Sunday, February 25, 2007

*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 capital¬ism, 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."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

*From The Archives Of Black Liberation Fighter Robert F. Williams- Author of "Negroes With Guns"

Click on title to link to information about the author of "Negroes With Guns" and black liberation fighter Robert F. Williams.


Click on title to link to a 1956 "American Socialist" article by Conrad Lynn entitled "The Southern Negro Stirs" in order to get a flavor of his politics. I note that there is no entry, at least I could not find it, for Conrad Lynn on Wikipedia. Somebody get to it.




In this space I have attempted to introduce the new generation of militants and others to some of the historic events and people who have rendered service to the international working class and their allies. Obviously, such figures as John Brown, Leon Trotsky, Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Malcolm X and others need no special introduction to most thoughtful militants. However, there are lesser historical figures, many half-forgotten, whose lives and struggles cry out for recognition and study. I have recently done a tribute to Robert F. Williams who falls into that category and now I am honored to do a tribute for the late socialist, civil rights lawyer and black liberation fighter Conrad Lynn. As fate would have it the lives of these two fighters were intertwined, and not by accident, in the early civil rights struggles of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, especially the struggle for militant black self-defense in Monroe, North Carolina while Williams was the head of the NAACP there.

The Monroe, North Carolina fight, the Harlem Six Defense fight, the Bill Epton-led Harlem Defense Council fight, the fight against the ‘red scare’ epitomized by the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, the defense of Puerto Rican nationalists Campos and later Lebron, and an assortment of other important labor and minority struggles highlight the career of Conrad Lynn. The details of these fights can be found in his autobiography THERE IS A FOUNTAIN, Lawrence Hill& Co, 1979. I do not know about you but I see a pattern here. Unlike most lawyers who run away in terror from unpopular fights, especially when it is not a celebrity case and, more importantly, there is no money Lynn spent his active professional and political life ‘running to the danger’. I guess he skipped that class in law school about taking the easy road. To our benefit.

Conrad Lynn, however, was more than a ‘people’s lawyer he was also a very political man. No, not the kind of political lawyer who funds the bourgeois parties or runs for office but one whose politics and professional career reinforced each other in the progressive cause. His early unpleasant experiences in and around the early American Communist Party, like that of many other blacks especially black intellectuals like Richard Wright and Langston Hughes, left him as something of an isolated individual radical gadfly. The American political landscape is full of, or at least it used to be, such types.

Unfortunately, history has shown us no way to create a socialist party that struggles for political power based on the isolated efforts of even such outstanding individual fighters as Lynn. As noted in the Robert F. Williams tribute in his prime, and this is also the case here with Lynn, there was nothing in the American left political landscape forcing him toward a more sustained organizational commitment. That said, Lynn’s individual efforts nevertheless are worthy of honor from today’s militants as a socialist and black liberation fighter. Forward.


Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for black liberation fighter Robert F. Williams. This is a classic case of a liberation fighter getting in the cross-hairs of the ruling class and paying the price. We will remember that hard lesson as we struggle for liberation. Thanks, Brother Williams.



In this space I have attempted to introduce the new generation of militants and others to some of the historic events and people who have rendered service to the international working class and their allies. Obviously, such figures as John Brown, Leon Trotsky, Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Malcolm X and others need no introduction to most thoughtful militants. However, there are lesser historical figures, many half-forgotten, whose lives and struggles cry out for recognition and study. The late civil rights activist and black liberation militant Robert F. Williams is just such a figure.

For those who have either forgotten or are too young to remember Robert F. William was the leader of the Monroe, North Carolina NAACP in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, with this different. Unlike the mainly professional blacks (and their white supporters) who formed the core of NAACP membership the Monroe chapter through Williams’ recruitment drive was composed mainly of working class militants. More importantly, when the Klu Klux Klan rained hell down in Monroe, unlike in other Southern civil rights encounters, they were confronted with blacks armed and prepared to defend themselves.

The fear of a modern day Nat Turner or John Brown has always driven whites, and not only in the South, to wake up screaming in the middle of the night. Yes, that is a very different kind of civil rights story from most of the confrontations in the South, led by preachers and at, least tactically, committed to non-violent resistance. In the end Williams had to pay for his militancy by fleeing first to Cuba and then to China when the inevitable frame-up by the government came. In this case it was trumped up charges of kidnapping a white couple he tried to shelter in his home during a Klan/militant confrontation that he eventually beat.

The life story of Robert F. Williams is however more than that of a militant black ready to defend his home and kin. Military service in both World War II and Korea probably made him less afraid than others to advocate self-defense. I do not believe that it is an accident that many of the most militant blacks in the early civil rights movement and later those around the revolutionary black nationalist Black Panther Party were veterans of military service. A whole separate story could be written about such activists. Williams’ leadership capacities, moreover, extended beyond formal organizational leadership in Monroe. His now classic book Negroes With Guns (well worth reading)is an important contribution to black liberation literature. In exile in Cuba he edited a newspaper and ran a radio station called Radio Free Dixie directed at civil rights militants in the struggle in America.

Robert F. Williams life story also demonstrates the limitations of a blacks-only struggle for liberation. He proclaimed himself, on more than one occasion, a revolutionary black nationalist, and I believe he was sincere in that belief. Williams firmly believed that his natural allies, white workers, had been bought off by the ‘system’. On the face of it, at that time, that was probably not a far-fetched practical way to view the political world of the United States. Unfortunately, it was also a political dead end.

Nevertheless, within those self-imposed political limitations militants today can honor Robert F. Williams as a courageous black liberation fighter. Let me put it another way; Robert F. Williams is the kind of cadre necessary if there is ever to be socialism in this country. I would argue further that no revolution will occur here without such black militants leading the way. I will put it even more bluntly; I will take one fighter like Robert F. Williams for a hundred Jesse Jacksons, Al Sharptons and Obama the “Charma's” who today claim to lead the struggle for black rights. They can step back, way back.


Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for Professor Henry Louis Gates.



Black Women's Narratives of Slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction
by Carla Wilson

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 841, 4 February 2005.

Most stories of black women's lives under slavery have never been told. Slave masters routinely brutalized black girls and women, justifying their dehumanizing treatment by labeling them "sexual savages." Stripped, beaten, raped and forced to work as "breed sows," black women suffered a double burden under slavery because of their sex. Men wrote the majority of published accounts of slave life, the most well known being the classic Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. These slave narratives were often produced under the guidance of the anti-slavery movement, using "moral suasion" against slavery to influence a church-going audience, and therefore avoided the topic of sexual oppression so as not to shock the Victorian audiences they approached for aid.

More than one hundred book-length narratives were written before the end of the American Civil War. The mere existence of former slaves' writings and oratory indicted the theories of racial and mental inferiority that justified the slave system. In this way, the act of exposing the horrors of slavery became vital to the struggle against it. During the 19th century, journalists, schoolteachers and local historians interviewed former slave women, and in the 1920s and 1930s more than two thousand former slaves were interviewed by the Works Progress Administration Federal Writers' Project and by researchers at Fisk and Southern Universities. Most of the Slave Narrative Collection was kept in typescript in the Rare Book Room of the Library of Congress for nearly 40 years. This wealth of oral history was frequently dismissed as spurious, but after the civil rights movement, and even more recently, due to film documentaries like PBS's Unchained Memories, they have found wider interest.

Two valuable slave accounts by women document the period leading up to the Civil War and through the defeat of Radical Reconstruction. One is a work of immense historical research, thoughtfully written by retired English professor Jean Pagan Yellin. Harriet Jacobs: A Life (Basic Civitas Books, 2004) expands on the events and people that shaped Jacobs' own Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself (Harvard University Press, 1987). As recently as two decades ago, Jacobs' autobiographical sketch was considered an obscure work penned by white abolitionist and editor Lydia Maria Child. With Jacobs' authorship authenticated in the mid 1980s, hers became the first recognized slave narrative by a black woman.

The other story, The Bondwoman's Narrative (Warner Books, 2002), is a semi-fictional work that dates from the 1850s. Discovered at an auction by Harvard African American Studies scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., the only person to even bid on the manuscript, the book spent months on the New York Times best-seller list when it was published in 2002.

The fact that a black woman and former slave in the 19th century authored a novel has played a role in generating vigorous interest in this work of fiction. Its authentication meant that a black literary tradition existed much earlier than acknowledged. It also has much to do with the energetic quest for the identity of the author led by Gates, who rescued the book from historical oblivion.
The Bondwoman's Narrative represents an important work because it deals effectively with the role of sexual and physical oppression of black women under slavery. Moreover, unlike many published slave narratives, this book is a manuscript in the author's own handwriting, offering a unique window into the mind of a female slave. Caste, color and class—linked to widely-practiced miscegenation of master and slave—are at the core of this sentimental, gothic-style novel. An intriguing aspect of the story is the snobbery based on skin-color privileges and expectations of preferences in plantation life.

