Statement of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
August 19, 2014
In a ten day non-stop protest, the people of Ferguson, MO – youth and seniors, Black and white – are standing up for justice, equality and democracy in protest of the police murder of young Michael Brown, a black teenage resident of the majority African American suburb of St. Louis. The people of Ferguson are joined by people around the country who have participated in vigils and street protests of the police cover up and the brutal police repression against peaceful protesters that have followed.
The daily peaceful protests are not only justified, but likely to continue and spread unless radical changes are made. Calling for ‘calm’ and peace’ when injustice is prevailing and rampant doesn’t help much and at worse, is divisive. Broad unity is needed, one that includes angry young people as well as their elders.
Michael Brown is only the latest person of color, mainly African American, to be murdered by police in cities around the country and with impunity. Ten days after Brown’s murder, no charges have been brought against the police officer whose identify was kept secret for over a week.
As Michael Brown lay dead in Ferguson, MO, organizing for a march in NYC had been underway since the police murder of Eric Gardner last month. His so-called "crime" was selling cigarettes on a street corner. Like Brown’s death, Gardner’s killing by police has catapulted community, civil rights organizations, youth groups and unions to join together for a march across the Verazzano Bridge on August 23rd demanding the police involved be held to account.
The rampant police murders and other crimes against Black and Brown people represents a state of national emergency.
CCDS urges all to sign the online petition sponsored by Color of Change and Democracy for America that calls on President Obama to send federal marshals to Ferguson, not the National Guard, "to protect Ferguson residents from an out of control and extremely violent police force."
Beyond this, a political agenda to stop police murder and other crimes should include:
1. Establishing Civilian Police Accountability Councils (CPAC), a campaign spearheaded by the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. Only civilian control of police departments can reign in police and hold them accountable for their crimes.
2. Demilitarization of police departments. CCDS joins with the CPUSA and others who call for repeal of the National Defense Authorization Act which has provided local police departments from the largest to the smallest with Pentagon weaponry and paramilitary training. Missouri law enforcement agencies have received $69 million in military weapons. Nationally, more than $4.3 billion in military equipment has gone to police agencies since 1997.
3.The immediate arrest and indictment against the officer responsible for Michael Brown’s death. As St. Louis writer and activist Jamala Rogers wrote, Black people must have equal protection under the law and those who use the badge to abuse their authority must be held accountable. "Above all, they want transparency," said Rogers.
4. An end to police "racial profiling," the practice of racist targeting of Black and Latino people, and an end to "stop and frisk" policies which are nothing more than targeted harassment of mainly Black and Latino youth.
5. Affirmative action for police departments. Programs must be implemented immediately to insure that police forces are representative of the people they serve.
6. An urban agenda for the nation. In the midst of the Ferguson protests, the Rev. Jesse Jackson of Rainbow/PUSH has drawn attention to the pressing need for a new urban agenda for our nation’s cities. We agree. Like other industrial states and central cities deserted by capital’s low-wage, anti-union drive, Missouri has a 22% unemployment rate. Joblessness for Black and Latino youth is twice the rate of white youth whose futures are also in jeopardy. Needed is a political agenda for rebuilding our cities – a just transition to a new economy, one that is good for the environment, good for the country, good for a peaceful foreign policy, and good for young people who are desperate for a future with living wage, full time skilled jobs and training.
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
Black Power Meets the Solidarity Economy
By Michael Siegel
A new political and economic model is emerging, and it is not appearing where we might suspect it would. In the heart of the South, in a city named after one of the most racist presidents in United States history, in a landscape that resembles parts of Detroit and other decaying industrial centers, an impressive intergenerational collection of community organizers and activists have launched a bold program to empower a black working-class community that 21st -century capitalism has left behind.
In the last two months, I have traveled twice to Jackson, Miss., first for the memorial of Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, and most recently, between May 2 and 4, for the Jackson Rising: New Economies Conference held at Jackson State University. On both occasions, I have been struck by the amazing individuals and families who have dedicated themselves to developing economic democracy in Jackson.
A Black Revolutionary Mayor in the Heart of the South
Jackson Rising is the brainchild of a coalition of local and national political forces, including the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), the Jackson People’s Assembly and Lumumba’s office. Part of the initial vision was for the conference to catalyze some of the mayor’s economic initiatives, including the goal of helping local workers win government contracts. Unfortunately Lumumba, who won election by an overwhelming majority in June, held office for only a brief period before dying Feb. 25 of unexplained causes.
That Lumumba won the election at all is a testament to his sustained radical human rights work and to the group of community organizers he worked with over many years. Even during his campaign for mayor, Lumumba made no apologies for his revolutionary background, including his commitment to the New Afrikan Peoples Organization (NAPO) and its claim to a homeland in the predominantly black regions of the South (described as the “Kush”), including broad swaths of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. Lumumba’s history also included decades of experience as a civil rights and criminal defense attorney, with past clients including freedom fighters and political prisoners such as Mutulu Shakur, Geronimo Pratt and Assata Shakur.
Despite his radical background, Lumumba was embraced by the people of Jackson, where he had long been an active community advocate and youth mentor. Lumumba and MXGM also utilized innovative organizing tactics to activate the local population. They went door to door to recruit participants for the Jackson People’s Assembly, an independent formation that began as a response to Hurricane Katrina. The Assembly now meets quarterly to discuss community concerns and debate issues including participation in the U.S. Census and the curriculum in the Jackson Public Schools. Hundreds of residents have participated in the Assembly, and locals who are unaffiliated with Lumumba or MXGM lead working committees on topics such as economic development, education and public safety.
