Workers Vanguard No. 1064
20 March 2015
Police Terror and Black Oppression
Lessons of the Civil Rights Movement
For Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!
The following is a presentation, edited for publication, by Spartacist League spokesman Diana Coleman, who was an activist in the Southern Civil Rights Movement, at a February 21 forum in New York City. Part One appeared in WV No. 1063 (6 March).
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was a youth group that emerged out of the lunch counter sit-in movement sweeping Southern black campuses in 1960. It was formed vaguely under the auspices of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Its initial goal was formal, legal equality, and it accepted King’s basic pacifist strategy, as you can see with “nonviolent” in its name. To put the strategy in my own words: you have a nonviolent demonstration, get your head beat in by racist Southern sheriffs, scandalize the nation and force the federal government to send in the troops to “protect” black people. SNCC activists started out with the illusion that the U.S. government was on their side.
As Marxists, we know that the bourgeois state is not neutral but an organ for the suppression of the working class and the black masses by the capitalist class. Contrary to liberal myth, federal troops were only brought in when black people began to defend themselves and fight back, from Little Rock in 1957 to Birmingham in 1963. SNCC learned the hard way that the government was not on their side.
It is useful to make a comparison between Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and SNCC. SDS started out as the student group of the League for Industrial Democracy (LID). Moribund by 1960, the LID had served as a handmaiden of the U.S. government in the left and labor movement. Populated by what is called “State Department socialists” such as Norman Thomas and Michael Harrington, the LID also counted among its members UAW president Walter Reuther and Bayard Rustin. As the SDS radicalized, the LID was horrified by what it had given birth to, just as the SCLC was horrified by SNCC’s leftward motion. As the famous Bob Dylan song “The Times They Are A-Changin’” said: “Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.” There was a political and generational distance.
In 1961-62, SNCC organized black people in Albany, Georgia, in a very popular, all-sided attack on segregation. The KKK was mobilizing and things would really heat up. Then Martin Luther King would come in for a weekend and, to the dismay of the SNCC activists, declare a truce to contain the struggle. In the documentary Eyes on the Prize, you can hear a leader from SCLC complaining, “We were like firefighters” having to put out the fire. It came to a head when the cops attacked a rally outside a black church and black youth began to fight back however they could, throwing bricks and bottles. King came in again to announce a “day of penance” for the horrible crime of black people actually daring to defend themselves against police brutality. SNCC refused to condemn the action and started referring to King as “De Lawd,” as in, “the Lord says this.” It was not meant as a compliment. There is quick reference to this in the movie Selma but it is never explained [see “Selma: The Movie and the Real Story,” WV No. 1060, 23 January].
SNCC, the Democrats and the Klan
In 1963, at the famous March on Washington, SNCC saw how the whole liberal establishment and the liberal wing of the trade-union bureaucracy were used to keep the lid on the civil rights movement. An early leader of SNCC, James Forman, who is slandered in the movie Selma as some sort of petulant jerk feuding with King over turf, commented bitterly in his autobiography, The Making of Black Revolutionaries (1972): “Originally planned as a march for jobs and freedom, with the emphasis on black people and their demands, the March on Washington of 1963 turned into a victory celebration for the Kennedy administration and its supporters.”
He went on: “The sellout leadership of the March on Washington was playing patsy with the Kennedy administration as part of the whole liberal-labor politics of Rustin, [the NAACP’s Roy] Wilkins, [A. Philip] Randolph, Reuther, King, the Catholic and Protestant hierarchy.” The same names always appear. There was a real social-democratic establishment, backed by much of the reformist left, which worked overtime alongside King to keep the movement within the bounds of liberal bourgeois politics.
It was this establishment that put pressure on SNCC chairman John Lewis to tone down his criticism of the Democrats at the march, which he did. The whole thing became a giant liberal prayer fest, channeling the masses into the Democratic Party. Malcolm X forthrightly called it the “Farce on Washington” and offered a blunt rebuttal to King: “I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare.” We honor Malcolm X, despite our difference with his nationalism and religiosity. Today is 50 years since his assassination. There was no reconciliation between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, who told the truth about the Democrats.
