United States: A Rebellion That Shakes the World

By Luis Meiners

We are living through historical times. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets. Statues of Confederate generals and slave traders have been toppled. A gigantic “Black Lives Matter” painted on the street leading to the White House. The rebellion unfolding throughout the United States, triggered by the murder of George Floyd, has acquired a scale and depth that questions the foundations on which the world’s leading power was built.

The images of the rebellion cross the world. They are postcards of the future. In the midst of the pandemic and the crisis, they synthesize many of the characteristics of the world to come. They undoubtedly represent a breaking point in the prospects for class struggle in the United States, and their impact around the world can already be seen. Analyzing this process is essential to understand the characteristics of the new moment that is starting to unfold and prepare ourselves to have a central role in it.

The deep roots

There is deeply rooted racism in the structure of the US state. It is a racist state, which systematically uses its power structures to oppress the African American and Latinx population. This is part of its history since it was built on the basis of the colonial and capitalist system of slavery and on the pillaging and genocide of the native peoples.

Slavery left a structural mark on the functioning of American capitalism that continues to this day. The forms of racial oppression have changed, from slavery to legal segregation, to de facto segregation in which the police system, criminal justice and the prison apparatus play a decisive part. But the oppression has been constant. And this is explained by its organic link with capitalist exploitation.

To subject a section of the population to a higher level of exploitation based on the direct, legalized violence of slavery it was necessary to develop a justification that naturalized inequalities and oppression. Racism, therefore, has its origins in the plantation economy based on slavery with capitalist objectives, within the framework of a capitalist society. It is capital, the ruling class, that produces and reproduces racism.

This has largely survived because of the effect it has on the labor market as a whole. Racism succeeds in dividing the working class, and sustaining greater exploitation over a particularly oppressed section of it. This, in turn, conditions the working class as a whole in its struggle for better wages, better working conditions. Through the threat of competition in the labor market, the ruling class drives racism down, generating divisions in the working class that weaken it as a whole.

In short, US capitalism is based on a particular combination of racial oppression and class exploitation. This means that police violence must be understood as an expression of these deeply rooted racist structures. The police institution is even heir to the police forces of the plantation owners. It has been and still is the executive arm of racial segregation and oppression.


The first element to be noted is the scope of this rebellion. After its start in Minneapolis, it has grown into a national anti-racist and anti-police movement, which has developed actions in hundreds of cities around the country. They are much more than protests, it is a massive rebellion, involving hundreds of thousands of people. The Black youth is its main protagonist, but it has a multiracial composition with a prominent role of youth in general.

It has demonstrated, once again, the importance of the Black Liberation movement as the vanguard of the entire working class in the United States. The trotskyist CLR James, through an analysis of the role of this struggle in US history, pointed out that “this independent Negro movement is able to intervene with terrific force upon the general social and political life of the nation, despite the fact that it is waged under the banner of democratic rights (…) it is able to exercise a powerful influence upon the revolutionary proletariat, that it has got a great contribution to make to the development of the proletariat in the United States, and that it is in itself a constituent part of the struggle for socialism ”[1].

Another key element to characterize this rebellion is its relationship with the broader context. In the immediate term, it is essential to point out that the anger we are seeing is to a large degree due to the disastrous response of the Trump government towards the pandemic. With more than 100,000 deaths, the pandemic exposed the enormous inequalities of the capitalist system in the United States. It demonstrated how African-American, working-class, Latinx communities are the ones that have the worst access to health care, that are most exposed to the virus, that have the worst living conditions, the highest risk jobs. So the fury against these inequalities is at the heart of this rebellion that we are witnessing. There is a common thread between the struggles that began during the pandemic and the current rebellion. A significant number of strikes developed throughout the country. They were mainly driven by essential workers, jobs in which Latinx and Black people are disproportionately represented. In Amazon, in supermarkets, in the nurses union. They announced the rise in class struggle that we are seeing today.

In terms of a more general context, it is necessary to recover the experience of the last decade. There have been important changes in the level of consciousness and in the class struggle in the US that have their origins in the crisis of 2008, and movements such as Occupy and Black Lives Matter. There has also been a process of radicalization, especially among youth, with millions who consider themselves socialists. Trump’s election further polarized and produced major mobilizations against his government. Sanders’ campaigns have been a product of this process and have also acted on it. These processes have undoubtedly overlapped with the current situation and explain much of its strength and radicality. There is an accumulated experience with the responses of the state to the demands of the mobilization, which leads them to a deeper questioning of the structure as a whole. This can only be understood in light of previous events.