The main character of The Bondwoman's Narrative is Hannah, a North Carolina house slave serving as handmaid to a mistress passing for a white woman. She is well treated, observant and literate, attentive to every secret of her mistress. When Hannah's mistress' passing as a white woman is about to be exposed as a fraud, Hannah convinces her to escape North. They fail, and land in prison. Once captured, they are left at the mercy of the executor of the estate of the racist master, who had killed himself after learning he married a black woman.

The executor is a singular force for evil in the tale—the blackmailer of the mistress as well as a slave speculator who trades on the value of light-skinned females, thought to be passing. As an estate manager, he searches through papers to expose the lineage of women and force them onto the "fancy market" in New Orleans' high-toned bordellos. Eventually, the mistress dies from shock when faced with being sold. Hannah is then given to a government official's wife in Washington, D.C., whose ignorance and impetuosity strike a portrait in which the slave is in a more decisive role. Hannah is made to read letters and draft replies for her barely literate mistress. After shrilly demanding a new face powder be fetched from the store, the mistress finds it turns her face black. In the aftermath of this makeup malfunction, the mistress is ridiculed throughout Washington and leaves for the North Carolina plantation, where she punishes Hannah by throwing her in with the field slaves.

Hannah is confronted with being a field hand and taken as a sexual partner to a darker-skinned black man with several female mates. Earlier asked to assist fellow slaves seeking freedom in the North, Hannah had told them, "their scheme looked wild and unpromising and that I feared the result would be unfortunate." She counsels those in flight that they will only face bloodhounds and slave patrols, then bloody torture for their failure. In contrast, in reaction to her own dilemma, her response is swift: "To be driven into the fields beneath the eye and lash of the brutal overseer, and those miserable huts, with their promiscuous crowds of dirty, obscene and degraded objects, for my home I could not, I would not bear it." She flees within 48 hours of being sent into the fields and huts, passing for a white boy, then a white woman, en route to freedom in the North. The impetus for her escape underscores the influence of racial disdain within the slave community and the inculcation of racist dogmas employed as justification for the "peculiar institution."

Incidents in the Life of an Anti-Slavery Heroine

Yellin's A Life was heralded by less fanfare, but this biography powerfully reveals author and activist Harriet Jacobs as a remarkable fighter for the oppressed. Using a pseudonym, Linda Brent, Jacobs wrote her story while in domestic service with a prominent liberal New York family. Links between literacy, black self-sufficiency and political consciousness are key themes in Jacobs' evolution from fugitive slave, to author, to activist teacher of new freedmen at the Jacobs School for black Civil War "refugees" in Alexandria, Virginia. The story of Harriet Jacobs is the story of an active abolitionist fighter who lived through the Civil War, struggled to implement the promises of Radical Reconstruction and witnessed the betrayal of these promises.

Born in 1813, Harriet Jacobs did not know she was a slave until her sixth year, when her mother died and she was willed to an infant girl. Her father lived only six years longer and Jacobs fondly recalls that, although he was illiterate, he became a skilled carpenter, trusted enough by his owners to work on houses in the country and town. From him, she and her younger brother, John, learned to prize education and freedom. Jacobs' slave life in Edenton, North Carolina, reflected the hierarchy of slave society—whites ruled over blacks, free black people ranked above slaves, but the status of slaves depended heavily on their masters, their skin color and their work as domestic labor or as field hands. Her parents were classified as mulattoes, and her grandmother, Molly, a slave who operated the town's Horniblow's Tavern, worked as a cook, seamstress and wet nurse, living freely on site. Harriet learned from her grandmother how to sew as a youngster, and her mistress taught her to read and spell—skills that would eventually help transform her life.

When Harriet turned twelve, her life altered dramatically when she and her brother were sold to Dr. James Norcom. At the same time, her father was moved out to a plantation far from Edenton. Harriet found herself left to the whims of Norcom, a sexual tyrant who stalked her in an effort to make her his concubine. "He told me I was his property; that I must be subjected to his will in all things. My soul revolted against the mean tyranny. But where could I turn for protection? No matter whether the slave girl be as black as ebony or as fair as her mistress. In either case, there is no shadow of law to protect her from insult, from violence, or even from death; all these are inflicted by fiends who bear the shape of men," Jacobs wrote.

Her account, published in 1861, revealed unspeakable acts of sexual coercion at a time when practically no one dared to speak of such things. She threw harsh light on the sexual brutality underlying reproduction of the slave system, where the violation of black women by white men stood side by side with the separation of families as a calculated, measured provocation aimed not only at women, but at the black men who necessarily reacted with deep humiliation and rage. As labor historian Jacqueline Jones has observed in Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow (Vintage, 1986): "Whites often intervened in more direct ways to upset the sexual order that black men and women created for themselves, thereby obliterating otherwise viable courtship and marriage practices.... Masters frequently practiced a form of eugenics by withholding their permission for certain marriages and arranging others." A master might prohibit a marriage for any highhanded reason, forbidding a male slave to seek a wife elsewhere, since their offspring would not belong to him but to the wife's slaveowner. Jacobs, for example, had fallen in love with a free black carpenter who proposed to marry her, but Norcom refused the lover's effort to buy her out of slavery. It is impossible to know how commonplace Jacobs' story might have actually been.

For young Harriet, a desperate act of rebellion meant encouraging and accepting the advances of Samuel Tredwell Sawyer, a youthful white lawyer of the town's aristocracy who ranked above Norcom in social standing. She bore him two children over several years. As a pro-slavery advocate in the North Carolina legislature of 1830, he joined in pushing through a wave of repressive measures aimed at control of free blacks and whites as well. New laws imposed strict penalties against teaching slaves to read or write, the harboring of runaway slaves and aiding runaways or emancipating them.

Less than three weeks after the North Carolina legislature's measures passed, the Nat Turner Revolt occurred in 1831 in Southampton County, Virginia. Deeply religious from childhood, Nat Turner was a skilled preacher and possessed some influence among local slaves. He planned attacks with a band of approximately 60 followers. After killing the family of Turner's owner, the band spread the revolt, in two days killing a total of 55 white people. The revolt was soon crushed; 13 slaves and three free blacks were hanged immediately. Turner himself escaped into the woods, but was captured, hanged, skinned and a purse made of his skin. Dozens more blacks were also killed in retaliation. The news traveled sixty miles downstream to Edenton and the repression that followed was roused with fifes blaring and drums sounding as white mobs formed roving bands of armed slave patrollers imposing martial law.

Fearful that Turner's revolt would inspire others to arms, slave masters put Edenton under round-the-clock patrols, with house-to-house searches. Jacobs recalls how the fear of Turner's revolt prompted slave owners to conclude "that it would be well to give the slaves enough of religious instruction to keep them from murdering their masters." Worried that any congregating of blacks meant seeds planted for insurrection, the slave masters reduced to rubble the meetinghouse blacks had built communally that served as their church; the congregation was forced to attend the white churches.

Harriet's own situation became more precarious as she grew sick and tired of trying to avoid sexual servitude under Norcom. Finally she fled to a crawlspace concealed beneath her grandmother's roof—a cell roughly seven feet wide, nine feet long and three feet high. There she would spend the next seven years, only leaving the house once. She subsequently escaped to the North in June 1842 and ended in the care of Philadelphia's Vigilant Committee, but as with many who traveled the Underground Railroad, she never divulged her route.

Abolitionist Fighter

Once in the free states of the North, Jacobs lived in constant trepidation, fearing Norcom and his heirs would seek to claim their "property." Her immediate focus was on finding her children, who had been sent North as servants to their father's kin. At first, Jacobs avoided the abolitionist circles, after an initial encounter in Philadelphia included a warning from Reverend Jeremiah Durham that she should avoid revealing her sexual history because some might treat her with "contempt." Later, she joined her brother, John S., who had escaped Norcom before her and had
become a well-known anti-slavery activist. He often shared platforms with abolitionist Frederick Douglass and also worked on the North Star. Eventually becoming a frequent letter contributor to the New York Daily Tribune, she gained courage to write her autobiography and later served as a correspondent for William Lloyd Garrison's the Liberator, as part of activist circles in Rochester, New York and Boston. Her views were no doubt shaped by her involvement with organized reformers from the anti-slavery and women's rights struggles in Rochester.

These abolitionists were part of a broad, bourgeois social radicalization among the 19th-century heirs to the Enlightenment, Protestant religious ideals and the American Revolution. Although opposition to slavery was by no means as widespread in the 1830s as it was to become immediately before the Civil War, nonetheless many prominent men, such as the wealthy Tappan brothers of New York and Gerrit Smith, the biggest landowner in the North, had joined the movement by the middle of the decade. Garrison understood that the Constitution was a pro-slavery document but thought that the institution could be done away with peacefully through "moral suasion." The movement split in the 1840s around the questions of women's rights and how to end slavery. Garrison believed the pro-slavery U.S. Constitution should be abolished and that the North should expel the South. Another wing, represented by eminent men like the Tappan brothers, excluded women from office within their organization, was against women's rights and wanted to orient struggles toward political work in Congress. On the left wing of the abolitionist movement were militant ex-slaves, free blacks and white abolitionists— revolutionary fighters like Frederick Douglass and John Brown who became convinced that the fight must be against the whole system of slavery, by armed force, including arming black slaves. Douglass and the insurrectionist wing were thoroughgoing egalitarians and, therefore, were also the most consistent supporters of women's rights.

