US establishment embraces Farrakhan

Farrakhan claims a million black men are their own enemy

EVEN BEFORE last week’s ‘million man march’ in Washington had taken place, it was becoming clear that the US establishment was viewing it in a positive light.

True, its prime mover, Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam black separatist organisation, had the reputation of an anti-white, anti-semitic radical, capable of mobilising millions of alienated black youth against the establishment. But the reality is a little different. Far from seeing the rally as a threat, The Guardian was coming to view it as “just what America’s anguished and guilt-ridden debate on race requires” (editorial, October 16).

What really concerns the bourgeoisie is how to contain the potential instability caused by the growing inequality of US society. For example, the real average income of the poorest 25% of families fell by 6.7% between 1980 and 1992, while that of the richest 25% rose by 15.9%. This is most sharply reflected along racial lines: blacks are twice as likely to be unemployed as whites, three times as likely to be on welfare, four times as likely to be in prison and six times as likely to be murdered. The US establishment needs to find a safe channel for this huge reservoir of discontent, and Louis Farrakhan could well be a godsend.

Formally the Nation of Islam stands for a separate territory for blacks, but in reality Farrakhan thinks American blacks should be helped “to carve out a place on the African continent” - a prospect as dismal and utopian as it is old. Moreover his ‘separatism’ is of a strictly petty-bourgeois nature: blacks should be “off welfare and in business”. All this is reminiscent of the late 19th century National Negro Business League, whose leader Booker T Washington advocated segregation, just as the Nation of Islam today states that “inter-marriage or race-mixing should be prohibited”.

But this breach of political correctness is seen as a minor blemish, compared to the positive attraction Farrakhan is providing for US capitalism. As The Independent (October 12) indicated, “President Clinton has no quarrel with many of Mr Farrakhan’s goals: to tackle black America’s crime, drugs and broken families head on.” Attacking the symptoms of the dispossessed’s alienation rather than its cause - capitalism itself - is always useful for the ruling class.

Clinton approves of the Nation of Islam’s self-reliance credo: “One million men are right to be standing up for personal responsibility,” he commented on the morning of the rally, when he extolled the “old fashioned American values” shared by black and white alike. No doubt he was also quietly applauding Farrakhan’s call to religion - any religion - to “go back home and join some church, synagogue, temple or mosque that is teaching spiritual and moral uplift”. What safer way of channelling black discontent?

In addition Farrakhan called for the electoral registration of “eight million eligible but unregistered brothers, sisters”; a call which led The Independent’s reporter to comment: “If there was one thing these marchers were not doing, it was planning revolution.” On the contrary, they were “giving their stamp of legitimacy to the political establishment” (October 17).

What was striking about Farrakhan’s speech was how much it was in tune with the sentiments of middle America - not only his condescending appeal to “clean up, black man, and the world will respect and honour you”, but his astonishing patriotic outburst: “America the beautiful,” he purred. “There’s no country like this on earth ... Because this is America you allow me to speak, even though you don’t like what I may say.” In fact his two-hour speech was covered live on the main TV networks.

But what must surely have warmed the hearts of the establishment was the mood epitomised by this Washington T-shirt slogan: “After 400 years of slavery and repression we have identified our enemy - it is us.” Persuade the oppressed to blame themselves and you know you are safe.

Louis Farrakhan is likely to prove himself a capable mainstream politician. The characterisation of his men-only march as one of atonement, in recognition of the failure of “responsibility to our women and children” was a masterstroke: it allowed him to keep on board his muslim fundamentalist support, while simultaneously attracting the acclaim of black feminists - surely a remarkable achievement.

No wonder the bourgeoisie is beginning to play down the image it previously painted of a bigoted, threatening militant. By October 21 Mike Phillips in The Independent was describing Louis Farrakhan as “a kindly and religious man who abhors the excesses of armed militia groups and pro-life fanatics.”

Jim Blackstock