Speech at the Second National Conference
of the Marxist-Leninist Party, USA -- Fall 1984
Reprinted from the Workers' Advocate Supplement (1),
vol. 1, #1, January 15, 1985.
The black workers' movement of the 1960s
--Chicago transit workers
--Ford Assembly at Mahway, New Jersey
The social and political context
A brief history of the League
On the character of the League
What the League experience shows
. In this speech, I would like to talk about the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. First I wanted to introduce the League so that comrades are familiar with it.
. The League of Revolutionary Black Workers was a movement that came up among black workers in Detroit, especially in the auto industry, in the period right after the Detroit rebellion of 1967. Beginning in 1968 a series of black workers' organizations emerged in Detroit area factories which called themselves "revolutionary union movements", such as DRUM--Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement at Chrysler's Dodge Main assembly plant, ELRUM at Chrysler's Eldon Ave. Gear and Axle plant, FRUM at Ford Rouge, etc. These organizations agitated on and launched a number of wildcat strikes and other actions against racial discrimination in the plants, against institutional racism within the UAW, against murderous working conditions, and against the persecution of workers.
. The League was formed as a coordinating umbrella group of the different Revolutionary Union Movements in early 1969. The League also put out a newspaper and agitated on and organized struggles on a series of other fronts in the black community in Detroit. The League in its general program claimed to stand for an anti-capitalist revolution, one they said would be organized under the leadership of the black working class.
. The League was active through 1971-2 at which time it collapsed amidst factional strife. Remnants of the League went into the Marxist-Leninist movement and became part of the neo-revisionist trend through the Black Workers Congress and the Communist League. Another remnant, around Ken Cockrel, formed the local "municipal socialist" social-democratic trend in Detroit called DARE, the Detroit Alliance for a Rational Economy, which liquidated itself a couple of years ago.
. The League is long dead and gone. But it is worthwhile taking a closer look at the phenomenon that it represented. The League was part of a general phenomenon that came up in the late 1960's of a black workers' movement. The League reflected militant black workers organizing against racism in the plants and unions. It reflected black workers taking a fighting stand against capitalist exploitation. The League also saw the black workers taking up an important role in the general black people's movement. As well, within this trend of the black workers' movement that came up at that time, the League in particular reflected a section of the black workers turning towards Marxism-Leninism and socialism, despite the confused nature of the ideology of the League.
. Thus the League is useful to study as a historical phenomenon from the black movement of the
1960's. The issue is not so much that a specific organization like the League will repeat itself
again. No, the League was very much a product of its own time. However the League represented
a certain manifestation of the struggle and organization arising from the particular situation faced
by black workers. Black workers are faced with double oppression. They are faced with class
exploitation as workers and indeed have been in the thick of various militant struggles of the
working class. Black workers are also faced with special oppression as blacks, both in the
workplaces and in general; indeed in this connection the black workers have played a prominent
role in the anti-racist movement. Historically this double oppression of black workers has given
rise to many forms of struggle and organization. The League is just one such example. Because
the basic objective conditions which gave rise to the League still exist, undoubtedly other
particular forms of struggle and organization are bound to emerge among the black workers. It is
useful to study the League and draw certain lessons on how to handle such a general
phenomenon. (It also provides certain important lessons about what attitude to take towards the
question of nationality organization among black workers. This will be discussed in another part
of this conference. )
First, a Few Words On the General Phenomenon
of the Black Workers' Movement of the 1960's.
. The late 1960's saw a militant ferment appearing in the workers' movement in general. There were wildcat strikes against the capitalists and in defiance of the union bureaucrats; even contract strikes began to take on a particularly militant character. The civil rights movement and especially the rebellions in the cities resulted in a wave of militant activity among black workers. This was seen in a number of strikes where black workers played an important role, such as the Memphis sanitation workers' strike in 1968. As well, there began to appear black workers' organizations inside the workplaces in many industries and across the country. I would like to give a few notable examples.
. The Chicago transit workers.
