Saturday, March 26, 2016

From The Archives Of Marxism- “BLACK AND RED—Class Struggle Road to Negro Freedom”(1967)

From The Archives Of Marxism- “BLACK AND RED—Class Struggle Road to Negro Freedom”(1967)

Workers Vanguard No. 1084

26 February 2016
From the Archives of Spartacist
“BLACK AND RED—Class Struggle Road to Negro Freedom”
Spartacist No. 10, May-June 1967
Part One
Expressing our understanding that the struggle of black people for their freedom is a motive force for socialist revolution in the United States, the First National Conference of the Spartacist League adopted the document reprinted below. Held almost 50 years ago, in September 1966, the conference approved two documents—the “Declaration of Principles of the Spartacist League” as well as “Black and Red” in draft form—as our founding documents. After a process of further amendment, the final version of “Black and Red” was published in 1967. While it should be read critically, in its essentials it has stood the test of time.
The document grew out of the experience of our founding cadres in struggle—not least, political struggle inside the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The SWP had been for decades the organization upholding the revolutionary program of Trotskyism in this country. But by the early 1960s it had abandoned the struggle to build a proletarian party to lead a fight for socialist revolution, preferring to tail non-working-class forces. Having become uncritical followers of Fidel Castro in Cuba, the SWP abandoned the fight for Marxist leadership in the black struggle, the domestic reflection of the same abdication. The 1963 SWP convention codified the wholesale embrace of black nationalist ideology, accompanied by a policy of abstention from the Southern civil rights struggle. In the name of black “self-determination,” the SWP’s Militant soon became an unpaid public relations organ for all manner of black “leaders,” from Martin Luther King Jr. to the anti-Jewish Elijah Muhammad and “cultural nationalists,” who blamed the oppression of black people on everyone but the ruling class.
Our political forebears, the Revolutionary Tendency (RT), opposed this opportunist course inside the SWP until their expulsions, which began in 1963. The RT argued that the party had to intervene in the South, participating in organizations of militant youth, taking part in the arguments over strategy and program. An emerging left wing was disenchanted with the leadership of the preachers, opening up a crucial opportunity for the crystallization of a black Trotskyist cadre. This opportunity was squandered, deliberately, by the SWP.
When “Black and Red” was written in 1966, our comrades—not only veterans of the RT struggle but also comrades recruited out of the New Left—had gained considerable experience in civil rights organizations and protests. We had organized pickets in solidarity with youth integrating Southern lunch counters, as well as rent strikes, rallies protesting police brutality, united-front defense campaigns for arrested militants, etc. These experiences informed the document in addressing the debates animating black activists, including importantly non-violence as a principle vs. the right of organized self-defense.
In the SWP, our founding comrades had been won to the viewpoint developed in the 1950s by veteran Trotskyist Richard S. Fraser. Comrade Fraser’s program of revolutionary integrationism—the fight for the liberation of black people in an egalitarian socialist society—was based on scrupulous study of the black struggle throughout this country’s history. From the time of slavery, black people have been an integral part of American society. Now long after slavery was abolished in blood and fire by the Civil War, black people in their mass remain forcibly segregated at the bottom of society. Historically, black people’s struggles have been directed at winning equality in America rather than aspiring to separation. Recognizing the revolutionary challenge posed by the black struggle, comrade Fraser argued that the SWP had to make special efforts to recruit black working people, including by forming transitional organizations, a concept that goes back to the revolutionary Communist International.
The 1960s were shaped not only by the mass civil rights protests but also by the growing protests against the imperialist Vietnam War, which was escalated by both Democratic and Republican administrations in Washington. The ghetto upheavals were elemental explosions against cop terror that also expressed massive anger at intractable poverty and devastation in the inner cities. At the same time, many youth being drawn into struggle were inspired more by Malcolm X, sharing his enthusiasm for anti-colonial revolutions abroad and admiring his savage indictment of Democratic Party politicians, than by King’s program of reliance on the federal government.
The demands we put forward in “Black and Red” center on a fight for political independence of the workers and oppressed from the capitalist government. They hammer on the need to overcome the division between the organized working class and the black struggle. A labor leadership that does not actively combat racial oppression is toothless in the face of the bosses’ divide-and-rule schemes, which hold down the wages and conditions of all workers. The union misleaders of the 1960s, mostly open reactionaries, were a big reason black (and other) radicals of the time saw no future in a fight for proletarian revolution. But a movement based on marginal social layers and not linked to the power of labor proved to be tragically vulnerable to the state’s campaign of violence and murder targeting those J. Edgar Hoover labeled “black revolutionaries.”
The SL at the time of our founding conference numbered only a few dozen members. We were confident in the appeal of our program, but within a few years the black separatist mood the document discusses had hardened to the point of sealing off our integrated organization from all but the most exceptional individuals. In time, the ruling class was able to re-establish social peace through a combination of means: cop terror and state repression aimed at beheading black organizations like the Panthers and funding for government poverty programs. The latter mostly lasted only as long as a threat to the stability of the capitalist order was perceived, while creating a layer of petty administrators directly dependent on the government. Black nationalist ideology was unable to generate a program for struggle. Hence the “black power” slogan would translate into the emergence of a layer of black mayors and other Democratic Party politicians, as we anticipated (a course also followed later by many Panthers).
Today, there is much less class and social struggle than at the time we wrote “Black and Red.” The unions have continually lost members in the face of relentless attacks; real wages and working conditions have declined; industry has increasingly fled from traditional industrial centers to the South and overseas; multi-tier contracts have become the norm. The present wave of liberal activism against cops killing black people underscores how little life has changed for most of black America. As a result of the civil rights movement, the legal and political structure of the South was brought into alignment with the bourgeois-democratic norms prevailing in the rest of the country. But by every measure—from income and family assets to education and life expectancy to police violence and incarceration—black people remain profoundly oppressed in capitalist society. The fight to win black workers and youth to the program of revolutionary Marxism remains at the center of our perspective today.
*   *   *
The struggle of the Negro people for freedom and equality has been the most dynamic struggle going on in the United States in the past ten years. It has taken place in the context of, and has been conditioned by, the general passivity of the organized labor movement. The militancy of the Negro people and the tempo of their struggle increased enormously in the fifties and early sixties, but the achievements have been minimal—limited entirely to token advancement of democratic rights. In fact, the fundamental conditions of life for the vast majority of Black people, particularly in the key areas of employment, wages, housing and education, have worsened. The Civil Rights movement, geared to the aspirations of the small Negro middle class, though professing to speak for all Negroes, has been stopped dead in its tracks in dealing with these fundamental needs, and in fact has functioned partly as a brake on the unorganized and leaderless pressures from below. In the absence of an alternative, revolutionary, leadership these pressures and frustrations explode from time to time in undirected, non-political outbursts that change nothing. Thus in the midst of dissipating militancy, disillusionment in struggle and seemingly vain aspirations among the black masses, the movement is at an impasse. A crisis of leadership is the essence of this impasse.
Economic Prospects
At present U.S. capitalism is attempting to maintain and increase its profits by placing the cost of the Viet Nam war on the working class.
The prolonged and extensive expansion of the productive capacity of the U.S. following upon the Second World War was conditioned by the massive destruction engendered by the imperialist slaughter, and by the world-wide demand for goods which resulted. The period of rapid capitalist development since the war has been marked by periodic mild recessions and interspersed by long periods of boom. Recently the curve of world capitalist development has begun to point downward. The rise in inventories, the drop in investments in capital goods production, and in industrial production, indicate that a world-wide economic downturn is at hand.
While economic indicators pointed to a downturn in 1966, the boom was prolonged another year by the political decision to escalate the aggressive war against Viet Nam. A decision by the U.S. ruling class for another massive escalation could again serve to postpone the downturn.
The upsurge of militant strike action testifies to the growing refusal of workers to submit to further erosion of their living standards by the inflationary pressures generated by the war on a booming economy, and to their readiness to fight for real gains. Black workers, bearing an even greater disproportionate share of the burden of the war, would be the most militant and ready for greater struggle.
On the other hand, if the war is ended or even continued at the present level of war spending, the economic downturn would prevail. While the black workers would be hit hardest by the ensuing unemployment, lay-offs would also rapidly accelerate among white workers. Again, this poses the perspective of a unity in struggle of black and white workers, and a leap in the level of consciousness of basic sectors of the working class.
Black Workers and Imperialism
Thus the struggle for Negro freedom takes place not only within the national arena, but within an international context. U.S. capitalism, which doubly exploits black workers, is the cornerstone of world imperialism. The abandonment of a perspective which looks to the working class to lead the struggle for the liberation of mankind from oppression is the hallmark of all revisionism. The Pabloist concept that the epicenter of world revolution has shifted to the colonial countries, the Maoist concept that backward countries will encircle and conquer the industrial countries, and the black nationalist concept that the Negro people are essentially part of the movement of African nationalism and will be liberated by the industrially backward countries are all revisionist concepts.
The bankruptcy of revisionism has become apparent with the smashing of the so-called “Third World,” “Socialist” regimes and the tragic massacres of the masses in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The definitive victory of the world revolution will only be secured by a victory of the workers in the advanced capitalist countries. The U.S. working class now has “the most revolutionary of all revolutionary tasks,” the destruction of the bastion of world imperialism, the U.S. capitalist system. To the extent that the black workers, the most militant in the U.S. working class, become infused with a revolutionary socialist perspective, and thereby become able to provide leadership to the class as a whole, they play a vital role in the success of the world revolution.