The U.S. government filmed the March on Washington for foreign consumption to prove how democratic the U.S. was. This was especially important during the Cold War. Racist violence in the South had become an embarrassment overseas, and U.S. imperialism was competing with the Soviet Union for influence in Africa and Asia. You can see a hint of this in Eyes on the Prize when one of the Little Rock Nine—black students who integrated the high school—gives an obviously rehearsed speech commenting: “Communists enjoy taking advantage of situations like this [meaning racist violence] to twist the minds of the people of the world.” I would bet this was written by the NAACP, which was running the Little Rock case. Seeking to posture as the champions of “democracy,” and with Jim Crow segregation outmoded, the U.S. government eventually acquiesced to the demand for legal equality in the South—but not without a lot of struggle.
As Clayborne Carson makes clear in his definitive book on SNCC, In Struggle (1981), the Kennedy administration offered civil rights groups, including SNCC, funding to move them away from direct action and to doing voter registration, assuming it would be less explosive and more useful to the Democratic Party. But any move toward the 20th century was explosive in Mississippi. In the summer of 1964, when civil rights workers Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner were killed, SNCC organized 80,000 black people whose right to vote had been denied to sign protest ballots. SNCC took these protest ballots and formed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). With Fannie Lou Hamer, a local woman, at its head, the MFDP delegates tried to get seated at the 1964 Democratic Party National Convention in Atlantic City in place of the all-white Jim Crow delegation from Mississippi.
SNCC and the MFDP were offered a rotten compromise whereby they would get two at-large seats while the entire Dixiecrat delegation would be seated. The usual suspects—King, Reuther, Rustin—were there to try and browbeat SNCC into accepting the compromise. But this time SNCC wasn’t going to be intimidated, and they rejected it. James Forman came to the conclusion: “No longer was there any hope, among those who still had it, that the federal government would change the situation in the Deep South.”
It was in this charged atmosphere that I went down to Mississippi for the second Freedom Summer. Mississippi was basically a police state. Blacks and whites couldn’t drive in the same car for fear of Klan terror. Everywhere along the highways you would see billboards urging you to join the White Citizens’ Councils, which were basically Klansmen in suits. We knew it was dangerous and we tried to prepare. For example, in all our cars we disabled the overhead light that comes on when you open the door because it silhouetted you, especially at night, and made you an easy target. For years after, I would always flinch when the car light came on, afraid I was going to be shot.
I want to deal with some of the contradictions I saw in SNCC. I was in Gulfport, Mississippi. We didn’t do much voter registration, being somewhat disillusioned with the Democrats after the last year’s Democratic National Convention. We decided to concentrate on lunch counter sit-ins. When our integrated group wasn’t served at a lunch counter, we organized black youth, mostly teenagers, to demonstrate in front of the store. We were then surrounded by a screaming racist mob. Each day, our forces became bigger, but so did the mobs. The cops would come in their squad cars with Confederate flag license plates, in case you didn’t know what side they were on, and laugh at the whole scene.
Luckily, there was a longshore union in Gulfport. It was a segregated black local of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), and I heard there were meetings about us between the union president, the mayor and the police chief. The union president said that if we were arrested or killed, the longshoremen would go on strike and shut down the port. The threat of that kind of political strike was enough. We weren’t arrested or killed and the lunch counter began serving blacks. I was impressed with these longshoremen and wish I could have met them. They were the power in the background. I thought that there must be some left group out there who knew how to organize the power of labor in defense of black rights. In the SL’s successful anti-Klan united fronts in the 1980s and ’90s, I saw that power consciously mobilized in the fight for black freedom.
While I was down in Mississippi, the 1965 Los Angeles Watts upheaval broke out over police brutality. Martin Luther King went to L.A. to try to cool things off and President Lyndon B. Johnson complimented him on his good work. King made clear that “as powerful a police force as possible” should be brought to L.A. to stop the upheaval. This quote by King is nearly impossible to find on the Internet, but you can find it quoted from the New York Times in Spartacist No. 5 or Black History and the Class Struggle No. 2. My fellow SNCC activists cursed King’s name because it was clear he was calling for pacifism for us but guns for the National Guard to put down black people in the ghettos.
