REPARATIONS THE GOOD WAY FOR SLAVERY AND JIM CROW AND GENOCIDE AGAINST AMERICAN INDIANS
[The URL of this article is https://www.pdrboston.org/reparations ]
by John Spritzler
February 5, 2023
The idea of reparations for slavery and Jim Crow and genocide against American Indians has two distinct components. Both components should happen, the right way, not the divisive way.
One component of reparations is that the truth about these crimes of the past should be publicly proclaimed, with things such as museums dedicated to this purpose and other means as well. The truth would include a historically accurate description of the crimes in all their horribleness, an account of who orchestrated these crimes, why they did it, and the lies they spread to make their criminal acts possible. This truth would distinguish between those who benefited from these crimes versus those who did not but who thought they did because they believed the lies spread by the real culprits, as discussed in this article in its section titled "How Does this Racial Discrimination Against Blacks and Hispanics Harm White Working Class People?" This same article includes information about how racial discrimination against non-whites by the federal government in both the past and the present is responsible for the enormous disparity in wealth and related measures between whites and non-whites today.
The second component of reparations is that the descendants of the victims of these past crimes should be materially compensated because were it not for these crimes against their ancestors these descendants would not be as economically poor as so many of them presently are today, for a host of reasons stemming directly or indirectly from the consequences of these past crimes. (Note: This article is about reparations to the descendants of the victims of past crimes; it is not about reparations to living victims of crimes personally experienced, who deserve the kind of compensation that--when there is justice--such people win in a civil law suit against the party, either a private individual or corporation or the government, responsible for their loss or suffering.)
The first component of reparations--publicly proclaiming the truth about these past crimes--should absolutely take place.
MATERIAL REPARATIONS THE GOOD WAY
The second component, material compensation, should, and will, take place--even better than the wildest dreams of the most ardent advocates of reparations--when there is an egalitarian revolution that removes the rich from power and abolishes class inequality to have no rich and no poor as discussed here.
When there are no rich and no poor, and everybody who contributes reasonably to the economy according to ability is able, thereby, to take for free what they need or reasonably desire (or to have equal status with all others when scarce things are equitably rationed according to need), then--and only then--will the descendants of the victims of the terrible crimes of the past be as fully compensated as possible.
As long as class inequality remains (i.e., the society remains one in which some can become much richer and hence much more powerful than others because, as is our present society, it is based on buying and selling to maximize one's profit and based on the principle that it is natural and proper for some "winners" to be much richer than the "losers"), no mere transfer of money in any "reparations" scheme will result in anything truly just. To see why this is so, imagine the most extreme transfer-of-money scenarios, such as this one, proposed by the San Francisco City Council, to give a $5 million payment to each black resident. Where will all of this money come from? Well, there are different ways, which are Scenario #1 and #2 discussed below. Scenario #3 is about when the reparations are so modest that the recipients don't end up rich, just equal to most other people.
Scenario #1. The reparations money comes only from the very rich.
So much money is transferred from the billionaires to the descendants of the victims of the terrible past crimes that the descendants become much wealthier than most people and the billionaires are reduced to poverty. Eventually a few of the descendants will, by luck and/or cleverness, become extremely rich and hence powerful, and most of the other descendants will fare worse. Before long, society will be what it is today--extremely unequal--but the very rich will include more descendants of the victims of the terrible past crimes than formerly. Ordinary people will continue to be treated like dirt, for the same reasons and in much the same way as discussed here.
Scenario #2. The reparations money comes from the general population (presumably by being taxed.)
So much money is transferred from the people who are NOT descendants of victims of the terrible past crimes to the ones who are such descendants that the descendants become richer than everybody else. Before long, the result is the same as in scenario #1--a few people manage to become the new ruling plutocracy and ordinary people are treated like dirt, again for the reason discussed here and also here.
Scenario #3. The reparations money (but this time a lesser amount) comes from the general population (presumably by being taxed.)
