C.L.R. James

The Gathering Forces

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III. What Is Socialism?

The Struggle for Socialism Today and Tomorrow

The most appeal for socialism ever to be made in the Western Hemisphere turns upon race, upon imperialism, upon the proletariat of all colours. This appeal was made by Stokely Carmichael, whose cry of “Black Power” has reverberated from one end of the Americas to the other. At the conference of the Organisation of Latin American States held in 1967 in Havana, Carmichael said:

We share with you also a common vision of the establishment of humanistic societies in the place of those now existing. (Caribbean Nation Pamphlet, Montreal, p. 1)

He continued:

We speak with you, comrades , because w wish to make clear that we understand that our destinies are intertwined. Our world can only be the third world; our only struggle, for the third world; our only vision, of the third world. (Ibid., p. 1)

But instead of this limiting the perspective to the Third World, it propels the movement through race to class. Carmichael continued:

Black power is more than a slogan; it is a way of looking at our problems and the beginning of a solution to them ... This coming together around our race was an inevitable part of our struggle. We recognise, however, that this is not the totality, only the necessary beginning. (Ibid., pp. 6–7)

What Carmichael makes clear is that the Negro population of the United States will close the gap between representative democracy and direct democracy. First he talks of representative democracy and slavery.

Indeed in that same town where the settlers set up their model of government based on the theory of representative democracy – in that same town the first slaves were brought from Africa. (Ibid., p. 7)

To change all that, Carmichael then said, required that “our race” search for another model of mass participation!

The labour movement of the United States while in the beginning containing some great leaders in the struggle against the absolute control of the economy by the industrial lords essentially fought only for money. Those few who had the vision of extending the fight for workers’ control of production, never succeeded in transmitting their entire vision to the rank and file. (Ibid., p. 7)

The black youths of the ghetto for Carmichael are the proponents of thw “entire vision” of rank-and-file control to the American population. This leads him to a view of the difficulties of the overall situation:

The American working class enjoys the fruits of the labours of the third world workers. The proletariat has become the third world; the bourgeoisie is white Western society. (Ibid., p. 8)

This fixed sociologica1-geographical division is untenable because the objective determinants active in the struggles in the urban centres go beyond this. Afro-Americans came as traffic in the slave trade. They worked in tobacco and cotton on the countryside. Today they work in auto and steel, in the industrial plants >of the cities. They are a part, today the most advanced sector, of the American working class. And thus the largest Negro rising took place in the most industrial of American cities, Detroit. Not integration in public accommodations but a New World, freed from slave trafficking in labour, black and white, as a commodity, freed from slave cabins ans ghetto slums as the basic conditions of existence, is the way the Negro struggle leads us. The independent Negro struggle will link up with the rest of the working class tomorrow or the day after. And ultimately Carmichael knows this – or at least hopes that it is true. He declared:

When the white workers realise their true condition, then there will exist the possibilities for alliances between ourselves and them. However, we cannot wait for this to happen, or despair if it does not happen. The struggle we are engaged in is international. (Ibid., p. 4)

But more. At the end of this monumental address, which will be long remembered when the words of the imperialists have been forgotten, Carmichael said:

It is >a question of the Third World starting a new history of Man, a history which will have regard to the sometimes prodigious theses which Europe has put forward, but which will also not forget Europe’s crimes ... committed in the hearts of man ... the pathological tearing apart of his functions and the crumbling away of his unity. (Ibid., p. 12)

Only those who have moved into an advanced revolutionary stage are free to pick and choose what they want from the past. Knowingly or otherwise, what is chosen from Europe is the signal heritage of the Hungarian Revolution, workers’ councils, direct democracy. What is selected from the Cuban Revolution is national self-assertion and now a vision of the socialist future of mankind. What is selected from the European heritage as a whole is the notion of the unity of human activity, economic, political and social, the work of Marx, the vision of humanistic societies.

The concentration of truths in this speech by Stokely Carmichael to the OLAS Conference is without parallel as of this moment in the most advanced outposts of civilisation anywhere, the areas from which the theories of socialism have originally sprung. And the young man enunciating this new socialist appeal spent his own childhood on a small island in the Caribbean where in the smallest relative land area the greatest concentration of imperialistic adventures have proceeded for half-a-thousand years.

Last updated on 18 October 2020