Saturday, May 08, 2010

*On The Question Of A Society Of Old Revolutionaries (Or Bolsheviks, Or Communists) - A Note

Click on the headline to link to the "Max Shachtman Internet Archive" for an on line copy of his 1936 article (when he was still a revolutionary) on the state of the Soviet Union on 19th anniversary of the Russian revolution. He mentions there the dissolution of the Society of Old Bolsheviks in 1935 discussed below.

Markin comment:

In political life, including our now, unfortunately, rather threadbare revolutionary political life, you run into all kind of personalities “selling” all kinds of propositions. Some can be dismissed out of hand, and I have, like you, done so. Others, while outlandish and, perhaps, strange, perk one’s interest. The question posed by the headline is one such question that I have come up against lately. Let me give the details.

Recently I attended a meeting called by militant trade unionists and their supporters concerning the struggle to save public education in Massachusetts, higher and basic. As should be well known to the reader of this space such meetings in urban areas, at least, are a magnet for every active left political tendency and individual personality who wants to “show the colors”. The education area, especially in the American professoriate, is loaded, no, overloaded with old radicals, left liberals and others who took shelter in that milieu when real leftist politics dried up in the mid-1970s. Needless to say this meeting was no exception. And needless to say it was such an old radical (with whom I had worked with on many occasions in the old days, and at times gladly) who took several of us aside and proposed, in all seriousness, that we act as a catalyst for the creation of national society of old revolutionaries-meaning those of us who had won our spurs in the old black civil rights, anti-Vietnam War, alternate life-style movements of the 1960s and early 1970s. I have taken liberty to add, for the sake of clarity the notion of a society or old Bolsheviks or old Communists to place it closer to my sense of the question. So that is the proposition that I am critiquing today.

My first reaction was that my old comrade-in-arms had failed to take his daily dosage of whatever it was that he took to control his madness. And I think, on reflection, that was probably the right reaction on the principle of first thought, best thought. But, as sometimes occurs, I got to thinking about it later not so much for the weirdness behind the presumption but in order to contrast it with more worthy societies of old revolutionaries, like the Society of Old Bolsheviks formed after the victorious Russian October revolution in 1917.

And that seems to me to be exactly the point to be made. The Bolsheviks created their society to honor those who had fought the fight, underground, above ground, in jail and in exile, not just when the revolutionary moment occurred in February 1917 but before. And only after they had won state power in the greatest victory for the oppressed until that time. Now the fact that such a society and its entrance requirements, in the end, excluded, Leon Trotsky, after Vladimir Lenin, the greatest Bolshevik of them all is a separate question and should make one a little suspect about the purposes of such a club but I will not detain the reader on that question here.

Fast forward to 2010. On what possible basis, assuming we could agree on whom to include and whom to exclude, could a remnant, a small remnant of old, still active revolutionaries gather to be indicted in our “hall of fame”? On our important, but minor, role in the now mainly reversible gains of the black civil rights struggle of the early 1960s? On our hanging on, scratching and clawing, to the bandwagon of the heroic struggle by the Vietnamese liberation fighters in their successful fight to defeat American imperialism? Or our less than stellar role in fighting a rear-guard action against the right wing yahoos in the “culture wars” of the past forty or so years? To pose the question that way is to get a better grasp on the subject. No, I will table this question until those of us who find ourselves in the “heart of the beast”, old revolutionaries and young, bring home a victory comparable to the Bolsheviks in 1917. The communist society that issues from that victory will be recognition enough for me. How about you?

*Poet's Corner- W.H. Auden's "In Memory Of W. B. Yeats"

Click on the headline to link to a "YouTube" film clip of W.H. Auden reading his "In Memory Of W.B. Yeats".

Markin comment:

Wouldn't you give much gold to be able to write lines like the last two lines of this poem. I know I would.

"In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise."

In Memory of W. B. Yeats
by W. H. Auden

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.


You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.


Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

*From The SteveLendmanBlog" Preparing Haiti For Exploitation And Plunder

Click on the headline to link to the "SteveLendmanBlog" for an online article on the latest from Haiti.

Friday, May 07, 2010

*Walking With The King- The Blues Of B.B. King With Eric Clapton

Click on the headline to link to a "YouTube" film clip of B.B. King and Eric Clapton performing "Riding With The King".

CD Review

Riding With The King, B.B. King and Eric Clapton, Reprise Records, 2000

Over the past couple of years I have spent a fair amount of time reviewing various blues artists who “spoke” to me when I first got interested in the folksy county blues of the likes of Son House and Skip James back in the folk revival days of the early 1960s. And then the steamy city blues of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Now those last named two came out of the country, the Mississippi Delta cotton country, but when they went north to Chicago and got some electricity they transformed themselves and the genre. No question.

The blues, especially the country blues, got a great impetus from the folk revival of the early 1960s, as the country blues of Son and Skip along with Mississippi John Hurt got more play from young, mainly Northern urban folkies who “discovered” them. The real impetus behind the “discovery” of the likes of Muddy and Wolf, as well as one of the two artists under review here, B.B. King, was the “British invasion”. While we teenagers on this side of the Atlantic were hung up with Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, and rightly so, the “lads” in England like The Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and the other artist featured here, Eric Clapton, were trying to get every blues record, city or country, they could lay their hands on.

Thus it seems fitting, in a way, that B.B. King and Eric Clapton, clearly two ambassadors for the blues should team up and let it rip through some of the classics of the genre. Now I have a confession to make. Although I have spilled much ink in this space on many old time blues artists, some well known, others strictly for aficionados, I have not mentioned B.B. King, except in passing. This is solely a matter of personal preference. B.B. and his ever present “Lucille”, with the exception of a few early numbers, never really “spoke” to me like Howlin’ Wolf, for one, did.

There is no question, however, that B.B. is a master on the guitar. Nor any question that he is a great bluesman in the old fashion sense and no question that when he teams up with Clapton here they “smoke” on some of the songs. So that only leaves what is good here. Well, certainly the title track, “Riding With The King”, the country blues classic, “Keys To The Highway”, “Worried Life Blues”, and “I Wanna Be”. Those will keep you jumpin’.

"Riding With The King" Lyrics

I dreamed I had a good job and I got well paid,
I blew it all at the penny arcade,
A hundred dollars on a cupid doll,
No pretty chick is gonna make me crawl,

And I teetered the way to the promised land,
Every woman, child and man,
Get your caddilac and a great big diamond ring,
Don't you know you're riding with the king?

He's on a mission of mercy, to the new fronteir,
He's gonna take us all outta' here,
Up to that mansion, on a hill,
Where you can get your prescription pill

And I teetered the way to the promised land,
Everybody clap your hands,
And don't you dirts love the way that he sings?
Don't you know you're riding with the king?
You're riding with the king!
Don't you know you're riding with the king?

A tuxedo and a shining green burning five,
You can see it in his face, the blues is alive,
Tonight everybody's getting their angel wings,
Don't you know you're riding with the king?

I stepped out of Mississippi when I was ten years old,
With a suit cut sharp as a razor and a heart made of gold.
I had a guitar hanging just about waist high,
And I'm gonna play this thing until the day I die.
Don't you know you're riding with the king?
Don't you know you're riding with the king?
(You're riding with me baby)
(You got good hands)
(Yes, you're riding with the king)
(I wanted to say B.B. King, but you know who the king is)

Thursday, May 06, 2010

*The Not Joan Baezs- The Work Of Ronee Blakley

Click on the headline to link to a "YouTube" film clip of Ronee Blakley perfroming "Attachment".

CD Review

Ronee Blakley, Ronee Blakley, Collector’s Choice, 1972

A couple of years ago I spend a little time, worthwhile time I think, running through the male folk singers and songwriters of the folk revival of the 1960s. The premise, at the time, was to compare the fates of those singers to the man who has stood up as the icon of the era, Bob Dylan. I went through a litany of such male artists as Jesse Winchester, Jesse Colin Young, Tom Paxton, Dave Van Ronk, Tom Rush and the like and found no particular common denominator other than they were still performing (those who were still alive) at some level acceptable to them, if not at Dylan’s level and status.

As another aspect of that premise I looked at some (fewer) women folk singers and songwriters in comparison to the acknowledged “queen” of that folk revival, Joan Baez. Alas, other more political work interfered with a more extensive look at the “not Joan Baezs”. I will begin to make partial amends here, with the artist under review, Ronee Blakley. Oh, you are not familiar with the name? That is probably fair enough unless you might have gotten around to the local folk club circuit in the 1970s, or seen her as Barbara Jean- a Loretta Lynn prototype in Robert Altman’s classic, edgy homage to country music, “Nashville”. Or perhaps, some other movies like “Nightmare On Elm Street”.

You, in any case, probably do not know her from her two great albums produced in the early 1970s and composed of, mainly, her own songs. That is a shame because between her majestic voice and her fiery, sometimes acid-etched, lyrics, including taking on some very topical subjects like the murder of Black Panther Fred Hampton by the Chicago police and touting all the varieties of female independence and assertiveness she did some very good work. And then “puff”. No more music, at least recorded music. I have not been able to find out exactly why but she certainly takes her place in that group that I, sadly in this case, call one-note “janies”.

So what is good here: “Dues”, of course, from “Nashville” that got me tuned into her works, although the soundtrack version from that movie might be better; the above-mentioned righteously bitter “Fred Hampton”; the pathos of “I Lied”, and, the spunky “Bluebird” also from “Nashville” which I think kind of spoke for her life at that time.

From The Citizen K Blog

Monday, June 8, 2009
Ronee Blakely: Dues

WRITTEN BY Ronee Blakely

PERFORMED BY Ronee Blakely

APPEARS ON Ronee Blakely (1972); Nashville: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1975)

When Ronee Blakely's character Barbara Jean sings "Dues," she provides the emotional epicenter of Robert Altman's film Nashville. Barbara Jean's heart-wrenching account of her tortured marriage connects with her fans at the same time that her preoccupied, insensitive husband remains oblivious. Hence the marvelous lines
It's the way that you don't love me
When you say that you do, baby
Better than almost any song I know, "Dues" depicts the anguish of a spouse who wants to leave the marriage almost as much as she wants to "love you the way I used to do." As much as she wants to "walk away from this battleground," what she'd sacrifice for ("I'd give a lot to love you") is to have things the way they were. Whipsawed between wanting to go and needing to stay, she's reduced to the plaintive entreaty of "how long must I pay these dues?" Sacrifice has become unbearable, too.

While consistent with Barbara Jean's character, Blakely's use of the vernacular also enables a universal expression of desperation: Fraught, complex, co-dependent relationships can and do happen to anyone. In that sense, "Dues" reaches out to anyone who knows deep down that their spouse has retreated so deeply into their "own private world" that they are "hidin'" their "blues" and "pretendin' what" they "say," to anyone in that fearsome place where communication is dead but the need to connect with that one person remains.


It's that careless disrespect
I can't take no more, baby
It's the way that you don't love me
When you say that you do, baby

It hurts so bad, it gets me down, down, down
I want to walk away from this battleground
This hurtin' life, it ain't no good
I'd give a lot to love you the way I used to do
Wish I could...

You've got your own private world
I wouldn't have it no other way
But lately you've been hidin' your blues
Pretendin' what you say

It hurts so bad, it gets me down, down, down
I want to walk away from this battleground
This hurtin' life, it ain't no good
I'd give a lot to love you the way I used to do
Wish I could...

Writin' it down kinda makes me feel better
Keeps me away from them blues
I want to be nice to you, treat you right
But how long can I pay these dues?

It hurts so bad, it gets me down, down, down
I want to walk away from this battleground
This hurtin' life, it ain't no good, no
I'd give a lot to love you the way I used to do
Wish I could...

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

*From The "LibCom" Blog- The Struggle In Greece On May 5th- A Guest Commentary- The Greek Working Class Must Rule

Click on the headline to link to a "LibCom" blog entry on the situation in Greece on the May 5th General Strike today.

*Defend The Greek May 5th General Strike- Free All Protesters- The Greek Working Class Must Rule

Markin comment:

All international leftists and labor militants must stand today in solidarity with the Greek working class and their allies. Greece is at the "epicenter" of the world revolution today. These chances have not, and do not, come all that often so the Greek militants must see this through to the end. And we must support those efforts.

The general strike merely poses the question of state power- who shall rule. The situation calls for the creation of workers councils to contest the struggle for power from below. The number one priority today toward that goal is to dump the IMF austerity program, and to dump those in the Greek Parliament who are voting in favor of it, including the parliamentary 'socialists" who lead the government. Free all class war prisoners! Free all protesters!

*Defend The Greek May 5th General Strike- Free All Protesters- The Greek Working Class Must Rule

Click on headline to link to a "New York Times" report on the situation in Greece in the aftermath of the May 5th General Strike.

Markin comment:

All international leftists and labor militants must stand today in solidarity with the Greek working class and their allies. Greece is at the "epicenter" of the world revolution today. These chances have not, and do not, come all that often so the Greek militants must see this through to the end. And we must support those efforts.

The general strike merely poses the question of state power- who shall rule. The situation calls for the creation of workers councils to contest the struggle for power from below. The number one priority today toward that goal is to dump the IMF austerity program, and to dump those in the Greek Parliament who are voting in favor of it, including the parliamentary 'socialists" who lead the government. Free all class war prisoners! Free all protesters!

