they will never entertain the reality that all the wealth here exists on stolen land with stolen resources, meaning even the few of us who will advance on personal levels through this system still do so while stepping on the necks of African people in other parts of the world.  This Black bourgeoisie is trained well enough by this system to understand that in squashing our militant spirit, they will effectively wipe out our continued political maturation, thus eliminating any chances of us stumbling towards the type of international analysis of imperialism just mentioned. 

After months of militant protests, what we are primarily left with today is reliance on the bourgeoisie neo-liberal Democratic Party of mass incarcerators and international terrorists.  And, this is supposed to be the platform that will bring us forward progress?  And, for the most part, the only rationale being offered for why we should support this sham is to prevent a fascist from remaining in office.  From a dialectical analysis, it can easily be argued that we would not have this level of political unsettledness if the current fascist was not where he is.  People would not be seeing these contradictions at all if smooth Obama was still there, despite the fact police weren’t murdering any less of us during the Obama years. 

Kwame Ture’s statement that true liberation only happens through “the power of the organized masses” is ill refutable.  We have to get people to see that freedom is not like Uber Eats.  It cannot be delivered to you.  To achieve it, you have to be engaged in that process.  It won’t happen until you happen.  Until we can get people to recognize that reality, the Black Bourgeoisie, including the next generation of them after Obama, will continue to derail us with their empty promises of inclusion, all while they make sure to play their house slave role in ensuring that the rebellious slaves remained contained on the plantation.  

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Ahjamu Umi is revolutionary organizer with the All African People's Revolutionary Party, adviser, and liberation literature author.