of a Black Political Party
the Poor -- Government Preserves Inequality
Youth & Lack of Political Activism
Conversation with Sharif, Yvonne,
Louis, Miriam, Wilson, Floyd, John, Ben
I meant to call you yesterday so that we could continue our
conversation on how to promote and build a black political
party. One of the first considerations for a black party would
be a thorough research of state laws. Many states have
restrictive laws that prevent a third party from getting on the
law students should be used to research these laws and there may
even need to be lawsuits filed to open up the process. Then,
there is the whole issue of professional organizers for the
folk who will go out and actually register the masses for the
party. A campaign like the one held in the South by SNCC would
be an appropriate model. The black party could announce a call
for "New Freedom Riders" to travel throughout the
nation, registering folks for the party. These new freedom
riders would be recruited from college and high school campuses
and would form a cadre for the party. They would only have to
number in the hundreds to be effective in urban settings. But
the idea of loading up buses with students and taking them the
width and breath of the country could be an appealing one for
the entire black community.
course, even before these actions are taken, an agenda for the
party must be worked out. Here, the ideas must be practical,
taking into account how class interests divide the Black
Community. For example, we both have concluded that there must
be a raise in the minimum wage to guarantee that the black and
poor have a first step out of poverty. The Black business class
would see this as an obstacle for economic advancement. But, if
it could get a tax deduction for the difference between what the
minimum wage is now and what we wanted it to be, we might be
able to peel of some off the opposition to a raise in the
any rate, we should seek to put together an agenda that appeals
to the economic needs of the black business class. I would call
for a one percent economic increase in the budget for economic
development of minority and women's businesses. I would also
call for a one percent set aside for a National Teachers Corp to
go into the cities and rural areas to begin a new era of
education. I would also propose a National Infrastructure
Program to provide real work for the urban poor fixing roads and
real problem will be the leadership of the party. Will it, in
fact, be a party of the poor and black? I am highly suspicious
of any party that is not democratic in nature and whose
leadership is drawn from the upper classes. The Black middle
class can assist us but they have forfeited their right to lead
us. We want a party that rises from the barrios and ghettoes of
America. Not one that is fashioned in the mall mentality of the
middle class. It must be a party dedicated to re-building the
working class on the terms and interest of the working class.
one who makes over $40, 000 a year should be in the leadership
of the party. And, there should be restrictions on political
contributions from corporations. I rather have a party build on
the pennies of the poor than the millions confiscated by our
I am not sure that I have a great interest in the
practical aspects of building a political party. I’ve never
had a course in political science. There are those more
qualified than I who would be able to work out the
structure, the operations, and the agenda of the party than I.
There are those who are more skilled than I in political
am more geared toward an expression of a total lack of
confidence in black electoral politics in America. That is where
I stand and from that position it is clear to me that there is a
necessity for black independent politics, shorn of traditional
alliances with the Democratic and Republican parties. If we
could reach a level of political consciousness in which the
people are willing to boycott the polls because of the
betrayal of the traditional parties I would be elated. It would
be a great political victory, maybe the greatest that could be
had, better than any march or rally whatever its size. I
would be the first to declare my readiness to join that boycott,
and sing it from the mountains.
seems reasonable and most logical that there should be a black
political organization that would speak in the interest of black
liberation, which rests on the liberation of the black poor. Any
other political activity is sheer wishful thinking or
opportunism. For me daydreaming on such a matter as power is not
an option. That there is a need for a black political party
(open to all races, persuasions, and creeds) is as apparent as
the need for black colleges and other kinds of black
assure its birth, I am reluctant to place any restrictions on it
other than that which defines it. All the other suggestions,
limitations, guidelines can be worked out within the confines of
the party itself. I am sure this party as all parties will have
its wings and its various suggestions, limitations, guidelines,
and agendas which will be worked out thru committees, etc.
Of course, there will be certain things that will be
self-evident by mere definition of a party that struggles for
the poor and the powerless. Otherwise, the party will implode
because of its own loss of integrity and raison d’etre.
should strive to be as democratic as any institution can be.
Institutions, however, by nature are hierarchical,
elitist, and conservative. This situation cannot be escaped. It
can only be mollified by intra-party struggle, like what can be
discovered in the black Baptist conventions or other so-called
democratic institutions. A party so defined that did not
struggle for a radical increase in the minimum wage would be a
laughing stock in political circles, and such laughter would
kill it as sure as if it were a suicide bomb.
me the present task is to obtain the recognition among many
including the middle classes, upon which its success rests, that
there is a need for such a black political party. Any other
discussions presently would be extraneous.
Naturally, a party of the poor would be multinational in
members. And, boycotting of elections would be a tactic that I
would also support. The idea of picking the best of two evils
only ensures that evil, in some form, will prevail.
The question of power will be a central one for the party
of the poor or any black
party. If it is does not seek power, then what is its
ultimate reason for existing? The question is not whether a black
party should seek power. The question is how it should
seek power. It should seek power as a means to an end and not an
end in and of itself. The latter approach is what the
Republicans and Democrats are into. A black
party must seek power to ensure that social change takes
place in a way that limits the disruption of the poor and
working class sectors of the country; and, in addition, to
ensure that the might of America is not used to oppress nations
for selfish policies of the rich.
The way to ensure that a black
party seeks power for change is to ensure local control
of party apparatus by poor and working class people. Local power
would then be translated into national influence. National
influence would lead to social change. A party that does not, at
its roots, belong to the people will be nothing more than a
I fully understand that your lack of knowledge in these
practical matters of party building limits your role in this
endeavor. But, as we have talked about, you have considerable
influence through your website. You can frame the discussion and
agitate for various issues and hold the feet to the fire those
who do build the party.
Again, whether Farrakhan can convert the
Millions More Movement into a real political party of the poor
is yet to be seen. But that there must emerge a party of the
poor or a Black Political Party (BPP) is a given if we are to
survive in this country. I would like to in the future submit a
possible platform for a BPP and call on CBJ to establish a forum
for the discussion about building a BPP.
