Date: Sat, 11 Jul 98 10:41:41 CDT
The Black Radical Congress
By Larry Holmes, Workers World, 11 July 1998
Chicago—Upwards of 1,700 African American political activists took part in the Black Radical Congress held at the University of Illinois at Chicago campus on June 19-21. A large percentage of participants came from the Midwestern and Southern states. Delegations also traveled from as far away as California and Seattle. And large groups attended from New York City as well as Washington, Philadelphia and Boston.
The enthusiastic participants shared a strong desire that the BRC make a difference in the liberation struggle of African American people.
Among the stated goals of the BRC was to formulate a response to the rise of racist violence and reaction exemplified by attacks on affirmative action, gutting social programs like welfare, systematic and widespread imprisonment of African American young people, escalating police brutality, church burnings and lynchings--such as the murder of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas.
Among the forces that initiated the planning of the BRC over a year ago are Black nationalists, Black radical intellectuals, community- and union-based activists, independent Black activists, and organizers and leaders associated with Committees of Correspondence, the Communist Party USA and the Democratic Socialists of America.
Another goal of the Congress is to regenerate Black radical leadership in the struggle--the kind of leadership exemplified by the Black Panther Party, Malcolm X and others.
These and other militant activists of the 1960s and early 1970s distinguished themselves not only in the battle against racism and national oppression but by their growing adherence to revolutionary internationalism, anti- imperialism and socialism. They drew their inspiration from the great liberation movements of the day in Africa and Vietnam and the examples of the Cuban and Chinese revolutions.
The fact that many of these forces were becoming more revolutionary in their program and world outlook was a decisive factor in the U.S. government's decision to crush the Black liberation movement, and to assassinate, imprison or exile its leaders through the FBI's Cointelpro operation.
ANALYSIS AND ACTION
df The BRC was also called in response to the relative ascendance and influence in the Black struggle of the Nation of Islam under the leadership of Minister Louis Farrakhan. Among Black radicals, there is deep concern over many of the reactionary positions embraced by the NOI, including propagation of the patriarchy, homophobia, and adherence to Black capitalism as a solution to the oppression of the African American nation.
It was notable that both a lesbian speaker and a feminist speaker were featured in the opening plenary of the BRC. The Congress also included 40 workshops and caucuses on topics ranging from trade unions, lesbian and gay rights, feminism and youth to socialism and Black liberation.
How Black radicals, revolutionaries and communists deal with groups such as the NOI is extremely important and often decisive. The NOI, with all its contradictions, is still a part of the broad Black struggle. The reason the NOI has gained the ear of a large section of the Black proletariat is because its leadership appears to confront the white power structure in a bold and militant manner. Elements either in or formally associated with the NOI were among the forces that confronted the Klan in Jasper, Texas, on June 27.
The NOI is not a monolithic organization politically. There are many local NOI activists who have been influenced and can be further moved by progressive socialist ideas on all the important issues.
Undoubtedly, most of the participants at the BRC would agree that it's not enough to just analyze the faults of the NOI, or of any other organization in the Black community that has conservative policies--including other religious and bourgeois groups, elected officials, and so on. The analysis must be backed up with the will and the readiness on the part of Black radicals to also have a bold, militant and activist orientation to the struggle for Black liberation.
In the past, some of the political forces in the working- class and radical movement have excluded from alliances bourgeois Black nationalists, revolutionary Black nationalists, as well as communists deemed "ultra-left."
Although the outward reason for ostracizing such elements seemed to be ideological incompatibility, often the underlying reason for the exclusion was born of fear that associating with militants--be they genuine or the demagogic type--would alienate the more moderate forces in the progressive movement, particularly those of the liberal bourgeoisie.
The BRC offers an opportunity to rectify this mistake.
One of the most formidable challenges the BRC will face as a national formation is the struggle to make itself independent of more conservative and ultimately paralyzing forces.
All progressive forces are in agreement that maximum unity will be required to turn around the ascendancy of the right. When the Democrats lost Congress in the 1994 elections, many in the Left, understandably so, felt fearful and isolated-- especially since this development preceded and accelerated a retreat on the part of the liberal and moderate forces in the struggle against rac ism and on other key progressive issues.
Indeed, no progressive force wants to go it alone in times like these. And it's only natural to seek alliances with broader forces. The key is to build the coali tions that are necessary without being taken in tow by the bourgeois forces.
Resolute purpose, experience and skill will help the BRC accomplish the two necessities of alliance building and bold independent initiative.
Let's not forget that the NOI called the Million Man March and two African American women from Philadelphia initiated the Million Woman March last year in Philadelphia. A congress of so many Black radicals is in a position to call an equally significant mobilization whose program could combine the struggle for Black liberation and self- determination with the working-class struggle that offers a truly revolutionary solution to the madness of global capitalism.
The most exciting caucus report was from the students. They proclaimed their support for the Million Youth March proposed for September in New York and Atlanta. This will be an important and significant effort for the BRC to support.
In addition, it will be important for the BRC to distinguish itself through action in the struggle to liberate all the political prisoners in the United States-- who surely would have attended the BRC were they not behind bars or in exile.
COMMON GROUND FOR UNITY AND STRUGGLE
Makungu Akinyela told the opening plenary that he had been a Black nationalist all his life devoted to the struggle for an independent Black nation in the six southern "blackbelt states." But, he added, he respected socialists and communists. And he felt that it was high time to put aside differences and start talking to each other to find a common ground for unity and struggle.
The BRC is formulating a freedom charter in preparation for an even larger Congress in the year 2000. The BRC leadership has said that its charter will be inspired by the demands of the Black Panther Party and the freedom charter of the African National Congress.
This perspective follows a splendid revolutionary tradition.
Both the BPP and the ANC acted boldly at decisive historic moments.
The Black Panther Party caught the attention of African Americans and people around the world when its cadre marched into the California legislature in Sacramento with their shotguns to dramatize their demand for the right to self- defense.
After the terrible Sharpeville massacre in South Africa, the ANC was compelled to review what had been its principal tactic: civil disobedience, legal demonstrations, etc. It decided it had no other choice but to commence armed resistance--in other words, initiate an armed liberation struggle. One of the reasons the South African Communist Party and communist theory are beloved by the South African masses is that the party supported and participated in this liberation struggle.
This is not to say that opening an armed liberation struggle is the right tactic under the present situation in the United States, although many may justifiably hold that view. The point is that the ANC and the BPP acted with boldness and militancy at the decisive moment. In doing so, they engaged and electrified the masses, winning them to their leadership.
WORKERS WORLD PARTY WELCOMES THE BRC
Today the Black and Latino, Native, Asian and Arab communities, as well as lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans people, and women as a whole, have a much greater potential for winning working-class organizations--particularly the rank and file and other echelons--to their movement as allies in the struggle for freedom and justice.
That is because today the social composition of the working class here has become predominantly oppressed workers and women.
And moreover, the global nature of capitalism has a dual dynamic. It intensi fies exploitation and national oppression and all other forms of oppression. But in doing so, it also creates the potential for greater solidarity among the workers and the oppressed and demonstrates that there's no contradiction between the struggle for national liberation and the class struggle.
It is a good time for a Black Radical Congress. And with time, thorough discussions, a spirit of healthy comradeship and solidarity, the BRC has tremendous potential.
Workers World Party welcomes the BRC. We share the hopes and enthusiasm of its participants. And we share the desire for genuine unity that will result in a higher level of both political and mass struggle toward the goal of Black liberation and socialism. We will be following the development of the BRC closely and updating our analysis accordingly.
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