From their arrival in this country, the Negro people have been an integral part of American class society while at the same time forcibly segregated at the bottom of this society. As chattel slaves they were the labor force on which the Southern planter aristocracy maintained its economic and political dominance until the Civil War. Various factors—the variety of African origins, the deliberate dispersal of slaves with common tribal backgrounds, the fact that most slaves brought from Africa were male—facilitated the total destruction of African languages, social institutions and cultural memories among the slaves and allowed the imposition of a new language and new habits to fit the needs of the economic system into which they were being integrated. In particular, an eclectic Christianity was early instilled to teach the slave to meekly accept his position.
Escape from slavery, not return to Africa, was the goal of Negro efforts toward freedom during the pre-Civil War period. In the Civil War itself, when the political needs of the vigorous and growing capitalist class in the North came into fundamental conflict with the continued political dominance of the Southern planters, freed slaves played an important part in the victory of the progressive forces and destruction of the slave system.
Capitalist and slave alike stood to gain from the suppression of the planter aristocracy but beyond that had no further common interests. In fact, it was the Negroes themselves who, within the protective framework provided by the Reconstruction Acts and the military dictatorship of the occupying Union army, carried through the social revolution and destruction of the old planter class. However, the Compromise of 1877 and the formation of a powerful new bloc of Northern industrial capital and subordinate Southern Bourbons allowed the majority of ex-slaves to be forced back onto the land as tenant farmers or share-croppers.
Southern Populism
Nevertheless, nearly a quarter of the ex-slaves were able to acquire their own small farms. The white small farmers, who had also been “freed” by the destruction of the slave system, were driven in some cases to join hands with their black counterparts in the defense of their common interests against the new plantation masters. Yet this tentative union—the Southern Populist Movement—was doomed to failure. The small-farmer class itself could not be a real contender for political power in a capitalist society, while the dynamics of private farming inevitably brought about sharp competition among the farmers. This competition was exploited by the new political alliance of big planters, Southern capitalists and certain Northern financial interests, in particular, investors in Southern railroads, land, mining and timber. This bloc initiated a campaign of violent race hatred among their political opponents which succeeded in destroying the developing black-white unity. In the context of the new racism the Black people were disenfranchised, stripped of all legal rights, and permanently denied access to adequate education. Those setbacks were codified into a series of laws institutionalizing the rigid segregation which has been the dominant feature of the South ever since. It was the racism launched during this period which has since kept wages in the South at approximately half those of the rest of the country (and the wages of Negroes at half those of whites in the country as a whole), prevented effective union organization and perpetuated a crushing poverty on the land for black and white alike, though today the Southern economy has come entirely under the control of Northern capital.
By the First World War 90 per cent of all Negroes still lived in the South, though by this time nearly one million had made their way from the land into hundreds of Southern towns. Then, with the great expansion of demand for unskilled labor unleashed by the War, a vast migration of black workers into the North took place, and for the first time a sizeable portion of Black people became integrated into the mainstream of American capitalist society. This integration did not last. With the 1921 recession the new workers found themselves forced out of their jobs. This, along with the extremely harsh conditions of Northern ghetto life—instead of the “Promised Land” which many had expected—caused thousands in despair and frustration to turn to the “Garvey Movement” built on the thesis that the Negro would never receive justice in the white man’s land and calling for a separatist solution. This first important mass movement with nationalist aims folded later in the ’20’s due to internal contradictions, the imprisonment of its leader and the recovery in Negro employment in the boom years following the post-war depression. Far more significant during this decade in terms of American social reality was the successful organization of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
During the ’30’s once again black workers were forced out of the economy in large numbers—but this time not alone. Radical ideologies and the gains of mass struggle made a deep impact among workers of both races. The organization of the CIO—the culmination of the upsurge in labor struggle—was a joint venture and bound large numbers of the less skilled and unprotected black workers to the most advanced section of the proletariat. Yet the betrayals of the Communist Party during the war years helped wipe out Negro gains and served to discredit all radical movements, even though a significant number of Negro workers came into the Socialist Workers Party at this time. The subordination of the CIO to the bourgeois Democratic Party and Cold War ideology, its affiliation with the conservative AFL and its failure in the context of unexampled prosperity and labor passivity to come to the defense of the Negro freedom struggle have caused black militants to lose confidence in the organized labor movement or in the perspective of common struggle in the future. The SWP’s failure to take a clear position on integration vs. separation contributed to its loss of hundreds of black workers and of the opportunity to forge a significant black Trotskyist cadre.
But the objective basis for future common struggle of black and white workers not only exists but, unlike the Populist Movement of black and white farmers, holds the promise of success, while struggle along nationalist lines is a delusion and an impossibility. The vast majority of Black people—both North and South—are today workers who, along with the rest of the American working class, must sell their labor power in order to secure the necessities of life to those who buy labor power in order to make profit. The buyers of labor power, the capitalists, are a small minority whose rule is maintained only by keeping the majority who labor for them divided and misled. The fundamental division created deliberately along racial lines has kept the Negro workers, who entered American capitalism at the bottom, still at the bottom. 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 the generations of exceptional oppression, degradation and humiliation, Black people as a group have special needs and problems necessitating additional and special forms of struggle. It is this part of the struggle which has begun today, and from which the most active and militant sections of Black people will gain a deep education and experience in the lessons of struggle. 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.
Black nationalism accepts present American class society and working-class divisions as unchanging and unchangeable, and from this static vantage point separation is seen as the only solution. Yet this solution is unrealizable in terms of the realities of American class society. True nationalism is, in essence, the struggle to establish an independent area for the development of a separate political economy. Historically it has come at those times and in those places, usually within a common geographical area among those with a common language and cultural heritage, when an emerging capitalist class must free itself from the shackles of a decayed feudal economy or from external imperialism in order to develop freely, i.e., in order to exploit its “own” working class. But there is practically no black capitalist class in America. Instead, the so-called “Black Bourgeoisie” consists in reality of a small, weak, petty-bourgeoisie catering to service needs arising out of segregation, and of white collar workers—which latter are rapidly achieving a remarkable degree of integration into the white middle class, and thus have an identity of interests and outlook far removed from those of the majority of working-class Negroes.
The present mood among black ghetto youth, “nationalism,” could more correctly be termed “pseudo-nationalism” since the conditions fostering genuine nationalist sentiment do not exist. This mood arises from growing racial self-confidence and pride—a positive development as it is a precondition for real combativeness—coupled with bitterness at the failure of the struggle to gain significant results without support from the rest of the working class. It develops in the context of a generally correct criticism of the middle-class-oriented Civil Rights leadership while an alternate, proletarian leadership has not yet been created. The dominant feature of this pseudo-nationalism, like all variants of black nationalism, is its inability to generate a program of struggle—a further proof of its spurious nature. Such “nationalism” is divisive and interferes with the development of class consciousness and a program to sharpen class struggle.
Thus the Negro struggle in America is more directly related to the class struggle than any essentially national question could be. The falling rate of profit makes it impossible for the ruling class, even during a spurt of unequalled prosperity, to meet the demands of this super-exploited layer for improvements in the basic conditions of their lives. Hence any steps forward in this struggle immediately pose the class question and the need for class struggle in its sharpest form.
Transitional Organization
The necessity for mass organizations of strata of working people with special needs and problems was recognized by the Leninist Comintern [Communist International], which worked out the tactics of the relationship of such transitional organizations to the revolutionary party and to the class struggle as a whole. These organizations are a part of the revolutionary movement, and their struggles advance the overall class struggle. They are neither substitutes for nor opponents of the vanguard party of the entire class, but are linked to the vanguard party through their most conscious cadres. Examples of transitional organizations are militant women’s organizations, revolutionary youth leagues, and radical trade-union caucuses. Such a transitional organization is necessary for Negro workers at a time when large sections of the working class are saturated with race hatred.
With its program of transitional struggle around the felt needs of a section of the class, the organization mobilizes serious struggle by the largest possible number. Such an organization, while not itself “socialist,” leads those participating in its struggles to the realization that a fundamental overturn of the existing society is necessary.
