against 'entrenched identities'

Max Sawicky sawicky at
Thu Jun 25 14:28:11 PDT 1998

> When I was in the SWP in the late 60s, the slogan that the party supported
> and which widespread support in the black community was "Black Control of
> the Black Community." This was seen as the conscious expression of the
> demand for self-determination at that time. The concrete demands attached
> to this slogan included:

Also known as decentralization of government, which can be good in some cases and very bad in others. If the right had had any brains at the time, they would have moved to coopt some of this. (They've been trying to regenerate it since then without success.)

> --right to police one's own community through a community-elected militia,
> like the Black Panther patrols

I don't remember the BPP using the term militia, though community control of police was one of their key demands. I have no problem with it, though it does raise an issue, about which more below.

> --right to control hiring and firing in the schools in the black schools.
> The Ocean Hill-Brownsville fight pitted the community activists against
> warhawk and class-oriented "socialist" Albert Shanker. All the sectarian
> Trot groups and the CP supported Shanker.

Whoever supported the teachers is less important than the basic dilemma that we want workers to have rights (I presume) such as job security and we want communities to have them too, and in some cases these rights will be in stark conflict. If you have a nifty solution to this I'm all ears, but for lack of one I'd be inclined to support the trade union side. The black-Jewish dimension in Brooklyn was sensational, as you know, but it was not essential to the problem, since in Newark the teachers, including your intrepid correspondent, were led by militant black trade unionists, namely Carol Graves and Orrie Chambers.

> --right for preferential hiring in any government funded jobs in the black
> community, especially in construction. This was the sort of thing that Jim
> Houghton and Harlem Fightback had been doing for years.

Construction unions clearly had a lot to answer for in those days, but what does preferential hiring mean when the targeted union is integrated to begin with?

> --demand for federal funds to improve the infrastructure in the black
> community, most especially housing, hospitals and schools.

This isn't a black demand. All workers need this stuff. Why demand it separately? It certainly doesn't improve the odds of winning.

> --solidarity with 3rd world struggles and refusal to cooperate with the
> racist draft. Muhammed Ali was the symbol of black nationalist resistance
> to imperialist war.

Any worker can be in solidarity with 3rd world struggles. Nor was draft resistance a black thing. Most draft resisters were white. Ali was a crossover hero. What kind of black nationalist goes on a nationwide speaking tour to white college audiences, and without even being paid?

Whether the draft is more racist than a 'volunteer' army is not obvious, if you think about it.

> Whenever there were riots, the demand for "black control of the black
> community" was heard in one form or another from the man and woman on the
> street. The FBI and local police forces were absolutely
> determined to put a
> stop to this movement and targeted activists in the black nationalist
> movement for "neutralization." Dozens were murdered and many more were
> framed up on drug charges, etc.

Which movement are you talking about? The ones who were targeted were the Panthers, whose nationalism was of a unique type.

> This movement was one of the most openly revolutionary mass
> movements since
> the 1930s and it just boggles my mind to see such indifference or
> hostility
> to it among left circles.

I was a Panther groupie. I did the best I could to support them, though laboring under the handicap that I didn't know shit from shinola. Only a fool would be indifferent to that history.

My point is that these demands and struggles, when they are positive (which isn't always), don't add up to a coherent nationalist ideology or to "self-determination" in any sense resembling anti-colonial struggles. The latter can make perfect sense.

That 'self-determination' in the U.S. context is an incoherent concept has nothing to do with the value and significance of the struggles you noted.

Hope I've unboggled you a bit.



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