Date: Fri, 24 Jul 98 10:01:35 CDT
What next for the Black Radical Congress
By Gerald Sanders, The Organizer, Summer 1998
NOTE: The following article appears in the current (Summer 1998) issue of The Organizer newspaper. For more info about The Organizer, or to subscribe, write to T.O., 4104 - 24th St. #440, San Francisco, CA 94114 or call (415) 641-4610.
More than 2,000 gathered June 19-21 for the first meeting of the Black Radical Congress (BRC) at the University of Illinois in Chicago Circle Center. The event was planned for nearly two years.
Proclaimed as an organizing center for developing a "Black Liberation Agenda for the 21st Century," the BRC organizers put out a call which read in part: "If you believe in the politics of Black Liberation join us in Chicago in 1998 at the Black Radical Congress. If you hate what capitalism has done to our community -- widespread joblessness, drugs, violence and poverty -- come to the Congress. If you are fed up with the corruption of the two-party system and want to develop a plan for real political change, come to the Congress. If you want to struggle against class exploitation, racism, sexism, and homophobia, come to the Congress."
And come they did. Participants from 40 states came to the founding BRC conference, with over 600 from the state of Illinois, over 200 from New York, and over 100 each from Pennsylvania, California, and Michigan. Over 140 presenters, including trade unionists, youth activists, prominent academics, and community organizers led workshops on issues such as police brutality, political prisoners, reparations, fighting homophobia, and Black workers and today¹s labor movement, to name a few. There were 28 workshops in all.
Pre-Congress Institute Day was held Thursday, June 18. These afternoon sessions were organized by the Black Feminists, the Black University of Study and Struggle, media activists, and the Communist Party USA.
On Friday morning, BRC participants joined a march in solidarity with the Chicago Coalition for Public Housing.
The BRC schedule was divided into three parts.
On Friday evening there was an inter-generational dialogue which was an attempt to blend an historical and contemporary review of the Black liberation struggle by means of older and younger activists interviewing one another. Veteran activists Kathleen Cleaver, General Baker, Barbara Smith, Ahmed Rahman, Angela Davis and Nelson Peery were paired up with younger activists Van Jones, Kim Diehl, Kim Springer, Fanon Che Wilkins, Kashim Funny, and Quraysh Ali Lansana, respectively.
On Saturday morning, various caucuses met over breakfast. At about 9 a.m. the opening plenary session began with a tribute to Assata Shakur by Askia Toure, followed by a number of short speeches by history professor Manning Marable, among others, on the current situation of the Black community in America. Professor Marable set the tone for the conference when he said, "Brothers and sisters we have been dissed in the house we built." The workshops, mentioned above, followed this session. Saturday evening saw report-backs from the workshops. On both Friday and Saturday evenings, cultural events were organized.
Saturday¹s activities were designed for education, debate, and consensus-building around the issues that confront us and in which we are involved. The purpose of Sunday¹s portion of the BRC schedule was to discuss and adopt specific ways we could build some concrete projects, campaigns, and struggles out of this convention. This was the intention of the conveners of the BRC. As General Baker, chair of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America, put it, "We had to figure out how to take our weekend movement and have a program for all seven days of the week."
Task to be resolved
This paramount task of the BRC is yet to be resolved. In recognition of this, a draft proposal has been issued by the conveners of the BRC titled "The Continuation of the Black Radical Congress." This document describes the BRC as a "network which represents a united front of the Black left" and calls for the establishment of a National Continuations Committee in October 1998. The document also states, "The BRC will have a national campaign from October 1998 to October 1999. The campaign will be a national petition drive to bring 1,000,000 signatures to the United Nations charging the United States with violating the rights of the African American people. The slogan for the national campaign will be "End Racism and Poverty Now! Fight the Power to Share the Wealth! Human Rights For All¹!"
Will the BRC succeed in carrying out its stated goals and become a significant political force in the United States? The answer to this question depends on a number of factors, most important of which is what the participants do.
There is no doubt that the BRC generated enormous enthusiasm among the participants. But enthusiasm and commitment, while necessary, are not sufficient to produce a successful movement -- or capitalism would have been destroyed long ago.
A program that is internally consistent and based on the logic of the class struggle; leadership that has been tested and won the confidence of the organization; a democratically organized process of decision-making; disciplined cadre loyal to the organization as a whole; demonstrated support and participation of the people we claim to represent these are prerequisites for our success. We have some serious work ahead.
