The significance of the SDS Convention held from June 18-22 in Chicago is that ir represents the first time since the Civil War and Reconstruction period that a convention made up almost- entirely of whites was held which focused on the national-colonial question as the pivot of struggle and unity. The fact that it was a convention of students rather than proletarians was an important factor in shaping its proceedings.
The Convention took place against the general background of sharpening class struggles in the world, and especially the rise to pre-eminence of the struggles for national liberation of the oppressed peoples both outside and within the U.S. It reflected the general rise in consciousness among white U.S. radicals that the principal contradiction in the world today is that between U.S. imperialism and the nations it oppresses.
This general rise in consciousness was expressed in the outstanding positive achievement of the Convention: the expulsion of PLP as a group of fiends and traitors to the world-wide struggles of the oppressed. An important role in bringing about the expulsion was played by representatives of the oppressed peoples themselves, specifically spokesmen for the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords Organization and the Brown Berets. PLP represents a specific variant of bourgeois ideology, best characterized as social-chauvinism, that is, socialist in words and chauvinist in deeds – talk about international proletarian solidarity and a practical united front with U.S. imperialism against the oppressed peoples.
The most pressing task for the movement in general, and SDS in particular, is the total isolation and defeat of PL, and the policies it represents. The question of the fight against PLP is not an internal one for SDS. It is a reflection of the fight against bourgeois ideology and politics which goes on constantly among the people as the main work of proletarian revolutionaries. It would be the gravest error to make a separation between the fight against PLP within the movement and the fight against bourgeois ideology among the masses.
Although PLP may temporarily be set back by advancing a more radical sounding form of bourgeois ideology, in the final analysis it can only be defeated on the basis of proletarian ideology and the practice derived from it. That is why it is necessary to examine the struggle between two lines which took place at the Convention both before and after the expulsion of PLP.
In order to do this if is necessary to examine the paper You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way The Wind Blows, published in the Convention issue of NLN. The document is especially important because it represents the thinking of the majority of the national leadership which emerged from the Convention. All three national secretaries are signers of the paper; five of the eight members of the NIC (including two more signers) have been associated with its line. Therefore, every member of SDS should study it, and should not allow its length to defer him from that task.
The first thing that must be noted is the title, which gave us pause when we first read it. On further reflection, it became clear that its meaning could be best brought out by counterposing it to Lenin’s famous dictum: “Without a revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement.” In spite of its title, however, it would be a serious underestimation to think that Weatherman does not present a political line. On the contrary, its writers are to be commended for setting forth in generally clear and consistent terms a definite political line. The question is: what class does that line serve?
While the principal contradiction of the present epoch is that between U.S. imperialism and the nations it oppresses, the fundamental contradiction is, always has been, and always will be, as long as capitalism exists, that between socialized production and capitalistic appropriation, manifesting itself as a contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.
The central question of political economy, to which Marx devoted his life to answering, is – how do the interests of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie stand in relation to each other? After a great deal of observation and participation, Marx summarized his findings, in Wage-Labor and Capital: “We see, therefore, that even if we remain within the relation of capital and wage labor, the interests of capital and the interests of wage labor are diametrically opposed.” From that discovery, Marx drew the conclusion – “Working men of all countries – unite!”
Now, one hundred years late, along comes Weatherman, with a “new” answer, which “improves” on Marx:
We are within the heartland of a world-wide monster, a country so rich from its world-wide plunder that even the crumbs doled out to the enslaved masses within its borders provide for material existence very much above the conditions of the masses of people of the world. The US empire, as a world-wide system, channels wealth, based upon the labor and resources of the rest of the world, into the United States. The relative affluence existing in the United States is directly dependent upon the labor and natural resources of the peoples of the Third World. All of the United Airlines Astrojets, all the Holiday Inns, all of Hertz’s automobiles, your television set, car and wardrobe already belong, to a large degree, to the people of the world.
In other words, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat have a joint interest in plundering the dependent nations. One could hardly ask for a more direct statement. But, argue the writers of Weatherman, capitalism has developed to a new stage since Marx’s time and that new state, imperialism, has divided the world into oppressor and oppressed nations, and has in fact created a situation whereby the bourgeoisie and proletariat of the oppressor nation take part (to an unequal degree, to be sure) in the exploitation of the oppressed nations.
Yes, it is true that imperialism introduces new conditions. Lenin described these new conditions in the following manner, in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism: “Imperialism, which means the partition of the world, and the exploitation of other countries besides China, which means high monopoly profits for a handful of very rich countries, creates the economic possibility of corrupting the upper strata of the proletariat, and thereby fosters, gives form to, and strengthens opportunism.”
Or, further, from Imperialism and the Split in the Socialist Movement: “The bourgeoisie of a “Great” imperialist power is economically able to bribe the upper strata of its workers, devoting one or two hundred million francs a year for this purpose, because its super-profits probably amount to a billion.”
Or again, from the same work: “.. .while trusts, the financial oligarchy, high prices, etc., permit the bribing of small upper strata, they at the same time oppress, crush, ruin and torture the masses of the proletariat and the semi-proletariat more than ever.”
And so on. In fact, Lenin, who devoted so much attention to the connection between imperialism and the “aristocracy of labor,” who showed conclusively that opportunism in the labor movement rested mainly on the corruption of the bribed upper strata, was always careful to specify that the bribe was shared by only a minority of the working class, even in the case of the English workers from 1848-1868, when Britain enjoyed the industrial and colonial monopoly of the whole world.
