Today is MLK day. All across the US, people will hold marches and rallies. These will be sponsored by state and city governments, corporations, unions and non-profits. In these celebrations, the MLK that emerges is an MLK who is seen as safe to the establishment. MLK’s legacy, as re-imagined by the establishment, becomes not a tool of dissent, but a tool to quash dissent. Now, the real MLK was not a revolutionary. He was a target of criticism by the revolutionary camp of leaders like Robert F. Williams. Even so, MLK led many heroic struggles against injustice. He spoke out against the brutal racism inflicted against Black people in the US. He spoke out against the imperialist genocide against Vietnam. Mao honored him by issuing a statement after his assassination:
“Some days ago, Martin Luther King, the Afro-American clergyman, was suddenly assassinated by the U.S. imperialists. Martin Luther King was an exponent of nonviolence. Nevertheless, the U.S. imperialists did not on that account show any tolerance toward him, but used counter-revolutionary violence and killed him in cold blood. “
MLK was not seen as a friend by the those in power at the time. Today the US is waging wars all over the world, directly and through proxies: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Iran, Somalia, Sudan — to name a few. In this context, we should remember MLK at his best, when he criticized the violence of imperialism:
“But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.” — Martin Luther King Jr., 4 April, 1967 Speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City
Let’s honor all those who have died in the struggle against imperialism and injustice.