George Rawick

Watts What

(Winter 1966/67)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.27, Winter 1966/67, p.36.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Anyplace But Here
Arna Bontemps and Tack Conroy
New York, Hill & Wang, $5.95

This is a revised and expanded version of They Seek a City, published in 1945. It has new chapters on Marcus Garvey, The Black Muslims, Malcolm X, and Detroit, Chicago, and Watts. It represents the limits of progressivism, the ideology of those who once clustered about the American Communist Party and display until this day its special marks. The material contained in the original 1945 book is useful and first-rate, a good social history of the Negro people in America.

The new material is poor. Marcus Garvey is seen as a reflection of the frustration of the Negro masses, but essentially as half-charlatan, half-prophet. There is no mention of the central contributions of the Marcus Garvey to the life of Negro Americans. For example, the Garvey movement created Liberty Halls in most major northern cities where recent Negro arrivals from the rural south might find a place to stay, a meal, and information about jobs, but the authors do not mention this. Of Elijah Muhammad and the Black Muslims we are told that they represent the frustrations of the Negro people, that they are primitive revolutionaries, that they do not represent the mainstream of the movement, and that the Trotskyites whom the authors obviously do not like tried to enshrine Malcolm X in the pantheon of revolutionary deities. While the last point they make is true, it is not significant. Indeed, no more significant than American Trotskyism itself.

And Watts? By now the reader can guess for himself. Watts was a manifestation of the frustration of the Negro people, who acted in an understandable but misguided way, and after it was over, many of those who participated felt that they had been wrong because they had endangered negro-white unity. The progressives have become the ultimate sectarians. What is, is never quite right, even the revolutions men engage in.

Last updated on 6 May 2010