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-British Miners Fight for All the Oppressed

Click on the headline to link to a"LibCom" website entry for the British miners' strike of 1984-85. This link is provided to give some "color" to the story at the local level from a different political prospective from mine.

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Spring 1985 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.


British Miners Fight for All the Oppressed

The British coal miners' strike now in its eleventh month is a crucial class battle whose outcome will shape the social and political climate of the country for years to come. Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is seeking with unrestrained savagery to bludgeon and starve the miners into submission. If the miners lose, they and the whole British working class will be dealt with in the same spirit of limitless vindictiveness that Thatcher unleashed on the helpless young Argentine sailors of the Belgrano during the Falklands/Malvinas war. Thatcher personally supervised this gratuitous war crime when the ship, miles from the war zone, was dispatched to the bottom of the icy Atlantic.

But the British miners do not intend to lose. Standing alone thanks to the treachery of the Labour Party/ Trades Union Congress tops, they have held out against everything that bloody Thatcher and her cops could throw against them. They have endured thousands of arrests and countless injuries and they are still fighting. And their courageous defiance of the vicious "Iron Lady" has won to their side the most oppressed layers of
British society. The heat of sharp class struggle has tended to forge a spirit of solidarity between the miners and oppressed sectors such as blacks, Asians and Irish.

This political point was emphasized by comrade Eibhlin McDonald, a leader of the Spartacist League of Britain, during her recent visit to the U.S. We reprint below comrade Eibhlin's remarks at a public Spartacist forum in New York last November 16 (originally published in Workers Vanguard No. 367,23 November 1984) and her speech to a national internal meeting of the Spartacus Youth League (WV No. 368, 7 December 1984).

Women have played an active role in the miners' strike. Although women do not work in the British mines, being barred by law from doing so since 1942, the miners' wives have taken their place alongside their men. And they have made their presence felt since the beginning. When one week into the strike Thatcher deployed 10,000 cops in a martial law operation, Kent women beat back a police blockade at the Dartford Tunnel aimed at sealing the Kent strikers off, and went on through to join a demonstration in Leicestershire. In addition to organizing collections of food and money for the strikers' families, the women have been active strike militants. Their participation on picket lines has been especially important given the awesome scope of police attacks, where sometimes hundreds of miners are arrested in a single swoop. When 20,000 coal field women and supporters marched through London last August 11, one prominent slogan was "No surrender!" Here in the United States, the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee have been campaigning to win political support among American unionists for the embattled British miners, and to raise desperately needed funds for the miners and their families. As of February 16, a total of $16,905.63 had been raised. W&R appeals to our readers to generously support this effort. Please make checks payable to: Aid to Striking British Miners'Families; mail to: Partisan Defense Committee, Box 99, Canal Street Station, New York, NY 10013.

I'm a member of the British section of the Spartacist tendency, and I'd like to take a few moments to describe to people particularly the British miners' strike which has been going on now for about nine months, I believe. In fact, we had a demonstration recently in London organized by the Spartacist League on the question of South Africa, where a number of miners attended. And we raised the slogan, "African Gold Miners, British Coal Miners— Same Enemy, Same Fight, Workers of the World Unite!" [Applause.] And this slogan had a really powerful resonance—one which is very deeply felt in Britain, primarily as a result of the experience of these miners after nine months on strike. Because you have to understand, two miners have been killed on picket lines; several others have died on the way to picket lines; and most recently people have been killed trying to salvage coal from rubbish tips in order to heat their homes. If you imagine what it's like to have been without money for your family for nine months—no money for food, they have no heating, t nothing like that.

However, they're pretty solid. They're not going back. Because they know that to go back means 20,000 jobs will be lost, and whole communities will be devastated. And, in fact, several thousand of them have been arrested, just simply for picketing. Thatcher has learned a few lessons from Botha's South Africa. They've recently adopted the tactic, instead of throwing people in prison—you obviously can't throw eight, nine, ten thousand miners in prison, because the prisons will overflow—so what they've started to do is to deport them within the country. People are sent off from English coal mines to the north of Scotland, and are not allowed to return home until after the strike.
So there was a certain identification with some of the stuff that was described recently in South Africa among the British miners. There is, of course, a scabbing operation, pretty well funded, we believe probably by the Vatican. Although if you listen to the news reports, then you could very easily be misled. Because as one miner told us recently in one of our meetings— according to the news reports there are now 3,500 scabs in his pit, which he finds very hard to believe, since only 500 people work there [laughter].

Now, there are two things that I want to draw out from the British miners' strike. One is that such a hard-fought class battle against the Thatcher government has inspired whole sections of the population in support for the miners. It's particularly noticeable among the black and Asian community. Something that is very new in Britain—you have a situation where miners, when they come into the city of London from their areas in order to collect money, of course the cops hound them throughout London, and arrest them for trying to collect money and so forth. They go along to a pub in the black ghetto, and the cops come into the pub— "Where are these miners?"—they want to arrest them. But the word had gone out that the cops were arriving, so of course the local people had hidden them. You know: "What miners? There are no miners here." Now, this kind of thing never would have happened before, because capitalism fosters those kind of divisions, and given that the miners union is predominantly white, this solidarity is a direct result of the struggle against Thatcher.

Another aspect of it is that women, mainly miners' wives and families, who'd come from pretty isolated communities, have in fact become political and taken on a leadership role in the strike and have organized themselves into strike committees.

And the other thing that I want to draw out of it is on the Russian question. It comes up most concretely and revolves around the question of Polish Solidarnosc', in Britain, and it's very sharply felt. Because the background to this miners' strike was in fact—the leader of the British miners, Arthur Scargill, happened to mention before a trade-union conference a year ago that Solidarnosc' was an anti-socialist organization. For this he was witchhunted and hounded by not only the capitalist class, the Tory party and so forth, but by a whole section of the trade-union leadership. And it has now become very clear, the people who were most outraged by Scargill's statement are today urging their union members to cross miners' picket lines quite openly. The leader of the Solidarnosc' movement in Poland has sent a message of solidarity... to the scabs. And so Solidarnosc is hated and despised, not just among the British miners, but among whole sections of the population. Which is actually quite a good thing, because it doesn't bode well for Thatcher's war preparations against the Soviet Union.

They do the same kind of thing there. Talking about the "evil empire" in Russia. Except that in Britain a lot of the population now doesn't believe it, because they have seen miners go off to the Soviet Union and have very nice holidays on the Black Sea, you know, for their families and so forth. And they see this on television, and say, well, this is "totalitarian Russia" really doesn't look so bad looking at it from Britain [laughter].

Now, just in conclusion. One of the things that is patently obviously missing from the situation is a revolutionary party with a policy directed to the overthrow of capitalism. Because in order to cohere together the struggle, particularly in a situation where old frameworks are breaking down within the country, to cohere and direct that struggle requires a program for the overthrow of capitalism. And that's what the existing trade-union leadership and the Labour Party in Britain doesn't have. For example, twice in the course of the miners' strike, the dockers were out on strike, and were sent back, having gained absolutely nothing. Because these leaders understand that in order to go all out and do what is necessary in order to win the strike, you must be prepared to at least play around with the question of power. And that's what they're not prepared to do.

That in a nutshell is the strategy and program that the Spartacist League has been fighting for there. Because simply in order to win this strike, it's necessary to spread it to other sections of the working class. We hope as the outcome of that kind of successful class battle that you will have the basis for building a revolutionary party. Because in Britain, in South Africa, in fact in the U.S., you can have very hard-fought class battles which may lose or in fact may be frittered away, if you're not prepared to go all the way and address the question of power, for the working class in power, like they did in Russia in 1917.

The Red Avengers [see article, page 24] is kind of a hard act to follow, but let me make one point that one comrade made in the forum in Toronto the other night: the British miners would really love the Red Avengers.

What I want to try to do is give you a flavor of the political situation in Britain, because it really is in marked contrast with Reagan's America right now. But there's something that I would like to underline, which is that the Thatcher government is in the second term of office and went in with a pretty big majority in the election in 1983, not quite as big as Reagan's. The first real opposition they ran into came from the British miners. And it's important to have the understanding and the hope that Reagan will run into the same kind of trouble, because it really does alter the political contours in the country.

You'll have noticed in the press here recently a lot of ballyhoo about a big "back-to-work" movement. And you could very easily be misled, because if you really added up the figures for people that have gone back to work then you probably would get more than is actually in the miners union, in the NUM itself. However, it is true that there has been a certain erosion within the strike recently. (Unlike what the bourgeois press tells you, it's not because of the Qaddafi connection. Miners think that it's really wonderful if they get money from anywhere, and one of them has said recently, in a meeting where someone mentioned the Qaddafi connection, "Well, you know, if we can't get money from Qaddafi, maybe we can get guns. We can use them." And it's not because of getting money from the Soviet Union—they'd love it.) But as of now, there's not much prospect of industrial struggle alongside the miners, and so they're basically now having to dig in to try and survive through the winter pretty much on their own against all the forces of the capitalist state. And that does have an effect on certain elements in the union.

Now, some of the things that are most striking about the course of the struggle. First of all, the way in which whole sections of the population who are normally deeply divided have rallied behind the miners and have seen in the miners' strike a possible solution to what they suffer under Thatcher. This is particularly true for the racially oppressed minorities. The blacks and Asians in Britain have become some of the most solid supporters of the miners. If you understand that the miners union is predominantly white, and pretty elitist in its political attitudes, for them to find allies in the black and Asian population is really quite a change in British politics. The reason for the identification is that the kind of treatment that's being dished out to the miners in the course of the strike is something that has been dished out to the black and Asian population in the inner cities in Britain for quite a long time.

And there's also the fact that the racial minorities tend to do the dirtiest, most dangerous and worst paid jobs in Britain. In actual fact British mining almost falls into that category, because you have to understand that miners or craftsmen in the British mines might take home, at the end of having worked 40 hours, less than $100 a week. And that's someone who's gone through an apprenticeship. And it's really dangerous and there's a lot of accidents. So there's that reason for identification as well.

It's also true of the Irish population. Previously if you had an IRA bombing in the mainland of Britain, regardless of what the target was, it was always followed by a wave of anti-Irish hysteria. You know, a pretty bad period. Whereas recently when the IRA bombed the hotel where a lot of Tories were staying during their conference the response was everybody cheered because one of the people who suffered most was the employment minister, Norman Tebbit. They showed these pictures on television of this guy lying under four or five floors of rubble and then being dragged out by his feet, and everybody cheered and clapped and thought it was wonderful. And someone had the response, whoever did this should be shot—for missing the target. They're really sorry they missed Thatcher.

There's also another example of the way in which the social divisions have broken down. There's an organization in London called Lesbians and Gay Men Support the Miners, and they have regular weekly meetings. Miners come along and address their meetings and express their solidarity with them, and they collect money and they give it to the miners. This is previously inconceivable in Britain.

And this seems true in other unions. There's a lot of workers in other unions who really desperately want to strike alongside the miners and to support them, but their leadership really doesn't want to take on that question.

The other thing that's really striking is on the Russian question— It's really clear that the miners' strike has done more to thwart Thatcher's war plans against the Soviet Union than all the peace demonstrations—and there have been a lot of them in Britain. You know, there's a big CND organization, you've had Greenham Common women, and so forth. And I tell you, the Greenharn Common women have become really insignificant by comparison with the miners' wives, who are out there organizing and fighting for support of the strike. And in more ways than one they really are the backbone of the strike.

The third thing is that, given that so much depends on the outcome of this strike, unless you're prepared to address the question of power, then you cannot even bring this strike to the conclusion that is possible. What I mean is that this strike could have been won several months ago. You had the dockers out on strike twice, and Britain is an island economy so the docks are pretty important. The dockers are a militant union. And you have this situation where the leadership of the trade-union movement and of the Labour Party itself are actually divided. The right wing of both the Labour Party and the trade-union bureaucracy—they're openly anti-Russian, anti-Communist; they were the people who really witchhunted [NUM leader] Arthur Scargill when he denounced Polish Solidarnosc'. And it's really clear today, they just tell their members to cross miners' picket lines, ignore the strike and don't give them any money.
On the other hand you've got the left wing of the trade-union bureaucracy and of the Labour Party that are not openly anti-Russian. But they simply will not call their members out on strike action. So you have a situation like when the dockers were out on strike, or the railwaymen. Several hundred members of the railway unions have been victimized, locked out and sent home, for refusing to handle scab coal on the trains. And their union is doing absolutely nothing to defend them, having originally instructed them to not handle the scab coal.

Now, the Labour Party. I believe that never before in its history has the Labour Party been more discredited. And this was as a result of the miners' strike. There's this character Denis Healey in the British Labour Party who's well known to have connections with the CIA and there's a clot of people around him, and we raised the slogan that this guy should be driven out of the Labour Party because the sort of dislocation that it would cause would be really interesting and would break the mold of British social democracy. And Tony Benn came here to New York and various other places and argued that well, of course, the last thing in the world the miners want is to see the Labour Party splitting right now. Well, I'll tell you this is a lie. Most of the miners could see these guys in hell, never mind driven out of the Labour Party. The general secretary of the TUC appeared in a meeting recently and the miners hung up a noose for him in the back of the room. Because you know, they have declared their open animosity to the miners' strike.

