Date: Wed, 28 May 97 08:45:08 CDT
From: rich%pencil@YaleVM.CIS.Yale.Edu (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Juneteenth 1997: Which Way to Freedom?
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Juneteenth 1997: Which way to Freedom?
By Nelson Peery, People's Tribune, Vol.24 no.6, June 1997
On the 19th of June, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill abolishing slavery in the federal territories.
That act was the beginning of the end of the greatest crime in human history, one which began with Christopher Columbus' enslavement and genocide of the Caribbean Indians. It continued through the horrors of the African slave trade, the butchery of the indigenous peoples, and chattel slavery in the United States. It ended in the fire, destruction and glory of the Civil War.
As news of the partial emancipation spread, it became known and celebrated by fighters for liberty as "Juneteenth."
The abolition of slavery and, a century later, the mechanization of Southern agriculture, made winning the struggle for civil rights for all people possible. Four decades of often bloody mass struggle brought about fundamental changes in laws governing and regulating the minorities and special groupings in this country. The winning of de jure or legal equality brought an end to the era of legal special oppression and discrimination. So we see that Juneteenth is a celebration belonging to all peoples.
The battle, not yet won, continues. The spirit of Juneteenth takes on a new meaning today. The current era is characterized by the struggle on the part of the lower classes to implement and give life to the laws won with such suffering. The disintegration of a number of organizations and the rise of new ones is precisely around this question of securing in practice not simply the letter but the spirit of these laws.
All times of transformation are characterized by confusion. There is a lot of transformation and confusion as new generations and new personalities step forward to carry on the struggle. They pick up the organizational and ideological weapons handed them by the passing generation, only to find that these weapons no longer do the job.
New forces entering the struggle sense that the key to victory is unity of the greatest force possible. This means uniting with other nationalities and groupings on the basis of common problems and needs. Finding a common basis for unity is a class question and a serious problem, surrounded as it is by questions of history and ideology.
The old organizations these new forces enter were necessarily based on nationality or gender. They once played an important role in organizing the various communities in the fight for civil rights. Their strength lay in the possibility of organizing people in their community regardless of economic or social status.
For example, all blacks were discriminated against and forced to live in a segregated community no matter how much money or education they had. This equality of social oppression was the foundation for what became known as all-class unity. At that time, the cry for unity across ethnic lines based on class need was rejected in favor of the tactic of each group uniting its own community first on needs specific to that group and then broader unity could be discussed.
Such a tactic conformed to the need of the petty bourgeois leaders to present themselves (and reap the profit), as the individuals who spoke for and represented the mass of "their people."
With the winning of de jure equality, a certain amount of integration was open to those who had the resources to integrate. The upper strata, which provided the majority of the organizational leadership, integrated and essentially deserted the struggle. Their newly acquired economic class interests overshadowed, and often contradicted, concern for "their people."
Today, black generals command Army units sent against the liberation struggles of peoples of color. Chicano cops are in charge of the brutal occupation of Chicano communities. Black intellectuals lead the struggle to dismantle affirmative action. It is small wonder that new forces struggling for unity complain, "How can we unite across color lines when we can't even unite our own people?"
There is no longer a material base for all-class unity. Under the present circumstances, is it possible to unite one's color or nationality? No, it is not. Is it necessary to unite one's own nationality before reaching out along the lines of class unity? It is not necessary, and it is not possible. Despite these facts, the mass organizations are still mainly oriented around that policy.
Each stage or era of the struggle is marked by something specific that differentiates it from all other periods. The previous period was marked by the struggle of nations and nationalities to unite for their freedom. This period is clearly marked by the emergence of a new multiracial, multinational class of poor people whose problems can only be solved by uniting as a class rather than along ethnic or national lines. Under changing circumstances, things turn into their opposites. The once-progressive effort to unite nations and nationalities is totally reactionary today.
This Juneteenth places a heavy burden on the shoulders of the older revolutionaries to turn the old ideas loose, open their minds, and fight for the unity of this new class of poor. It places on the shoulders of the new, younger generation of revolutionaries the responsibility of resisting this siren song of nationalism and of fighting for the future as teachers and representatives of this new revolutionary class.
[Nelson Peery is the author of Black Fire: The Making of an American Revolutionary and is available to speak through the People's Tribune Speaker's Bureau.]
This article originated in the PEOPLE'S TRIBUNE (Online Edition), Vol. 24 No. 6/ June, 1997; P.O. Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654; Email: email@example.com; http://www.mcs.com/~jdav/league.html Feel free to reproduce and use unless marked as copyrighted. The PEOPLE'S TRIBUNE depends on donations from its readers.