Lenin never denied that the majority of workers in a given trade or even a given country could, for a considerable time, fall under the influence of the corrupt minority. But he never conceded that they had any real stake in doing so. ”We cannot nor can anybody else calculate exactly what portion of the proletariat is following and will continue to follow the social-chauvinists and opportunists. This will be revealed by the struggle, it will be definitely decided only by the socialist revolution. But we know definitely that the ’defenders of the father land’ in the imperialist war represent only a minority.” (ibid.)
Of course, the writers of Weatherman themselves say that “the real interests of the masses of oppressed whites in this country lie with the Black Liberation struggle. ..” But how do they define “real” interests?
As a whole, the long rage interests of the non-colonial sections of the working class lie with overthrowing imperialism, with supporting self-determination for the oppressed nations (including the black colony), with supporting and fighting for international socialism. However, virtually all of the white working class also has short-range privileges from imperialism, which are not false privileges but very real ones which give them an edge of vested interest and tie them to a certain extent to the imperialists, especially when the latter are in a relatively prosperous phase. When the imperialists are losing their empire, on the other hand, these short-ranged privileged interests are seen to be temporary (even though the privileges may be relatively greater over the faster-increasing emiseration of the oppressed peoples.) The long-range interests of workers in siding with the oppressed peoples are seen more clearly in the light of imperialism’s impending defeat. Within the whole working class, the balance of anti-imperialist class interests with white mother country short-term privilege varies greatly.
Thus they counterpose the short-range interests of the white workers to their long-range interests. But that is not the way Lenin put it! Lenin defined opportunism as the sacrifice of the short and long-range interests of the entire working class to the temporary interests of a minority. There is all the difference in the world between the two formulations, as we shall see.
And this brings us to the matter of white supremacy and the white-skin privilege, of which Weatherman makes such a muddle. Now, it is true that, in regard to the upper crust of labor – foremen, some craftsmen, those who have been able to acquire enough property or stocks to be almost independent, many union officials, etc. – with regard to these sectors, white supremacy, and oppression of colonial peoples in general may serve their interests, although this is somewhat undercut by the developing crisis of imperialist policy.
How do matters stand with regard to the masses of whites? Weatherman includes them in the ranks of those whose interests are served by the while-skin privilege. And there we part company with them.
Are the real interests of the masses of white workers the same as, or in conflict with those of Black workers and other oppressed peoples? Should white workers side with the boss, or with the Black workers? Is the fight against white supremacy and the repudiation of the white-skin privilege in the real interests of white workers?
The answers to the above questions are decisive in determining the whole direction of strategy for white revolutionaries.
We were not the last to take note of the existence of white-skin privileges. In a paper, the White Blindspot, which we wrote two years ago together with Ted Allen, we pointed out:
The U.S. ruling class has made a deal with the mis-leaders of American labor, and through them with the masses of white workers. The terms of the deal, worked out over the three hundred year history of the development of capitalism in our country, are these: you white workers help us conquer the world and enslave the non-white majority of the earth’s laboring force, and we will repay you with a monopoly of the skilled jobs, we will cushion you against the most severe shocks of the economic cycle, provide you with health and education facilities superior to those of the non-white population, grant you the freedom to spend your money and leisure time as you wish without social restrictions, enable you on occasion to promote one of your number out of the ranks of the laboring class, and in general confer on you the material and spiritual privileges befitting your white skin.
The cutting edge of that pamphlet was directed at PL, which denied and still denies the existence of any privileges accruing to whites in the U.S. However, even in that context we were careful to state, and to buttress by examples, that: “The ending of white supremacy does not pose the slightest peril to the real interests of the white workers; it definitely poses a peril to their fancied interests, their counterfeit interests, their white-skin privileges.”
Let us look at the matter a little more closely, starting with three industries. In the auto industry, where white-skin privileges have been relatively less than perhaps any other, the workers for a fairly long period enjoyed the best conditions of any laborers in the U.S. However, after years of acceptance by the white workers of their own monopoly in the skilled trades, the workers face speed-up, falling real wages, plant relocations and layoffs.
In the mining industry, where white-skin privileges took on a more hardened form – sole access to the mechanized jobs which were least susceptible to automation – the total number of workers has been cut to one-fourth of what it was, vast areas of West Virginia and Kentucky have been laid waste, medical facilities (once the pride of organized labor) are primitive, and “hillbilly heavens” have sprung up across northern cities.
In the southern textile industry, where the white-skin privilege was more highly developed to mean total exclusion of Blacks from the mills, the workers live under conditions so degraded that in some areas they can only be described as barbaric.
Three industries, three degrees of white-skin privilege. The greater and more firmly established the privilege, the greater the misery. The pattern is not coincidence; in every case cited, the deterioration of the conditions of the workers, black and white, can be shown to be the result of the more or less conscious decision of the white workers to obtain, maintain or expand their social and economic white-skin privileges, which required the renunciation of proletarian class solidarity.
And these examples are taken as separate industries, limited to “the (economic) relation of capital and wage labor.” To take up the whole question of the political weakness of the U.S. proletariat, the lack of a labor party, etc., would strengthen our argument!
In what sense, then, can white supremacy be said to be in the interests, either short or long-range, of the white workers? If the acceptance of white-skin privilege is in their interests, what would the white workers have to do to run counter to their interests?!