We need to mobilize the mass of the Black population around an axis of independent politics which breaks cleanly with the two parties of the capitalist class.
Role of Jesse Jackson
There is currently a severe crisis of leadership in the Black community. In fact it may be more accurately described as a leadership vacuum. Those national organizations that claim to champion the interests of the Black masses have been seriously discredited. The Black misleadership is running out of fools. Consider the following:
Jesse Jackson¹s 1984 Rainbow Coalition and even his 1988 campaign for the Democratic Party¹s presidential nomination raised the hopes of million of Blacks and working people -- including white union workers in the rust belt. Jackson received 7 million votes, primarily from working people who wanted real change. Most of those who supported Jackson did so as a protest against the injustices of this racist capitalist system.
Jackson, however, has demonstrated he is not a leader against the capitalist; he is a Judas-goat for them. In the final analysis, "Jackson action" proved to be a fraud, deceiving those for whom the so-called "American dream" is, in reality, a cruel hoax. Instead of an independent campaign and political movement fighting for their interests, Jackson supporters were delivered to the Democratic Party.
Michael Dukakis openly dissed Jackson by picking that Southern "gentleman" Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate without the minimal courtesy of notifying Jackson (he found out from the media). Jackson's initial reaction was bitter and suggested that he was prepared to part ways with Massa when he said:
"It is too much to expect that I will go out in the field and be the champion vote picker, and bale them up and bring them back to the big house and get a reward of thanks, while people who do not pick nearly as many voters, who don¹t carry the same amount of weight among the people, sit in the big house and make the decisions." (New York Times, July 15, 1988)
By convention time, Jackson had rediscovered his role and decided that it was time for "the lion and the lamb to lie down together". The problem, of course, is that the only time the lion lies down with the lamb is at dinner time!
In 1992, "Crime Bill" Clinton used a Rainbow Coalition gathering to demonstrate his contempt for Blacks and his "independence" from Jackson by deliberately and dishonestly misinterpreting a comment by Sister Soldier. From Judas-goat to punching bag, Jackson remains loyal to the Democrats to point of supporting Clinton¹s scandalous Africa Trade bill, which would impose the corporate agenda of starvation wages and union-busting on African workers. Even Jackson¹s son, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., voted against this piece of legislation, calling it a new form of slavery. Jackson is clearly incapable of learning or of changing.
Deepening crisis of leadership
In spite of the fact that over 6,000 Black men and women have been elected to public office, the overwhelming majority of these Democrats, the living conditions for black people have worsened dramatically. It is clear that these Black Democrats are not the representatives of the Black masses, but are instead front men and women for the capitalist system. What did these Black elected officials do to organize the Black community to resist Crime Bill Clinton¹s bipartisan legislative onslaught against us? Nothing!
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the oldest (and most conservative) civil rights group in the country, has proven itself completely incapable of leading a resistance to the blatant dismantling of the gains of the Civil Rights movement. The NAACP has become so senile and feeble that it couldn¹t even wage a serious opposition to Uncle Thomas' appointment to the Supreme Court.
Why has the NAACP become so ineffective a weapon for the Black community? The answer lies in its close ties to the twin parties of capital -- the Democrats and Republicans. Benjamin Hooks, former head of the NAACP, is a self-proclaimed Republican. The Democratic Party has been the primary instrument for subjugating Blacks while conning them into the lesser-evil politics of support for our tormentors.
A good part of the reason why the NAACP has failed in its self- proclaimed duty to defend civil rights was revealed in the Benjamin Chavis affair. Chavis was brought in as executive director of the NAACP to "revitalize" the ailing organization. He tried to gather disillusioned youth into the civil rights struggle and regroup its leadership.
To this end he invited Louis Farrakhan¹s Nation of Islam to join the struggle. The corporate media, America¹s Headfixing Industry, went crazy. They denounced Chavis for collaborating with a "racist" -- i.e., Farrakhan.
Get this now. The bigoted corporate media, which with numbing regularity depicts the Black community in the vilest and most blatantly racist stereotypes, attacked a Black leader for attempting to unite with another Black leader. This was as absurd as it was transparent.
