Thursday, February 07, 2008

***In The Struggle Against British Imperialism-Part II- Symbol Of An Age- 'Old Hickory' Andrew Jackson

Book Review

Andrew Jackson-Symbol for an Age, John William Ward, Oxford University Press, London, 1962

American democratic politics, as can be easily seen in this year's presidential nominating processes, has always been encumbered with symbols. That fact is hardly new or news. What is news is that today's seemingly modern notion of proper electoral technique has a fairly ancient pedigree. Although Parson Weems did more than his share to establish the iconic figure of George Washington, arguably the subject of this work, Andrew Jackson, really was the first president to get the full public relations `spin' treatment that we take as a matter of course in today's politics.

The present volume builds the case for Jackson symbolic virtues at a time when America, after a series of nasty encounters with the British, notably the War of 1812, developed an inward look westward and away from the `degeneracy' of the seaboard. If Jackson did not fit the bill to a tee then his agents, paid or otherwise, filled in the blanks. First place in those efforts goes to highlighting his military prowess and soldierly concerns in defeating (to what real purpose no one knows since the war was over by this time) against the British at the tail end of the War of 1812 at the Battle of New Orleans.

From there it was fairly simple to make him a man of the' people'. In this case the people being empathically not the residents of the eastern seaboard but the `fresh' yeomanry of the Westward trek. You know- the ones who exhibited all the plebian virtues as solid tillers of the soil, holders of folk wisdom against the effete nabobs of the cities and the true patriots of rising American agricultural capitalism. The author builds his case by using a series of fairly common references beginning his work with an analysis of a Jackson poetic tribute `The Hunters of Kentucky' and dissects that bit of work to see how it fit into the scheme of making Jackson the first "people's" president. All the other tributes and, at the end eulogies, then fall into place.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then his Whig opponents do that by learning from his handlers by the time of the `Tippecanoe' Harrison campaign of 1840. And from there we are off to the races. Note this- as if to reinforce the argument presented by the book- can anyone today deny that that myth around Jackson built so long ago still, with the exception of a dent caused by his savagery against the Native Americans, stands as the way he is thought of in the American pantheon? The Democrats continue their traditional Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinners without blushing. Enough said.

The Paradox of the Sidekick Generation

Okay, I know I am going to get roasted once again by the old fogies of my generation, the generation of ’68, but I like the breath of fresh air that is coming from today’s youth. That, at this moment, gets its fullest expression in their support in sizable numbers for the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama. Now let me go through the numbers. No, I do not believe that the election of Obama is the solution to our problems. No, I do not believe that the Democratic Party is the vehicle for social change in the 21st century. No, I do not believe that youth as they have expressed themselves thus far are going to be able to solve the problems confronting us in the 21st century. Are we clear so far? A critical mass of youth though is forming that may just do that. That is what I like to think about today.

What I do not like about today’s youth is their expressed disdain for our old political visions. You know, the culture wars that we have been fighting for the past forty years to try to save a few human and civil rights from the demons of the right whose conception of society is that of a prison camp. We might not have been successful in getting our program through. We may have made every political mistake in the book in fight for such things as black civil rights, the fight against the death penalty, against war, for women’s rights, and so forth but we fought and that is the lesson that today’s youth seemingly has not learned. To create social change one must fight for it, tooth and nail.

A recent article in the February 3, 2008 Sunday Boston Globe brought this fierce truth home. The article interviewed students at Wellesley College and Yale University (admittedly not today’s average youth and selected because those were Hillary Clinton’s alma maters). Almost universally they were either dismissive or ignorant of the struggles of the past that we fought out. We were viewed as too confrontational, too argumentative and sin of sins, well, too political. I do believe we have some work to do here.

That said, what youth can do, or more particularly today a small section, is to take their first blush understanding that there is a need for social change and move on from there to find social, and thereafter socialist, solutions to the problems that ail us. Now back to my generation as a reference point. As the now numerous memoirs of some of the leading lights of the time have noted most of us took the election of John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1960 as a signal that it was alright to fight for social change. Did we assume that we could do that solely by the parliamentary path? At first, probably. Did we think that Kennedy’s program would provide the answers? In the end, hell no, a thousand times no. As a comparison that is the significance of Obama. And it is significant. The winds of change do blow.

Below is a repost of a commentary that I did last year that in connection with the above commentary can stand together as the first shots of the political fight to win the youth to social activism.

On Political Trends Among American Youth



Although a number of my political efforts these days are linked to appealing to the youth to learn the lessons of our history, working class history, I make no bones about feelings of trepidation when I take up the subject of youth, their hopes and their aspirations. That said, I recently read an interesting review article based on polls taken of youth (18-24) and their political aspirations. The major conclusion of the article was that today’s youth are trending (the poll’s expression, not mine) to vote Democratic in greater numbers than previous youth generations. A couple of minor conclusions were that youth have more potential impact on politics today than my generation, the generation of 1968, and that the current more technologically savvy generation was not reachable by traditional methods of communication and thus political organizations needed to catch up with the wave. Fair enough. Let me make some observations.

The generation of 1968 made every mistake in the political book. And that ain’t no lie. In our defense I will add that we were in uncharted waters facing such legitimate political monsters as Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace who were fully capable of using all of the methods of political repression. Nevertheless we tried non-violent protest in the civil rights movement under Martin Luther King. We tried peaceful protest against Vietnam under Dr. Spock and others. We tried parliamentary politics under Bobby Kennedy and Gene McCarthy. We tried to drop out with Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary and other counter-cultural heroes. We tried to make music the revolution. When things started to get grim in 1967 we tried to ‘raise’ the Pentagon. When things got grimmer still we tried to act as a second front for the Vietnamese National Liberation Front. When they got really grim we were ready to declare revolutionary war on America. Ah, those were the days. We were, however, for a number of reasons, politically defeated. A defeat from which we still have not recovered.

Obviously, every political generation will find its own means of expressing itself in a world that it has not made. Also fair enough. However, after a few years of opposition to this Iraq war I find that the current ‘youth’ generation seems much more politically passive and lacking in political imagination than the poll mentioned above would indicate. One of the most striking points about the survey is the apparent faith that today’s youth have in letting governmental agencies and officials resolve certain questions. By this I assume that Mr. Bush or his successor, probably Hillary Clinton at this point, is duly appointed to resolve the conflict in Iraq and such other questions as the on-going genocide in Dhafur.

In my day, while we had more than our share of illusions in the good graces of the government we were much more ready to face it down than rely on it. As a case in point, someone like Hillary Clinton (nee Rodham) who may have passed for a ‘radical’ at sedate 1960’s Wellesley would not even have gotten, nor should she have gotten, a hearing from the more thoughtful radical political types in the Boston area of the time. The time of waving the Vietnamese National Liberation Front flag at the front of anti-war marches was not Hillary’s time. Her time, if it is now, is the time of many, many defeats for progressive movements and a time of youth ‘trending’ Democratic. To put the situation in perspective I would argue that the political development of today’s youth was about what my generation’s was in 1962. Plenty of spunk, a desire to serve humanity, and plenty of illusions and faith in the ‘fairness’ of the democratic process. But, which way will they jump?

Seemingly each generation develops their own tribal language, fashions and other such cultural gradients to distinguish it from the OTHER. Once again fair enough. The survey mentioned above made an express point that today’s youth cannot be reached by traditionally methods of communication and/or advertising. And that makes sense about a generation nurtured on iPods, e-mails, chat rooms and cell phones. In short, today’s youth are light years ahead of my generation on the information super-highway. Or are they?

No one can reasonably deny that the Internet has a great potential as an aid to political development and organization. However, it is no substitute for face-to-face polemics and argument to develop strategy and to clarify political positions. From my own personal experience I find that one can spent so much time on the Internet that there is little time to get out and do the necessary political spade work. Multiply that by ubiquitous cell phone and iPod use and where is there time for organizing real people in real time. And that brings us back to that point I made above about the political passivity of this generation. If the revolution will not be televised it will also certainly not spring forth from a laptop. More on this later.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

In The Time Of The Second American Revolution-Reconstruction

Book Review

February is Black History Month

The Era of Reconstruction, Kenneth Stampp, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1975

The Reconstruction period directly after the American Civil War ended in 1865 was cast as the time of the ‘scalawags’, ‘carpetbaggers’, Black Codes and ultimately after a determined and ugly political and military fight by the ‘right’ people, the so-called natural rulers in the South, ‘redemption’. In short, a least for any radical, a time of shame in the American experience and, at least implicitly, a racist slap at blacks and their supporters for attempting to upset the traditional social order.

There certainly was plenty that went wrong during Radical Reconstruction (there were, as Professor Franklin points out several phases of Reconstruction, not all of them radical) in the South but the conventional high school history textbooks never got into the whole story. Nor did they want to. The whole story is that until fairly recently this Radical Reconstruction period was the most democratic period in the South in American history, for white and black alike. The book under review that reflects the earlier efforts of the likes of Professor Kenneth Stamp (whose book of essays on Reconstruction I have previously reviewed in this space) goes a long way toward a better understanding of the period than those old high school textbooks.

Professor Stamp, as he must, starts off his book by describing the political problems associated with most of the earlier studies of Reconstruction done by those influenced by Professor Dunning and his school in the early 20th century. That picture presented, as I described in my opening sentence, the familiar corrupt and scandalous activities associated with this period. Needless to say this position dovetailed very nicely with the rationale for Jim Crow in the pre-1960’s South. Moreover, in the hands of its northern liberal devotees it nicely covered up the burgeoning corruption of the northern- based ‘robber barons’. There is an old adage that history is written by the victors. Whatever the truth to that assertion early Reconstruction history was written by the losers, or rather their apologists once removed.

The Reconstruction era was dominated by three basic plans that Professor Stampp describes in some detail; the aborted Lincoln ‘soft’ union indivisible efforts; the Johnson ‘soft’ redemption plans; and, the radical Republican ‘scorched earth’ policy. In the end none of these plans was pursued strongly enough to insure that enhanced black rights gained through legislation would lead to enlightened citizenship. Stampp presents detailed critiques of all these plans and some insights about the social and cultural mores of the country at the time that do not make for pretty reading.