White supremacy is the real secret of the rule of the bourgeoisie and the hidden cause behind the failure of the labor movement in this country. White-skin privileges serve only the bourgeoisie, and precisely for that reason they will not let us escape them, but instead pursue us with them through every hour of our life, no matter where we go. They are poison bait. To suggest that the acceptance of white-skin privilege is in the interests of white workers is equivalent to suggesting that swallowing the worm with the hook in it is in the interests of the fish. To argue that repudiating these privileges is a “sacrifice” is to argue that the fish is making a sacrifice when it leaps from the water, flips its tail, shakes its head furiously in every direction and throws the barbed offering.
Of course the class struggle involves sacrifices. Jose Marti said, “revolution is sacrifice and valor.” And remember Marx’s admiration for the heroic sacrifices of the Communards, who ”stormed the heavens.” The first group of white workers who take action against the white-skin privilege can expect to be visited by all the furies of a bourgeoisie being attacked at its most sensitive spot. These workers will be a Legion of John Browns, honored forever for the sacrifices they will surely have to make. But one thing they will not be sacrificing is their class interests, either short or long-range. To argue otherwise is to make a mockery of proletarian morality, which is always consistent with the class interests of the proletariat.
One of two things – EITHER the struggle against white supremacy is in both the short and long-range class interests of white workers, in which case they can be won to it: OR it is not in their short-range interests but is in their interests later on, in which case we will never get to “later on.”
Weatherman is in fact telling white workers that they do not have to fight white supremacy now, since they benefit from it, but at some point in the future they will have to. Isn’t this the same old tired line of every while chauvinist “socialist” group from the Socialist Party to PLP? Isn’t this saying to the white workers, in essence, that socialism is good for all of us, but as long as we have capitalism we ought to have the most voracious, predatory type, since it brings us benefits in the short run? (At the recent NIC, one of the leading theoreticians of the Weatherman position argued, in relation to pre-World War II Germany, that while socialism was clearly in the interests of the workers, as long as they were not in a position to establish it , their interests were better served by Hitler than by the old bourgeois democratic regime. He did not say what kept the German workers from being in a position to establish socialism.)
Of course, the framers of Weatherman argue that the benefits of imperialism are being eroded by the resistance of the oppressed peoples, and that such erosion of privilege is the basis for revolutionary consciousness in the U.S. Any self-respecting white worker, accepting Weatherman’s initial premise that he is actually benefiting from imperialist plunder of the colonies, is more likely to reason in another way: oh yeah? we’ll see if those colored people can take away my loot!
That current of thought is quite widespread in the U.S. It was the basis of the Wallace position on the war – either win it or get the hell out. It starts from the same initial premise as Weatherman: that “we” have an interest in hanging on in Vietnam, and the only question is to balance the benefits against the cost.
And this line of chauvinism today and solidarity tomorrow is paraded by Weatherman under the name of Internationalism!
Up to this point we have assumed that the question of white supremacy was representative of the general question of support for oppressed peoples fighting U.S. imperialism, and that if we could demonstrate that the struggle against white supremacy is in the class interests of white workers right now, the principle would carryover to the Vietnamese, Congolese, etc. We have felt justified in making this assumption since Weatherman itself goes to great pains to point out the identity of the struggle of the Black people, whom they call an “internal colony”, with that of the external colonies of U.S. imperialism.
However, if the reader will go back and read Weatherman’s description of U.S. affluence quoted above, he will note that the reference is to the “U.S. proletariat” as a whole, not white workers. In fact, the theoreticians of Weatherman charge us, the supporters of RYM II, with reducing the concept of proletarian internationalism to black-white relations in this country, and with forgetting the “fact” that the Black people are also profiting from the exploitation and plunder of the external colonies! After all, it does seem that Black people, in the U.S. have a somewhat higher standard of living than most colonial peoples throughout the world ....
So now, according to Weatherman, not merely are white workers parasites, but black workers also. The internal colony is exploiting the external colonies. Will this lead them next to say that the semi-colonies of Latin America are exploiting the colonies of Africa? This is weird.
It is time to take up the question of the “affluence” of the U.S. upon which Weatherman bases so much of its argument.
(1) In the first place, it is mostly mythical. The description made by the writers does not fit the actual conditions of most skilled worker, let alone the masses of unskilled whites, whose life is more likely to consist of a ten-hour day, an old car absolutely necessary for getting to work, more than one member of the family working, no vacation, no provisions for old age or sickness, a house or apartment which, if rented, is falling apart and which, if purchased, will fall apart before the last payment or foreclosure, frequent periods of unemployment, a new coat every five years, etc., than the Scarsdale-ease described by the writers. Unfortunately, the writers have been swept up in the “American Dream.”
(2) The writers are making comparisons based on the boom phase of the economic cycle, when naturally the conditions of most workers improve a bit. An accurate estimate would entail averaging out the conditions of 1933 and 1968.
(3) If does seem to be true, however, that the conditions of the masses of U.S. workers are somewhat superior to workers in most other countries, although that is hard to gauge. If it is true, it does not necessarily follow that the superiority is due to imperialism, since the same superiority has existed since 1700, long before the imperialist epoch. If was the main reason (white) workers immigrated here from other countries.
Of course, we will immediately be charged with overlooking the extermination of the native Americans and the enslavement of Africans, which could be said to constitute early forms of imperialism, and therefore factors in U.S. “affluence.” As for the extermination of the Indians, what was taken from them was land, which never fell into the hands of the white masses who did the exterminating but instead enriched the railroad barons, cotton planters and cattle ranchers. For their loyalty in helping their masters steal the land and kill the rightful owners, the poor whites were rewarded with death and taxes, and monopolistic exclusion from land ownership.