. In July 1968 black bus drivers in the Chicago transit system staged a wildcat strike. Members of Local 241 of the Amalgamated Transit Union had formed a caucus in early 1968 called the Concerned Transit Workers with the aim of ending the all-white leadership of a union that was 60% black. After getting nowhere through the union meetings, the CTW organized a strike. Their demands also included general demands against bad working conditions faced by all the bus drivers. A number of white drivers are also reported to have supported the strike. An agreement was reached with the Chicago Transit Authority and the union, but the local leadership repudiated it afterwards. There was also a second wildcat of black bus drivers during the Democratic Party convention.
. The Concerned Transit Workers is reported to have called for an independent union after their struggle was smashed, but it's not clear that this was for a black union, especially considering one report that the membership of the Concerned Transit Workers was overwhelmingly black but was not exclusively so. In any case, this caucus was forced to disband, and later on the union appointed some blacks to a few token positions.
. Another more famous example is the struggle at the Ford Assembly Plant in Mahwah, New Jersey, where black workers wildcatted in January 1968 and in April 1969. In the April strike 500 black workers shut down Ford-Mahwah for three days after a foreman dismissed a worker after calling him a "black bastard." A group called the United Black Brothers of Ford Mahwah was formed. It was opposed to racial discrimination in the plant and also against the union leadership. The wildcat was supported by a section of white workers and it made both anti-racist demands and demands against the harassment of workers in general.
. [Some additional notes on the Ford-Mahwah struggle, that were not delivered in the speech for the sake of brevity, may be of interest. 4200 workers worked at Ford-Mahwah; a third of them were black. The blacks had the worst jobs like in the body shop, and were heavily concentrated in the night shift. In the spring of 1969, a black worker was fired. UBB put forward a list of four demands, which were both anti-racist and anti-harassment. A strike was called; the night shift was shut down completely. SDS and Panthers were called on for support. A demand was added later for recognition of UBB as spokesman for the black workers. In the beginning a large proportion of black workers and many whites as well stayed off the job.
. UBB is reported to have influenced the election of a sympathetic white as local president but this one acted just like the old one after a few weeks. A group of Puerto Rican workers was also formed at the plant and UBB had a number of white contacts; UBB membership is reported to have been officially open to whites. After their first meeting, UBB meetings were open to whites as well as blacks. During the strike, a special leaflet was handed out asking for support from white workers and the UBB emphasized in its speeches and leaflet that all workers were affected by the issues in the strike--lousy working conditions, harassment, probationary firings, the sell- out union, etc. A few white workers attended meetings and many stayed out the first day; the union actively sabotaged white workers from joining the wildcat.]
. Also, there were other groups of black workers formed around the country, such as the RUM at Harvester in Chicago, the Black Panther Caucus at the GM plant in Fremont, Ca. , and others.
. In Louisville, black workers began to fight discrimination in the workplaces around 1966 on. In 1966, there was a certain agitation on this question at Louisville Gas and Electric. In December 1969 over 300 black workers at the Harvester foundry waged a "black Friday" strike against discrimination at the plant. An organization called the Black Workers Coalition formed in Louisville, mainly at the UAW locals.
. The black workers' movement of the 1960's was a fairly heterogenous phenomenon. There were
a wide range of views represented within it. Some groups were just trade unionist and in fact
simply amounted to black caucuses in the unions. Others claimed to be revolutionary. But
everywhere there were certain similarities. They reflected a general trend of the emergence of
black workers' organizations taking up the issues of fighting both racism and general plant-wide
issues facing all the workers. There were ideological similarities too in what influenced these
groups. Tendencies of both reformism and nationalism were particularly pronounced. And even
where the organizations declared themselves to be revolutionary, there was not a clear break with
reformism, as we shall see with the example of the League.
The Social and Political Context from Which the League Emerges
. First I want to briefly explain the social and political context in which the League appears in Detroit.
. Detroit was, and despite the current depression, still remains an industrial city with a heavy concentration of black workers. The area is well known to have strong traditions of a workers' movement. The city also has a history of various forms of struggle of the black masses against racism and national oppression.