The professor then goes on to try to demystify what the radical reconstruction governments did and did not do. That there were scandalous activities and more than enough corrupt politicians to go around goes without saying. However like most myths there is a snowball effect about how bad things really were that obliterates the very real advances for black (and some poor whites) like public education, improved roads and increased state facilities that were anathema to the planting class that formerly ruled the South.

The last part of the book deals with the conservative counter-revolution to overthrow the radical governments culminating in the well-known Compromise of 1877. The actions of that rabble, rich and poor whites alike formed in militias and other para-military operations like the Klan, is certainly not pretty reading. Moreover it took about a century and a ‘cold’ civil war during the 1960’s (a battle that continues today) to even minimally right that situation. For those that need an in depth, definitive study of this subject you must turn to the master, Eric Foner, and his monumental Reconstruction, 1863-1877. However, if you want an earlier, shorter but nevertheless informative overview of Reconstruction this is your first stop.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Black Freedom, Women's Rights and the Civil War

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for black abolitionist Sojourner Truth.

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Spring 1989 issue of "Women and Revolution" that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.


Black Freedom, Women's Rights
and the Civil War

This article is based on a talk given by W&R associate editor Amy Rath at a public forum held 5 April 1988 at Howard University. For additional historical material on women in the anti-slavery struggle, see "The Grimke Sisters: Pioneers for Abolition and Women's Rights" (W&R No. 29, Spring 1985) and "Harriet Tubman: Fighter for Black Freedom" (W&R No. 32, Winter 1986).

The talk discusses the movement for women's rights in the U.S. prior to the Civil War, its link through the radical abolition movement with the fight against black slavery, and the destruction of that link to produce the antecedents of the present "feminists." It centers on the ideology of the antebellum abolitionists, the most far-sighted of whom saw that all democratic struggles were vitally linked and that deeply revolutionary changes would be required to establish equality. These men and women were not Marxists but bourgeois radicals of their time; for many, the primary political motivation was religion.

Northern anti-slavery activists espoused "free labor" and accepted the idea that if legal barriers to equality were removed, the American dream would be possible for anyone, given talent and hard work. In antebellum America, in the context of steady immigration and an expanding frontier, a propertyless farmhand could perhaps acquire land of his own, while a (white) laborer might look to becoming a small-scale employer of labor in a generation. But if the "free labor" ideology imagined a democratic political system of economic equals based on a society of skilled artisans and yeoman farmers, this model rapidly became a fiction. A capitalist class of Northern industrial, finance and railroad capitalists had the ascendancy. Though still a predominantly agricultural country, America was the fastest-growing industrial power (with the second-highest industrial output, after Britain). America was already the world's technological leader, very much feared as a competitor by Britain, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.

The slave society of the South existed in the framework of a powerful Northern industrial sector which purchased staple crops from the South, first of all cotton. The rich plantations which possessed the South's best land and dominated the region politically were built on a pre-capitalist class relationship of black chattel slavery; at the same time they were part of a money economy in the world's most dynamic capitalist country. The conflict of social systems between the ever more powerful North and the backward South was a profound contradiction heading for collision, exacerbated by America's undemocratic "states' rights" political system which had given the South disproportionate control of the national government (especially the presidency and Supreme Court) since Independence.

The Progressive Bourgeoisie and the Limits of Reconstruction

The "irrepressible conflict" exploded in the Civil War, in the course of which Lincoln, the Northern bourgeoisie's ablest political leader, found himself obliged to go much further than he had intended in the direction of adopting the emancipation program of the abolitionists. Fifteen years before, abolitionists had been viewed as an isolated, if noisy, crew of radical fanatics.
The Civil War smashed slavery and left behind in the South a chaotic situation and four million ex-slaves who had been promised "freedom." But the war and its aftermath underlined that a truly egalitarian radical vision of social reconstruction already could not be promoted by a capitalist ruling class.

In her talk, comrade Rath emphasized the birth of a "feminist" women's movement as a rightward split at a crucial moment in American history: the era of "Reconstruction." Reconstruction posed a possibility of socially revolutionary transformations in the South: the regional ruling class, based on the ownership of land and slaves, had been militarily defeated; under the occupying Northern power, political rights were exercised by the former slaves and those willing to be allied with them.

Reconstruction brought not only black enfranchisement but significant democratic reforms: the 1868 South Carolina constitutional convention drafted the state's first divorce law, while Reconstruction legislatures established the South's first public schools and went to work on liberalizing the South's draconian penal codes and reforming the planters' property tax system (which had taxed the farmer's mule and the workman's tools while all but exempting the real wealth—land). But the Northern capitalists betrayed the promise of Reconstruction, allowing it to be physically smashed by forces such as the Ku Klux Klan, even though that meant the destruction of the Republican Party in the South.

Replacing slavery, a new system of racial subordination took shape: a refurbished system of labor discipline through such measures as one-year labor contracts and "vagrancy" laws to bind ex-slaves to the plantations, and a rigid system of Jim Crow segregation. The defeat of Reconstruction shaped the postwar South into modern times: the sharecropping, the poll taxes, convict labor (the chain gang), the "separate but equal" unequal facilities.
While the woman suffrage leaders described in comrade Rath's talk took a stand against the great democratic gains that hung in the balance, many women mobilized by the anti-slavery movement served honorably in Reconstruction, for example as freedmen's schoolteachers who risked their lives to participate in freeing black people from the chains of bondage.

During Reconstruction, debate raged over the agrarian question: the radical demand raised by the freed-men and destitute white Unionist Southerners that the secessionists' estates be confiscated and distributed to them. Some abolitionists saw that racial democracy could not be achieved if a class of whites continued to own the land where a class of blacks were laborers. They argued for justice to those who had been slaves (who created the wealth of the plantations, beginning by clearing the wilderness).

But the tide had turned: the triumphant Northern rulers would not permit such an attack on "property rights" (especially as Northerners directly and Northern banks were coming to own a good deal of Southern property). Fundamentally, the federal power reinvested political power in the hands of the former "best people" of the old Confederacy. In the sequel, intensive exploitation of black agricultural labor, rather than industrial development or capital investment in the modernization of agriculture, remained the basis of the Southern economy.
What was the alternative? Working-class power was shown by the 1848 and 1871 upheavals in Europe to be the alternative to bourgeois rule, as Marx and Engels explained from the Communist Manifesto onward, but conditions were not mature even in Europe for the small proletariat to seize and wield state power. In mid-19th century America, the Northern bourgeoisie under the pressure of a revolutionary Civil War possessed a genuinely progressive side, the basis for the abolitionists' support for the Republican Party. The abolitionists' great debates revolved around how far out in front of the progressive bourgeoisie they should be. There were "radicals" and those with a more "realistic" appraisal of what the Republican Party would support. Today, more than a century after Reconstruction, that debate is transcended. The ruling class long since passed firmly over to the side of reaction; the federal government is no defender of the oppressed. Those who look to find support for an egalitarian program in any wing of the ruling class are doomed to disappointment. To complete the unfinished democratic tasks of the bourgeois revolution is a responsibility of the modern working class.

When the post-Civil War suffragettes chose to focus on the narrowest political rights for middle-class women and turn their backs on the rights and survival of the most desperately oppressed, they prefigured all of today's "constituency" and "reform" politics which refuse to attack the profound class inequalities ingrained in capitalist society. Sojourner Truth's classic "Ain't I a Woman" speech (see below) today stands as a powerful indictment of these ladies as much as of the outright sexists she was debating. Those who renounce the revolutionary content of the demand for women's liberation so as to advance their schemes for election of female politicians or advancement of women in academia are direct descendants of those first "feminists" who refused to challenge the power structure of their time on behalf of justice for two million of their sisters who were freed slaves.

But there is another women's movement: the women who have joined in the front ranks of every revolutionary struggle on this planet, from the 19th-century radical abolitionists to the women workers who sparked the Russian Revolution to the communist women of today. When the October Revolution of 1917 smashed the old tsarist society in Russia, militant women were among the first recruits to communism in dozens of countries where women were oppressed by semi-feudal conditions and "customs." Young women radicalized around questions like women's education, the veil, wife-beating, religious obscurantism, arranged marriages, etc., recognized a road forward to uprooting social reaction and building a society freed from sexual, racial and class inequality. Our heroes are the revolutionary women who have shared in making all of revolutionary history, from the first moment that slaves rose up against the Roman Empire to the great struggles of today.

It was 1863, and the bloodiest war ever fought by the U.S. was raging. Abraham Lincoln had finally realized he must pronounce the destruction of slavery as the North's goal in this civil war. On 22 September 1862, his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation declared that on the first of January, 1863, all slaves in the Confederacy "shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free." Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not free the slaves in the border states loyal to the Union, it turned the tide of battle. The war was now indisputably a war to end slavery, not simply to repair the Union. Soon thereafter, the government began to enlist blacks into the army; these ex-slaves and sons of ex-slaves tipped the military balance in favor of the Union. It was a matter of time until black soldiers singing "John Brown's Body" marched into Charleston, South Carolina—the "soul of secession," as Karl Marx called it-after Sherman's march through Georgia to the sea.

In May of the revolutionary year 1863, the first convention of the Women's Loyal National League met in New York City. Its most eminent speaker was a woman whose name is little known today: Angelina Grimke" Weld. As part of her address she gave a keen analysis of the war:

"This war is not, as the South falsely pretends, a war of races, nor of sections, nor of political parties, but a war of Principles; a war upon the working classes, whether
white or black; a war against Man, the world over. In this war, the black man was the first victim, the workingman of whatever color the next; and now all who contend for the rights of labor, for free speech, free schools, free suffrage, and a free government...are
driven to do battle in defense of these or to fall with them, victims of the same violence that for two centuries has held the black man a prisoner of war "The nation is in a death-struggle. It must either become one vast slaveocracy of petty tyrants, or wholly the land of the free."

—Gerda Lerner, The Grimke Sisters from South Carolina

A resolution was presented: "There can never be a true peace in this Republic until the civil and political rights of all citizens of African descent and all women are practically established." Angelina Grimke' defended it against those who thought it too radical:
"I rejoice exceedingly that that resolution would combine us with the negro. I feel that we have been with him— True, we have not felt the slaveholder's lash; true, we have not had our hands manacled, but our hearts have been crushed I want to be identified with the negro; until he gets his rights, we shall never have ours."