Chavis continued to strive for unity. But he forgot the Golden Rule: he who provides the gold makes the rules. The corporate donations stopped flowing into the NAACP's coffers. Donations from the Black community don¹t come close to paying the salaries of the NAACP officialdom. These bureaucrats screamed bloody murder. In August 1994, Chavis was fired by the NAACP's board of directors, using the pretext of a sex drama. "Crime Bill" Clinton is still president, in spite of his little sex drama.
The Million Man March
Farrakhan stepped up to fill the leadership void with his Million Man March, in his own words: "a holy day of atonement and reconciliation". Despite the campaign of vilification heaped upon the event by the Headfixing Industry, the march caught on in the Black community. It was of major importance that huge numbers of Blacks were ready to mobilize, hungry for real change.
But Farrakhan¹s mixture of Black capitalist economics and reactionary mysticism guaranteed that the march would not provide solutions for those who attended. It could not lead to political organization or a viable program.
Did Minister Farrakhan advance a program that points the way out of the economic and political dead end in which we are trapped? Did he attack the system that is the root cause of suffering of the Black community? Hell no!
Instead we were given a lecture in numerology. We were told to blame ourselves and to atone. When the dust cleared and the participants returned home, the Nation of Islam had proved itself impotent in creating, leading, or sustaining a democratically organized movement capable of addressing the needs of Black America.
What Farrakhan thought was a new beginning for his bid to become the premier leader of Blacks in America may have been his "Final Call."
Evaluating the experiences
All this has happened in full view of the masses. They have had time to sober up and evaluate their experiences. These show clearly that all of these organizations and leaders (Black Democrats, the NAACP, Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam), each in their own way, have shown themselves unfit to organize the struggle to defend the meager living standards of the Black masses, let alone to improve them.
By what yardstick can we measure the potential of a movement to successfully lead the fight against the escalating attacks we now face?
The central issue remains organizing an independent political movement of Black working people linked to the aspirations of workers of all ethnic origins in America.
It is an axiom of scientific socialism that social and political movements must be judged by the quality of their leadership, program, trajectory, and class composition -- not by the illusions of the base. These misleaders are not genuine opponents of the system; theirs programs are pro-capitalist to the core. They are taking us no where -- fast, and their self-contradictory rhetoric is the product of their schizophrenic petty bourgeois aspirations, even as they are rejected by the system to which they love to submit.
We need to tell it like it is and describe these leaders and organizations as they are, not deceive ourselves with sugary falsehoods.
If we aspire to Black liberation in America, these pro-capitalist misleaders can never provide hope for a better future. They are political corpses. When it comes to fighting, corpses are worthless, but they do come in handy to keep the living from resisting.
Black workers take the lead!
While the leadership of the BRC is a mixed bag of activists, academics and Black feminists, there is no doubt that if it takes root on the local level and mobilizes people for independent political action, the BRC will become a predominately working class organization. The Black community in the United States is overwhelmingly proletarian, and any serious attempt to organize it must reflect its class needs and aspirations.
A new generation of working class leaders can be developed and trained. But this will happen if and only if democratic structures are created for a movement that is clear about its program and ready to break with the parties and program of capital.
The BRC, in the "Freedom Agenda" and other documents, has denounced capitalist exploitation, but has stopped short of calling for socialism. It has made demands upon the U.S. government while calling for "self-determination." In short, it remains necessary to give specific content, clear and uncompromising, to these algebraic formulations. We must translate our demands into political action that speaks to the needs of Black working people: decent housing, schools, healthcare, education and secure jobs. We strive to build a movement for fundamental change with the will to join all other workers in America in seeking the power to meet our collective needs -- and that means socialism.
During the BRC convention, a youth caucus was formed. These young people met for hours striving to hammer out practical proposals which they could take home with them and with which they could start to work.
While they were only partially successful, their intensity and enthusiasm were both contagious and inspiring. Some "veterans" feared that the youth caucus meetings could lead to a spin off, or split from the BRC. In fact, the best way to ensure such a rupture is to cultivate an atmosphere of distrust and oppression of the youth.
While the outcome remains to be seen, the strength of the BRC lies in its self-proclaimed desire to act as a real united front for basic political change. Without delay, functioning BRC local organizing committees need to make their presence felt in struggles in their communities. We must meet, examine the political landscape, and decide where to begin. The main point is that we must start -- now!
Gerald Sanders is running for Congress in the 9th Congressional District of California on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket. He can be reached by phone at (510) 655-5764 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org