Only enough money is transferred from the people who are NOT descendants of victims of the terrible past crimes to the ones who ARE such descendants that the descendants and non-descendants end up equal financially. Still, eventually the society will be one in which an enormously wealthy plutocracy rules and treats ordinary people like dirt, for the reasons discussed here and also here.
Another problem with "transfer-of-money" reparations is this. Either the amount of transferred wealth will be so small that it will hardly constitute true reparation, or else it will be a large amount. If it is a large amount taken only from the very rich, it will be impossible except by making a successful revolution against the very rich. To make a successful revolution against America's ruling plutocracy, however, requires a movement that has the passionate support of the vast majority of Americans. Egalitarian revolution is what the vast majority of Americans want very much--the abolition of class inequality. The mere transfer of money that leaves class inequality intact, however, cannot garner the kind of massive popular support that is required to make a revolution. Why not? Because any reparations policy that allows the billionaires to remain billionaires (i.e., class inequality to remain intact) and takes money away from some category of ordinary people to give it to another category of ordinary people will enable the billionaire ruling plutocracy to pit the two groups against each other.
Specifically, if the proposed transfer of money entails taking money away not only from the very rich but also from ordinary people who are NOT descendants of the victims of the terrible past crimes, then the ruling plutocracy will certainly seize on this proposal and pretend to support it. Why? It will do so to strengthen its power over people with it's #1 strategy of social control--divide and rule. The plutocracy will make sure that the ordinary people who are non-descendants (of the victims of the terrible past crimes) will resent the descendants for accusing them of being guilty people who owe the descendants reparations when they (the non-descendants), personally, had nothing do do with slavery or Jim Crow or genocide against American Indians and (in many cases) did not even have ancestors who did. The plutocracy will whip up this resentment of the non-descendants and at the same time it will pretend to support the righteous desire of the descendants for reparations and thereby foment as much of a race war as the plutocracy desires for its divide-and-rule game plan.
(An example of how the plutocracy whips up race war while pretending to do the opposite is the race war it whipped up in the 1970s with the school busing crisis in Boston. The plutocracy, in the persons of liberal Federal Judge Garrity and overtly racist School Committee Chairwoman Louise Day Hicks, framed the noble idea of school racial integration this way. Garrity said the only way to integrate the schools was with a busing plan that maximized--totally unnecessarily!--the length of bus rides for little children to an absurd degree that was designed to elicit anger from any affected parent, no matter how much they may have even supported the goal of racial integration. Whites who objected were labeled racists, and blacks who objected were labeled Uncle Toms by the major Boston newspaper. The absurd busing plan was a gift from the liberal Judge Garrity to the overtly racist Hicks, who organized white opposition to the plan on the racist idea that the conflict was blacks versus whites. Racial violence occurred. The plutocracy decried it, while insisting that it only wanted that noble goal of racial integration.)
In contrast to "transfer-of-money" reparations that leave class inequality intact, egalitarian revolution to abolish class inequality altogether is actually politically possible because it is what the vast majority of Americans want. Additionally, egalitarian revolution to abolish class inequality will make the lives of the descendants of the victims of the terrible past crimes far better than any transfer of wealth could because life in an egalitarian society is much better than in one based on class inequality, and it will make the lives of ALL the children and grandchildren and generations following them far better too. As the article linked to in the previous sentence shows, the quality of life for a person with a new pile of money from reparations who must live in a society based on class inequality is far worse than the quality of life of a person living in an egalitarian society with no rich and no poor where class inequality has been abolished.
IN THE MEANTIME, WHAT?
All changes that make our society more egalitarian are good "in the meantime" things to fight for. Abolishing all existing forms of discrimination against non-whites and American Indians (the good way, not the divisive way, as I discuss here regarding Affirmative Action) is top on this list. Any change that makes life better for have-nots at the expense of the haves (rather than at the expense of other have-nots) is on this list. The most effective way to fight for such reforms is to frame them as efforts to make society be more egalitarian, as I discuss here.
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