Read more of this article »
The Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism are deeply saddened by the news that Amiri Baraka will no longer be in our midst. He leaves the world a rich, deep body of revolutionary work as poet, activist, writer and mentor to many.
In 2006, Amiri keynoted an evening of culture, politics and youth at the CCDS 5th national convention in Chicago. He spoke passionately about the role of art and culture in affecting social change.
Pictured with Amiri above are other panelists who also spoke – Sam Lewis of the Elastic Arts Foundation and SW Youth Collaborative, and Andrei Mills of the University of Hip Hop.
Following is a remembrance of Amiri Baraka posted to the CCDS member list serve by Keith Joseph.
In Memory of Amiri Baraka: The First, The Last, The Only Poet Laureate of New Jersey!
In April of 1994 I attended a speech given by Amiri Baraka at the Douglass College Student Center; my life changed dramatically. He said, “We are here to tell you that there is still a revolutionary movement in the United States.” I became Baraka’s student, what used to be called a disciple. He knew the things that I wanted to know, he said the things that I wanted to say, he did the things that I wanted to do. I listened carefully to everything he said and read everything he wrote. When I met Amiri he was in his sixties. He was hunched over and gray bearded, but wiry and quick witted– always with a can of Lite beer from Miller. I, along with many others, worked with him on the revolutionary newspaper Unity & Struggle throughout the 90’s.
During this time, Amiri churned out political essays and political programs that have never been correctly gathered, organized or published. They were photocopies passed around among those in the local movement. Essays that are truly avant-garde: deep expressions of what is happening NOW. A wild mix of Marxism-Leninism, the Afro-American tradition, and modernist poetry, essays with titles like: “Revolutionary Democracy needs an Anti-Imperialist Cultural Revolution,” “The International Business of Jazz and the Need for Cooperative and Collective Self-Development of an International People’s Culture.” Essays describing the future RAZOR project – “Revolutionary Art for Revolutionary Culture,” essays describing organizations to sustain the creation of Jazz, essays describing the relation of urban institutions to revolutionary politics, essays describing the building of revolutionary organization and movement in the United States, along with cultural criticism and agit-prop poetry like: A Modest Proposal for Guiliani’s Disposal in 41 Verses which are also Curses. Baraka’s writings dazzle because he never allows his thinking to be constricted by the formality of language. Instead he forces the language to bend to the will of his thinking. He is an innovator of necessity. He isn’t an avant-garde writer for the sake of being avant-garde. The content of his thinking requires the formal innovations of his literary style.
Hopefully whoever the forces are that care about Baraka’s political legacy can work together to organize this stuff, and put it out as something like: “The Collected Political Writings of Amiri Baraka.”
Amiri often pointed out that as a Black Nationalist he had a much easier time getting his work published then when he began to call for working people of all races to fight capitalism together. Indeed, Baraka’s mature work as a Marxist is little known. The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader edited by William J. Harris includes a “Third World Marxist Period” but the work included is confined to the mid-eighties and a few poems from the early nineties. Baraka remained prolific until the end of his life. A huge body of work remains little known. Even ostensible allies played games around the publication of his later works and important book length analysis like Jessie Jackson and Black People remain unknown and of limited availability. So this is a call to gather and publish all of this stray work (I am working on a list of what I have and I hope others will do the same).
So much of what is coming out about Baraka around his passing is about his style or form. They say he was “offensive” or “controversial,” his legacy was “contradictory.” This obviously misses the point. I want to point out the crucial lessons I took from Baraka’s later work in the hopes that it will be intriguing enough to create some demand for original.
First, the objective of revolutionary struggle is taking power. Taking power is not an event in the future. We organize to take power today wherever we can touch it, “Wherever you can put your hands on it.” School boards, PTA’s, city councils, little leagues, public library’s, student governments, tenants associations, trade unions etc . Revolution is this process of taking power not a distant event. This is the process of creating “dual power” an idea that Baraka developed from Lenin — the power of working people existing and growing side by side with the power of capital until the former can defeat the latter. We take power by any means necessary. Baraka pointed out over that the promise of democracy is the Achilles heel of capitalism. A promise it cannot deliver but a promise we should insist on and here electoral politics are a crucial tool. Amiri’s son Ras Baraka is currently running for Mayor of Newark, NJ. The election of Ras Baraka as mayor of Newark was a long standing goal of Amiri’s efforts. A victory for Ras Baraka in Newark would also be a victory for the majority of people of Newark and fitting tribute to Amiri. Socialists have also won important elections recently in Seattle and Florida. Baraka actively encouraged this type of struggle.