The Jacobs' move to Rochester coincided with her brother John's hiring by the abolitionists' Anti-Slavery Office and Reading Room. Jacobs stayed with her brother's friends, Isaac and Amy Post, frequent hosts to executive sessions of the Western New York State Anti-Slavery Society. A major feature of their work in the winter of 1849 was mounting protests against school segregation. At the time, the threat of a national compromise over slavery also loomed, as abolitionists countered pro-slavery arguments against expanding slavery to territories seized in the 1848 Mexican War. Nonetheless, Congress passed the Compromise of 1850, which maintained slavery in these areas. Measures included a more brutal version of the Fugitive Slave Law, which made it a crime for federal marshals not to arrest an alleged runaway slave and for anybody to assist a runaway, while also denying a suspected runaway any legal rights.

Amid this climate, Jacobs finally got her freedom when her close friend and employer negotiated the purchase of her freedom for three hundred dollars. She concludes her autobiographical account a freedwoman. According to Yellin, the draft text ended with a tribute to John Brown, but Lydia Maria Child, her editor, convinced Jacobs to drop it. Was this editorial measure a reflection of continuing debate among the pacifist Garrisonians over what course to take in the unfolding conflict?
It was certainly to Jacobs' credit, and an indication of her political allegiances, that she recognized the significance of Brown's October 1859 raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). In the battle that followed, Brown was wounded and ten of Brown's men—including two of his sons—were killed. Militarily defeated and hanged in punishment, Brown's political mission to destroy slavery by force of arms was spectacularly brought to conclusion by more than 200,000 freed slaves who fought in the Civil War.

At the outset, the "war between the states" was being fought only to "preserve the Union," and President Abraham Lincoln only opposed the extension of slavery. Karl Marx understood that the Civil War was at root a "conflict between the system of slavery and the system of free labor." Abolitionists sought to transform the war into a war of emancipation. Frederick Douglass insisted: "Let the slaves and free colored people be called into service, and formed into a liberating army, to march into the South and raise the banner of Emancipation among the slaves." It took two years of ignominious defeats led by politically unreliable Union Army generals to convince Lincoln of the necessity of freeing the slaves. After it became clear that the North could not win in any other way, he declared on 22 September 1862 all slaves in the Confederacy would be free on the first of January, 1863. Almost as important as freedom itself was the government's decision to form regiments of black soldiers. About 180,000 black soldiers served in the Union Army and as many as 29,000 men joined the Union Navy. This helped to turn the tide of battle. The Civil War and Reconstruction broke the class power of the slave South. It was the last great bourgeois revolution, the second American Revolution; the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were the legal codification of the revolutionary gains won at riflepoint by the interracial Union Army. The war and its aftermath ushered in the most democratic period for black people in U.S. history, underlining that a truly egalitarian radical vision of social reconstruction ultimately could not be fulfilled by a capitalist ruling class.

Civil War Years

Harriet Jacobs' role in the anti-slavery struggles and in the emerging Freedmen's Bureau was that of a political field worker. In October 1861, after Union General William Tecumseh Sherman led his troops in an attack on Confederate Fort Walker on Hilton Head Island, a decisive step was made in the Civil War. Sherman's army drew behind it hundreds of former slaves who set up camps on the Sea Islands along the Carolina Coast. Union authorities set up a Department of the South, taking over some 195 plantations, employing 10,000 former slaves to raise cotton and auctioning land off to Northerners and a few freedmen with a bit of money.

Sherman's occupation of Port Royal, South Carolina, became a starting point for the abolitionists and slaves to work together on Southern terrain. Historians have called this "Port Royal Experiment" a "dress rehearsal for Reconstruction." As W.E.B. DuBois later observed in Black Reconstruction in America (Atheneum, 1983): "The Negroes were willing to work and did work, but they wanted land to work, and they wanted to see and own the results of their toil. It was here and in the West and the South that a new vista opened. Here was a chance to establish an agrarian democracy in the South." It became clear to Jacobs that it was in places like Port Royal that the future of her people would be determined. She looked at reports from Port Royal and turned her eyes toward Washington. In the spring of 1862, Lincoln had not yet issued his Emancipation Proclamation, but in states that remained loyal to the Union, Congress had designated as "contrabands of war" any men, women and children escaping from Southern masters.

Jacobs' moving report of "Life Among the Contrabands," printed in the Liberator, details the chaos among these "refugees." She spent the spring and summer in Washington, setting up hospitals with the newly established Freedmen's Association. Her work often entailed a struggle against the civilian and military hierarchy in the refugee camps. The government-appointed superintendent of "contrabands" registered and hired people out as workers, with little attention to their needs. Jacobs spent her mornings in a small ground-floor room where "men, women and children lie here together, without a shadow of those rites which we give to our poorest dead. There they lie, in the filthy rags they wore from the plantation. Nobody seems to give it a thought. It is an everyday occurrence, and the scenes have become familiar."

Later that year, she moved to Union-occupied Alexandria and while distributing supplies of clothing and food, Jacobs began to envision a sustained mission. She would produce several letters over the next four years of work, articulating the freedmen's dreams for equality, land, education, jobs and housing. In lengthy letters to Lydia Maria Child she reported what she'd seen of black life, confident her writings would be printed in the abolitionist press. With Alexandria under Union occupation the people still suffered humiliations: "In return for their kindness and ever-ready service, they often receive insults, and sometimes beatings, and so they have learned to distrust those who wear the uniform of the U.S.," she notes. And, allowing herself a moment of outrage: "Oh, when will the white man learn to know the hearts of my abused and suffering people!" By midsummer, the federal superintendent in Alexandria was replaced, with improvements instigated from her collaboration with the Freedmen's Association.

In the summer of 1864. as Union Armies drew closer to taking Richmond, black "refugees" were drafted in response to threats on Alexandria, joining Union forces to defend the city against the Confederacy. Jacobs and her daughter Louisa organized the first commemoration of British West Indian Emancipation, featuring the presentation of a flag to the Colored Hospital— named L'Ouverture for the Haitian liberator—that had recently opened as a receiving place for the Colored Division of the Ninth Army Corps. She presented the flag to the surgeon in chief, addressing herself to black men in Union blues:

"Soldiers, what we have got came through the strength and valor of your right arms. Three years ago this flag had no significance for you, we could not cherish it as our emblem of freedom. You then had not part in the bloody struggle for your country, your patriotism was spurned; but to-day you are in arms for the freedom of your race and the defence of your country—to-day this flag is significant to you. Soldiers you have made it the symbol of freedom for the slave."

The Alexandria celebration was among many commemorations at which black fighters began to forge a sense of struggle not only for an end to slavery, but also to claim equal rights as American citizens.

Through the remaining days of the war, Jacobs volunteered in Alexandria as a visiting relief worker in the camp and in the hospitals. Freedmen there had already begun building a school and meetinghouse, which she pushed to find funding for at the first congress of the Women's National Loyal League. Jacobs coordinated aid with the goal of opening a free school under black leadership, volunteering her daughter Louisa and Virginia Lawton, the daughter of old Boston friends, as two "colored teachers." Jacobs School's doors opened to seventy-five students in January 1864. Given her name recognition among readers of Incidents, the school was featured in the reform press, with Alexandria becoming a regular stop on tours of the conquered South. A photo of Jacobs among her charges was carefully taken to publicize the ability of former slaves to become exemplary citizens. At the time, the photo hung prominently in the offices of the Frcedman's Record, By the end of March 1865, Congress established the Freedmen's Bureau, putting it in charge of relief and oversight for former slaves in the South.

Radical Reconstruction Overturned

Harriet and Louisa Jacobs later went to Savannah, where, Yellin notes, "both control of the schools and control of the land were at stake." Against local government resistance, they opened the Lincoln School, a black-run institution, and attempted to set up an orphanage and home for the elderly. Military rule ended just before Jacobs and her daughter arrived and, though posing as a protector, the Union Army also would be wielded to aid the city's powerful elite and stymie black efforts at freedom. The land question features in many of Jacobs' dispatches because the land with freedmen's settlements where schools were located was soon turned over to their old masters. Louisa's Lincoln School survived, but by January 1866, all freedmen were ordered to sign contracts for their labor.

The brief labor contracts, Jacobs wrote, "are very unjust. They are not allowed to have a boat or musket. They are not allowed to own a horse, cow, or pig. Many of them already own them, but must sell them if they remain on the plantations." The black population was disarmed. Backed by the Freedmen's Bureau, "free labor" meant that most blacks worked in cotton production, suffering working conditions akin to slave exploitation of prewar years. In exchange for backbreaking field work, the freedmen gave the former masters two-thirds of the crop, kept a third, then saw rations and rent deducted, resulting in a cycle of debt bondage.