. There has been a very heavy yoke of oppression on the backs of the black people of Detroit throughout this century. The capitalists have used racist oppression both to superexploit the black workers and to divide the working class along nationality lines. The blacks generally have had the worst and lowest-paying jobs. In the 1940's black workers in auto had to wage a number of wildcat strikes for job upgrading and against racist strikes of white workers fomented by the employers and the Klan. They had to stand up against the vicious pogrom known as the 1943 Detroit " race riot".
. In its early days the UAW, where the CP's influence was strong, appears to have taken certain steps in favor of the black workers, albeit this was done in a reformist manner. It was at that time that the reformist leaders of the UAW forged an alliance with the black reformist leadership in the city. Prior to this, the black reformist leadership in the city was anti-union and worked hand in hand with the companies. In later years as the social-democratic Reuther machine seized control of the UAW, the union itself institutionalized a whole series of forms of racial discrimination within the union. There developed growing discontent among rank-and-file black workers with the UAW. For instance, at this time the UAW under Reuther's leadership repeatedly refused to grant the demand for a single black representative on the Executive Board on the typically racist argument that there were no qualified blacks yet.
. The 1967 Detroit rebellion marked a major event in the city and in the black movement. The overwhelming number of participants in this rebellion were proletarians. A section of white workers also took part in the rebellion. The rebellion gave a strong sense of self-confidence to the black workers and it inspired a fighting mood among them.
. It is also interesting to note the political and ideological environment in which the League emerged. Politically and ideologically, Detroit has had traditions of both black nationalist organizing and the presence of various trends which declared themselves to be Marxist and socialist. The CP had gained a good deal of influence among the workers and black people through their work in the 1920's, 30's, and early 40's. Different shades of Trotskyism also had long had a presence in this city and in the early 1960's had stepped up their activity. The Trotskyites promoted the adaptation of Marxism to nationalism in the 1950's and 60's. This was reflected in the work of the SWP and study groups organized by the followers of the West Indian Trotskyite, C.L.R. James. Such an ideology was also promoted by the study groups formed by the local sect around James Boggs, who today heads up an organization called National Organization for an American Revolution.
. The original activists who founded the League, who mainly came from student backgrounds, had been in contact with these groups and were influenced by these ideas. They were also influenced by the ideas sweeping the movement at that time, including primeval three worldism. In the late 60's it should also be remembered that Marxism-Leninism had become very popular.
. The League was influenced by these ideological currents. But the League cannot be judged
simply from its ideological trappings. It has to be judged as part of an objective mass
phenomenon, which it represented, and within that context its ideological coloring has to be
assessed to see what sort of impact it had on this phenomenon.
A Brief History of the League
. We will see through a brief survey of the history of the League certain important features of this particular manifestation of the black workers' movement of that time. We will see that the League was not just simply a manifestation of the black workers' movement but it represented in fact a merger of two trends: a petty bourgeois revolutionary trend centered around the newspaper Inner City Voice combined with the black workers' movement in the Detroit area factories.
. In September 1967, shortly after the Detroit rebellion, a newspaper called Inner City Voice was founded in Detroit. The ICV was a radical newspaper oriented towards the black community; it was put out by a core of activists who had been active in the black student movement in the city. ICV appears to have represented a petty-bourgeois nationalist and revolutionary trend. It promoted different fronts of the black struggle, including students' struggles, tenants' struggles, and other community struggles. It agitated against racist attacks, in support of the GI movement and other anti-war struggles. It supported national liberation struggles and certain other international struggles. In its pages there also was a certain "get a hold of your guns", and "get prepared for armed struggle" type of rhetoric. (This included one issue where they published information on how to make bombs and the next issue had a letter from a reader saying "I tried it and it didn't work.") The paper also carried criticism of Uncle Toms in the black community for selling out to the racists. The paper was ideologically fairly heterogeneous--it promoted Castroism, Maoism, third-worldism, nationalism, you name it.
