Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Kalimu Endesha

Commentary: What direction for the National Black United Front?

First Published: Unity, Vol. 6, No. 10, June 17-July 14, 1983.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The formation of the National Black United Front (NBUF) in 1980 was a significant step forward in the Black Liberation Movement’s (BLM) struggle for self-determination, political power and democratic rights. It was an important development because it raised the issues and concerns of the masses to a national level. For the thousands of BLM activists whose collective work and struggle brought the NBUF into existence, it represented a higher level of ideological, political and organizational maturity compared to the 1970’s. The NBUF had the potential to broadly and nationally unite the BLM around common interests, issues and struggles.

NBUF’s National Hearing on Racist Violence, its national campaigns and demonstrations against racist violence and genocide helped to focus the resurging indignation and struggles of the masses against right-wing racist attacks. NBUF support of struggles in the Black-belt South, such as Wrightsville, Sanderson Poultry Workers and Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered Children, helped to focus national attention and support. It linked the democratic struggles of Black people in the South for self-determination. These direct and militant grass-root-oriented actions and stands on BLM issues saw the NBUF grow to 23 chapters, numerous representatives and international recognition.

NBUF’s dynamic growth, however, has stagnated for the last year or so. Less than half the chapters are actively engaged in mass struggles. The work that the locals have taken up in a number of cases has proceeded without national coordination and direction. Therefore, issues such as Eddie Carthan and the Tchula 7, the Anti-Klan demo in Washington, D.C., the Zionists’ massacre of Palestinians in Lebanon and racist South African aggression have received minimal attention and involvement from the NBUF. NBUF’s low visibility has contributed to the BLM’s already weak ability to militantly respond to these burning issues.

Some of the problems that NBUF is experiencing are based on objective conditions. The BLM and its organizations in one sense are still recovering from the devastating attacks launched by the state in the 1960’s and 1970’s via COINTELPRO. We are facing renewed repression in the 1980’s as seen by the attacks against the Republic of New Afrika and the persecution of Amiri Baraka. Added to these difficult conditions was the never-ending problem of building and financing a national organization. Nevertheless, the NBUF was able to go forward in the BLM.

How to build the united front

The problems that have dimmed NBUF’s future in this period have been certain erroneous views of how to build the NBUF as a genuine broad united front in the BLM. These erroneous views threaten to transform the NBUF into a nationalist cadre organization. Such a development will narrow the participation of the Black masses in NBUF.

From its inception, there were obviously differing views about how to build the NBUF. This was only natural because a united front, by its very nature, presupposes differing views, ideologies and philosophies. The different class forces unite against a common enemy and engage in principled, open and aboveboard struggle about how to defeat the common enemy of the front.

To certain nationalists, the NBUF was a continuation of the history of the nationalist sector of the BLM. They subjectively thought that nationalism was the only legitimate view within the BLM.

With this narrow perception of the BLM, it was difficult for certain nationalists to understand that the U.S. League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L), a multinational communist organization, represented a legitimate working class view within the BLM. Since the formation stages of NBUF, some nationalists have tried to exclude the LRS (M-L) and other Marxist-Leninists from NBUF because of their internationalist and multinational orientation, but this view was defeated. The majority of people in NBUF recognized the positive contributions of Black communists to the BLM and their efforts to help build the NBUF nationally and locally.

Another tendency within the NBUF was to refer to BUF members as cadre or characterize the NBUF as a Pan African organization.

If the NBUF seeks to be a unifying force within the BLM, it must struggle to reflect the diversity of the BLM – not just the relatively small nationalist sector. As the 1981 NBUF Statement of Purpose explains, the NBUF should “... deliberately formulate the conservative, moderate, reform, radical, nationalist and revolutionary concerns, problems and goals of the varied constituencies in the Black community into a dynamic Black agenda which speaks to our collective interests as Black people.” There are many forces in the Black community objectively fighting national oppression in addition to nationalists.

We must figure out ways to include, not exclude, them in the work of NBUF. The participation of various sectors of the BLM within the NBUF is essential to its claim to be a broad, united front formation. Otherwise, let’s stop the masquerade.

Cadre organization?

Certain nationalists within the NBUF leadership feel that NBUF should have a core of nationalist cadre. To this end they are developing elaborate training programs. We agree with the need for cadre organizations, but not with making NBUF serve that purpose.