In Mississippi, we heard that our SNCC project might be attacked by the KKK. So the SNCC activists on my project proposed talking to the FBI about it. Being a red-diaper baby, I was horrified. I had seen my mother kick an FBI agent in the shins when he tried to barge into my parents’ house. But it was decided that we all had to go together. They assumed the FBI agent would be a Northerner, but he was a real Southerner, with a heavy drawl. When he asked for our address, I was shaking my head and trying to get them to stop, but they didn’t listen to me. Soon thereafter, we heard through the grapevine that our house was in danger of being bombed. I wasn’t surprised and went around saying various versions of “I told you so” for days.
Such illusions in the FBI were part of the illusions in the federal government. In the 1960s, FBI informers held top-level leadership roles in the Klan. The Klan couldn’t move without the FBI knowing it beforehand. The FBI rode with the KKK; they weren’t there to disrupt the Klan, they were loyal members of both organizations. This was government policy directed not only by J. Edgar Hoover but also by liberals like Kennedy, and by Johnson.
Liberal Pacifism vs. Armed Self-Defense
As you can read in the document “Black and Red—Class Struggle Road to Negro Freedom” (1966, reprinted in Marxist Bulletin No. 9) the SL stood for armed self-defense in the South. Akinyele Omowale Umoja’s new book called We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement (2013) makes clear that many SNCC projects couldn’t have lasted very long without the armed protection of local black people. Also, a lot of SNCC members themselves were turning to armed self-defense. While people may have heard of Robert F. Williams of North Carolina—the author of Negroes With Guns (1962)—or of the Louisiana-based Deacons for Defense and Justice, this book gives many more examples.
That more people were armed corresponds with my own experience in Mississippi. Worried about bomb threats, we moved out of our house for a while. Along with another young white woman, I went to stay with a friendly black family. When night fell, they urged us to sleep in one of the bedrooms, insisting that there would be “no violence.” When I looked around the room, every guy there was holding a rifle or a shotgun. I thought, “Well, this is the kind of nonviolence I’m for!”
The white SNCC worker I drove back to California with at the end of the summer had spent his time in the Mississippi Delta, which was more dangerous. The SNCC chapter there had encouraged black people to vote and assured them protection if they did. He spent every night touring around the black section of town in his van with several guys and some shotguns watching for the KKK. I thought it was a very worthy way to have spent the summer. As the SL has always said about gun control, if guns are banned, only the cops and the Klan will have them.
When the question of nonviolence versus the right to armed self-defense was debated, it wasn’t really the question, “Do you have the right to defend your family against the Klan?” It was more like, “Were you for armed self-defense for a mass movement embracing millions who were challenging the capitalist state?” It was a debate that revealed your attitude toward “the system” or the “white power structure” or whatever other terms were current for the American capitalist state. “Armed self-defense” was really a way to say that you had the right to not bow down to the white racist government that oppressed black people. Martin Luther King was pledging allegiance to that government. The question of nonviolence versus armed self-defense was the way “reform versus revolution” was posed in the civil rights movement. But it was a very confused debate, with the more radical types tending toward a kind of incoherent black-nationalist separatism.
During these years, the cadres who would later found the SL were the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) within the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The SWP had for decades been the Trotskyist party in the U.S. But by the early 1960s, the SWP was losing its revolutionary bearings and was tailing non-proletarian forces. Internationally, this meant uncritically supporting the petty-bourgeois nationalist Castro leadership of the Cuban deformed workers state. Domestically, it meant abstaining from the Southern civil rights struggle and later embracing black nationalism.
The RT fought the party majority’s criminal abstentionism and pointed out that young radicals would not come to a Marxist program without the intervention of a revolutionary party. The RT fought inside the SWP for the party to seize the opportunity to recruit black Trotskyist cadre to their ranks. The RT put forward a series of demands linking the fight for black rights to other struggles of the working class and addressing immediate felt needs, such as self-defense guards and union organizing drives throughout the South. Believe me, I would have been so happy to run into a Marxist in Mississippi, but there weren’t any. When I came back from Mississippi, I checked out left groups in Berkeley for a number of years until I decided on the SL.
Like in Watts in 1965, ghettos across the country erupted over the next three years, an expression of the frustrated expectations aroused by civil rights agitation. These upheavals marked the beginning of the end of the civil rights period. When it was clear the explosions were part of a pattern and not isolated events, it also became clear that King’s “turn the other cheek” liberalism had no relevance to the embittered urban black masses.