Rudy: Of course, you are right. I have no problem
in doing what I can do.
Yvonne: I am off from work today and
had an opportunity to read about what's going on concerning
education in New Orleans and the information about a Black
political party. It saddens me to think that any consideration
would be given to the idea of closing public schools. I feel so
strongly that education is so important to our people. Like it
or not our youth are our future. We will not live forever. I
also read with interest the discussions between you and Sharif
about the need for a Black political party. I don't usually join
these discussions because I feel that although it’s very
important to discuss and debate issues. When you get down to it,
talk is cheap. It does not feed anyone or help anyone gain what
he or she needs to survive on any level.
I know you all enjoy these conversations
immensely, but again, talk with no action does not produce
change. There is a need for a party to address the needs of the
poor of any race. It's a narrow view to base the leadership
of any organization on what he or she earns. Principles and the
ability to walk the talk is what is important. It is easy to
criticize others, but we should each ask ourselves what have we
done to affect change other than "talk."
Yes, you are right talk is cheap. But, it is the first step in
taking action. Talk only remains cheap if there is no action to
it up. Until New Orleans, there was no way to focus our energy.
But, this does not mean that anything will change. As a person
who organized hundreds of students at City College, I know full
well what it takes to get people moving. But again, you are
right to hold our feet to the fire. As for the destruction of
the educational system, I do not encourage that unless there is
another more plausible solution.
am going to research how to establish a new political party in
Md. And, see if there is any local momentum to establish one.
Rudy: Yvonne, I suppose you are right
about talk. But cheapness never stopped anyone from doing it or
desiring it. It's value cannot be determined by cost, in any
event. But I find this position indeed odd coming from a teacher
and an educator who makes her living by talking. My interest is
not so much in talking but more so in how we talk, how and what
ideas we relate and respond to.
In short, my interest is in thinking. As a
teacher and educator I'd think naturally you would have an
interest in critical thinking, an art given more lip value than
Action too can be cheap, also, I imagine,
especially that kind of action that occurs with
mind-boggled followers. With them there's little
thinking going on at all, no questioning or energy or
inclination to raise questions. It's just something to do.
I do not see that action in itself brings change, voting
Democrat and Republican has not changed our status in being
I'll take cheap talk anytime over cheap
action. That's slavery indeed. I tell you true, I won't be
voting Democrat or Republican, whatever the complexion the
candidate. I call for a boycott of all electoral politics that
does not address the needs of the poor. I will stand on that and
I will follow through. What action will you take?
Louis: Two points on the rationale for
a new political party structure:
(1) I remember H. Rap Brown had been
interviewed about his involvement with SNCC and its drive for
voter registration... When asked, he answered to the effect that
he was not at all fooled into believing that voter registration
and voting were the answers or panacea for eliminating or
changing conditions. The reason he engaged in such activity was
that the electoral process presented a wonderful model for
educating Blackfolk regarding that condition. With the education
(enlightenment) comes clarity and understanding of actions to be
(2) Even Lenin and the Bolsheviks remained in
the Russian parliament as long as they could, using the forum
for raising the contradictions.
(3) Like Malcolm used to say regarding
Dixiecrats and Democrats, an alternative political party (a
genuine arm of the people) would, in effect, get us beyond being
handed down the candidates to vote for—both with regards to
Republicans and Democrats, by the time the candidates are
offered to us, they've already been selected (bought and paid
for) – consequently, they have no loyalty to the rest of us.
(4) A political party of our own making would
have but one restriction: loyalty to us –developing that
national voice through which conditions are raised, confronted
and understood for what they are in relation to our daily grind.
Not an answer, but a mechanism through which (like the ANC)
struggle takes us further than where we are.
Rudy: Louis, your sentiments are mine.
I think that necessity speaks to the need for an independent
black political party. Whatever political form or structure it
takes at the beginning would be a higher level of consciousness
than that which now exists. That it be for us (the black poor)
and open to all would be the only restrictions I too would argue
for. It's being would shake the world. It would be as if a
people had awakened from a long sleep. We would then have a
legitimate field upon which to argue black
politics—modifications of structure, creating the appropriate
agenda, direction, and focus. How such a party is funded is
indeed a critical matter.
Miriam: Rudy, I agree with both of you
(there I go, on the fence again). Discussion is absolutely
essential in raising consciousness, developing a program,
shaping an ideology, weighing the pros and cons, and stimulating
energy and enthusiasm for the work ahead. As a pragmatist,
concerned with the concrete and the nitty gritty, I also
believe, with Yvonne, that talk must be followed by action—in
the neighborhoods, on the local level, on a block by block
basis, person to person. I think that that's the only way
that we are going to be effective.
I don't believe that a Black political party
is the answer. I don't believe that a Black leader will dash in
on a white horse to save us (if one does, she'll be assassinated
before she reaches the mountain). I don't believe that we
can take down the US government or instigate a revolution.
This time around, we have to be EFFECTIVE and we have to be
SMART. As John Killens put it many years ago, "What
the race needs is some long distance runners."
Rudy: All these small actions and
activities have to be connected with a larger goal and activity
for them to have force and meaning. I am not for a black
political party because I am in love with things black. I am not
a black nationalist in the traditional sense of the term. Nor am
I a revolutionist, desiring overturning all things white and
bourgeois and feudal. I am not that kind of ideologue you fear.
Nor do I promote a cult of personality. These ideas and notions,
however, are everywhere in our community and thinking,
especially in our black churches, schools, and colleges. I
believe in democratic action and education.
I do not think a black political party is the
answer. Necessity, however, demands it. There is no party
that speaks to the most crucial interests of blacks, neither the
Democratic nor the Republican, on which we have garnished our
affections, to no good end. As far as working people, those who
have benefited from this alliance are mostly those of the
middle-classes and it is to this class that the Democrats and
the Republicans have made their appeal for the last three
decades. And the black poor have boycotted the polls, and have
been verbally abused because of their bold actions.
