The Good Ole Days of Huey P. Newton
Eric Mann puts on his blood-colored glasses:
Since the March on Washington fifty years ago, the condition of black people has deteriorated; today they are subject to injustices ranging from mass unemployment to mass incarceration. Yet gone is the rhetoric of militant hope, black liberation, and economic equality generated by the Third World revolutions five decades ago. It is difficult even to draw on the lessons and legacies of these revolutions, for the state suppression of radical organizations in the 1960s has extended into the suppression of their history. As Mumia Abu Jamal explained, young black people are suffering from “menticide,” deprived of their tradition, its strategy and tactics, and the hope it provides.
Militant black revolutionary groups like The Black Panthers may have been a source of hope to some, but it’s willfully ignorant to write longingly about the lost “strategy and tactics” of The Panthers and others. Remember those calls to kill white police officers and violence between rival revolutionary groups? Yeah, those were the good ole days.
Mann goes on to review Michael C. Dawson’s Blacks In and Out of the Left, which traces how the white left co-opted or suppressed Black revolutionary groups. This may be true, but I think it’s unfair to suggest that this was motivated by self-interest alone. Some on the left were genuinely concerned about the “tactics” of such movements and about the narrowness of their Marxist vision.
And what about that vision? Mann claims that the leftist concern regarding “unity” was a red herring. Revolutionary groups, if supported, could have created a far more unified and diverse and international leftist movement in the United States than we have now. All white male elites had to do was jettison their self-serving liberalism and sign on the Marxist line!
The LRS envisioned a socialist revolution in the United States as part of a world revolution in which a black nation in the American South and a Chicano nation in the Southwest would ally with the multinational working class—including white workers—and the peoples and nations of the Third World. The LRS set up a national office and ran a national newspaper, Unity/Unidad. It also had hundreds of cadres working in Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Newark, and New York. Taking seriously the Marxist slogan “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need,” those of us who were well-paid autoworkers—I was a member from 1975 to 1985—made non–tax deductible contributions of $250–400 a month, ensuring that the organization was staffed with comrades who, working long hours, could at least pay their rent and support their families. We set up a childcare service so women could play leading roles in the organization and so children would make friends of all races, growing up in the society we wanted to build. One of our goals was to advance cultural integration as well as economic justice.
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Dawson’s historical analysis provides a model for reinvigorating the revolutionary organizations of today. Emphasizing what he calls the “Third Path” leading from black self-determination to multiracial structures of resistance, Dawson rejects the white chauvinism of social democracy and the impressive but ultimately unsuccessful work of the predominantly white Communist Party in advancing black liberation and socialism. He courageously argues that the black revolutionary tradition—and, I would add, the black-Latino alliance—can lead “a radical domestic agenda that is tied to a worldview that demands justice for all of humanity, not just those who live in rich and privileged countries.”