As for African slavery – we agree that it could not have been maintained without the support of the masses of whites. Such support constitutes an integral part of the reactionary traditions of the U.S. nation. What adds a quality of grotesqueness to the shameful record is the fact that the “benefits” which the masses of whites received in return for their support of slavery can be best guaged by examining the conditions of free labor in the pre-Civil War south, or in the New England textile mills.
Marx, in speaking of differences in national wages (Capital, vol., I, chapter 22) observes that the value of labor-power in a given country is generally established by a number of factors, among them local tradition and the conditions prevailing at the time when that country entered upon the capitalistic era of production. Thus, Swedish workers enjoy better wages and living conditions than Italian workers, yet no one claims that one is at the expense of the other. The wages of the mass of workers stand in inverse proportion to the profits of capital, not to the wages of any other group of workers.
(4) The Weatherman formula ignores the history of struggle of U.S. labor, which has had a real effect on the conditions of the workers. For example, in the years 1937-38 – the years of the building of the CIO – real wages and relative wages (wages in relation to profits) actually rose somewhat.
Weatherman’s false analysis of political economy leads them to the conclusion that it is not in the interests of white workers to unite with Black workers, and therefore to the practical abandonment of the fight against white supremacy. All their documents and speeches show a clear tendency to substitute calls for “support of national liberation” for the struggle against white supremacy which is the basic and indispensable expression of such support on the part of whites.
Is it not clear that on the question of the fight against white supremacy Weatherman has arrived at the same position as PLP, from the “opposite” direction?
The line of denying the identity of interests of white and Black workers is anti-working class. In being anti-working class, it is, of necessity, anti-Black! To claim that the basis for winning masses of whites to an internationalist policy lies in the decline of privilege rather than in the relation of labor to capital (and that is what they are saying when they say, for example, “The potential for revolutionary consciousness does not always correspond to the ultimate class interests, particularly when imperialism is relatively prosperous and the movement is in an early stage.”) is to undercut the mass base among whites for a policy of proletarian internationalism. The consequences of treating white workers as an adjunct of the class struggle instead of an integral part of it are expressed in the slogan which has occasionally been raised by various Weatherman – create two, three, many John Browns.
Such a slogan sees the role of white revolutionaries quite apart from the immediate class interests of white workers, and thereby substitutes the heroic actions of a few whites for the heroic actions of the masses of white workers. The real slogan that must be put forward is – create two, three, many million John Browns, for that is the slogan which corresponds to both the immediate and long-range class interests of white workers.
Abandonment of the responsibility to organize white workers as part of a class is not support for national liberation but betrayal of it. This betrayal finds its crudest and most chauvinistic expression in the slogan – create two, three, many Vietnams.
In an oppressed nation, that slogan may have a certain justification as meaning the opening of new fronts against U.S. imperialism. We do not here propose to take up the question of whether it is the best summary of the strategy and tactics required to carry out such a perspective. But in an imperialist country, in the oppressor nation, the slogan is entirely out of place. Are the Weathermen asking US imperialism to send troops to Santo Domingo, or to Charleston, South Carolina??!! Regardless of good intentions, that is the effect.
In the U.S. among white workers, the basic slogan of proletarian internationalism must be – Transform the imperialist war into a civil war. But Weatherman does not put that slogan forward, because civil war is the highest form of class struggle, and grows out of the class struggle, and Weatherman does not believe in the class struggle.
The reader may think it is absurd to even raise such a question in a discussion of the Weatherman paper. Let us see.
The writers treat us to a lengthy dissertation on the status of the Black people and the correct strategy for national liberation. We do not intend to go into such length on it, not because we agree with a single point in their analysis, but because we do not think it is incumbent on SDS and on white revolutionaries in general to be taking “positions” on this matter isolated from the thinking of Black Marxists. We have written a paper on the subject, which we regard as a contribution to the thinking of Marxists in general and at the proper moment we will offer it for consideration.
Nevertheless, there are some things in Weatherman which absolutely cannot go unchallenged. The real heart of their analysis of the status of the black people lies in the following paragraph –
A new black nation, different from the nations of Africa from which it comes, has been forged by the common historical experience of importation and slavery and caste oppression; to claim that to be a nation it must of necessity now be based on common national territory apart from the colonizing nation is a mechanical application of criteria which were and are applicable to different situations.
What is specifically meant by the term caste is that all black people, on the basis of their common slave history, common culture and skin color are systematically denied access to particular job categories (or positions within job categories), social position etc., regardless of individual skills, talents, money or education. Within the working class, they are the most oppressed section; in the petit bourgeoisie,, they are even more strictly confined to the lowest levels. Token exceptions aside, the specific content of this caste oppression is to maintain black people in the most exploitative and oppressive jobs and conditions. Therefore, since the lowest class is the working class, the black caste is almost entirely a caste of the working class, or positions as oppressed as the lower working class positions (poor black petit-bourgeoisie and farmers); it is a colonial labor caste, a colony whose common national character itself is defined by their common class position.
Now – we would like to ask: what is the difference between the above description and the condition of U.S. Jews fifty years ago, or the condition of Irish-Americans one hundred years ago? Of course, Weatherman will howl that they are speaking of an oppressed nation, an internal colony, that Black people cannot be integrated, etc., – but when the Black nation is reduced to a question of caste, in what respect does it differ from typical bourgeois explanation? Weatherman may believe in their hearts that Black people constitute an oppressed nation, but they do not say so in their analysis, except in generalities. What they say is that the “black colony ... is a colonial labor caste, a colony whose common national character itself is defined by their common class position. ..”