This kind of division cannot stand. It is
especially injurious to us as a people. We do not want a Haiti
among us. A black electoral party is one way to hold us together
and emphasize our peoplehood, a way to state that we will not be
divided, to undermine the present rabid opportunism generated by
the present political alliance.
A black electoral party is a way of
expressing a larger vision of America than the traditional
parties. The creation of PACs and other traditional party
reforms will not get the desired response.
If we are willing to allow the status quo to
stand, no amount of neighborhood activities, or cultural
activities (book and film club discussions) will be but for nought.
We will just have more of the same, and these clubs will only
satisfy the conscience of the educated middle-class while
continuing to ignore the oppression of the poor. That will not
do at all.
Why is that we got every kind of black
institution and feel comfortable with them, but not so with
independent black political action? Can you explain that?
PACs for the Poor vs. Black
John: the proper structure would be a
membership political action committee as opposed to a political
party. In my book Blackmoney: Advanced Strategies for
Maximizing the $1 Trillion Blacks Receive Worldwide Yearly,
I note such a PAC as one of the civic investments that each
black person should make. From an investment standpoint,
the passage of the Civil Rights Act generated a 35-to-1 return
for African-Americans over the past 40 years, better than
anything on the stock market. American politics is now dominated
by such independent political structures that can use mass media
and direct mail to frame issues.
Rudy: PACs do not seem to have a 35-1
return for the poor nor the working class. These PACs are
oriented around the two parties—Democrat and Republican, with
their overwhelming emphases on the middle-class as a defense for
the inordinate sway of multinational corporations. The Democrats
barely mentioned the poor or unionism in their campaigning. Your
suggestion only deepens the commitment to the status quo and to
middle-class opportunism. PACs are not geared to black
liberation, but to black individual favors, a kind of quid
pro quo. From what I know about labor PACs, there have been
little or no dividends.
PACs do not provide a field for the
discussion of black political action, but rather much of the
energy is toward how to fit into the Republican and Democratic
agendas. I will not give one dime to a PAC and will never
encourage one to give a dime to PACs. What I don't
understand is what is your fear of a black independent
John: we have not promoted political
action committees to the grassroots. having run three statewide
political races (two successfully), I find that the barrier to
black candidates being competitive is money. Those black
candidates who do make it find themselves being indebted to
outside forces in order to raise campaign funds.
Black interests are ignored by political
parties because black politicians have their hands out for
"voter education" funds to organize our communities
instead of requiring that politicians, black and white, respond
to our interests in return for tangible support in the form of
volunteers and contributions.
An effective political action committee
allows persons to participate irregardless of what political
party they belong to. We've seen an example in the NAACP
Voter Fund, which had $12 million to work with in the 2000
election. That money came from an
"anonymous" donor, but an equivalent or larger amount
could have easily been raised from the black community.
Pursuing a party is fighting the last war.
Rudy: Unions have been promoting PACs
to the grassroots for over 30 years. Your assertion is just not
factual, and thus your argument is misleading. The problem is
not that the poor does not know about PACs. The reality is that
they do not have a party to speak in their interest. The poor
creating PACs for the Democratic and Republican party only
sustains the status quo and it is nothing other than a political
diversion. Wishful thinking.
Black politicians ignore the black poor
because they know that the poor are much more sophisticated than
the integrating middle-classes, whom they find easier dupes. We
know for certain that PACs have little or no impact on the
Democratic Party, for the AFL-CIO has spent tens of millions to
elect Democratic candidates and it has not served any purpose
other than the waste of their members dues. For these PAC
candidates have not and do not champion the causes of most
working people and especially those black poor women working in
service industries. They have not been able to achieve a simple
thing like raising the minimum wage.
The poor and the working class have been
falling back since the age of Reagan and no amount of money
given to the Democrats have stopped that slide.
So I will not join that scam of
collecting money from the poor to give to the rich. That is the
absolute portrayal of the poor and you should seriously rethink
such actions. Your fears of a black party is exceedingly
irrational: "pursuing a party is fighting the last
war." Why is it that every kind of white folk can
begin a political party and nothing is feared. But to speak of a
black political party is tantamount to war? So we are thus left
to choose between who is the best master. What an absurdity!
I'd say the organizing of a black political
party open to all with a new vision of America will be the first
step to black political maturity.
Government Preserves Inequality
Wilson: No political party can
possibly represent the interests of the poor. The purpose
of government, as James Madison, Adam Smith, and V. I. Lenin
correctly observed, is to preserve inequality. The
protection of disparities in property ownership is an essential
function of government. There never has been and
never can be a political party that represents the poor.
The idea is absurd.
Black politicians ignore the poor precisely because they are
poor. . . . Labor unions win temporary victories such
as minimum wage, pension funds, and health care, but these
partial victories are always undermined by the big business
lobbies that control Congress. Just as Adam Smith sadly
predicted. The interests of big business always prevail over the
rights of labor.
Rudy: I am at a disadvantage in how you have set up your
argument. Not a political scientist, I am unable to substantiate
that Madison, Smith, and Lenin concluded that the "purpose
of government . . . is to preserve inequality." I dare to
say, however, that these fellows never phrased their arguments
in such language.
I suspect you have induced this conclusion
from statements that only hinted at this conclusion. This
"reality" may indeed be the reality of all governments
from ancient times to the present. But this argument
is a diversion from my own about the necessity today of a black
political party that represents the interests of the poor. That
is to say, my argument is not about the elimination of all
There is much more meat, however, in your
statement: "There never has been and never can be a
political party that represents the poor." This statement
is at best only partially true. You are probably right that in
America no political party has ever been created with its
primary goal to "represent the poor." My impression,
nevertheless, is that all American political parties proclaim
that they can best "represent" the interests of all
the people, that "all" includes the poor. Even if the
all did not include the black poor, we still get a sincere
evidence of a social responsibility more encompassing than
one’s own elevated class.
