left conservatism, BRC, entrenched identities

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jun 23 08:41:19 PDT 1998

>I reply (WS):
>Perhaps. But we should also weight the short-term political expediency
>versus long-term consequences - cf. the examples of Africa and Yugoslavia I
>mention above in my reply to Charles Brown. I just happen to belive that
>longh-term consequences of nationalis, separatism and id politics of this
>sort bring more harm than any short-term political expediency.

Africa? Yugoslavia? These are poor examples for understanding the problem we face. Africa is dealing with a problem that was inflicted upon it a century ago when colonialists established arbitrary geographical borders at best, or, at worst, borders that would aggravate tensions. The precolonial linguistic and cultural and economic differences were submerged into faux colonial states. When African nationalists tried to appropriate the prexisting political-geographical frameworks, naturally there was tension and eventually violence as economic conditions deteriorated. Of course, Yugoslavia had the same problem. I recommend Basil Davidson's latest book "The Black Man's Burden : Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State" for a good discussion of this. He even draws an analogy between Yugoslavia and Africa.

What Wojtek is not grasping is that nationalities oppressed by imperialism have a right to organize independently and press for their own demands. In the US, black, Chicano and American Indian nationalism were key components of the 1960s radicalization. To seek an alternative form of radicalism, as the Trotskyite sects did, on the basis of multiracial unity is to ignore the specific features of American history. It is interesting to note that the small socialist sects put two tasks in front of them in this period and failed miserably. One, was to attract industrial workers, and the other was to become truly multinational. Except for the occasional Maoist sect, most groups remained lily-white and middle-class.

The reasons for this have nothing to do with how skillfully they applied a doctrinaire Marxist position, but in the very doctrinaire nature of the position itself. Workers did not join because they did not feel oppressed. Blacks and Chicanos and Indians did not join because their own organizations seemed like the place to do effective work.

One of the problems with the Marxist theoretization of multiracial unity is that it presupposes the goal of proletarian revolution. There is no reason for blacks and whites to get together unless it is to fight for socialism. These Marxist groups were established as "general staffs" for a working-class revolution. It was on the basis of expediency that blacks and whites were supposed to be in the same group. In the SWP, the Trot group I belonged to, black members used to appeal to nationalist militants that it was necessary to destroy capitalism in order to destroy racism. And only a multiracial, Marxist party can destroy capitalism. They pointed to Lenin's party as an example.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that by the mid 1970s, the possibility of socialism began to seem more and more remote. A black or Chicano radical would find no compelling reason to join a Marxist group at this point. What happened historically, as a matter of fact, is that the black and Chicano movement became imbedded with independent Marxist cadre who had abandoned the sects. Many men and women who had received training in the Maoist or Trotskyist movement simply functioned as free-lance Marxists in the black or Chicano liberation movements. Adolph Reed was a member of the SWP in point of fact.

The same exact thing, by the way, happened in the Central American solidarity movement. Virtually the entire leadership of this movement had been veterans of the Marxist groups of the late 60s or had assimilated Marxist ideas on their own.

The reason the Black Radical Congress is important is that it strengthens the Marxist wing of the black liberation movement. It is appalling that some people can't figure this out. Herb Boyd was the convener of the gathering. He is the editor of Black World Today, a web based publication. He is also the co-editor of Brotherman, with Robert Allen, who was the editor of Black Scholar for many years. People like Boyd and Allen are resolutely anticapitalist. It is very important that a network of like-minded people be established nationwide.

It is absolutely guaranteed that if the Black Radical Congress can provide a framework for new intiatives in the black liberation movement that all the other movements will be strengthened. The student movement of the 1960s was a direct result of initiatives taken by the civil rights movement. Frankly, I find this to be pretty good news all in all.

Louis Proyect


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