We're going to do this fund drive in the U.S. And there's a lot of miners that are really keen to come and meet the Spartacist League and the SYL in the U.S. They're really excited to come here and they desperately need the money. So I think that this will be really important for the international tendency. And it'll be important for the miners.

*********************From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Angela Davis Peddles Liberal Myths

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for black activist Angela Davis.

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Winter 1982-83 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.


Angela Davis Peddles Liberal Myths
Women, Blacks and Class Struggle

Women, Race and Class
by Angela Y. Davis Random House, Inc., New York 1981

The most striking thing about Angela Davis' book, Women, Race and Class, is what's not in it. Davis, a philosophy professor and member of the central committee of the reformist Communist Party (CP), achieved an international reputation as a black radical associated with the Black Panther Party. Framed up in 1970 as part of the massive cop/FBI vendetta against the Panthers, Davis spent over a year in prison before being acquitted. Her relationship with Panther martyr George Jackson was even featured in a slick Hollywood movie. To those not blinded by the celluloid, Davis remains a living symbol of the reconciliation of the militant, eclectic Panthers with the mainstream Stalinist reformism of the CP. Yet in this set of liberal-oriented essays, Davis doesn't even mention the Black Panther Party. The explosive '60s of militant black nationalism, the New Left women's movement, etc. is sunk without a trace.

Of course the Communist Party, then, was generally written off by the New Left and the best of the black radicals as rotten old reformist hacks irrevelant to the struggle. But the New Left's rejection of CP-style "coalitionism" with the Democrats was falsely equated with a rejection of working-class politics in general. The New Left's "answer" to CP sellouts was not revolutionary Marxist program, but eclectic Maoist/Third World-ist ideology and mindless militancy: "direct action," often physical confrontation with the state, passive enthusing over ghetto outbursts, "Off the Pig" rhetoric. When the inevitable capitalist reaction hit, the New Left either splintered or made its peace with the reformist status quo—and there was the CP, waiting with awful inertia to sell young militants its shopworn "strategy" of maneuvering within the capitalist system.

A watershed in the degeneration of the Panthers' militant impulse was the 1969 "United Front Against Fascism" conference in Oakland. Explicitly embracing the class-collaborationist formula of popular-front "theoretician" Dimitrov, the Panthers made a sharp right turn towards alliance with the liberal bourgeoisie, brokered by the CP. The CP had money and lawyers, which the Panthers, facing massive repression, desperately needed. The price was returning to the fold of Democratic Party "reform" politics (indeed Huey Newton became a Democratic politician a few years later). Groups to the left of the CP were kicked out of the conference, particularly Progressive Labor and the Spartacist League. The SL argued that the road to black liberation must lie through revolutionary alliance with the working class, through building an integretated vanguard party with black leadership to fight for socialist revolution. Women at the conference who objected to the Panthers' gross male chauvinism were also harassed.
Angela Davis, in the CP's orbit at least since her high school days, should have been delighted with the "rectification" of Panther politics in the direction of mainstream Stalinist reformism. But Women, Race and Class does not deal at all with the Panthers.

In fact it makes no real attempt to come to grips with the searing reality of black America today—the explosive contradiction of ghetto misery and potential proletarian power. Nor can Davis suggest a solution to women's oppression, which is rooted in the institution of the monogamous family, linked inextricably to private property and thus insoluble without a revolution overthrowing capitalist property relations. Then what is Women, Race and Class about? It is basically an attempt to find historical antecedents for the CP's eternal search for the "anti-monopoly coalition": an alliance of workers, women, blacks, youth, etc. with right-thinking imperialists, Democrats of good will, progressive Republicans, anti-racist bankers and so on.

In the CP's view, the only obstacle to unity is... divisiveness. Never mind the brutal, racist, imperialist system that sets black against white, employed against jobless, skilled against unskilled, everywhere you look. For Davis, all that's needed is for the various sectors to be more receptive to each other. Thus, central to the book is the appeal to middle-class feminists to be more sensitive to race and class. "Today's feminists are repeating the failures of the women's movement of a hundred years ago.... Clearly, race and class can no longer be ignored [I] if the women's movement is to be resurrected" as the book's dust-jacket puts it. The solution? In the classic words of Alva Buxenbaum, reviewing Davis' book in the CP's own Political Affairs (March 1982), we must develop a "deeper understanding of and commitment to alliances based on unity." As opposed to disunity, we guess. Of course this inane language serves a purpose; it's CPese for support to the Democrats.

Davis also leaves out of Women, Race and Class all mention of international communism and the Bolshevik Revolution, which on the woman question and especially the black question in America had a decisive impact on radicals. This would certainly offend those bourgeois liberals the CP chases after today, as all wings of the bourgeoisie are united in hostility to the USSR and the gains of the October Revolution which remain despite Stalinist bureaucratic deformation. The history of American Marxism, its early counterposition to late 19th century feminism, even the aggressive work of the CP itself in the late '20s and '30s in winning blacks to a proletarian perspective, is all buried—and necessarily; it would expose too starkly the total bankruptcy and betrayals of the Communist Party today.

The Myth of the "Progressive Black Family"

So what is in the book? Davis opens with a discussion of black women under slavery. She points out that black women were full-time workers in the fields and other heavy labor, thus excluded from the 19th century ideology of "femininity" which relegated "many white women," as she puts it, to positions of useless, sentimentalized inferiority inside the home. Davis neglects to mention in this section that early Northern industrialization relied heavily on the intense exploita¬tion of "free" female labor, especially in textiles. Moreover, the large majority of white women in pre-Civil War America were the hard-working wives and daughters of farmers.

Her main point, however, is that the bitter experience of slavery created strong black women who "passed on to their nominally free female descendents a legacy of hard work...resistance and insistence on sexual equality—in short, a legacy spelling out stand¬ards for a new womanhood." Arguing against Daniel P. Moynihan's notorious 1965 "black matriarchy" thesis that the problem with blacks is that black women are running things too much, creating a "tangle of pathology," Davis contends that slavery, rather than destroying black families, actually promoted sexual equality within black family and community life, which has come down essentially unchanged to this day: "Black people—transformed that negative equality which emanated from the equal oppression they suffered as slaves into a positive quality: the equalitari-anism characterizing their social relations." This cheery Stalinist vision of some progressive black family emerging from slavery is absolutely grotesque!

In 1975 we pointed out that Moynihan's "The Negro Family: The Case for National Actions' a U.S. labor department study, sought to "shift the blame for the social problems of blacks from the capitalist system to blacks themselves, particuparly black women.... The so-called 'black matriarch' is, in fact, the most oppressed of all. She is paid the least and relegated to the lowest-paying jobs with no opportunity for advancement" ("Black Women Against Triple Oppres¬sion," W&R No. 9, Summer 1975). Where she even has a job, that is. "Equalitarian" black families? No way. Michelle Wallace, in her overall pretty despicable trashing of the "Black Power" era, the steamy Cosmopolitan-style confessional Black Macho and the Myth of the Super-Female, at least had the guts to cast a very cold eye on such liberal mythologizing:

"I remember once I was watching a news show with a black male friend of mine who had a Ph.D. in psychology We were looking at some footage of a black woman who seemed barely able to speak English, though at least six generations of her family before her had certainly claimed it as their first language. She was in bed wrapped in blankets, her numerous small, poorly clothed children huddled around her. Her apartment looked rat-infested, cramped, and dirty. She had not, she said, had heat and hot water for days. My friend, a solid member of the middle class now but surely no stranger to poverty in his childhood, felt obliged to comment—in order to assuage his guilt, I can think of no other reason— 'That's a strong sister as he bowed his head in reverence."

You literally would not know from reading Davis' book that such a thing as the miserable, rotting big city black ghetto even exists, with its poisonous, violent currents of humiliation and despair and hatred.

The Ghetto and the Factory: Disintegration and Power

The huge migrations of blacks to industrial centers out of the rural South—peaking during World Wars I and II, periods of capitalist boom, as well as after the Second World War when mechanization of Southern agriculture forced more blacks into the cities of the North and South—resulted in the integration of blacks into the American capitalist economy, albeit at the bottom. That fact has been the key shaping factor in black experience in contemporary America—and that integration into the industrial proletariat is the key to black liberation today. At the same time, this wrenching integration into urban life took place under conditions of growing racist segregation socially. Blacks formed the central native component of that huge "surplus population" necessary to the capitalist "free labor" system. Thus the resulting crowded, desperately poor black ghettos with their inevitable "social disintegration"—a fancy phrase for broken homes, abandoned women and children, a permanent welfare population, illiteracy, crime and violence, drugs and squalor. Richard Wright's Black Boy, pioneering urban studies like St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton's Black Metropolis, Malcolm X, James Baldwin—they spoke of this bitter reality. Today the statistics are overwhelming on the hideous condition of the black ghetto popula¬tion, and especially of black women. Three-quarters of all poor black families are headed by women alone, while 47 percent of all black families with children under 18 are headed by women, according to 1980 statistics (Department of Health and Human Services' National Center for Health' Statistics). Almost 55 percent of births to black women are "illegitimate." The fashionable phrase "feminization of poverty" expresses a terrible reality.

But Davis doesn't even mention it exists, because she can't. A world so crushing is not going to be touched by electing a few more "progressive" black Democrats, the CP's line. It's going to take a massive social upheaval—revolution—to break out of the black ghettos. Davis, however, confines herself to a series of hollow, eclectic essays on various "social uplift" causes. One whole chapter on the black clubwomen's movement, for example! Does Davis really believe that the personal rivalries between Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell in this cultured and ladylike milieu have anything significant to do with black or woman's liberation? As for black labor, there is but one chapter: on black women's long history of work as domestic servants. It's easy for liberals to weep over this humiliating labor, but it's hardly a source of black proletarian power. Blacks.integrated into the industrial working class at the point of production are the key to black leadership. And precisely because black workers may typically have a mother on welfare or a younger brother in prison, and are confronted in a thousand ways with evidence that the racist, capitalist "American dream" doesn't include blacks, they will be the most militant fighters for the entire working class, least tied to illusions that anything short of a fundamental social restructuring of this country through socialist revolution will liberate blacks.

Abolition and Suffrage:The Limits of Bourgeois Radical Idealism

Almost half of Women, Race and Class is devoted to the relationships between the abolitionist movement of the 1830s and '40s, the fight for women's rights and the post-Civil War suffragette movement, which developed in often explicitly hostile counterposition to continued demands for black political and civil rights. These chapters are the most interesting in the book, although here too Davis' reformist CP ideology deforms the past.

She has a hard time explaining the early and active participation of many prominent upper- and middle-class women in the abolitionist movement. "In 1833 many of these middle-class women had probably begun to realize that something had gone terribly awry in their lives. As 'housewives' in the new era of industrial capitalism, they had lost their economic importance in the home," Davis guesses. She contends that these women's identification with the slaves was essentially the result of "unfulfilling domestic lives." This projection of a Betty Friedanesque "feminine mystique" back into history not only fails to explain the fact that far more Northern men (e.g., William Lloyd Garrison, founder of the fiery abolitionist journal The Liberator; Thaddeus Stevens, head of the radical Republicans in Congress) took up the abolitionist cause, but actually is rather insulting to such powerful orators and theoreticians as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Utopian socialists like Frances Wright, or the transcendentalist Margaret Fuller, who went to Italy to participate in the revolutionary upsurge of 1848.

In fact, rather than the "alliance of oppressed housewives and slaves" Davis evokes, the abolitionist movement in America was ideologically influenced bythe radical petty-bourgeois currents sweeping Europe,which reached their highest expression (and defeat) in the revolutions of 1848. As Kenneth B. Stampp pointed out in The Era of Reconstruction 1865-1877, the abolitionists, women as well as men, represented the:
"...heirs of the Enlightenment.... As nineteenth- century liberals, they believed in the autonomous individual—his right to control his own destiny—and therefore regarded slavery as the ultimate abomination In fact, radical reconstruction ought to be
viewed in part as the last great crusade of the nineteenth-century romantic reformers."
Both demands for the abolition of slavery and for women's rights were seen by their advocates as inseparable parts of the same progressive bourgeois struggle for "liberty, equality, fraternity." At the founding conference of the Women's Loyal League in 1861, organized by Stanton and Anthony to draw women into support for the North in the Civil War and press for the immediate enfranchisement of the slaves, Angela Grimke's "Address to the Soldiers of Our Second Revolution" expressed this radical spirit:

"The 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.... 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.... The nation is in a death-struggle. It must become either one vast slaveocracy of petty tyrants, or wholly the land of the free."

Grimke undoubtedly represented the high point of this radical equalitarianism. Davis' ahistorical refusal to admit that this movement represented the limits of bourgeois radicalism is no accident. The CP today pretends that the American bourgeoisie from Reagan to Kennedy is potentially capable of fulfilling the same progressive role that the bourgeoisie of Abraham Lincoln, William Lloyd Garrison and Thaddeus Stevens • played. But in pre-Civil War America, the industrial proletariat was not a class-conscious and decisive factor. Certainly the workers of the North were in no sense prepared to begin to wage a struggle for power in their owh name: given this, and the fundamental block to the expansion of modern, industrial capitalism represented by the agrarian slave society of the South, it was left to the liberal Northern bourgeoisie, in alliance with the "free soil" petty-bourgeois farmers of the West, to fulfill one of the unfinished tasks of the American bourgeois revolution: the abolition of slavery.