That representation of the poor increased in
substance when qualifications for electoral participation in
America was no longer restricted to property owners. Further
power was extended also to the poor when the Constitution was
changed to allow direct election of representatives, rather than
by state legislatures, dominated by property owners.
The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments added
considerably more power to the status of the poor to
participate in the election of government representatives. That
was further extended in the 20th century when women won the
right to vote. After much blood, sweat, and tears, in 1965 with
the passing of the Voting Rights Act, blacks also won the right
to vote broadly in the South without intimidation and property
Both the Democratic and Republican parties,
at different stages, participated in these political
reforms that extended power and benefits to the poor. At those
moments of constitutional and political reform, these
parties did indeed "represent" the interests of the
poor. I would say that from 1863 to 1875, the Republican Party represented
and defended the impoverished slave and freedmen. The continuing
political quality of that representation is another issue. But
even after 1875, there were advancements in the interests of the
poor: state governments created and sustained public school
education, which was a great boon for the poor.
In the 20th century, two Democratic
administrations created and sustained policies and programs that
were directed at and represented the interests of the poor,
namely, those of FDR and that of LBJ. These programs include
many of those we still enjoy today. That industrial workers won
the right to organize was of great import in creating today’s
middle-classes. We could also include the GI Bill and numerous
other services like social security (medicare and medicaid),
workers compensation, electrification of rural areas, the
building of roads and bridges, housing and urban development,
modification of courts and the election of judges. There are
numerous other examples.
Thus, the idea that a political party can
represent the interests of the poor is not as absurd as one may
think. But that view is quite understandable in light of the
right-wing politics and governments we have suffered under for
the last three decades. They have tried to turn back this social
progress created in the name of the poor.
These conservatives (or neo-conservatives)
may indeed hold and promote the views of Madison, Smith, and
Lenin. Their political advance and rhetoric of the last three
decades may have indeed been heavily influenced by these
political ideologies of the 19th century.
They, however, abuse the true sentiment of Madison,
Smith, and Lenin.
We the people have been lulled into a
complaisance that ignores entirely the brief history of the
progressive, and democratic trend in American politics with its
extension of power and economic benefits to the poor. These
neo-conservatives have had such success in their rhetoric and
their policies that numerous white male voters have consistently
voted against their own economic and political interests,
presumably, it seems, to maintain “white supremacy.”
But that does not shock me. We have extensive records of
the noble stupidity of the American electorate.
I have numerous disparaging things to say
about today’s black politics and the politicians who
“represent” blacks. But I will not go as far as you, when
you say: “Black politicians ignore the poor precisely because
they are poor.” I’ve known a few black politicians here in
Baltimore and though I might not like their present
political machinations, I believe they ignore the poor because
it/s not politick and because of their ties with Democrats and
their campaigns methods.
Parren Mitchell, former Congressman from
Maryland, did not ignore and could not have ignored the poor to
become the first such representative from Baltimore. Black
politicians today not only ignore the black poor but blacks
generally when it comes to policies they sign onto. Today, they
are rather self-serving and so politics becomes a steppingstone
to wealth and thus the maintenance of the status quo. To become
president of Baltimore’s city council now requires, seemingly,
a half million dollars. So
black politicians choose to buy into a corrupt system that
ignores the poor. Nevertheless, they continue to give lip
service to the poor for bear of being abandoned altogether by
the middle classes.
Ever an optimist, I cannot and will not say
that what exists is the best of all possible worlds nor will I
say that what exists will “always” exist. The future is open
to all kinds of possibilities never imagined. So this fatalistic
prognosis about “big business” always prevailing
has little correspondence to actual events in American history
or for the future of American society and democracy.
Of course, as long as people accept the
status quo and believe and have faith in the natural right of
businessmen to exploit government and oppress society (including
the black poor), then they will indeed prevail.
Wilson: Are you asking for chapter and
verse? I can provide direct quotes if you wish:
For the time being, here are the indirect quotes:
Purpose of government is to preserve differences which arise
from inherited ability. Federalist Papers N. 10
The purpose of the state is that it is a mechanism for one class
to oppressing the other. State and Revolution
Until there is property there is no reason to have a state.
Wealth of Nations
The above [theorists] are universally quoted, and not at all
controversial. NOBODY can pass my course without reading
Come on Rudy, you know that when politicians use the word
"all" this is nothing but cynical rhetoric.
When in the history of mankind has any party ever represented
the poor? The Democratic party of Jackson's time
removed property qualifications to increase the number of dirt
farmers and shanty Irish going to the polls, thereby creating a
class of ignorant voters, more easily manipulated than educated
The Republican Party of Grant's time, gave
the vote to blacks in order to control the Federal government,
and pass legislation favoring Union Pacific, Carnegie Steel, and
The Democratic Party of Roosevelt's time made
temporary concessions because they were necessary to "save
the day for capitalism," during the Depression.
Reagan's genius was to get the working people to participate in
the dismantlement of the New Deal.
The lower-middle-classes and working poor are
cynically manipulated by the Christian Right, who lead them to
oppose "socialized medicine" and support charter
schools. The masses repeat stupid slogans about
"supreme court activism," which is code for the Warren
Court. They support "right to work laws,"
and oppose a "minimum wage," while supporting
the war in Iraq. These are undisputed historical
Rudy: I'm willing to agree that there
is equality between your definition of the purpose of government
and that of Madison, Lenin, and Smith. But I am not certain,
nevertheless, that Madison, Lenin, and Smith mean to imply the
same thing, nor am I certain that either one intends what
you intend by your definition, which may indeed reflect present
political realities. There must indeed be a better way to define
the phenomena these theorists call in question such as not to
cause the implication and consternation and intent of your
definition. A brief examination of "inequities" might
Let's try. Inequalities occur in nature
and human societies. In both there are mechanisms that come to
play to maintain order, possibly initially as a matter of
survival. Madison's phrase "inherited ability"
references the state of nature. Within species (animal and
plant) we note some are more beautiful than another, more
powerful than another, faster, more intelligent, sturdier, and
so on. That quality that increases the chances and opportunities
for those "individuals" to replicates its kind tends
to dominate or win out in competition. This is analogical
reasoning. It proves nothing.