. In the fall of 1967, around this same time, something else was also taking place in Detroit. Black workers at the Chrysler Dodge Main assembly plant began meeting. Among these workers a few had historical connections with the activists who were putting out Inner City Voice. These workers formed a caucus.
. In May '68 at Dodge Main a wildcat strike broke out. A major cause of this wildcat was speedup of the line. The wildcat was joined in by both white and black workers. A number of workers were fired for the action, the majority of whom were black. It is in the struggle against these firings that the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) was formed as a black workers' organization. It began to put out a weekly newspaper called DRUM. Over the next period of time DRUM organized various actions against Chrysler and the UAW. This included a three-day wildcat of black workers in July 1968. DRUM, however, only called on the black workers to take part in this wildcat. White workers were not called on to join the strike; and in fact one report has it that they even asked white workers to go in!
. The DRUM-organized wildcat at Dodge Main stimulated the creation of two other RUMs: FRUM at Ford Rouge, which is Ford's gigantic plant in Dearborn, and ELRUM, which was the RUM at Eldon Avenue Gear and Axle Chrysler plant. Both began their own newsletters. Between Jan '69 and May 1970, ELRUM organized a series of wildcats against company disciplinary actions and against man-eating unsafe conditions.
. In this period RUMs were also formed in a whole series of other auto plants as well as at the Detroit News and United Parcel Service, although these were much smaller and not as active as DRUM, ELRUM, and FRUM.
. The League of Revolutionary Black Workers was formed in early 1969. It was designed to be an umbrella organization coordinating the different RUMs. The LRBW first began a newsletter called Spear, and when Inner City Voice resumed publication, that became the organ of the League. The League's core was composed of the activists who had launched Inner City Voice. It also drew in the workers from the RUMs who were closest to the politics promoted by Inner City Voice.
. The League is thus formed in fact as the merger of two trends: the petty-bourgeois revolutionary trend that was represented by the Inner City Voice combining with the motion among the black workers at the plants fighting against racism in the plants and in the union and in struggle over capitalist exploitation.
. I want to touch on a number of the prominent features of the ideology that the League promoted. It promoted the importance of organizing the black workers. It also promoted participation in the general black people's movement. It held to a programmatic goal of an anti-capitalist revolution with the black working class as the vanguard. The League described its short-range goal as the seizure of state power with the control of the means of production in the hands of the workers under the leadership of the black working class vanguard; it described its long-range goal as a society free of race, sex, class and national oppression, founded on the communist principles of distribution. It claimed that the black workers had such a key role in the economy that they could themselves bring down the capitalist system through a black general strike. The League claimed to be both revolutionary nationalist and Marxist-Leninist; it held to the necessity for the eventual formation of a black Marxist-Leninist party.
. During their existence, both before and after the founding of the League, the RUMs participated in several attempts to get elected to posts in the local unions at Dodge Main and Eldon Avenue. They campaigned on a variety of demands of concern to the workers in general and to the black workers in particular. But the essential appeal that the RUMS made in these election campaigns was a nationalist appeal. For instance, not only did they present those issues that were of concern to the black workers, but they also added demands for more black foremen and even black managerial and executive personnel. They also included demands for the UAW to shift its funds from white banks where it had its money, to black banks.
. (The League did not see the class differentiation in the movement. At the same time, it should be noted that one must take a careful approach to such demands. We are opposed to all racial barriers in any sphere of society. Furthermore, the demands for supervisory and bourgeois positions are, in practice, generally hard to separate from the general struggle against bars to blacks getting into the skilled trades, higher-paying jobs, etc. Thus, the issue is to oppose the reformist treachery of centering the movement on obtaining a few positions for the upper strata at the expense of the black masses and their use of demands for upper positions as a cover to justify their coming to agreement with the ruling bourgeoisie at the expense of the masses; the issue is not to condemn the denunciation of any of the racist practices of the bourgeoisie.)