It was only after the Civil War that an ideology arose which was later named "feminism": the idea that the main division in society is sex. In response to the debate over the role of the newly freed slaves in U.S. society, the leaders of the woman suffrage movement—Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony—sided with the counterrevolutionary assault on Reconstruction. The birth of bourgeois feminism was part of a right-wing process which shattered the vision of the left wing of the revolutionary democracy into separate, feeble bourgeois reform movements.

The Second American Revolution

The Civil War was one of the great social revolutions in the history of the world, destroying the slaveholding class in the South and freeing the black slaves. Not only Marxists saw that. The best fighters of the day—the Grimke sisters, the great black abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the Radical Republican Congressman Thaddeus Stevens—knew that the war would have to become a revolution against slavery before the North could win. They hated the feudalistic society of the South, with its degraded slaves, its cruelty, its arrogant, leisurely gentlemen planters, its impoverished rural whites, its lack of education, industry and general culture. The radical abolitionists wanted to wipe away that society, and also saw much wrong in the North, such as the subservience of women, and legal and social discrimination against blacks. Their ideology was to create a new order based on free labor and "equality before the law," a concept brought to the U.S. by the Radical Republican Charles Sumner out of his study of the 1789 French Revolution.

In Europe after the French Revolution the status of women was the most visible expression of the contradiction between capitalist society and its own ideals. But in the U.S. that was not so true, because of chattel slavery. The United States—the first country to proclaim itself a democratic republic—was the largest slaveholding country in the world, a huge historical contradiction which had to be resolved.

The Industrial Revolution

It was the Industrial Revolution, fundamentally, that generated what William Seward called the "Irrepressible Conflict." In broad historical terms the Industrial Revolution had created the material conditions for the elimination of slavery in society. Technological and social advances made possible a much more productive capitalist agriculture and industry. In 1854 the abolitionist clergyman Theodore Parker described slavery as "the foe to Northern Industry—to our mines, our manufactures, and our our democratic politics in the State, our democratic culture in the school, our democratic work in the community" (quoted in James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom).

The Industrial Revolution had a contradictory effect on the condition of women. Production of goods had been primarily through cottage industry, but with the invention of the spinning jenny, the power loom and the steam engine, cottage industry was ended. The men left home to go to the factory, while women stayed home to do the housework, raise the children and to buy at the local store what once they had made at home.

Women's labor ceased to be productive labor in the strict Marxist sense. This is the material basis for the 19th-century ideology of the "women's sphere." While the material advances of the Industrial Revolution made life easier for women, it also locked them into the stifling confines of domesticity in the isolated nuclear family. Women also worked in factories, but even in the industries in which they were concentrated (in textile production they made up two-thirds of the labor force) generally they worked only for a few years before getting married.

The Fight for Women's Legal Rights

Slaves were a class, but women are a specially oppressed group dispersed through all social classes. Although all women were oppressed to some extent because of their position in the family, the class differences were fundamental between the black slave woman and the slave plantation mistress, or the Northern German-speaking laundress and the wife of the owner of the Pennsylvania iron mill. "Sisterhood" was as much a myth then as it is now. Women identified first with the class to which they belonged, determined by who their husbands or fathers were.

Before the Civil War, women were basically without any civil rights. They couldn't sue or be sued, they couldn't be on juries, all their property and earnings went to their husband or father. Although women did have the vote for a few years in New Jersey and Virginia after the American Revolution, this advance was quickly eliminated. (This was part of a general right-wing turn after the Revolution, when suffrage was restricted gradually through property qualifications. In New York State, for example, with some restrictions blacks could vote up to about 1821.) For the wealthy upper-class woman, this lack of legal rights loomed as a terrible injustice because it prevented her from functioning as a full member of the ruling class (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the mother of American feminism and the daughter of a judge, felt this keenly). For the working-class or slave woman, if her property legally belonged to her husband it didn't seem a problem— she didn't have any property.

Though the legal question was a small matter for poor and slave women, nevertheless legal injustice is not insignificant for Marxists, and it is bound up with multi-layered social oppression. This was true for the position of women in pre-Civil War society. Until the 1850s wife-beating was legal in most states. Divorce was almost impossible, and when it was obtained children went with the husband. The accepted attitude toward women was assumption of their "inferiority," and the Bible was considered an authority. When anesthesia was discovered in the 1840s, doctors opposed its use for childbirth, because that suffering was women's punishment for Eve's sin.

The Anti-Slavery Struggle and Democratic Rights

But how were women to fight for equal rights in this society divided between slave and free? Angelina Grimke' was precisely correct when she said, "until the negro gets his rights, we will never have ours." It was necessary to destroy chattel slavery, which was retarding the development of the whole society. The movement for women's rights developed in the North out of the struggle to abolish slavery. It could hardly have developed in the South. In the decades before the war, in response to the growing Northern anti-slavery agitation, the South was becoming more reactionary than ever: more fanatical in defense of the ideology of slavery and more openly repressive. There were wholesale assaults on basic democratic rights, from attacks on the rights of the small layer of free blacks, who were seen as a source of agitation and insurrection, to a ban on the distribution of abolitionist literature.

In the South, there were no public schools. It was illegal to teach slaves to read, and almost half of the entire Southern population was illiterate. But in the North over 90 percent of the residents could read and write. Girls and boys went to school in about the same proportions, the only country in the world where this was true. So while in the North women teachers were paid less than men, and women factory hands received one-quarter the wage of men, in the South there were few teachers at all, and few industrial workers.

As a young slave in Maryland, and later while he was trying to earn a living as a refugee in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Frederick Douglass came to understand the common interests of all working people in the South, slaves and free blacks and whites. He learned a trade on the docks, where he experienced racist treatment from white workmen, who saw black labor as a threat to their jobs. But Douglass realized that the position of the workmen, too, against their boss was eroded and weakened by slavery and racism. As Marx said, "Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded." And indeed, the working-class movement met with little success in the antebellum U.S., whereas after the war there was an upsurge in unionism and labor struggle.

The vanguard of the abolitionist movement—the radical insurrectionist wing—believed in the identity of the interests of all the oppressed. John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, the great activist of the Underground Railroad, and the Grimke sisters were all inspired by a vision of human equality based in revolutionary democracy. Although their egalitarian principle was based on a religious view and ours is based on a Marxist understanding of society, we honor their essential work in leading the anti-slavery struggle. The abolition of slavery did profoundly alter the United States, it did open the road to liberation by making possible the development of the proletariat and its revolutionary vanguard, which will establish justice by abolishing the exploitation of man by man.

The Grimke Sisters of South Carolina

Penetrating insights into the situation of women in pre-Civil War America came from women who were committed abolitionists. Sarah and Angelina Grimke are examples, as is Sojourner Truth who is better known today. The Grimke sisters were unusual members of the ruling class who defected to the other side. As daughters of one of South Carolina's most powerful slave-holding families, they had grown up in luxury, but left the South because of their revulsion for slavery. The Grimke sisters became famous in 1837-1838 as agents of the American Anti-Slavery Society. The power of their personal witness of the atrocities of the slave system drew huge audiences. The sisters were quick to point out that as upper-class white women, they had seen only the "better" treatment of the house and city slaves, and not the more brutal treatment of plantation hands in the fields. But one of the things they did know about was the sexual exploitation of women slaves and the brutal breakup of black families through the slave trade.

Because the sisters addressed the issues of sexual exploitation frankly and often, it was one of the issues the opposition used to try to shut them up. The clergy complained that the Grimke's brought up a subject "which ought not to be named"—how dare these delicate .blossoms of Southern womanhood talk about sex! The very idea of women speaking publicly represented an attack on the proper relationship between the sexes and would upset "women's place" in the home. Contemporary observers were shocked by the sight of women participating actively in the debates of the anti-slavery movement, as they did especially in New England, the birthplace of radical abolitionism. The Grimkes replied by pointing out that the same argument was used against abolition itself: it would upset the established order of social relations. They effectively linked up women's rights and emancipation of the slaves.

Sojourner Truth: "Ain't I a Woman?"

Black women got it from both sides, as the life of Sojourner Truth shows. She was born a slave around 1797 in New York State and was not freed until 1827, under the "gradual emancipation" provisions of the state law. As a slave she was prevented from marrying the man she loved, who was brutally beaten for daring to visit her (they were owned by different masters). They were both forcibly married to other slaves. Her son was sold South as a small child, away from her. After she was freed, she lived a backbreaking existence in New York City, one of the more racist cities in the North and a center for the slave trade.

Sojourner Truth went to all the women's rights conventions. The famous story about her dates from 1853. The usual crowd of male hecklers had almost shut down the proceedings. The women were unable to answer their sneers of how delicate and weak women were. Sojourner Truth asked for the floor and got it, despite the opposition of a lot of the delegates to the presence of a black abolitionist. You have to keep in mind what this woman looked like in this gathering of ladies: she was six feet tall, nearly 60 years old, very tough and work-worn. She said:

"The man over there says women need to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages or over puddles, or gives me the best place—and ain't I a woman?
"Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted and gathered into barns, and no man could head me—and ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have born...children, and seen most of 'em sold into slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me—and ain't I a woman?"

—Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle

Sojourner Truth put her finger on the heart of the contradiction between the stifling idealization of women and their oppression as housewives and mothers and exploitation as slaves and workers.

Women's Rights and the Abolitionist Movement

Support for women's rights was tenuous within the politically diverse anti-slavery movement. Many free-soilers were not anti-racist; some opposed slavery because they didn't want blacks around. Even some of the most dedicated abolitionists argued that "women's rights" could harm the anti-slavery cause, and in 1840 a split in the American Anti-Slavery Society was precipitated by the election of a woman to the leading body.
That same year at an international anti-slavery meeting in London, women members of the American delegation were denied their seats. In the audience was the young Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Out of this experience she decided to begin organizing for women's rights. Eight years later, in 1848, at Seneca Falls, New York the first women's rights convention in the world was held. At first Stanton wasn't going to put forward the vote as a demand—she was afraid it was too extreme. She had to be argued into it by Frederick Douglass. It was the only demand that didn't get unanimous support at the meeting; it was considered too radical.

