Sunday, January 17, 2010

Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Time to Break Silence, Democratic Socialist

A Time to Break Silence

This is a must read/listen By Rev. Martin Luther King

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world
revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We
must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a
"person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and
property rights are considered more important than people, the giant
triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being
(Click on:


Martin Luther King, Jr., Democratic Socialist

By Paul Street
ZNet Commentary: January 14, 2006

One of the many disturbing characteristics of dominant American ideology is
the way it deletes radical-democratic beliefs from the official memory of
certain acknowledged great historical personalities.

How many Americans know that the celebrated scientist Albert Einstein (voted
the "Man of the 20th Century" by Time Magazine) was a self-proclaimed
leftist who wrote an essay titled "Why Socialism" for the first issue of the
venerable Marxist journal Monthly Review ?(1)

Probably about as many as who know that Helen Keller (typically recalled as
an example of what people can attain through purely individual initiative or
"self-help") was a radical fan of the Russian Revolution (2).

Or that Thomas Jefferson despised the developing state capitalism of the
late 18th and early 19th centuries, warning that it was creating a new
absolutism of concentrated power more dangerous than the one Americans
rebelled against in 1776 (3).

We might also consider the all-too deleted radical egalitarianism of an
itinerant Mediterranean-Jewish peasant named Jesus. Jesus rejected the
dominant classist cultural norms of his time by advocating and practicing
open commensality (the shared taking of food by people of all classes,
races, ethnicities, and genders) and by sharing material and spiritual gifts
across the interrelated hierarchies of social and geographical place? As
biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan notes, he saw the "Kingdom of God" as
"a community of radical equality*unmediated by established brokers or fixed
locations" (4).

Along the way, Jesus is reputed to have said that it was easier for a camel
to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter that
kingdom. He condemned the personal accumulation of earthly treasures and
made it clear that God was no respecter of rich persons.. He insisted that
one must serve either God or Mammon and pronounced the poor blessed and
inheritors of the earth (5).

Such radical sentiments are largely absent from the vapid, falsely
comforting, reactionary, and institutionalized twaddle that has so long
passed for "Christianity" in corporate America.

Another example of this radical historical whitewashing is provided by
America's own Martin Luther King, Jr., whose "I Have a Dream" speech is
routinely broadcast and praised across the land on the national holiday
named for him. In the official, domesticated version of King's life, the
great civil rights leader sought little more than the overthrow of Jim Crow
segregation and voting rights for blacks in the U.S. South. Beyond these
victories, the "good Negro" that American ideological authorities wish for
King to have been only wanted whites to be nicer to a select few
African-Americans - giving some small number of trusted blacks highly
visible public positions (Secretary of State?), places on the Ten O'Clock
News Team....the right to manage a baseball team and/or an occasional
Academy Award and/or their own television show.

How many Americans know that King was rather unimpressed by his movement's
mid-1960s triumphs over southern racism (and his own 1964 Nobel Prize),
viewing the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts as relatively partial and
merely bourgeois accomplishments that dangerously encouraged mainstream
white America to think that the nation's racial problems "were automatically
solved"? How many know that King considered these early victories to have
fallen far short of his deeper objective: advancing social, economic,
political, and racial justice across the entire nation (including its
northern, ghetto-scarred cities) and indeed around the world?

How many Americans know about the King who followed the defeat of open
racism in the South by "turning North" in an effort to take the civil rights
struggle to a radical new level?

It was one thing, this King told his colleagues, for blacks to win the right
to sit at a lunch counter. It was another thing for black and other poor
people to get the money to buy a lunch.

It was one thing, King argued, to open the doors of opportunity for some few
and relatively privileged African-Americans. It was another thing to move
millions of black and other disadvantaged people out of economic despair.
It was another and related thing to dismantle slums and overcome the deep
structural and societal barriers to equality that continued after public
bigotry was discredited and after open discrimination was outlawed.

It was one thing, King felt, to defeat the overt racism of snarling
southerners like Bull Connor; it was another thing to confront the deeper,
more covert institutional racism that lived beneath the less openly bigoted,
smiling face of northern and urban liberalism.

It was one thing. King noted, to defeat the anachronistic caste structure of
the South. It was another thing to attain substantive social and economic
equality for black and other economically disadvantaged people across the
entire nation (6).

How many Americans know about the King who linked racial and social
inequality at home to (American) imperialism and social disparity abroad,
denouncing what he called "the triple evils that are interrelated":
"racism, economic exploitation, and war"? "A nation that will keep people
in slavery for 244 years," Kind told the Southern Christian Leadership
Council (SCLC) in 1967, "will 'thingify' them --- make them things.
Therefore they will exploit them, and poor people generally, economically.
And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign
investments and everything else, and will have to use its military might to
protect them. All of these problems are tied together" (7).

