Lessons from Hurricane Katrina
Down with the Rule of the Capitalist Class!
Communist Workers Organization
New Orleans, Louisiana
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina exposed fundamental fissures of capitalist rule in the USA. It revealed to many who had refused to see, the continued class and national oppression which lies at the base of this racist capitalist system. It showed that the US society is ruled by a tiny handful of billionaires who could care less about the plight of the working class and poor black people in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The true measure of the contempt that the Bush government and the capitalist class held for those left behind in New Orleans was their refusal to mount any rescue attempts until reporters began streaming the videos of the mass suffering around the world.
The masses of people in the US and around the world understood that Katrina was a natural occurrence. What is not so clearly understood is that the misery, suffering and deaths in New Orleans were a man made disaster. All of the misery and deaths could have been prevented, if we lived in a society that put the health and well-being of the people before profits. The US government, the state government and the local government refused to prepare for a category 5 hurricane like Katrina. The Clinton government and the Bush government cut the budget to improve the levee' system around New Orleans. Governor Blanco and Mayor Ray Nagin had no plan to evacuate the more than 125,000 people that they knew had no means of getting out. Nor did they have any plans on how to recover from such a natural disaster.
The US government knew from its own preparedness drills the consequences of a category 5 storm hitting New Orleans. The New Orleans Times Picayune had run a series exposing the consequences of not protecting the barrier islands and not fortifying the levees. The state and local government had 72 hours to evacuate the city, yet poor people were left to fend for themselves.
Knowing what the government knew, what was not understandable was the lack of US government response to the natural disaster. Was not the US, the last remaining superpower, capable of mobilising its fleet of helicopters and ships to rescue people? Doesn't the US immediately send aid to other countries which are struck by disasters? Why let the workers and poor black people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, citizens of your own country, drown and starve?
The only reasonable explanation is that the capitalist government, on all levels, is organised to serve the interests of the capitalist class and not the working people. In capitalist society, millions of people are left behind because this system is incapable of gainfully employing everyone. On top of this the government has been cutting back on the so-called safety net for the past three decades. The capitalist propaganda machine has been relentlessly drumming into workers' heads that the USA is an opportunity society and everyone should be able to make it. Those who are jobless or working at minimum wage jobs blame themselves for not making it rather than blaming this racist capitalist society which has not provided for them.
The Bush regime was shamed into action. But even in this action the ruling class and it local counterparts looked out for the interest of their class, not for the masses of working class and poor people. When busses finally arrived the tourists in the hotels were the first ones allowed out. And when the busses were finally allowed to take the people from the Superdome and Convention Center to get a ride; they were further brutalised and disrespected like our enslaved forebears. The survivors got on busses and they refused to tell them their destinations. Just like on the slave ships they ended up in all kinds of different places throughout the USA. Families were split up: children from their mothers, husbands from their wives, brothers and sister from each other.
We must resist and overthrow this capitalist government
When the working people of New Orleans realised that the government had no plans to save them; they organised to save themselves. Men and women stepped up and liberated school buildings as shelters; they commandeered busses to drive people out; they confiscated boats to rescue people from attics and their roofs. If it had not been for the heroic action of these ordinary working people we would have seen many thousands of deaths.
Yet the picture painted by government officials was that the people of New Orleans had resorted to barbarity and lawlessness. Police Chief Compass and Mayor Ray Nagin slandered young back men as thugs with no respect for life. This of course played into racist stereotypes of black youth broadcast daily by the bourgeois press.
Now FEMA and the Red Cross continue to oppress the hurricane survivors with bureaucracy. FEMA refuses to allow the displaced Gulf coast residents to participate in the reconstruction of their homes and neighbourhoods. They have instead awarded contracts to the billionaire corporations such as Halliburton, Fluor and the Shaw group. These capitalists have been given permission to pay less than prevailing wages and to hire anyone they please.
What this means is that the working class and poor black people cannot look to the government to willingly meet their just demands to rebuild their lives and communities. It will take more heroic action on our part to stand as men and women armed with the understanding of the inability of this racist capitalist system to provide us with decent jobs, housing and healthcare. We must build a revolutionary movement under the leadership of a genuine communist party to end the rule of the capitalist class.
Down with the Dictatorship of the Rich
Self-Determination for the African American Nation
Distributed by the Communist Workers Organization, New Orleans, Louisiana
Click here to return to the April 2006 index.