However, Reconstruction posed a possibility of socially revolutionary transformations in the South: the regional ruling class, based on land and slaves, had been militarily defeated; under the occupying Northern power, black men and women, formerly slaves, exercised political rights for the first time in the South. Before the defeat of Reconstruction, many political offices in the South were held by black men.

Reconstruction not only brought about voting rights for black men and even many poor illiterate Southern white men but also ushered in the establishment of the South's first public schools, liberalized the South's barbaric penal code and reformed the planters' property tax system. These measures allowed for real prospects for schooling, land and jobs for black freedmen. But northern capitalists betrayed the promise of Reconstruction, allowing it to be physically smashed, aided by forces such as the Ku Klux Klan. In 1877, the last of the Union troops were withdrawn from Southern occupation, marking a compromise that put Rutherford B. Hayes in the White House. From this defeat of Reconstruction grew the postwar Southern system of sharecropping, poll taxes, chain gangs, lynch law and "separate but equal"—i.e., unequal—Jim Crow facilities.

During Reconstruction, Jacobs and other female abolitionists working as teachers risked their lives to participate in freeing black people from the chains of bondage—their fight for free quality education was put front and center. But the sharpest debate raged over the question of land ownership. Freedmen and destitute white Unionist Southerners wanted the secessionists' estates confiscated, as at Port Royal, and distributed to them. Triumphant Northern rulers, however, would not permit an attack on "property rights," particularly as Northerners and Northern banks were grabbing up a good deal of Southern property. Intensive exploitation of black agricultural labor was allowed as the only way to rebuild the Southern economy, rather than industrial development or capital investment in modernization of agriculture.

This failure and betrayal of Reconstruction perpetuated the oppression of blacks as a color caste at the bottom of American capitalist society. This racial division, with whites on top of blacks, has been and continues to be the main historical obstacle to the development of political class consciousness among the American proletariat. It will take a third American Revolution, led by a multiracial workers party against capitalism itself, to break the fetters on blacks, women and all the oppressed.

Jacobs served with valor in the anti-slavery battles through Radical Reconstruction, but her story also fell victim to its defeat. At the time of her death in 1897, her name was barely remembered in the Boston abolitionist circles she once frequented. Even in her obituary, the Jacobs School and her relief work during the Civil War and Reconstruction were completely omitted. As the years passed, the memory of Jacobs faded and photos and records of her Alexandria school were lost. Even her book came to be seen as Child's.

Anyone who has ever wondered how black people managed to struggle and survive the hideous tortures meted out during slavery and afterward would gain a lot from reading these books. They offer inspiration to a new generation of fighters facing the daunting task of toppling the dominance of capitalist exploitation and sexual oppression today. Though the Civil War smashed slavery, the dreams of men and women like Jacobs remain to be realized. Finish the Civil War—For black liberation in a workers'America!





It has been several weeks now since Illinois Senator Barack Obama announced his candidacy to run for President of the United States on the Democratic Party ticket. Some readers might have expected that I would drop everything to comment on this development as soon as that candidacy was announced, especially as here we have a serious (and ‘clean’) black candidate who moreover has challenged the political pretensions of baby-boomers, my generation.

Let us be clear on this, I actually agree with the Senator that it is time for newer, younger leadership to assert itself and not wait until the last grave of the last boomer is covered over before new voices can be heard on the political scene. And I offer as specimens #1 and #2 the two most recent presidents, Bush and Clinton, baby-boomers both, as prime evidence for the bankruptcy of conventional bourgeois politics. Every rationale person should go screaming into the night at the thought that another Clinton (or Bush, what about Jeb?) will be taking her apparently alternating dynastic place in the White House.

I have noted, sarcastically, elsewhere that my parent’s generation, the generation that went through childhood in the Depression of the 1930’s and fought World War II, has been misnamed “the greatest generation” for basically being quiet (in the 1950’s and 1960’s when it was time to scream like hell). Unfortunately the boomer generation has also long ago given up the ghost of whatever dreams animated our youth and made the 1960’s and early 1970’s a time-‘when to be alive was very heaven’. Some got tired, some burned out, some copped out and a few, very few, of us are left to tell the tale. Well, for what it is worth we made every error in the book of social change, there were excesses to be sure and most certainly we were defeated politically not only by the likes of one Richard M. Nixon but by ‘wannabes’ from my generation like the Bushes and Clintons who offered more of the same old politics.

But, hold on a minute. If Senator Obama wants to lead a new ‘children’s crusade’ against the current boomer establishment I want to know one thing and that is what is your program? Call me jaded but his campaign is very long on dreamy talk and very short on a program that addresses the key needs for working people-education, living wages, defense of civil liberties, repairing the physical infrastructure of the country, making New Orleans and the ghettos and barrios livable, health care and I could go on but you get the point. In short, those things that are desperately needed today but go far beyond the norms of even ‘left’ Democratic Party politics and require a workers party fighting for a workers government.

Now I can tell why I did not respond to sooner to the announcement of Obama’s candidacy. As it is Black History Month I have been concentrating on writing about various historical figures and events important to the black liberation struggle. And as a natural part of that work the name and life of Malcolm X has taken prominence. Frankly, in the presence of such a real black mass leader, the voice of the rage of the ghettos in the 1960’s, to friend and foe alike, it was hard to take the time to comment on yet another ‘clean’ black Democrat. As I pointed out in a review of the Autobiography of Malcolm X today’s black leaders like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Obama the “Charma” please take a step back, very far back. Enough said for now.






Let us be clear about one thing from the start, whatever contradictions Malcolm X’s brand of black nationalism entailed, whatever shortcomings he had as an emerging political leader, whatever mistakes he made alone the way as he groped for a solution to the seemingly intractable fight for black freedom he stood, and continues to stand, head and shoulders above any black leader thrown up in America in the 20th century. Only Frederick Douglass in the 19th century compares with him in stature. No attempts by latter-day historians or politicians to assimilate Malcolm along with other leaders of the civil rights struggle in this country, notably Dr. Martin Luther King, as part of the same continuum of leadership are false and dishonest to all parties.

Malcolm X, as a minister of the Black Muslims and after his break from that organization, stood in opposition to the official liberal non-violence strategy of that leadership. His term “Uncle Toms” fully applies to their stance. And, in turn, that liberal black misleadership and its various hangers-on in the liberal establishment hated him when he spoke the truth about their role in white-controlled bourgeois Democratic Party politics. The “chickens were coming home to roost”, indeed! The Jesse Jacksons, the Al Sharptons, the Obama the “Charmas” who represent today’s version of that misleadership please step back, step way back.

That said, who was Malcolm X? Or more properly what did he represent in his time. At one level, given the rudiments of his life story which are detailed in the Autobiography of Malcolm X, he represented that part of the black experience (an experience not only limited to blacks in immigrant America) which pulled itself by the bootstraps and turned away from the lumpen milieu of gangs, crimes and prisons into what I call ‘street’ intellectuals. That experience is far removed from the experience of what today passes for the black intelligentsia, who have run away from the turmoil of the streets. In liberation struggles both ‘street’ and academic intellectuals are necessary but the ‘street’ intellectual is perhaps more critical as the transmission belt to the masses. That is how liberation fighters get a hearing and no other way. In any case I have always been partial to the ‘streets’.

But what is the message for the way forward? For Malcolm, until shortly before his death, that message was black separatism-the idea that the only way blacks could get any retribution was to go off on their own (or be left alone), in practical terms to form their own nation. To state the question that way in modern America points to the obvious limitation of such a scheme, even if blacks formed such a nation and wanted to express the right to national self-determination that goes with it. Nevertheless whatever personal changes Malcolm made in his quest for political relevance and understanding whether he was a Black Muslim minister or after he broke for that group he still sought political direction through the fight of what is called today ‘people of color’ against the mainly white oppressor, at first in America and latter after travels throughout the ‘third world’.

However sincere he was in that belief, and he was sincere, that strategy of black separatism or ‘third world’ vanguardism could never lead to the black freedom he so fervently desired. An underestimation of the power of internally unchallenged world, and in the first instance American, imperialism to corrupt liberation struggles or defeat or destroy them militarily never seemed to enter into his calculations.

Malcolm’s whole life story of struggle against the bedrock of white racism in America, as the legitimate and at the time the ONLY voice speaking for the rage of the black ghettos, nevertheless never worked out fully any other strategy that could work in America, and by extension internationally. A close reading of his work demonstrates that as he got more politically aware he saw the then unfolding ‘third world’ liberations struggles as the key to black liberation in America. That, unfortunately for him, was exactly backwards. If the ‘third world’ struggles were ever ultimately to be successful and create more just societies then American imperialism-as the main enemy of the peoples of the world-then, as now had to be brought to bay. And that, my friends, whether you agree or not, requires class struggle here.

That is where the fight for black liberation intersects the fight for socialism. And I will state until my last breathe that the key to the fight for socialism in America will be the cohesion of a central black cadre leading a multiethnic organization that will bring that home. And it will not be from the lips of the Kings of today that the struggle will be successful but by new more enlightened Malcolms, learning the lessons of history, who will get what they need-by any means necessary.