Is that any different from PLP’s characterization of Black people as “super-exploited workers”? And if that is the case, then why cannot the Black people be integrated like the Irish, Jews or Italians? “Race prejudice”??!!
Continuing its “progress” backward, Weatherman says:
The black proletarian colony, being dispersed as such a large and exploited section of the work force, is essential to the survival of imperialism. Thus, even if the block liberation movement chose to try to attain self-determination in the form of a separate country (a legitimate part of the right to self-determination), existing side by side with the US, imperialism could not survive if they won it – and so would never give up without being defeated. Thus, a revolutionary nationalist movement could not win without destroying the state power of the imperialists; and it is for this reason that the black liberation movement, as a revolutionary nationalist movement for self-determination, is automatically in and of itself an inseparable part of the whole revolutionary struggle against US imperialism and for international socialism.
It is one thing to say as did Stalin that Black people cannot achieve liberation without breaking the power of capital. That was true of the Chinese people, the Vietnamese people and every other oppressed people that has broken the chains of imperialism. It was true, in a negative sense, of Ghana, Egypt, Indonesia and others – that is, their failure to break the power of capital led directly to their failure to win national liberation.
But it is another thing altogether to equate, as does Weatherman, the victory of national liberation in the oppressed nation with the establishment of socialism in the oppressor nation. Weatherman argues that because of the strategic location of Black people, in the cities, etc., they could, by themselves “if necessary” win alone and that their victory would by synonymous with the victory of socialism throughout the U.S.
Yes, Black workers are in a strategic position, and they will certainly be in the forefront of the class struggle, as they have always been. However, white workers are also in a strategic position, generally surrounding the ghetto, and there ain’t gonna be socialism throughout the U.S. until the masses of white workers have been won to it.
In our opinion, it is quite conceivable that in the deep south, where Black people constitute a majority and where the conditions for Black nationhood exist, the Black people could, by waging people’s war, succeed in establishing liberated zones and even a Black People’s Republic, prior to the total victory of the proletariat throughout the U.S. As Lenin put it, “It is our right and duty to treat every Socialist of an oppressing nation who fails to conduct such propaganda (that is, propaganda for the freedom of secession) as an imperialist and a scoundrel. This is an absolute demand, even if the chance of secession being possible and ’feasible’ before the introduction of socialism is only one in a thousand...” (Quoted by Stalin in Foundations of Leninism)
But to equate that possibility with socialism throughout the U.S. is to fall precisely into the error that Weatherman spends several paragraphs trying to avoid: “both racist tendencies: (1) that blacks shouldn’t go ahead with making the revolution, and (2) that blacks should go ahead alone with making it.” They state further:
Thus, even the winning of separate independence in the South would still be one step toward self-determination, and not equivalent to winning it; which, because of the economic position of the colony as a whole, would still require overthrowing the state power of the imperialists, taking over production and the whole economy and power, etc.
It seems to us that Weatherman, in equating self-determination for the Black nation with socialism throughout the U.S. is “determining” the content of self-determination and is, in effect, saying to the Black servants of the “white” movement – you can leave the table while we finish dinner, but make sure you come back and clean off the plates.
Is the Weatherman position that self-determination equals socialism any different than PL’s line that socialism equals self-determination?
Historically in the U.S., the fight for the emancipation of women and the fight for the freedom of Black people have always been linked. It is enough to note that the greatest of the Abolitionists – Phillips, Douglass, Parker, Grimke – participated in the women’s rights movement, and the greatest of the fighters for women’s rights – Stanton, Anthony – were crusaders for the freedom of Black people. This dovetailing of the two great movements is not accidental, nor is it primarily the result of the individual characters of the leaders. On the contrary, it is the logical result of their essential indivisability.
History has shown that it is impossible to consistently sympathize with one of these two movements and oppose the other. A bad position on one must lead, if not corrected, to a bad position on the other. Having shown how the Weatherman position leads to the abandonment of the fight against white supremacy, let us see how matters stand with regard to the fight against male supremacy.
Should women fight for equality with men? Is the struggle for the freedom of the oppressed sex part of the anti-imperialist movement? Is it the responsibility of revolutionaries to attack and destroy male supremacy?
These are the fundamental questions. In searching for Weatherman’s answers, we run into a problem. Generally speaking, the rule for dealing with the paper is: the more fully the writers bring out their politics, the more satisfaction we can give them. On the matter of the women’s struggle, Weatherman deviates from the general policy for which we commended them in the beginning of this essay, of putting forth their line clearly. There is only about a half-column in NLN dealing with women’s liberation, consisting largely of generalities, interspersed with references to “not much practice,” “no programmatic direction,” “no real answer,” “we guess,” etc. In our opinion it is strange, but by no means accidental, that the writers, who have the answers for every other question from the strategy for Black liberation to the building of a party, are struck dumb on this question.
This places us in a certain dilemma. On the one hand, if we deal only with what is written in Weatherman, we shall be unable to give complete satisfaction. On the other hand, if we recognize that the framers of Weatherman are still growing politically, that they have not formulated everything in black and white but have made their most advanced arguments orally, then we shall run the risk of distorting their position or, worse yet, suggesting ways for them to “improve” it.
