The Destruction of a Workers Paper. C. L. R. James 1962

Working Class Journalism
Extracts from Two Letters


Facing Reality – Now

October 8, 1961

Dear Friends,

...What has happened to our politics? Our central faith, the inherently revolutionary capacity of the American workers, is being abandoned. A careful reading of the recent issues of Correspondence will show that we are skeptical of what once distinguished us from other radical groups. It is this skepticism which is poisoning us, which is being rejected by our readers, which we must root out or perish.

The most striking social development in the U. S. today is without doubt the offensive of the Negroes. This struggle has its own validity. What the Negroes are achieving in the actual day-to-day life that they have led is significant. The changes that they are now producing in the nation, in the South, in the minds of the whites as well as in their own minds – all this has its own value, not to be set aside for distant Utopias or theories.

But Correspondence fails its particular role when it fails to link up the revolutionary struggle of the Negroes with that of the working class. To stress only the race angle is to surrender the paper’s treatment of the question either to the liberals, on the one hand,

who see only the extension of Rights, or the Muslims, on the other hand, who see only the extension of Race.

The surrender to the liberal line was clearly marked with the June 3, 1961 (V. 5, No. 11) issue of the paper. This was the fantastic issue which declared in the headline: “The Second Civil War Has Begun In the United States of America.” What was the Civil War

about? “The issues of freedom and equality which the American people refused to resolve 100 years ago are now going to be settled...” Note the emphasis on Rights. Who was going to make this change? The workers? No, “bodies of armed men.” And who are

these? “... the Negro community, calm, confident, and conscious ...” and “...the white youth in the North, burning to go to the aid of the Freedom Riders...” That’s it. Not a word about the working class. Not a mumblin’ word.

If the article had not declared that the actions of the Freedom Riders were initiating the Second Civil War, it might have been possible to leave out a consideration of the working class... But how... is it possible that an issue so profound to the nation, THE SECOND CIVIL WAR, which has always meant for us the socialist revolution, which, in turn, has always meant the mobilization of the working class in their own revolutionary organs -how is it possible NOT to make some reference to the working class? The abandonment of the revolutionary proletarian line in this social crisis of the nation produces not only farce and tragedy in Correspondence. It produces irony. Something like 17 years ago we attacked a WP pamphlet called “Plenty for All.” It was a vulgar Marxist equivalent for the Moslem Heaven: all the wonderful material things of life were promised, in semi-religious tone, for the working class – once it made the revolution. It was devoid of the working class as a revolutionary force. Now, many years later, we improve on it, in the Aug. 26, 1951 (V. 5, No. 16) issue, the head line reads: “U.S. Can Produce Plenty NOW – Where Do We Go Prom Here.” Plenty for all has become plenty for now!

But this article, typical of the Trotskyites and all the vanguardists, first lists all the Hell features of modern life in the U.S., then berates the very millions who suffer from this Hell: “Why do these inhuman conditions still exist in these United States, the one country in the whole world which claims to be a classless society? These are the questions which the American people must now face openly, squarely, honestly. There is no longer any excuse for us to evade them.”

We are to become naggers of the working class. And they, being profoundly sensitive to the condescension of the oppressors, will not renew their subs, letting us shrivel and die the death we deserve.

* * *

That this return to vanguardism is bankrupt is finally revealed in the last issue of the paper, (V. 1, No. 18). The headline reads: “Strikes Over 10,000 Local Grievances Show Shortage of Rights in the U.S.A.” That is putting the cart before the horse. If anything, the strikes show that thousands of workers are ready to fight for their “rights.” In 1955 they first rebelled against the guaranteed annual wage contract talks by posing their concept of the struggle, the fight for local grievances. This has now become so powerful a part of their wants, that their pressure drives Reuther running from one mouse hole to another, obviously a lackey of capital.

If the workers are so insistent on their rights that they can destroy Reuther’s effectiveness in dealing with the auto companies in the manner he conceives of it, if they are so insistent, what can they think of a paper like Correspondence which obviously thinks that they don’t fully understand that they have a shortage of rights?

* * *

In conclusion: what is necessary if we are to re establish the health of the paper and the organization, is not plenty for all or plenty for now or preaching socialism. What is necessary is to face the fact that we have been abandoning our basic ideas and concepts under pressure of alien classes. We must face reality – NOW.