First Issued: September 1969
First Published: As an editorial in Progressive Labor, Vol. 7, No. 3, November 1969
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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While men were circling the moon last July the Black Panther Party conducted its own excursion into political outer space. Billed as a conference to form a “united front against fascism,” the Panthers’ Oakland adventure turned out to be a Communist Party dream come true.
Studying the flight plan of the various CP. hacks, lawyers and stooges in the mass movement, these pioneers spent a weekend babbling about how to make elections change society – and chasing out “culprits” who oppose this nonsense. Only a handful of black people attended, and most of them were nationalists. Except for a few honest pro-working class people and a scattering of rank-and-file Panthers, what an assortment the rest were: dope addicts, hippies, yippies, freaks and pot heads. The right wing (Revolutionary Youth Movement) of the so-called New Left was there. The crew also included a sampling of the various sects that allude vaguely to Marxism-Leninism, and, of course, the Trotskyites, without whom no adventure could get under way.
And last, those perennial weeds, the gaggle of old-time C.P.’ers (most of whom had quit that party) who for the past eight years have spent their time eulogizing Mao Tse-tung and eagerly “advising” the Progressive Labor Party, while steering clear of the people and mass struggle. What a service the CP. did for the revolution. Only it could have organized this circus of clowns and crackpots and exposed them for the true opportunists, racists and anti-communists they are.
The CP. proved in the clearest possible way that nationalism (“revolutionary” nationalism, if you will) is the great ally of revisionism. Why shouldn’t there be unity among those who agree the Paris negotiations are good; who believe that to be a black cop is the great aspiration of black workers; who believe nationalism is revolutionary ideology and a way station to socialism; who believe elections are the main way to overthrow capitalism; and who believe the dictatorship of the proletariat is at best a nice-sounding slogan, but really workers and the workers’ dictatorship are for the birds?
What tragic irony. While this collection of hippies, RYM people, assorted “Maoists” and a few Panthers were waving their Red Books, the CP. hacks leading the conference were laughing up their sleeves. They had every reason to do so. At that very moment the big cheeses in Moscow were pouring more troops and guns over the Chinese border in an attempt to destroy the Chinese workers’ dictatorship (and of course wipe out Mao Tse-tung as the leader of the revolutionary camp).
Of course, because of its rotten ideas and activity the CP. and all it touches are completely discredited among the working people. But isolation has made the CP. bureaucrats overanxious. Graspy. Having bought the Panther leadership, they desperately wanted to use them to ride back into the mass movement. Hiding behind the Panther image, they made “chief theoretician” Herbert Aptheker conference keynoter and put long-time hack William Patterson on the conference steering committee. They had Roscoe Proctor, the C.P.’s chief liaison man with the Panthers, chair the panel on labor, and put Archie Brown, California CP. bigwig, on the panel. But this just gave the game away. Not only did the CP. fail to enhance its reputation – even as militant reformers – but the Panthers’ own all-important image suffered.
The open CP. control and the reactionary CP. program that emerged from this marriage of fops was a big embarrassment to the other fops. For example: The Trotskyites and the Guardian found it necessary openly to criticize the conference and the Panthers. Yet just a few weeks ago this same gang of journalistic riddle-writers were scribbling that to criticize the Panthers was implicitly racist.
In fact, an important feature of the conference was the nauseating air of racism that enveloped it: good old American-ruling class-liberal racism, paternalistic and sniveling by turns, but always oppressive. How could it be otherwise? All these status-quo politicians were trying to manipulate the black working people’s anger and rebellion, represented by the Panther reputation they had hoped to buy along with the Panther leaders, to make themselves big shots. Doesn’t that scheme express the greatest contempt for the black working people? But isn’t it traditional American politics – from Huey Long to Hubert Humphrey? And, incidentally, in order to make sure they would get away with their shameless manipulation, the CP. organizers saw to it that there were virtually no black people in attendance to challenge their racism.
No one can fight the U.S. ruling class without fighting racism. Fighting racism is the key element in the struggle. And no coalition founded on racism, as the Oakland extravaganza was, can fight racism unless it first destroys itself. To fight racism the black workers must organize themselves, isolate the racist ruling-class spokesmen among them – who usually pose as nationalists of one stripe or another – and launch and lead solid battles against the boss and against the Government. But even more important: White communists and radicals must build strong ties with the white workers, organize them, fight against their racist ideas and make them understand that it is in their own interest to overcome their racism.