To break out of this dilemma, if seems that the best way of dealing with this question is to set down what we, that is, those of us who are popularly identified as RYM II, offered at the NC, and then examine the content of the Weatherman’s arguments against it. In doing so we shall have to rely largely on the memories of those who were there to judge whether we are being fair; and we shall have to wait until the framers of Weatherman publish a fuller statement setting forth their collective views on this subject, in order to deal with it adequately.
In the document Unity Principles for SDS, we presented five points which we thought could serve as the basis for unity in the organization. The second of these read:
2. OPPOSE MALE SUPREMACY. SUPPORT THE STRUGGLE FOR WOMEN’S LIBERATION
The proletariat cannot achieve complete freedom without achieving complete freedom for women. The struggle for women’s liberation is a powerful force against U.S. imperialism. We are dedicated to fighting male supremacy, to destroying the physical and spiritual oppression of women by men, and to the achievement of full equality for women in every sphere of life.
We will fight for the equality of women in job status, wages and education, by launching campaigns to open up “male jobs”, for equal pay for equal work, and for open admissions for women in technical schools and all-educational institutions.
We struggle against the subjugation of women in the family, and demand the provision of day care centers, public and free laundries, food centers and other facilities necessary to free women from their status as household drudges.
We oppose make chauvinism, and will fight for the placing of women in leading positions in all people’s organizations, and will take the specific measure to guarantee that women can serve in leadership. We encourage the formation of “women’s militias” to ensure the fulfillment of the program of total equality for women.
We demand complete legal equality for women, and oppose existing marriage and divorce laws, prostitution laws, welfare laws and all other legal reinforcements of the subjugation of women. We affirm our solidarity with and draw inspiration from the courageous historical struggle of Black and third world women against the triple yoke of capitalist white male oppression, the front line in the fight for the rights of all women. The fight for the equality of all women must recognize the primacy of the struggle to end oppression of Black and third world women and base the demands for equality upon the rejection of white skin privileges.
The response of Weatherman to the above was summarized in the speech of Barbara Riley’s which was met with loud applause. Her arguments resolved into two basic points: (1) that the program was reformist, since the aim should not be to achieve equality under capitalism but to destroy the state and revolutionize the family, and (2) that the program did not take into sufficient account the danger of white women winning equality with men at the expense of Black, Latin and other Third World women, that is, it carried the danger of expanding rather than reducing privileges.
The first argument seems to us the product of rampant male chauvinism linked with a petit-bourgeois world outlook perfectly illustrated in the total overlooking of the sufferings of the masses of women and a contempt for their real needs. Such an attitude can only originate in the airy realms of bourgeois “freedom” and license. Do the theoreticians of Weatherman know that the average wage of all women is lower than the average wage of that of black men? Do they know that the status of women relative to men, measured by a dozen different yardsticks, has declined in the twentieth century? Are they such consommate revolutionaries that they can dismiss the daily, practical struggle of women to escape from household drudgery, humiliation, legal inequality, low wages – in short, to escape from male domination – irrelevant and reformist, since the task is to smash the state? On this very subject, Lenin wrote:
It is therefore perfectly right for us to put forward demands for the benefit of women. This is not a minimum program, nor a program of reform in the Social-Democratic sense, in the sense of the Second International. It does not show that we believe the bourgeoisie and its state will last forever, or even for a long time. Nor is it an attempt to pacify the masses of women with reforms and to divert them from the path of revolutionary struggle. It is nothing of the sort, and not any sort of reformist humbug either. Our demands are no more than practical conclusions, drawn by us from the crying needs and disgraceful humiliations that weak and underprivileged women must bear under the bourgeois system. We demonstrate thereby that we are aware of these needs and of the oppression of women, that we are conscious of the privileged position of the men, and that we hate – yes, hate – and want to remove whatever oppresses and harasses the working women, the wife of the worker, the peasant woman, the wife of the little man, and even in many respects the woman of the propertied classes. The rights and social measures we demand of bourgeois society for women are proof that we understand the position and interests of women and that we will take note of patronizing reformists. No, by no means. But as revolutionaries who call upon the women to take a hand as equals in the reconstruction of the economy and of the ideological superstructure. (Conversations with Clara Zetkin)
This same idea was put by one woman in the movement in the following manner:
Yes, I know that capitalism means misery. But as long as I have to live under it, I don’t see why I would be more miserable than a man. It is true that I will not be able to win equality as long as the capitalists rule, but that is no reason why I shouldn’t fight for it. I may win some victories, which would make my life better, and, most of all, I shall certainly educate myself and some of my sisters about the workings of this system, and will learn better how to fight it. That is why I do not intend to stop for a minute my campaign to win at home and every other place where I am trampled on.
Can any revolutionary oppose such a line?
On the second, point, it should be obvious from all we have written so far, and from the kinds of demands specifically included in the program, that any struggle to improve the conditions of the masses of women can only be successful to the extent to which it attacks white supremacy. And on the other hand, there is no demand made in the interests of the masses of women which, if won, would not be a victory for Black people and all oppressed peoples.
Look at the Weatherman’s reasoning:
(1) the struggle against white supremacy is not in the immediate interests of white workers; therefore, they cannot be won to it;
(2) the struggle against male supremacy is reactionary unless it involves a struggle against white supremacy;
(3) therefore, the struggle against male supremacy waged by white women, since it cannot entail an attack upon white supremacy, is reactionary!!
