Category Archives: Black Liberation

The League of Revolutionary Black Workers for Militants Today

by Semaj and Tyler Zimmerman

We’re reposting an essay written by a couple members of ¡ella pelea!, a group that organized against budget cuts, cuts to ethnic studies, and for open enrollment at UT-Austin from 2009-2011, on the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.  It fits in with the broader conversations happening now on the union question, feminism, and the content and methodology of liberation.  We did a study of the League together and wrote this essay to draw lessons for communists and other militants today in the fight against capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and the State.  We try to incorporate the best of the League experience while confronting its historical and political weaknesses.

This is the link to the original post.

For reference purposes and to explore past conversations we’ve had here on the League, check out this post from HiFi and the conversation that follows.

 

Introduction

 

The League of Revolutionary Black Workers emerged in Detroit in the late 1960s, a period of growing dissatisfaction with the mainstream integrationist civil rights organizations and the failures of the Democratic Party to address the subjugation of black people in a comprehensive way.  A new movement which came to be known as Black Power or Black Liberation, grew out of these failures and gave birth to a new identity and a number of new mass and revolutionary organizations, one of the most advanced being the Revolutionary Union Movement and the League.

The Black Power movement also conceptualized the oppression of black people domestically within an international context of white supremacy, capitalism, and imperialism.  It looked toward and drew inspiration from the national liberation movements that were happening in Cuba, Algeria, and Vietnam as well as the Cultural Revolution in China as a model for what black liberation in the United States could look like.  The League was no exception in this regard.

Catalyzed by the Great Rebellion of 1967, an upheaval of Detroit’s black poor against police brutality, poor living conditions, and limited jobs, the League saw the necessity of organizing black workers.  Formed by a core of organizers who worked in the auto industry, they were also instrumental in organizing the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM), in the Dodge Main auto plant and which pushed for addressing atrocious workplace conditions, speed-up, and the extension of the working day as well as their racist implications.  Some DRUM militants were a part of previous civil rights groups but were discontented with the politics and took a more radical political stand that contextualized white supremacy through the framework of capitalist social relations.

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Malcolm X Reconsidered

Ferruccio Gambino provides another way of thinking about the emergence and importance of a figure like Malcolm X.

The man then called Malcom Little entered the place then called the Norfolk Prison Colony in 1948.

The transgression of a laborer:  Malcolm X in the wilderness of America

by Ferruccio Gambino

What led a group of young black convicts in the late 1940s and early 1950s and particularly one of them, Malcolm X, to see the U.S. as an imperial power? In a time of lonely crowds, retreat into domesticity, and feverish patriotism, the emergence of a group of young blacks debating in the corner of a Massachusetts penitentiary courtyard the issue of a world out of joint must have appeared to authorities as a curious aberration. In retrospect, it was the birth of a movement that would shift from a chiliastic condemnation of the white world to a more pointed withdrawal from specific aspects of European and American civilizations.

How the generation of African Americans who came of age in the 1940s shaped its cultural identity is now beginning to become a subject of inquiry. (1) This essay looks at some events in the development of one young man– Malcolm X-who shaped that identity as much as any single individual. It suggests how Malcolm X came to occupy the double political space of “the immigrant” transgressively and how that self-location in relation to the American state violated the written and unwritten codes of legitimate political behavior. It also suggests how Malcolm X’s transgression increasingly became a source of radicalization from the early 1950s on.

By “double political space” I mean the creation of a new allegiance to the country in which immigrants have settled, in conjunction with the often more tenuous devotion to the links with the country of origin. In general, the modern state tolerates immigrants’ attempts to keep their double political space, its attitude being one of cautious patience, swinging towards intolerance during periods of international tension or war. The maintenance of immigrants’ links to both their country of origin and country of resettlement has provided the state with informal means of influencing the political course of both. But sometimes the state demands a more exclusive allegiance and reduces the immigrant’s choice to leaving or breaking ties to a “foreign” symbolic and material universe.

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No More Excuses, Time to Organize in the Ghetto

by BaoYunCheng

In this following post, I argue for movement builders and revolutionaries to take seriously the task of organizing with low-income people of color in the ghetto—the unemployed, the homeless, the gang members. I hope to engage with two primary audiences: white anti-racist progressives and revolutionaries. In my first section, I criticize white anti-racists and how they use the idea of white privilege (aka privilege politics) to distance themselves from directly organizing with people of color. In the later sections, I lay out the urgent need for revolutionaries and movement builders to organize with street people of color (POCs) and thus avoid reproducing the problems of social distancing by white anti-racists and avoid the rigid conception of working-class-led revolution by contemporary revolutionaries.