Analogy is one way to a kind of knowledge,
but not necessarily to the truth of things as they are (in
themselves). Such conclusions about humans and human
societies often go astray. This analogical argument usually
fails because a "likeness" cannot be maintained in
every particular. That is, nature and humanity are not the same;
they are not equal, so reasoning from one to the other ends up
being a matter of feeling or desire.
That is, it is "reasoning" to a
conclusion that one finds convenient or preferable. This is the
case with your “government” and your “inequalities.” As
I understand Lenin, he did not conclude that social
"inequalities" were inevitable and that government's
primary role is to screw the poor to satisfy the greed and
power of a few. The “natural right” to screw the poor to
some degree is probably indeed the intent of the words of
Madison the American and Smith the Englishman. The best of men
find the most novel ways and means to justify the abuse of their
Madison and Smith, doubtless, meant well.
These sayings of theirs are not hard science—fixed in stone as
veritable truth; these sayings were constructed in a context in
which it was a pastime to justify slavery, the slave trade, and
the state supported abuse of the larger populations of English
and American slaves, peasants, women, guilds, workers, and
foreigners. Their idea of Man is far from our post-modern
view of man or what is human and humane.
Doubtless, Madison and Smith went about their
work earnestly and that they believed in the goodness of all
they asserted. Those theories resulted as rational
justifications, a moral cover for highly questionable actions
and behaviors by a class of scoundrels, con men, demagogues, and
outright criminals. So as authorities, I’m a little wary of
the quality of their views on political government and what
“always” has to be.
Today, there’s “cynical rhetoric” in
abundance. In these days and times of secret wars, terror and
counter-terror, cronyism, super-billionaires, globalism,
oriental luxury in occidental abundance in the midst of famine,
disease, and ethnic wars, it is difficult indeed to escape
cynicism. It is difficult to squeeze even a tiny bit of liberal
idealism in any discussion without one being crushed by a horde
of ordinary conservatives, neo-conservatives, church leaders,
televangelists, neo-nazis, right reverends, and legions of their
devotees—willing to demonize, assassinate, and worse, for any
variance in their anti-liberalism.
Republicans are right in all things; the
Democrats are left, and thus wrong in all things. That’s the
present climate. The black poor cannot tell a whit between them.
I am not sure we can read back from the
present climate that all previous political acts were done with
the cynical spirit that is now so ubiquitous. One cannot
establish, in any event, the full intent of any human activity.
Let us allow that the extension of the franchise (in its
numerous manifestations) was done to achieve a certain political
end that had little to do with the extension of democracy and
equality. Let us allow that these acts were done by the elites
on behalf of elite economic interests.
It’s odd indeed: acts are not limited by
their intent or intentions. That’s a fact. So whether parties
intended purely privileges of property (capital) is in a manner
insignificant. Their acts had social ramifications beyond the
initial intent and in many cases these changes were welcomed,
accepted, and embraced by all. Today’s cynicism, however,
is special, of a different character, more ideologically driven
and more dangerous than at anytime in American history.
Today’s cynicism never existed in the world
before. It strives after absolutes, totals; it desires to make
things into other than they are because they think that's how
they should be. There is none of the fine reasoning and
sensibility of a Madison or Smith. When this cynicism discovers
its stupidity, it perseveres to convince itself and others
of that which it knows is not. It is a cynicism that destroys,
on touch, any spirit of freedom. The sway of such philosophical
poison is novel in history.
In that I spoke of founding a party for the
defense of the poor, I allow it was appropriate to bring in
societal “inequalities.” You are right: to some degree,
inequalities, of some sort, will always be. My idealism does not
go so far as you suggest. I’ll allow also that government’s
role is indeed to “preserve differences” (to an X-degree)
and the social rewards (to an X-degree) that naturally are
derived from naturally “inherited ability.”
There is nothing at all in our nature
analogy, however, that specifies the distances
or the extent of such inequalities and the values placed on
these natural so-called inequities. That piece of genius is done
rather arbitrarily, restricted by the person or the society’s
social and human conscience and what physical force it masters
and is willing to use.
What seemed necessary by definition we find
now occur not by necessity or by intent but rather as a result
of the rumbling of the masses from below, that is, what
practically can be achieved within a moral universe. That is,
what can be justified. Today, we have global deception and
arbitrariness. And with the firepower of the white West, it can
do the worst; and with global media and experts in propaganda
and “cynical rhetoric,” they have few if any limitations,
other than conscience, now muddied by today's cynicism.
It’s moral belly is under-girded by
slavery, genocide, imperial sway. This new cynicism is monstrous
in execution and in its absolutes. The question only is whether
Americans are willing to confront these absolutes and say, No.
Grant I believe bought into the idealism of
the Negro’s humanity and the higher American mission of
emancipation and the potential civilizing effects of
Christianity. And became great. Today’s cynicism has no mirror in the intents of
Reconstruction, or the social benefits delivered by FDR and LBJ.
What good these men did for the poor and the enslaved they
did it because they believed it was a good thing to do
and that they had the power to do it. There were once men
indeed who wake and ask what good today can I do. Today’s
cynicism demands that which one can get away with.
“What’s in it for me” is a recent
ethical aberration, of crass members of the middle-classes in
which money and power are worshipped, deified, and guaranteed by
the government. Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Johnson were,
however, all men of conscience. I do not believe they were
cynical, despite what the facts may seem to imply. They did what
they did because they thought it would be best for all. Today,
we have a different genre of politicians with a self-proclaimed “inherited
ability” and “differences” that is willing to commit and
justify almost any kind of crime purely for the sake for more wealth
and more power.
Republicans and Democrats, unionists and
liberals, have given into this crass commercial and rhetorical
cynicism, believing that no other world is practically possible. This
new breed of American is shameless and righteous, at once.
Everything and every person has a price, it is believed. Though
a lone voice, I refuse to join these devotees. People, in a
democracy, should support a party that represents its interests.