Such “brilliant” revolutionaries may not need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but if seems they need a compass to stay out of the swamp. However, they are not alone; once again they find themselves in company with PLP, which also condemns the fight for women’s equality as “divisive.”
Should all the people of the world, including the people of the U.S., form a common front against U.S. imperialism? Should revolutionaries work to unite all who can be united in order to isolate and defeat the main enemy?
In our opinion, there has been a great deal of distortion from all quarters on the subject of the united front against U.S. imperialism. Some people have confused it with the alliance of different anti-imperialist classes that make up a national liberation movement, the first stage of the socialist revolution in a dependent nation. Some people have made the mistake of confounding a tactic and a strategy. For our part, we support the line put forward as point number 11 in the 13 point statement published as an appendix to RYM II. That point reads:
Because the dominance of the big monopolies has brought them into conflict with other strata of society besides the proletariat, it becomes possible for the proletariat to rally around itself masses of non-proletarians in a united front against the imperialists. Such a united front depends for its achievement on the independent, class-conscious actions of the proletariat, winning over or neutralizing large numbers in the middle sectors and isolating the most reactionary, dangerous, and powerful elements of finance capital. The key principles of the united front against U.S. imperialism for which all revolutionaries must fight, are four: (a) the leading role of the proletariat within the united front; (b) the willingness to unite all who can be united against the monopolies; (c) the central role of the fight against white supremacy in the building of a united front; and (d) the fight against anti-communism. It must be emphasized that the united front against imperialism, can only be a tactical orientation of the proletariat, not a strategy, since strategy means a plan for the basic realignment of class forces, which in the U.S. as a whole cm only mean the undivided power of the proletariat, acting in the interests of the overwhelming masses of the world’s people.
Part V of Weatherman paper begins with a generally correct paragraph exposing the fallacy of a “two-stage” revolution in an imperialist state, the U.S. in particular. From that generally correct stand, the writers plunge immediately into error.
Along with no two stages, there is no united front with the petit bourgeoisie, because its interests as a class aren’t for replacing imperialism with socialism.
We would like to ask the Weathermen – why is it necessary to counterpose the strategy of the proletariat, which can only be for the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, to the tactics of the proletariat, which can take a number of different lines, the main one being the effort to rally the widest sectors of the population in a united front whose spearhead is aimed at the predatory fascist policies of U.S. monopoly capital?
Someone not for revolution is not for actually defeating imperialism either, but we still can and should unite with them on particular issues. But this is not a united front (and we should not put forth some joint “united front” line with them to the exclusion of our own politics) because their class position isn’t against imperialism as a system. In China, or Vietnam, the petit bourgeoisie’s class interests could be for actually winning against imperialism; this was because their task was driving it out, not overthrowing its whole existence. For us here, ”throwing it out” means not from one colony, but all of them, throwing it out of the world, the same thing as overthrowing it.
Is it not true that the military adventures, monopoly price-fixing, tax swindles and other actions of the finance-capital oligarchy have begun to create real resistance among vast numbers of the middle sectors, and including perhaps even some elements in the bourgeoisie itself who see themselves being pushed out and their own profits being threatened by such measures? We believe that in the epoch of imperialism if is the duty of the revolutionary proletariat, by advancing partial slogans, to come forward as the defender of all those who are suffering at the hands of the monopolist sharks. Such a course would serve to isolate the finance-capital oligarchs who are the main pillar of bourgeois rule as a whole, and would further serve to educate the politically backward strata of the proletariat itself, who would see, in practice, the real role of different classes and strata in society.
It is not at all a question, as Weatherman would have us believe, of subordinating the independent policies of the proletariat: the independent role of the proletariat is the key to the achievement of the united front, while, on the other hand, the building of a united front will give the proletariat more room to operate, more room to put forward its own policies. A real united front is the implementation of Lenin’s behest to be “cunning as a snake and ferocious as a tiger.”
Supporters of the Weatherman position – we think you should re-examine your stand on this question, for here too they are in embarrassing accord with PLP, which also condemns the united front, labeling if “revisionist.”
Does the proletariat need a party to represent its class interests? How is such a party to be built?
The main obstacle to the building of a Marxist-Leninist party is the worship of spontaneity. This worship takes two forms: on one hand, there is the belief that class consciousness grows spontaneously out of the day-to-day struggles of working people, the inability to see the need to carry the ideological struggle to the proletariat, the underestimation of the importance of imparting class consciousness to the proletariat which is everywhere dominated by bourgeois ideas in a “semiconscious,” partially-expressed form; on the other hand, there is the belief that the proletariat cannot be won to the scientific ideology of Marxism-Leninism, the failure to wage the mass struggle for proletarian ideology, the attempt to substitute the disciplined, organized actions of a minority for the conscious actions of the proletariat as a class.
We believe that the line of PLP represents a deviation toward the first error; we think that this essay up to now has shown that Weatherman is deviating in the direction of the second error. Look at the section entitled “The Need for a Revolutionary Party.” The whole emphasis of the section is organizational, that is, the need to select out a body of leaders, to create the ability to work clandestinely, to form collectives of revolutionary individuals, etc. Even when the need for revolutionary theory is discussed, it is always from the viewpoint of theory for the party, not for the masses.
How could it be otherwise with a “theory” that openly declares that the fight against white supremacy is not in the immediate interests of the masses of white workers, that scuttles the fight for the equality of women, that substitutes calls for “socialism” for the patient work of winning the masses through intermediate struggles of a united front character, that boldly emblazons on its banner the empiricist, existential, anti-theoretical slogan – “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”!