I. SOCIAL DISTANCING BY WHITE ANTI-RACIST PROGRESSIVES and THEIR FEAR OF BLACK BOY!

It happens so much it’s become ritual now. Every time I hear the overstated progressive truism “the oppressed peoples must lead the movement” put forth by an organizer/activist who’s completely disconnected from the day-to-day interactions with oppressed communities—and believe me, when you’re around the organizing scenes in Seattle, you hear it as frequent as it rains—the song “Black Boy” by Tech N9ne plays in my head. I can just hear a more movement-oriented Tech N9ne singing, “I was told by your movement I was a fool…I think I know why organizers would look in my eye and say that, and why’s that?” with Krizz Kaliko (Kali) responding in his opera-esque voice, “Cuz I’m a BLACKBOY!…Scared to see me, frauds disappear like a genie.”

I think Kali’s line “frauds disappear like a genie” is particularly appropriate for white anti-racists who talk the big talk of people of color movements and the need for people of color (POC) leadership, but don’t walk the walk in building this movement together with street folks and low-income POCs. White anti-racists, this day and age, seem intent on organizing in comfortable spaces while using the aforementioned truism to validate their own distance from low-income workers, unemployed, and street people of color based in the inner cities and ghettos of Amerikkka.

The added irony is that many white anti-racists, if they are in majority white organizations, proudly use the language of ANTI-RACISM as an excuse to not organize with street people of color. They correctly point to past histories of militant people of color movements co-opted by white folks, at the same time blatantly forgetting groups like the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, the Congress of African Peoples, the Young Lords, and the Black Panther Party, none of whom could be dismissed as folks who were intimidated and co-opted by white anti-racists. This is extremely important when thinking about the possibilities of multi-racial organizations for the contemporary period. However, there is a host of real history, theories, and organizations which have devolved a multi-racial way of organizing into separate movement building based on “privilege”: the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Freedom Summer, Fanon’s “Black Skin White Masks,” Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement, the Black Panther Party’s call to organize in one’s respective community, and Noel Ignatiev’s “Race Traitor.” A lot has been lumped together, and what is of interest is how each of these examples has been interpreted to justify specific social relations in terms of race.
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The Landscape of Detroit

Over a year ago Eminem released the song “Beautiful” along with a video that roots the song in the de-industrialization of Detroit.

The history and political backdrop to the city been a source of cultural definition and hope for its people.

The Great Rebellion of 1967 was a turning point in the city of Detroit.  After years of attacks by the police, and being relegated to the most grueling, lowest paying jobs with no chance of promotion, black and poor white folks revolted, shaking the foundations of the ruling establishment in Detroit.  Both before and after the rebellion, there were a number of important organizations which were key in cultivating the means and spirit of revolt, such as the Revolutionary Union Movements (RUMs) along with the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, and the Republic of New Afrika. But the organizational weaknesses of these groups coupled with the relentless onslaught by the city elite left the people of Detroit open to a new wave of attack that resulted from the collapse of the Black Power movement.  The city, afterwards, would not be the same.

All the wealth that black and white workers had created was looted from the city by the capitalists and moved out to the suburbs or down to the southern United States.  Along with that went the tax base of the city, and forty years later the city is falling apart due to an emaciated infrastructure.  This story is shared by other cities where brown and black folks rose up to take their city back.  Gary, Indiana and Newark, New Jersey are only two more examples.  I’ve heard Detroit described by visitors as resembling a war zone — well that’s what it is; it’s the American Third World.

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Black Power and Students in New York City

by Will

Student struggles are beginning across the country. There is no doubt that many of the issues which faced the 1960s generation of student militants will have to be dealt with in the current round of student struggles. For starters the university is till embedded in U.S. imperialism and capitalism.  The university is still a major agent of gentrification.

Attached is an excerpt from Harlem Vs Columbia University: Black Student Power in the late 1960s by Stefan Bradley called, “Gym Crow Must Go!”.

Black Students at Hamilton.
Black Students at Hamilton.

