The anti-capitalist quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. you’re least likely to hear these days.
When he was assassinated King was planning a Poor People’s March on Washington. He advocated a universal basic income that would raise everyone — all of the poor, not only blacks but whites as well — to middle-class level. And this was in the late 1960s, when the American middle class was at its high point, and the rich were taxed at 70 percent. As we celebrate Martin Luther King, let’s not only heed the wonderful things he said about non-violence and racial equality which will be endlessly quoted, but look at some of the things he said challenging capitalism and the social order which are left out of most history books.
“We have come a long way in our understanding of human motivation and of the blind operation of our economic system. Now we realize that dislocations in the market operation of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. The poor are too often dismissed from our conscience today by being branded as inferior and incompetent.”
“I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic… 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.” – Letter to Coretta Scott, July 18, 1952.
“In a sense, you could say we’re involved in the class struggle.” –Quote to New York Times reporter, José Igelsias, 1968.
“And one day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America? And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth.’ When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society…” –Speech to Southern Christian Leadership Conference Atlanta, Georgia, August 16, 1967.
“Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God’s children.” – Speech to the Negro American Labor Council, 1961.
“We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power… this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together… you can’t really get rid of one without getting rid of the others… the whole structure of American life must be changed. America is a hypocritical nation and [we] must put [our] own house in order.”- Report to SCLC Staff, May 1967.
“The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism.” –Speech to SCLC Board, March 30, 1967.
“…The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.” – Where do We Go from Here?, 1967.
“You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism.” – Speech to his staff, 1966.
“Again we have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that Capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifice. The fact is that capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor – both black and white, both here and abroad.”
“The three evils of society,” 1967
If he had only been critical of racism, he might have become our first black president if not a member of the House Negro Caucus. As soon as he began to openly criticize not only the Viet Nam war, but the entire social system of war and racism - capitalism - his life was in danger, and ultimately taken.
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