Amiri insisted that we understand the Russian and Chinese revolutions correctly. They were democratic revolutions. In the parlance of Marxism, they were the bourgeois democratic stage of the revolution. This understanding was the basis for Baraka’s insistence on the centrality of the struggle of oppressed nations in general and the Afro-American nation in particular in the United States. Baraka was critical of Manning Marable’s book on Malcolm X for this reason. Baraka understood Malcolm X to have gone through a transformation similar to his own — a clarification of the enemy more so than a change of basic tasks. In other words, because of slavery, because of Jim Crow, because of the continuation of “separate but equal” and because of mass incarceration of Afro-American people the democratic revolution in the United States was and is incomplete. The relation of Black people to the United States is still the basic political question informing the history and politics of the country. It was the question struggled over during the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the writing of the Constitution, the Civil War—it is the central issue of U.S history. So, the struggle for Afro-American self-determination, equality and democracy remains the cutting edge of the revolutionary struggle whether you are a Black Nationalist or a Marxist-Leninist as Baraka would become. The difference is a better understanding of allies and the enemy.
Baraka further developed the idea of self-determination for oppressed nations. Self-determination was not simply the question of should a land area secede from the U.S. but rather “what should be the relationship of the Afro-American people to the United States.” A question for Black people to debate and decide for themselves.
Baraka often quoted Lenin’s essay “Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution. “
Baraka was particular inspired by Lenin’s idea of an alternate superstructure –a form of dual power. Restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, summer camps, cultural organizations linked to the revolutionary movement. Baraka led this effort by example. Amiri and his wife Amina opened their home for meetings and cultural events regularly. Kimako’s Blues was the name of the coffee house/cultural event held monthly in the Baraka’s basement. These events are among the fondest memories I have: food, poetry, and music often of the most outstanding quality in the most intimate setting. There are videos of these events out there. We need to collect them and make them widely available!
The last thing I learned from Baraka was not found in any essay. It was his example. Only those who never knew him would call him “offensive” or “controversial. “ He was accessible, generous, and warm. He loved to laugh and was always quick with a joke. Indeed, he highly prized humor. He always encouraged the younger generation. He lived his commitment to human freedom and dignity eschewing fame and fortune for the daily grind of organizing for revolution. When the horse piss started flying around his poem, “Somebody Blew Up America” and calls for him to resign as poet laureate came from opportunist politicians Baraka wrote “I will not apologize, I will not resign.” Because he was so uncompromising on principle his enemies could not defeat him they had to abolish the post of poet laureate. Thus Amiri Baraka is rightfully and forever the first, last and only poet laureate of New Jersey!
Long Live the indomitable spirit of Amiri Baraka!
Statement by the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
We all have a stake in the outcome of the power grab and bankruptcy of Detroit. The move to rob pensions from some 30,000 active and retired city workers and the selling off of property owned by the people of Detroit – city parks, public services and works of art at one of the most celebrated museums in the country – is a threat to us all.
The contract between the city and its workers to fund a pension plan is no less valid as contracts between the city and its corporate partners. Bond speculators’ losses should not be covered by workers’ retirement income.
No pension fund in the country will be safe. Next will be Social Security. Using the same rationale – that we can no longer afford to sustain a “greedy” middle class – the basis is laid for the complete shredding of the social contract between capital and labor won in bloody struggles of the last century. The right to income security in old age, health care, civil rights and voting rights, collective bargaining and the promise of a rising standard of living, good housing and education in return for productive labor that creates all wealth is being torn apart.
Democracy hangs in the balance. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-controlled State Legislature refused to follow the will of the people of Michigan who overturned by a 58% margin the law used to take over cities with a so-called Emergency Financial Manager. The patently illegal and unconstitutional measure gives power to EFMs – unelected Czars – to strip mayors and city councils of all authority, including their salaries, tear up union contracts and sell off public assets, services and property at bargain basement prices. Flint, Pontiac, Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Allen Park, Detroit – six cities and three school boards in Michigan – are now under dictatorial EFM rule. All except Allen Park have majority African American populations. These cities are largely former auto manufacturing centers deserted by GM, Ford and Chrysler in pursuit of race-to-the bottom profits. More than half of the 1.5 million African American population of the state are now under rule of an unelected EFM czar.
The Governor and legislature thwarted the public’s will on the EFM referendum at the same time they enacted the anti-union Right-To-Work (for less) law in December, a measure to further weaken unions and drive down wages. This and other reactionary legislation passed over the last several months in Michigan, as in other Republican controlled state governments, has been orchestrated by the corporate funded right-wing ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.
The banks will be the big winners in bankruptcy. Detroit’s EFM, Kevyn Orr, will guarantee it. His law firm represents the banks that hold Detroit’s debt. The debt figures themselves are politically contrived and exaggerated. The Governor has denied Detroit $220 million in tax revenue-sharing and other funds earmarked in President Obama’s first term stimulus package. Instead, the money was used to balance the state’s budget while blaming city leaders, mainly African American, for budget shortfalls and “mismanagement.” The UBS AG bank – which pled guilty to interest rate-rigging in a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit – lent the city $1.5 billion in 2004 in a predatory scheme, causing two defaults after the 2008 financial meltdown. The defaults triggered debt ratings to plunge and interest rates to rocket.
The city’s tax base has been decimated with the loss of over half of the city’s population due to the auto industry’s near total abandonment of the city. With an unemployment rate in double digits, 50% of young people have no jobs and no prospect of getting one because there is no public transportation out of the city where the jobs are located.
A power grab and theft of this magnitude assumes that the country will not care that a predominantly African American city – the largest black majority city outside of Africa – is plundered. This is a pilot project for finance capital, a test run for every other city and town in the country.
The Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism stands with unions, community and religious organizations, and all the people of Detroit who are fighting back.
We stand with the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest federation of labor unions, which issued a statement on July 25th calling on President Obama and the Congress to make an immediate financial transfusion to Detroit. Additionally, the AFL-CIO calls on the State of Michigan to give comparable financial support to Detroit, the largest of Michigan’s cities.
In solving the budget crisis, we the people must demand of our President and Congress enactment of legislation to revitalize our urban centers in the interest of the working class, not the banks. In the face of corporate irresponsibility, we must have a government-sponsored jobs program to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and our urban centers, develop new manufacturing industries to transition to a green, sustainable environment for the future of our children and our planet. We urgently need it for Detroit and for us all.
July 27, 2013
We in the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism are deeply saddened by the death of Brandon Wallace on January 10th, 2013 and we express our deepest sympathy to his family and friends. Brandon was one of our young leaders with tremendous talents. His passing is a heartbreaking loss. Brandon contributed much to our organization as well as his larger community. He was well loved and respected by many.
Brandon served on the National Coordinating Committee and also helped to produce our newsletter, The Mobilizer, for which he recently did an interview with Marian Gordon about her trip to Palestine. Brandon was our Southern Regional Organizer. He was deeply committed to the local movements in Alabama where he lived.
Fellow young member of CCDS and friend Camille Williamson wrote, "As we reflect upon Brandon’s legacy of work we are reminded that the struggle for social justice is a journey full of passion, commitment, and motivation. And we will always be inspired by Brandon’s contributions to progressive movement-building. Furthermore, we will cherish his eloquent ability to synthesize his thoughts and ideas into a ribbon of poetry for all to share.”
Brandon was an award winning writer and recently published a book of poetry, Shadows and Light. He maintained a blog Julius Speaks which was, as he put it "A collage of personal, political, cultural and historical commentary from the thought of Brandon Wallace." Through his writings and actions he influenced many. He will be greatly missed.
The following is from Brandon’s book Shadows and Light. http://tinyurl.com/b58lvep
By Brandon Wallace
Bermuda Grass in Lincoln Park,
The sound of black musicians on guitar- Earth, Wind, and Fire combining the
elements in a gravitational groove, pulled into the dizzy of a neutron dance.
A lipstick, cherry bright as the light of a smile, red Thunderbird,
the blackenized Barbie turned inside out,
pulled up into the alley, against the crosspatch, metal fence
behind the house with shaved top and delicate cement,
only the slightest bit of grass growing through the cracks
where we played Red Light/ Green Light Red Green Red and Green Lights
flashing, blending together in backgrounds of black and sunshine yellow,
the red appears in pores and freckles in the brightness of the sun
with the distant green tops of trees,
the green of the electric carpet against which I used to rub to feel the current.
Rows of houses, claustrophobically close, creating closeness and warmth,
Coca Cola and Pepsi, in red bottles with white lines,
sprite in green and lemon yellow, juicy fruit and Ronald Reagan,
Jesse Jackson in wool overcoats holding signs,
campaigns for change.
Harold Washington, change,
the color of his suits.
promise and vision.
Brandon Wallace, Presente!
January 14, 2013
By Ethan Young
Left Labor Project
More than 100 NYC-area trade union activists and supporters heard Bill Fletcher, Jr’s analysis of the election on September 24. The event was organized by Left Labor Project, a local socialist group focused on moving the labor movement in a more consciously progressive direction.
Fletcher’s speech and q&a discussion were chaired by Muata Green, a DC 37 retiree and member of Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO/OSCL). Anne Mitchell of CCDS kept time to ensure broad participation. The crowd was a healthy mix – multiracial, old, young and in-between. Sisters and brothers from at least a dozen unions took part.
Fletcher recently co-authored a widely circulated op-ed, “The 2012 Elections Have Little To Do With Obama’s Record … Which Is Why We Are Voting For Him” (http://www.progressivesforobama.net/?p=263). He came prepared to respond to the criticism it prompted from left opponents of the Obama campaign. In his speech he raised strong points of opposition to Obama’s moderate response to the insurgent right, which he compared to the Allies at Anzio in World War II. “They could have taken Rome,” he said, “but they stayed put, playing it by the book until they were surrounded.” Obama, he stressed, “is not us. He’s the President of an empire. We have to remember that.” But Fletcher spoke to the need to unite with the President’s supporters to head off the challenge of the Far Right, which he described as revanchist (“As in revenge”) and irrational (“Government hands off Medicare”). He noted the changing racial demographic of the country, and the xenophobic panic that is driving the Romney campaign.
Moving to long range strategy, Fletcher said the Left today needs “a modern Tecumseh.” He recalled Gramsci’s work The Modern Prince, which updated Machiavelli’s views on political leadership for the 20th century. In Gramsci’s words:
“The modern prince … cannot be a real person, a concrete individual. It can only be an organism, a complex element of society in which a collective will which has already been recognised and has to some extent asserted itself in action, begins to take concrete form. History has already provided this organism, and it is the political party – the first cell in which there come together germs of a collective will tending to become universal and total.”
In contrast to Machiavelli, for the US Left Fletcher pointed to the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh, who built a confederation of tribes to resist European settler encroachment and genocide starting in the 1780s. Tecumseh, Fletcher noted, counseled unity, solidarity and shared sacrifice, and warned against uncoordinated, poorly considered action. The experience of unifying Indian tribes has lessons for today – in particular, the need for broad political organization to meet present-day challenges.