Contrary to this new breed, today’s
cynics, all classes must see their interest in the welfare and
material status of their poor. Once that is abandoned, all that
is left is thuggery. For we measure the prosperity and
ethics of nations in how well they treat and serve
their poor. Black people are in need of such ideal
Blacks must finally declare and take upon our
own shoulders our liberation and our freedoms as citizens of the
United States. We are a grown people now and if we are men and
women with the same dignity and integrity as other people, we
should no longer suffer the indignity of choosing between two
unacceptable sponsors. We need to confront fears of political
independence. Being a side-kick is over-rated. Full manhood is
Rudy, The purpose of your writing is to improve society.
I am merely interested in describing reality.
You are a better man than I am.
I am not a better man but only one with a different set of
concerns. I too have an interest in descriptions of reality.
There is no the reality that we can get at by
dictionary definitions. Those descriptions that sustain the
status quo or the necessity of social oppression work
against that struggle that is life.
My writing, I hope, mirrors that struggle. My
intent is not so much to improve society, but rather improve my
self, by improving my thinking about society. I want
to add value to that discussion now taking place intended
to undermine an unacceptable status quo. Except in very
general terms I have little detailed understanding how to make
the operations of society better.
Wilson: Granted, but you are no moral
relativist. You obviously believe in absolute moral
realities. . . .Descriptions do not sustain the status quo;
people do, and for concrete reasons. . . . I can best improve my
thinking about society by distinguishing between my moral code
and my empirical observations.
If I want to define a phenomenon, "government" for
example, I shall attempt to comprehend the varieties of
government I am aware of, whether I admire them or not. I
shall not begin with my personal description of what I think
"good government," ought to be. I shall try to include
all phenomenology of government including Nazism, Communism, and
The same holds true for a definition of
I shall seek a definition that includes both
the reality of the "Sermon on the Mount," and the
reality of the Spanish Inquisition, then give them equal status
within my definition of political doctrines. That is quite
different than giving them equal status within my moral code.
That, I believe, is where you and I differ.
Rudy: Wilson, you are always 10 steps
ahead of me and I'm constantly running to keep up. I quite agree
your approach and mine differ when it comes to dealing with
phenomena: you give "equal status" to related
phenomena within your definition. Why you choose this
option rather than describing what is good, I do not have the
faintest, especially when the latter probably will get you
closer to the truth of things as they are.
Your "empirical observations" are
not as "empirical" as you suggest they are. They are
not the observation of say a physicist, nor even that of a
What you call “observations” have a
literary basis: the examination of documents about phenomena, a more
complicated task than the observation of an atom or a gorilla.
Such conclusions are less exacting and usually agreement is
impossible, other than by forces of the status quo.
After New Orleans, I feel no real safety
in such harbors. Giving into such descriptions of reality where
everything seemingly has the same status is to confine oneself
to a world of illusions. The application of one's moral code is
a necessity to liberate (extricate) oneself from the walls of
such thinking. That kind of "calculation"
("empirical observations") isolates oneself from the
dynamics of what is.
So you are right our difference is a chosen
one, not an intrinsic one
John: For 32 years, I have identified
myself to anyone who asks my party affiliation as a member of
the All-African Revolutionary Peoples Party and to any more
generic queries as a Pan African socialist.
There is a universal quizzical look. Then
whites, including the most conservative, find it
fascinating and ask for more information. Blacks say "Wha's
Independent of that affiliation, I find
myself able to work with people of all political persuasions by
using the techniques of politics, in fact, more so because I'm not
identified with any of the recognized parties. Bottom line
is can one get something done, as we did with our campaign to
stop the H1-B visa increase two years ago or this week,
stopping the derailing of the chaplainry program at San
Francisco's Youth Guidance Center.
Rudy: I have nothing in particular
against revolutionary parties. In America they tend to be highly
ineffective. I am interested in a broader cross section of the
American population as participants and supporters of a party
willing to defend and uplift the poor and promote a new
more liberal vision for America. I argue particularly
the need for an inclusive black electoral party not weighed
down by a distinctive ideology like
What in the World Is Socialism?
Wilson: America is the only place in
the world where people are taught the evils of socialism. . . .
in public schools.
Rudy: I recall sitting in on a university class and the
professor could not make a clear distinction between socialism
and Communism, while the Soviet Union existed. With the People's
Republic of China now involved in global economics and a mixed
economy, it is even a more confused matter. Those European
countries that are "socialistic" make the matter even
more confusing. The term is probably not used at all in Africa,
anymore. To tell you the truth, I have no idea what people mean
anymore when the word is used. I suspect that socialism
has been reduced to an anti-capitalist cliché.
Martin Kilson has suggested the term "communitarianism."
But that doesn't make any more sense than "socialism."
Going beyond a discussion of the excesses of capital and
capitalist governments is an intellectual nightmare.
Wilson: Detroit where I grew up is a
city in which black politics is very non-southern. Mayoral
politics in Detroit is officially non-partisan. Black
politics was structured around the labor unions, which where
Marxist influenced. Religion was a political force in
Detroit, but the labor movement was more powerful.
That is why when Detroit finally got a black mayor he came from
the left, not the Christian community - Coleman Young, a black
Communism is a sub-category of the more general concept of
socialism. The Communists were only one among several
socialist parties in Detroit during my childhood.
Some of these were to the left of the CP and some were to the
right. The Socialist Labor Party (De Leonist) was to the
right of the Communist Party. Socialist Workers Party (Trotskyist) was
to the left. There were also many Marxists among New
Deal Democrats, and a few communists in the UAW/CIO.
Many of the young black and Jewish
intellectuals, including myself were Marxist influenced and
sympathized with the Socialist Workers. Progressive
Labor Party was Maoist. But I was never a member of any of
these parties. Black nationalists and socialists
were often, but not always, mutually repugnant. The Dodge
Revolutionary Union Movement attempted to merge Marxism with
black nationalism. So too the Black Panthers.