Even so it took a bloody four-year Civil War to crush the slaveocracy, while the following attempt at "radical Reconstruction" in the South was sold out, revealing the ultimate incapacity of bourgeois radicalism to finally "liberate" any sector of the oppressed. Instead of the "land of the free," America became the land of the robber barons, unleashed capitalist expansion and exploitation, while Ku Klux Klan terror, lynchings and Jim Crow segregation became the blacks' lot in the South. By the end of the nineteenth century the U.S. emerged as a rapacious imperialist power. As happened after 1848 in Europe, following the Civil War in America "the component elements of early nineteenth century radicalism (liberal democracy and socialism, trade unionism, women's equality and national libera¬tion) separated and began to compete and conflict with one another... it seemed that bourgeois society would continue for some time and that the interests of the oppressed, be they workers, women or nations [or the black population in the U.S.], would have to be realized within its framework It was Marx who cut the Gordian knot and provided a coherent, realistic analysis of the social basis for the socialist movement within bourgeois society" ("Feminism vs. Marxism: Origins of the Conflict," W&R No. 5, Spring 1974).

Revolutionary Marxism insisted on the need for working-class revolution to open the way to further human progress. In America, the main historic obstacle to the creation of a revolutionary workers party has been the divided ethnic consciousness of the working class, built upon waves of immigration, with black-white polarization underlying that. The ability of the Democratic Party in the 20th century, expressed in Roosevelt's "New Deal" coalition of labor, liberals and ethnic minorities, to successfully manipulate these divisions and absorb petty-bourgeois movements reflects the political backwardness of American labor— and the bitter fruit of decades of betrayal by so-called "socialists" like the CPand social-democrats. The New Left, too, with its sectoralist belief that every oppressed sector must "liberate itself" also accepted as unchangeable the racist, divided status quo. For the Communist Party, the Democrats are the only possible "coalition of the oppressed" within capitalist society. Thus in 1964 they greeted the election of Lyndon B. Johnson—mad bomber of Vietnam—as a "People's Victory"!

Feminism and Racism

The remainder of Davis' historical chapters are choppy and chock-full of "unfortunately"s—the telltale reformist throat-clearing device employed preparatory to leaping over some gross betrayal or crushing defeat. Accepting the grim capitalist frame¬work as immutable, Davis' detailing of the split between the suffragettes and black civil rights fighters is full of passive hand-wringing. She quotes Stanton's racist cry of alarm in 1865 when it appeared black men, but not women, would get the vote:

"The representative women of the nation have done their uttermost for the last thirty years to secure freedom for the negro...but now, as the celestial gate to civil rights is slowly moving on its hinges, it becomes a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see 'Sambo' walk into the kingdom first Are we sure that
he, once entrenched in all his inalienable rights, may not be an added power to hold us at bay?... In fact, it is better to be the slave of an educated white man, than of a degraded, ignorant black one."

—New York Standard, 26 December 1865 letter.

Davis nails the women's suffrage leaders for their racism and support to American imperialism. She quotes Susan B. Anthony's admission, when preparing a Suffrage Association meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, that "knowing the feeling of the South with regard to Negro participation on equality with whites, I myself asked Mr. Douglass [Frederick Douglass, black abolitionist leader and early supporter of women's suffrage] not to come. I did not want to subject him to humiliation, and I did not want anything to get in the way of bringing the southern white women into our suffrage association." Anthony and Stanton allied with notorious racist Southern Democrats who argued for the enfranchisement of white women on the grounds that it would maintain white supremacy in the South after blacks got the vote. Davis gives a thorough account of rising racism in the women's suffrage movement, of the segregation of organizations and actions such as the 1913 suffrage parade, where an official attempt was made to exclude black activist Ida B. Wells from the Illinois contingent in favor of a segregated bloc. She quotes Stanton's insistence that "the worst enemies of Woman Suffrage will ever be the laboring classes of men" and records that Anthony urged women printers to scab on male printers' strikes.

Any serious reader must conclude that the pioneer feminist movement, preaching "unity of all women," essentially sought to advance the interests of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois white women, as against those of blacks and the working class. The icons of today's feminist movement are shown to be more than a little tarnished. Of course the opportunist Davis never challenges the ideology of "sisterhood," necessarily a screen for the subordination of working-class interests to bourgeois interests. Feminism, which seeks the reactionary splitting of the working class along sex lines and the collaboration of women of all classes, is a barrier to women's liberation, which can be won only through the revolutionary struggle of the working class—women and men, black and white—against their common exploiter, the capitalist class. The suffragettes' "unfortunate" racism and "capitulation to imperialism" flowed from their conscious identification with the interests of their own class.

American Communism

Davis' only chapter on the Communist Party, consisting solely of potted biographies of prominent CP women, opens with a gross omission. Davis asserts that when "Weydemeyer founded the Proletarian League jn 1852, no women appear to have been associated with the group. If indeed there were any women involved, they have long since faded into historical anonymity... to all intents and purposes, they appear to have been absent from the ranks of the Marxist socialist movement." Sliding over the Working-men's National Association and Communist Club as "utterly dominated by men," she manages neatly to avoid the major faction fight that took place in the American section of the First International over the question^of feminism. That flamboyant and notorious "free love" advocate, presidential candidate and early feminist Victoria Woodhull must be spinning in her grave. She was undoubtedly the most famous American to join the First International, organizing her own section (Section 12), which was a radical liberal faction, counterposing women's rights, "free love," and an electoralist strategy to proletarian socialism. Marx himself personally intervened to suspend Section 12, asserting the communist principle that the end to all kinds of oppression must run through the victory of the working class over capitalism.

Davis' omission of the tremendously important work of the early Communist Party among blacks is even more egregious. Her sole comment on that work as such is one bland statement, following a rather mysterious quote from William Z. Foster that the CP neglected Negro women factory workers in the 1920s, that "Over the next decade, however, Communists came to recognize the centrality of racism in U.S. society. They developed a serious theory of Black liberation and forged a consistent activist record—

Obviously it's impossible to go into detail in a review of this scope, but a few fundamental points are vital. First, there was the decisive impact of international Communism. As James P. Cannon, an early CP leader and founder of American Trotskyism, put it:

"The influence of Lenin and the Russian Revolution, even debased and distorted as it later was by Stalin, and then filtered through the activities of the Communist Party in the United States, contributed more than any other influence from any other source to the recogni¬tion, and more or less general acceptance, of the Negro question as a spec/a/ problem of American society—a problem which cannot be simply subsumed under the general heading of the conflict between capital and labor, as it was in the pre-communist radical movement." —The First Ten Years of American Communism The Russian Revolution also affected blacks' attitude toward the Communist Party well through the 1930s, as Drake and Cayton's Black Metropolis makes clear: "...widespread approval of 'the Reds' was not only associated with the fight of American Communists; it was also grounded upon admiration for the Soviet Union which, to thousands of Negroes, was the one 'white' nation that 'treated darker folks right'."

Despite the CP's sectarian "Third Period" excesses in the 1930s and its erroneous "Black Belt" theory (for Negro "self-determination" in the impoverished, segregated South, which was never actually raised agitationally), the CP's early work among blacks combined a proletarian orientation with the recogni¬tion that it was strategically necessary to fight racial oppression throughout America, especially addressing the problems of poor and unemployed blacks.

The CP made the first serious efforts to organize black workers and to attack the American Federation of Labor's conservative Jim Crow trade unions since the days of the Wobblies (IWW). In the South, there were heroic CP attempts to organize poor black share¬croppers, including a series of hard-fought strikes for better wages. Their most famous Depression-era work was their defense of the "Scottsboro boys," nine black youth framed up on charges of raping two white girls they were travelling with and sentenced to life imprisonment (this Davis does mention, but only in the context of appealing to the feminist "anti-rape" anti-porn movement—which she sees as essentially progressive—to avoid vigilante-type frameups of blacks). The CP won thousands of black members in this period, though few ultimately stayed.

By the mid-'30s the Communist Party had broken from the radicalism of the "Third Period" and was firmly wedded to the "Popular Front" line of open class collaboration in support of FDR. By 1941 the CP became Roosevelt's most slavish sycophant, instituting the no-strike pledge on behalf of U.S. capitalism's war to preserve and expand its empire. The CP made an open bloc with racism. When the "progressive" Earl Warren, acting on FDR's orders, interned the Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, stealing their property, the Stalinists not only refused to protest this racist atrocity, but told their own Japanese-American members to get lost. In 1945 the CP hailed the A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki! While the Jim Crow U.S. was fighting its "war for democracy" with a segregated army and navy, the CP opposed every struggle for black rights on the grounds that it would "disrupt the war effort."

The Trotskyists in the then-revolutionary Socialist Workers Party opposed the bosses' imperialist war, while defending the Soviet Union and fighting to continue the class struggle, including militant support to black rights. While black soldiers and sailors were segregated and assigned the most humiliating, dirty and dangerous tasks, their wives and sisters were among those who suffered at home from the pro-imperialist betrayals of the labor tops and Communist Party. Brought into heavy industry in large numbers during the war, at war's end they were unceremoniously dumped back into low-paying service jobs or unemployment. Needless to say, the labor bureaucracy and the CP—which called for making the no-strike pledge permanent—took no effective action to save their jobs. The CP's "reward" for its class collaboration was the 1950s Cold War witchhunt, which shattered what was left of its mass influence.

It'll Take a Socialist Revolution to Finish the Civil War

Today the Spartacist League continues the fight for an American workers party, in opposition to those like the CP who tell workers and blacks to be passive and rely on "good" capitalist politicians. The CP cynically uses the history of the Civil War to cover its alliance with the liberal imperialist bourgeoisie today. We say it's going to take a socialist revolution to finish what the Civil War started! For the CP, women, blacks and the working class are simply three "constituencies" within capitalism, whom they tell to petition the racist, bourgeois state to ameliorate their oppressed condition. But exploitation of the working class is the motor force of capitalism. And capitalist society can never replace the family unit, the main social institution oppressing women. For blacks, the deeply embedded racism of American society, their forced segregation into miserable, rotting ghettos cannot be overcome short of ripping up this institutionalized oppression in socialist revolution. Our strategy is to build a women's section of a revolutionary vanguard party, to link the fight against the particular oppression of women to the power of the working class. A vital component of black leadership will be key to the second American revolution; we have fought since our inception for black Trotskyist cadre and leadership of an integrated mass workers party, like Lenin's Bolsheviks, that can lead all the oppressed against their common enemy, the capitalist class, in battle for the American socialist revolution."

From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Soviet Women Combat Pilots Fought Nazi Germany

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the "Night Witches" discussed below.

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.


Soviet Women Combat Pilots Fought Nazi Germany

The Story of the Night Witches

The three all-women air combat regiments of the Soviet Union were an integral part of the mass mobilization of the entire population against the Nazi invasion of their country in World War II. Our purpose in recalling the exemplary courage and personal sacrifices of these women is not to show that women are equal to men in even that most terrible of human struggles, war. We honor these women for their brave defense of the USSR, homeland of the first workers revolution in history.

As the capitalist powers plunged the world into a nightmare of slaughter to determine whose imperialism would prevail, the Soviet Union fought to defend the gains of the October Revolution and its socialized property forms. In this vital and desperate battle, women once again came forward, as they had in the Russian Revolution of February 1917, when a strike of women workers sparked the insurrection that overthrew the tsar. During the bitter civil war that followed the Bolsheviks' October Revolution, the Red Army included riflewomen and women armored train commanders and gunners (though most women served as medical personnel). Some women were also partisan fighters and leaders, including the colorful Bolshevik Larissa Reissner. It is these fighters against capitalism that we hail. When bourgeois feminists like NOW took up the plight of U.S. military career women, we took our stand "with the Red Army soldier who has marched to liberate the masses of Afghanistan, rather than with the U.S. female officer who may one day direct bombing raids over Soviet Central Asia" ("No to the Draft!" W&R No. 20, Spring 1980).

The story of the Soviet airwomen, the first women in history to fly planes in combat, is told in Bruce Myles' Night Witches (paperback published by Panther Books, 1983; unless otherwise noted, quotes are from his book). Myles, a Scottish journalist, interviewed veterans of the women's units: the 586th Fighter Regiment, the 587th Bomber Regiment, and the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, known as the "Night Witches" by Nazi troops who feared their nightly sorties.