*Listen Up- Hear Mumia Abu Jamal- 'The Voice Of Voiceless' Is In The House

Click on title to listen to (or read)the essays of the 'voice of the voiceless',Mumia Abu Jamal, journalist and commentator. Free Mumia Now!

*In The Time of The "Robber Barons" And The Early American Union Movement- The Molly Maguires

Click on the title to link to a "YouTube" film clip of Pete Seeger performing the classic coal country song "Which Side Are You On?"



The tale of the famous “Molly Maguires” of the Pennsylvania coal fields in the period immediately after the American Civil War is another in the seemingly endless stories of the Irish diaspora triggered by the ruthless policy of the bloody English imperialists, who come what may, refused to part with their colony until forced to by the Irish national liberation fighters of the early 20th century. One can read the Molly Maguire story as one of the first attempts in the post-Civil War period to organize an industry-wide labor union in the coal industry, including its sectionalism, political immaturity and oath-bound secrecy. One can also read it as a story of atomized labor confronted by the consolidation of capitalism in the extractive industries linked up to the carrying trade of the railroads and financed by stockholders here in America and in Britain. Finally one can read the story as a police procedural, highlighting the role of the infamous Pinkerton Detective Agency and its founder Alan Pinkerton in bringing some of the alleged leaders of the Mollies to trial and execution on behalf of the railroad and coal bosses. That is the route the author of the book under review has taken.

While some of the story as presented here by this author is tiresome, repetitive and overly written it nevertheless has a few points that can help us understand the history of that turbulent period in the foundation of the "robber baron" capitalist period of American history. One point is a rather good description, using the Reading Railroad and its president as a case study, of how the railroads, backed by finance capital-the banks, consolidated the coal industry by breaking the individual operators, buying coal land on the cheap and by manipulating supply and demand which ultimately broke the local miners union of which the Mollies were a small part.

Another point is how the mainly English capitalists of the area aggravated the already existing antagonisms between ethnic groups, like the Irish, Welsh and Germans (and later the various Slavic groups) to their benefit in a classic example of capitalist ‘divide and rule’ policy. Finally, the story points out the key role that privately-employed detective agencies, private police and ultimately state and federal troops played in bringing about the early defeats in the American labor movement (and continue to do so today as about one billion dollars a year is spent on keeping unions out or keeping them docile in the United States, one need only think of Wal-Mart). As stated above it you want the tale of the police roundup of some none too savory elements in the Mollies read this book. If you want to get a better picture of what the Mollies meant as part of the Irish diaspora in America and as part of the hard-pressed and poorly organized early American labor movement look elsewhere. I will review other books on this subject and these times later.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

*Those Who Fought For Our Communist Future Are Kindred Spirits- The Grimke Sisters- Fighters For Slavery Abolition And Women's Rights

Click on the title to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the 19th century American radicals, Sarah And Angelina Grimke.

February Is Black History Month

March Is Women's History Month

Every January, as readers of this blog are now, hopefully, familiar with the international communist movement honors the 3 Ls-Lenin, Luxemburg and Liebknecht, fallen leaders of the early 20th century communist movement who died in this month (and whose untimely deaths left a huge, irreplaceable gap in the international leadership of that time). January is thus a time for us to reflect on the roots of our movement and those who brought us along this far. In order to give a fuller measure of honor to our fallen forbears this January, and in future Januarys, this space will honor others who have contributed in some way to the struggle for our communist future. That future classless society, however, will be the true memorial to their sacrifices.

Note on inclusion: As in other series on this site (“Labor’s Untold Story”, “Leaders Of The Bolshevik Revolution”, etc.) this year’s honorees do not exhaust the list of every possible communist worthy of the name. Nor, in fact, is the list limited to Bolshevik-style communists. There will be names included from other traditions (like anarchism, social democracy, the Diggers, Levellers, Jacobins, etc.) whose efforts contributed to the international struggle. Also, as was true of previous series this year’s efforts are no more than an introduction to these heroes of the class struggle. Future years will see more detailed information on each entry, particularly about many of the lesser known figures. Better yet, the reader can pick up the ball and run with it if he or she has more knowledge about the particular exploits of some communist militant, or to include a missing one.

Women And Revolution, Volume 29, Spring 1985

The Grimke Sisters:
Pioneers for Abolition and Women's Rights

By Amy Rath

"I want to be identified with the negro; until he gets his rights, we shall never have ours." —Angelina Grimke', address to Women's Loyal League, May 1863

Angelina and Sarah Grimke' were two of the earliest fighters for black and women's rights in America. Although far from being socialists or revolutionaries, the Grimke' sisters of South Carolina were among the foremost fighters for human equality of their time, the 1830s and the tumultuous era which saw the birth of the abolitionist movement, foreshadowing the great Civil War which freed the slaves. They were also among the the first women to speak publicly on political issues. "Genteel society" objected to the fact of their public appearances—and even more to the content of their speeches. Thus the first serious, widespread discussion of women's rights in the United States was directly linked to the black question and the liberation of the slaves, questions which 25 years later would tear the nation apart in civil war.

Further, the Grimke' sisters' almost visionary commitment to the fight for the liberation of all, exemplified in Angelina's famous statement to the Women's Loyal League, stands in stark contrast not only to early abolitionist anti-women prejudices, but also to the later, shameful betrayal of black rights by feminists during the Reconstruction era. "The discussion of the rights of the slave has opened the way for the discussion of other rights," wrote Angelina to Catherine E.Beecher in 1837, "and the ultimate result will most certainly be the breaking of every yoke, the letting the oppressed of every grade and description go free,—an emancipation far more glorious than any the world has ever yet seen."

The sisters and Theodore Weld published American Slavery As It Is (1840), the most influential anti-slavery document until Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Though they had essentially retired from active politics by the time of John Brown's courageous raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, the actual opening shot of the Civil War, they deeply believed in his cause. Angelina's stirring "Address to the Soldiers of our Second Revolution" (given at the May 1863 Women's Loyal League convention) advocated massive arming of the former slaves as part of the Union Army, and remains today a remarkably radical and prescient analysis of the implications of the Civil War:

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

Pioneers for Abolition and Women's Rights

On February 21,1838, hundreds of people swarmed to the great hall of the Massachusetts State Legislature. Angelina Grimke", the first woman ever to address an American legislative body, would argue for the most controversial subject of the day: the immediate abolition of slavery.

This speech—which continued over three days, despite efforts by pro-slavery forces to stop it—was the culmination of a nine months' tour by Sarah and Angelina Grimke', the first women agents of the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS), founded in 1833. While their speeches began as "parlor meetings" in private homes or church halls for women only, such was the power and growing fame of Angelina's oratory that men began to slip into the back to listen, and the Grimke' sisters became the first American women to address what were then called "promiscuous" audiences.

Uproar swept genteel society across the nation. The Grimke' sisters were breaking the rules of ladylike decorum by their "unwomanly" displays. Angelina was popularly called "Devilina"; "Fanny Wrightists!" screamed the pro-slavery press. (Fanny Wright was a Scots Utopian socialist who toured the U.S. in 1828 for abolition, public education, women's rights, the ten-hour day and "free love"; she set up an anti-slavery commune and edited a newspaper. When these projects failed, she left the country, having made little impact.) "Why are all the old hens abolitionists?" sneered the New Hampshire Patriot: "Because not being able to obtain husbands they think they may stand some chance for a negro, if they can only make amalgamation [interracial sex] fashionable."

The Congregationalist church, the descendant of the New England Puritans, issued a "Pastoral Letter" condemning the Grimke's for leaving "woman's sphere" and going against the biblical injunction, of Paul: "I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." Sarah answered this, and other attacks, in the brilliant Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, the first American book on the rights of women, predating Margaret Fuller's more famous work by six years.

In her arguments Sarah relied extensively on biblical sources, for to her it was important to prove that the equality of the sexes should be a Christian belief, and she wanted to show that women had the right and duty to work for the emancipation of the slave. Her concrete solutions to women's oppression were naive: for example, she suggested that husbands should content themselves with baked potatoes and milk for dinner, to give their wives time to educate themselves. She never understood that the institution of the family itself necessarily stands in the way of women's freedom. Indeed, she could not reconcile herself to the idea that divorce should be legalized. But for all these limita¬tions, Sarah's book is the pioneer American work on the subject. She was deeply interested in women workers, and polemicized against unequal wages; she attacked with great bitterness the lack of educational opportunities for women and their total lack of legal rights. "I ask no favors for my sex," she wrote, "All I ask our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks, and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God designed us to occupy."

Many fellow abolitionists demanded that the sisters give up their arguments on women's rights, fearing that it would detract from the more important question of the hour: freedom for the slave. But Angelina pointed out that the outcry against women's public lecturing was a tool of the slaveholders: "We cannot push Abolitionism forward with all our might until we take up the stumbling block out of the road.... Can you not see the deep laid scheme of the clergy against us as lecturers?... If we surrender the right to speak in public this year, we must surrender the right to petition next year, and the right to write the year after, and so on. What then can woman do for the slave, when she herself is under the feet of man and shamed into silence?" (emphasis in original; letter to Theodore Weld and John Greenleaf Whittier, 20 August 1837).