In the Northern ghettoes a great organizational vacuum exists. The objective basis of the traditional middle-class organizations such as CORE and the NAACP is growing ever narrower as more and more of the Negro middle class is able to flee the ghetto. (For example, over the past decade, 40,000 employed Negroes moved from Harlem into other, more “desirable” parts of the city or suburbs, where their incomes were sufficient to break some of the barriers of segregation. The Harlem CORE chapter recently has had only a few active members who actually reside in Harlem!) As the objective basis of these groups narrows, they grow subjectively ever less related to the needs and interests of the black masses. This is reflected in the move towards an increasingly consistent position by the middle-class groups that since the basic problems are economic, government intervention—secured by pressures on or within the Democratic Party—must be the primary aim of the Civil Rights movement. In 1964-65 this took the guise of “Liberal Coalition” politics as expounded most articulately by Bayard Rustin, and the delivery of the black vote to Johnson. This year’s guise are the more militant-sounding slogans of “Black Power” and “independent political action” as interpreted by certain Northern Civil Rights leaders to mean black judges, black cops and black Democrats or, as regards “independent” political action, to mean a black voting bloc which will supposedly “swing” its vote to whichever capitalist party promises the most to Negroes. The ultimate meaning of the latter is to build support for Bobby Kennedy’s projected presidential candidacy. As the old Civil Rights movement becomes more and more subordinated to the political arm of the very forces responsible for the oppression of the Negro people, it will serve increasingly to function solely as a brake on real struggle and a diversion from revolutionary alternatives.
Oppose Federal Infiltration
Furthermore, these reformist organizations have already become so exposed in their ineffectiveness, even in gaining token reforms, that the government has found it necessary to create its own reformist organizations in order that some alternative to proletarian organization and program will exist. The millions of dollars poured into HARYOU-ACT have succeeded in confusing or buying off a large number of potential youth leaders in Harlem through a combination of money and pseudo-radical nationalistic rhetoric. The so-called “anti-poverty” projects have also served to foster a certain amount of illusions among the ghetto masses. The witchhunt in Mobilization for Youth when some idealistic young people tried to use it as a vehicle for support to rent strikes, school boycotts and community actions against police brutality shows clearly the outcome of attempting to use government fronts as instruments of real struggle.
The vast black ghettoes of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and numerous other cities are wide open for the formation of a proletarian mass organization of struggle. Only the smallness of the black revolutionary cadre, together with the temporary aftermath of police terror during the “riots,” and in some cases sectarianism, have kept such organizations small. The Spartacist League will do all in its power to encourage and aid such organizations, and favors the unity in action of all working-class-oriented organizations in the ghetto.
Ghetto Defense
For the last three summers ghettoes across the country have been rocked by elemental, spontaneous, non-political upheavals against the prevailing property relations and against the forces of the state which protect these relations. In no case have they been genuine race riots. The risings have usually been provoked by the police, in the course of “normal” brutalities (Watts 1965) or in an effort to crush a movement which is exceeding the bounds set for it by bourgeois society (Harlem 1964). As the struggle against the police expands, the black street-fighters turn on the merchants and shopkeepers, the visible representatives of the oppressive class society, and smash whatever cannot be carried off. Yet despite the vast energies expended and the casualties suffered, these outbreaks have changed nothing. This is a reflection of the urgent need for organizations of real struggle, which can organize and direct these energies toward conscious political objectives. It is the duty of a revolutionary organization to intervene where possible to give these outbursts political direction.
The Northern ghettoes will be organized only by revolutionary ghetto organizations. The beginning of such organization is possible now, while the form remains open. One form is the building of block and neighborhood councils based on tenants councils. Experience has shown that tenants councils must be introduced to the whole transitional program and tied to as broad an organizational base as possible if they are to achieve stability. Block and neighborhood councils of this sort would be able to speak for a whole area, put forward their demands, and call out the people in militant actions to back up those demands.
One of the most important functions of such representative popular organs would be the organization and direction of effective self-defense against police and racist violence. The potential for rapid growth by the American fascist movement adds to the seriousness of this task, given the sharp contradictions confronting U.S. capitalism in the next period. Ghetto action might take the form of block patrols of neighborhood men, preferably union members with past military training. The need for the immediate formation of such patrols is shown by the indiscriminate beatings and killings by police during the suppression of ghetto “riots.”
Such terror will be unleashed whenever the black people approach a breakthrough in changing the fundamental condition of their lives. Block patrols would also help prevent the day-to-day acts of terror against individual ghetto residents by racist cops and would serve to control the crime victimizing ghetto residents which the capitalist cops ignore or participate in. Such neighborhood patrols will become a part of that workers militia which will defend the future American proletarian revolution.
Independent Political Action
The struggle for black freedom demands the total break of the Negro people from the Democratic Party, the preferred political weapon of the forces which profit from the suppression and super-exploitation of the Negro people. The only alternative is a new party based on the needs of the poor and working people. The formation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in the South, initially with a mass base, indicated the potential and feeling which exist for independent political action. However, the MFDP, as its name indicated, was not independent but was simply a means whereby certain Southern and Northern civil rights leaders hoped to pursue their ambitions within the national Democratic Party at the expense of the interests of the Negro people. This situation has since been recognized by the most militant sections of the Southern movement, and the party has now lost its mass support.
The formation of the Black Panther Party in Lowndes County, Alabama, was a step forward inasmuch as it was consciously organized in opposition to the Democratic Party. Based on the sharecroppers and farmers of a single rural blackbelt county, its program is by these very factors limited to reforms realizable within the system such as improved schools and roads, development of farmer cooperatives, and purchase of land for dispossessed sharecroppers. In order to go beyond these albeit needed reforms and pose a real challenge to the Southern system and the basic structure of society, the idea of independent political action must be extended to the cities and developed among workers. The perspective of the Black Panther Party for a federation of county-wide parties must be replaced by a perspective for a South-wide Freedom Labor Party.
Only by the development of a working-class program and by explicitly opening the door to support by white workers can real political independence be maintained, real gains won and the basis laid for eventual working-class political unity. This unity will come about when the exploited section of the white South is driven into opposition and is compelled to forego color prejudice in order to struggle along class lines against its real enemies—the owners of land and industry.
The creation of a South-wide Freedom Labor Party would serve as a tremendous impetus for similar action by Northern workers. The struggle for such a party would necessitate a rank-and-file revolt within the organized labor movement to overthrow the present labor bureaucracy. In the absence of a labor party, the Spartacist League supports all independent candidates whose programs are based on the needs of the ghettoes.
Negroes as Workers
In this period when primary attention has been focused on the ghetto, the importance of Negro militants within the organized labor movement must not be overlooked; black unionists form an immediate, existing, organizational link with the white section of the working class. Militant Negro and other super-exploited minority workers together with their labor partisans must organize within and without the existing unions in order to fight for their urgent needs. Union bureaucrats, with their public lip service to the Civil Rights movement, will be hard put to suppress “Civil Rights” caucuses within their unions or condemn Labor Civil Rights Committees as “dual unions.” Yet under conditions in which struggle reaches revolutionary heights, such committees would be precursors to factory committees. Should dual power be posed, these in turn would be vital elements in workers councils and, in victory, of workers power.
In addition to anti-discrimination demands, the “CR” caucuses should raise the following demands:
(1) Organization of the Unorganized. At the same time this demand is raised, the black worker militants should themselves begin this organization.
(2) Organization by the Unions of the Unemployed. Again, this demand should be accompanied by the actual organization of unemployed workers by the black worker militants. The aim is to create links between the ghetto and the labor movement and to counteract the lumpenization process proceeding apace in the ghettoes among the unemployed. Welfare recipients should be organized around a program calling for full employment and their organizations should be associated with welfare worker unions.
(3) For a Sliding Scale of Wages Controlled by Labor. All workers are being hit hard by inflation caused by the war in Viet Nam. The bourgeoisie’s attempts to freeze wages to save profits must be countered by the demand that wages be scaled according to the purchasing power of the dollar, with the power of the sliding scale in the hands of workers’ committees, not bourgeois agencies.
(4) Fight for the Shorter Work Week. The rate of Negro unemployment is twice that of white workers, and the gap is increasing. Yet white workers also face the threat of unemployment due to automation. The struggle for more jobs for all, rather than competition between black and white workers for a few jobs here or there, can unite workers. At the same time, the demand for a shorter work week poses racial equality in union hiring without making the white worker fear for his job.
(5) Oppose Government Intervention. At all times we oppose using the Government to “integrate” unions, and rely solely on the working class for this task. Such ruling-class tactics as decertification of discriminatory unions are intended to destroy union independence, foster division among union members and worsen the position of all workers.
For Negroes the fight for full employment at decent wages is not just the key to better housing, schools, etc., but a fundamental and necessary defense. If Black people are forced out of any economic role and become lumpenized as a group they will be in a position to be used as a scapegoat and could be totally wiped out during a future social crisis—just as the Jews in Germany were—without affecting the economy. The fight must be fought now to maintain Negroes as part of the working class.
The struggle for this program within the labor unions will entail a simultaneous fight for full union democracy and ultimately a struggle for leadership against the present labor lieutenants of capital. The most essential feature of this struggle will be the break of the labor movement from all its present ties to the capitalist state.