A party in the U.S. cannot be built by a few “geniuses” coming together. It can only be formed by applying the general line of proletarian theory, embodied in the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao, to the specific conditions of the U.S. through the involvement of a number of advanced workers in the application of theory and the summing up of experiences. This formula means that it is necessary to take the ideological struggle to the proletariat as a class, with the emphasis on winning over the advanced sectors, which cannot be done in isolation from the intermediate and backward sectors of the working class.
The fact that in the entire Weatherman document, which is not a single-point but a full statement of policy, program and line, the fact that there is not one single word about the need to fight for proletarian ideology among the masses of workers shows that Weatherman’s pretentions to party building are deserving of no more credence than the economist, opportunist and social-chauvinist ravings of PLP.
There are several other areas of disagreement we have with Weatherman, such as the “class analysis” put forward, the question of where do the contradictions of capitalism manifest themselves, and so on. We do not intend to deal with these points now. This will be an extended discussion, and there is no hurry.
We should like to deal briefly, however, with the roots of Weatherman’s errors, and their identity with earlier wrong tendencies in SDS. Specifically, we believe that the Weatherman viewpoint represents a restatement of the now discredited ”new working class” argument.
Why do we make such an apparently rash statement? NWC theories denied the operation of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism; so does Weatherman. NWC theories regarded the proletariat as coopted into the system; so does Weatherman when it says that the selfish privileges given to one or another sector of the workers are in their class interests. NWC theories said that the most basic struggles took place around decaying institutions; so does Weatherman. NWC regarded what they called the lumpen-proletariat as the main body of the revolutionary forces; Weatherman redefines the concept of class to achieve the same end. NWC regarded the technical elite as the vanguard; Weatherman regards “revolutionaries” detached from class interests as the vanguard.
How can it be that two lines so apparently divergent as Weatherman and “new working class” can prove to have an essential identity? The reason is that in a society which has reached such a high stage of capitalism as the U.S., there are only two ideologies, bourgeois and proletarian.
Bourgeois ideology, of whatever variant, takes for its starting point the commonality of interests of the bourgeoisie and proletariat. Proletarian ideology takes for its starting point their irreconcilability of interests.
From the very first statement of Weatherman, that, “The relative affluence existing in the United States is directly dependent upon the labor and natural resources of the Vietnamese, the Angolans, the Bolivians and the rest of the peoples of the Third World ,” from that very first statement (which is an echo of the essential argument of the Bourgeoisie) the writers fall into the trap of the commonality of interests of the bourgeoisie and proletariat, and thereby stamp themselves as a variant of bourgeois ideology – the most radical variant so far, perhaps – but bourgeois nonetheless. From that fundamental error, everything else flows smoothly and inexorably.
On a more fundamental level than the political, on the level of philosophy, the roots of Weatherman’s errors lie in the writers’ departure from dialectics.
Mao Tse Tung wrote, in On Contradiction:
The basic cause of the development of things does not lie outside but inside them, in their internal contradictions. The movement and development of things arise because of the presence of such contradictions inside all things. This contradiction within a thing is the basic cause of its development, while the interconnection of a thing with, and its interaction upon, other things are the secondary causes of its development. Thus materialist dialectics forcefully combats the theory of external causes of propulsion by metaphysical mechanistic materialism and vulgar evolutionism.
We think that Weatherman, in attributing the major impetus for change within the U.S. to developments outside of the U.S., in declaring that the masses of U.S. workers do not now stand in irreconcilable opposition to the U.S. bourgeoisie but will only do so as the successes of the mainly external national liberation movements forces the U.S. bourgeoisie to reduce the privileges of the U.S. proletariat, in saying these things the Weatherman have slipped from dialectics to metaphysics, and are therefore profoundly wrong.
There are a number of vital questions of theory and the application of theory to U.S. conditions which are yet unanswered, or to which only the most elementary answers have been given. Considering the overall weakness of the proletarian movement in the US, it is likely that our weakest aspect is our ignorance – ignorance of U.S. history, of the actual conditions in our country, of the inter-relation between various social forces, and of the road along which we must move in order to achieve our goal.
Questions of the specific relation of the national liberation struggles within the U.S. to the class struggle an examination of the ways white supremacy has functioned to retard the growth of class consciousness, the revolutionary potential of the fight for women’s liberation, the place of the youth movement in the class struggle, the role of labor unions, the operation of state-monopoly capitalism, the economic cycle – these and a hundred other questions will have to be scientifically posed and answered in the course of carrying out struggle. This process has barely begun.
In order to answer these questions, we must take Marxism-Leninism, the universally applicable science of the proletariat, as our point of departure. Every strategic and programmatic document must be gauged against the fundamental tenets of Marxism-Leninism.
The Weatherman paper does not meet the test. We think the solution does not lie in “improving” it, polishing it with minor amendments. The solution lies in scrapping if altogether, and starting our investigation by recognizing the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, which was expressed in clear tones at the beginning of the century by the Wobblies: “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common.”
Lastly, we should like to say that, in spite of our profound, total and unresolvable disagreements with the Weatherman paper, we by no means regard it as a disservice to the movement. Things become strong by struggling against their opposites, and revolutionary theory will develop in the U.S. by struggle against counter revolutionary theory. In this sense, the Weatherman paper is an excellent basis against which to develop revolutionary theory. For that reason, all revolutionaries should be happy that it was written and published.