a publication of The Claremont Institute
By Matthew J. Peterson
September 1 2020
The revolution is the point.
A history that should never have been forgotten has long since been lost. It is time to refresh our memories. Black Lives Matter (BLM) does not represent the old Civil Rights Movement. It does not seek equality under the law. And it does not intend to stop until it overthrows the very idea and structure of America as we’ve known it. Under increasing pressure to acknowledge the dawning reality to which Americans are increasingly waking up, Joe Biden has finally said that looting and arson are, in fact, bad. But Pandora’s box has already been opened. The Democrats’ Vice-Presidential nominee, Kamala Harris, put us on notice in June: “everyone beware—because they’re not gonna stop…everyone should take note of that…they’re not gonna let up, and they should not—and we should not.”
What has been forgotten—perhaps because it is often purposely hidden—is that Antifa and BLM both were born from a peculiarly American form of radical and violent Marxism. The actual word used to describe this ideology is in one sense not important: understanding how those who lead and fund these groups think is what matters. In fact, as soon as one uses the word “Marxism” today, the activists and intellectuals begin scoffing in disdain.
One of the oddities of our time is the staleness of our political rhetoric. This is likely due to the fact that America today includes a greater percentage of older people than it did at any previous time in history. Much of the political language of both Republicans and Democrats is drawn from the Cold War. But it has lost its salience, particularly for those under 50.The American Right has long charged the American Left with covert Marxism. The young yawn at this, but it is unclear if they know what the charge even means. The Very Sure People in the upper middle class now double down in denial or worse, contradicting in speech what we see with our own eyes happening across America. In oh-so-educated, scoffing tones they remark: “These protests are not led by violent radicals. Everyone knows the violence comes from white nationalists. Antifa doesn’t exist. BLM hardly exists as one united front. BLM is not Marxist—how silly. This is the modern-day Civil Rights Movement. Don’t be on the wrong side of history.”
Besides, says the conflict-averse objector in our heads, the average Democrat is not a Marxist—in fact, the Democratic Party is now the party of American oligarchs—and Marxism in America is generally a watered-down version of anything recognizably Soviet or CCP.
This is true as far as it goes. But not in the case of Black Lives Matter.
The big foundations in America have been funding violent leftist radicals for a long time, and they too are now doubling down—not in denial, like many well-meaning but ignorant or cowardly Americans are, but in their payments to those willing to foment civic unrest. Most Americans still do not realize that what is now occurring on American soil is not an organic civil rights movement, but an elite-funded effort to destabilize the American way of life as we’ve known it: the complete overhaul of the principles of our justice system to put group “identities” above equal individual rights, the erosion of private property and private education, and the destruction of traditional families and moral culture.
The American media—and many politicians on the American Right—have failed to point out to the American people that BLM was created and is led by radical Marxist racialists. Their heroes and teachers are the violent radicals of the 1960s and ’70s. As Murray Bessette points out in “Listen When They Tell You Who They Are“, we know this because they tell us so. They call themselves “trained Marxists.” This doesn’t mean that they merely propose left-leaning economic policies like free healthcare for all. Instead, as Bessette says, they want to destroy the family and abolish private education and private property along with the police.
Most Americans still have no idea what they actually stand for. Since America is not racist, most people support the idea that black lives matter, because they believe that in America, all lives matter. But their own lack of racism is being used as a weapon against them. BLM and its elite backers reject both the old civil rights movement and America itself.
Even their main public policy prescription, now written in towering letters on our city streets—”defund the police”—does not reflect the views of over 80% of Black America. Yet BLM and friends now have hundreds of millions of dollars at their command, if not more, and some polls this summer reveal they have become more popular than our major political parties. How did this happen?
The Old Left Raised BLM From Birth
The fact that versions of Marxism have tried to make inroads in America for over a century is a matter of history, not conspiracy theory. Socialism was making inroads in America in the early part of the last century; the success of presidential candidates like Eugene Debs turned the Democratic party leftward as Democratic party figures like Franklin Delano Roosevelt sought to corral their vote. In frustration, the hard Left worked for decades on new ways to radicalize America.
