In the culture of capitalism all things are reducible to exchange values. Everything is open to commodification. Martin Luther King is no different. Indeed MLK’s reduction to a sort of inspirational recruiting sergeant for Habitat for Humanity or other such “non-governmental organizations” has been, from the perspective of the powers that be, a necessary transformation.
Now don’t get me wrong, King was no Commie despite Hoover’s assertions. He was not, nor was he on his way to becoming a revolutionary socialist. The King they want us to remember though was a King who never made a demand, never broke an unjust law and never sought to challenge the racial and class reality of the States. This is a false King as much as casting King as some sort of embryonic communist.
So who was the real King? Well here is Socialist Worker’s Brian Jones at the last Socialism confab in Chicago last summer on just this topic. The upshot? King was a radical reformer, and in part a reformer because he didn’t believe in the possibility of revolution in the context of the US racial divide (any revolution would necessarily mean a race war in King’s view). Certainly the King that Jones presents us here has very little in common with the man recently invoked by Jesse Jackson to support Obama’s escalation of the Afghan war or in Dianne Feinstein’s devitalizing inaugural introduction.