Marxist Bulletin No 5 Revised
What Strategy for Black Liberation? Trotskyism vs. Black Nationalism
Black Power and the Fascists
Reprinted from Spartacist West, Volume 1, No. 8, 30 September 1966
Until just a few months ago, it seemed as if the Civil Rights Movement had almost come to a stand-still. It seemed to have failed to achieve any of its goals or alleviate to any degree the special oppression suffered by the masses of Negroes in this country. Politically, it had gotten nowhere. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party had failed to jar the racist white Democratic Party from power in Mississippi or to achieve recognition from the national Democratic Party. The Movement had failed to alter the police brutality in the ghettos, or provide a meaningful answer to the police-instigated slaughters in the so-called “riots” in Harlem, Watts, etc. And most important, conditions for the bulk of Negroes have actually gotten worse, not better; their income increases in recent years had been substantially less than that of the population as a whole. Unemployment was still four times as great among Negroes, and urban renewal still means moving the poor out, not ending slum housing.
Then came the rapid popularity of the slogan “Black Power,” coined by SNCC chairman Stokely Carmichael on the Meredith march in Mississippi, and raised by the Black Panther Party (Lowndes County Freedom Organization) in Lowndes County, Alabama. There has been an infinite variety of definitions of Black Power, but we think the following points contain its real meaning: (1) organization and struggle independent of the Democratic Party, the white liberals and their money, (2) black control of the black struggle and black neighborhoods, (3) an end to the special oppression of blacks, rather than integration into white society (which implies that somehow “white is better”), and (4) self-defense of the struggle against racist attack and police brutality. These are the elements being adopted by the struggle itself, of which the Black Panther Party and the Community Alert Patrol in Watts are good examples.
Independent politics, neighborhood patrols, and mainly an awareness on the part of blacks that they must do it themselves; this is why Black Power has rapidly become the new slogan of the Negro struggle. But Black Power itself is insufficient as a slogan or as a program for struggle. We must not merely praise a good new development in the movement, but carefully scrutinize it from the point of view of the struggle, past, present and future.
The fact is that Black Power is incapable of delivering on its promise of a new road to black liberation. All of its elements which we have mentioned above are essential if this liberation is ever to be achieved, but by themselves, they cannot overcome the crippling isolation of the Negro movement in society. This isolation of the Negro has always been and is now the chief cause of the special oppression of blacks. Black Power, as an interview in a recent issue of Flatlands pointed out, implies black unity. Thus Stokely Carmichael, when asked if he was upset by the Reverend Martin Luther King’s non-violent prattlings and attacks on Black Power in a recent TV interview, replied, “Nothing another black man says ever upsets me.” But the Kings and the Roy Wilkins are more than just black; they are the deadly enemies not only of Black Power but of the very struggle for liberation itself. They are the agents of the white power structure within the black community. King, we must recall, sided with the cops in the police invasion of Watts.
Ironically it is King and his ilk who point out that the Negro is only 15% of the population, that he needs allies, etc. This much is for certain; the movement does not need the kind of allies King is talking about, namely, white liberals, white moral sympathy, the federal government, etc. But it does need allies; it needs allies who can fight with it as equals out of similar interests, allies who instead of crippling the movement and making it dependent can reinforce its self-reliance and strengthen its independence. There is only one direction the movement can turn to find these allies: towards the working class, black, white, brown and yellow.
It must be made clear that this is an urgent problem. The vicious racism of the Nazis and the National States Rights Party–fascists–has rallied the racism of thousands of whites in reaction to Black Power. In Baltimore and Chicago there have been violent attacks on the movement of unparalleled size and intensity. The black movement must launch a counter-attack to fascism; it must take the lead in the anti-fascist struggle at once. Self-defense, of course, is the most immediate need; the fascists must not be allowed to spill the blood of black workers without fear of retribution, and King must not be allowed to lead the movement with prayers in the face of bricks and bottles. But just as urgent is the need to begin actively seeking allies in the working class.
We make no denial that the prospects for this are not immediately hopeful. The white working-class has, on the whole, been indifferent and even hostile to the black struggle. As it stands, many white workers, seeking outlets for their own dissatisfactions and frustrations, may follow the fascists in attacking the black struggle. This is not because fascism offers any solution to their problems, but because they see no way to “get even,” to strike back at the real cause of their problems. Indeed it is the bosses and the corrupt union leaders who encourage racism among white workers for this very reason: so the white workers will take out their aggressions on their fellow black workers instead of on the bosses and corrupt union leaders, where it belongs. We must remember, however, that white workers too are oppressed; they have no more interest in maintaining the “white power structure”–capitalism–than do the blacks. And their oppressors are the same as the blacks’: the ruling class that owns and controls this society, and that sets black against white in order to stay in power. White workers have no more interest in fighting the bosses’ war in Vietnam than do black workers; and inflation–especially in food prices–caused by the war boom hurts them as much as blacks. Furthermore, the traitorous union bureaucrats who say “don’t let those n—–s in because they want your job” are also the ones who make deals with the capitalists to prevent strikes, reduce demands, and in general keep the workers under control.
The black workers must seek allies among the rest of the working class. To do this, they must drop the slogan Black Power, not because the elements of struggle that we mentioned above are bad (as King would have us believe), but because as a slogan for struggle it says nothing to workers of other races about the oppression–and the interests–that black and white have in common. What does Black Power say to the striking Delano farm workers, for instance? or to the airline machinists who voted against the contract urged on them by the government and then raised the call for a labor party?
The black workers are in the vanguard of the working class struggle; they must take into their own hands not merely their own struggle, as oppressed blacks, but the struggle of the whole working class as oppressed workers. They must sound the warning to the whole working class of the danger of fascism by calling for an anti-fascist workers’ united front. They must raise the kinds of demands that represent the interests of all workers, as, for example, those listed in the concluding paragraph of the other article in this issue. Above all, they must raise the call for a Freedom-Labor Party and an end to all foreign intervention by U.S. troops. Turn Black Power into Workers’ Power!