Detroit had a strong black nationalist tradition, associated
with the Nation of Islam and the Shrine of the Black Madonna and
the Republic of New Africa.
Kilson's terminology is not historically important, because it
hasn't influenced anybody. When I discuss a term, I
do not attempt to create my own definition. I try to
understand how social communities are using the term and then
adapt my definition, so that I can communicate with members of
those communities. Therefore, I understand socialism in its
broadest sense to refer to economic systems in which monies are
diverted from the private to the public sector and utilized for
the maintenance of institutions that are structurally under
public control and designated for the public benefit.
By this broad and inclusive definition, I
would consider social security, medicare, the Chicago Police,
the United States Army and the Detroit public schools to be
expressions of socialistic economic practice. I
don't expect everyone to accept this definition, but I think
most people including the leadership of the Democratic and
Republican parties can at least understand it.
Rudy: I accept your definition. But I do not think that
the majority of Americans are aware of the socialist aspects of
our society and our economic adaptations since the late 30s.
People do not recall that the WPA was patently socialistic,
acknowledged only by its opponents. It worked for the Democrats
and made Roosevelt a god, and if he had had good health, he
could have become king or emperor, as long as he continued to
serve the practical interests of the masses.
This curbing of the excesses of capital, some
think, allowed for the continued life of and sustained
capitalist enterprises. What has happened today with the
excesses of capital and corporations far exceeds what occurred
pre-Roosevelt. With the anti-communist sentiments (in Florida
and other red states) generated by the subsequent anti-red
propaganda after Roosevelt’s death, Americans are quite
frightened by any talk or entertainment of either
word—"socialism" or "communism."
Young college students are always fascinated,
however, by the romance of Marx and other petty bourgeois
socialists, even fascists. But they soon empty themselves of
such thought when they have to make a living. Many of them often
As I have hinted I have never been able to
make very much sense of socialism or socialist parties. I am
sure that I hold "socialist" (or Marxist) sentiments
because it is just unavoidable. Marxism is so much a part of the
fabric of our intellectual history that it is difficult avoiding
being in some way influenced.
But I have most times no idea what people are
talking about when they do speak of socialism in practical
terms, that is, what is it that they want that doesn't already
exist. For that reason I find the socialist ideologies of black
nationalists like Amiri Baraka and the Panthers so much nonsense
and a waste of political energy.
Taking people's property ain't gone go down
well with an America people (including blacks) who worship
property as if it were their very blood.
Ben: Why are you surprised at the place of
"property" in our social fabric when slavery was
considered within the scope of "property". Feudalism
is a system of property dispensation, and believe it or not we
are still in a feudalistic society including communist social
systems based on control of property which is to say control of
food, water, and shelter.
Youth & Lack of Political Activism
Miriam: How wonderful, Rudy, to have Rodney
enter into the discussion about why more young people do not
actively participate in social movements! It is so
refreshing to have the opinions of a young, articulate, thinking
person who is an activist. He indicates that one of the
primary causes is the age and ideological divide between his
generation and ours.
Those of us who are/were parents and teachers
have had a unique opportunity to communicate our history,
struggles, and culture to young people. I am going to
forward to you a message that I received from K. Brisbane, an
attorney and life-long activist, who laments the fact that her
own children, whom she involved in the Movement, now have little
interest in social/racial issues.
Another friend, a college professor and
parent, suggests that maybe we parents have been too protective
of our children because they are not as active in the struggle
as we were. I have had the same experience. I took
my children to marches and demonstrations; at ages 4 and
6, they were maced as we left a Civil Rights rally; I sent
my babies away when someone shot through our house; our
children were aware of my husband, a civil rights attorney, and
my involvement in the movement; they had to stay with
their grandparents when I was jailed. Now, they are
involved in community work, but not to the extent that their
parents were. So, what's the problem?
I believe that desegregation has had a
devastating effect on consciousness-raising and community
development. As a result, most White and some Black
teachers/professors are not concerned about the political
awareness of our youth. Secondly, and I think that this is
crucial, the societal emphasis on materialism and the
accumulation of wealth has created a generation of young people
who are more concerned about their own advancement and not about
the advancement of all of us. Rodney mentions that
students in the BSU are more concerned about scholarships and
I must point out, though, that the Howard BSU
sent a 10-member delegation to the Katrina protest given at
Lafayette Park by Black Voices for Peace, and that demonstration
was hastily put together at the last minute. Let me
mention one other thing, Rudy, since you mentioned Acklyn,
because I think that this is a model that some of us might want
About three times a year, he calls together a
group of young adults, 18 to 30 years old, along with a few
cultural icons, as well as Blacks from Africa and the Islands,
for a discussion of issues at his home, where he cooks food for
them. That kind of dynamic mentoring was apparent at his
home recently, when he organized an event to promote the work of
two young artists, and, in the process, showcased as well the
work of children, teenagers, and young adults. Maybe
that's something concrete that each of us could do in our
community--bring together people across generations, classes,
conditions, to discuss some of these problems.
Floyd: Always in my politics course, I
taught that what really makes electoral politics accountable to
the people are social movements, even if these efforts are not
as long lasting as electoral political organizations. For
even as people vote, elected officials find ways to circumvent
voters desires and wishes because professional politicians are
swayed by more than votes.
Beyond mere voting, resources such as money,
organization, knowledge, are important to elected officials'
decision making. This is why neither party (or just the
one party, the Republicrats) responds to the interests and
desire of Black citizens on the whole. If protest is not
enough, as many political scientists argue, voting also is
insufficient. Both protest and voting are required;
protest politics must accompany electoral politics.
agree completely with Floyd, because we have to use all the
weapons in our arsenal.
Rudy: Yes, Floyd
is right, Miriam. And you are right to "agree
completely" with this assessment of political
phenomenon and how political change occurs. He, however, is
silent on the character this protest should take and what
degree necessary to make, bring about a rather vague
outcome. This silence probably has little to do with Floyd's
commitment or decisiveness. Still I wonder where he will
finally come down. One cannot be up in the air forever. One has
to stand somewhere, doesn't one?