As Mike Gonzalez reveals in the selection he’s graciously allowed us to publish from his new book, The Plot to Change America: How Identity Politics is Dividing the Land of the Free, Marxist intellectuals made the shift from “Marxism based on economic classes (the worker v. the bourgeois) into one based on immutable characteristics such as race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation and even disability status” early in the last century. And they brought this version of Marxism to America; their leading intellectuals like Herbert Marcuse “personally tutored the Black Panther leader Angela Davis.” The same Angela Davis whom Edward Luttwak tells us in “The End of the Long March” he saw gladly “participating in a Soviet Cold War propaganda operation” in Finland in the 1960s. The same Angela Davis who owned the weapons used in acts of domestic terrorism in 1970 is a hero and mentor to the founders of BLM.
There are many such cases. The BLM movement and their ideas, as Luttwak explains, arise from “the Old Hard-Core Left, a.k.a. the ‘red diaper’ children and grandchildren and even great-grandchildren of the Stalinist stalwarts of the Communist Party of America, who had themselves been driven to hide below the rocks by the just-in-time McCarthy persecution that removed Communists from public life and the trade unions, making it possible for the United States to mobilize for the Cold War.” It wasn’t until “the late 1970s, when finally, at long last, Marxism could sell,” in part because “the combined effects of globalization and structural change…started impoverishing the less educated half of the American population.”
During that time, as Luttwak describes, “a new generation of the Old Hard-Core Left had finally found the weak flank of American society which they could penetrate, subvert, and then dominate: the teaching staff of America’s colleges and universities.” Besides switching out class for race and other identities as the new framework of the Marxist revolution, they brought a new concept with them: “white privilege.”
As Kyle Shideler reveals in “The Communist Roots of ‘White Privilege’“, Communists Theodore “Ted” Allen and Noel Ignatiev, aka Noel Ignatin, invented and taught the concept because they thought that the “‘white working class’ would never be compelled to rebel as long as they accepted [their] ‘white-skin privilege.’” This novel idea was taken up by the radical violent Left, including the Weather Underground, perhaps the most famous leftist domestic terrorism group in living memory. Today this racialist concept and its accompanying “struggle sessions”—in which participants must renounce their evil “whiteness”—is mandated by government, education, and the corporate world throughout the United States.
These early groups from the ’60s and ’70s helped shape BLM and Antifa’s tactics on our streets today.
Many an academic has revealed to me their surprise at how tightly BLM and friends cling to Stokely Carmichael’s Black Power, written in 1967, which was one of the first books to set forth the poorly constructed ideology we are witnessing play out today. Carmichael, who famously broke with the Black Panthers for allying with white people, went to Africa soon after writing his manifesto and founded the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party.
Consider Assata Shakur, the Black Liberation Army fighter who escaped to Cuba from a life sentence for murder. Shakur is a hero to BLM activists, who have posted pictures of themselves wearing T-shirts that say “Assata Taught Me.” Such shirts are often sold by vendors who sell BLM-related merchandise, and BLM teaches its foot soldiers to chant Shakur’s words while protesting.
Convicted terrorist Susan Rosenberg, once a part of the Weather Underground, ended up on the Board of Directors for the fundraising arm of BLM. This was possible because Bill Clinton pardoned her, letting her out of prison after she served only 16 years of what was originally a 58-year sentence.
Even if figures like Davis, Allen, Ignatiev, and the unrepentant Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers were sometimes complicit in violence, they generally went unpunished. Instead, they taught rising generations of young minds. That’s right—instead of jail time, all of the above got tenure (Ignatiev, even taught for a time at Harvard). Instead of being ostracized from polite company, many of these domestic terrorists became friends with the likes of Barack Obama (as Ayers did) and were celebrated in elite circles. After the Soviet Union collapsed, they still made the occasional trek to countries like Venezuela, fêting dictators like Hugo Chavez.
Daniel Di Martino is a freedom fighter who grew up in Venezuela: as he says in “Venezuelan Socialists Come for America“, his country’s history is an “important story for Americans to know because…both peaceful and violent protests have been organized by groups whose intention is to impose socialism à la Venezuela in the United States.” As Martino notes, BLM and friends have met and praised Chavez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro; flush with cash, cultural cache, and elite protection, they are now implementing Chavez’s playbook on American streets today.
