Building a United Front of the Black Left
“If you believe in the politics of Black Liberation join us in Chicago in 1998 at the Black Radical Congress. If you hate what capitalism has done to our community – widespread joblessness, drugs, violence and poverty – come to the Congress. If you are fed up with the corruption of the two party system and want to develop a plan for real political change, come to the Congress. If you want to struggle against class exploitation, racism, sexism, and homophobia, come to the Congress…”
And come they did. More than 2,000 participants from 40 states gathered at the founding conference of the Black Radical Congress (BRC) June 19 – 21 at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle Center.
Proclaimed as an organizing center for developing a Black Liberation Agenda for the 21st Century, the event was planned for nearly two years. More than 600 people from the state of Illinois, over 200 from New York, and over 100 each from Pennsylvania, California, and Michigan attended. Over 140 presenters, including trade unionists, youth activists, prominent academics, and community organizers led workshops on issues such as: police brutality, political prisoners, reparations, fighting homophobia, and black workers and today’s labor movement, to name a few. There were 28 workshops in all.
History Professor Manning Marable set the tone for the conference during the opening plenary session when he said, “Brothers and sisters we have been dissed in the house we built.” A portion of the BRC discussed specific ways to build concrete projects, campaigns and struggles out of the convention as was the intention of the conveners of the BRC. As General Baker, Chair, of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America put it, “We had to figure out how to take our weekend movement and have a program for all seven days of the week.”
TASKS TO BE RESOLVED
This paramount task of the BRC is yet to be resolved. In recognition of this a draft proposal has been issued by the conveners of the BRC entitled “The Continuation of the Black Radical Congress”. This document describes the BRC as a “network which represents a united front of the Black left” and calls for the establishment of a National Continuations Committee in October 1998. The document also states, “The BRC will have a national campaign from October 1998 to October 1999. The campaign will be a national petition drive to bring 1,000,000 signatures to the United Nations charging the United States with violating the rights of the African American people. The slogan for the national campaign will be “End Racism and Poverty Now! Fight the Power to Share the Wealth! Human Rights For All!”
Will the BRC succeed in carrying out its stated goals and become a significant political force in the US? The answer to this question depends on a number of factors, most important of which is what the participants do. There is no doubt that the BRC generated enormous enthusiasm among the participants. But enthusiasm and commitment, while necessary, are not sufficient to produce a successful movement, or capitalism would have been destroyed long ago.
A Program that is internally consistent and based on the logic of the class struggle; leadership that has been tested and won the confidence of the organization; a democratically organized process of decision making; disciplined cadre loyal to the organization as a whole; demonstrated support and participation of the people we claim to represent. These are also prerequisites for our success. We have some serious work ahead.
There is currently a severe crisis of leadership in the black community. In fact it may be more accurately described as a leadership vacuum, because recently those national organizations that claim to champion the interests of the black masses have been seriously discredited. The black mis-leadership is running out of fools. Does this require proof? Consider the following:
Mr. Jesse Jackson’s 1988 campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination raised the hopes of million of blacks and working people (including white union workers in the rust belt). Jackson received 7 million votes. Most of those who supported Jackson did so as a protest against the injustices of this racist capitalist system. Jackson is not a leader against the capitalist – he is a Judas-goat for them. In the final analysis, “Jackson action” proved to be a fraud to deceive those for whom the so-called “American dream” is a cruel hoax into voting for the Democratic Party.