The role of Douglass was not an accident. The best fighters for women's rights were not the Elizabeth Cady Stantons and the Susan B. Anthonys—the ones who "put women first"—but the left-wing abolitionists. The most militant advocates of black equality, the insurrectionist wing, the prophets of the Civil War, were also the most consistent fighters for women's rights, because they saw no division of interest between blacks and women. Frederick Douglass not only attended all the women's meetings, arguing effectively for full equality for women, but he brought the message elsewhere. He put forward resolutions for women's rights at black conventions, and they were passed. He used to advertise the meetings in his paper and print reports on the proceedings. His paper's motto was, "Right is of no Sex—Truth is of no Color—God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren."

The Fight Over the 14th Amendment

Stanton and Anthony had suspended their woman suffrage campaign for the duration of the war. They circulated petitions for a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, which became the 13th Amendment. After the war Stanton and Anthony set up an Equal Rights Association to agitate for the vote for both blacks and women. They thought because of the broad social upheaval the time was ripe for woman suffrage. But this proved not to be the case.

The question here was citizenship rights under capitalist law, specifically voting. Compare it with how voting rights and citizenship were looked at in another revolution at the same time: the 1871 Paris Commune, the first proletarian revolution (whose example dramatically reinforced ideological conservatism among the American bourgeoisie). The Commune subsumed nationality and citizenship to class considerations. Anybody who got elected from the working class, whatever country they were born in, sat on the legislative body of the Commune, while the industrialists and the bourgeois parliamentarians fled the city and were "disenfranchised" as their property was expropriated.

This was not on the agenda in the United States in the 1860s. The historical tasks of the Civil War and Reconstruction were to complete the unfinished bourgeois revolution, to resolve questions like slave versus free, national sovereignty and democratic rights. In his novel Gore Vidal calls Lincoln the Bismarck of his country, and this is justified. For example, before the Civil War, each state printed its own money. Greenbacks were first made by the Union to finance the war. The Supreme Court regularly said, "the United States are." Only after the war did this country's name become a singular noun—one national government.

But the big question was what to do with the newly emancipated slaves, and this question focused on two things: land and the vote. The debate over the vote represented, in legal terms, a struggle to determine what "citizenship" meant in relation to the state. Many Northern states did not allow blacks to vote, either. The 14th Amendment, which was passed to answer this question, says that all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. are citizens of the nation and of the state in which they live, and that states can't abridge their "privileges and immunities" or deprive them of life, liberty, or property without "due process of law" or deny them "equal protection of the laws."

The Republican Party, which was founded as an anti-slavery party, contained within it many shades of political opinion. It has been argued that the only reason the Republicans gave the vote to blacks was to maintain political control over the states in the conquered Confederacy. This was true of some Republicans, but the men who politically dominated Congress during the period of Radical Reconstruction were committed revolutionary democrats, as observers of the time said of Thaddeus Stevens, who was called the "Robespierre, Danton, and Marat of America." There were good reasons for Douglass' loyalty to the Republicans, given after much early hesitation and sometimes combined with scathing criticism.

But there were a lot of contradictions. The party that was trying to implement black rights was also the party that was massacring the Indians in the West, breaking workers' strikes in the North, presiding over a new scale of graft and corruption, and trying to annex Santo Domingo. In the fight to replace slavery with something other than a peonage system which mimicked bondage, the land question was key. And the robber barons—the moneylords, the triumphant ruling class-rapidly got pretty nervous about the campaign to confiscate the plantations and give them to the blacks. It was an assault on property rights, in line with what those uppity workers in the North were demanding: the eight-hour day, unions, higher wages. The ruling class was quite conscious about this; an 1867 New York Times editorial stated:

"If Congress is to take cognizance of the claims of labor against capital...there can be no decent pretense for confining the task to the slave-holder of the South. It is a question, not of humanity, not of loyalty, but of the fundamental relation of industry to capital; and sooner or later, if begun at the South, it will find its way into the cities of the North.... An attempt to justify the confiscation of Southern land under the pretense of doing justice to the freedmen, strikes at the root of all property rights in both sections. It concerns Massachusetts quite as much as Mississippi."

—Eric Foner, Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War

This question was not resolved quickly, but over a couple of decades. But to collapse a lot of complex history, the revolutionary tide receded under the weight of triumphant capitalism. In 1877 Union troops were withdrawn from Southern occupation as part of the compromise making Rutherford B. Hayes president. The Civil War did not establish black equality, and the 14th and 15th Amendments which codified in law the war's revolutionary gains were turned into virtual dead letters. Nor did the Civil War liberate women, not even in a limited, legalistic sense. They continued to be denied even the simple right to vote (although in some districts in South Carolina in 1870, under the encouragement of black election officials, black women exercised the franchise for a brief time).

From the defeat of Reconstruction was spawned the kind of society we have now. On top of the fundamental class divisions in the U.S. is pervasive and institutionalized racial oppression. The black slaves were liberated from bondage only to become an oppressed race/color caste, segregated at the bottom of society— although today, unlike the immediate aftermath of Reconstruction, blacks also constitute a key component of the American proletariat.

The Birth of American Feminism

Many Radical Republicans were critical of the 14th Amendment, which was a true child of compromise. Sumner called it "uncertain, loose, cracked, and rickety." Opposition centered on a loophole that allowed a state to opt for losing some representation in Congress if it chose to restrict black suffrage—and Southern states exploited this concession. But what Elizabeth Cady Stanton didn't like about it was that for the first time, the word "male" appeared in the Constitution. And this fight was the birth of American feminism.

Of course the 14th Amendment should have given women the vote, and the importance of suffrage for black women was not inconsiderable. But a Civil War had just been fought on the question of black freedom, and it was indeed the "Negro's Hour," as many abolitionists argued. The biggest benefit for women's rights would have been to struggle for the biggest expansion possible in black freedom—to campaign for the land, for black participation in government on the state and federal level, to crush racism in the North, to integrate blacks in housing, education, jobs—to push to the limit the revolutionary possibilities of the period. But Stanton and Anthony sided with the right-wing
assault on the revolutionary opening that existed. They wrote:

"Think of Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Ung Tung who do not know the difference between a Monarchy and a Republic, who never read the Declaration of Independence or Webster's spelling book, making laws for [white abolitionists] Lydia Maria Child, Lucretia Mott, or Fanny Kemble."

Stanton and Anthony embraced race-hatred and anti-immigrant bigotry against the Irish, blacks, Germans and Asians, grounded in class hostility.
They took this position at a time when blacks in the South faced escalating race-terror. The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866 to terrorize Southern blacks; hundreds were murdered. Republicans of both colors were targeted, and a special object of Klan hatred was the schoolhouse and the schoolteacher (many of them Northern women). In the North as well there was a struggle over the vote, over integrated schools. There was a fight to end Jim Crow in the Washington, D.C. trolley system (after the law desegregating streetcars was passed there in 1865, Sojourner Truth herself went around the capital boarding the cars of companies that were refusing to seat blacks). The freedmen's struggles for a fundamental transformation of race relations triggered in the North what some historians have called the first racist backlash. Frederick Douglass' home in Rochester, New York was burned to the ground; Republican and abolitionist leaders routinely received death threats.

So in this period of violent struggle over the race question, the feminists joined forces with the Democrats, the political party of the Klan and the Confederacy, who hoped to exploit the women's issue against blacks. Henry Blackwell (Lucy Stone's husband) argued that white women voting in the South would cancel out the black vote. Stanton and Anthony teamed up with George Train, a notorious racist, who financed their newspaper, Revolution. They adopted the slogan "educated suffrage"—that is, a literacy test for voters—which was deliberately formulated against non-English-speaking immigrants and ex-slaves.

Frederick Douglass made a valiant attempt to win the feminists over to support for the amendments at a meeting of the Equal Rights Association in 1869, where he argued for the urgency of the vote for blacks:

"When women, because they are women, are dragged from their homes and hung upon lamp-posts; when their children are torn from their arms and their brains dashed to the pavement; when they are objects of insult and outrage at every turn; when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot."

—Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle

At this convention Douglass proposed a resolution which called the 15th Amendment the "culmination of one-half of our demands" while imploring a redoubling of "our energy to secure the further amendment guaranteeing the same sacred rights without limitation to sex." But by this point, a split was inevitable. The feminists blamed the Republican Party and the abolitionists for the defeat in Kansas of an 1867 referendum on woman suffrage. They decided that "men" could not be trusted, and for the first time argued that women must organize separately for their own rights. They even flirted with male exclusionism. The movement split in two, one maintaining a formally decent posture on the race question as a cover for doing nothing. The main wing led by Stanton and Anthony wanted to address broad issues, but their capitulation to racist reaction defined them.

They claimed the ballot would solve everything. Their paper was printed in a "rat" office (below union scale). Anthony urged women to be scabs to "better" their condition, then whined when the National Labor Congress refused to admit her as a delegate! Stanton said it proved the worst enemy of women's rights was the working man.

After Reconstruction went down to defeat, the first "feminists" dedicated themselves to the reactionary attempt to prove woman suffrage wouldn't rock the Jim Crow boat. But in the South, the restabilization of a system of overt racist injustice set the context for all social questions. In the South, any extension of the franchise was feared as a threat to "white supremacy" stability. By 1920, when woman suffrage was passed nationally— largely because of World War I which brought women into industry and social life—not a single Southern state had passed the vote for women, although almost every other state had some form of it.

Today, the bourgeois feminists like to hark back to the struggle over the 14th Amendment as proof there must be a separatist women's movement. They claim Stanton and Anthony as their political mothers. Let them have them! We stand in a different tradition: the heritage of Frederick Douglass, John Brown, Harriet Tubman, the Grimke sisters, of revolutionary insurrectionism against the class enemy. Today, to complete the unfinished tasks of the Civil War and emancipate women and blacks from social slavery requires a communist women's movement, part of a multiracial vanguard party fighting for workers power in the interests of all the oppressed.

Monday, February 04, 2008

*Mississippi Goddam- The Saga of Author Richard Wright

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for author Richard Wright.

Book Review

February is Black History Month

Black Boy, Richard Wright, Library of America edition, 1991

Every time I read a book about the plight of blacks in the South in the early part of the 20th century as Jim Crow society solidified I have to shutter in disgust. I have just finished reading communist Harry Haywood’s autobiography Black Bolshevik. I have read Malcolm X’s words on the fate of his forebears in the post-bellum South and now I have read Richard Wright’s autobiographical sketch Black Boy. I will make no defense of the unequal treatment of blacks in the North. There is none. However, Wright’s descriptions of the physical and psychological damage, as presented by his own experiences of Jim Crow, done to blacks by Southern whites are positively feudal. There was no room for illusions about the goodness of humankind in that world. To believe so was to face personal humiliation, or worst-the lynching tree.

