By Anthony Ramirez
At the 2000 Democratic National Convention, Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine (RATM) stated in a protest concert outside the building: "Brothers and sisters, we are not gonna allow these streets to be taken over by the Democrats or the Republicans"1. Rage Against the Machine has gained controversy since its inception in 1991 in Los Angeles, California, as standard themes in verses revolved around anti-government rebellion. However, what I wanted to touch on here is some of the activism of RATM and highlight the backgrounds behind what they preach.
The songs "Voice of the Voiceless" and "Guerilla Radio" from the band's album, “The Battle of Los Angeles” contain references to Mumia Abu-Jamal and RATM taking part in a benefit concert for Mumia's appeal. Mumia Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death (now life in prison) 2 after being prosecuted for the death of Officer Daniel Faulkner. 3 The prosecution's case stated that Abu-Jamal's brother William Cook resisted arrest from Officer Faulkner during a traffic stop. Abu-Jamal saw the altercation across the street, as he was a cab driver in the area at the time, and intervened by shooting Faulkner in the back. Faulkner returned fire by shooting Abu-Jamal in the chest, to which Abu-Jamal recovered and shot Faulkner between his eyes. The .38-caliber found at the scene with Abu-Jamal was registered to him. The prosecution had four eyewitnesses, two witnesses at the hospital Abu-Jamal went to, and physical evidence. 4 The defense's case relied on a poet character witness Sonia Sanchez, as well as several theories, one of which was simply a "running man" who killed Faulkner. 5 Despite the evidence, activists in pop culture such as RATM and Zack de la Rocha believe the theories more.
A large influence in RATM is the anti-capitalist, libertarian socialist group, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) that control territory in the Free and Sovereign State of Chiapas in Mexico. The RATM song "People of the Sun" is based on the EZLN, and their flag can be seen in concerts by the band. In Jane Ganahal's article "A band with a message" from 1997, Zack de la Rocha is seen wearing an "EZLN" shirt, and it's mentioned Sony had to convince de la Rocha to leave the Zapatistas to record a new album. 6 Rebel villages of the EZLN commonly have artwork of three revolutionaries, one of which being Che Guevara. 7
Che Guevara is often heralded by socialists as a hero. Still, throughout history, he had executed people for treason, created concentration camps for homosexuals, made several racist remarks about black people in his early years, oversaw the torture and death by firing squads of political prisoners, and helped place the Castro regime into power in Cuba where they killed citizens in the tens of thousands. 8 He assisted in killing so many people that Guevara was nicknamed "The Butcher of La Cabaña."9 Douglas Kellner's book Ernesto "Che" Guevara (World Leaders Past & Present) also stated that during Guevara's journey to create the "New Man" that would prefer morals over materialism, he took away pay increases for workers that exceeded quotas and replaced them with certificates of commendation (p. 62). This led to a decrease in incentives to go above work quotas, leading to a decrease in exports and, in turn, a decrease in Cuba's overall economy. In Peter G. Bourne's 1986 book Fidel: A Biography of Fidel Castro, it is said that Cuba's productivity decreased so much that their financial reserves were drained by 1961 (p. 186). The decrease began in 1959, the same year Che Guevara was put in charge of finances. Placing him in charge of finances was also seen as Castro's biggest financial regret. 10
So the question still remains why Zack de la Rocha and the rest of RATM maintain their anti-capitalist stances despite making millions from record sales and concert tickets for decades, act like they're fighting a capitalist system against scalpers by going up on ticket prices which inadvertently had scalpers then sell tickets at even higher prices, and performing with upside-down flags while continuing to profit from performing in the country since 1992. 11 RATM began with the band members in their 20s; now, we see them in their 50s preaching the same anti-capitalist lyrics while having net worths in the millions.
They're invoking the same strategies the socialist ideology has used for years: profit off of the rebellious nature of teens and young adults that don't know any better. RATM's guitarist Tom Morello once said in response to the band's hypocrisy on profiting off capitalism while speaking against it: "When you live in a capitalistic society, the currency of the dissemination of information goes through capitalistic channels." 12 The line of thought is: "You're forced to make money in America as a capitalist by working with the capitalist system to get your message across, but as long as we say we're angry about the system, it's okay."
Anthony Ramirez is a proud Latino Texan who has worked with his community on physical fitness to better their hearts and writes articles to better their minds. Anthony writes and researches to get out the facts and disprove misinformation. Anthony has researched, and debunked myths regarding Herbalife, student loan debt, UBI, and he looks to do the same with socialism.