These women were not unique. Almost one million Soviet women served at the front in all capacities— including as partisans—constituting about 8 percent of total Soviet military personnel at the end of 1943.1 n daring missions behind German lines, women pilots helped supply partisans fighting in Russia's forests— they even carried passengers, who slid themselves out of plywood tubes rigged under the wings into deep snowdrifts as the planes flew only feet above the ground! Women pilots also helped relieve the 900-day German siege of Leningrad, flying food to the starving city.
Stalinism and Women's Struggle to Volunteer

When Hitler launched his "Operation Barbarossa" invasion of the Soviet Union in the early morning hours of 22 June 1941, the USSR was criminally unprepared. Stalin had beheaded the army in his bloody purges, while refusing to believe the Nazis would attack, despite desperate warnings. Sixty percent of the Russian combat air force was destroyed on the ground; by November, the Germans were only 20 miles from Moscow, Leningrad was besieged, and three million Soviets had been taken prisoner, as Hitler sought another "lightning victory." But the Nazis fatally underestimated the will and capacity of the peoples of the USSR to defend the gains of their revolution, and got bogged down in the Russian winter. As the Soviets scrambled to recreate huge military factories back of the Urals out of German reach, hundreds of thousands of volunteers, many in the Komsomol youth groups, overwhelmed the military recruiting centers—including teenage girls with flying experience gained at paramilitary flying clubs across the USSR.

The first response of harassed officials to the young fliers was summed up by the initial rejection of one young woman who later became a Hero of the Soviet Union. She was told: "Things may be bad but we're not so desperate that we're going to put little girls like you up in the skies. Go home and help your mother." The October Revolution which overthrew capitalism opened up tremendous liberating potential for women, promising them freedom at last from subjugation to the family hearth. The Bolsheviks abolished all the old legal impediments to women's equality and sought to provide alternatives to the family, through socialization of housework and childcare. However, the bloody civil war which decimated the proletariat and the failure of revolutionary uprisings internationally, especially in Germany, led to Stalin's political counterrevolution. Without the necessary international economic basis for socialism, the real liberation of women is impossible in an isolated workers state. But this defeat was glorified ideologically by the Stalin regime as part of its defeatist and socially retrograde policy of "socialism in one country," while the Bolsheviks' commitment to replacing the oppressive nuclear family was reversed.

The deeply contradictory nature of the USSR—where the Stalinist regime had politically expropriated the working class, yet was forced to defend the planned economy—made it possible, when the very survival of the workers state was posed, for the official policy of rejecting women as fighters to be reversed. In contrast, in the imperialist West, to the extent women were officially mobilized it was in noncombat roles. In Britain, for example, some 450,000 women were in uniform, but limited to tasks like road building, ferrying planes, or spotting on antiaircraft sites, where they were forbidden to actually fire the guns.

A call went out over Radio Moscow in the fall of 1941 from the country's most famous woman aviator, Marina Raskova, for volunteers for all-women air regiments. Three 400-strong air regiments were formed, each comprising three squadrons of ten aircraft. Mechanics and armament fitters were all female as well. Before leaving for their training base at Engels on the River Volga in October 1941, the women had their first struggle trying to get into the military clothing—to hysterical laughter they stuffed sheets of Pravda and Izvestia into their boot toes, and trimmed trailing pants legs and coattails. More serious adjustments were needed as they learned to handle their aircraft. The 587th Women's Bomber Regiment flew the Petylakov twin-engined PE-2 light bomber, which had a crew of three. One pilot, Katerina Fedotova, recalled:

"Fully loaded with fuel and bombs, the PE-2 needed someone with a lot of strength to pull back on the stick at the appropriate moment to get the nose off the ground. Most of us had to get our navigator to stand beside us on take-off to help yank the stick back on a given command.... And some of the girls with particularly short legs had to have special blocks put on the rubber pedals so that they could reach them with their feet."

The pilots of the 586th Fighter Regiment learned to fly the Yak-1, a single-seat machine, while the "Night Witches" bomber regiment flew Nikolai Polikarpov's PO-2. The PO-2 was a veteran biplane trainer pressed into service as a bomber. Beneath its fabric-and-wood wings were loaded racks of small bombs (maximum load only 800 pounds), released by a wire inside the cockpit. It was incredibly slow—top speed only 100 miles per hour!

By May 1942 the women were ready for their first combat assignments. The 588th bomber regiment had its first test from male Soviet pilots: sent to escort the women to their first airbase, the men dived down at the inexperienced formation, many of whom panicked and broke away. But the women quickly recovered from this embarrassment, and soon proved their worth to their male comrades.

Stalingrad, 1942-43: "Achtung, Litvak!"

In the summer of 1942, Hitler launched a new offensive, against the Caucasus oil fields and against Stalingrad, splitting his forces on the southern front. By winter, Hitler's obsession with taking Stalingrad led the German 6th Army under General Paulus into a trap, dooming the German army to eventual encirclement inside Stalingrad as Soviet reinforcements arrived on the scene late in the year. Among them were the women's day bomber regiment, which had already faced combat in Kirshatz, the "Night Witches" and several of the best women fighter pilots, who joined the men of the 73rd Fighter Regiment in furious air battles over the city.

One of these was Lily Litvak, the daughter of a railway worker, who as a teenager had joined a flying club. Lily Litvak joined up with pilot Alexei Salomaten in the Soviet fighters' standard two-plane formation. By Christmas she had personally shot down six German aircraft over Stalingrad—three fighters and three transport aircraft running the gauntlet of the Russian air defenses in a vain attempt to supply the trapped German 6th Army from the air.

Lily became famous as the "White Rose of Stalingrad," as she had the fuselage of her Yak painted with white roses, one for each plane she shot down. Soviet monitors of air radio could hear German pilots warning each other, "Achtung, Litvak!" Her beloved partner Salomaten had crashed and died, but Lily kept on as a "free fighter"—her tenth "kill" brought down a German ace. As K.J. Cottam recounts in "Soviet Airwomen in Combat in World War II" (MA/AH Publishing, Kansas State University, 1983), the arrogant pilot could not believe what had happened:

"The middle-aged German ace from the Richthofen's 4th Air Fleet whom Lilya [Litvak] forced to bail out from his burning plane was taken to her regimental HQ. Here he sat, a haughty officer decorated with a number of iron crosses and medals, feigning indifference. He had yet to collect himself, to come to terms with what had happened; he was shot down so quickly, so unexpectedly, and in such an audacious manner! The German saw a small girl, looking about 16, enter the dugout. She wore a headset with goggles and a flying suit. His curiosity soon changed to disbelief and then indignation. 'What a humiliation!' exploded the Nazi pilot. 'This is nonsense and I demand a proof.’ Then the Major requested that the girl tell the Germans some-of the details of their dogfight, known only to the antagonists. Soon the prisoner was completely convinced; he glanced at her with new respect and reportedly silently hung his head."

While "free hunters" like the glamorous Lily Litvak received the most publicity in the Soviet press, the women ground crews were vital—the pilots' lives depended on them. Ina Pasportnikova, a mechanic at Stalingrad, recalled the excruciating 40° below winter temperatures, which combined with handling burning-hot metal parts left mechanics' hands permanently scarred as they raced to repair aircraft at top speed during half-hour breaks between sorties: "Sometimes the only way to get, say, a little nut into part of the engine with numbed fingers was to spit on the finger and, as it froze, attach the nut to the finger. Then you'd fumble around the screw, using your finger like a screwdriver to attach it."

The "Night Witches" in the Caucasus and Kerch Peninsula

The 588th women's night bomber regiment fought over the Soviet southern front. In the summer of 1942 as the Nazis pushed toward the oil-rich Caucasus, the women shifted bases quickly, seeking to slow the enemy advance, sleeping anywhere from in haystacks to under the wings of their planes. The Germans quickly learned to recognize the approach of the women night bombers: the little PO-2s made a distinctive "pop-popping" sound as they approached (later the women learned to turn off their engines and glide over the target). The PO-2s' slow speed and low flying altitude enabled the crews to drop bombs with an accuracy unmatched by other Soviet aircraft. The Germans called the planes "night devil”, "sewing machine" or "Russian plywood/' and the pilots "night witches." The Russians themselves referred to the little trainers as "coffee grinders/' "kitchen-gardeners" or "flying bookcases." Incredibly, until the summer of 1944, the women bombers flew without parachutes in order to take on an extra 42 pounds of bombs!

The German advance in the Caucasus was finally halted; on 31 January 1943 the Nazis surrendered at Stalingrad. By then the "Night Witches" had flown in combat for over eight months. At their headquarters in the North Caucasus, they were awarded the title of "46th Guards Regiment," the first women's unit to receive this high honor, placing them among the elite of the Red Army's fighting units. They flew more than 24,000 sorties during the war; of the 30 "Hero of the Soviet Union" awards won by airwomen, the "Night Witches" received 23.

They remained in the Kuban area for another eight months, where they took heavy casualties. Navigator Ira Kasherina was awarded the order of the Red Flag for her heroic efforts in bringing her plane home, the pilot dead, after a bombing run on enemy troops at Novorossisk on 22 April 1943. Ducie Nosal, the pilot who was killed, had lost her first-born son at the war's beginning in the ruins of a maternity hospital. She had flown over 354combat missions, and was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, the first Soviet airwoman to receive this honor. On 9 April 1944, the regiment lost one of its favorites, Zhenya Rudneva, chief navigator and a former astronomy student, over Bulgansk in the Crimea. She has an enduring memorial in the skies; the Soviets named an asteroid after her some years later. Lily Litvak, too, fell in battle in 1943 over the Donbass region as eight German fighters zeroed in on her Yak fighter with its white roses.

By October 1943 the Germans had been pushed out of the Caucasus, and the "Night Witches" went on to drop supplies to army and navy troops in one of the Soviets' largest amphibious operations that fall, the seizing of a beachhead on the Kerch Peninsula in order to liberate the Crimea. The landing party at El'tigen near Novorossisk was surrounded by enemy troops on three sides, with the sea at their back, their radio smashed, their supplies running out. In these difficult night flights, the pilots glided in from the sea with their engines cut off, guided by flashlights or bonfires in the rain and wind. Men from the landing party later met the "Night Witches," embracing them enthusiastically and telling them over and over that they had saved them.

The Battle of Kursk

Meanwhile, in central Russia, the key battle of Kursk raged in July 1943. Hitler's "Operation Citadel" sought to inflict a decisive defeat on the USSR by smashing the "Kursk salient"—a bulge driven by the Russians into the German lines, centering on the town of Kursk. On July 5 nearly a million German troops, 2,000 tanks and over 1,800 aircraft attacked, driving to surround Kursk, in the biggest tank battle of the war. The women of the 586th Fighter Regiment were drawn heavily into the mass battles in the air, as over 4,000 aircraft operated in an area only 12 by 30 miles—battles involving up to 150 aircraft at a time were common. Galia Boordina recalled:

"German and Soviet fighters were whirling and diving everywhere— The risks of collision were enormous—even with your own side. It was a complete melee, and most of the aircraft were flying at very high speed. I broke out of the fight briefly to gain height and look for a target. I dived down and pulled up underneath a Messerschmitt 109 and raked it with machine-gun and cannon fire. It fell away immediately, burning. I had shot down two other Germans before that—a bomber and a transport—but that was my first fighter."

Two women of the 586th took on an entire attack group of Germans during the buildup to Kursk. The women were alone in the sky in their two Yak fighters when they spotted a cluster of black dots, materializing in seconds into a group of 42 Junkers 88 and Dornier bombers. Despite the fantastic odds, they dived on the leading formation from out of the sun, seeking to break up the Germans before they reached their target. Two bombers fell away in flames on the first pass; the Yaks pulled up and got one more bomber each on their second pass, while the enemy jettisoned their bombs and broke formation.
When the smoke of the massive tank battle finally cleared, the two German spearheads were still forced 100 miles apart. Hitler had lost his huge gamble, and from that point the offensive passed to the Red Army. Essentially alone, the Soviet Union had broken the back of the mammoth Nazi military machine. Then began the long and hard-fought Soviet advance, retaking its own territory and then liberating the Eastern European nations from fascist occupation. In May 1945 the Red Army triumphantly entered Berlin. Many of the troops wrote their names on Hitler's bombed-out buildings, including a Soviet front-line nurse and fighter, who told an interviewer many years later: "I wrote that I, Sophia Kuntsevitch, Russian daughter of a welder, came here and defeated fascism" (Shelley Saywell, Women in War, Penguin Books, 1986).

The USSR had defeated Hitler—at a terrible cost. Twenty million people—one-tenth of the population—were dead. As the men and women of the Red Army advanced westward, they uncovered the horror of the Nazi Holocaust: smoldering ruins of villages, whole towns massacred, then finally the fascist death camps where millions had perished in the barbaric Nazi "technology" of mass murder.

The Fight for Women's Liberation Today

The women of the Soviet Union, arms in hand, were vital to the defeat of fascism. They proved in blood that they were equal to men in even that supposedly most "masculine" preserve, air combat. Yet even as women like Lily Litvak were shooting down German aces, the Stalinist regime continued its reactionary and shameful glorification of "women's true role" as domestic slave to the family. The Stalinist bureaucracy even introduced "Motherhood Medals": "Motherhood Glory, First, Second and Third Class" (nine, eight or seven children) and "Heroine Mother" for ten children. As Leon Trotsky noted in 1936 in The Revolution Betrayed, "The most compelling motive of the present cult of the family is undoubtedly the need of the bureaucracy for a stable hierarchy of relations."