Wright, after great personal struggle within himself, is able to reflect on his experiences and to articulate the effect that Jim Crow had on him as a black, as a man, as a human being. It was not pretty. One can only image the fate of those less articulate than brother Wright as they try to comprehend a world not of their making but which they early on must learn to navigate. The description of this grinding struggle is heart of the first part of the book.

Wright goes back to the mist of time in his early youth to dissect the hunger, psychological as well as physical, than never was far from his door; the effects on him of a sick and helpless mother; of an absent ne’er-do-well father; and, an overbearing and religiously-driven grandmother on his early development. And those are just the problems in the house. Once Wright steps outside those comparably comfortable confines he faces the outside world of Mississippi reality that he must put on a mask in order to survive in a world that will literally cut him down if he does not learn the code. Although Wright gives many examples of how this system robbed blacks of their personality the most graphic descriptions, by far, are those that deal with the need to have to put on the mask when whites are around. And the consequences if one did not.

And what of the great escape to the North (via Memphis) to Chicago-the Promised Land that forms the basis for the second part of the book? We have seen that urban story portrayed in other locales as well, for example, in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Claude Brown’s Man-Child in The Promised Land. That is where my statement about the treatment, or rather mistreatment, of blacks in the North comes into play. In effect, Wright articulates the contours of a psychological feudalism in the North where the special oppressions of blacks as a race are met with indifference by whites. What makes Wright’s case special is that through self-education and willpower he breaks out of the endless and destructive turning in on oneself to articulate his experiences and those of other blacks like him displaced from the rural life of the South to the uncertainties of urban life.

On the face of it seems incongruous that Wright would find a solution to his angst in the American Communist Party during the heyday of the ‘third period’ in the early 1930's. I have mentioned elsewhere, most recently in my review of Harry Haywood’s Black Bolshevik (part of which also deals with this period in the American party), that on reading memoirs and autobiographies of the older generations of radicals and revolutionaries I am looking for the spark that broke them from the norms of bourgeois society. I have found that there is a great range of reasons from racial and class hatreds to intellectual curiosity. I find that in the end that Wright’s relationship to communism, not without some bumps and bruises along the way, came from intellectual curiosity as much as any sense of racial or class injustice.

In Chicago, in many ways the embryonic black proletarian core of the country in this period, Wright continued his struggle for physical daily survival and for intellectual understanding. His fortuitous linking up with the local John Reed Club helped, at least initially, stabilize his intellectual life. His description of the inner workings of the Communist Party and its role in its own front group creations, like the Reed Club, jibes with other accounts that I have read. The tremendous pressures to conform to party life and the party line are chilling for what, in the final analysis, was a voluntary political organization and not a cult. Moreover, one of the characters portrayed in this section bears a striking resemblance to the above-mentioned very real Harry Haywood. Wright’s take on Haywood is very, very different from how old Harry portrayed himself in his autobiography. Surprise.

One of the charges brought against Wright by fellow black party members was that he was an intellectual. Self-taught, yes, but an intellectual nevertheless. One would think that recruiting such a fairly rare person, black or white, would have had the comrades spinning cartwheels. No so in Wright’s case. Tremendous pressure was placed on him to conform to party dictates. Or else. This seems counter-intuitive. The relationship between communism and intellectuals and artists has always been a somewhat rocky one. But know this-then and today we need as many intellectuals as we can get our hands on to write, think and lead the struggles of humankind. Ignorance never did anyone any good. Enough said on that. If you want to get a real feel for what that old expression Mississippi God Damn from Nina Simone's song really meant read this well written and thoughtful book.

***At The Dawn of American Capitalism-Shopkeeper's Millenium

Book Review

Shopkeeper's Millenium, Paul E. Johnson, Hill and Wang, 1978

In any truly socialist understanding of history the role of the class struggle plays a central role. Any thoughtful socialist wants to, in fact needs to, know how the various classes in society were formed, and transformed, over time. A lot of useful work in this area has been done by socialist scholars. One thinks of E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class, for example. One does not, however, need to be a socialist to do such research in order to provide us with plenty of ammunition in our fight for a better world. Shopkeeper’s Millennium by Paul E. Johnson is such a work.

One can disagree with Professor Johnson’s conclusions, and perhaps aspects of his methodology that relies very heavily on the interpretation of governmental and church records. He has nevertheless written a very interesting case study of Rochester, New York as a prime example of how America in the 1820’s and 1830’s, that is at the infancy of American capitalism, turned from a wilderness into an important new center of capitalist development as the Eire Canal became a cog in the transnational transportation system. Johnson has also provided some useful insights into the role that religion, especially the ‘born again’ evangelical religion that we are familiar with today, helped form the prevailing capitalist ethos that drove this expansion forward.

Professor Johnson uses the well-known sources (city directories, tax assessments, censuses, Church registries) to flesh out his argument. One can take exception to some of his conclusions based on rather scanty data (and on the reliability of such data in a very mobile and transient environment). However the overall thrust of his work makes the important point that this period turned this part of America away from a sleepy agrarian/mercantile society to a rather dynamic capitalist one within a relatively short time. And, moreover, the social preconditions that fostered such growth were not merely accidental but represented the expansion of an already stable elite ready to take advantage of the new mode of production. In short, as we have seen at other previous nodal points of history (and today, as well) the rich and able have a leg up when the new riches are to be distributed.

Religious indoctrination, strict social mores, intense social pressure and flat out coercion are detailed here as ways in which the budding capitalist class dominated the society. Religious revivals, anti-Masonic struggles and various social reform campaigns, particularly the fight against 'demon' whiskey, play their part. As does plain old-fashioned politics that we are very familiar with. Perhaps not as familiar is how political sides were chosen in various local fights, like the closing of dram shops, despite common religious affiliation.

The key struggle in forming the capitalist mode of production was the effort to discipline a reluctant workforce to the tasks at hand. That was achieved in Rochester by many of the old tricks like coercion, ostracism and shunning that we have seen elsewhere at the rise of capitalism, particularly in England. In an interesting sidelight Professor Johnson details the change over, in a fairly short period of time , from workers being housed under the paternalistic supervision of their employers in their homes to the establishment of separate working class quarters. This is a big step in the forming of class-consciousness, both ways.
Such details are the stuff that makes this an interesting study.

Is this what today’s working class looks like in a ‘post-industrial’ American society? No. However many of the same techniques of domination still hold sway. Read this book about the days when American capitalism was a progressive force in the world. And begin to understand why it needs to be fought tooth and nail now.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

*From The Black History and Class Struggle Archives- The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

February is Black History Month. This presidential year with the rise of Obama and the youth movement is a good time to look back and try to learn the lessons of previous struggles for black rights.

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 327, 8 April 1983

Neither Nationalism Nor Liberalism, But Revolutionary Integrationism!


The 5,000 demonstrators, overwhelmingly black and working-class, who stopped the Ku Klux Klan from marching in the nation's capital last November 27 may have opened a new chapter in the struggle for black liberation in America. Responding to the call of the Labor/Black Mobilization, initiated by the Spartacist League, thousands of anti-racists streamed from the Capitol to the White House, chanting, "1, 2, 3, 4, Time to Finish the Civil War—5, 6, 7, 8, Forward to a Workers State!" Our slogan caught on instantly, expressing the continuity of a century and a half of struggle for black freedom. After a decade of defeats, November 27 pointed the way forward out of the impasse reached in the 1960s when the militant civil rights activists ran headlong into the realities of black oppression in racist, capitalist America.

The spectre of blacks and reds backed up by the power of labor sent shivers down the spine of the bourgeoisie. So their furor against "outside agitators," the "Tarzan Trotskyists," was predictable. Despicably, a "socialist" cult-sect based in Ann Arbor even echoed this with talk of "carpetbaggers." The bourgeois hysteria came not just from Reagan, whose attorney general had vowed to protect the KKK and even brought in the FBI to back up city police. On November 27 Washington's black mayor, Marion Barry, conveniently departed for a "mayor's conference" in Los Angeles, leaving his cops to tear gas and club black youth. The Walter Fauntroys and their reformist hangers-on had their "free food" diversions, their pop-front gab fests at distant sites to try to channel the anger of the masses into "safe" directions. But they failed...and the Klan was stopped.

On November 27, a spokesman for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) asked from the Labor/Black rally podium why Marion Barry wasn't out there with us. Many demonstrators had the same question, and a National Black Network talk show host later asked rally organizers whether we thought Marion Barry had sold out. After all, Marion Barry was the first chairman of the militant Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the early 1960s. And as was pointed out in a recent TV documentary in the Frontline series, "In the Shadow of the Capitol," ex-SNCC activists dominate the D.C. city administration. Ivanhoe Donaldson, Marion Barry's deputy mayor and chief political adviser, was a SNCC organizer in Mississippi. John Wilson, now a city councilman, used to run SNCC's draft resistance program. Courtland Cox is another top Barry aide. Frank Smith was just elected to the City Council, and so on.

So ex-SNCCers are practically running the Washington city government, such as it is. But what has that meant for the quality of life in the Southeast D.C. black ghettos? As ex-SNCC staffer Charlie Cobb, narrator of the TV documentary, noted, "The guys in Anacostia don't really feel like they know Marion Barry anymore." Barry, who once led lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville, now tells the demonstrators who picket outside his office, "I can get more done in five minutes with my signature on a document" than they can with 1,000 people on the street. And just what are those documents he's signing? How is it that these "Movement people" have now become the protectors of the KKK, the administrators of racist budget cuts, the instigators of mass expulsions of black students at the University of the District of Columbia?

Marion Barry did not "sell out." SNCC was heterogeneous, and its "moderate" wing never saw itself going beyond reforms "within the system." They and their seniors in Martin Luther King's SCLC were always looking to become something like the mayors of Atlanta and Washington, D.C. And they did. But what about the radicals like Stokely Carmichael (now Kwame Toure) who fought against the Marion Barrys and whose break from liberal pacifism was expressed by the slogan "black power"? While Carmichael and his "All-African Peoples Revolutionary Party" may not be administering the bourgeois state apparatus, they are totally irrelevant and frequently obstacles to today's black struggles. As the white sheets and burning crosses multiply in Reagan's America, Stokely says, "It's a waste of time" to fight the Klan!