. The Revolutionary Union Movements and the League were hit hard by the capitalists, the government and the union bureaucracy. The struggle was very intense. Many activists were fired. Workers were physically assaulted by police and union thugs. The police and union bureaucracy worked hand-in-hand to carry out the most outrageous actions to prevent League slates from winning in the union elections. The UAW International Executive went into a frenzy against the League; they sent a letter to all the UAW membership denouncing the League; Emil Mazey, a UAW social-democratic leader, gave an interview to the press describing the League as a "black peril" which was worse than the "red peril" of the 1930's. So that gives you a certain picture of the intensity of the struggle between the League and the UAW.
. The League did not win any of its elections -- at least not according to the official UAW tallies, which are far from reliable; they eventually gave up running for union posts and instead threw their support behind other black candidates who they supported for one reason or another. It should be noted that although the League did not win in any of the elections they took part in, they did get a substantial number of votes showing that they were able to develop a sizeable influence among the workers. And this was done in the face of incredible opposition from the union hacks and the police, who carried out all sorts of outrageous activities to sabotage the electoral campaigns of the League, including the police impounding union ballot boxes after the votes were in!
. The League had all along also carried out other fronts of work. They organized among black students. They took over the Wayne State University newspaper The South End and turned it into a left newspaper with general community distribution. They participated in a major campaign for school redistricting, decentralization and community control.
. In its community work, the League had always shown a definite propensity towards reformism; indeed a number of the leaders of the League were community organizers in Alinsky-type social-democratic community organizations all through this period. But at a certain point in its history, the League begins to show an even stronger tendency towards launching one extravagant scheme after another. This seems to coincide with difficulties in their work at the factories and with the firing of many of their activists from the factories.
. These schemes included the International Black Appeal, which was designed to be a sort of United Fund for the black community, to be funded through a check-off system at the companies where black workers worked. So the black workers were supposed to check off funds for the IBA instead of for the United Fund. The League also played an active role in the 1969 Black Economic Development Conference and through this linked up with James Forman, former leader of SNCC, who was promoting the Black Manifesto scheme to get reparations from the churches, the scheme more commonly known as the "rip off the churches" scheme.
. As a result of its long-standing nationalism, the League in its community work tended towards accommodation with various reformist and liberal elements in the black community. Thus the League also promoted the "Black United Front" type of work that had become fashionable at this time in the late 1960's. Black United Fronts were for example launched by Stokely Carmichael in Washington, D. C. and Baraka in Newark; these were meant to be coalitions drawing in all the sections of the "black leadership", excluding, perhaps, the most outright Uncle Toms (who didn't consider themselves part of the black leadership anyway).
. In 1971, the League splits and virtually collapses. A section around such top leaders of Inner
City Voice as Ken Cockrel, James Watson, and Mike Hamlin go into launching the Black
Workers Congress alongside James Foreman. Others around General Baker stick to the shell of
the League which soon after hooks up with the Communist League. But by and large that is the
end of the League.
On the Character of the League
. Now I would like to make a few remarks on certain conclusions one can draw about the character of the League.
. As we have noted before, the League represented one of the many manifestations of the black workers' movement which came up in the late 1960's. It was one of the most prominent manifestations of this trend, and it gained a good deal of national reputation. It shared in common with the other groups around the country a stand of struggle against class exploitation and racist oppression. But because of its own particular environment and history and the intensity of the struggle in Detroit, the League also had its own distinct features. In some respects the League represented some of the best and some of the worst features of the black workers' movement of that time.
. As we have noted, the League represented the merger of a petty bourgeois revolutionary trend with the black workers movement. This is what gave the League its particular ideological coloring and contributed to some of both its better and worst features. The fact that the black workers gravitated towards the League showed something more than they were just interested in taking up the immediate fight against racism and against class exploitation. It also showed them being attracted towards revolution, towards Marxism-Leninism, despite the fact that the variety of Marxism-Leninism that was being promoted by the League was very confused and really reformist and nationalist.
. The League appeared to stand for the black workers standing up at the head of the black liberation movement. This gave it a strong appeal to activists throughout the country. This stand of the League stood in strong contrast to the position of the Black Panther Party which promoted that it was the black lumpen proletariat which was the vanguard of the black people's struggle.