In 1944, as women fought alongside men at the front, coeducation was abolished in the USSR. A director of the Moscow Municipal Department of National Education wrote, "It is essential to introduce in girls' schools such additional subjects as pedagogics, needlework, courses in domestic science, personal hygiene and the care of children," while another Stalinist ideologue added, "what we must have now is a system by which the school develops boys who will be good fathers and manly fighters for the socialist homeland, and girls who will be intelligent mothers" (quoted in Tony Cliff, Class Struggle and Women's Liberation, Bookmarks, England, 1984). In 1944 a law was passed with heavy financial sanctions against divorce, including the right of the court to reject divorce petitions. Women's right to abortion, which the Bolsheviks had granted in 1920, had been abolished in 1936 (it was reinstated in 1955). At the end of the war, women were taken out of combat positions.

Today, the Bolsheviks' great liberating goals for women remain unfulfilled. Gorbachev, like the other Stalinist bureaucrats before him, believes he can "appease" imperialism's unrelenting hostility to the Soviet Union, which still retains its socialized property forms. So now he's pulled the Soviet army out of Afghanistan, abandoning women and leftists there to a threatened bloodbath by feudal fanatics. While the women of the Soviet Union today are a world—and a social revolution—away from the barbaric enslavement Afghan women have suffered under the veil, they still must bear the burden of working and simultaneously being saddled with childcare, housework and endless standing in shopping lines, still in the grip of the bureaucracy's policies.

Working-class women have proven in every revolutionary struggle that they are among the best fighters for the liberation of their class. Certainly the women of Afghanistan, some of whom received military training, have shown they would be a real component of an army under revolutionary leadership. Our fight for women's liberation means a struggle for socialist revolution against capitalism. In the USSR and other bureaucratically deformed workers states we fight for political revolution to oust the conservative bureaucracies and to restore the revolutionary internationalist goals of Lenin and Trotsky. Among the best cadres in this struggle will be new generations of women, drawing inspiration from the heroic work of their predecessors—including the "Night Witches" of World War II.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

*Enough Is Enough -Support The General Strike In Greece May 5th-Victory To The Greek Workers And Their Allies

Click on the headline to line to a "European Left" blog entry in support of the General Strike in Greece scheduled for May 5, 2010.

Markin comment:

Enough of EU/IMF/U.S.-imposed austerity measures against working people everywhere, but most of all today in Greece. The Greek working class speaks for all of us. Make the capitalists pay for their own mistakes. Greece is at the moment the "epicenter" of the world revolution as it takes its first tentative steps into the 21st century after some serious defeats in the late 20th century. We need a victory in Greece, and we need it now. Of course, as Marx, Lenin and Trotsky pointed out long ago the General Strike
at some point poses the question of state power. Build workers councils that fight for a workers government. More, later.

*May Day Message From The Greek Communist Party- Support The General Strike In Greece May 5th- Victory To The Greek Workers And Their Allies

Click on the headline to link to a "Socialist Unity" Website post of a May Day message from the Greek Communist Party.

Markin comment:

Enough of EU/IMF/U.S.-imposed austerity measures against working people everywhere, but most of all today in Greece. The Greek working class speaks for all of us. Make the capitalists pay for their own mistakes. Greece is at the moment the "epicenter" of the world revolution as it takes its first tentative steps into the 21st century after some serious defeats in the late 20th century. We need a victory in Greece, and we need it now. Of course, as Marx, Lenin and Trotsky pointed out long ago the General Strike at some point poses the question of power. Build workers councils that fight for a workers government. More, later.

*From The Greek Communist Party (KKE) Website- Support The Greek General Strike May 5th

Click on the headline to link to the "Greek Communist Party (KKE)" Website.

Markin comment:

Enough of EU/IMF/U.S.-imposed austerity measures against working people everywhere, but most of all today in Greece. The Greek working class speaks for all of us. Make the capitalists pay for their own mistakes. Greece is at the moment the "epicenter" of the world revolution as it takes its first tentative steps into the 21st century after some serious defeats in the late 20th century. We need a victory in Greece, and we need it now. Of course, as Marx, Lenin and Trotsky pointed out long ago the General Strike at some point poses the question of state power. Build workers councils that fight for a workers government. More, later.

*Enough Is Enough- Victory To The General Strike In Greece May 5th- The Struggle For Working Class Power Is On

Click on the headline to link to a "Socialist Workers Party (Ireland) Website entry offering a different perspective on the situation in Greece by an Irish Labor Party leader.

Markin comment:

Enough of EU/IMF/U.S.-imposed austerity measures against working people everywhere, but most of all today in Greece. The Greek working class speaks for all of us. Make the capitalists pay for their own mistakes. Greece is at the moment the "epicenter" of the world revolution as it takes its first tentative steps into the 21st century after some serious defeats in the late 20th century. We need a victory in Greece, and we need it now. Of course, as Marx, Lenin and Trotsky pointed out long ago the General Strike at some point poses the question of power. Build workers councils that fight for a workers government. More, later.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

*From The Pages Of "Workers Vanguard"- "The Cold War And The Civil Rights Movement"- A Guest Commentary

Click on the headline to link to Part Two of the "Workers Vanguard" article, dated April 23, 2010, "The Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement".

Markin comment:

The presenter, Paul Cone, in the article posted below (Part Two is linked above) , “The Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement”, made a point at the beginning of Part One of referencing his own personally tangential relationship to the events of the 1950s and early 1960s in the black civil rights movement. That, in turn, triggered some of my own remembrances from that time. Although I was thinking at the time about, and thinking through, in my own odd, half-formed early teenage way a lot of political questions in those days the struggle in the South caught and focused my attention for most of that period until things started to unravel in Vietnam in the mid-1960s and that fight took center stage.

This civil rights focus was hardly unique to my own personal political development. Virtually every memoir that I have read , every personal anecdotal piece of evidence, every even minimal instinct to fight for some sense of social justice by those that I have called for convenience sake, the “Generation of ’68, American division, tells the same tale. Lunch counter sit-ins, walking picket lines, voter registration drives, fair housing fights, school desegregations, books for Alabama school kids, bake sales for Mississippi freedom fighters, you name it but some almost cosmic sense of social solidarity drove us to ally ourselves with that struggle. And, we were not wrong to do so either, although I would argue, as does the presenter, that too little was gained for a number of political reasons for such massive effort. That, however, is a separate question.

I have, sputteringly and haphazardly, written various commentaries in this space over the past few years about different signposts in my political coming of age, starting with the period under discussion. I have mentioned the Kennedy boys, John and Robert, the first little unilateral nuclear disarmament demonstration that I attended on Boston Common, my youthful amorphous “softness” toward things Soviet, and things “communist”, and my “hard” left liberal take on the main questions of the day. And so on. Those need not be repeated here, nor do I intend to bring out every possible event and my reaction, or lack of reaction to it that dominated the era. Rather I want to pick a few events that stand out, and that draw some “lessons” about how political consciousness is formed when “big events” are in the air.

What does need some explanation, first, is how a dirt-poor, and I am being kind here, Northern teenage boy from a hard-drinking, hard-bitten, hard-hating, hard working class Irish Catholic neighborhood in the suburbs of Boston who had no black school classmates, ever, and did not know any blacks under any circumstances come to identify his sense of the rightness of the universe with the struggles down South. And who, moreover, had a father, who for all his hard-working efforts to raise and support a family that mainly went for naught and who faced his own insults to his dignity as a Southerner in the North, never in all his life ever even with the most fearsome coaching was able to call a black person anything better than “nigra”. Yes, that certainly calls for some explanation.

And the answer was already contained in the above paragraph, or perhaps you missed it. The dirt-poor phrase. Who knows on what day I came to realize down in that old public housing project that I grew up in (hereafter, “the projects”) that we, my family and I, were poor. All I know is that it was pretty early on and that it was pretty late in the day when I also realized that some, a lot, maybe, of people were not poor. I might add, we were not just “poor as church mice”, because that is too respectability poor for what I am talking about. We are talking about something just a little less primitive that Ohio Democratic Congressman and left liberal gadfly Dennis Kucinich’s living out of an old automobile when growing up.

So when I saw photos or news film of old black dirt farmers struggling to get to the courthouse to vote, or just to register to vote, or of old black women, probably maids or some other such lowly service occupation, who just wanted to rest their weary toes in some part of some bus, but not always the back, or, most famously, when I saw well-dressed (to me) black teenage kids being taunted by hate-filled, but also well-dressed (to me), white kids down in Little Rock, Arkansas and prayed, maybe literally prayed too in those days, that President Eisenhower would do the right thing (which he never really did) I had some primordial affinity that no words, no gesture, no high-flung doctrine could express. And we go from there.

I mentioned in a recent review of a DVD film documentary produced in the wake of the re-opening of the Emmett Till case in 2005 that I was just a little too young to have noted the import of that case, or of the Rosa Parks bus struggles down in Montgomery, Alabama. What I was riveted to, and riveted each morning on the “Today” television show that I watched for news before school was the Little Rock situation. Even today looking at the pictures of those hard-bitten white thugs taunting some black kids, who just wanted to go to a decent school, outrages me. And, we indeed, go from there.

Probably though the first sense that I could take some action against the Southern situation was in support of the Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-ins down in Greensboro, North Carolina (bloody Greensboro then, and now). First, and this is important for those interested in the way that political consciousness gets formed down at the base of society, we had a Woolworth’s in our town which we could picket, and there was also a family-famous one in downtown Boston that my grandmother took us to as a “treat” sometimes. Probably, in those days half the towns of any size in America had a Woolworth’s so I could not understand what the big deal was in trying to exclude people, any people, from having a turkey club sandwich (on white, extra mayo, please). Or a frappe (I will not even bother explaining what that one is, except that it is NOT a milk shake). Or a lime Rickey or chocolate sundae, or whatever. That, my friends, is what that bloody struggle came to, on the surface.

As part of that effect to publicize the Woolworth struggle I was also in contact with NAACP-types from the other side of our town. No, not black representatives, there were no blacks in town, period, as far as I knew but whites, mainly Jewish I think, from a local college who were putting together books for schools down in Mississippi. Now, as I have mentioned in other commentaries even when I was nothing but an ordinary, low-life hoodlum in the making, or at least a wannabe hoodlum, I always had an inordinate regard for books. So when I was asked to go around getting books there was not problem in my linking that little, little effort with the struggle down South.

Now I am a child of the television age, like most of you. So when pictures on the news started coming though of the cops running wild in trying to stop, or start, or whatever they were doing to keep black people from voting , or black kids from going to school where they wanted to, I flipped out. I am personally going South, one way or another. I will save that story for another time because it deserves its own space and as the about already should make clear I am already deeply committed to the black liberation struggle, as I understood it. But know this: if you want to get a sense of what titanic social struggles were and how they “lift all boats” and how they change social consciousness in ways that are not apparent in more settled times think about some of the points above, and, if I know my intended audience, think through those episodes of your lives that brought you to leftist political consciousness. Then organize like righteous hell.


Workers Vanguard No. 956
9 April 2010

For Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

The Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement

Break with the Democrats!

For a Revolutionary Workers Party!

Part One

We print below a Black History Month Forum given in the musicians union hall in New York City on February 20 by Workers Vanguard Editorial Board member Paul Cone.

With pictures of Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie—the fathers of bebop jazz—looking upon us I thought it would be appropriate to recall a short story called “Bop,” first published in 1949 by the great writer Langston Hughes. Through his character, Jesse B. Semple, Hughes describes the origins of bebop. According to Semple, it’s “From the police beating Negroes’ heads. Every time a cop hits a Negro with his billy club, that old club says, ‘BOP! BOP!...BE-BOP!...MOP!...BOP!’... That’s where Be-Bop came from, beaten right out of some Negro’s head into them horns and saxophones and piano keys that plays it.”

That was written on the cusp of the civil rights movement. With some modifications, Semple’s observations are no less applicable today. The billy club has been replaced by the retractable truncheon, the revolver has been replaced by the semiautomatic and the cops have added the Taser stun gun to their arsenal. In the first nine months of last year, nearly half a million men, women and children were subjected to the degrading “stop and frisk” by New York City cops—84 percent of them black or Hispanic. As Hughes’ character, Semple, pointed out, “White folks do not get their heads beat just for being white. But me—a cop is liable to grab me almost any time and beat my head—just for being colored.”

Welcome to our Black History Month forum. We study the history—often buried—of the struggles for black freedom, which are strategic for the American socialist revolution. Our pamphlet series is named Black History and the Class Struggle precisely to express the inextricable link between the emancipation of the proletariat and the fight for the liberation of black people in the U.S.

We meet here today a little over a year after Barack Obama became the first black president of the U.S.—the Commander-in-Chief of the most rapacious imperialist power on the planet. Obama governs on behalf of the capitalist class, whose rule is maintained on the bedrock of black oppression. Obama’s election was hailed by bourgeois pundits and reformist “socialists” alike as the realization of Martin Luther King’s “dream”—a dream that, as King put it in his famous speech at the 1963 March on Washington, was “deeply rooted in the American dream.” Malcolm X saw things quite differently: “I’m one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism. One of the 22 million black people who are the victims of democracy, nothing but disguised hypocrisy.... I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare” (“The Ballot or the Bullet,” 3 April 1964).

While Wall Street barons wash down lobster dinners with 25-year-old single malt Scotch—paid for by government bailouts—the past year has seen the devastation of the lives of many workers: the loss of jobs, homes, savings and medical coverage, hitting the black population disproportionately hard. I work near 125th Street in Harlem and regularly pass an ever-increasing number of apparently homeless and obviously desperate people asking for help to buy a cup of coffee or some food; blaring from the loudspeakers set up by merchants is Obama’s voice boasting of “change we can believe in.”