Fletcher spoke of neoliberal, pro-austerity policies likely to continue after the election. In response, he advocated bringing social movements together in January 2013 at the Presidential inauguration. He declared that, unlike 2008, this time there should be a strong stand in Washington, demanding jobs. “We gave our all to get him elected, but then we gave him a pass,” he said. “That can’t happen again.”
The expected debate in the q&a session didn’t happen – questions were serious, but generally coming from a supportive point of view. Fletcher sold out his supply of his newly released book, “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions, which he signed for the attendees.
Fletcher was introduced by Arthur Cheliotes, President of Communication Workers of America Local 1180. The meeting room was donated by 1180, which represents a range of public and private sector workers in NYC. -30-
The Struggle for Unity and the Debate on the 2012 Election
By Randy Shannon
May 17, 2011
In its April 21st issue the Black Commentator published an article “How Do We Respond to Obama?” by editorial board member Bill Fletcher, Jr. His article was subsequently published by CCDS in its weekly newsletter, CCDSLinks. Fletcher is an activist and leader of the African American community, the labor movement, and the left.
Fletcher argued that the political focus should be on the administration and not the man, that the administration is sensitive to pressure, and that “the left and progressives have failed to offer sustained pressure on the administration.” He outlined a strategy to build sustained mass pressure on the Obama Administration “to do not only what he has promised but to go beyond what he as promised.” A key point:
Forget running a candidate against Obama in 2012. That would be a sure way to alienate much of his black and Latin base. Instead, there needs to be a progressive strategy focused on Congressional races. That means identifying key races to run genuine progressive candidates against conservative Democrats and/or Republicans.
The other elements of the strategy are to build local electoral organizations that can run progressive candidates, to build a mass protest movement willing to engage in civil disobedience and to link with global social movements challenging US foreign policy.
Responses to Fletcher
Fletcher’s article set off a lively debate on the CCDS listserv (available to members) that generated numerous posts. Some of the listserv responses are published on the public CCDS Discussion Board. The debate focused on the political question of tactics and strategy of the progressive majority and the left for the 2012 election.
Tom Hayden’s response was also published by CCDSLinks April 29th edition:
Obama will have an impossible time mobilizing the same level of resources, organizers and energy of his grass-roots campaign of 2008. So he could lose in some of the dozen states where he won by 1-3 points in that historic year.
As things turned out, however, the big constituencies of the Democratic Party [like labor] have failed to come up with effective strategies to turn the economy around and end the wars.
I think we are at a historic turning point in our culture when so many white people are incapable of accepting the election of a black president…They pose a serious internal threat…of the rise of right wing violence due to the election of a black president and an economic recession.
Like Bill Fletcher, I hope we can return to the grass-roots agenda of trying to shift public opinion and building state and local power bases capable of creating blue-state models of social change and competing with the corporations to push Obama towards…making the presidency a progressive bastion.
In May, the Black Commentator published “We Need Radicals and not Reformists” by CCDS member Jonathan Nack. It was subsequently published in CCDSLinks. It was crafted as a critical response to Fletcher’s article.
Nack claims that Fletcher’s strategy “requires remaining within the political orbit of the Democratic Party” and that it “ignores the outside piece” of a “balanced electoral approach that operates both inside and outside the orbit of the Democrats.” He states:
I suggest that those progressives and socialists, who, for all kinds of reasons, good and not so good, work within the political orbit of the Democratic Party, should be doing their best to find a good candidate to challenge Pres. Obama in the primary.
Ted Pearson, a leader of CCDS from Chicago, responded to Nack’s article:
The heart of Nack’s criticism of Fletcher revolves around what Nack sees as a winning strategy in 2012: running a progressive candidate for President against Barack Obama, something that Fletcher explicitly rejects…
Nack just tosses aside (perhaps he feels it’s irrelevant) what Fletcher observes regarding Black and Latino masses. He doesn’t challenge it, he just ignores it…the objective content of willfully ignoring “[Obama’s] black and Latin base”…speaks for itself, whether the author intended that or not. To offer Cynthia McKinney, who polled virtually none of the Black and Latino vote in the 2008 election, as a candidate against Obama in 2012 is, in my opinion, at best condescending and perhaps much worse.
I would submit that this debate is not about reform v. revolution or radical v. reformist. It is about whether we see the working class as a whole and African Americans and Latinos in particular as the decisive forces…that must be energized for progressive change in the next 17 months. I’m not going to call Jonathan Nack a racist or an anti-working class person. I don’t believe he is, certainly not in his own mind. But what he is advocating plays into the hands of those who are.
The Medium is the Message
Nack’s article is remarkable for its opening three paragraphs:
It’s nice to see Bill Fletcher start to wake up. Unfortunately, he’s (sic) still has a long way to go. Maybe he’s still groggy.
Fletcher’s main problem is that he’s no longer a radical, but a reformist. He demonstrates this by his rejection of more radical strategies without even considering them – the true hallmark of all reformists.
As has often been said, insanity is continuing to do the same thing, while expecting different results. Put another way, if progressives don’t think outside of the box, we will stay trapped in the box.