The response of the state

Faced with this scenario, the state has deployed a fierce repressive policy. More than 10,000 people have been arrested since the protests began. The National Guard has been mobilized in 40 states. There have been curfews in many cities. Democratic governors and mayors have played a central role in this as they govern many of the epicenters of protest such as Minneapolis and New York.

Trump has shown himself as the president of “law and order”, being the main spokesman for a repressive solution to the crisis. He explicitly targets the left and the anti-fascist sectors, whom he has threatened to label as a terrorist organization. He also threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act that allows him to mobilize federal troops. In Washington DC, a district under federal authority, he carried out a repression that involved various federal forces.

However, for the moment this strategy has failed. It strengthened the protest, exposed Trump to harsh criticism from the international community, and the force of the mobilization fractured the unity of the bourgeois state apparatus necessary for it to be successful. Both the Secretary of Defense and prominent figures in the pentagon openly criticized Trump’s position. Renowned figures in the Republican Party such as George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, Collin Powell and others, joined the criticism of the president and some directly expressed that they will not support Trump’s re-election. Finally many of the curfews have had to be lifted, and the National Guard withdrawn from Washington. In Minneapolis, a project is underway to dismantle the local police, which, beyond its limitations, is an immense indicator of the strength of the movement.  

In this situation, the Democratic Party has become the central instrument of the attempt to institutionalize the protest, channeling demands into the labyrinth of formal democracy and elections and dismantling the most radical proposals coming from the streets. As its mayors and governors crack down on the protests, democratic lawmakers have staged a scene, kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in tribute to George Floyd before introducing an extremely moderate police reform bill. Their presidential candidate Joe Biden, who had said it is necessary to train the police to shoot to the knees instead of shooting to kill, met with religious leaders from the African American community and with George Floyd’s family. At the same time, spokespersons for his campaign confirmed that the former vice president rejects the idea of ​​defunding the police. In short, the Democrats have once again demonstrated their vital service to the regime as a “graveyard for social movements”, even though their attempts to freeze the rebellion have not yet been successful.

A new stage and an urgent task

The rebellion has opened a new stage in the class struggle. Although we will have to continue debating and analyzing the depth of this change in light of the evolution of events, we can say with certainty that nothing will be the same. We are entering a period where budget cuts and austerity policies are at the top of the agenda of the regime’s priorities. This will undoubtedly generate struggles and resistance. It is qualitatively different that we enter this moment with this rebellion as a framework. It has strengthened the working class and oppressed sectors as a whole.

The rebellion has shown how mass movement actions can qualitatively alter the terms of the political debate. Demands that seemed impossible, such as defunding and dismantling the police, have become concrete demands and achievable goals. It has awakened a new wave of radicalization and an important advance in consciousness. This impact is not limited to the borders of the United States. We have seen how hundreds of thousands in the world have taken to the streets.

This new moment raises the urgency of the task of building a revolutionary party. It has highlighted the limits of the reformist sectors. Sanders and other “progressives” have lagged far behind the events. The DSA, which is the largest left-wing organization in the United States with around 70,000 members nationally, has also lagged behind the role it should have. Beyond the individual participation of its members, it has not had an organized presence in the protests. This also speaks to us of the limits of the DSA, which is centrally oriented towards elections and is not a party that is organized to intervene in class struggle.

It is essential to be part of this fight, and to connect the demand for Justice for George Floyd, with the fundamental structural transformations that are necessary so that this does not happen again, such as the dismantling of the racist police. Simultaneously, the need to fight to build an organization that lives up to the moment is an urgent task. There is a huge opening to advance socialist ideas, and get thousands to join the fight for a world without racism, without exploitation. Those of us who share the need to fight for this perspective must begin by grouping ourselves together, forming an organization on shared strategic bases, from which to actively participate in the class struggle and in the debates of socialist activism. The challenges of the moment are enormous, so are the opportunities. We are living in a historical moment, let’s make history.

[1] J. Meyer (pseudonym CLR James): The revolutionary answer to the Negro problem in the United States. Available in English at  https://www.marxists.org/archive/james-clr/works/1948/revolutionary-answer.htm