First Published: Challenge,Vol III, No. 3, July 26, 1966
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Simultaneously emerging with Stokely Carmichael’s election as leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee was an outspoken, militant stance, symbolized by the slogan “Black Power.” Since then a number of activists and so-called “leaders” of the Black people have jumped on the bandwagon and have seized the same slogan. The racist press gives them heavy coverage, along with what the press calls the “nationalists” in the Black community.
The slogan “Black Power” is new; but the concept is as old as the Black struggle for freedom and liberation in this country. It was first articulated in a meaningful way by the Black convention held in Cleveland, Ohio, Aug. 24-26, 1854.
Upon the formation of Progressive Labor, the leadership of PL again raised the theoretical concept of Black self-determination wherever Blacks constitute a majority.
In the March 1965 “Special Convention Discussion Issue” of Progressive Labor magazine, Bill Epton wrote (in an article entitled “Black Self-Determination”):
“We state that the Black people, and their organizations, have the right to self-determination, i.e., the right, based upon their own experience, their struggle and their organization and program, to determine their position in this country. We firmly uphold, respect and support the right of the Negro people in the U.S. to make this choice without any coercion or intimidation from ’white America.’”
As we said in a resolution adopted at the founding convention of the Progressive Labor Party — the result of years of experience and discussion:
“We state that the Black people have embarked on the path of self-determination and will complete the process when capitalism has been destroyed...”
“Black nationalism is the condition of being pro-Black and not necessarily anti-white. It means identifying with the Black people’s heritage and culture and seeking Black Liberation by any means necessary.”
“Black Power,” like the discredited slogan “Freedom Now,” is meaningless unless the organization is being built to achieve it and to hold it once it is won.
Without the serious building of the movement, we will find ourselves in the position of escalating slogans but not the struggle for that “power.” It’s easy for reformers and fakers to identify with a slogan. But they will be exposed both by action and by the short- and long-range program that has the concept of establishing deep roots among the Black people while preparing for a long protracted struggle to build a power base.
Since the late 1950s there has been developing among the Black people a growing national consciousness or “nationalism.” This awareness was beginning to be articulated by Malcolm X when the U.S. ruling class ordered his assassination. Many activists in Black communities picked it up and began further to develop and articulate it. The ruling class, seeing this development and sensing its potential danger to the continued exploitation of Black masses, is attempting to co-opt it, divert it or confuse the people. If this is not successful, they will attempt to rally the white population against the Black people and prepare the country for open fascist suppression of Black people and their growing revolutionary movement.
One of the clearest examples is the recent Life magazine article entitled “Plot to Get Whitey” (June 10), in which the author (and an accompanying editorial) blows the trumpet for the “leading spokesmen” for the new Black militants, Leroi Jones and Dan Watts (editor of Liberator). Of course, neither live in Harlem, have a base in Harlem or do any political work in Harlem. But the ruling class finds them useful because they make extreme statements, are in no position to carry their “threats” out, and serve the purpose of “justifying” repressive measures used against Black people.
To further “substantiate” his charges, the author of the Life article quotes extensively from unnamed members of RAM – the Revolutionary Action Movement – which disbanded at least a year ago.
Following Life’s example, the N.Y. Times (July 3) ran a long article under the title “Black Nationalists Gain More Attention In Harlem.” The Times writer disagreed with the Life writer, and was really going to dig down deep and get at the bottom of the story. And what did he come up with? A list of the exponents of “Black Power” – featuring some of the most reactionary nationalists to be found In Harlem (who are all, by the way, working for the government through Haryou)...Some of the other organizations mentioned, however, do play a positive role in the Harlem community.
There is a legitimate, progressive nationalism developing among the Black people. SNCC and its leadership has given it a slogan – “Black Power” – and the U.S. rulers are now out to see if they can contain or control it. Two-bit, so-called “leaders” have now come out in support of the slogan, even though many of them have distorted concepts of what the words mean. Even some of the basically pacifist-reformist organizations have voiced support. The Black people must be vigilant, because the purpose of some of these organizations and individuals is to serve as a “fifth column” in the Black people’s movement. We will know by their deeds how much they really believe in and are ready to support Black Power, and we will judge by their actions their claims of belief in self-defense.
If “Black Power” means building a Black united front-type organization – we support it!
If “Black Power” means that in those areas where the Black people are a majority they should control their destiny – we support it!
If “Black Power” means that when we are attacked by the racists, fascists and their organizations, we should strike back ten-fold – then we support it and will do anything in our power to make it live and grow Into a reality.
SNCC has the duty and obligation, since it has advanced the slogan, to spell out in clear and unequivocal terms what it means. We have advanced past the stage of supporting slogans – we must now support programs!