There was some discussion on the CCDS listserv of what was called the “tone” of Nack’s article which was variously described as “ad hominem” containing “personal attack on the author,” “condescension” and “arrogant tone.” A number of discussants including Nack rejected this complaint; some warned against a “discussion of personalities and not substance.”
Mark Solomon, an emeritus co-chairman of CCDS, discussed the political issues and commented on “the issue of tone:”
Finally it is understandable that in the discussion…most respondents desired to get beyond the issue of tone and allegations of personal attack. However, as others have noted, utterances that mock and insult are political questions that impact the content of relationships and thus undermine the strength and integrity of the socialist and progressive left…Those who view the characterizations in the article as sharp but not vindictive are asked to reread them. Any fair reading will, I believe, confirm its unjustly supercilious and mocking tone…
Perhaps a more detailed deconstruction of Nack’s opening paragraph can aide the reader to engage in the “fair reading” that Solomon urges. Nack’s choice of words to open and to frame his article reflects a social and cultural experience unique to Americans. The particular words that we choose to transmit our political ideas also transmit a social relationship and cultural heritage.
The words are the medium, to borrow a concept from McLuhan. This summary of his concept is instructional to an effort to deconstruct Nack’s opening paragraph:
“The medium is the message” is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.
“It’s nice to see Bill Fletcher start to wake up” means that the author is awake and observes Bill Fletcher, who is asleep, begin to awaken. Those who are awake are enlightened and those who are asleep are in the dark. Those asleep are unable to consider “more radical strategies” or to “think outside the box.”
Thus Nack’s choice of words places himself as intellectually superior to the object of his criticism. He extends the metaphor of sleepiness by maintaining that Fletcher is still “groggy,” or drunken with sleep.
McLuhan says that we often miss the social implications of the medium in focusing on the obvious content. In our society racism is central to the dominant culture of the capitalist class. The social implications of how we frame our arguments are determined by the social history of certain concepts. It is often precisely when one reaches for phrases to express superiority that the legacy of racism in our culture serves that purpose.
Nack’s construction of his superiority over Fletcher, who is characterized as groggily awakening from political sleep, employs a stereotype that is deeply rooted in the racist culture developed in the era of slavery. American popular culture and media have preserved and transmitted this “sleepy Negro” stereotype.
Alternatively, the framing or tone of the political debate itself can serve the critical need for unity of the progressive majority. There is no subject matter so pressing that the social construct of the argument can be disregarded. It may be difficult and at times unpleasant, but the greater good is served by developing consciousness of the social constructs upon which we base our ideas, either consciously or unconsciously.
The “Sleepy Negro” Stereotype
In his 2009 article “Black and White TV – African Americans in Televisions Since 1948” Fred MacDonald points out that the most employed early black actor was Willie Best, whose nickname was “Sleep ‘n’ Eat.”
If Eddie Anderson failed to enhance the image of blacks in television, Willie Best was absolutely detrimental to that image. Ironically, Best was also the most prolifically employed black actor in early TV. Best entered movies in the 1930s where, as a younger version of Stepin Fetchit, he was nicknamed “Sleep ‘n’ Eat.”
In a 1999 student essay Can Gramsci’s theory of hegemony help us to understand the representation of ethnic minorities in western television and cinema?, Reena Mistry notes:
Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony is of particular salience to the exploration of racial representations in the media because of its focus on culture and ideology…The fact that television and cinema are central to popular culture is crucial because Gramsci says particular attention should be given to ‘everyday’ routine structures and ‘common sense’ values in trying to locate mechanisms of domination (Gitlin, 1994:517).
Many of the clearly racist images of past television and cinema that are now fading from western screens can, in hindsight, be easily explained in hegemonic terms – particularly in relation to colonialism and white supremacy. The use of Gramsci’s notion of hegemony does not expire here, however; it can be used to identify both elements of the old racist stereotypes and new, but destructive, representations of racial minorities in the current media of a seemingly liberal society. Thus, it is unsurprising that racism, though perhaps more covertly, still pervades our society…racism is inferred and reinforced in ‘the routine structures of everyday thought’ (Gitlin, 1994:517)
The May 1944 issue of The Crisis, the NAACP publication, carries the article “So Philadelphia Is Sleepy Eh?” by Ralph H. Jones that elaborates the connotation of “sleepy” in this context:
About ninety miles southeast of the town that could be called an empire is a sleepy little village of two million souls. New Yorkers condescendingly pronounce its Quaker name, Philadelphia. Within its metropolitan environs live approximately 300,000 Negroes. New Yorkers have said they are sleepy, backward, don’t know the angles or the time of day and in most respects measure up to the “hick” reputation tabbed them by the rest of the east.
The September 1939 Time Magazine article “Fisheries: Blue Crabs” contains:
Its factory at Port Royal, S. C. buys the crabs during the day from sleepy Negro fishermen, packs them before the next dawn—150 cases a night.
In the article “Race in Film: Stormy Weather” Kartina Richardson refers to a depiction of the stereotype in the 1935 film:
The sleepy negro in the corner agrees with a ridiculous “Awwm tyyred too!” and Bill falls fast asleep.
The 1929 novel Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe uses the stereotype:
A sleepy Negro employed at the Manor Hotel clambered heavily up and slumped into one of the seats reserved for his race at the back.