So here you have the spectacle of two former chairmen of SNCC: one leaves town ordering his cops to protect the Klan, and the other tells the Howard and UDC students who were part of the thousands of black Washingtonians who stopped the KKK November 27 that their action was "a diversion." A recent book, In Struggle—SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s, by Clayborne Carson sheds considerable light on a subject of great interest to communists: how the left wing of the civil rights movement, located mainly in SNCC, broke from liberalism only to disintegrate and become trapped in the dead end of black nationalism.

In Struggle is a comprehensive, vivid description of the crisis in this crucible of black radicalism. What Carson cannot explain is why it happened. To understand the impasse of the civil rights movement, to open the road to the genuine emancipation of black people in America, requires a materialist analysis and Marxist program of revolutionary integrationism.

From Liberal Pacifism to "Black Power"

The appearance of the Southern civil rights movement with the 1956 Montgomery bus boycott opened a new phase in postwar American history, ending the period of Cold War/McCarthyite hysteria. Increasingly American society was polarized along the lines of for-or-against Jim Crow. The young liberal activists, black and white, who threw themselves into the lunch counter sit-ins and freedom rides were not sympathetic to communism, but they were breaking with the anti-Communist prejudices of their parents which had paralyzed the struggle against racism.

SNCC was formed in I960 at the initiative and under the auspices of King's SCLC. Its founding statement of principles began: "We affirm the philosophical or religious ideal of non-violence as the foundation of our purpose...." SNCC at birth was a constituent part of the black liberal establishment in the South, the youth group of what W.E.B. Du Bois earlier termed "the talented tenth." Yet six years later SNCC would infuriate liberal opinion by raising the slogan "black power," and shortly thereafter its new chairman Hubert "Rap" Brown would declare, "the only thing'the man's' going to respect is that .45 or .38 you got." What caused so radical a transformation during those six years?

Through bitter and repeated experience the SNCC activists learned first-hand that the white liberal leaders—the Bobby Kennedys, the Hubert Humphreys and Walter Reuthers—were a lot closer to Dixiecrat racists George Wallace and James Eastland than they were to the civil rights activists. They saw information given in confidence to Justice Department "observers" passed on to cracker sheriffs who naturally used it to victimize SNCC organizers and supporters. There came a moment when a majority of SNCC had rejected liberalism as they knew it, but had not yet embraced black nationalism. Black oppression could not be overcome within the framework of bourgeois democracy, however radical. The conditions weighing upon the impoverished urban masses. South as well as North— terrorized, last hired/first fired, condemned to a life of desperation in the ghettos with their mean streets, lousy schools, rat-infested housing—these could not be solved by a new Civil Rights Act. Genuine equality for blacks is inconceivable without socialist revolution and the massive redistribution of society's wealth, possible only through socialist economic planning.

The SNCC radicals came up against the social revolutionary implications of the struggle against black oppression, but without the intervention of communists they were not able to make the leap to proletarian socialism. When SNCC attempted to go beyond voting rights and access to public facilities (which blacks in the North and a number of Southern cities already had), the organization entered a prolonged crisis of identity. James Forman, SNCC executive secretary in this period, later wrote, "So long as we were working on voter registration and public accommodations, there was a broad consensus under which everyone could move" (The Making of Black Revolutionaries). So long, but no longer.

During the critical period of 1963-66 SNCC militants faced three fundamental political alternatives: reintegration into the liberal establishment, the reactionary utopianism of nationalist separatism, or proletarian socialism (Marxism). Some, like Marion Barry, took the first road via LBJ's "Great Society" poverty programs. However, the most militant elements in SNCC went over to black nationalism, initially a small and isolated current in the organization. Why did these young black radicals opt for nationalist separatism rather than Marxism?

One important factor was their revulsion against the existing organized labor movement, whose liberal face was that of United Auto Workers chief Walter Reuther, a man SNCC cadre had good and personal reasons to despise. In general, the Meany/Reuther-led AFL-CIO was, if anything, more committed to the racist status quo than were many liberal Democratic and even Republican politicians. Typically the children of preachers, schoolteachers and funeral parlor owners, the student radicals in SNCC were isolated from the mass of the black working class and socially above them (despite wearing farmers' coveralls, which became almost a uniform). These petty-bourgeois radicals had no conception at all of setting the base of the labor movement against the top.

But who could bring them this conception except Marxists? The fate of SNCC was decided, as much as by any other single factor, by the criminal abstentionism of the ostensibly Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Defining itself in effect as a "white party," the SWP refused to involve itself in the Southern civil rights struggles while tailing "the Movement" from the outside. Here a historic but fleeting opportunity was lost to change the course of black struggle in contemporary America. The history of SNCC is the story of the road not taken, the only road leading to black liberation, that of proletarian socialist revolution.

Breaking with the Liberals

SNCC emerged out of the lunch counter sit-in movement which swept the Southern black campuses in the spring of 1960. It began when the North Carolina A&T students sat in at Woolworth's in downtown Greensboro (the city where 20 years later, the KKK/ Nazis would massacre five blacks and leftists in cold blood). The SNCC activists came out of the elite black schools like Morehouse College (Julian Bond), Howard University (Stokely Carmichael). Fisk (Marion Barry) or even Harvard (Bob Moses). An extension of black liberalism, the initial goal was formal, legal equality—civil rights, or "Northernizing the South." The political strategy was to seek the support of, and avoid antagonizing, the liberal establishment, bringing to bear the powers of the federal government which was controlled by this establishment.

But if the SNCC activists at first saw themselves as the future Martin Luther Kings, soon their experience was teaching them different lessons from those taught by the preachers. They had illusions in the federal government, but repeatedly received object lessons in the class nature of the bourgeois state. On the freedom rides, the young activists watched how the FBI "observers" stood by taking notes as the sheriffs' goons bashed demonstrators' heads (the FBI of course was in cahoots with, and often part of, the Klan). Carson tells how, after Bob Moses first went into Amite County, Mississippi in 1961, a black sharecropper who helped him was gunned down by a white state legislator, E.H. Hurst. A black witness then told Moses he would testify at Hurst's trial, if promised federal protection. Moses told this to a Justice Department official who not only refused protection ("Justice" was only there to "observe"), but the identity of this witness was passed on to the local
racists and he was subsequently murdered.

From Albany to the "Farce on Washington"

From Albany, Georgia to Lowndes County, Alabama to the plantation country of Mississippi, SNCC was radicalized by its grassroots organizing of poor black sharecroppers which repeatedly brought it into head-on conflict not just with the Dixiecrats, but the whole racist, capitalist state. Every struggle drove them further away from the liberal premises on which they were founded. The Kennedy White House might be willing to integrate the bus station bathrooms and drinking fountains, but they were not about to make a fundamental change in life in the "Black Belt," where the heirs of slaveowners still lorded over the plantations and the Dixiecrat politics, while the sons and daughters of slaves, the terrorized black majority, scratched out a precarious existence as sharecroppers, day laborers and maids. And as SNCC's organizing among the black masses repeatedly brought the situation to flash point, the government rushed in their black brokers to cool it, their CIA agents to co-opt it, their courts to indict it, their troops to crush it.

Albany, formerly the slave and cotton capital of southeast Georgia, marked the beginning of the open split between SNCC and the black preachers of the SCLC. In Albany SNCC sang "Ain't Gonna Let Chief Pritchett Turn Me 'Round," but after more than a year of sustained struggle, SNCC found all its tactics—mass arrests, flooding the jails, rallies, boycotts, vigils—failed to break the grip of Jim Crow. "We were naive enough to think we could fill up the jails.,.. We ran out of people before [Chief Pritchett] ran out of jails," SNCC staffer Bill Hanson said later.
In Albany, the SNCC workers who had tirelessly stomped the dirt roads, gone door-to-door on the black side of town to win support for the movement, were less than thrilled with King and Abernathy's highly publicized weekend jaunts into town to cool things out and arrange "truces" on their behalf. "Don't get weary. We will wear them down with our capacity to suffer," King told the black masses in Albany. But SNCC was beginning to question King's whole strategy of nonviolent resistance. In midsummer with 3,000 Klansmen massed outside town, Albany's black youth fought back with bricks and bottles when the cops attacked a rally outside a black church. King declared a "day of penance" for the "violence," but SNCC refused to condemn the action.

In Albany, SNCC started referring to King contemptuously as "De Lawd."
At the August 1963 March on Washington, SNCC saw how the whole liberal establishment and particularly the liberal wing of the trade-union bureaucracy was used by the government to put the lid on the exploding black movement. The civil rights leaders had initially called the march to put the heat on Kennedy who was dragging his heels on the passage of the civil rights bill. But when the president called them into conference they quickly changed their tune, agreeing to change the march location from the White House to the Lincoln Memorial, deny participation to all "subversive" groups and censor all speeches. So, orchestrated straight from the White House, the march would be a giant liberal prayer fest to channel the masses safely back into liberal Democratic politics. King's "1 Have a Dream" speech celebrated "non-violence," while the USIA filmed the whole event for foreign consumption to prove how "peaceful change" was still possible in America. Disgusted SNCC staffers took to wearing "I Have a Nightmare" buttons, and Malcolm X dubbed it the "Farce on Washington."

While the popular front stretching from Kennedy to Reuther to King could all comfortably rail against the Southern Dixiecrats, at the march SNCC's bitter fury against the federal government had to be kept in check. There would be no "communist" words like "masses" or "revolution" in Washington that day, the "official" black leaders vowed. They censored SNCC chairman John Lewis' speech, deleting his conclusion that:

"The party of Kennedy is the party of Eastland.... We cannot depend on any political party lor both Democrats and Republicans have betrayed the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence."

The labor bureaucrats Walter Reuther and A. Philip Randolph took the lead in pressuring Lewis (who was far from a radical within SNCC) to tone down his language and criticism of the Kennedy administration.