The Making of a Southern Abolitionist

The sisters' effectiveness as abolitionist agents had to do not only with the power and sweep of their arguments, but with the fact that they were native-born eyewitnesses to Southern slavery. Yet precisely because they were gently bred daughters of one of South Carolina's most prominent slaveholding families, they had not seen the worst of it, as they themselves were quick to point out. They did not see the slave gangs on the plantations, the brutal whippings, but the "better" treatment of the house and city slaves.

Sarah was born in 1792. The invention of the cotton gin in her infancy led her father, like many others, to expand his plantation holdings and build up his slave force. He was one of the wealthiest men in Charleston, the political capital of the South, and a veteran of the Revolutionary War, a former Speaker in the state House, a judge and author. Sarah grew up with every advantage that wealth and position could offer a woman of her time. But instead of satisfying herself with embroidery, piano and a little French, she studied her brother's lessons in mathematics, history and botany, and declared her wish to become a lawyer. Her family mocked her; her father forbade her to study Latin. Perhaps influenced by her own educational frustrations as well as her childhood revulsion for the slave system, she started to teach her personal maid to read. "I took an almost malicious satisfaction in teaching my little waiting-maid at night, when she was supposed to be occupied in combing and brushing my long locks. The light was put out, the keyhold screened, and flat on our-stomachs, before the fire, with the spelling-book under our eyes, we defied the laws of South Carolina."

As an adult Sarah's aspirations to make something of her life turned in the one direction open to "respectable" women of her day and class: religion. She became a Quaker. Later she converted Angelina, 12 years her junior. Before joining her sister in Philadel¬phia, the Quakers' center, Angelina undertook a personal conversion crusade against slavery among her family and friends. In her gray Quaker dress, she started arguments at tea against the sin of holding slaves, becoming quite unpopular with Charleston's ruling elite. Inquiries were made about her sanity.

Convinced at last that there was no future in this, Angelina went north. But she could not be satisfied with the orthodox Quaker doctrine, which at that time included colonization as a "solution" to slavery. Black "Friends" were made to sit on a separate bench. In the early 1830s Angelina became interested in the growing abolitionist movement, and was horrified at the violence the free North turned against anti-slavery spokesmen. William Lloyd Garrison was barely saved from lynching at the hands of a Boston mob in 1835. Theodore Weld was repeatedly mobbed as he toured the Midwest, as were many others. Early in the decade Prudence Crandall was forced to close her school for black girls in Connecticut when the well was poisoned, doctors refused to treat the students, and finally a mob torched the school building. In 1838 a pro-slavery mob, egged on by the mayor himself, burned down Philadelphia Hall, which had been built by the abolitionists as a partial answer to their difficulty in finding places to meet. An interracial- meeting of abolitionists was in progress there at the time; two days earlier, Angelina and Weld had married, and the attendance of both blacks and whites at their wedding fueled the fury of the race-terrorists.

The abolitionists were part of a broader bourgeois radical movement, the 19th century herrs of the 18th century Enlightenment, Protestant religious ideals, and the American Revolution so dramatically unfulfilled in the "Land of the Free" where four million suffered in slavery. Although opposition to slavery was by no means as widespread in the 1830s as it was to become immediately before the Civil War, nonetheless many prominent men, such as the wealthy Tappan brothers of New York and Gerrit Smith, the biggest landowner in the North, had joined the movement by the middle of the decade. Many of the abolitionists had been part of the religious and intellectual upsurge which swept the United States after 1820. Ralph Waldo Emerson and other Transcendentalists were formulating their philos¬ophy. Religious revivalists such as Charles G. Finney, who converted Weld, preached temperance and that slavery was a sin against god.
Angelina became convinced that god had called her to work actively for the emancipation of the slaves. Defying the Quakers (who later expelled the sisters when Angelina and Weld married in a non-Quaker ceremony), the sisters went to New York where they participated in a conference for the training of abolitionist agents. Thus began the famous speaking tour of 1837-38.

The politics of the Grimke sisters was radical bourgeois egalitarianism profoundly rooted in religion. They believed that slavery was a sin, that as "immortal, moral beings" women and blacks were the equals of white men. They argued that slavery was contrary to the laws of god (the Bible) and of man, as put forth in the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence; they disagreed with Garrison's view of the Constitution as a "pro-slavery" document. Again unlike Garrison, they wrote and spoke for rights of education and property for free blacks as well, and bitterly denounced racism within the abolitionist movement. They were the integrationists of their time.

For many years, however, the sisters agreed with Garrison that slavery could be done away with peacefully by moral persuasion. They preached a boycott of slave-made goods (Angelina's wedding cake was made of "free" sugar by a free black baker). One of Angelina's first writings was "An Appeal to the Christian Women of the Southern States," widely circulated by the AASS, in which she urged Southern women to begin a petition campaign for immediate emancipation, to free their own slaves and to educate them. When copies of this pamphlet reached Charleston, the postmaster publicly burned them and the police informed the Grimke' family that if their daughter ever attempted to set foot in the city, she would be jailed and then sent back on the next ship.

The sisters were also for many years staunch pacifists, as would be expected from their Quaker background. Sarah took this to such an extreme that she denied that abolitionists had the right to arm themselves in defense against pro-slavery mobs. This became a subject of controversy in the abolitionist movement in 1837 when publisher Elijah Lovejoy was murdered in Alton, Illinois by a mob. True to her pacifist idealism, Sarah ques¬tioned his right to bear the gun with which he tried to save his life.

Splits and the Coming Storm

By the 1840s the Grimke'sisters had largely withdrawn from public activity. In part this was due to ill health Angelina suffered as a result of her pregnancies, as well as family financial problems. But much of it was probably political demoralization. In 1840the abolitionist movement split over the issues of women's rights and political action. The Garrisonian wing wanted to include women in the organization, but was opposed to abolitionists voting or running for political office, since Garrison believed the "pro-slavery" U.S. Con¬stitution should be abolished and that the North should expel the South. The other wing, represented by eminent men like the Tappan brothers, excluded women from office within the organization, was against women's rights, and wanted to orient to political work in Congress. Since they agreed with neither side in this split, the Grimke's and Weld retired to private life. In later years Angelina spoke bitterly against "organizations."

Meanwhile, however, on the left wing of the abolitionist movement there were gathering forces which saw the irrepressible and inevitable necessity for a violent assault on the slave system, to end it forever by force of arms. The brilliant black abolitionist Frederick Douglass and John Brown spearheaded this growing conviction. As we noted in our SL pamphlet, "Black History and the Class Struggle," "Douglass' political evolution was not merely from 'non-resistance' to self-defense. Contained in the 'moral suasion' line was a refusal to fight slavery politically and to the wall, by all methods. That is the importance of the Douglass-Brown relationship: together they were planning the Civil War." And it was John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 which galvanized the nation; abolitionists who the day before were pacifists took the pulpit to proclaim the necessity of a violent end to the slave system.

The Grimke' sisters and especially Theodore Weld had earlier become convinced that only war could end slavery. Sarah believed she had communed with John Brown's spirit the night before his martyrdom at the hands of Colonel Robert E. Lee, acting under command of President Buchanan. "The John Huss of the United States now stands ready... to seal his testimony with his life's blood," she wrote in her diary. Two of the executed men from the Harpers Ferry raid were buried in the commune at Raritan Bay, New Jersey, where the sisters and Weld were living at the time. The graves had to be guarded against a pro-slavery mob.

When the Civil War officially began the Grimke's did emerge briefly from private life. They were staunch Unionists, supported the draft and were critical of Lincoln for not freeing the slaves sooner. They were founding members of the Women's Loyal League. It was at a meeting of this group that Angelina made her famous statement: "I want to be identified with the negro; until he gets his rights, we shall never have ours."

Reconstruction Betrayed: Finish the Civil War!

Following the end of the Civil War and the beginning of Reconstruction, the most democratic period for blacks in U.S. history, the former abolitionist movement split again. During that period, women suffrage leaders like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony—formerly avowed abolitionists—turned their movement for women's rights into a tool of racist reaction. They organized against passage of the Fifteenth Amendment because it gave votes to blacks and not to women (the Grin-ike sisters were silent on this question, even though this disgusting racism was foreign to everything they had fought for). Stanton and Anthony worked closely with such racist Southern Democrats as James Brooks, because he purported to support women's suffrage. In a letter to the editor of the New York Standard (1865), Stanton wrote,

", 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 In fact, it is better to be the slave
of an educated white man, then of a degraded, ignorant black one."