Workers Vanguard No. 1085
11 March 2016
From the Archives of Spartacist
Class Struggle Road to Negro Freedom”
Spartacist No. 10, May-June 1967
Part Two
We reprint below the concluding part of the document on black oppression that was adopted at the Spartacist League’s founding conference in September 1966. The first part appeared in WV No. 1084 (26 February).
The Southern economy is today controlled entirely by Northern capital and is an integral and essential part of American capitalism. The contradictions of capitalism culminating in the tendency of the rate of profit to fall necessitate the maintenance of this vast area of low wage, non-unionized labor as a source of superprofits, and prohibit either any fundamental improvement in living standards for Southern workers whatever their color or any real change in the Southern political system of terror against Negroes. The problem of the South is more than merely one problem among many in the capitalist system. U.S. capitalism can oftentimes remove some problems through reforms in the system, always of course at the expense of exacerbating problems elsewhere. But the Southern system lies at the very heart of American capitalism; its essentials cannot be removed without destroying capitalism itself. Yet capitalism in the course of its own development has now created in the South a Negro proletariat larger than the rural Negro population and brought together black and white workers in the social process of production. Thereby the objective basis is laid by capitalism itself for a future revolutionary struggle against the inhuman Southern system.
Because only a direct anti-capitalist struggle can eradicate the Southern system, any struggle short of that must soon either turn against capitalism or else fall into a swamp of hopeless reformism and soul searching. Perhaps the most critical problem of the Southern Negro struggle has been its lack of revolutionary theory. Much energy and much blood have been sacrificed, but the gains have been few. The struggle has gone slowly as the movement has painstakingly groped its way along, hammering out by trial-and-error a program and method of struggle which is still in flux.
Without any theoretical weapons, the movement first struck out blindly but boldly at the most immediate signs of oppression—segregation in public transportation, eating places, educational institutions, etc. The basic demand was equality within the system, while the method of struggle was dominated by non-violence. This struggle reached its height in the early 1960’s with the sit-ins, Freedom rides, Old Miss confrontation [desegregation of the University of Mississippi], etc. A good deal of publicity was achieved, but the system was basically untouched. As if to indicate the reformist nature of the demands, the bourgeoisie adopted the entire Civil Rights program and called it the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
But the civil rights movement was beginning to learn several important lessons. It was learning that one cannot merely make demands—one must have political power. What kind of political power was still to be learned. The emphasis was on registration of Negroes for the vote. Once again, though, the bourgeoisie adopted this basically reformist demand, this time calling it the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
But the bourgeoisie in the era of imperialism is so decadent, so dependent upon reactionaries, that it can no longer extend even simple bourgeois democratic rights. At this point, then, the Southern civil rights movement was pushed outside the traditional two party system by the bourgeoisie itself. At the 1964 Democratic Party Convention where the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party tried to enter the regular Democratic Party, the bourgeoisie rejected this chance to absorb the Southern leadership and so pushed the leadership into its more militant phase.
Rise of the Black Power Movement
The Negro movement in the South has been confronted with two roads: reform vs. revolution, liberalism vs. communism. In recent years, through trial-and-error, the movement has seen the bankruptcy of traditional liberalism. The well-hated “white liberal” who dominated the earlier movement insisted on confining the movement within the system, for a real social overturn would threaten his class position. This attitude was held not only by the white liberals, but also by the petty-bourgeois Negro leaders like Roy Wilkins and Martin Luther King.
The most militant section of the civil rights movement has sensed the inadequacy of traditional reformism, and its suspicions were empirically confirmed by the experience of the MFDP. This healthy though empirical reaction has its center in SNCC and the “black power” movement.
The adherents of “black power” are usually the most militant elements who have adopted the term partly because of its militant sound and partly because of its repugnance to white liberals. Thus the “black power” movement contains a number of radical points and methods which have caused the bourgeois press to shower vicious abuse on it. Some “black power” advocates profess to reject middle-class values and desire to serve “human” values; they generally favor independent political action such as the Black Panther Party in Lowndes County; they see the connection between the Negro struggle at home and anti-imperialist struggles abroad, as in SNCC’s recent statement on Viet Nam; and they discuss the use of armed self-defense against racist terror. In short, the “black power” movement is raising questions whose answers lie outside the framework set up by the capitalist class.
However, as yet the movement has not become consciously anti-capitalist. It has rejected what it knows as liberalism but is unsure of how to go further. Lacking a conscious orientation towards the working class, and constantly surrounded by bourgeois propaganda, the movement may yet fall prey to bourgeois politicians with radical phrases or else become hopelessly isolated and demoralized.
Another facet of the “black power” movement is the proposition that black militants should organize Black people and forget about whites for now, since most whites are racist, and that it’s a white man’s job to organize whites. But the achievement of Negro liberation depends on the radicalization of white workers, and every class-conscious white worker means a new ally for the Negro struggle. The lessons that black militants have gained through bitter struggle can best be transmitted to white workers by these militants making clear that their aim is to build an integrated anti-capitalist movement, North and South. This means that the slogan “black power” must be clearly defined in class, not racial terms, for otherwise the “black power” movement may become the black wing of the Democratic Party in the South. The possibility of this is indicated by Stokely Carmichael’s endorsement of the so-called “National Conference for New Politics,” a Social-Democratic front group which is leaning towards Robert Kennedy for “peace” candidate for President in 1968.
At this stage of the Southern struggle where the most militant elements are groping for new solutions to the problems reformism is demonstrably not able to overcome, the Spartacist League, as the only professed revolutionary organization with any sort of base in the South, is in a unique position to intervene in the movement to advance the development of consciously anti-capitalist struggle.
Advancing the Southern Struggle
In addition to the programmatic points discussed earlier [in Part One] under “Broad Tasks,” additional demands are pertinent to the Southern struggle.
(1) For a Southern Organizing Drive Backed by Organized Labor. Organized labor is being hurt as many companies move South to tap the vast source of cheap, unorganized Southern labor. Black workers meanwhile suffer from low wages and little job security due to lack of unions. A labor-backed Southern organizing drive would thus help both black and white workers. The demand for a Southern drive is complementary to the demand for a Freedom Labor Party, and, if achieved, would lay the material basis for such a party by creating an organized Southern base.
(2) Armed Self-Defense. While this slogan is also applicable in the North, the demand has a more immediate urgency in the South and is already being acted upon. The Deacons for Defense and Justice is a tremendous step forward for the Negro struggle, not only because it saves lives, but because it raises the level of consciousness of the civil rights movement by discouraging reliance upon the institutions of the bourgeois state. However, the Deacons exhibit a curious duality: highly militant, paramilitary tactics are used to protect the struggle; however, their political perspectives are characterized by comparatively mild, anti-discrimination politics. This contradictory character will eventually result in a crisis which will reveal the urgent need for revolutionary theory and program along with self-defense if the social liberation of the Black people is to be achieved. The demand for organized self-defense must be counterposed to Federal intervention which preserves Southern “law and order” and the racial status quo.
(3) For a Workers United Front Against Federal Intervention. As the bourgeoisie loses political control of the working class, it must rely more and more on direct Government controls, sometimes thinly disguised as “arbitration panels,” “wage guideposts,” etc. In the recent Machinists’ strike a naked anti-strike bill was almost passed. In 1963 Federal troops were deployed to prevent a threatened uprising by black workers in Birmingham during a campaign of racist bombings. All workers have a vital interest in opposing Federal intervention.
There is one state power in this country, and its destruction will be accomplished only by a united working class under the leadership of a single revolutionary vanguard party. The SWP’s [Socialist Workers Party] concept of the continued division of the working class along color lines with two separate vanguards which would coordinate their activities in a revolutionary period would be like having two command centers during a war, issuing separate orders and disorganization and confusion in the face of the wealthiest and most powerful ruling class in history. The struggle against this concept of a federated vanguard is similar to the struggle carried on by Lenin at the second congress of the Russian Social Democratic Party against the Jewish Bund’s demand for autonomy within the party and for their sole right to work among Jewish workers. Trotsky argued that to grant such autonomy to one group would in effect be granting autonomy to any particular section of the working class, i.e., would be the institution of a federated party and the destruction of a centralized organization, in addition to an explicit challenge to an internationalist outlook. As it is the goal of socialism to sweep away national and racial barriers, a socialist organization struggles to overcome such barriers. Furthermore, the perpetuation of a “dual vanguard” concept within the United States would actually prevent the struggle from reaching a revolutionary level. Only common struggle for common aims can unite the working class and overcome the lifelong racial prejudices of American workers.
Our immediate goal is to develop a black Trotskyist cadre. We aim not only to recruit Negro members—a short-cut to the working class in this period—but to develop these black workers into Trotskyist cadres who will carry a leadership role in organizing the black masses, within the League itself, and elsewhere. As Trotsky said:
“We must say to the conscious elements of the Negroes that they are convoked by the historic development to become a vanguard of the working class.... If it happens that we...are not able to find the road to this stratum, then we are not worthy at all. The permanent revolution and all the rest would be only a lie.”
In recruiting and holding a Negro cadre there are several problems:
(1) Color hostility. Only the demonstrated determination of the Spartacist League to carry through its revolutionary tasks will convince black militants to join and remain in our ranks. To avoid disappointment and demoralization, we must make clear to our black recruits that only the patient construction and theoretical preparation of a revolutionary vanguard party will produce significant results.
(2) Class and educational differences. At present a predominant number of recruits to any radical organization are from the middle class. In addition whites in the U.S. as a whole have access to more and better formal education than Negroes. These factors, to the extent that they are reflected in our organization, may create a certain social gulf between black and white members. This gulf will only be overcome through conscious, common struggle, and the education of all our members in Marxist theory and practice.
(3) Daily oppression and the problems of life. The struggle for livelihood and the immediate problems of daily life create additional pressures on our black members which draw them away from full participation in the revolutionary movement. Our black comrades should be aided in gaining job skills that will make the immediate day-to-day problems of living less pressing and free them for revolutionary activity and concentration.
(4) Over-Activism. Because the Negro struggle has been the most active struggle in the country, our Negro members have been intensely active party members. The demands of the mass organizations in which they participate tend to occupy so much time that little is left for the study of Marxist theory and the lessons of past class struggle. Unless there is a balance between these two forms of activity our goal of creating a black Trotskyist cadre to intervene in the mass struggle and lift it to a higher consciousness of its anti-capitalist goals will not be realized. The Spartacist League is confident that it will be able to overcome these problems and create an integrated revolutionary vanguard capable of reaching and eventually uniting in struggle the entire class.
Final Victory
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.
— General line unanimously adopted and Editorial Commission appointed by Founding Conference, 4 September 1966.
— Report of Negro Commission on revisions accepted by Political Bureau, 27 March 1967.