. The League appeared also to take steps beyond the traditional union caucus mold. It promoted itself as a group independent of and against the union bureaucracy. But the League, in some of its work with respect to the trade unions, verged on promoting a black syndicalist trade unionism. In its work the League did help to expose the UAW's class collaborationism and especially the racist underbelly of this allegedly pro-civil rights union.
. But the League had a number of outstanding negative characteristics. Although it took a few steps away from reformism, it did not represent a break with reformism. For instance, on the trade union front, although it did not collapse into reconciliation with the UAW leadership like many a previous black caucus, the League could not systematically forge an independent trend within the unions free of the influence of the bureaucracy. Indeed a number of the RUM activists later were elected into and integrated into various positions for blacks which were opened up by the maneuvers of the UAW bureaucracy.
. The League was especially marred by its nationalist ideology. The League promoted a strongly separatist line. They called essentially for the RUMs to be recognized as separate unions for the black workers. Their agitation, especially in the RUM newsletters, was strongly marked by tirades against "honkies," "pollacks," and so forth. And as we noted earlier, they did not appeal to white workers for support for their struggle. The League's nationalism was a definite drawback for the struggle because it cut the League off from many militant white workers who were otherwise sympathetic to the struggle of the League.
. This extreme nationalism was a very negative factor. It undermined the forging of a unified class struggle that could fight both the plant-wide issues facing all the workers as well as the special oppression of the black workers.
. But the nationalism also undermined the training of the black workers to represent the
proletarian stand within the black liberation movement. The nationalism blurred the class
distinctions within the black community and allowed the interests of the black workers to be
merged with the interests of the bourgeois strata within the black community. Indeed, in this
regard the nationalism of the League worked as a bridge to reformist positions. Although the
League criticized Uncle Toms and so forth, it did not carry out this criticism from any class
analysis of the black people. It did not recognize the existence of a black bourgeoisie. Indeed, as
a result of all this the League went into such campaigns in coalition with the upper strata of the
black community as for instance its campaign for school redistricting, the International Black
Appeal, and its general propensity towards Black United Front type of politics.
What the League Experience Shows
. Finally I wanted to make a few points on what the League experience shows about what attitude the Marxist-Leninists should take towards such a phenomenon.
. Again this is not a question that a precise phenomenon like the League will repeat itself. Nevertheless it is very likely that given the current objective conditions in the U.S. and the state of the workers movement, it is quite possible that black workers will continue to launch various forms of struggle and organization against their double oppression. For example in Louisville in 1975-1976, after the earlier Black Workers Coalition had by and large collapsed, another black workers' organization came up. This was during the fight against the fascist anti-busing movement. This was the United Black Workers of Jefferson County.
. The left political trends of the 1960's and early 70's basically divided themselves among positions of either condemning the League or simply tailing behind it. Neither stand is correct.
. In this regard it is important to remember that one cannot approach the League simply on the basis of the negative features of its ideology. One must take into account both what it objectively represented in the world as well as its ideological features. At the Second Congress we discussed the question of the emergence of a trend of "left social-democracy" or left reformism, among activists who wish to split with reformism but do not yet make a full break with it. That is a pertinent lesson to recall when one approaches a phenomenon such as the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.
. When one approaches the League one must look at the whole phenomenon it represented and one must also put oneself in the period in which it appeared. One can look at some of the nationalist ideas promoted by the League or look at some of its various extravagant scheme-mongering or look at the character of some of its leaders and tend to write off the whole thing as a bad phenomenon. But it is important to remember that the League wasn't just a handful of careerist elements. The League wasn't just John Watson or Ken Cockrel and Mike Hamlin. It in fact represented an objective phenomenon which was progressive. The League of Revolutionary Black Workers represented an objective mass trend among militant black workers at that time. Thus when we are talking about the Marxist-Leninist approach to the League we are talking about how to approach this objective trend.
