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Madison:  Purpose of government is to preserve differences which arise from inherited ability. Federalist Papers N. 10

Lenin:  The purpose of the state is that it is a mechanism for one class to oppressing the other. State and Revolution

Adam Smith:  Until there is property there is no reason to have a state.  Wealth of Nations




Parameters of a Black Political Party

PACs for the Poor -- Government Preserves Inequality

Socialism, Youth & Lack of Political Activism

Conversation with Sharif, Yvonne, Louis, Miriam, Wilson, Floyd, John, Ben


Sharif: 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 ballot.

Black 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 party.

Those 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.

Of 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 minimum wage.

At 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 bridges, etc.

The 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.

No 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 oppressors.

Rudy:  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 organizing.

I 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.

It 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 institutions.

To 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.

It 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.

For 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.

Sharif: 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 sham.

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."

Sharif: 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.

I 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 real service.

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 America's "niggers."

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 taken....

(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 Political Party

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 political party.

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! What cronyism!

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 inequalities.

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 qualifications.

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:

Madison:  Purpose of government is to preserve differences which arise from inherited ability.   Federalist Papers N. 10

Lenin:  The purpose of the state is that it is a mechanism for one class to oppressing the other.   State and Revolution

Adam Smith:  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 them.    . 

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 ones.    

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 Standard Oil.  

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 facts.  

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 be helpful

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 neighbor.

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. How wise.

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 representation.

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 better.

Wilson:  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.

 Rudy: 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 Jeffersonian slavery. 

The same holds true for a definition of religion. 

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 zoologist.

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 dat?"

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 "socialism."

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 Marxist. 

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 become landlords.

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 job opportunities. 

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 to emulate. 

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.

Miriam:  I 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. 

Rudy: 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.

Otherwise, all 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 has punch.

I cannot but believe as the hip-hop Israeli violinist: we will win, they will lose.

Miriam: 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.

Rudy: There 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 it.

posted 23 October 2005

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Audio: 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)

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#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

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#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
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#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

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#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

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.     

Professor Perry 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 Caucasian babies.

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 indiscriminately.

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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

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The Warmth of Other Suns

The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

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.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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