We are taught every day to view the state as neutral. However, the capitalist state—not just who you vote for, but the whole machinery of the state, from the army recruiter at the local high school, to the manager at the unemployment office, to the local politician who tries to calm the masses after the latest police shooting, to the cop who gives you a ticket for asking for a swipe at the subway—the capitalist state is a tool of the capitalist class, the class of business owners.
Just like the state under slavery was a state of the slaveholding class, just like the state under feudalism was a state of the feudal landlord class… in this same way, the state under capitalism is a state of the capitalist class. The capitalist state is not neutral. The notion that the state is neutral—for example, that the role of the police is to protect and serve us—is a myth. The role of the police is to protect and serve the mainly white capitalist class. We can see this if we look at class societies from the past: no one would claim that the troops of some medieval king were neutral between the king and the lowest peasants. It is just as absurd to think that the police are neutral between the dominant class and the masses.
In capitalism, the police have a special role. The police are the sharp stick that the capitalist class uses to keep us in our place so that exploitation can occur. Keeping us in our place allows the capitalist class to reproduce the capitalist system, to keep exploiting us.
What do we mean by ‘exploitation’? The capitalist class lives off the labor of workers, just like the slaveholding class lived off the labor of slaves and the feudal lords of the Middle Ages lived off the labor of peasants. ‘Exploitation’ refers to one part of society appropriating for itself the labor of another part of society. This means that capitalism, like slavery and feudalism, is constituted out of the struggle between opposed classes. Workers and capitalists relate to each other only as antagonists: we see this in continuous struggles over wages, over hours, over benefits, over sick leave, over equal pay, over layoffs.
However, our society is not just capitalist, but also white supremacist. The capitalist system itself has been built on the oppression of the Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Native American and various Pacific Islander nations.
The Black national question is closely linked to the class struggle. Blacks have served as a social caste within the confines of the Euro-American capitalist state. This has prevented the Black nation from developing a class structure in anything but a mutilated and incomplete way. Today, oppression of the Black nation is visible in its class composition, marked by a strong working class and a weak capitalist class. We also see oppression of the Black nation in the highly disproportionate imprisonment, harassment and police brutality directed against it. National oppression of Blacks has been an essential means through which the working class has been concretely reproduced and reconfigured to meet the needs of US capital.
What this amounts to is that working class Blacks are subjected to a double oppression:
(1) National oppression
— There is oppression by the dominant Euro-American nation’s ruling class against the Black nation as a whole.
— There is a regime of exploitation by the capitalist class against the multinational working class.
Many of the attacks on the masses in general begin with concentrated attacks on the Black nation in particular. Such attacks have included the dismantling of social benefits, deregulation of the labor market and rise of the prison state. The capitalist state has dismantled welfare and other social benefits through a series of racist campaigns that represent Black women as lazy. The capitalist state has extended the reach of the prison state through a series of racist campaigns that represent Black men as violent. The capitalist state has attacked organized labor through a series of racist campaigns that represent the mainly Black and brown working class as selfish.
These attacks are concentrated on the Black nation and other oppressed nations, which suffer their effects most intensely, but the result is that the broad masses as a whole are weakened. Mass imprisonment, weak labor and reduced social benefits affect us all. It is thus in the interest of all sections of the masses, of whatever nationality, to struggle for full equality and for the right to self-determination for the Black nation and all oppressed nations. Divisions between us only strengthen the class enemy, which always aims to turn objective contradictions between us into subjective contradictions that prevent us from growing our power.
At the same time, liberation of the Black nation can only be fragmentary and partial in the current state of the class struggle, dominated as it is by the capitalist class. The full democratic right of the Black nation to self-determination, up to and including formation of a separate Black state, can only be genuinely realized through the overthrow of the capitalist state, and this requires broad alliances between all layers of society who have an interest in socialist revolution.
The state, with the violent institution of the police at its core, exists to keep us in our place so that capitalists can live off our labor. Our task, the task of the masses, is to destroy the very places in which that system imprisons us. We can begin to take up that task by forming struggle committees that defend the people in our daily encounters with police violence, landlord evictions, mass layoffs, social service cuts, etc., and link these issues to a protracted struggle for power.