MFDP vs. Lowndes County Black Panther Party

As the culmination of SNCC's voter registration projects in Mississippi, 80,000 blacks who had been prevented from registering as Democrats signed "protest ballots" as members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). At the 1964 Democratic Party convention, the MFDP hoped their 68-member alternate delegation would unseat the "regular" Jim Crow slate. With the Dixiecrats already vowing to bolt to Goldwater in '64, the MFDP was making a bid to the liberals for the Democratic Party franchise. As Carson put it, "The hopes of the MFDP delegation were based on the belief that they, rather than the regular, all-white delegation, represented the expressed principles of the national Democratic party." Surprise, they didn't.

The MFDP was based in Ruleville, Mississippi, where Dixiecrat boss Senator James Eastland had his plantation. Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Eastland launched a personal vendetta against SNCC for registering the blacks off his estate. The story of Fannie Lou Hamer, who became the MFDP's Congressional
candidate, was typical—the youngest of 20 children of black sharecroppers, she was evicted from the plantation where she had worked for 18 years because she registered to vote. When she moved in with a friend in Ruleville, their house was firebombed.

The MFDP was really an outgrowth of the 1964 "Mississippi Summer Project," braintrusted and financed through Allard Lowenstein, the sinister operative of Cold War liberalism. (As the New York Times wrote upon his assassination in 1980, "Most of the New Left labeled Mr. Lowenstein as a CIA agent.") Working closely with Bob Moses, Lowenstein brought thousands of Northern white college kids to the South for the summer, hoping to "restore faith in the system" by forcing a confrontation in which the federal government would have to intervene.

Going into Atlantic City, the MFDP had considerable support from Northern state delegations. But Lyndon Johnson, still determined to keep the Southern white vote, offered Hubert Humphrey the vice-presidency on the condition that he get the MFDP to back down. They lined up the whole liberal entourage—from Reuther to King to Lowenstein—to put the squeeze on the MFDP to accept the "compromise" by which they would get two "at large" seats, while the entire Dixiecrat delegation would be seated. Despite the pressure, the SNCC leadership rejected the "compromise" and the racists were seated. As Forman wrote, "Atlantic City was a powerful lesson, not only for the black people from Mississippi but for all of SNCC and many other people as well. No longer was there any hope, among those who still had it, that the federal government would change the situation in the Deep South."

In Lowndes County, Alabama Stokely Carmichael and the other SNCC staffers who stayed on to organize after the Selma demonstrations of April 1965 drew their conclusions from the bitter experiences of the MFDP. In George Wallace's Alabama where the words "white supremacy" were part of the Democratic ballot designation, SNCC decided to register blacks for an independent party. As Carmichael said, it was "as ludicrous for Negroes to join [the Democratic Party] as it would have been for Jews to join the Nazi party in the 1930s." The local residents agreed. One recalled, "SNCC mentioned about the third party and we decided we would do it, because it didn't make sense for us to go join the Democratic party when they were the people who had done the killing in the county and had beat our heads." The new organization took a snarling black panther as its symbol, and soon came to be called the Black Panther Party.

Although narrowly based on a single impoverished rural Black Belt county, Lowndes was important because it was organized in opposition to the Democrats. The Lowndes Black Panther Party was also important for its open advocacy of armed self-defense. Armed self-defense was a burning necessity for the black movement in the South. In Monroe, North Carolina beginning in 1959 local NAACP chapter head Robert Williams' courageous battle against KKK terror and his book Negroes With Guns became a beacon to militant blacks throughout the South. Indeed, James Forman, then a young Chicago Defender reporter, visited with Williams just before Williams was forced into exile in Cuba in 1961. In Lowndes the SNCC workers were influenced by and defended the militant black sharecroppers who owned guns and were willing to use them against racist attack. By 1965 the Louisiana-based Deacons for Defense and Justice had spread to Alabama; black rallies in the county were often defended by these armed self-defense squads.

The Ghettos Explode

But it was above all the Northern ghetto explosions which marked the end of the civil rights period and had a profound effect on the SNCC militants.
This is something Carson doesn't understand—the main weakness of his account is its SNCC-centricity, barely touching on factors such as the ghetto "riots" or the influence of Malcolm X, except insofar as they directly intersected SNCC. But "non-violence" died in Harlem in the summer of 1964 and Watts a year later. Until then the civil rights leaders could plausibly claim that their policies and outlook were supported by the black masses, actively in the South and at least passively in the North. But after Harlem and Watts, when it was clear that the explosions were no isolated event, but part of a pattern, it was clear that the whole "turn the other cheek" ethos had no relevance to the embittered urban black masses.

There was enormous pressure on the official black leaders to denounce the "riots." So in '64 it was only the reds who defended the Harlem ghetto masses against what was in fact a police riot. Bill Epton of the Progressive Labor Party, organizer of the militant Harlem Defense Council, was witchhunted by a bourgeois hysteria campaign which included all the black establishment figures. The Spartacist group vigorously defended Epton and the Harlem youth. On the eve of the "riots" we had noted that the mass character of the black struggle in the North was posing a direct threat to the capitalist system and predicted that the cops would soon crack down hard. Spartacist (No. 2, July-August 1964) called for block councils as a "basis for the organization of self-defense." At a mass rally in the New York garment center, called by the Spartacist-initiated Harlem Solidarity Committee, we called for removal of the rioting cops from the ghettos and recognition of the ghetto masses' right to defend themselves against police occupation.

In contrast, in Watts in the summer of 1965 King declared, "It was necessary that as powerful a police force as possible be brought in to check them [the ghetto masses]" (New York Times, 16 August 1965). The Black Muslims' famous cartoon captured King's spirit: "If there is any blood spilled on the streets, let it be our blood." King's defense of cop terror to smash the ghetto explosions was the ultimate proof of what his one-sided "non-violence" really amounted to. For the SNCC radicals this provoked a sharp break with King and the whole liberal civil rights movement. For up until that point the young militants, although many were never committed pacifists, had accepted "non-violence" as a tactic. They had fought for "one man, one vote." But how did "non-violence" and voter registration answer the oppression of Northern ghetto blacks? As Forman later wrote:

"The basic question, 'What is SNCC?' had not yet been answered. Our long-range goals had called for redefinition ever since Atlantic City, and especially since the 1964 and 1965 Civil Rights acts—which made obsolete many aspects of our early organizing work. Watts had exploded in August, 1965; could we still call ourselves 'nonviolent' and remain in the vanguard of black militancy? If we were revolutionaries, what was it that we sought to overthrow?"

—James Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries (1972)

Crisis of Identity

SNCC radicals had broken with liberalism as they knew it. But where did they go from here? Although he cannot explain it, Carson graphically describes the prolonged crisis which broke out after the MFDP debacle—the malaise, the complaints of "loss of will," the endless conferences, the debates, the therapy sessions. Psychiatrists came in and diagnosed it as "battle fatigue" after the grueling Mississippi summer. Sociologists chalked it up to the problems of elite black students "relating" to ghetto youth. It was not a sociological question. SNCC had run head-on into the black question in capitalist America.

The Waveland Retreat in November 1964 was symptomatic. For this conference 37 papers were written analyzing SNCC's failure to act decisively after the "freedom summer." The ensuing debates took up everything from Forman's position to turn SNCC into a professional cadre organization to Bob Moses' "anti-leadership" bent for local community work. But around what program? There was massive dissatisfaction with SNCC's penny-ante projects. What good was integrating the lunch counters, if you couldn't afford to buy lunch, they argued. Instead,of "stopgap measures which buy off revolution," SNCC should "take all the Negroes from the rural areas into the cities and force the revolution," one member proposed. At Waveland, a women's workshop was held protesting the relegation of SNCC women to office chores and their exclusion from leadership roles. The workshop was generally ridiculed; Carmichael notoriously responded that the proper position of women in SNCC was "prone."

Basically SNCC was, within its own terms, effective so long as it was fighting institutionalized Jim Crow and could unite the entire black community around the most elementary democratic demands, such as voter rights or access to public facilities. But in places like Atlanta or Montgomery, they found that the kind of things they were doing had been done, and done better, by the Democratic Party lobby, or the churches, and somewhat later by the poverty programs. They had to develop a social revolutionary program. In the absence of this, those who did not want to be merely co-opted into the liberal Democratic mainstream were drawn to nationalism.

The first nationalist locus in SNCC was a circle around Bill Ware, a Pan-Africanist who only entered the organization in 1964 and set up his own operation, the Atlanta Project. Ware worked briefly building support for the Julian Bond Democratic election campaign in Atlanta's Vine City ghetto. (Bond, who had won election to the Georgia state legislature, was refused seating by die-hard white supremacists.) But the Atlanta Project soon split off to work Vine City on a hard nationalist basis. The Atlanta separatists argued that whites could not "relate to the black experience," that their presence "diluted" SNCC and intimidated blacks from expressing themselves, etc. But to most SNCC cadre, white staffers like Bob Zellner and Jack Minnis were seen as an integral part of the group. The Ware faction's motion at the March 1966 staff meeting to expel all whites was defeated by a majority which then included Carmichael. (Although he's disappeared it now, Stokely, from Bronx High School of Science, was around YPSL and the social-democratic Howard University Non-Violent Action Group and for years had some of the closest ties to white leftists.)

Although the nationalists were initially isolated, they quickly gained ground for they were the only ones with a coherent anti-liberal ideology. SNCC hated in their guts the treacherous white liberals, the trade-union bureaucrats, the government agents with their crocodile tears and their money, their connections, all tantalizingly held out to wrap a net around the struggle and draw it back under their control. The black militants rejected integrationism which they identified with the ideological hegemony of the Bobby Kennedys and Allard Lowensteins. They never became aware of the program of revolutionary integrationism—integration into egalitarian socialist society.

SNCC knew who they hated. But it was a negative program. In the absence of a revolutionary alternative, the nationalists won out in their call to break all ties with the "white Establishment" in which they lumped together the communists with the liberals, the unions with the bureaucrats, thus cutting off the road to socialist revolution for the black working masses in America. It is a historic crime of the Socialist Workers Party that it refused to go in and do battle for people who were quite openly groping for a radical alternative to the liberalism of the Hubert Humphreys and Martin Luther Kings. Inside the SWP the Revolutionary Tendency (RT)—the core of the future Spartacist League—fought for the party to seize this opportunity to win black Trotskyist cadres. An RT motion to the convention of the SWP's youth group, the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA), urgently insisted:

"The masses of black workers and the SNCC leadership and ranks will not pragmatically come to understand and adopt the science of Marxism simply by virtue of their militancy and readiness to grasp any methods within their reach....