Michael Dukakis openly dissed Jackson by picking the Southern ‘gentleman’ Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate without the minimal courtesy of notifying Jackson (he found out from the media). Jackson’s initial reaction was bitter and suggested that he was prepared to part ways with Massa when he said: “It is too much to expect that I will go out in the field and be the champion vote picker and bale them up and bring them back to the big house and get a reward of thanks, while people who don’t pick nearly as much voters, who don’t carry the same amount of weight among the people, sit in the big house and make the decisions.” (New York Times, 15 July 1988)
But by convention time Jackson had rediscovered his role and decided that it was time for “the lion and the lamb to lie down together”. One problem: the only time the lion lies down with the lamb is at dinner time! Then in 1992, Crime Bill Clinton utilized the a Rainbow Coalition gathering to demonstrate his contempt for blacks and his “independence” from Jackson by deliberately and dishonestly misinterpreting a comment by Sister Soldier. From Judas-goat to punching bag, Jackson remains loyal to the Democrats to the point of supporting Clinton’s scandalous Africa Trade bill, which would impose the corporate agenda of starvation wages and union-busting on African workers. Even Jackson’s son, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., voted against this piece of legislation, calling it a new form of slavery. Jackson Senior is clearly incapable of learning or of changing.
In spite of the fact that over 6,000 black men and women have been elected to public office (mostly as Democrats), the reality that living conditions for black people have continued to worsen should “make it plain” that these black Democrats are not the representatives of the black masses, but front men, and women, for the capitalist system. What did these black elected official do to organize the black community to resist Crime Bill Clinton’s bi-partisan legislative onslaught against us? All toll. Nothing!
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) the oldest (and most conservative) civil rights group in the country has also proven itself completely incapable of leading the resistance to the blatant dismantling of the gains of the Civil Rights movement that has been going on recently. The NAACP has become so senile and feeble that they couldn’t even wage a serious opposition to Uncle Thomas’ appointment to the Supreme Court. It’s a damn shame! But why has the NAACP become so ineffective a weapon for the black community?
A good part of the reason that the NAACP has failed in its self-proclaimed duty to defend civil rights was revealed in the Benjamin Chavis affair. Chavis was brought in as Executive Director of the NAACP to “revitalize” the ailing organization. He tried to gather disillusioned youth into the civil rights struggle and regroup its leadership. To this effect he invited Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam to join the struggle. The corporate media, America’s Headfixing Industry, went crazy. They denounced Chavis for collaborating with a “racist”, i.e. Farrakhan.
Get this now. The bigoted corporate media that with numbing regularity depicts the black community in the vilest most blatantly racist stereotypes attacked a black leader for attempting to unite with another black leader. This was at once absurd and transparent. Chavis continued to strive for unity. But he forgot the Golden Rule: he who provides the gold makes the rules. The corporate donations stopped flowing into the NAACP’s coffers. Donations from the black community don’t come close to paying the salaries of the NAACP bureaucrats. The bureaucrats screamed bloody murder. In August of 1994 Benjamin Chavis was fired by the NAACP’s board of directors, under the pretext of a sex drama. Crime Bill Clinton is still President in spite of his little drama.
Farrakhan stepped up to fill the void with his Million Man March, in his own words: “a holy day of atonement and reconciliation”. Despite the campaign of vilification heaped upon the event by the Headfixing Industry, the idea of the march caught on in the black community. But Farrakhan’s mixture of black capitalist economics with reactionary mysticism guaranteed that the march would not provide solutions for the hundreds of thousands who attended. Did Minister Farrakhan put forward a program that points the way out of this dead end we are currently in? Did he attack the system that is the root cause of suffering of the black community? Hell no! Instead we were given a lecture in – numerology. When the dust cleared, and the participants returned home, the Nation of Islam proved impotent in creating, leading and sustaining a democratically organized movement capable of addressing the needs of Black America. What Farrakhan thought was a new beginning for his bid to become the premier leader of blacks in America may have been his “Final Call”.
All this has happened in full view of the masses. They have had time to sober up and evaluate their experiences. These experiences show clearly that all of these organizations and leaders (Black Democrats, the NAACP, Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam), each in their own way, have demonstrated that they are unfit to organize the struggle to defend the living standards of the black masses, much less improve them. On what basis can we measure the potential of a movement to successfully lead the fight against the unremitting attacks we now face?
