First Published: The Call, Vol. 4, No. 5, February 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
In a revival of some of the greatest traditions of revolutionary struggle in the U.S., the founding conference of the National Fight-Back Organization (NFBO) took place in Chicago Dec. 27-28 amidst the unity and enthusiasm of the 1300 delegates.
Participants came from 30 cities in all parts of the U.S. to produce a turnout that outstripped the conference planners’ expectations. The vast majority of the people crowded into the huge ballroom of Chicago’s McCormick Inn were workers, and nearly half were minority nationalities.
Delegates came from more than 70 organizations, including local Fight-Back Committees, rank-and-file union caucuses, welfare and tenants’ groups, anti-repression coalitions and many others.
The potential for militant struggle of this grouping was reflected in the opening remarks to the gathering made by the master of ceremonies, Mary Joyce Johnson. As a lawyer active in the defense of many workers and minorities struggles, including the Fight-Back 10 in Atlanta, she pointed out: “When I go into court, I’m real fortunate because lots of times the people go with me and I get to see the judges and police shake a little bit. I guarantee you if any of them could see this crowd, they’d all be shaking in their boots!”
The theme that ran throughout the two-day conference was the need to build a mass united front of fighting workers’ organizations based on multi-national unity and opposition to capitalism and its crisis. The keynote speakers at the conference were themselves workers, who spoke of the need for this kind of organization based on their own experiences and struggles.
The first speaker was Sloane striker, Mary Emerson, a white woman from southern California. She spoke of the militant unity of the Sloane strikers in the course of their 2 and a half year-long strike. Condemning the deportation of Mexican and Chicano workers in Los Angeles, she pointed out, “Anything that’s an injustice is still an injustice no matter what religion you are or what nationality you’re from.”
Emerson attacked the sell-out reactionaries in the leadership of the United Rubber Workers International, who had sold out the Sloane strikers. “When we go on strike, the trade union leadership gives us a little money–but for years, half of our union dues have gone to the international. They can drive big cars–but it’s not important to them that we don’t have any bread. They just tell us to eat less!”
OL Central Committee member and veteran Black communist Odis Hyde spoke next. He traced the history of his own participation in the workers’ and national liberation movements going back to the early 1900’s. He spoke of the brutal oppression of Blacks in the Deep South, where he was born. “I used to hear my grandmother cry at night in our home in Louisiana and ask God, ’how long?’ God didn’t answer,” said Hyde and then gestured to the hundreds of people in the audience, “But you must!”
Hyde explained how the then-revolutionary Communist Party of the 1930’s had led the way to unity of working people of all nationalities in a united movement against the effects of the Great Depression. He showed how communist leadership of the great strikes, anti-eviction and anti-lynching struggles had shown large numbers of white workers “you can’t eat your race if you ain’t got no money. If you can’t buy your baby milk, you can’t tell him, ’drink your white skin.’”
Hyde called on the Fight-Back movement to take up the struggle against the brutal capitalist system and reject the racism and anti-communism of the imperialist class: “Your task is to tear down that house of falsehood and lies upon which the American mind has been nourished.”
The last speech of the morning was given by Starbisha Weusi, representing the Congress of Afrikan People (CAP), who continued the theme of unity by outlining the special demands and role of women, particularly minority and working-class women, in the struggle. Weusi exposed the brutal and inhuman conditions that the current imperialist crisis is forcing on millions of poor and working women, including the highest rate of unemployment, forced sterilizations and increased discrimination in every sphere.
Weusi emphasized that it is the imperialist system, not men, that is the cause of women’s oppression. She criticized the view of the bourgeois feminists who attack men and make the main demands of the women’s movement “more women bank presidents.” Pointing to the women’s struggle as a burning issue facing the Fight-Back movement, she stressed that the women’s cause is the cause of the entire working class who must take the lead in fighting for women’s emancipation.
A number of solidarity speakers took the microphone during the course of the conference. A special round of rousing welcome greeted veteran revolutionaries Harry Haywood and Nanny Washburn, who spoke about their experiences in the workers’ movement of the 30s and 40s.
The high level of unity present at the Conference was reflected in the spirit of the people, as well as by the motion, overwhelmingly adopted, to form a National Fight-Back Organization, defined by the following Statement of Purpose:
The National Fight-Back Organization, (NFBO) is dedicated to fighting the economic and political effects of the imperialist crisis, in particular, the NFBO is concerned with the effects of this crisis on the poor and working people. We seek to unite in an organized fight-back the employed and unemployed workers, men and women, poor and working people of all nationalities. We recognize the cause of the crisis as the capitalist system which is based on profits for a few, and exploitation and misery for the vast majority.
These basic foundations for the fight-back movement reflected the widespread understanding among the conference participants that the enemy is more than just one factory owner, one cop or one city administration. It also reflected the advanced political stand that it is the working class which must take up the struggle not only for its economic interests, but against all forms of injustice aimed against any section of the people.
Based on this high degree of unity, struggle was waged at the conference over several important issues with the aim of consolidating and heightening the unity that existed there.
The busing issue was one such point of struggle. Is busing to achieve integration in the schools a legitimate demand? What is the relationship between fighting for school integration and fighting for quality education for all children? These questions were openly debated on the floor at the conference plenary.
The view expressed by the majority of delegates at the conference was that support for the busing struggles in Boston, Louisville and other cities had to be a keystone of the fight-back’s opposition to segregation and national oppression.
