martin luther king jr. was an anti-capitalist, anti-war, pro-immigrant radical activist

April 4, 2018
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Who “owns” the legacy to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,? The white and black respectability politics crowd? The prayer fixes all crowd? The Black Lives Matter crowd carrying on his legacy of organizing and resistance?

Through the last years of his life, Dr. King struggled with his own growing militancy and few times were more demonstrative of this than his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail and the final speech he gave on the last night of his life:

In addition to seeing the systematic inequality that capitalism had grown into (and arguably inherently always was), King was a socialist and anti-capitalist from a very young age, writing to his wife way back in 1952, “[Capitalism] started out with a noble and high motive… but like most human systems it fell victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has out-lived its usefulness.”

In 1966, King addressed his understanding of capitalism in a speech: “[W]e are saying that something is wrong … with capitalism…. There must be better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism. Call it what you may, call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.”

So, what did this have to do with King’s larger anti-racism activism? As others have pointed out, one of the key contradictions between capitalism and a “one person, one vote” democracy, is the power money has in politics and the corruption it breeds in both white and black communities. King is, perhaps, best known for his impact on Voting Rights, so why is it that history chooses to leave out the nuanced ideology behind it, in addition to the racial one.

Like his Last Speech the night before his assignation, King’s later, more critical and highly developed theories on the unacceptability of war, global oppression and intersectionality, to a degree, and pro-immigration stances were the culmination of decades of work. His opus, if you will. And the real body of his historic, liberating messages.