It is an axiom of scientific socialism that social and political movements must be judged by the quality of their leadership, program, trajectory, and class composition – not by the illusions of the base. These mis-leaders are not genuine opponents of the system. Their programs are pro-capitalist to the core. They are taking us no where – fast. Their self-contradictory rhetoric is the product of their schizophrenic petty bourgeois class composition – they were rejected by the system they love. These criticisms are not an exercise in “disrespect”. We need the bitter truth in regards to these organizations, not sugary falsehood.
For purposes of black liberation these pro-capitalist mis-leaders do not and cannot represent hope for a better future. They are political corpses. And as a great revolutionary once said: When it comes to fighting, corpses are worthless, but they do come in handy to keep the living from fighting.
BLACK WORKERS TAKE THE LEAD!
While the leadership of the BRC is presently a mixed bag (academics, veteran activists, feminists) there is no doubt that if it takes root on the local level the BRC will become a predominately working class organization in its composition, because the black community in the US is overwhelmingly proletarian. Therefore, any serious attempt to organize it must reflect its class needs and aspirations. Thus a new generation of working class leaders can be developed and trained. But this can happen if and only if democratic structures are installed for a movement that is clear about its program and ready to break with the parties and program of capital.
Programmatically the BRC, in the “Freedom Agenda” and other documents, has denounced capitalist exploitation, but stopped short of calling for socialism; made demands upon the US government while calling for “self-determination”. In short, there are internal contradictions within the program of the BRC.
It remains necessary to give specific content, clear and uncompromising, to the algebraic formulations of the “Freedom Agenda”. We must translate our demands into political action that speaks to the needs of Black working people: decent housing, healthcare, education and secure jobs. We must strive to build a movement for fundamental change with the will to join all other workers in America in seeking the power to meet our collective needs, and that means socialism.
During the BRC convention a youth caucus was formed. These young people met for hours striving to hammer out some practical accomplishments that they could take home with them and start to work with. While they were only partially successful, their intensity and enthusiasm was both contagious and inspiring. Some “veterans” feared that the youth caucus meetings could lead to a spin off, or split from the BRC. In fact, the best way to insure such a rupture is to cultivate an atmosphere of distrust and oppression of the youth.
While it remains to be seen, the strength of the BRC could lie in its self-proclaimed desire to act as a united front organization. Without delay functional BRC local organizing committees need to make their presence felt in struggles in their communities. Meet, discuss the political landscape, and decide where you can make your contribution. But of primary importance is – to start.
Gerald Sanders is running for Congress in the 9th Congressional District of California on the Peace and Freedom Party Ticket. He can be reached by phone – (510) 655-5764 or E-mail – firstname.lastname@example.org
Principles of Unity
1. We recognize the diverse historical tendencies in the Black radical tradition including revolutionary nationalism, feminism and socialism.
2. The technological revolution and capitalist globalization have changed the economy, labor force and class formations that need to inform our analysis and strategies. The increased class polarization created by these developments demands that we, as Black radicals, ally ourselves with the most oppressed sectors of our communities and society.
3. Gender and sexuality can no longer be viewed solely as personal issues but must be a basic part of our analyses, politics and struggles.
4. We reject racial and biological determinism, Black patriarchy and Black capitalism as solutions to problems facing Black people.
5. We must see the struggle in global terms.
6. We need to meet people where they are, taking seriously identity politics and single issue reform groups, at the same time that we push for a larger vision that links these struggles.
7. We must be democratic and inclusive in our dealings with one another, making room for constructive criticism and honest dissent within our ranks. There must be open venues for civil and comradely debates to occur.
8. Our discussions should be informed not only by a critique of what now exists, but by serious efforts to forge a creative vision of a new society.
9. We cannot limit ourselves to electoral politics — we must identify multiple sites of struggles.
10. We must overcome divisions within the Black radical forces, such as those of generation, region, and occupation. We must forge a common language that is accessible and relevant.
11. Black radicals must build a national congress of radical forces in the Black community to strengthen radicalism as the legitimate voice of Black working and poor people, and to build organized resistance.
For more information or to register contact:
Black Radical Congress
P.O. Box 5766
Chicago, IL 60680-5766