Obama has beefed up the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, threatened crippling sanctions against Iran; he has built on the police-state measures implemented first by Bill Clinton and enhanced by George W. Bush in the name of the “war on terrorism,” and escalated attacks and repression against immigrants. Before the election, the Spartacist League declared: “McCain, Obama: Class Enemies of Workers, Oppressed” (WV No. 923, 24 October 2008). We gave no support to any bourgeois candidate, Democrat, Republican or Green like Cynthia McKinney, a former Democratic Party Congresswoman supported by reformists like the Workers World Party.

Just as the reformists’ forebears followed King to John F. Kennedy’s Oval Office, today’s reformists deliver their followers to Obama’s doorstep. Workers World (27 November 2008) proclaimed Obama’s election “a triumph for the Black masses and all the oppressed.” Today, Larry Holmes still recalls the “shock and elation” while watching Obama’s inauguration (Workers World, 18 February). The International Socialist Organization (ISO) enthused in their Socialist Worker (21 January 2009): “Obama’s victory convinced large numbers of people of some basic sentiments at the heart of the great struggles of the past—that something different is possible, and that what we do matters.” To the extent they have any influence, what the reformists do is prop up illusions in the capitalist Democratic Party.

The Demise of Jim Crow

The title of this forum is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not narrowly about the Cold War. I want to try to explain a bit the context in which the mass struggles for civil rights took place. In the Programmatic Statement of the Spartacist League, we wrote regarding the civil rights movement:

“The bourgeoisie eventually acquiesced to the demand for legal equality in the South, both because Jim Crow segregation had grown anachronistic and because it was an embarrassment overseas as American imperialism sought to posture as the champion of ‘democracy’ in the Cold War, particularly in competition with the Soviet Union in the Third World.”

And that is roughly what I will be talking about. But not yet.

As Marxists, we see the motor force of history as the struggle between oppressor classes—today, the capitalist class, which owns the means of production like the banks, land and factories—and the oppressed classes. Under capitalism, this is the proletariat, workers who have nothing but their labor power, which they sell to the capitalists in order to live. Capitalism is an irrational system based on production for profit, born “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt” as Marx put it in his classic work Capital (1867). The capitalist rulers, who claim the banner of “freedom” and “civilization,” have carried out mass murder and torture on an immense scale in their drive to secure world markets, cheap labor and raw materials. And history has shown that this system cannot be made to be more humane or the imperialist rulers more peace-loving. Nor can capitalism provide for the needs of the world’s masses, despite the vast wealth it possesses.

In order to preserve their class rule, the tiny capitalist class has at its disposal the vast powers of the state—which at its core is made up of the army, cops and courts—and means of ideological subjugation through the schools, press and religion. The capitalist state cannot be reformed to serve the interests of workers and the oppressed. On the road to revolution, it must be smashed by the revolutionary proletariat, and a workers government established in its place.

A key prop of capitalism is to keep the working class divided along ethnic and racial lines, which in this country means foremost the segregation of black people. We fight for black freedom on the program of revolutionary integrationism: while the working class must fight against all instances of racist oppression and discrimination, genuine equality for black people in the U.S. will only come about through the smashing of capitalism, preparing the road to an egalitarian socialist order. This perspective is counterposed to liberal integration, which is premised on the utopian notion that equality for black people can be attained within the confines of this capitalist society founded on black oppression. It is also counterposed to go-it-alone black nationalism—a petty-bourgeois ideology of despair which at bottom accepts the racist status quo.

Freedom for blacks in the U.S. will not come about without a socialist revolution. And there will be no socialist revolution without the working class taking up the fight for black freedom. As Karl Marx wrote shortly after the Civil War, “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.”

Our model is the Bolshevik Party of V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky that led the October Revolution in Russia in 1917. This was the greatest victory for the working people of the world: it gave the program of proletarian revolution flesh and blood. The proletariat seized political power and created a workers state based on soviets (workers councils). The young workers state eliminated laws discriminating against women and homosexuals and recognized the right to self-determination of the many peoples oppressed under tsarist/capitalist rule. The Soviet government proclaimed the right of working people to jobs, health care, housing and education.

The Russian Revolution was not made solely for Russia, but was seen as the opening shot of a necessarily international struggle of labor against the rule of capital. It was an inspiration to the oppressed masses of the world and had a direct impact on the struggle of black people in the U.S. The American rulers have always seen a connection between the Russian Revolution and the struggles of black people in the U.S.—and rightly so. The Bolshevik Revolution was popular among wide layers of urban blacks and even among moderate black newspapers and organizations. The Messenger, published by prominent Socialist Party member A. Philip Randolph, who would later become a vicious anti-Communist, captured this sentiment with articles like, “We Want More Bolshevik Patriotism” (May-June 1919).

It was the intervention by the Communist International in the 1920s that turned the attention of the American Communists to the necessity of special work among the oppressed black population—a sharp break from the practice of the earlier socialist movement. After the Russian Revolution, J. Edgar Hoover railed that “a certain class of Negro leaders” had shown “an outspoken advocacy of the Bolsheviki or Soviet doctrines,” had been “openly, defiantly assertive” of their “own equality or even superiority” and had demanded “social equality” (quoted in Robert Goldstein, Political Repression in Modern America: 1870 to the Present [1978]). The government immediately put together an apparatus of surveillance, harassment and terror that would be a model for the later FBI COINTELPRO (Counter-Intelligence Program) in the 1950s through the 1970s. COINTELPRO meant massive wiretapping, burglaries and surveillance against even tame civil rights leaders like King, and the killings of 38 members of the Black Panther Party and imprisonment of hundreds more. As Martin Dies, head of the witchhunting House Committee on Un-American Affairs declared in the mid 1940s, “Moscow realizes that it cannot revolutionize the United States unless the Negro can be won over to the Communist cause” (quoted in Gerald Horne, Black and Red: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Afro-American Response to the Cold War [1986]).

From the beginning, the young Russian workers state was surrounded and besieged by hostile capitalist countries. The Revolution prevailed in a bloody civil war against the counterrevolutionaries and the forces of 14 invading capitalist powers. But the poverty, backwardness and isolation of the country, especially following the defeat of the 1923 German Revolution, laid the ground for the development of a bureaucratic caste, led by Stalin, which expropriated political power from the working class. The nationalist outlook of the bureaucracy was given expression in Stalin’s proclamation in the fall of 1924 of the anti-Marxist “theory” that socialism—a classless, egalitarian society based on material abundance—could be built in a single country, and a backward one at that. In practice, “socialism in one country” came to mean opposition to the perspective of workers revolution internationally and accommodation to world imperialism—leading to the sellout of revolutionary opportunities—and in particular the propping up of capitalist rule in West Europe after World War II.

Despite the profoundly deforming bureaucratic means employed by the Stalinist regime, which undermined the Bolshevik Revolution’s gains, state ownership of the means of production and economic planning made possible the transformation of what had been an impoverished, backward, largely peasant country into an industrial and military powerhouse within the span of two decades. The Soviet Union provided a military counterweight to U.S. imperialism, making possible the survival of overturns of capitalism in East Europe and the social revolutions in China, North Korea, Cuba and Vietnam.

We fought to the end to defend the Soviet degenerated workers state against imperialism and counterrevolution, while at the same time fighting for a proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist misrulers and restore the working class to political power. Today, we continue to defend the remaining deformed workers states of China, Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea. The counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92 was a world historic defeat, not merely for the working people of the former Soviet Union but also for the international working class. The collapse of the USSR has meant U.S./NATO imperialist slaughter from the Balkans to Iraq and Afghanistan—accompanied by devastating attacks on the workers and oppressed minorities domestically.

The Civil Rights Movement

We study past struggles—victories and defeats—in order to politically arm ourselves and the proletariat for future battles. There are very few historical conjunctures in which a small Marxist propaganda group with a few hundred members could within a few years have transformed itself into a workers party leading a significant section of the proletariat. The South in the early 1960s offered such a rare opportunity.

The mass mobilization of black people in the Southern civil rights movement, and the subsequent Northern ghetto rebellions, disrupted and challenged the racist American bourgeois order. It shattered the anti-Communist consensus and it paved the road for the mass protest movements that followed—against the U.S. dirty war in Vietnam, for the rights of women, gays, students and others.

The civil rights movement achieved important—though partial—gains for black people largely in the realm of formal democratic rights whose main beneficiaries have been a thin layer of the black petty bourgeoisie. Public facilities were desegregated, black people won the right to register to vote in the South, and mandated school segregation was outlawed. But the liberal-led civil rights movement did not and could not challenge the root cause of black oppression. The hellish conditions of ghetto life—the mass chronic unemployment, racist cop terror, crumbling schools, poverty and hunger (the “American nightmare”)—which remain the lot of the mass of black people nearly 50 years after the Civil Rights Act was adopted are rooted in American capitalism. The civil rights movement smashed its head against this fact when it swept out of the South and into the North in the mid 1960s.

From its onset, the civil rights movement was dominated by a black middle-class leadership allied to Democratic Party liberalism. The aim of this leadership—whose most effective exponent was King—was to pressure the Democratic Party administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to grant formal, legal equality to blacks in the South. Walter Reuther’s United Auto Workers (UAW) and Randolph’s Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters—assisted by elements of the decomposing American social democracy like Bayard Rustin and Michael Harrington as well as by the Stalinized Communist Party (CP)—worked to keep the civil rights movement within the confines of bourgeois reformism and the Democratic Party. And this they did very well. Ultimately, millions of youth, whose opposition to racist oppression and growing animosity toward U.S. imperialist depredations were leading them to seek revolutionary solutions, were channeled into the Democratic Party of racism and war. In his classic work in defense of the Bolshevik Revolution, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky (1918) Lenin nailed Karl Kautsky, the granddaddy of the later social democrats and reformists:

“Even in the most democratic bourgeois state the oppressed people at every step encounter the crying contradiction between the formal equality proclaimed by the ‘democracy’ of the capitalists and the thousands of real limitations and subterfuges which turn the proletarians into wage-slaves. It is precisely this contradiction that is opening the eyes of the people to the rottenness, mendacity and hypocrisy of capitalism. It is this contradiction that the agitators and propagandists of socialism are constantly exposing to the people, in order to prepare them for revolution! And now that the era of revolution has begun, Kautsky turns his back upon it and begins to extol the charms of moribund bourgeois democracy.”

If you didn’t live through it, I think it’s hard to appreciate how tempestuous and volatile this period was, and how the struggle for black rights dominated domestic politics for over a decade. That era has become sanitized in movies, newspapers, books and the accounts of many of its participants—even former militants from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Black Panther Party, who are today comfortably ensconced in the Democratic Party.

Now I’ll confess, I was a bit young, only ten years old at the time of the March on Washington, for example, so I wasn’t a participant in these events like some of my comrades. A lot of my focus that year was on the upcoming Dodgers/Yankees World Series; the Dodgers swept them. But even at that age and younger, I was surrounded by the images of the assassination of Medgar Evers, Mississippi governor Ross Barnett blocking the steps of the University of Mississippi to blacks, the burning churches, the vilification of one of my childhood idols, Muhammad Ali, when he appeared with Malcolm X by his side after winning the heavyweight title. I recall the fear that Malcolm generated, seen in the eyes and heard in the voices of the bourgeois press corps and politicians, who in turn embraced the same conservative civil rights leaders whom they earlier castigated for wanting to move “too fast.” I also remember the cities in flames, starting with Harlem in 1964.

Largely ignored by accounts of that period is the ferment in the North, where black people had already attained the formal rights blacks in the South were fighting for. But discrimination in housing was public policy. In New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee and other cities of the North, black newcomers were forced into overcrowded ghettos, where they paid high rent for rat-infested slums; black children were sent to inferior schools, and black adults had few job opportunities and few, if any, public facilities. By 1962-63, there were as many protests in the North and West as in the South—for jobs, an end to segregated housing, and for school integration.

Fueling this rage was the grim reality that the economic advancement of much of the black working class—which came with wartime employment, U.S. industrial dominance and, most importantly, unionized jobs—was coming to an end. Between 1947 and 1963 Detroit lost 140,000 manufacturing jobs. In New York City, over 70,000 garment industry jobs were lost in the 1950s. The same was happening to meatpacking workers in Chicago and longshore, warehouse and shipbuilding workers in Baltimore, Newark, Oakland and Philadelphia. In large part this was because the capitalists were increasingly moving production to the South. Much of the industrial Northeast and Midwest was soon rendered rotting hulls. This was largely a product of the union tops’ failure to organize the South—a failure that stemmed from the anti-Communist purging of militant organizers during the Cold War, the union tops’ allegiance to the Democrats and failure to take up the fight for black rights.