In 1966, Stokely Carmichael, newly elected chairman of SNCC, raised the demand for “black power.” This call electrified young radicals North and South. We noted at the time that the black power slogan “represents the repudiation of tokenism, liberal tutelage, reliance on the federal government, and the non-violent philosophy of moral suasion” (“Black Power—Class Power,” Spartacist West Vol. 1, No. 8, 30 September 1966; reprinted in Marxist Bulletin No. 5 [Revised]). But we also warned in “Black and Red” that the slogan “must be clearly defined in class, not racial terms, for otherwise the ‘black power’ movement may become the black wing of the Democratic Party.”
Unfortunately, this prognosis was borne out, and not simply in the South. Beginning with Carl Stokes in Cleveland in 1967, black mayors were installed in Northern cities to contain the seething discontent of the ghetto masses. They cynically sold themselves as agents of “change” from within the system. In Detroit, there was Coleman Young and in Chicago, Harold Washington. In 1985, Philadelphia’s black Democratic mayor Wilson Goode oversaw the FBI/cop bombing of the MOVE commune, killing eleven people, five of them children. In 1989, David Dinkins, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America led by Michael Harrington, became the first black mayor of New York City. He promised to tame the largely black municipal unions with his pledge to Wall Street, “They’ll take it from me.” Obama is just the latest in this tradition.
In the late 1960s and ’70s, the capitalist rulers, while co-opting a layer of civil rights activists, also waged a war of police terror against black radicals, particularly targeting the Black Panther Party. The Panthers originated at just about the same time that SNCC militants were embracing black power. The Panthers represented the best of a generation of young militants who sought a revolutionary solution to the oppression of black people. But despite their militancy and personal courage, their program of black nationalism was a total dead end, as it always is. Disdainful of the only force for revolutionary change, the multiracial working class, they were isolated and more vulnerable to the FBI’s brutal COINTELPRO vendetta. Within a few years, some Panthers like Bobby Seale would run for office in the Democratic Party. Others, like former Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, America’s foremost class war prisoner, still languish in jail for crimes they did not commit.
The Myth of King’s Radicalism
In the mid to late ’60s, I was not interested in Martin Luther King’s pacifist liberalism any more than I was interested in my parents’ “old school” CP reformism. The idea that King was becoming some sort of revolutionary never crossed my mind. But this is now common coin among leftists and young radicals. For example, Ferguson Action, an organization anchoring the national Black Lives Matter movement, put out the call to “reclaim” Martin Luther King this year, stating: “Martin Luther King Jr.’s life’s work was the elevation, honoring, and defense of Black Lives.... This movement was built on a bold vision that was radical, principled, and uncompromising.... Unfortunately, Dr. King’s legacy has been clouded by efforts to soften, sanitize, and commercialize it.”
Or as the reformist Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), somewhat more cynically, says in a recent forum announcement: they will “cover Dr. Martin Luther King’s criticism of the U.S. economic system, his dedication to ending poverty, his opposition to the Vietnam War, and his view that mass social movements were needed to change society” and, further, “how his true legacy can help guide the current movement against racist police terror.” You can find similar quotes from the International Socialist Organization (ISO), Workers World and others.
Martin Luther King was a smart, savvy politician. Realizing that he was losing touch with young radicals, black and white, he adjusted his rhetoric, but he didn’t change his politics. In Memphis in 1968, he urged restraint and pacifism during the sanitation workers strike. Speaking about the war in Vietnam one year earlier, he explained that when he tried to teach nonviolence, angry black youth kept asking, “What about Vietnam?” Being no fool, King figured he better comment. When he said these were “revolutionary times” during his speech at Riverside Church in New York City, he meant:
“These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not engage in a negative anticommunism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity, and injustice, which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.... This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism.”
This was quite different from the Panthers or my New Left friends and I, who were chanting for the Vietnamese Communists of the National Liberation Front: “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is going to win!” Of course, I had a lot to learn about Stalinism, but I knew I was for the defeat of U.S. imperialism. The SL’s slogan, “All Indochina Must Go Communist!” which actually contains an implicit criticism of the nationalism and betrayals of Vietnamese Stalinism, helped recruit young people who were for communism, not those trying to stop its spread.