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Afro-Asian Solidarity from Below or Above?

by Will

Afro-Asian solidarity is the basic idea that people from these backgrounds have struggled together against white supremacy and colonialism.  This can be expanded to how both have influenced each other culturally in terms of music, food, and clothes.

I have felt this takes on a particularly important dimension in the United States where race/class tensions have existed between Asians and Africans.  This has been most notably recognized in popular media through the Asian shop owner pitted against the Black community.  Hopefully these dynamics will be explored in the upcoming months on the blog, but to frame that discussion properly we need to start from a seemingly distant point.

Here are some notes on Aijaz Ahmad’s chapter on “Three Worlds Theory” from his book, In Theory. While Aijaz explores the relationship of literature, socialism, nationalism, and anti-colonialism, I will primarily focus on the latter three.  I am specifically trying to explore the relationship of “Afro-Asian solidarity” to Three Worlds Theory (When people say “third world” the underpinnings go back to TWT.), the Bandung Conference, and the Non-Aligned Movement. I am not saying they are the same thing, or that they originate from the same historical moment or people.  I am trying to connect and separate concepts in the hopes of achieving some clarity. Fundamentally, I believe the question of Afro-Asian solidarity is about the class nature of such solidarity.

I believe this is important as in the last decade a host of works by Bill Mullen, Vijay Prashad, Robin Kelley and Fred Ho revive a legacy of African and Asian solidarity.  I believe this attempt is vital, but has been underdeveloped theoretically and politically.  Most notably it has taken on Stalinist and Maoist politics.  I have taken Aijaz’s chapter as a key place to start thinking about the problems of any discussion on Afro-Asian solidarity.  My interest is in thinking about Afro-Asian solidarity ‘from below’ from a class perspective.  In this light Mullen’s connection of CLR James and Grace Lee Bogg’s collaborative efforts is vital.  There is much more that can be explored from ‘from below’ recoveries in the context of national liberation and communist movements.

If my notes on Aijaz do not make 100% sense right now, my upcoming notes on the Darker Nations should clarify why Aijaz is so vital in the discussion of Afro-Asian solidarity. I believe that Vijay Prashad’s work is a long lament or tragic drama on why the national bourgeoisies did not have time or resources to develop the nation; or that they were not pushed to the left far enough; among other excuses justifying a history of national liberation and neo-colonialism rooted in the national bourgeoisies as the determining agents of social change.

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Message to the Grassroots

malcolm_speaking

By fatima and BaoYunCheng

The following speech by Malcolm, Message to the Grassroots, was delivered on November 10, 1963, at the Northern Negro Grass Roots Leadership Conference. This conference was organized by Reverend Albert Cleage as a response to the Negro Summit Leadership Conference put on by the Detroit Council for Human Rights (DCHR), which Cleage, along with Rev. C. L. Franklin, initially started. The split between Franklin and Cleage reflected the differing visions and tactics between the Negro revolution and the black revolution, a point Malcolm foregrounds in this speech. The Negro revolution, as Malcolm laid out, was nonviolent, seeing the ends as only to “sit down [next] to white folks.” In contrast, the black revolution was uncompromising in tactics and with the end goal not simply being desegregation, but control of land, “the basis of freedom, justice, and equality.” As black revolution seemed impending in America in 1963, President Kennedy publicly acknowledged the “Negro revolution” on June 11th and called on black national civil rights leaders to reign in the militancy and self-activity of the black population. Bought off with Kennedy’s money, the Big Six civil rights leadership-which included Martin Luther King, Jr. and A. Philip Randolph- along with white progressive leaders, took over the March on Washington of August 28, 1963. As Malcolm described in this speech, “As they took it over, [the march] lost its militancy. It ceased to be angry, it ceased to be hot, it ceased to be uncompromising. Why, it even ceased to be a march.” It was in this context that, Cleage organized the Northern Negro Grass Roots Leadership Conference on the same weekend and asked Malcolm to headline it with his Message to the Grassroots. Continue reading Message to the Grassroots

Lessons from the League of Revolutionary Black Workers

The following are a few basic and rough notes on the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. For the purposes of this post they are mainly based on “Dying from the Inside: The Decline of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers” by Ernie Allen, a key account of the organizational issues of the LRBW. These aren’t exhaustive notes, since it is possible and necessary to dig much deeper into the issues raised by the LRBW. Instead, they represent some basic starting points for a more thorough discussion of one of the most important groups and experiences of the Black Power and New Left period.