On 13 May 1963, in solidarity with blacks in Birmingham, Alabama, who were fighting back against the racist terrorists and in protest against brutal cop terror in their city, some 3,000 black teenagers in Chicago pelted cops with bricks and bottles. In New York City, 1963 and 1964 saw thousands of Harlem tenants forming tenants councils, withholding rent and winning services and repairs from the slumlords. This was met with a vicious bourgeois campaign of racist hysteria. The purpose was, as we wrote at the time, “preparation and justification for the smashing, through police terror, of the coming stage of the Negro rights struggle” (“Negro Struggle in the North,” Spartacist No. 2, July-August 1964). In July of 1964, New York City cops exploited the protests against the police killing of 15-year-old James Powell to justify a full-scale offensive to smash every sign of these struggles. Such cop terror as that in Harlem would trigger many of the ghetto upheavals that took place in over 300 cities over the next three years. In New York, as the cops sealed off Harlem, we Spartacists launched the Harlem Solidarity Committee, which organized a protest of 1,000 in the garment district.

Adding to the civil rights movement’s turbulent character was the fact that activists were on a daily basis forced to confront and grapple with questions of where their movement was going. Such questions ultimately bring to the fore the nature of the capitalist state, class divisions in society, the “rottenness, mendacity and hypocrisy of capitalism”—leading to the heart of the question of reform vs. revolution. This played out in the first instance in the issue of armed self-defense or the strategy of “non-violence,” which was the calling card of King. For this, King won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. This prize itself has no noble history. It was also later awarded to such peace-loving people as Menachem Begin, Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter and now Barack Obama.

In 1960, Trotskyist activists got a first-hand view of how the question of armed self-defense was perceived by student activists during a visit to Southern black campuses shortly after the student sit-in movement was launched at the Greensboro, North Carolina, Woolworth’s in February. While the student militants were for peaceful picketing—perfectly correct as they were outnumbered—the influence of pacifist ideology was slight, and, notably, the students undertook self-defense measures to protect their campus and themselves from the racist terrorists.

Armed defense of meetings of black activists in the Klan-ridden South had been a well-established tradition, stemming not least from the efforts of the Communist Party to organize sharecroppers in the 1930s. This had been a necessary measure to make sure such gatherings took place without anybody being killed. This tradition however was anathema to the accommodationist wing of the civil rights movement led by King. Be clear: this question was not an issue of whether or not an individual whose home or family was under attack would repel the invaders. In a well-known 1959 statement, King himself acknowledged this basic human impulse. The issue was quite different. By pledging non-violence, the civil rights leaders were pledging allegiance to the white power structure, asserting that the movement could not go beyond the bounds set for it by the liberal wing of the ruling class represented by the Democratic Party. To say that the civil rights movement had the right to defend itself against racist terror was to say that you didn’t accept the rules of the capitalist ruling class and its racist “democracy.”

The ISO portrays King’s statement as part of a “debate” with black militant leader Robert F. Williams. This was no “debate.” King’s statement was used by the NAACP leadership in suspending Williams as president of the Monroe, North Carolina, chapter. Williams was targeted by the state and ultimately driven out of the country in 1961 for organizing black self-defense against KKK terror. To King’s argument that “violence” by black Americans “would be the greatest tragedy that could befall us,” Williams responded, “I am a man and I will walk upright as a man should. I will not crawl!” (quoted in Timothy B. Tyson, Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power, 1999). We defended Williams. In 1965, the SL initiated a fund-raising campaign for the defense of the Deacons for Defense and Justice in Bogalusa, Louisiana, who also organized armed self-defense. In doing so we advanced our class perspective—the revolutionary mobilization of the working class independent of the capitalist rulers.

During the civil rights movement, as government forces, not only the Southern municipalities but at the federal level, either stood by or facilitated the beatings of activists, the question of the nature of the capitalist state was brought to the fore. In part, dealing with such issues accounted for the receptivity among students to Marxist literature during that 1960 trip to the South I just referred to. Notable as well was the absence of the social democrats and Stalinists, which also provided openings for Marxists, and the distrust by many student activists of the adult leadership groups that acted as a brake on the movement—specifically including King and preachers identified with him.

The RT’s Fight for Revolutionary Integrationism

It is during these years that our organization originated as the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) opposition within the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). (Among the founders of the RT were the former editors of the Trotskyist Young Socialist, who had initiated a nationwide campaign of picket line protests at Woolworth’s in support of the Greensboro sit-in.) Our strategic perspective was to transform the left wing of the civil rights movement into a revolutionary workers party capable of leading much of the black working class and impoverished petty bourgeoisie in the South.

The SWP had for decades been the Trotskyist party in the U.S. It maintained a revolutionary course through the difficult World War II years and the immediate period thereafter. In 1941, under the thought-crime anti-Communist Smith Act, 18 Trotskyists and Minneapolis Teamsters leaders were sent to prison by the Roosevelt administration for their opposition to the imperialist slaughter of World War II. During the war, the SWP took up and publicized the defense cases of black soldiers victimized for opposition to Jim Crow segregation. In the aftermath of anti-black riots in Detroit in 1943, they fought for flying squadrons of union militants to stand ready to defend blacks menaced by racist mobs.

In contrast, following Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Stalinist CP hailed U.S. entry into World War II in December and worked overtime to enforce the trade-union bureaucracy’s “no strike” pledge. They demanded that the black masses forsake their struggle for equality in the interest of the imperialist war effort. The SWP viewed black liberation as the task of the working class as a whole, and intervened in the struggle against racial oppression with a militant integrationist perspective. The party won hundreds of black recruits, including a major breakthrough in Detroit. However, under the intense pressure of the Cold War period, most of them left the party over the next few years.

By the early 1960s, the SWP had lost its revolutionary bearings and tailed non-proletarian class forces, seen domestically in its policy of abstention from the Southern civil rights struggle and later embrace of black nationalism. By 1965 it had become a thoroughly reformist party. As opposed to the SWP majority, the RT fought the party’s criminal abstentionism and pointed out that the young radicals would not come to a Marxist program simply by virtue of their militancy—the intervention of a revolutionary party was necessary. Building a revolutionary vanguard necessarily meant participating in and building a revolutionary leadership in the current struggles of the working class. The RT fought inside the SWP for the party to seize the opportunity to recruit black Trotskyist cadres to their ranks. The RT put forward a series of demands linking the fight for black rights to broader struggles of the working class and addressing immediate needs such as organized self-defense and union organizing drives throughout the South.

Many SNCC activists were open to a revolutionary perspective. Shirley Stoute, a black member of the RT, received a personal invitation to work with SNCC in Atlanta, which the SWP majority had to accede to. Then they called her back to New York on a pretext a month later. After a bitter political fight over this and other questions, the RT was expelled from the SWP in 1963-64, going on to found the Spartacist League in 1966.

In an August 1963 document, “The Negro Struggle and the Crisis of Leadership,” the Revolutionary Tendency wrote: “We must consider non-intervention in the crisis of leadership a crime of the worst sort.” Had the SWP remained a revolutionary party and concentrated its forces in the Southern civil rights movement, it could have won to Trotskyism a large fraction of those young black radicals who eventually became black nationalists. After being expelled from the SWP, we intervened with our small forces in the civil rights movement in both the South and North. We called on militants to break with the Democratic Party. Our call for a Freedom Labor Party was an axis to link the exploding black struggle to the power of labor, North and South. As we elaborated in “Black and Red—Class Struggle Road to Negro Freedom,” adopted at the founding conference of the Spartacist League/U.S. in 1966:

“Ultimately their road to freedom lies only through struggle with the rest of the working class to abolish capitalism and establish in its place an egalitarian, socialist society.

“Yet the struggle of the Black people of this country for freedom, while part of the struggle of the working class as a whole, is more than that struggle. The Negro people are an oppressed race-color caste, in the main comprising the most exploited layer of the American working class…. Because of their position as both the most oppressed and also the most conscious and experienced section, revolutionary black workers are slated to play an exceptional role in the coming American revolution….

“The victory of the socialist revolution in this country will be achieved through the united struggle of black and white workers under the leadership of the revolutionary vanguard party. In the course of this struggle unbreakable bonds will be forged between the two sections of the working class. The success of the struggle will place the Negro people in a position to insure at last the end of slavery, racism and super-exploitation.”

The Rise of the Civil Rights Movement

The civil rights movement did not just fall from the sky. The elimination of legal segregation cannot be portrayed as an idea whose time had come, as the fulfillment of American democracy’s supposed “moral mission,” as the realization of the ideals of the Declaration of Independence or, as Martin Luther King claimed, the cashing of a promissory note from the “founding fathers” to blacks whose ancestors were enslaved. As I mentioned earlier, the Jim Crow system, designed to control and terrorize blacks in the rural South, had become anachronistic—i.e., it no longer served the needs of the U.S. bourgeoisie. This is important to understand.

The Civil War, America’s second bourgeois revolution, had smashed the slave system, paving the way for the development of industrial capitalism in the U.S. as a whole. But after the betrayal of Reconstruction by the Northern bourgeoisie, “the Negro was left in the South in the indefinite position of semi-slavery, semi-serfdom and semi-wage slavery” as then-Trotskyist Max Shachtman put it in his 1933 piece “Communism and the Negro” (reprinted as Race and Revolution [2003]). Sharecropping and tenancy formed the labor backbone of Southern agriculture. Sitting atop this was the system of Jim Crow, the systematic legal segregation of black people in the South enforced by legal and extralegal violence. It was designed to prevent blacks from voting, becoming educated or fighting for their rights. When blacks did challenge Jim Crow—either by personally refusing to follow its rules or, more rarely, by organizing against it—they faced racist terror, whether by the local sheriff or the Klan (who were often one and the same). At least 3,000 black people were lynched between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and the dismantling of Jim Crow in the 1960s.

Black people in the U.S. constitute a race-color caste integrated into the capitalist economy at its lower rungs while socially segregated. As historic Trotskyist leader Richard S. Fraser noted:

“Discrimination and prejudice in the rest of the United States derives directly from the southern system, feeds upon it, and like racial discrimination throughout the world is completely dependent upon it.... In every possible way it [the capitalist class] perpetuates the division of the working class by establishing throughout the entire nation the basic reciprocal relations between discrimination, segregation and prejudice which are so successful in the South.”

—“The Negro Struggle and the Proletarian Revolution” (1953), reprinted in “In Memoriam—Richard S. Fraser: An Appreciation and Selection of His Work,” Prometheus Research Series No. 3, August 1990

Fraser added, “the scar of race antagonism” serves to fortify and stabilize “the structure of American capitalism by dividing the population into hostile racial groups, who find it difficult to get together in defense of their common interests against the master class.”

The industrial needs of both world wars, and the murderous terror blacks faced in the South, led to mass emigration out of the South and into Northern and Western industrial centers. Rural sharecroppers were transformed into proletarians in modern mass production industries. Following the strikes in the 1930s that formed the CIO labor federation, black workers were integrated into powerful industrial unions.

At the same time, by the 1930s, Southern agriculture in this most advanced capitalist country was still economically backward, retaining significant remnants of the slave system. In search of cheaper labor markets, and to accommodate the economic needs of World War II, American capitalism had been forced to abandon its earlier conception of the agrarian South as mainly a source of raw materials and very limited industrial development. By the Depression, textile, iron, coal, steel and chemical industries had been developing in the South. The urbanization and industrialization of the American South during and after World War II created large concentrations of black workers, and proletarianized poor agrarian and middle-class whites. This created a clear identity of interests between white and black exploited industrial workers, establishing conditions for the emergence of broader class struggle and the struggle for black freedom. The practice of landlords and sheriffs picking up isolated tenants, sharecroppers or black transients at will, and forcing them into the prison slave-labor system (powerfully depicted in the book Slavery by Another Name [2008] by Douglas A. Blackmon) was not very effective when dealing with black workers concentrated in factories—particularly if organized into unions.

For black people, the Deep South in the early 1950s remained a racist totalitarian police state. When black soldiers came back from integrated units in the Korean War, they swore they would no longer submit to Jim Crow. The emergence of a mass movement of blacks in the South that not only protested but also defied racist legality posed a problem for the Northern bourgeoisie, which controlled the federal government. They could either go along with the suppression of the civil rights movement by the Southern state authorities and local governments, or they could utilize the federal government to favor policies that would introduce to the South the same bourgeois-democratic norms that existed in the rest of the country.

Dominant sections of the Northern bourgeoisie concentrated in the Democratic Party opted for the latter. They would use the federal government to pressure, but not compel, their Southern class brethren to grant democratic rights to blacks. The Eisenhower and Kennedy/Johnson administrations engaged in a continual series of compromises between the civil rights movement and Southern authorities. At the same time they did very little to prevent the violent suppression of civil rights activists by the Southern authorities and sometimes collaborated in that suppression. For instance, when asked what the government would do about attacks on civil rights activists, Kennedy answered, “We’ll do what we always do. Nothing.”

It is to this wing of the bourgeoisie that the leaders of the civil rights movement shackled the fight for black freedom. The bourgeoisie could acquiesce to partial gains for blacks—desegregation of public facilities, voter registration, as well as a degree of school integration—as these did not undermine their class rule. Moreover, continued denial of civil rights to blacks in the South was a liability to the ambitions of U.S. imperialism internationally. In short order, as the federal government granted civil rights concessions, the NAACP and other civil rights organizations and celebrities would be signing on to the Cold War against the Soviet Union and anti-communist witchhunts at home—even as they found themselves in the gun sights of the McCarthyites, HUAC and their Southern replicas.