It was Frederick Douglass who fought this racist assault. Douglass had been a fervent supporter of the infant women's rights movement, which began largely as a result of the chauvinism which women anti-slavery activists encountered from many abolitionists. At the 1869 convention of the Equal Rights Association, Douglass made a final attempt to win the suffragists from their reactionary policy:

"When women, because they are women, are dragged from their homes and hung upon lamp-posts; when their children are torn from their arms and their brains dashed upon the pavement; when they are objects of insult and outrage at every turn; when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have [the same] urgency to obtain the ballot."
At this convention Douglass proposed a resolution which called the 15th Amendment the "culmination of one-half of our demands," while imploring a redou¬bling "of our energy to secure the further amendment guaranteeing the same sacred rights without limitation to sex." And for the rest of his life Douglass remained a staunch champion of women's rights.

Though the Civil War freed the slaves, it was not the fulfillment of Angelina's vision of a great, all-encompassing human emancipation. The betrayal of Reconstruction by the counterrevolutionary and triumphant capitalist reaction of the 1870s, in which the bourgeois feminists played their small and dirty part, left unfulfilled those liberating goals to which the Grimke sisters were committed. Yet Angelina's statement—"I want to be identified with the negro; until he gets his rights, we shall never have ours"—was and is true in a way the Grimke's could not understand. Their social perspective was limited to the bourgeois order: they never identified property as the source of the oppression of both women and blacks. Indeed, as bourgeois egalitarians, the basis of their arguments was that women and blacks should have the same right to acquire property as the white man and that this would liberate them completely. As Marx noted:

"The present struggle between the South and North is, therefore, nothing but a struggle between two social systems, the system of slavery and the system of free labour. The struggle has broken out because the two systems can no longer live peacefully side by side on the North American continent. It can only be ended by the victory of one system or the other."

—"The Civil War in the United States," Collected Works, Volume 19, 1861-64

The system of "free labor," capitalism, won out. Radical Reconstruction, enforced by military occupation, sought to impose equality of bourgeois democratic rights in the South. It was defeated by.compromise between the Northern bourgeoisie and the Southern land-owning aristocracy, thus revealing the ultimate incapacity of bourgeois radicalism to finally liberate any sector of the oppressed. This failure and betrayal of Reconstruction perpetuated the oppression of blacks as a color caste at the bottom of American capitalist society. This racial division, with whites on top of blacks, has been and continues to be the main historical obstacle to the development of political class con¬sciousness among the American proletariat. It will take a third American Revolution, led by a multiracial workers party against capitalism itself, to break the fetters of blacks, women and all the oppressed.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Click on the title to link to an "Under The Hood" (Fort Hood G.I. Coffeehouse)Web site online article about the "Oleo Strut" Coffeehouse, an important development in the anti-Vietnam War struggle. Hats off to those bygone anti-war fighters.



As readers of this space are aware over the last year I have been running a propaganda campaign for the anti-war movement to change its focus and concentrate on winning over the rank and file troops that are fighting the bloody war in Iraq. Readers will also note that these commentaries are part of a byline dedicated to fighting for a workers party here in America. Recently I received a rather surprising communication from a young militant who in essence accused me of having a ‘military’ deviation on the war question. The basis for this comment is the notion that propaganda for a workers party- a political solution to the crisis of leadership in the American labor movement and thus ultimately the question of the war in Iraq- precludes my so-called ‘military’ solution. Needless to say this calls for some commentary, or rather clarification, on my part.

Politics, including left-wing propaganda politics, is about timing as much as any other factor. A realistic look at the political landscape of the organized labor movement today shows no particular movement at the base to defend itself against the onslaught of effective wage and benefit cuts. Nor is there a serious commitment to massively organize the working class into trade unions, particularly the critical Wal-Mart and Southern labor forces that would go a long way to reversing the decline in the power of the organized labor movement. Given those conditions, what is the likelihood today of galvanizing organized labor for meaningful political action in opposition to the Iraq war? While many unions and labor federations, including my union, have gone on record in ‘paper’ opposition to the war, it remains a paper position except for support to bourgeois , mainly Democratic Party, ‘anti-war’ candidates. This abject support is the labor equivalent of those meaningless non-binding resolutions that the Congress is so fond of, and that require no heavy lifting.

A look at the general political scene is even more depressing, if not down right embarrassing to those in the anti-war movement who, unlike me, took the mid-term 2006 elections as good coin. After six years of getting hammered by the likes of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove one would think that those esteemed bourgeois politicians from Hillary “Hawk” to Obama the “Charma” would be able to ratchet up the courage to say no. No, not meaningless non-binding resolutions gently chiding President Bush for his ‘surge’ strategy. No, not trying to have one’s cake and eating it too by supporting the troops and opposing the war policy. The only meaningful anti-war parliamentary maneuver is to vote NO on the war budget. That proposition will come up for a vote (maybe) soon. Watch all the rats deserting ship on that one after the great political courage they summoned up to vote for the non-binding resolution. It will not be pretty and it is not recommended for the faint-hearted.

If one takes a look at the causality lists from the war or reads the seemingly endless local news profiles of those who have died or been severely wounded (a more difficult number to digest) it is plain as day that working people from the cities and small towns of America have taken the brunt of the beating in Iraq. While my appeals to form ant-war solidarity committees have been generic one thing is clear the class brothers and sisters of those soldiers and sailors have a very deep interest in getting their people the hell out of Iraq. Thus, the dragging out of the war, the average citizen’s frustrated desire to get out, the bourgeois political impasse, the anti-war leadership’s parliamentary cretinism strategy and labor’s unwillingness to take decisive action at this time makes it necessary to call for the troops to take action as the short way home. We must not let our anti-war class brothers and sisters in uniform stand alone. Yes, in a beautiful, politically conscious labor movement we should be calling for political strikes against the war and calling on dockworkers and others not handle military goods to Iraq but that is not the case right now (although it might be latter). Until then I can take the heat on my ‘military’ deviation-as long as we get those anti-war solidarity committees up and running.



Sunday, February 18, 2007

***A Saga Of The Spanish Civil War- Andre Malraux's "Man's Hope"

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's sentry for French writer and politician Andre Malraux.

Markin comment:

Leon Trotsky, early on, praised Malraux's literary talents. He was, and would have been, less enamored of Malraux's later career as Stalin admirer and subsequently in the post World II era a minister of culture under France's strongman Charles DeGaulle. Oh, well, everyone familiar with the biographic sketches of past literary figures knows that that milieu is replete with writers who cannot resist being in the circles of power-no matter the political cost. Still, in his prime Malraux could write thoughtful novels and write circles around most of his contemporaries. Trotsky was not wrong on that score, although he also seemed to be aware of certain moral flabbiness in Malraux. He was not wrong there either.



As I wrote in recent review of Man’s Fate by this same author as a young man, in the late 1920’s, many held out high hopes that French writer Andre Malraux would become an accomplished revolutionary writer, or at least an extraordinary writer of revolutionary sagas. No less a communist literary critic than Leon Trotsky, the consummate man of action and letters, praised his early work. "Man’s Hope" is another prime example of the reason that leftist critics praised his work, although it is a more uneven work which reflects the author’s ambiguity toward the events of the subject of the novel, the Spanish Civil.

Although later events would destroy Malraux’s reputation as a writer and as a man of action on the left this novel takes its place in the pantheon of well written expressions of the dilemma of modern humankind confronted as it is with one half of itself mired in the mundane bourgeois world and the other half striving toward a more just and equitable society. This was a central preoccupation of 20th century leftist literary endeavor, and early Malraux was one of the better exponents of that thesis.

The action of the novel takes place in the throes of the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39, a decisive event in pre-World War II history, especially international working class history. Malraux, himself, had organized an air force squadron of international volunteers on behalf of the Republican forces early on and so this novel benefits from a more realistic interpretation of the action described in the novel. Moreover, like Russia and China before it, everyone knew that the events which led up to 1936 Fascist uprising against the elected Popular Front Republican government in Spain portended a revolutionary outcome. The only question at that point was whether it was to be a fascist counter-revolution like in Germany and Italy or a socialist revolution that would go a long way to helping the Soviet Union of the 1930’s break out of its isolation after various unsuccessful revolutionary attempts in the West had failed. We know the outcome, to our regret. These tensions, and especially the tensions produced among the Communists who were under orders from the Communist International, and hence Moscow, to subordinate themselves to the various Popular Front governments, is what drives the action.

The novel is also a snapshot of what the Communist International’s ‘high policy’ looked like as it was implemented on the ground among the secondary cadre and rank and filers of the Spanish Communist Party, their allies, semi-allies, adversaries and the merely indifferent. But beyond that epic struggle the novel betrays in its dialogue among the leading characters something of Malraux's disillusionment with leftist politics at this time. Hereafter Malraux would become something of a ‘premature’ existentialist and searcher after the ‘great men’ of history like Stalin and DeGaulle.

Yes, war is hell. Yes, war is banal. Yes, war does not bring out the better instincts of humankind, even in just wars like that fought by Republican Spain. Despite the caveat mentioned above, Malraux nevertheless tells that part of the story well, in the tradition of Hemingway and Dos Passos. That is fast company, indeed. Read on.

