In part four of a series of articles on ZNet urging the left to get behind Obama in 2012 based on hoary “lesser evil” logic, Ron Daniels refers to some key moments in the Black struggle and electoral politics but draws all the wrong conclusions.
Daniels refers to the National Black Political Convention in 1972, a conference I remember well from coverage in the Militant newspaper long before it lost its moorings to the planet Earth. For Daniels, the convention was important because it emphasized the need for “Black politics”:
Having laid out an analysis of the Black condition and the unreliability of the major parties in promoting Black interests, the document calls for a “new Black politics” to advance the interests and aspirations of Africans in America: “… The Black Politics of Gary must accept major responsibility for creating both the atmosphere and the program for fundamental, far-ranging change in America…It is the challenge to consolidate and organize our own Black role as the vanguard in the struggle for a new society.”
There were 8000 people in attendance, including some of the most powerful Black elected officials including John Conyers. There was widespread sentiment for a Black political party but the hostility to such a measure from the bourgeois politicians and their friends in the CPUSA kept the convention from adopting such a call. Instead what you ended up with was an amorphous call for “Black politics” that was obviously consistent with stumping for Barack Obama in Ron Daniel’s view.
At the time the SWP might have had 50 Black members but they were too small in number to have much of an impact on the convention. Furthermore, our “democratic centralist” notions drove a wedge between our Black members and even those who were sympathetic to the idea of a Black political party.
The Trotskyist movement decided that a Black political party could have had a catalytic effect on electoral politics by splitting off a component of the Democratic Party and forcing the labor movement to consider running its own candidates in a Labor Party, a strategy that had been part of the party’s arsenal since the 1930s but mostly gathering dust because of the ability of high wages and job security to keep workers placated.
In the last paragraph, Daniels repeats the need for backing Obama in 2012, as he has been doing throughout these series of articles:
As Africans in America prepare for the 2012 elections, we must be clear that President Barack Hussein Obama is the firewall thwarting the virus of radical conservatism from decisively turning back the clock on Black progress and the march toward a more perfect union by the progressive forces for change. Therefore, while we offer constructive critiques of his performance on issues of vital concern to Blacks and other similarly situated constituencies, it is in our best interest to turn back the conservative tide by supporting Obama’s reelection for President.
If you look through the Militant newspaper archives that only include issues after the “turn”, all the discussion of a Black political party is tainted by the workerism that infected the SWP from 1979 onward. For example, a 1996 article is titled “Black Party Charted Course For Workers”, as if an alternative title “Black Party Charted Course For Black community” would have been insufficiently Bolshevik. While the title was a bit “off”, the article made some useful points:
Pathfinder is reprinting two Education for Socialists bulletins on the struggle to chart a course in the fight for Black rights and against racist discrimination, one that relies on the independent mobilization and organized struggles of the oppressed and exploited toilers.
These publications-Independent Black Political Action, 1954- 78: The Struggle to Break with the Democratic and Republican Parties and The National Black Independent Political Party: An Important Step Forward for Working People-will be particularly useful in sorting through the claims today by various individuals and organizations to offer a road forward for working people in the 1996 U.S. elections.
On July 18, for example, Benjamin Chavis announced plans for an African-American Leadership Summit in August. “What comes out of the hearing will be our national agenda, and we aim at pushing it at all parties-Republican, Democratic, and Reform,” Chavis said. The summit is also expected to call a national convention to be held September 20-22 in St. Louis, Missouri.
And in June, Labor Party Advocates sponsored a founding convention of the Labor Party. The new party aims to pressure the Democratic and Republican parties. It will not run candidates of its own. “If we are a unified voice, maybe one of those other parties would listen to us,” one participant said.
Break with the capitalist parties
The articles, resolutions, and other documents reprinted in these two publications take on such a class-collaborationist approach and put forward the need for independent working-class political action. They are drawn from the pages of the Militant and from resolutions of the Socialist Workers Party from the beginning of the civil rights movement in 1954 to 1980.
“The Socialist Workers Party contends that racism, like unemployment, exploitation and war, can be abolished in this country only by independent political action aimed at taking control of the government out of the hands of the capitalists and their parties,” a 1963 resolution reprinted in Independent Black Political Action states. “As a step in this direction, we have advocated that the unions break from the Democratic Party and form an independent labor party that would seek to politically unite workers, farmers, and Negroes and elect their representatives to office. In addition, and for the same reason, we have also endorsed and supported representatives of the Negro community whenever they have run for office independently of and in opposition to the old parties.”
“The job of the militant Negroes and their white allies is to break with the capitalist parties, not to infiltrate those parties in the illusion they can be reformed,” the Militant emphasized in another article on the 1954 fight to get Harry Hazelwood, an independent Black candidate, elected as councilman-at-large in Newark, New Jersey. The Stalinist Communist Party, fearing the prospect of Blacks deciding “to go it alone,” had urged an alliance with the Democratic Party. A break by Blacks with the capitalist parties would, in fact, “have thoroughly progressive consequences” for all working people,” the article added.
Farrell Dobbs explains in a 1959 discussion that independent political action is not the same as supporting any candidate who runs outside one of the two capitalist parties. The Los Angeles branch of the party had decided to offer critical support to Edward Atkinson, a Black candidate in the non-partisan election for city council. Dobbs, writing for the SWP Political Committee, noted that Atkinson was associated with internal factional squabbles within a wing of the Democratic Party.”
We must be careful, Dobbs said, “about rushing to characterize as independent a campaign where there is evidence it may in fact represent an attempt to play a greater role within a capitalist party…. Our aim is to lead the fight for independent political action. For us two criteria are paramount: the nature of a given movement; and the direction in which it is going.”
Nearly 20 years later, SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes made a similar point in reference Charles Evers, who ran for U.S. Senate in Mississippi against the Democratic and Republican candidates. Evers’s campaign, Barnes explains in the final selection in Independent Black Political Action, “reveals the decisiveness of program on the electoral front. Independence is a programmatic question…. As the pressure mounts to break out of the framework of capitalist politics, the rulers are going to make more and more of an effort to come up with safety valves that keep the exploited and oppressed stuck in lesser-evilism.”
Could you imagine the impact if someone with a mass following like Al Sharpton woke up one morning and said, ”God damn. Enough already. I am going to run for mayor as a candidate of the New York African-American Party. Even if I don’t win, I will raise all kinds of hell.” Of course, the tragedy of Black politics in the U.S. is that the highest-profile leaders like Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are wedded to the Democratic Party. If they weren’t, there’s always the same measure waiting in the wings that awaited Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party. Malcolm referred to the bullet or the ballot. Little did he realize that the bullet might come from the revolver of a cop who was charged with the responsibility of killing people using the ballot effectively.