A 1920 short story published by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Jelly Bean” perpetuates the stereotype:
The room was deserted except for a sleepy negro dozing behind the counter and two boys lazily fingering a pair of dice at one of the tables.
In 1919 Marcus Garvey pointed out the centrality of this stereotype in a public letter “Negroes of the World, The Eternal Has Happened.”
Five years ago the Negro Universal was sleeping upon his bale of cotton in the South of America…
Charles W. Chesnutt, a post-Reconstruction author and early member of the NAACP wrote in the 1920’s about social conflict in the South. In Uncle Wellington’s Wives he employs the “sleepy Negro” stereotype:
He went around to the dark side of the train, and climbed into a second-class car, where he shrank into the darkest corner and turned his face away from the dim light of the single dirty lamp. There were no passengers in the car except one or two sleepy negroes, who had got on at some other station, and a white man who had gone into the car to smoke, accompanied by a gigantic bloodhound.
Herman Melville in his 1856 novella “Benito Cereno,” which was published serially in a magazine employs the motif in variation:
He advanced to an old Barcelona tar, in ragged red breeches and dirty night-cap, cheeks trenched and bronzed, whiskers dense as thorn hedges. Seated between two sleepy-looking Africans, this mariner, like his younger shipmate, was employed upon some rigging- splicing a cable- the sleepy-looking blacks performing the inferior function of holding the outer parts of the ropes for him.
An 1839 narrative called The Adventures of Isaac Knight employs a descriptive use of the stereotype that was reinforced by the assertion of a true story:
Isaac tumbled in with him but not to sleep. His fate, as yet, was too uncertain. By the side of the sleepy-headed negro he laid and watched for the day to dawn. Seeing, as he did, the first appearance of light in the morning, with much difficulty, he awoke the little negro.
In his Notes on the State of Virginia published in 1784 Thomas Jefferson’s observations of his slaves helped to construct the panoply of racist stereotypes that were used to justify slavery:
To this must be ascribed their disposition to sleep when abstracted from their diversions, and unemployed in labour.
Jefferson’s writings were used by the slave power in the South to establish a culture imbued throughout with racism and prejudice.
The Southern abolitionist Hinton Helper cited Jefferson. He criticized the effects of slavery on the white population in the South, but was himself a virulent racist. In 1868 he published a vicious attack on Black Reconstruction entitled “The Negroes in Negroland” that included “His Inertia and Sleepy-headedness” as one of a list of attributes of the former slaves.
In Slavery in the West Indies in the 18th Century the 1823 “Planters Guide” by the slave owner Richard Roughley is cited:
The Barbadoes hospital, in 1762, was crowded with sick soldiers who were attended by Negro nurses. “But being a sleepy indolent sort of people,” frequently neglected their charges, and always slept soundly when placed on night duty.
The reality that slaves were literally worked to death until the slave trade was banned, and then subsequently worked to the point of exhaustion was irrelevant to the creators of the stereotype. Racist culture distorted consciousness and impaired the ability of many whites to recognize black reality.
To the degree that corporations continue to profit from racial discrimination, racist stereotypes are perpetuated through literature, film, television and other media. Stereotypes perpetuate the ability of whites to accept and/or implement economic and social discrimination against African Americans and other minorities. Racism weakens solidarity, which reduces the numbers that can be mobilized. This can undermine the will to fight the austerity and cutbacks that affect all working people.
While African Americans are suffering enormous blows from the austerity campaign, leaders such as Bill Fletcher struggle to unite the progressive majority around a common strategy that opposes the austerity policies of the Obama administration. Nack’s article raises the deeper question of whether left electoral groups and other left organizations that are predominantly white, can respond to the reality of the political moment that Fletcher describes and avoid splitting the movement over the question of who is President.
Socialist and Green Party activists have stated that their parties will run candidates for President and at the same time acknowledge that the focus on local politics is key. Limited resources mean they can’t have it both ways. Nack’s inadvertent grasping of a long standing racial stereotype while arguing for an alternate presidential candidate illustrates the power dynamic in play. Will they answer the question posed by Fletcher; that a candidate against Obama in 2012 would be a sure way to alienate much of his black and Latin base, or, as in Nack’s article, ignore it?
Mark Solomon’s post points out that:
The present moment holds within it a potential seismic shift in the country’s political dynamic…the socialist and progressive left can have a measurable impact on helping to give coherence, clarity and organizing force to the fight back – many aspects which to this point have had little or no contact with the left.
With the 2012 elections looming, a strong public demand for an emergency jobs program led by an alliance of labor and community forces can have significant impact.
Such efforts will inevitably flow into the 2012 elections where the primary focus upon the crisis and the fight back will be the basis for finding the best…tactics based on local circumstances.
In his May 2011 report to CCDS, (as yet unpublished) co-chair Carl Bloice stated that the challenge to the left is to join the fight back against the austerity measures, which is already underway. He says that a key question for the movement is how to link the locally developing resistance movement to the fight against austerity in Congress.
This moment is pregnant with the possibility of progressive forces aligning into a more cohesive movement capable of challenging war and austerity. This new stage can only be ushered in by a purposeful and creative struggle for unity of purpose and action. Central to this struggle for unity is the understanding that African Americans and other oppressed nationalities are core constituents of the progressive majority. The struggle to overcome divisions and insensitivity that flow from the influences of racist ideology is necessary to build that unity.
