The radicalism of Black Lives Matter

This defiant Black-led youth movement is the first of its kind since the Black freedom struggle of the 1960s. It’s important, however, to see it not only within the history of Black struggle, but within the history — and future — of the Left. Many may associate the U.S. Left and socialist traditions with white male leadership, a focus on class, and a disregard of race, gender and sexuality, but this is inaccurate and incomplete. Black, Latino and Asian-American activists of all genders have participated in Old and New Left traditions for over a century, waging struggles to press anti-imperial, antiracist and feminist consciousness to the forefront of movements for social change. Major leaders of the civil rights movement identified as socialists, most famously Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet for many young activists of color, the word “socialist” still has a white male ring to it, and the Sanders campaign’s initial fumbling with BLM unfortunately revived this older association (…) BLM reflects its generation’s experiences with a punitive state. A distrust of public institutions has generated an anti-statist thrust among many activists. Some in the movement do endorse more traditional reforms—Campaign Zero is heavily policy-oriented—but calls to “deescalate,” “defund” and “disarm” pervade BLM discourse, along with even more radical calls for police and prison abolition. This distrust contrasts with earlier generations of leftists who have tended to see government as a redistributive and progressive force, whether in delivering pensions, clean water, the National Endowment for the Arts or Medicare. However, for a generation raised in an era of social welfare cuts, regressive taxation, endless war-making, militarized police and robust prison expansion, an expansive state has been shown to be a menace.

Martha Biondi in The radicalism of Black Lives Matter (Inthesetimes)