Saturday, February 17, 2007




This will be short and sweet. The august House of Representatives of the United States Congress, in its infinite wisdom has gently chided President George W. Bush on his Iraq ‘surge’ strategy with a meaningless non-binding resolution, by a mainly party line vote. Meanwhile the additional five brigades he requested are headed for Iraq unimpeded. In politics timing is important. This vote if it had taken place before the Iraq invasion, even if non-binding, might have sent some kind of message of anti-war parliamentary opposition.

Today it only demonstrates how far the bourgeois politicians are behind the citizenry on this war issue. Well, nobody ever accused these denizens of parliamentary cretinism of being ahead of the curve-on anything. In any case, the real battle will be over the upcoming war budget. That will not be a pretty sight as most of these same pro-non-binding resolution voters will run for cover, and pronto. Enough said.



Friday, February 16, 2007

*** A Saga Of The Second Chinese Revolution, 1925-27-Andre Malraux's "Man's Fate"

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's sentry for French writer and politician Andre Malraux.

Markin comment:

Leon Trotsky, early on, praised Malraux's literary talents. He was, and would have been, less enamored of Malraux's later career as Stalin admirer and subsequently in the post World II era a minister of culture under France's strongman Charles DeGaulle. Oh, well, everyone familiar with the biographic sketches of past literary figures knows that that milieu is replete with writers who cannot resist being in the circles of power-no matter the political cost. Still, in his prime Malraux could write thoughtful novels and write circles around most of his contemporaries. Trotsky was not wrong on that score, although he also seemed to be aware of certain moral flabbiness in Malraux. He was not wrong there either.



As a young man many held out high hopes that the French writer Andre Malraux would become an accomplished revolutionary writer, or at least an extraordinary writer of revolutionary sagas. No less a communist literary critic than Leon Trotsky, the consummate man of action and letters, praised his early work. "Man’s Fate" is a prime example of the reason that leftist critics praised his work. Although later events would destroy his reputation as a writer and as a man of action on the left this novel takes its place in the pantheon of well-written expressions of the dilemma of modern humankind confronted as it is with one half of itself mired in the mundane bourgeois,and as is the case in this book also the feudal,world and the other half striving toward a more just and equitable society.

The action of the novel takes place in the throes of the Second Chinese revolution at a point where the alliance between Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party had broken down and Chiang was ready to butcher the Communists in order to take undisputed control of the Chinese state. Like Russia before it, everyone had known that a second Chinese Revolution was coming. The only question at that point was whether it was to be a bourgeois revolution in the classic Western sense or a socialist revolution that would go a long way to helping the Soviet Union of the 1920’s break out of its isolation after various unsuccessful revolutionary attempts in the West had failed. As it turned out neither event occurred at that time. This tension, and especially the tension of the Communists who were under orders from the Communist International, and hence Moscow, to subordinate themselves to Chiang unconditionally, is what drives the action.

The novel is also a snapshot of what the Communist International's ‘high policy’ of collaboration with Chiang looked like as it was implemented on the ground among the secondary cadre and rank and filers of the Chinese Communist Party, their allies, semi-allies, adversaries and the merely indifferent. In that context, it is additionally an early literary expose of the relationship between those who carry out, even if in small ways, Western imperialist policy in their separate and exclusive colonial enclaves and those ‘natives’ who do the ‘coolie’ work. That tension exists today, as can readily be seen in places like Iraq, so one should pay particular attention to that dynamic. Read on.

Thursday, February 15, 2007




Over the past couple of weeks, amid the din of these meaningless non-binding resolutions on the Iraq ‘surge’ before both branches of Congress, the Bush Administration has created a ‘surge’ of its own on Iran. The most interesting, if most ominous, aspect of this propaganda campaign for war against Iran is a recent news conference in which Administration officials laid out yet another variant of the ‘smoking gun’ connection between Iran and the insurgency in Iraq.

Since that time they have been backtracking on how high up in the Iranian government this material support for the Iraqi insurgency went. That admission should put even the must obtuse bourgeois politician on notice that this is another one of those flimsy, half-baked ‘cooked’ intelligence schemes made to order for the dictates of American foreign policy. As the pre- Iraq War‘cooked’ intelligence reports confirm a 30 plus billion dollar budget does not buy much in the way of intelligence these days. I am waiting, breathlessly, to have it revealed that the source of this information is the late Shah’s grandson or some other CIA hanger-on looking to get back into power. Then the Iraq comparison would be complete.

Know this, however, when Secretary of War Gates denies any intention of attacking Iran; when Bush denies any intention of invading Iran; when. Laura Bush says ‘no way’; and, Condi Rice says “Are you crazy? we have a full plate already." , you know the final attack plans are being put in order. More ominous, I have not heard a peep out of Dick Cheney on this subject. Someone in the White House has obviously forgotten to read the Iraq Study Group Report (you remember that little chestnut that was suppose to allow a 'graceful'exit from Iraq and recommended that the Administration make 'nice' with Iran).

Know this also-this writer does no support the women-hating, anti-modernist fundamentalist mullahs in Iran and their crazy theocratic ambitions. However, the fight to replace them is the task of the Iranian people, it cannot be outsourced to American imperialism. If, and when, the deal goes down and American imperialism pulls the hammer I say-U.S. HANDS OFF IRAN!! Get the posters and placards ready.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007





If you need to know, and you should, what Rosa Luxemburg's contributions to Marxist theory were and about her struggles within various European left-wing socialist parties to fight for her revolutionary perspective then this is not the book for you. You need to read Rosa Luxemburg Speaks or read one of her eminent political biographers like P. Froelich or M. Nettl. If, however, you know Rosa's theories and political struggles then this book can provide some insights about what it was like to be a leading revolutionary socialist woman in early 20th century Europe.

Ms. Ettinger has based her work on various correspondences between Rosa and her political associates, women friends and her lovers, particularly the tempestuous and long time relationship with Leo Jogliches. In that sense this is a more scholarly work than what currently passes for the personal biography of political celebrities, and its shows by keeping speculation about personal motives within some kind of bounds. In short, it is a labor of love, not of political love because the author makes no bones that she is not in sympathy with Rosa's overall political strategy but of deep admiration for someone who listened to her own drummer. And did it in a very much male-dominated political world.

I read political biographies mainly to get a background look at what makes the subject of the biography tick. After reading this book it struck me once again that even revolutionaries, and particularly revolutionary women, cannot fully transcend the facts of their personal upbringing and their times. Clearly, Rosa was a liberated woman by any measure. However, I got the overwhelming feeling that she could never fully transcend the outsider-ness of being Jewish or of the terrible strain of breaking free of the mores of Victorian Europe. It may be a truism of Marxism but true nevertheless that it would take some generations before the `new' man and women would fully take on the attributes of socialist comradeship but after reading this book it is also clear that even the `vanguard' intellectuals of the movement can only go so far in transcending their capitalist environment. Nevertheless Remember Rosa Luxemburg-the Rose of the Revolution.




A documentary concerning the trials and tribulation of seemingly perennial presidential candidate and bourgeois gadfly Ralph Nader has just come out, oddly titled an “Unreasonable Man”. Ordinarily I would not give a tinker’s damn about reviewing such a film event but a couple of things brought out in the film have gotten me in lather. Those who have been reading this space over the last year should be well aware that I hold not truck with the Green Party or for that matter Ralph Nader’s run as an independent candidate. An alienated leftist (maybe?) candidacy, in either form, acting as a pressure on the Democratic Party to be ‘good’ is not the strategy necessary for the times. That strategy might have at least made a little political sense in about 1912 but, dear readers, that is a very long political time ago (although my candidate then, in any case, would have been the Socialist Party's Eugene V. Debs). But, as for the defense of Nader, fair is fair and besides I have an ulterior motive here-listen up.

One of the themes that come out of the film is a free-for- all retroactive thrashing of Nader, mainly by liberal Democratic gurus, for allegedly getting George Bush elected in 2000. Apparently, Mr. Nader is thus responsible for everything that has happened since then from the invasion of Iraq to global warming to the failure of the Chicago Cubs to win a World Series. Grow up! And get over it! Part of the charm of bourgeois politics is the necessity for political amnesia. The Bush-Gore contest was a yawner. People literally could not tell them apart, at the time. If there are quantitative differences today that does not undermine the central premise of their existence, or Nader’s either for that matter. None of them challenge the central capitalist production system and its profit motive. Of course not, that would be the beginning of wisdom.

Moreover, while we are at it why blame Nader for the debacle in 2000? And here is my real point. Why not blame Bill Clinton for his scandal-ridden second term? Why not blame the flimsy anti-democratic Supreme Court ruling that stopped the count? Why not blame the Constitutional Conventioneers of 1787 who created that albatross anti- plebian Electoral College system? Lastly, why not blame Al Gore himself whose insipid campaign against a ‘light-weight’ Bush candidacy drove even supporters to distraction? The point, although this thought is wasted on the liberal gurus, is that someone outside the two-party system should have the democratic right to run for any elective office he or she chooses. And that is what workers party advocates should take from this trashing of Nader. The two parties and their agents make it tough enough for third parties to have access to the electoral political process. Letting them get away with this cheapjack retro-bashing of Nader’s right to stand for the presidency should not go unopposed. Enough said.