Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

CPML leader: ’We’re on the eve of a Black upsurge’

First Published: The Call, Vol. 9, No. 28, July 21-August 4, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The following interview on the National Black United Front (NBUF) is with Harry Wells, a leading member of the CPML. A longtime activist in the Black liberation struggle, Wells participated in the founding conference of the NBUF last month in Brooklyn, N. Y.

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The Call: As you see it, what is the significance of the founding of the National Black United Front?

Wells: Although the conference had some problems, I feel that the NBUF got off to a good start. The NBUF could become a key formation for Blacks in the ’80s. Throughout our history, Afro-Americans have continually formed united fronts to fight our common oppression.

I agree with what Harry Haywood pointed out in his message to the conference that the Black movement stands on the eve of a new upsurge and we must get prepared by learning from the past.

This period reminds me of the time when I was growing up in Watts in Los Angeles and everyone knew that an explosion was coming. The difference is that many of us are now more politically mature, and we are trying to build a vehicle (the NBUF) to meet this challenge.

Another significant feature of this development is that it brings together some of the most active and politically conscious forces in the Black liberation movement. Most of the people who attended the conference were grass roots activists who were pretty clear on the need to target the imperialist system as the source of our oppression.

What are some of the main issues the NBUF is going to be working around?

There’ll probably be a multitude of issues since the thrust of the conference was to build the NBUF with a lot of local autonomy, based on local conditions. Here in Chicago, for example, I think that school desegregation, the fight for community control and a Black agenda for the schools will be big issues and ones which a BUF here might take up.

But it seems to me that intensified police repression and the fight for jobs will touch every BUF. Within every Black community these are paramount problems. From talking to a lot of activists at the conference, it seems that police murder and brutality–which set off Miami–could also blow up cities like Dallas and Los Angeles.

The fight for jobs is on everybody’s mind too, with Black unemployment so high. This battle will cover everything from plant closings and comprehensive job programs to extending unemployment benefits.

What do you think are some of the main obstacles facing the Black United Front?

I think there are several things that the NBUF should be on guard against. First are the remnants of sectarianism, which characterized the Black movement in the late ’70s. We have to correctly digest the lessons of the African Liberation Support Committee and the National Black Political Assembly where ideological shootouts and the elevation of principles of unity eroded the bases of these organizations. If this happens, it will be another decade before we come together again.

All of us have to walk the extra mile for unity. For communists, we have to get off our high horses and learn from nationalists, reformists, church people and others. The Black movement is very broad, and we certainly don’t have all the answers.

It’s my opinion that the front should strive for the broadest possible unity and avoid closed door-ism. We should actively reach out to the Black churches, businessmen, conservatives and all sectors of the Black community. Although some Black organizations are led by people who sit on the boards of monopoly corporations and act as mouthpieces for the imperialists, we should still seek unity with them around certain issues. If nothing else, this would put us in a better position to reach their membership, most of whom are honest forces.

In the future, more attention must be paid to input from rank-and-file activists from around the country. There was a tendency at the conference to lump honest people who wanted to incorporate amendments and suggestions into the proceedings with disrupters and splitters. Over the next year, if people get out and do the back-breaking work, it will be easier to distinguish the real from the sham.

Rev. Herbert Daughtry, leader of the NBUF, says he sees fighting for the “empowerment” of Blacks. How do you approach this question?

The way I see it is that a program of struggle has to be advanced that is in the interest of the Black masses and not a few politicians or the “talented tenth.”

If we really believe in self-determination, then we should be about a minimum program to strengthen the Black masses’ control over their schools, communities, etc. Of course, real political power will be won through socialist revolution when the Black nation is fully able to exercise all its options.

What makes the NBUF different from an organization like the NAACP?

The NBUF represents somewhat of a breakaway trend from the old-line leadership of the Black movement. The people who make it up are the types who want to fight and implement direct action. Their political understanding is pretty high and they intend to stay financially and politically independent of the Democratic Party, the courts and the state machinery.

A recent article in the N.Y. Times, discussing the dilemmas of the traditional Black leadership, clearly illustrates this difference. Commenting on the $600,000 donated by corporations to the NAACP in 1979, SCLC head Joe Lowery candidly admitted, “If the enemy is feeding your troops, you are in trouble.” It was also acknowledged that the programs and views of established organizations are in many ways out of touch with the Black masses.

The New York Times has inferred that Black communists might seek to bring whites into local BUFs and thus disrupt them in some way. Does the CPML intend to do anything like this?

We intend to bring our Afro-American contacts, particularly working class people, into the front. It is not our policy to fight to include whites inside the NBUF.

We uphold the right of self-determination which includes recognizing that Afro-Americans have the indisputable right to build separate forms of organization. Inside our ranks, we have a division of labor where Black cadres will work inside the front and other Black formations.

White members have the special responsibility to make better inroads among white people, particularly white workers. We have an ongoing campaign to strengthen this work. While struggling around the immediate problems and demands of all working people, white comrades also have a special responsibility to educate white working people on the struggles of the NBUF and the question of self-determination.

The people in the leadership of the various fronts are very astute. They generally see the need for multinational coalitions around certain issues, depending on the time, place and conditions.

The Newark BUF called for a multinational thrust around school taxes. In order to maximize its effectiveness, the power of Puerto Ricans, whites, Native Americans and Blacks was mobilized. At the same time, this front kept its independence and continued its own activities like Black Solidarity Day.

Why does the N.Y. Times make these statements about whites getting into Black organizations? To me, it’s a racist view that Blacks can’t determine their own affairs. Do you ever see the same questions about getting Blacks into Irish, Jewish or Polish groups? Besides, the New York BUF has a support group of white sympathizers, some of whom attended different sessions at the conference.

How will the CPML work to build the NBUF?

First, I think we should practice the policy of really trying to build the front as broadly as possible and oppose those who only want to build what they call a “united front ofthe working class.”

Our forces should have working relations with as many different kinds of groups as possible. In breaking with our past ultra-leftism, it is Very important for us to develop dialogue and working relations on the local level with the many different sectors of the Black struggle, including the NAACP, SCLC and other non-revolutionary types.

Since the NBUF is a new group, we should concentrate on becoming active in day-to-day work. No one should be afraid to do the hard work.

The BUF has a nationally elected leadership which should be supported. Whatever criticisms we may have can be raised in a timely and constructive way.

While building unity, we also shouldn’t be afraid to put our views forward. This gains respect in the Black liberation movement. Nor should our differences become an obstacle to unity.

I think some left forces at the conference made a mistake by just tailing incorrect ideas and trying to “out-nationalist the nationalists.” This led them to openly attack an honest sentiment for more democracy.

An important thing about working inside the NBUF is work with other Black left and revolutionary forces. Any force that seeks hegemony through unprincipled gossip, backbiting and sectarianism is bound to fail.

We should remember what the old folks say, “If you dig one grave, you might as well dig two.”

We all have our different views, but by consulting with each other, being open and aboveboard, and practicing unity, we can work out our differences.