How many Americans have been encouraged to know the King who responded to
America's massive assault on Southeast Asia during the 1960s by pronouncing
the U.S. government "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today"
(8), adding (in words that George W. Bush ought to give George W. Bush
pause) that America had no business "fighting for the so-called freedom of
the Vietnamese people when we have not put even our own [freedom] house in
order?" (9)

In words that holding haunting relevance for George W. Bush's supposedly
divinely mandated war on Iraq, King proclaimed that "God didn't call
American to do what she's doing in the world now. God didn't call America
to engage in a senseless, unjust war, [such] as the war in Vietnam."

"And we," King added,"are criminals in that war. We have committed more war
crimes almost than any other nation in the world and we won't stop because
of our piide, our arrogance as a nation" (10).

How many know that King said a nation (the U.S.) "approach[ed] spiritual
death" when it spent billions of dollars feeding its costly, cancerous
military industrial complex" while masses of its children lived in poverty
in its outwardly prosperous cities (11)?

How many know the King who said that Americans should follow Jesus in being
"maladjusted" and "divine[ly] dissatisifed...until the the tragic walls that
separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty
and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of
justice.... until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history and every
family is living in a decent home...[and] men will recognize that out of one
blod God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth"? (12)

How many know the King who told the SCLC that "the movement must address
itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society.
There are forty million poor people," King elaborated for his colleagues.
"And one day we must ask the question, 'Why are there forty million poor
people in America?' And when you beging to ask that question, you are
riasing questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of
wealth. When you ask that question you begin to question the capitalistic

"We are called upon," King told his fellow civil rights activists, ''to help
the discouraged beggars in life's marketplace. But one day," he argued, "we
must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
It means that [radical] questions must be raised.....'Who owns the
oil'...'Who owns the iron ore?'...'Why is it that people have to pay water
bills in a world that is two-thirds water?' (13)

How many know that King was a democratic socialist who thought that only
"drastic reforms" involving the "radical reconstruction of society itself"
could "save us from social catastrophe" ? Consistent with Marx and contrary
to bourgeois moralists like Charles Dickens, King argued that "the roots" of
the economic injustice he sought to overcome "are in the [capitalist] system
rather in men or faulty operations" (14)

Interestingly enough, the fourth officially de-radicalized historical
character mentioned in this essay (King) saw through the conservative
historical whitewashing of the third (Jesus). Here's how King described
Jesus at the end of an essay published eight months after the civil rights
leader was assassinated: "A voice out of Bethlehem two thousand years ago
said that all men are equal....Jesus of Nazareth wrote no books; he owned no
property to endow him with influence. He had no friends in the courts of
the powerful. But he changed the course of mankind with only the poor and
the despised."

King concluded this final essay, titled "A Testament of Hope," with a
strikingy radical claim, indicating his strong identification with society's
most disadvantaged and outcast persons. "Naive and unsophisticated though
we may be," King said, "the poor and despised of the twentieth century will
revolutionize this era. In our 'arrogance, lawlessness, and ingratitude,'
we will fight for human justice, brotherhood, secure peace, and abundance
for all" (15).

If I hadn't known better the first time I read that phrase, I might have
attributed it to Eugene Debs.

Paul Street ( is currently teaching a course on the history
of the civil rights movement at Northern Illinois University and is the
author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11
(www.paradigmpublishers, 2004) and Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid
in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York, NY: Routledge, 2005).


1. Paul Street, "Einstein: Socialist of the Century," In These Times
(February 21, 2000).

2. James Loewn, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History
Text Got Wrong (NY, 1995), pp. 10-12, 22, 222.

3. Noam Chomsky, Power and Prospects: Reflections on Huiman Nature and the
Social Order (Boston, 1996), pp. 72, 87-89.

4. John Dominic Crossan. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (NY, 1995), p. 101
(quote) and passim.

5. Mathew 19:20-24, 6:19, 6:24.

6. Martin Luther King, Jr., " A Testament of Hope," Playboy (January 1969),
reproduced in King, The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther
King, Jr (NY, 1986), p. 322; Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From
Here (NY, 1967); David J. Garrow, Bearing the Vross: Martin Luther King, Jr.
and the Southern Christian Leadership Council (NY, 1986), pp. 420-624.

7. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Where Do We Go From Here?", speech published
as "New Sense of Direction" in Worldviews, 15 (April 1972).

8. Martin Luther King, Jr., "A Time to Break the Silence," 1967 speech to
Riverside Church published in Freedomways, 7 (Spring 1967).

9. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,"
Congressional Record 114 (9 April 1968): 9395-9397.

10. Martin Luther King, Jr., "The Drum Major Instinct," February 4th 1968
speech, in King, A Testament of Hope, p. 265

11. King, "A Time to Break the Silence."

12. Martin Luther King, Jr., "The Power of Nonviolence," Intercollegian
(May 1958); "Where Do We Go From Here?"

13. King, "Where Do We Go From Here?"

14. King, "A Testament of Hope;" Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of
Conscience (NY, 1967); Garrow, Bearing the Cross, pp. 591-592; Michael Eric
Dysoan, I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr. (NY,
2000), 87-88.

15. "A Testament of Hope"

No comments:

Post a Comment