The fight to defeat racist ideas is inseparable from the fight to win white workers to revolutionary communist ideas. And the context within which this can be done is the effort to ally and merge the political and class struggle of white workers with the political and class struggle led by the black workers.
The organic unity of communists with the working class is essential; but it is only the workers who can do the job. That is why holding such a conference without basing it on workers is so revealing a sign that the only thing intended is racist manipulation for personal or sectarian profit. It’s the old ruling class tune played once again, with the conference organizers providing the right harmony by expelling every communist they could spot for fear the few honest pro-working class and rank-and-file Panthers at the conference be inspired to rebel.
It is no wonder the bourgeois press is crowing about the changes in the Panthers and their obvious unity with the CP. The Panther leaders are tamed. Their enemy is no longer the ruling class. The bosses’ plan has worked. Using terror to prod the Panthers to jump on the C.P.’s Trojan horse has finished them off. A little revolutionary nationalism, a few phrases about class struggle, a trip or two to Cuba – everything is justified to the petty-bourgeois “left.” The main enemy of the Panther bosses, the CP. bosses and the plain old bosses is PL. It is to the credit of some of the rank-and-file people who were at the conference that they saw through this whole cheap racist maneuver. After all, it isn’t any different than what the liberals and the CP. did to SNCC We all know what is left of SNCC – nothing.
The CP. and the other fakes who parade as communists and revolutionaries thought that by riding the coattails of the Panthers they could impose their bourgeois ideas on black workers. But this racist trick didn’t work. There were no black workers at this conference. Black workers have turned their backs on the Panthers, as they had on the CP. The CP. and the ruling class would love to sneak into the black community and pacify the workers, using the militant nationalist image of the Panthers. But the workers have seen through that one. Workers used to respond to real militant action and ideas when the Panthers put them forward. But when the Panthers stopped organizing around working class issues and began following CP. orders not to organize workers in the communities to intervene in the Huey Newton trial, black workers wrote them off.
Black workers (and black people generally) were absent from the conference; the CP’s racism and the black people’s awareness of that racism saw to that. Many rank-and-filers, some from among the handful of Panthers present, questioned or rejected the political line of the conference. Many opposed the attack on P.L. Instead of accomplishing the ruling class plan – to establish the CP. as the leader of the mass movement – the opposite happened: black workers rejected the conference. The best people in the mass movement never showed up. The CP. is still discredited. The Panthers and their nationalist ideas are discredited. P.L. gained new strength and support from the honest forces in and out of the conference.
The CP. is left holding the sorry bag of accumulated scum floating around the leftwing movement in the U.S. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving bunch. A few of the cleverer opportunists on the Left, realizing the extent of the conference’s failure, are running for their political lives, trying now to question or attack the conference they had previously portrayed as holy. A few pathetic local “Anti-Fascist Committees” may be set up, but the CP. will still have to work with the Trotskyites and the pacifists in some kind of Mobilization committee to stay alive. They wanted to get rid of their allies, and figured the Panthers could pull it off for them. But the day has passed when political people can be hoodwinked by old-time CP. tactics. The idea of using militant young black people as beasts of burden in the leftwing movement has passed. Such racism is now rejected.
The handwriting on the wall was there for all to read when hundreds of politically astute people rejected this same racist trick – also using Panther nationalism and bullshit – at the SDS convention. Political awareness is on a higher level today. Working class politics is on the rise. Nationalism and revisionism are being pushed aside. True, the fight is far from being won, but Marxism-Leninism is stronger today than ever before. And more new forces are coming forward and leading the way. The C.P.’s dream is turning into a nightmare.
It is ironic that only two weeks after the conference the alliance between the right-wing RYM and the Panther-CP. cabal ended up on the ropes. Soon after the CP. and the Panther bosses persuaded the RYM to act as cops and pick out the revolutionists at the conference, it was denounced by Panther leaders as composed of “pigs and racist schoolboys.” Rank-and-filers as well as decent leaders of the RYM ought to ask themselves how they allowed themselves to be used by the despicable CP. and Panther leaders.
It is clear now that any criticism of revisionism and nationalism will be met by shrill and hysterical slander. The CP. and Panther leaders do not want to debate seriously the merits of advocating “good” black cops, school administrators or foremen. Events are showing more clearly than polemics that one of the consequences of an alliance between nationalists and revisionists is an attack on anyone who won’t accept their right-wing politics.