Taking the lead in the debate, conference participants from Boston and Louisville exposed die pro-imperialist, segregationist character of the anti-busing movement which is led by groups such as Boston’s ROAR, the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis. The debate culminated in the adoption of a resolution in opposition to all forms of national oppression, including support for the struggles for busing to integrate the schools.
Another important point of struggle came up in the discussion of what the basis for unity of the Fight-Back Organization should be. While the conference planners had proposed that the NFBO be a broad anti-imperialist coalition of groups and individuals, there were some delegates who felt that agreement with the need for socialist revolution should be a prerequisite for membership.
Many people rose to speak against the addition of this point. One speaker pointed out that, “Thousands of people are daily being thrown out of work and attacked in other ways by this crisis. We need an organization that these workers can be part of.”
A representative from the October League also spoke in favor of the NFBO being a broad united front coalition based on a minimum program of anti-capitalist struggle. He explained that the October League is one organization that supports the revolutionary overthrow of the imperialist system and the establishment of socialism. He also explained that the October League is working hard to build a new communist party that can lead the working and oppressed people in making this revolution. At the same time, he pointed out that this revolutionary party must be built alongside broad mass struggles and movements that encompass a much larger number of workers than those who presently understand and support the need for socialist revolution.
Ending with the adoption of the Conference Planning Committee’s organizational proposal, this struggle enabled many people who had come to the conference to gain clarity on the broad character and goals of the fight-back movement. The conference proceeded to elect a National Organizing Committee composed of fight-back activists from around the country: Larry Miller (Baltimore), Dave Howell (Chicago), Arlene Schumache (L.A.), Frank Solomon (Chicago), Ron Carter (Atlanta), and Willa Mae Frye (Detroit). Over the next few months, a national steering committee will be elected.
The internationalist foundation of the National Fight-Back Organization was reflected in the speeches and solidarity messages made by international speakers at the conference. A keynote speaker was Norberto Cintron Fiallo, a leader of El Gremio, The Guild of Puerto Rican Workers and a spokesman for the United Workers Movement in Puerto Rico (MOU). Cintron expressed the solidarity of the Puerto Rican workers’ movement and the movement for Puerto Rican independence.
He was received with a standing ovation from the crowd and a strong commitment to defend his brother, Federico Cintron Fiallo, executive secretary of the MOU, who is being framed on false charges of “bank robbery” for his activities as a militant labor and independence leader in Puerto Rico.
This spirit of world-wide solidarity was expressed in a resolution submitted to the Conference and discussed in the international workshop: “The National Fight-Back Organization stands side by side with our brothers and sisters throughout the entire world who are struggling against all forms of oppression and exploitation. With the peoples of the world, we share a common enemy in the imperialist system, headed by the two superpowers, U.S. and the Soviet Union.”
Some people initially questioned, “Why is it necessary for the NFBO to take a stand on the world situation?” Through the discussion, it was pointed out that the two superpowers, who are locked in rivalry with each other throughout the world, pose the main threat of a new world war. This represents a threat not only to the people in the U.S., but people of all countries, who must get prepared in the eventuality of such a war. At the same time, people of the world, particularly the Third World countries, are playing a main role in opposing the two superpowers and the same imperialist system that is the enemy of the workers in the U.S. as well.
It is this understanding which leads the Fight-Back Organization to raise the slogan “Jobs Not War,” and reject the imperialist “solution” of war as an answer to the current crisis. It is also this understanding which enables the NFBO to understand who its real friends and real enemies are throughout the world, and to reject the imperialists’ attempt to place the blame for the crisis on the backs of the Third World countries who are struggling for independence and control of their own natural resources.
A workshop was held along this line on “Why there is no crisis in China” where the present economic crisis was laid at the feet of capitalism as opposed to socialist countries like China where unemployment and inflation are unknown.
Internationalism and working-class solidarity were also carried through into the evening where several cultural performances were given by entertainers including country singer Ann Romaine, the CAP Anti-Imperialist Singers and Betty Fykes, a blues singer from Selma, Alabama. At one point Betty Fykes introduced the song “Keep Your Eye on the Prize,” and called people up to the stage to sing verses. Dozens of people took the stage to sing hastily-composed lyrics about the Fight-Back, various repression cases, and heroic struggles of people all over the world.
The National Fight-Back Conference was an opportunity for learning through struggle and exchange of many peoples’ collective experience. Over 30 workshops were held on both general questions and particular issues ranging from the S-l Bill to a program for struggle in the auto industry. But it was also a working conference-which ended with the accomplishment of the formation of a national organization that can solidify the growing fight-back movement into an even stronger and more effective force. With no recovery for the imperialist crisis in sight, the coming months will see an even broader expansion of the fight-back, as well as a continuation of the political discussions and struggles initiated at the conference.
The conference also testified to the growing influence of Marxist-Leninists among the masses, and the developing revolutionary consciousness of workers across the country. The fact that a number of Marxist-Leninist groups were able to unite to build the conference was also a good indication of the growing unity in the direction of a single communist party with a single center, capable of leading the entire working, class struggle.
Since the conference, meetings of the local fight-back organizations have generally swelled in size and they have heightened their activities. This meeting of hundreds of working class fighters serves notice to the ruling circles that a new day is dawning and that exploitation and oppression will not be tolerated for long.