It is important to understand that in the late 1960s and early ’70s, a layer of the American bourgeoisie was beginning to worry about losing the war in Vietnam, especially when the real enemy was the Soviet Union. They thought it was time to cut their losses, that’s all. Martin Luther King’s position wasn’t any more “revolutionary” than the many Democratic Party politicians who spoke at the antiwar rallies trying to woo young people back to working within the system. The SWP, by this time totally reformist, did yeoman’s work for the bourgeoisie organizing these rallies as giant platforms for the Democrats.
A Class-Struggle Perspective
Formal, legal inequality in the South was susceptible to reform. But getting rid of the economic and social reality that is black oppression in America—from de facto segregation and poverty to police brutality—is not subject to reform because it is integral to the capitalist system. Many young people today are unimpressed with Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and rightly so. But so many of the demands of Black Lives Matter and the rest are taken from the same liberal playbook.
The essence of the capitalist state is armed bodies of men—cops, prisons, courts, National Guard and army—used by the ruling class to suppress the working class. At a recent anti-police brutality event here in New York City called “The Gathering,” which the ISO, PSL and others were involved in, the message was “police accountability.” But the cops are not accountable to us; they work for the bourgeoisie. Their role is to protect capitalist private property and part of their job is to make it clear that black people are simply second-class citizens. Ferguson Action’s national demands include demilitarizing law enforcement. True, the cops have all this intimidating military hardware, but let’s not believe there was a “golden era” when the cops only did foot patrols. Then and now, most black and Latino youth are killed the old-fashioned way with billy clubs, handguns and shotguns.
All the other ways of “reforming” the police are also self-defeating illusions. Civilian review boards, which have been around at least since the ’60s, have changed nothing. Body cameras? Well, Eric Garner’s killing was taped, and what difference did that make? Then there are federal investigations. The Feds just put out the word that no charges would be brought against Darren Wilson, the cop who killed Michael Brown. The FBI found “no evidence” that Brown’s civil rights had been violated. How much more violated could they have been? Other demands raised at the demos in Ferguson and elsewhere have included special prosecutors, investigations by [Attorney General Eric] Holder and reviews by Obama of police weaponry and training.
But when the Feds get involved, it is to defuse anger over police atrocities and prevent a social explosion. The function of the Department of Justice—which includes the FBI and the Bureau of Prisons—is to spy on political activists, enforce the racist “war on drugs,” victimize militant trade unionists and run prisons. Calling on the top overseer of the whole plantation to protect black people from his local subordinates is like asking the fox to guard the henhouse. We seek to win militant youth and workers away from the dead end of pressure politics to a revolutionary perspective. All the “direct action” and militant tactics in the service of the same old pressure politics will not change this system. Capitalism must be overturned.
Michael Brown’s mother is a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, and many trade unionists individually participated in the Ferguson protests and other protests. Fast-food workers in the St. Louis area, demonstrating for $15 an hour, held die-ins and moments of silence for Michael Brown, as did the union demonstrators at the Walmart Black Friday boycott in Long Beach, California, that I went to. In an inchoate way, these workers recognize that the fights for labor rights and for black rights go forward together or fall back separately.
However, the strategies on offer from the trade-union bureaucracy are totally bankrupt. The conservative bureaucrats atop the labor movement have sapped the strength of the unions by rolling over in the face of all-out union busting, while barely lifting a finger in defense of minorities. With their boycotts, mini-rallies, civil disobedience photo ops and electoral pressure on the Democrats, the labor misleaders look to the very forces—the president, Congress, state legislatures—that have presided over the attacks on workers. The whole perspective of the labor tops is predicated on the lie that the working class and the owners of industry share a common interest in the profitability of American capitalism. And by refusing to actively fight against anti-black racism, repression and anti-immigrant bigotry, the labor misleaders have criminally aided the rulers in weakening and dividing the working class.
A telling point is how the current sellout bureaucrats welcome and organize police into unions. Back in the days of the struggles that built the industrial unions, the cops weren’t seen as “brothers” for obvious reasons: they were beating, shooting and killing strikers. That the trade-union misleaders embrace the bosses’ thugs is one of the more grotesque examples of their traitorous role as the labor lieutenants of the capitalist class.