The central problem, however, for BLM and its parent organizations is an old one. Marxism could never quite take hold in America due to a recalcitrant middle class. The concept of “white privilege” is one way to deal with the problem. Kevin Portteus outlines another:
To ensure the success of their project, the contemporary Left has abandoned all pretense of concern for American sovereignty and the integrity of America’s international borders, and has embraced a policy of unlimited mass migration, combined with the demand that America accept countless refugee migrants from the undeveloped and developing world. Concerns about drug trafficking, human trafficking, infectious diseases, gang violence, and terrorism are swept aside with arguments that any attempt to limit entry into the United States is racist and un-American.
The result is an imported revolutionary class. And although to be sure, as Alberto M. Fernandez argues in “The Communist LARP”, this is a “developing mass movement,” it is nevertheless funded, led, staffed, and allowed by American elites and the institutions they control. American elites of both parties have forced mass immigration on the American people over and against the will of the voters for decades now. It is the single biggest issue for Trump supporters. But it is in the elite’s financial interest to import cheap and easily manipulated labor: waves of the desperate and impoverished, as well as higher-end workers, ensure they can pay American workers less. It is also in the political interest of the Democratic Party, which captures the vote of the impoverished, giving them increasing political dominance and creating one-party oligarchies, as in California.
But immigration also helps the racialist Marxists, who have grown exponentially in power over the last two decades. They have now achieved what their teachers and mentors could never dream of: a violent, destabilizing insurrection masquerading as a popular civil rights movement with the support of a major political party and nearly every major cultural institution in the nation. The establishment Left still thinks it can control the movement, but it is clear what will happen--to them—if they do not. There’s a reason protestors keep putting guillotines outside of Jeff Bezos’s house.
As Peter Myers explains, “The present ascendancy of the woke Left on race is no triumph for civil rights, nor for social justice or any sort of justice, nor for democratic government,” which this movement opposes. What BLM truly wants is a new America. An America ruled by a racial version of Marxism: “a confederation of identity groups—especially of racialized identity groups—where moral authority and its ensuing social advantages are apportioned according to the relative strength of group claims to past and present aggrievement.” Jim Crow, in other words, but in reverse.
The government, of course, will be in their hands and the laws will be ordered accordingly. BLM utterly rejects the notion of equality under the law: they wish to enact a system of law and culture in which people will be judged by their race and sexual identity, not insofar as they are equally human. As Myers points out, “the ruling principle is disintegration, not integration; discord, not harmony; war, not peace. To persist on this path is to push the republic ever closer to either dissolution or despotism.”
And here we are. BLM and its associates, despite being the direct descendants of Marxist domestic terrorists, despite rejecting the principles of America itself, and despite holding views that are not even representative of the people they purport to represent, now have the resources and path they need to wreak the havoc they have been planning for years. They have already succeeded in causing more chaos than their intellectual parents. As ever, the Democratic Party refuses to oust or reject them from its ranks with vigor. Worse, outside of President Trump, many in the Republican Party are still too cowardly to denounce them—even as America burns.
Our failure to stop this movement decades ago is what led us to this moment. Now, we have no choice. It is time to stop pretending that BLM and Antifa are anything other than domestic terrorist groups led by radicals who seek to rip America apart.
Of course many if not most of those protesting today by simply marching in the streets have little understanding of the ideology driving the organizers and the worst of their trained foot soldiers. But that’s how revolutions work. BLM is what it claims to be: a racialist Marxist group that seeks to completely alter the American way of life. They have more power and resources now than any insurrectionary movement in American history. They will not stop until they are stopped.
This should not be a partisan issue. But if our political leaders on the Right and Left continue to refuse to specifically call them out for what they are and directly oppose them, America will continue to burn.
Matthew J. Peterson is Vice President of Education at the Claremont Institute and Editor of The American Mind. He directs Claremont’s annual fellowships and heads our initiative for a new center to support graduate level scholarship.