I was recently sent an article by the American columnist Charles Davenport in which he warned of anti-American Marxist infiltration of Black Lives Matter.
To be fair to Mr Davenport, he prefaced his criticism of BLM with a stiff condemnation of the death of George Floyd and racial discrimination in general.
But then he goes on to quote their leaders out of context and describe Black Lives Matter as “an anti-American, often violent, collection of Marxists. Their contempt for capitalism is brazen, as is their disdain for law and order.”
He is right and wrong. But more importantly, Mr Davenport fails to ask the all-important question: Why?
It is absolutely true that there are Marxists who support BLM. Some of them are in leadership positions. They are in a tiny minority. A recent opinion poll by the Pew Research Centre showed that 67 per cent of the American population support Black Lives Matter. There is no way that 67 per cent of Americans are Marxists.
Furthermore, there is an ongoing debate within the ivy-clad towers as to whether Marxism is more or less democratic. In fact, when Marx and Engels wrote their “Communist Manifesto” in 1848 they implored the workers to revolt in order to establish a more democratic system that represented the rights of the wider working class rather than the narrow establishment of the day. The “dictatorship of the proletariat” was added later and probably owes more to Lenin than Marx.
Then there is the issue of opposition to capitalism being anti-American or opposed to American values. That is a tricky one. Mainly because it is so difficult to define national values.
It is perhaps a bit easier in the case of America because two key documents—The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights— attempt to put down in black and white the basic rights and beliefs which can be defined as values. But it is important to note that in neither document is there any mention of capitalism. The closest that the Bill of Rights comes to dealing with the issue is at the tail end of the Fifth Amendment which says that no one shall be deprived of their property without due process of law.
Setting aside the debate about Marxism and anti-Americanism there is the question of why anyone would support an organisation which they believe undermines their country’s basic values and institutions?
The answer is that too many people—Black, White and overwhelmingly young– feel that the system no longer represents their interests. They have no stake in its success because they are convinced it has been hijacked by narrow special interest groups who abuse and manipulate the democratic processes to line their pockets at the expense of the wider national interest.
They point out the social and economic inequalities in the “land of opportunity.” In the past 30 years, income inequality in the US has grown so that the top twenty per cent now earn more than the bottom 80 per cent combined. Capitalism is perceived by a growing number as not working to their benefit. If Charles Davenport and other conservative commentators want to keep Marxists out of Black Lives Matter and other activist groups; if they want to save their statues and stop the demonstrations then they need to focus on reform of the political institutions that extend the benefits of democracy to the greatest number of people.
American expat journalist Tom Arms is a regular contributor and author of the forthcoming book “America: Made in Britain.”