Black Radical Congress and "the Left"

Jim heartfield Jim at
Mon Jun 22 10:04:54 PDT 1998

In message <l03130306b1b427a6ad6e@[]>, Doug Henwood <dhenwood at> writes
>Rakesh Bhandari wrote:
>>A couple of black men I know have been organizers for the AFLCIO (one
>>has quit
>Speaking of which, does anyone know why Richard Bensinger got the boot as
>AFL-CIO organizing director?

Interestingly the leader of the Transport and General Workers' Union in Britain, Morris, is an afro-Carribean, which would have been unheard of during the heyday of trade union influence. When TUs were a power in the land they were principally organisations of white men. In more recent times, though they opened up their ranks and leadership to women - like Brenda Dean of Sogat - and Blacks. Though to some extent this change was forced by the politics of anti-racism, it was more the case that with membership rolls collapsing, the unions resistance to recruitment from the growing numbers of black and women workers were abandoned. In the eighties trade unions were marginalised, and so concentrated their recruitment policies amongst those most deprived sections of the workforce - like the public sector or underground workers amongst whom there were far higher proportions of black and women workers. Looking back on our discussions counterposing organised labour and race and women questions, it is interesting just how much Britain's labour movement rests on these sections of the workforce.

Incidentally, the T&G General Secretary's being black did not seem any obstacle to selling out the dockworkers, for all the talk of the revolutionary black vanguard.

In message <358E8E40.5E80 at>, Doyle Saylor <djsaylor at> writes
>Louis Proyect
>"Rakesh's hostility to black nationalism is a clear illustration of
>"left conservatism."
>Conservatism is one thing, whatever, you mean by "left", it is another
>to be highly skeptical of "nationalism" as a means to politically
>mobilize the masses of the U.S. Rakesh merely states what is obvious
>about the nature of "excluding" whites. That means political hostility
>to integration and the idea that a state could be multi-"racial" and not
>racist. Whose interest does it serve to be hostile to integration? I
>would reply that the goal is to end racism not promote racism. Not use
>state mechanisms to further racist divisions, use state mechanisms to
>crush racist!
>Doyle Saylor

I think Doyle (and Rakesh's) points are very much in order here. But context is all. I don't say that the Black congress is a bad thing or a good thing - at least not until I know what they are arguing. Louis says that nationalism is a good thing, but again context is everything. In some conditions nationalism can be a positive movement - if it is arrained against national oppression was, I think the conditions that Lenin had in mind. But to say it is always good is as doctrinaire as to say its always bad.

Trotsky supported an independent black nation in the Americas, but it should be remembered that conditions were very different then - black people were geographically located principally in the South and overwhelmingly in one state. Racial oppression at that time had a character much closer to physical occupation by white authorities of black villages and towns. In those circumstances, you can see why the idea of an independent black nation would appeal. But the facts of the matter are that black Americans overwhelmingly rejected separatism, by fighting to be a part of US society. The migration northwards effectively brought an end to the efficacy of a geographically distinctive black homeland. Separate black organisation can no longer be said to reduce to black nationalism (except as a caricature) and I think that Rakesh has more than adequately answered it - he does not deserve to be called a conservative for doing so. -- Jim heartfield

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