The key to unlocking the power of labor is the fight for a class-struggle leadership and the independent political mobilization of the working class. What is needed is the kind of struggle that forged the unions in the first place—mass picketing, hot cargoing and sympathy strikes. As my mother always used to tell me: “The best things in life are illegal, immoral or fattening.” So true! And when it comes to class struggle, the most effective tools are all illegal. But why is that surprising? The entire legal edifice of this country has always buttressed the rule of the property owners.
In conclusion, class struggle is inevitable, as capitalism breeds it. What is not inevitable is who will win. For the working class to seize power from the hands of its oppressors and hold onto it requires the leadership of a revolutionary workers party whose purpose is not only to improve the present conditions of the working class and the oppressed, but to do away with the entire system of capitalist wage slavery. As we wrote in “Black and Red”: “To the extent that the black workers, the most militant in the U.S. working class, become infused with a revolutionary socialist perspective, and thereby become able to provide leadership to the class as a whole, they play a vital role in the success of the world revolution.” Only then, when the workers rule, can the wealth produced by their labor be used for the benefit of all.
* * *
During the discussion at the forum, an audience member raised a question about women in the civil rights movement and the struggle for women’s liberation. We print below, edited for publication, Diana’s response, as well as her summary remarks.
Stokely Carmichael’s famous statement that the position of women in the movement “is prone” captured the backwardness of SNCC on the woman question. You could see this backwardness elsewhere in the civil rights movement. For example, there was only one token woman speaker at the March on Washington. They had women singers (I think one was Mahalia Jackson), but Rosa Parks was not invited to speak. In the case of the Black Panthers or the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, again you quite often saw extreme male chauvinism; black nationalism and male chauvinism go together in many ways.
But the answer is not feminism, which was my initial response. I was involved in women’s liberation stuff, and it was feminist. It was sectoralist—every group should organize its own people. Whites organize whites, women organize women and blacks organize blacks.
I had to face this sectoralism head-on when my friends and I got industrial jobs. It was after the May-June 1968 events in France when the New Left realized there was a working class out there. In the factory where I was working, there were men, women, blacks and whites. Those were more radical times: guys would come up to me and say, “I hear you are some kind of leftist.” And my feminist friends would say, “Don’t talk to them, you’re just there to organize women.” And I would say, “Jeez, that doesn’t seem like a very good idea.” Then we were going to have a women’s contingent at an antiwar demo, and my feminist friends said, “Just invite the white women, because blacks ought to organize blacks.” I said, “First of all, there are no black organizers in my factory so that’s not going to work and, anyhow, hell will freeze over before I only invite whites.”
We learned that the industrial working class is the one place in the U.S. where you see blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, men and women. And that you actually had to fight hard to organize the working class. I realized that the feminist movement provided no way forward. I was at this feminist meeting with my friends from the East Oakland Women’s Collective, and these feminists said to us, “Communism and feminism are incompatible.” And I said, “You’re right, I’m out of here.”
* * *
When I was in Mississippi in the summer of 1965, my SNCC collective was going to have a community meeting at a church. I mentioned that one of the things we should bring up at the meeting was this new thing called the war in Vietnam. In the discussion about my proposal, everybody shot it down. I was told that SNCC was conducting a single-issue campaign and that we weren’t going to get into other stuff. Some in the group argued that black people, especially in the South, were very patriotic and a lot of times went into the military and therefore would not appreciate us raising opposition to the war. So I didn’t bring it up.
In the years that followed, I often thought back on this incident. I saw more and more blacks coming back from the war and going to demonstrations like Stop the Draft Week in Oakland. I saw Muhammad Ali declare: No Viet Cong ever called me the “N” word. I saw people like Geronimo Pratt coming back from Vietnam and joining the Black Panthers. It was obvious that there was indeed a relationship between black oppression here and U.S. imperialism’s wars abroad, and that blacks were often in the forefront of opposing U.S. imperialist rampages. So I was sorry that I hadn’t brought it up in Mississippi in 1965.
The U.S. tends to have long periods in which not much happens and then there is fairly explosive struggle, often more militant than in European countries where the working class has a reformist, social-democratic leadership. When class and social struggle do break out, what matters is whether there is a revolutionary party that has learned the programmatic and historic lessons of previous class battles and is able to lead those struggles forward. Not just to win some immediate demands, but to actually lead the working class to take state power here in the belly of the beast. That’s what the International Communist League and the SL stand for.