*From The "HistoMat" Blog- "On Marxism And Anarchism"

Click on the headline to link to a "HistoMat" Blog entry- "On Marxism And Anarchism".

*****In The Beginning Was... The Jug- The Jim Kweskin Jug Band

*****In The Beginning Was... The Jug- The Jim Kweskin Jug Band

Who knows how it happened, how the jug bug craze got started in the folk minute of the 1960s, maybe it happened just like in the 1920s and early 1930s when “jug” got a boost by the likes of the Memphis Jug Band, The Mississippi Sheiks, and about twelve other state-named Sheik groupings using home-made weapons, uh, instruments, picked up from here and there, a jug here, a triangle there, fashion a kazoo of wood or grab a metal one at Woolworth's 5&10 there (got you on that one folkies, right, but they along with Sears & Roebuck's catalogue and maybe Marshall Fields' too sold all manner of musical instruments and before the folk boom of the 1960s when with disposable income [read: allowances and parents of means ready to indulge a few fantasies through their kids] which allowed kids to buy instruments from music stores a lot of guys, guys like Hobart Smith, Homer Jones and Matthew Arnold got their instruments handed down to them or some desperate mother or father like Guy Davis,' Son House's, Cliff Mathers', and Slim Parsons' ordered straight from the catalogue not the finest instruments but those guys spoke highly of their first store-bought instruments even when they could afford better when they made their marks), pluck a worn out grandmother's washtub there and come up with some pretty interesting sounds. Yeah, once you listen to the old stuff on YouTube these days where the Memphis Jug Band has a whole video file devoted to their stuff, same with a lot of the others, you could see where that period might have been the start of the big first wave.

Maybe though back in the 1960s somebody, a few musicians, got together and figured here was something that folk-crazed kids, a very specific demographic not to be confused with all of the generation of ’68 post-war baby boomers coming of age rock and roll jail break-out but those who were sick unto death of the vanilla rock and roll that was being passed out about 1960 or so, get this, music that more than one mother, including my mother, thought was “nice” and that was the kiss of death to that kind of music after the death of classic Elvis/Chuck/Bo/Jerry Lee rock for a while before the Brits came over the pond to stir things up and the West Coast acid-eaters ate enough of the drug to sink the Golden Gate Bridge or at least the park and headed east in the Second Coming of rock and roll (not to be confused with the Christian second coming which would signify the end of the world as we know it or with Yeats' mystical version with the seven-headed dragon staring you in the face so stay away from those who want to travel that route) so they started tinkering. Maybe, and remember the folk milieu perhaps more widely that the rock milieu was very literate, was very into knowing about roots and genesis and where things fit in (including where they, the folkies who also a vision about a kinder, gentler world all mixed in until heads got busted in goddam Mississippi goddam, got their heads busted on Fifth Avenue in NYC for calling for an armed truce to the Vietnam War, got their heads busted come May Day 1971 when all the evil spirits in the world rose to bust a certain kind of dream) somebody in the quickly forming and changing bands looked up some songs in the album archives at the library, or, more likely from what later anecdotal evidence had to say about the matter, found some gem in some record store, maybe a store like Sandy’s over between Harvard and Central Squares in Cambridge who had all kinds of eclectic stuff if you had the time and wherewithal to shuffle through the bins. Institutions like Sandy's and a lot of towns had such oases even some unknown name ones like Larry's in Portland, Maine and Sukie's out in Eire, Pennsylvania if you can believe that sustained many for hours back then in the cusp of the 1960s folk revival when there were record stores on almost every corner in places like Harvard Square and the Village in the East you could find some gems if you searched long enough and maybe found some old moth-eaten three volume set Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music and came up with The Memphis Jug Band and K.C. Moan or the Sheiks doing Rent Man Blues, maybe Furry Lewis on Kassie Jones (although sometimes the search was barren or, maybe worse, something second hand by Miss Patti Page singing about Cape Cod Bay all moony for the parents or try to hustle our young emotions but traipsing a dog in front of us, Tennessee Ernie Ford singing about sixteen tons, tons of coal and breaking your back too, or good god, some country bumpkin George Jones thing like I couldn't even give you a title for stared you in the face).