. Of course Marxist-Leninists would not set out to organize separate black workers organizations in the workplaces. We would work for organizations of a unitary type that would combat capitalist exploitation in general and also take up the special oppression of black and other oppressed nationality workers. But when one is talking about the League one is not talking about something that the Marxist-Leninists set out to do as part of their plans and programs; rather it is a question of what do you do faced with something thrown up by the spontaneous movement? What do you do when faced with a trend of fighting black workers that comes up on its own? Under the current conditions in the working class movement, it does happen that black workers at times feel that the fight against racism is their own struggle and that white workers will not take up such a fight. And if the black workers organize under such conditions and with such sentiments, one cannot go and tell the black workers: no, you shouldn't organize to fight until you are convinced that workers of all nationalities can be mobilized into this fight. No, one must find ways to get close to these workers and find ways to bring them to class conscious and really revolutionary positions.
. A trend such as the League came up to fight on actual issues of importance for the class struggle--the struggle against national oppression in the plants and in the unions, the general anti-racist struggle, the struggle against the exploitation and persecution of workers in the work place, and so forth. In working to get close to such a trend as the League, one of the most important lessons is that the Marxist-Leninists need to fight on these issues too and provide orientation for the struggle on these questions. The Marxist-Leninists need to show how to advance this fight and, in the context of standing up for this struggle, to show that the strongest fight on these questions is waged not through nationalism but through revolutionary Marxism-leninism.
. At the same time, a Marxist-Leninist approach had to deal with the negative features of the ideology of the League. Organizations such as the League come up representing something real. But if they are not influenced away from their negative baggage, then they do not leave much behind; they head for collapse, and their gains are frittered away.
. This especially meant finding the ways and means to influence the black workers in the League away from reformism and nationalism. It meant winning the workers to positions of consistent independence from the union bureaucracy, winning them away from the black bourgeoisie and from all capitalist influence. It meant finding the ways to use the energy of the movement among the black workers to strengthen class consciousness among them.
. It also meant finding ways to deal with the leadership of such a trend. One could not write off the whole trend because of the bad leadership. Neither could one promote illusions in the leadership. And only the actual development of the struggle would determine whether any of the leaders could be won over to revolutionary positions or neutralized or who would remain committed to diehard opportunist positions. Of course here one can't spell out any details of the tactics involved in such a complicated struggle such as issues of when you come out in polemical form, how you polemicize, and so forth. Nevertheless the general outlines of the approach can be pointed out, as we have above.
. Finally I want to end by just noting that there is also the issue of organization. The League did
promote itself with separatist positions on the organizational front, such as separate black trade
unions and a separate black Marxist-Leninist party. Of course we do not reconcile ourselves to
these positions. But as far as the actual question of the possibility and what attitude can you
accept on nationality organization of black workers, I want to leave that aside for another
discussion at this conference. [See the speech on nationality organization.] So that ends my
report on the League. <>
Notes -- September 2008
(WAS) The Workers' Advocate, and Workers' Advocate Supplement, which carried additional materials including many of the longer theoretical articles, were publications of the Marxist-Leninist Party of the US. The MLP, which was founded on Jan. 1, 1980 and dissolved in November 1993, stemmed from the anti-revisionist movement of activists who wanted to push forward the mass struggles and root them in the working class, saw Marxism as an essential guide for the revolutionary struggle, and rejected the sell-out reformism of the official pro-Soviet communist parties. It was opposed to both Soviet revisionism and Trotskyism. Its roots went back in the mass movements of the 1960s, such as the anti-racist, anti-war, student, women's, and workers' movements, and the WA itself was published from 1969 to 1993. The cause of anti-revisionist communism is upheld today by the Communist Voice Organization, and the Communist Voice is a theoretical journal which is a successor to the Workers' Advocate.
. The WAS issue of January 1985 included the full text of the speech on the League of
Revolutionary Black Workers, edited for publication, and with some additional notes by the WAS
on the struggle at the Ford Assembly Plant in Mahwah, New Jersy. (Return to text)
Posted September 18, 2008.