The Poor People's Campaign of 1968 set out demands for nothing less than the eradication of poverty. Yet 55 years later more than 9 million children in America go hungry, between 500,000 and 600,000 people are homeless alongside over 17 million vacant homes, eight million workers have two jobs in order to afford basic essentials and sixty-one percent of Americans can't afford to buy a house to raise a family.
Clearly, what is needed is not a re-launch but rather a rethink. Oscar Wilde explains why: ‘their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease. They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the poor. But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible’ (The Soul of Man under Socialism, 1891).
According to Dr. King “The prescription for the cure rests with an accurate diagnosis of the disease,” yet he focused famously on the ‘Triple Evils’ of poverty, racism and militarism, i.e., symptoms rather than the underlying malaise - which is why Taylor Branch, the Pulitzer winning historian, could say of MLK that ‘all the issues that he raised toward the end of his life are as contemporary now as they were then’ (NY Times, 4 April 2018).
For the last five years of his life, King was subject to scrutiny by the FBI. J Edgar Hoover was concerned about ‘communist’ infiltration of civil rights groups and unions but proof proved elusive. Baptist minister King had apparently read some of Marx’s writings and did not like his materialism, but such influences can be seen here: ‘the profit motive, when it is the sole basis of an economic system, encourages a cutthroat competition and selfish ambition that inspires men to be making a living than making a life.’ He even stated ‘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,’ yet rather than seeking to replace capitalism with socialism he campaigned for reforms to restructure it – e.g. he strived for a universal basic income as well as end to ‘overpopulation’. Days after his death Congress passed the Fair Housing Act, which prohibited discrimination in housing basis of race, religion, or national origin. Decades later, Obama’s ‘change’ meant business as usual. Today, racism is waxing not waning, 140 million Americans live in poverty, the top 1 percent has more wealth than the bottom 90 percent, and ‘just 1 in 10 black Americans believe civil rights movement’s goals have been achieved in the 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr was killed’ (The Independent, 31 March, 2018).