"The rising upsurge and militancy ol the black revolt and the contradictory and contused, groping nature of what is now the left wing in the movement provide the revolutionary vanguard with fertile soil and many opportunities to plant the seeds ol revolutionary socialism. Our task is to create a Trotskyist tendency in the broad left wing of the movement, while building that left wing...."

—"The Negro Struggle and the Crisis of Leadership," Draft Resolution on Civil Rights, submitted to the YSA. August 1963

The RT's resolutions were voted down and shortly after we were expelled. The majority's position was that no SWPer was needed in the South at all, since SNCC would become revolutionary on its own in the course of the struggle. When black RTer Shirley Stoute received a personal written invitation from James Forman to work with SNCC in Atlanta, the SWP had to accede. But they sent down majority agents to spy on her, and within about a month called her back to New York on a pretext, refused to let her return to Atlanta, and would not even let her give them a statement why! Thus as the SWP tailed popular black figures, searching around for a "black Castro," they actually forced militant party cadres out of this critical work. For the SWP's centrist degeneration was marked precisely by its rejection of the need for a revolutionary vanguard party from Cuba to the black struggle at home. In 1963, the expulsion of the RT opened the road for the SWP's consolidation around reformism—only a year later after the murders of Chancy, Schwerner and Goodman in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the SWP would come out with its obscene call to withdraw the troops from Vietnam and send them to Mississippi!

"Black Power"

In Lowndes County SNCC had broken with the Democrats. The black radicals advocated armed self-defense in the South and sided with the ghetto rebellions in the North. As the Vietnam War escalated, they made the link between black oppression at home and the U.S.' dirty imperialist war abroad. SNCC's stand against the war horrified the black establishment. When King, Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young pleaded with SNCC to call off an antiwar protest outside Lucy Baines Johnson's wedding on 5 August 1966, they shot back a bitter reply:

"You have displayed more backbone in defending [the president's daughter and her fiance] than you have shown for our black brothers engaged in acts of rebellion in our cities. As far as we are concerned you messengers can tell your boss that his day of jubilation is also the day that his country murdered many in Hiroshima."

This trend had culminated in the May 1966 election of Stokely Carmichael as SNCC chairman. A month later in Greenwood, Mississippi Carmichael raised the "black power" call to a cheering crowd.

The effect was electric. "Black power" was picked up by the young radicals
from the burning ghettos to the Jim Crow South as the rallying cry against the black preachers' sermonizing, the liberals' begging. After all the hopes and expectations of the black masses raised and betrayed by the civil rights leaders, "black power" was the definitive rejection of their "faith in the system." a vow to take matters into their own hands. For SNCC. the "black power" slogan was their hoped-for route to catch up to the urban ghetto masses who had outstripped them. "If America don't come around, we're going to burn it down." swore "Rap" Brown. As the bourgeois press screeched, virtually the entire black establishment was mobilized to condemn it as the "new racism." King temporized, saying he didn't want to "excommunicate" the black power radicals. And Harlem demagogue Adam Clayton Powell was sharp enough to see which way the wind was blowing—he jumped on the bandwagon declaring "black power" meant voting for him. But white liberals were horrified.

Initially, the "black power" movement was contradictory. As we wrote:

"SNCC's empirical rejection of the more obvious brands of reformism advocated by white liberals and petty-bourgeois Black 'leaders' has taken the form of a call for 'Black Power.' a militant-sounding phrase which frightens the white liberals and Uncle Toms. The concepts implied in the SNCC slogan of 'Black Power' are radical enough to have caused the bourgeois press and politicians to shower vicious abuse on it. precisely because the slogan is a groping for solutions outside the framework of the capitalist society."

—"SNCC and Revolution." Spartacist No. 8. November-December 1966

But we warned: "...the slogan 'black power' must be clearly defined in class, not racial terms, for otherwise the'black power' movement may become the black wing of the Democratic Party in the South" ("Black and Red—Class Struggle Road to Negro Freedom," Spartacist No. 10, May-June 1967). Our prediction seemed almost inconceivable to most people at the time, yet that is precisely what happened.

Even though we were small, the Spartacist tendency, recently expelled from the SWP, fought to intersect the "black power" radicals. Our call for a "Freedom-Labor Party" was the axis to link the exploding black struggle to the power of labor, North and South. With it we posed a series of transitional demands to win militants to this class-struggle perspective: for "A Southern Organizing Drive Backed Up by Organ¬ized Labor," for "A Workers United Front Against Federal Intervention," for "Organized, Armed Self-Defense." And we sought to translate this into practice, organizing aid ("Every Dime Buys a Bullet") for the Deacons for Defense and Justice. The Deacons were black vets who sprang up in Jonesboro and Bogalusa, Louisiana to protect CORE workers there. As we wrote:

"The Deacons organization is a tremendous step forward for the Negro struggle, not only because it saves lives, but also because it raises the level of consciousness of the civil rights movement by encouraging independent action and discouraging reliance upon the institutions of the bourgeois state."

—"Toward Arming the Negro Struggle," Sparlacisl No. 5, November-December 1965

But we lacked the forces. As a result of the criminal abstention of the SWP when SNCC first began to break from liberalism the "black power" radicals never found a bridge to the program of workers power. Increasingly in SNCC "black power" came to mean exclusion of whites and consolidation around a hard separatist program. In December 1966 the remaining whites were finally expelled. Even then the vote was 19-18 with 24 abstentions, indicating how deep the bonds of comradeship had been, how wrenching the destruction process. A few years later, as Carson observes, Carmichael's anti-"honky" separatist diatribes put SNCC far to the right of the Panthers. In Oakland, California, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense had been inspired by and took its name from Lowndes County. But in 1968 the Panthers broke with Carmichael over his anti-communist and anti-white political line. At one point Carmichael refused to speak at a big "Free Huey" rally at the Oakland Courthouse (where Huey Newton was imprisoned on frame-up charges of killing a cop) because he didn't want to sit on the same platform with whites from the Peace and Freedom Party. When he finally did show up, it was only to denounce all "white" doctrines such as "Marxism." "Communism is not an ideology suited for black people, period, period," Carmichael raved. Bobby Seale felt compelled to reject this position from the podium, stating that Carmichael was playing "the Klu Klux Klan's game."

Forman, who had been increasingly uneasy about Carmichael's hard "reactionary nationalism" and seeing himself some kind of Marxist, went with the Panthers in the split. After playing around with his "Black Manifesto" scheme, Forman briefly got involved with the important circle of black radical workers springing up in and around the Detroit auto plants. But the League of Revolutionary Black Work-
ers never broke from nationalism and lumped the UAW into the white "power structure." Thus even though it was located in America's most strategic concentration of black workers, it too could not find the road to revolutionary power, working-class power.

Repression and Co-optation

But if the bourgeoisie uniformly denounced black radicals, they also recognized that some of them could be bought. Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" poverty programs were extremely important in co-opting many. Carson tells how Marion Barry, who was sent to Washington in 1965 as SNCC's representative, wrote back to complain that they were losing good organizers to the federal poverty programs, which were doing the same thing as SNCC but paying the staff a lot better! Shortly after, Barry quit SNCC to become head of PRIDE, Inc. Barry was typical of a whole layer of the organization that went this route into the Democratic Party.

On the other hand, those who were so alienated that they couldn't be bought— the "Rap" Browns and a big layer of the Panthers—were simply wiped out. As the ghettos exploded, the bourgeoisie mounted a campaign to pin the riots on black radicals (while SNCC leader Brown played into their hands with his verbal terrorism). Dubbed the "Rap Brown Act," an amendment to LBJ's voting rights act made it a federal crime to cross state lines to start a riot. The feds busted down the doors to SNCC offices, framed up the leaders on the whole gamut of phony charges—arson, conspiracy, criminal syndicalism—and finally just gunned them down in the streets. J. Edgar Hoover's COINTEL-PRO labeled Carmichael and Brown "vociferous firebrands" and started moving in—Carmichael escaped to Africa (having married South African folk singer Miriam Makeba), but they shot Brown and sent him up for a long stretch in jail. The Panthers, coming slightly later, got the full brunt of the unprecedented campaign to exterminate a whole generation of black radical leaders.

Where Are They Now?

In Carson's "Where Are They Now?" epilogue, you can see three SNCC generations. The first generation, who really were simply younger versions of Martin Luther King, ended up in the Democratic Party—Marion Barry, Julian Bond, John Lewis, Charles Sherrod, Ivanhoe Donaldson. A middle layer, like James Forman and Bob Moses (who, burned by Lowenstein, broke off all relations with whites and dropped out after MFDP) drifted back into academia—they were not hardened nationalists but were too radical to be comfortable in the Democratic Party. And the black nationalists only became more so. Carmichael and his AAPRP are the embodiment of reactionary Utopian Pan-Africanism. Rap Brown today is a Black Muslim.

Although at one time Barry and Carmichael represented polar opposites in SNCC, nonetheless, as was seen on November 27, their basic response to today's struggles is to put themselves on the same side—the side opposite the black masses. There is indeed a symbiotic relation between the black liberal establishment and the nationalist-separatist sects. One is the wing of "the talented tenth" who have made it in America; the other is the wing who aspire to their own bourgeois state power. Both of them are instinctively threatened by real struggle for black liberation in America.

A decade ago when black militants were groping toward revolution we did not have the organizational weight to pose an alternative to the no-win choice of liberalism or dead-end black nationalism. A whole generation of dedicated, young black fighters was lost. What would 100 black Trotskyist cadre have meant in Oakland in I968 or in the volatile conditions of Detroit auto at that time? Surely the whole course and rhythm of the American class struggle would look quite different today.

We didn't have the weight to change the course then. Today, instead of the "choice" between Carmichael and Barry, there is a Marxist answer for class-and race-conscious black youth, for black workers seeking emancipation from racial oppression and wage slavery. November 27 as we marched, 5,000-strong, blacks and workers led by communists triumphantly through the streets of the capital, the resounding slogan, "Finish the Civil War— Forward to a Workers State!" pointed the way forward to Black Liberation through Socialist Revolution. •