From there they, the jug masters of the revival, found the Cannon’s Stompers, the Mississippi Sheiks or the Memphis Jug Band, could be the way to prosper by going back to those days if they kept the arrangements simple, since that was what allowed the jug bands to prosper in the commercial markets of those days, keep the melody so simple that every working stiff and every forlorn housewife had the tune coming out of the sides of their brains and that was that. See, everybody then was looking for roots, American music roots, old country roots, roots of some ancient thoughts of a democratic America before the robber barons and their progeny grabbed everything with every hand they had on their fetid bodies. Let’s make it simple, something that was not death-smeared we-are- going-to-die-tomorrow if the Ruskkies go over the top red scare bomb shelter Cold War night that we were trying to shake and take our chances, stake our lives that there was something better to do that wait for the foreordained end.

And that wide awake search was no accident, at least from the oral history evidence I have held from those who came of age with me in that time after having grown up with rock and roll and found in that minute that genre wanting.  Some went reaching South to the homeland of much roots music, since those who were left behind or decided out of ennui or sloth to stay put kept up the old country British Isles Child ballad stuff (their own spin on the stuff not Child’s Brattle Street Brahmin rarified collection stuff) and found some grizzled old geezers like Buell Kazee, Hobart Smith, Homer Jones, Reverend Jack Robinson and the like, who had made small names for themselves in the 1920s when labels like RCA and Paramount went out looking for talent in the hinterlands.

So there was history there, certainly for the individual members of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, Jim, Geoff Mulduar, Mel Lymon, Maria Muldaur, Fritz Richmond , the most famous and long-lasting of the 1960s jug groupings, all well-versed in many aspects of the American Songbook (hell, I would say so, say they were well-versed, even old tacky Tin Pan Alley Irving Berlin, smooth Cole Porter and the saucy Gershwin Brothers got a hearing from them and if they could simple those damn complicated Tin Pan Alley melodies they took a shot at those as well), history there for the taking. All they needed was a jug, a good old boy homemade corn liquor jug giving the best sound but maybe some down in the cellar grandpa jug from the old days of Ball jars and crockery, a found washtub grandma used to use before she got that electric washer from the old garage where she put it against a rainy day when she might have to use it again when hard times came again as they usually did, a washboard found  in that same location, a triangle from somewhere, a kazoo from the music store, some fiddle, a guitar, throw in  a tambourine for Maria and so they were off, off to conquer places like Harvard Square, like the Village, like almost any place in the Bay area within the sound of the bay.

And for a while the band did conquer, picking up other stuff chimes, more exotic kazoos, harmonicas, what the heck, even up-graded guitars and they made great music, great entertainment music, not heavy with social messages but just evoking those long lost spirits from the 1920s when jug music would sustain a crowd on a Saturday night. Made some stuff up as they went along, or better, made old stuff their own like Washington At Valley Forge, Bumble Bee, Sweet Sue from Paul Whitman and plenty of on the edge Scotty Fitzgerald Jazz Age stuff that got people moving and forgetting their blues. Here is the beauty of it unlike most of the 1920s first wave stuff which was confined to records and radio listening, a lot of the rarer stuff now long gone lost, you can see the Kweskin Jug Band back in the day on YouTube and see the kind of energy which they produced when they were in high form (music that they, Jim and Geoff anyway, still give high energy to when they occasionally appear together in places like Club Passim in Harvard Square these days). Yeah, in the beginning was the jug… 

The Legends Of The West-With Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Hardy In Mind

The Legends Of The West-With Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Hardy In Mind

By Zack James

Phil Jackson had his high hat on that night. The night he regaled Josh Breslin with some of his odd-ball and seemingly far-fetched stories as they sat in the Anchor Steam Grille overlooking San Francisco Bay with old time prison Alcatraz lighted up in front of them in the distance. That “high hat” by the way was not Phil wearing a real high hat, he generally as a child of the Kennedy brothers, Jack and Bobby anyway, times wore no hat at all, or trying to high hat Josh, as the old crowd would do somebody but a term that Phil (and Josh) had used when they wanted to talk history. Usually nothing more cosmic than their family histories since neither man unlike the late Peter Markin whom they had both met out here on the West Coast back in the 1960s, in their “hippie days” they liked to call the times, were history buffs. That reference to Markin was not accidental (that is what everybody had called him and had since childhood and it stuck even in hippie days when everybody was changing their names to monikers like Be-Bop Benny and Butterfly Swirl to break with their old lives as the new dispensations hit their generation). They had both met the mad man sainted bastard through travelling on Captain Crunch’s merry prankster yellow brick road converted school bus turned to travelling communal circus/ride/dope den back in that mist of time (“merry prankster” in lower case to distinguish that crowd from the more famous and ground-breaking Ken Kesey-led Merry Pranksters written about by Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test).

Josh had been in the summer of 1967, what they called the summer of love in San Francisco when every kind of flower child madness laid over that land by the bay, rather restless and curious as the same time under the influence of having re-read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, before going to State U after graduation from high school up in Olde Saco, Maine. He had hitchhiked out to see what was what. Josh had met Markin first. Markin himself, under a less august purpose than Josh having had number twenty-seven blowout over some aspect of his life with his hard-bitten mother, had hitchhiked West a couple of months earlier right after the spring session at Boston University was completed from North Adamsville, Massachusetts and picked up the Captain Crunch caravan in Golden Gate Park a few days after he arrived. Josh thereafter in turn had sighted the yellow brick psychedelically-painted bus when it was parked near a small park on Russian Hill and had asked a guy in long hair and beard, Markin, for a joint (marijuana) and he had handed him a huge blunt (another name for a joint, marijuana). And so Josh had joined the caravan (and would take the moniker Prince of Love, reflecting his success with the stray women who also traveled on the bus or who hung out at Golden Gate Park as he travelled along with the brethren).

They had picked up Phil (who would travel under the name Popeye the Sailor for he was forever trying to pick up this long tall thin girl fellow prankster named Olive who always wore a granny dress and sandals and who was always half-stoned on the Captain’s dope or on her medications) just outside of Carmel hitchhiking heading south as they were heading to Big Sur for a big encampment of “youth nation” at Pfeiffer Beach. Phil was a native Californian, having grown up in Richmond on the other side, the East side of San Francisco Bay. He was travelling to San Diego just for the hell of it after school got out for the summer at San Francisco State and decided that the merry prankster bus seemed like as good a place as any to spend his time.

Olde Saco, North Adamsville and Richmond, all working-class towns and they all sons of working class people, was the glue that tied this threesome together, that and the fact of wanting to break out of the rut like a lot of middle class kids, elite college kids, kids who made up the majority of people who would be travelling on the Jade Arrow, the name given to the bus by the Captain, that summer. The Captain, for example, real name Stanley Stevens, Yale Class of 1957 and his girlfriend (or whatever she was since the Captain was always fretting when she ran off on a tryst with some guy, including one time Josh), Mustang Sally, real name Susan Stein, Michigan Class of 1960, were both from upper-middle class families and were on the Coast to “find themselves.”         

That fact about Phil though, that growing up in California as opposed to Maine or Massachusetts, was important for it was the reason that Phil was on his high hat that night with Josh. Back in the 1960s neither Phil nor Josh could have given a “rat’s ass” (Markin’s expression picked up by them) about their family histories, how they got where they were but as they got older, as they headed toward their middle ages they got more interested in how they fit into whatever had made this big old melting pot of a county tick. They were not into going back forever in their family trees to find that they were in the seventh degree related to the King of England and hence had a touch of royal blood but how their forebears scratched the earth on the new continent, what Josh said F. Scott Fitzgerald called that “fresh green breast of land” that was Long Island when the old Dutch sailors came exploring for whatever they were looking for.   