Miriam: Both Floyd & Acklyn are
trained as political scientists, as is my friend Sandra, though
they all read in a variety of disciplines and have done
political work in the community. All three of them have a lot to
add to the dialogue; it's too bad that Acklyn doesn't use a
computer and Sandra is loathe to enter the discussion because
she's in a tenuous position right now. She and I are perhaps
closer in our political positions because we've been active in
Memphis politics as well as the academic politics (which is
HELL!) at the HBCU where we both taught. When I have time,
I'm going to outline my own feelings with respect to voting,
(Black) elected officials, and a Black political party.
It looks like we just keep fighting the same
battles that faced us in the '60s and '70s, but this go round
it's harder. When I look at the Big Picture—movements, a
Black political party, the struggle against poverty—the
possibility of enacting change seems so hopeless, but maybe the
better way to go is through small, consciousness-raising groups
that view films, read books, take on specific, concrete
neighborhood projects, and "Agitate, agitate,
agitate," as Frederick Douglass demanded.
Our situation at times seems hopeless, especially when the big
issues have no immediate resolution. I suspect that our
Christian slave ancestors experienced the same gloom. Like them
I suspect that if we are the people of God, that God will make a
way, that he will be with us there ever on the battlefield. In
matters divine time is meaningless. The connections from the
single, individual life cannot always be made. As a people
there is hope. Integrity in the midst of diversity is a real
possibility, when time corrodes all human powers.
These big picture
problems are generational and so can be only resolved by
generations, thus not during a single life. Joy is but a moment. Wherever
we try our energies whether small or large, we must have faith
that some good will come, not necessarily when we desire it. Our
faith must extend beyond the individual and the personal. We
search for meaning beyond profit and we search and struggle
for it in this world.
indeed is misery. There must be more than eat, drink, and
make ourselves merry. Kalamu says he has faith in black folk.
Well, I've faith in both God and man.
As Mama reminds me
God is always on time. The youthful idealism that believed in
"revolution in our life time" has passed and has been
replaced with a less naive, sounder faith. We must see our
lives and that of our people in larger time spans (forty and
fifty year chunks), not only in the past but also for the
future. We must supplant cynicism and nihilistic tendencies that
exist within our community. That old time religion still
I cannot but
believe as the hip-hop Israeli violinist: we will win, they will
I had a very interesting letter from a young man (Frankie Staley) who I
assumed, from his original report on the MMM, was his father.
There are a lot of young people out there who are just floating
around unconnected to anyone or any organization but anxious to
find a community of activists to joing. I really think
there's a need for us to reach out to them.
are no activist organizations today as there were in the 60s and
70s, like CORE, SCLC, SNCC, all of which probably averaged an
age in the mid-20s. Remember King was only 39 when he was
murdered. Then there are all the organizations spawned in
Malcolm's name. They too had about the same age group. The
NAACP, Urban League, and UNCF are not and were never really
attended to be activist organizations. Of course, the Army of
which Frankie was a member is an activist organization, for the
maintenance of the status quo. The MMM rally was indeed a
feel good moment and I expected that it would be a
feel good moment in that so many of us live in isolation.
The 1963 March on Washington was indeed a
momentous occasion. It occurred in the midst of battle. These
recent rallies Million Man and MMM, there was nothing that
occurred before it or nothing after, essentially vague and
politically unfocused. Despite the change in character of the
MMM, there was no organization there which is at the vanguard of
the struggle. In 1963 there was CORE, SCLC, and SNCC.
So part of the problem with Frankie is that
he probably knows more about the Army than he does the struggles
of the 60s and 70s.
Probably he's not to blame. The youth has
been shamed too much, already. The problem is that the parents
of his generation were either not fully engaged or knowledgeable
of the struggles of the 60s and 70s, or they concluded that the
activist life was no longer necessary after the 60s and 70s. So
there was an insufficient lack of transference by parents,
schools, churches, and other Negro institutions to the next
generation. We essentially forgot what we were all about, as a
people. Museums, statues, libraries and such worship of the
dead are not sufficient and will never be sufficient.
So there is nothing now present to engage
either youth or the poor in political activity. The present-day
ethic (across the board) of "what's in it for me"
has generated widespread cynicism and lack of confidence by
youth in older
adults and the character of Negro authority. So, yes, young
people are in limbo, but I think New Orleans made a difference.
Many have concluded, I believe, that
they can no longer wait on the older generation to take the lead
in responding to the crisis now. Of course, we should be ready
to provide assistance and guidance. But it is they who must seek
posted 23 October 2005
* * *
My Story, My Song (Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)
The Katrina Papers, by Jerry W.
Ward, Jr. $18.95 /
The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008)
* * *
* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
As for the source
of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their
own bodies during slavery given that they were being
auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless,
it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate
the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate
* * *
Sex at the Margins
Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
By Laura María Agustín
This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London
* * *
The Warmth of Other Suns
The Epic Story of America's Great
By Isabel Wilkerson
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a
sharecropper's wife, left Mississippi
for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin
was falsely accused of stealing a white
man's turkeys and was almost beaten to
death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling,
a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem
after learning of the grove owners'
plans to give him a "necktie party" (a
lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster
made his trek from Louisiana to
California in 1953, embittered by "the
absurdity that he was doing surgery for
the United States Army and couldn't
operate in his own home town." Anchored
to these three stories is Pulitzer
Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson's
magnificent, extensively researched
study of the "great migration," the
exodus of six million black Southerners
out of the terror of Jim Crow to an
"uncertain existence" in the North and
Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates
sociological and historical studies into
the novelistic narratives of Gladney,
Starling, and Pershing settling in new
lands, building anew, and often finding
that they have not left racism behind.
The drama, poignancy, and romance of a
classic immigrant saga pervade this
book, hold the reader in its grasp, and
resonate long after the reading is done.
* * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
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Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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27 February 2012