However, they are informed by other important readings on the LRBW that can’t be missed. These include Detroit: I Do Mind Dying by Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin, A. Muhammad Ahmad, The League of Revolutionary Black Workers, 1968-1971, and Class, Race and Worker Insurgency: The League of Revolutionary Black Workers by James Geschwender.

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1. To understand the origins of the LRBW we have to grasp two interrelated issues. First, is the particular place and experience of black workers in the United States. Second, is the history of the United Auto Workers as it developed out of the mass CIO labor movement of the 1930s. Specifically, we have to look at the formation of an industrial union bureaucracy with its integration into capitalist production.

2. We need to understand the historical relationship between black labor and the apartheid system that has controlled it This system has deep roots in the stages of development of American capitalism. First as a source of the super-profits of enslaved labor extracted under a regime of racial terror. Second, as a debt-bonded peasantry that boosted falling profit rates of Southern agriculture and commodities under a racial caste system of Jim Crow segregation. Third, migration to the north to become industrial workers at the heart of American capitalism, but relegated to the lowest-tiered jobs and wages, generally excluded from production and skilled work until WW2, and subject to an elaborate system of discrimination and segregation to enforce this closed, racially-based labor market.

3. The role of the UAW bureaucracy was double-sided. One one side it helped subordinate workers to the assembly line by channeling grievances into periodic negotiations for the contract, thereby maintaining capitalist control over the day-to-day functioning of the factory. The other side of this role in controlling workers was enforcing the racial division of labor that not only facilitated job competition between black and white workers, but ensured that the status of black workers remain largely unchanged. Therefore the ways in which the bureaucracy functioned as an extension of capitalist power overlapped with its role as a white labor patronage network.
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Fighting Unemployment, Not Each Other

-Mamos

I am posting an excellent essay by Michael Hureaux Perez from Black Agenda Report.  I can really relate to this piece because he lives right down the street from where I lived for two years, in West Seattle where I still work and organize. Hureaux Perez and I are both teachers. I work at an alternative program for youth who dropped out of high school or skipped and need to catch up on their credits.   I bet we’ve had some of the same students.  In his piece he tells the story of Marleney,  a young woman who could very well end up in my class because of all the issues she is facing.   She’s behind in credits, her husband is undocumented and can’t find work, and she is also unemployed.

Marleny’s situation is not unusual.  The other day in class I showed my students the 2000 census maps for West Seattle.   Most of them come from White Center (Marleny and Hureaux Perez’s hood), Delridge, and High Point neighborhoods.  When you look at the maps of Black, Latino, and Asian-Pacific Islander unemployment rates, these neighborhoods are like dark dots in a sea of white.  35th Avenue runs through West Seattle dividing the employed, white, college educated middle class from the unemployed and working class people of color.  It’s like Seattle’s 8 Mile. When my students saw these maps they were beefing.  And these were made before the economic crisis; it’s only getting worse now.  I asked my students what should be done about this.  A few said we should go rob the people living on the other side of 35th.  Others said we should riot.

One of my former students decided to channel this anger into productive action.  He and I did a study group over the summer and we just recruited our friends to start a new group called Employment Justice Action.   We are demanding jobs, especially for unemployed youth of color who are hardest hit by the economic crisis.  We’re starting by demanding that the local Walgreens hire more people from the neighborhood.  They take money from the neighborhood; if folks can’t work there, why should we shop there?
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50,000 Lineup for Housing Aid in Detroit: Where is the Left?

-Will

I only have two questions when reading the World Socialist Website article:

What does this say about the objective situation for the radical/ revolutionary left?

Where is the radical/ revolutionary left?

TheWSWS websites writes:

“In a scene reminiscent of the crowds of jobless workers who lined up for free soup during the Great Depression, a queue of tens of thousands of workers and unemployed people wound around the downtown arena. Young mothers pushing baby carriages, disabled workers in wheelchairs, senior citizens and throngs of young workers and youth stood for hours waiting. Many had slept on the streets the previous evening to be the first served.

Several people fainted during the wait and were treated by medical personnel on the scene. By 11:30 a.m., Detroit’s mayor, David Bing, made a public appeal for citizens to stop coming to Cobo Hall. Hundreds of police, including officers from Detroit’s special Gang Unit, stood guard at the entrances to hold back the crowd.”