Josh’s family story had been pretty straight forward. His people on his mother’s side, the LeBlancs, had come down in the early twentieth century from Quebec up in Canada when there wasn’t a damn thing going on except extreme poverty on the dinky farms that bordered the Saint Lawrence River for several generations, since they had left France under an unrecorded cloud. They had come down in his grandfather’s time to work in the textile mills in Olde Saco along with streams of other no farm to work farmworkers to create French-American communities in the area-and stay, stay anyway until the mills headed south after World War II, and many to stay until this day. His father’s people, the Breslins, had come over from England sometime in the 1800s also under a cloud. Josh had heard through his father Prescott that the original Breslin had been a poacher and had a choice of exile or the hangman’s noose. He/they had not prospered in the cities and so headed to the wilderness, the wilderness then being the Kentucky territory, down along the Ohio River in the hills and hollows of Eastern Kentucky. Had not prospered there either and some had headed ever westward and others, his father’s branch, had stayed put and lived shabbily in the shacks that dotted the countryside and which have provided many a stirring photograph of samples of Appalachian hill country poverty, white trash mostly. Josh’s paternal grandfather and after him his father when he came of age worked the coalmines when there was work.

Then World War II came or rather the Japanese bombed the hell out of Pearl Harbor, the bastards, and Prescott Breslin decided to take his chances against the Nips (Prescott’s term of abuse) as against wasting away of lung cancer at a young age and joined the Marines with both hands. By war’s end he was stationed at the Portsmouth Naval Base after fighting his share of fighting in the famous Marine-led battles of the Pacific War where he met Josh’s mother at a USO dance in Portland. That was that once they met and soon after got married. They stayed in Olde Saco for no better reason than it was not coal country, Prescott worked in the textile mills when there was work before the mills headed south, raised four boys, and did not prosper.                               

Phil’s story was a little more complicated and a little more interesting since his forbears had come to this country as indentured servants in Boston from England on his mother’s side, the Stuarts, and no there was no relationship to the kingly Stuarts some who had lost their heads, literally, and once freed from their contractual servitude headed South where there was skilled work in the small towns adjoining the cotton plantations. They mainly prospered in a small town way until the American Civil War when between Lincoln freeing the slaves who worked for them and the destruction of the Union armies as they burned and pillaged their way across the south uprooted that whole way of life. Shortly after Appomattox was when Jedidiah Stuart, who had fought under the hard luck, hard-boiled, hard-headed  General Johnston in all his campaigns and survived to tell the tale started the family trek west. He first headed to Louisville, tried his hand at raising horses but couldn’t make a go of it for lack of capital and poor judgment of horse flesh. There he married Mary Lane, and had three children, all boys, by her before she passed on. He left the three boys in the care of his dead wife’s sister and headed west to Missouri then pretty wild country on the edge of the West. He then remarried, this time to Sarah Goode, and had two sons by her. Eventually he sent for the three boys and all five were thereafter raised Sarah. He had tried his hand at running a small salon in Joplin but by the 1880s had busted out again for lack of capital and no way to get any in the general poor economic climate of the times.              

Then one day old Jedidiah snapped, nobody quite knew why but maybe it was just the years of doing the right thing in his eyes and getting nothing for it. He had had his fill of losing propositions, of having no dough and single-handedly robbed the Second National Bank of Joplin in broad daylight. (That would however be the last time that he did such a deed alone.) That was the start of the second trek that would eventually lead to California. It turned out that old Jedidiah was finally good at a profession and over the next several years he robbed many a bank in Missouri, the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Colorado. And he was not alone for as his sons came of age they joined him, started getting known as the Diamond Aces gang since he or one of the boys would leave the ace of diamonds on the teller’s shelf as a calling card. Then one day they tried to rob the First National Bank in Laramie. Jedidiah had been a minute too slow in leaving and was shot dead by some civilian deputy sheriff.

Thereafter two things important to the Stuart westward trek occurred. Randolph Stuart, the eldest son took over the gang, brought in other fast guns and kept to the west side of Laramie, started working the Denver area. He also married Louella Parrish, Phil’s maternal great-grandmother. By around 1900 the Diamond Aces gang was working the other side of the Rocky Mountains, working Reno, Mormon Salt Lake City with its treasures, and the Arizona territory. Then one day Randolph got “religion,” decided to “retire” and he did so disbanding the gang, his brothers going off to find other gangs to join while he bought a cattle ranch on the California border with Nevada. He prospered for a time but a sudden heart attack took him at fifty.           

The other brothers found “work” with the Dalton gang, The Two City gang and other such ventures. The important one here was Damon since he would eventually after being caught in a shoot-out in Gallup, New Mexico trying to rob the hard to rob Southern Pacific train and serving a five year sentence settle in what is now Bakersfield. There he met Laura Lawrence and had a daughter by her before he, maybe restless, maybe just trying to get to the ocean, maybe feeling what that professor from Harvard was talking about, Professor Turner and his thesis about the frontier ending, about the bad boys becoming scarce and mostly filling up the prisons, wound up being shot down in a cross-fire trying to rob the Glendale Bank.

That daughter Lanny would marry Seymour Jackson, a card shark and when he died in a gunfight over cards in Fresno she would marry his brother, Leonard. And Leonard of course would marry Phil’s grandmother. Leonard was a bastard to Lanny by all accounts and eventually took to the China Seas as a sailor on a tramp steamer abandoning her and her son, Marvin, Phil’s father. Phil’s father who was too young to get into World War II must have had that original gene that old Jedidiah cursed the family with, the wandering, restless gene because in the 1950s Marvin ran off with another woman, ran off to Spokane the last anybody had heard and left his mother in the lurch. Phil was raised by her, and eventually she remarried and his step-father, Jeff Hamilton, really raised him.

After reciting his story about his desperado forbears Phil said to Josh that maybe he too had had old Jedidiah’s gene back in the 1960s when he had had that wanderlust that he never really got rid of until he met up again with that long tall Olive in the mid-1970s up in Mendocino and married her. Yeah, Phil Jackson had his high hat on that night with Josh. Josh agreed to.                  

Eight Years Later- Still A Pressing Issue For Working People-Stop Forelosures And Evictions!

In Honor Of The 145th Anniversary Of The Paris Commune-On The Barricades- The Last Days-Long Live The Memory Of The Communards

In Honor Of The 145th Anniversary Of The Paris Commune-On The Barricades- The Last Days-Long Live The Memory Of The Communards

Henri Languet, Jacques Monet, and Louis Dubois, three young proletariat stalwarts who were apprentices at Jean-Paul Balin’s saddle shop (and hence of stocky muscular builds to tackle the work and mild- mannered dispositions as befits future saddlers dealing with picky owners and recalcitrant horses) sworn an oath, a blood brotherhood oath (a workers’ brotherhood oath not uncommonly clinched in blood  then) that they would be the last defenders, if possible, on the barricade Rue Marat (re-named from Rue Louis XIV with the establishment of the Commune to honor a fallen hero of ’89) which they had helped  build back in those heady March days. March days when after Thiers  and his bloody troops had fled to Versailles all things seemed possible and they had constructed the barricade seemingly with their bare hands, grit and determinations to defend their project. Had taken a runty make-shift jumble of logs, wire, paving stones, bricks, old furniture and anything else they could scrabble for and turned it into a secure, covered and homey little guardhouse. Guarding as always in the first days against the perfidious Prussians who encircled the city and those damn savage Theirs mercenaries still on the loose.

But that was past and now in mid-May the three lads, lads who thought they would grow old in the splendor of their collective efforts and the efforts of others among the revolutionary working classes of Paris, were faced with the daunting and seemingly utopian task of fending off the counter-revolution brought forth by those same Theirs troops under the blood-thirsty General Gallifit. Still they had made their oath and the grimly determined look on their faces as they mounted the newly constructed parapet to take their turns at guard duty, arms in hand, to face the ever approaching boom of cannon and sound of rifle fire spoke of young men who were at peace with themselves.       

The reports from the Central Committee of the National Guard and the Hotel de Ville were not good. The Prussians, in effect, had taken Thiers side (although the details of that collusion would not become known, known to them, anyway) and were letting his troops into the city through their lines. Most of the northern and eastern barricades had been smashed with heavy loss of life and serious recriminations. Summary executions and mass graves were already being reported throughout those sections of the city. Other acts of barbarity and atrocious behavior by Thiers mercenaries had also had an effect on morale and there had been some desertions and fleeing. Worse, ammunition and food supplies, always a problem from day one, were dwindling with no hope of replacements. Moreover there were signs that some leaders in military headquarters and some among the political leaders were panicking. Those reports, some true, some false, some just the normal fog of war had had small effect on the Rue Marat defenders, including our three stalwarts, since this section was the heart of the working- class where the heroic if tragic traditions of ’89 and ’48 were living memories, especially the latter and so there would be few defections, and less grumbling, grumbling about their fates here.