Cadres are members of unitary organizations with a single ideology. NBUF is supposed to be a united front formation with many ideologies within it.

The LRS (M-L) is committed to the building of a cadre organization, a multinational communist party based on the ideology of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. In our view such a cadre organization, a new communist party, the highest form of working class organization, is central to leading the working class and oppressed nationalities in revolution to overthrow the racist white monopoly capitalist class. We believe that only socialist revolution can bring an end to Black national oppression and all forms of class exploitation.

As Marxist-Leninists, we struggle to represent the interests of the multinational working class within the NBUF. But we neither expect, nor attempt, to impose this view on the NBUF. Although, we believe our views of how to ultimately end Black national oppression and achieve true self-determination and democracy are scientific and correct, we respect the views of the other forces within the NBUF. Finally, it is the masses that must be convinced of the correctness (in the course of mass struggle) of any program for Black liberation.

To make the NBUF into a nationalist cadre organization – or a cadre organization of any kind for that matter – violates the rights of other forces within the Black united front to ideological and organizational independence.

This view is also sectarian and will alienate the masses from the NBUF. Who would join such a formation if a precondition for membership was the acceptance of the ideology of nationalism? Very few of the masses would.

We believe that nationalists can play a positive role in the struggle for democratic rights and Black liberation. However, the ideology of nationalism is, in the final analysis, bourgeois ideology. Nationalism advocates primacy, exclusivism and privilege for one nationality over others. Any nationalism finally implies that a given people are better than all others. The masses of Black people want national equality and democratic rights, not privileges for a few. Bourgeois nationalism after a certain point isolates Black people from our mass allies and delivers us into the hands of the Black petty and big bourgeoisie. As an ideology, nationalism will not and cannot unite the broad masses of African Americans.

International situation

Objectively, some nationalist forces within NBUF have moved to align NBUF with the international policies of the U.S.S.R. and Cuba. NBUF leaders or delegations have traveled to East Germany and Cuba. During last year’s June 12 disarmament demonstration in New York, some leaders – without any prior democratic discussion within NBUF – committed the organization to a call for unilateral U.S. disarmament.

NBUF should not support either superpower. The people of Afghanistan, Kampuchea and Poland know that Soviet social imperialism is no friend of liberation and independence. During Angola’s struggle for independence from Portugal, the U.S.S.R. sent little aid. But after independence, the U.S.S.R. proclaimed only one liberation movement as legitimate and instigated splits among the liberation groups. The U.S.S.R. sponsored a Cuban invasion of Angola in which thousands of lives were lost in a civil war. After promising to leave immediately, Cuban troops still occupy the country eight years later.

On the issue of disarmament, it is important for NBUF to also oppose both superpowers. Both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. are building up their nuclear arsenals, while putting forward phony proposals for peace. A call for unilateral U.S. disarmament lets the Soviet arms buildup go unchallenged and doesn’t address the fundamental cause of the arms race: U.S. Soviet rivalry for world hegemony.

Like many movements around the world, NBUF should maintain a position of non-alignment in international relations.

1983 conference

This year’s NBUF national conference is being held in Portland, Oregon, from July 22-24. This will no doubt have a positive impact on Black people and their struggles there. It will also give the people who travel from other cities an opportunity to see firsthand the positive work of the Portland BUF.

Unfortunately, many people who would like to attend will not have the money to get there. This year’s attendance probably will not be as high as the 1,200 people who came to the 1982 Atlanta conference. With the critical issues facing the BLM, the problems within NBUF and this being an election year in NBUF, the conference should have been held in a more centrally located city.

Those people who attend this year’s conference should struggle to insure that any structural changes made will facilitate participation by other sectors of the BLM with the NBUF. This should include workers, women, youth, etc. in the decision-making process. In order for the NBUF to go forward, there must be some practical work that can help unite the BLM.

Two such national projects could be fighting to ban the Klan and opposition to racist South Africa. Already many groups and individuals are active in opposing the Klan; the NBUF should participate in the anti-Klan struggle. Similarly, actions against South Africa are increasing and the NBUF could help focus organizing efforts against apartheid and in support of the South African liberation movements.

In 1980, NBUF wrote that we must “... forge and develop a mass-based activist, progressive movement to speak and act on conditions facing the Black community nationwide and internationally.” In this next period, it is important that NBUF carry out the organizing efforts and the hopes expressed in our founding conference three years ago.