The struggle against racism always takes place against concrete conditions that shape its manifestations. Today, we have an African American president that is reviled by the right and stonewalled by the majority in Congress. His public support is uncertain, yet his support among the most oppressed sectors of the population remains strong even while they oppose many of his policies.
Successful politics is the understanding of who our allies are and how to work in solidarity to realize our common goals. That is more important now than ever.
The Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS) mourns the death of Manning Marable. At the same time, we celebrate his outstanding contributions to scholarship and his powerful impacting work for equality and for a world without exploitation, war and injustice.
Manning was a founding co-chair of CCDS. We are proud of Manning’s membership in our organization and of his many profound contributions to our own understanding of our society and of how to fight for a just country and world.
From the founding of CCDS Manning provided inspiration and insight drawn from his penetrating understanding of the country’s history and its complex contemporary currents. He was a forceful presence at a number of our conventions and symposia over the past two decades. At our national convention in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1999, Manning spoke powerfully of the need for unity of all progressive forces in advancing the battle for social change. In 2004 Manning addressed a large throng at a CCDS symposium at the Boston Social Forum where he drew a compelling picture of the human cost of a militarized economy. In 2005 Manning was a featured speaker at our first national symposium on building a progressive majority where he spoke of the racialization of Washington’s foreign and domestic policies. Manning had located the latent and increasingly manifest racism inherent in the Iraq war and in the Bush administration’s broader strategic objectives. With brilliant command of a vast array of data, Manning underscored the poisonous role of white supremacy in extending and consolidating the interests of those at the commanding corporate, military and government heights. These are but a few of Manning’s pivotal and indispensable contributions to our organization and to the broader progressive community.
At every juncture, Manning stressed the centrality of the struggle against white supremacy as decisive to dismantling the social structures that oppress, exploit and stifle the full realization of our human potential. The defeat of racism was an essential basis for all working women and men to come together as equals; to breach traditional categories of “black and white” in order to dissolve existing exploitative social relations and instead build a radical democracy embodied in socialism. Manning’s vision of liberation was neither integrationist nor separatist, but driven by the quest to give life to new values of human solidarity and to advance collective efforts to transform society into a vessel of justice and equality. In striving for that objective, Manning stressed the need for all the oppressed and all who work for economic justice, for peace, for environmental survival to make common cause.
That vision of social transformation justly placed Manning Marable in the pantheon of great thinkers and fighters for liberation such as W.E.B. Du Bois. Manning’s weekly column that reached legions of readers of the African American press was aptly titled “Along the Color Line” echoing the great writing of Du Bois. Manning’s scores of books and articles, many written while he suffered from a serious, debilitating illness, are testaments to his brilliance, but also to his remarkable courage and will to contribute to the struggle for justice under extremely difficult circumstances. His landmark work on Malcolm X, published just days after his death is a testament to his scholarly brilliance and his determination to reexamine Malcolm’s life to better educate and sustain all working for a better world.
Manning Marable will be sorely missed. While he is irreplaceable, we honor his life and his values by continuing the struggle for a transformed society, for a truly human epoch that he advocated and worked so hard to achieve. CCDS pledges to continue to work for the world of justice and freedom that he envisioned and for which he fought.
Photo: Van Jones and ‘Green Collar’ Workers
[Note from CarlD: While this is a article rather than a paper, I think it contains a vital plank in any jobs program we would want in our basic problem, jobs with new skills for those who need them most.]
It’s Not EasyBecoming Green
By David Roberts
In These Times
One early July morning in Austin, Texas, I sat slumped in a cavernous, featureless conference hall on the last day of Netroots Nation, the annual gathering of progressive bloggers. Half the attendees had already split town. Two days of events and two nights of vigorous celebration had left those who remained bleary-eyed, weakly nursing their bad coffee and stale muffins.
The morning’s only featured speaker was African-American activist Van Jones, co-founder of the national advocacy group Green for All, who had come straight off a plane from the North Pole. (Really.) Given his exhaustion — and ours — Jones could have been forgiven for phoning it in.
Instead, he began joking, cajoling and provoking, weaving an urgent narrative out of class, race, activism and the existential threat of global climate change. Sleepy bloggers sat up a little straighter and closed their laptops. They began nodding, then cheering, then rising to their feet, stomping and shouting. After a half hour, the previously somnolent room hummed with energy.
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The Bumpy Road Ahead:
New Tasks of the
By Carl Davidson
CCDS National Committee
American progressives have won a major victory in helping to defeat John McCain and placing Barack Obama in the White House. The far right has been broadly rebuffed, the neoconservative war hawks displaced, and the diehard advocates of neoliberal political economy are in thorough disarray. Of great importance, one long-standing crown jewel of white supremacy, the whites-only sign on the Oval Office, has been tossed into the dustbin of history.
The depth of the historical victory was revealed in the jubilation of millions who spontaneously gathered in downtowns and public spaces across the country, as the media networks called Obama the winner. When President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama took the platform in Chicago to deliver his powerful but sobering victory speech, hundreds of millions-Black, Latino, Asian, Native-American and white, men and women, young and old, literally danced in the streets and wept with joy, celebrating an achievement of a dramatic milestone in a 400-year struggle, and anticipating a new period of hope and possibility.
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