A couple of days after the solemn blood oath had been taken by the lads the roar of the cannons sent a shell with fifty meters of the barricade. Jean, on guard duty at the time, had seen the shell land and seen its effect blasting a huge hole in the lower floors of an apartment building nearby. That close cannon blast followed by the distant but audible tramp of marching feet meant only one thing, the defense at Rue Moulin had been breached and Theirs troops were headed to Rue Marat. They probably would be in front of the barricade, barring any guerilla skirmishes to hold them up, within an hour or two. The three young men and the approximately fifty other defenders, including some women, were all ordered to the barricade by Comrade Leclerc. Leclerc, who had shown himself to be recklessly brave in the past, in this case steadied his troops to the hopeless task in front of them. The tramping feet came closer.

In the event, true to their traditions of ’89 and ’48, the defenders of Rue Marat fought savagely to defend each inch of their precious barricade. We know now to no avail, we know maybe without even having to read about it, since we know how very few defenses by the oppressed of the world since Pharaoh’s times, maybe before, have been victorious. We know too that our three valiants fought savagely too, fought to the last paving stone. To no avail. The three, Jean grievously wounded, were captured by Thiers thugs, and marched about fifty paces from their beloved “home” and summarily executed. But note this-the three, knowing their fates were already sealed, defiantly shouted out Long Live The Paris Commune before the shots rang out. Yes, with the memory echo of such stout defenders in mind-Long Live The Paris Commune.

*****President Obama Pardon Chelsea Manning Now!-The Struggle Continues ….We Will Not Leave Our Sister Behind

*****President Obama Pardon Chelsea Manning Now!-The Struggle Continues ….We Will Not Leave Our Sister Behind


From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

Updated-September 2015  

A while back, maybe a year or so ago, I was asked by a fellow member of Veterans For Peace at a monthly meeting in Cambridge about the status of the case of Chelsea Manning since he knew that I had been seriously involved with publicizing her case and he had not heard much about the case since she had been convicted in August 2013 (on some twenty counts including several Espionage Act counts, the Act itself, as it relates to Chelsea and its constitutionality will be the basis for one of her issues on appeal) and sentenced by Judge Lind to thirty-five years imprisonment to be served at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. (She had already been held for three years before trial, the subject of another appeals issue and as of May 2015 had served five years altogether thus far and will be formally eligible for parole in the not too distant future although usually the first parole decision is negative).

That had also been the time immediately after the sentencing when Private Manning announced to the world her sexual identity and turned from Bradley to Chelsea. The question of her sexual identity was a situation than some of us already had known about while respecting Private Manning’s, Chelsea’s, and those of her ardent supporters at Courage to Resist and elsewhere the subject of her sexual identity was kept in the background so the reasons she was being tried would not be muddled and for which she was savagely fighting in her defense would not be warped by the mainstream media into some kind of identity politics circus.

I had responded to my fellow member that, as usual in such super-charged cases involving political prisoners, and there is no question that Private Manning is one despite the fact that every United States Attorney-General including the one in charge during her trial claims that there are no such prisoners in American jails only law-breakers, once the media glare of the trial and sentencing is over the case usually falls by the wayside into the media vacuum while the appellate process proceed on over the next several years.

At that point I informed him of the details that I did know. Chelsea immediately after sentencing had been put in the normal isolation before being put in with the general population at Fort Leavenworth. She seemed to be adjusting according to her trial defense lawyer to the pall of prison life as best she could. Later she had gone to a Kansas civil court to have her name changed from Bradley to Chelsea Elizabeth which the judge granted although the Army for a period insisted that mail be sent to her under her former male Bradley name. Her request for hormone therapies to help reflect her sexual identity had either been denied or the process stonewalled despite the Army’s own medical and psychiatric personnel stating in court that she was entitled to such measures.

At the beginning of 2014 the Commanding General of the Military District of Washington, General Buchanan, who had the authority to grant clemency on the sentence part of the case, despite the unusual severity of the sentence, had denied Chelsea any relief from the onerous sentence imposed by Judge Lind.

Locally on Veterans Day 2013, the first such event after her sentencing we had honored Chelsea at the annual VFP Armistice Day program and in December 2013 held a stand-out celebrating Chelsea’s birthday (as we did in December 2014 and will do again this December of 2015).  Most important of the information I gave my fellow VFPer was that Chelsea’s case going forward to the Army appellate process was being handled by nationally renowned lawyer Nancy Hollander and her associate Vincent Ward. Thus the case was in the long drawn out legal phase that does not generally get much coverage except by those interested in the case like well-known Vietnam era Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, various progressive groups which either nominated or rewarded her with their prizes, and the organization that has steadfastly continued to handle her case’s publicity and raising financial aid for her appeal, Courage to Resist (an organization dedicated to publicizing the cases of other military resisters as well).   

At our February 2015 monthly meeting that same VFPer asked me if it was true that as he had heard the Army, or the Department of Defense, had ordered Chelsea’s hormone therapy treatments to begin. I informed him after a long battle, including an ACLU suit ordering such relief, that information was true and she had started her treatments a month previously. I also informed him that the Army had thus far refused her request to have an appropriate length woman’s hair-do. On the legal front the case was still being reviewed for issues to be presented which could overturn the lower court decision in the Army Court Of Criminal Appeals by the lawyers and the actual writing of the appeal was upcoming (expected in the Winter, 2016) . A seemingly small but very important victory on that front was that after the seemingly inevitable stonewalling on every issue the Army had agreed to use feminine or neutral pronoun in any documentation concerning Private Manning’s case. The lawyers had in June 2014 also been successful in avoiding the attempt by the Department of Defense to place Chelsea in a civil facility as they tried to foist their “problem” elsewhere.

On the political front Chelsea continued to receive awards, and after a fierce battle in 2013 was finally in 2014 made an honorary grand marshal of the very important GLBTQ Pride Parade in San Francisco (and had a contingent supporting her freedom again in the 2015 parade). Recently she has been given status as a contributor to the Guardian newspaper, a newspaper that was central to the fight by fellow whistle-blower Edward Snowden, where her first contribution was a very appropriate piece on what the fate of the notorious CIA torturers should be, having herself faced such torture down in Quantico adding to the poignancy of that suggestion. More recently she has written articles about the dire situation in the Middle East and the American government’s inability to learn any lessons from history and a call on the military to stop the practice of denying transgender people the right to serve. (Not everybody agrees with her positon in the transgender community or the VFP but she is out there in front with it.) 

[Maybe most important of all in this social networking, social media, texting world of the young (mostly) Chelsea has a twitter account- @xychelsea

Locally over the past two year we have marched for Chelsea in the Boston Pride Parade, commemorated her fourth year in prison last May [2014] and the fifth this year with a vigil, honored her again on Armistice Day 2014, celebrated her 27th birthday in December with a rally (as we did this past December for her 28th birthday).

More recently big campaigns by Courage To Resist and the Press Freedom Foundation have almost raised the $200, 000 needed (maybe more by now) to give her legal team adequate resources during her appeals process (first step, after looking over the one hundred plus volumes of her pre-trial and trial hearings, the Army Court Of Criminal Appeal)

Recently although in this case more ominously and more threateningly Chelsea has been charged and convicted of several prison infractions (among them having a copy of the now famous Vanity Fair with Caitlyn, formerly Bruce, Jenner’s photograph on the cover) which could affect her parole status and other considerations going forward.     

We have continued to urge one and all to sign the on-line Amnesty International petition asking President Obama to grant an immediate pardon as well as asking that those with the means sent financial contributions to Courage To Resist to help with her legal expenses.

After I got home that night of the meeting I began thinking that a lot has happened over the past couple of years in the Chelsea Manning case and that I should made what I know more generally available to more than my local VFPers. I do so here, and gladly. Just one more example of our fervent belief that as we have said all along in Veterans for Peace and elsewhere- we will not leave our sister behind… More later.