Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Building The Black United Front


First Published: Forward Motion, January 1982.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

PUL Note: 1980 brought with it a call to build a strong national Black United Front to meet the economic and political offensive already well under way against Black people. A national conference was organized which brought together activists from across the country and which drew upon the experience and strengths of local Black United Fronts in places like New York, Philadelphia, Mississippi, Cairo, Illinois, Portland, the Bay area and Boston. 1980 also saw the start of efforts to organize a National Independent Black Political Party and a first congress was held in August 1981. While things are moving ahead slowly, we can undoubtedly expect to see new political initiatives from these formations in the months to come.

We are including here two selections relevant to the subject of building Black United Fronts from our Nationalities Commission. The first discusses why the African Liberation Support Committee (1973 - 1976) was unable to maintain its united front character and grow. It is an edited version of longer paper, “’Black Workers Take the Lead’ or On Proclaiming the Leadership of the Working Class Struggle.” The other selection presents eight discussion points concerning the nature of Black United Fronts and how to go about building them on a local level. This second selection is from a longer draft paper “Preliminary Views on Revolutionary Work in the Afro-American People’s Liberation Movement.”

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The Black United Front is Multi-Class in Character

Black people are oppressed as a people. This fact should not need repeating except that there are those both within and without the Black Liberation Movement who tend to forget this salient reality. Certainly there are significant class differences among Black people which must be taken into account. While it is true that the brunt of white racist oppression is felt by the Black working class, it is also true that when racist police want to smash heads they do not ask their Black victim if he or she is a doctor, lawyer, or machine operator.

These often acknowledged facts are brought out here because some super-revolutionaries have denied the multi-class character of the Black Liberation Movement by calling for a Black United Front in such a way that it becomes composed rather exclusively of progressive intellectuals. Needless to say, this was done in the name of the revolutionary leadership of the Black working class. The use of the slogan “Black Workers Take the Lead” symbolized this error in one united front effort: the African Liberation Support Committee (1973-1976).

All Marxist revolutionaries want to see the Black working class carry on its leading role in the multi-class Black United Front. We want this because we know that this class has the most consistent interest in socialist revolution as the only real answer to the basic problems of Afro-American life. The assumption of leadership is not a spontaneous process which automatically happens because the majority of Black folks are workers – 90%. Leadership by the working class will be won in battles around the concerns of the masses, often in the face of initiatives and challenges by petit bourgeois and bourgeois leaders. We cannot side-step this struggle with a proclamation of working class leadership.

“Black Workers Take the Lead” Is an Ultra-Left Slogan

A united front is an effort to unite all that can be united, regardless of class . . . For this reason, the slogan “Black Workers Take the Lead” is exclusive rather than a call for unity. Without struggling with other classes, it declares “if you are not ready to be led by the working class, (or its announced representatives), you are not welcome here.” This kind of ultra-left posturing leads to the dissolution of united front efforts. The Left leadership in the African Liberation Support Committee (ALSC), for example, raised this slogan in 1974 when it decided that a more revolutionary direction was need in ALSC and petty bourgeois reformists and cultural nationalists seemed to be standing in the way. In the ensuing struggle, reformists (including elected politicians, many intellectuals and professionals), many nationalists and other non-Marxist-Leninist democratic forces quit the organization. Needless to say, the workers did not replace them.

This brings up another point. The slogan is not leading. As the slogan for a national anti-imperialist organization, it did not identify any particular struggle or give guidance on how to bring about working class leadership. It did not point to how to build programmatic unity with the Left and Center forces in the Black Liberation Movement or even unity among the Left alone. Instead, it represented a tendency called “struggle by fiat.” That is, proclaim the result without struggling to bring it into being. This ultra-left approach assumes that petty bourgeois reformist leadership (and even reactionary nationalist leadership) has been discredited among the masses. If people are not voting, the assumption is that the masses have moved beyond electoral politics to preparing for armed revolution. If the local NAACP chapter is weak, the assumption is that it is because the masses are consciously waiting for a revolutionary working class organization. This day dreaming is costly. Reformism is still the dominant ideological force among the Black masses and it will not roll over and die with any proclamation that we cannot back up. The leading role of working class ideology as well as the practical and political necessity of bringing the Black working class to the forefront of the Black Liberation Movement must be proved to the Black masses by the conscientious application of Marxism-Leninism to ongoing struggles (including program, strategy and tactics) of the Black Liberation Movement. During this process mistakes will be made, but if honestly accepted and quickly corrected, working class leadership will become fact rather than slogan.

The slogan “Black Workers Take the Lead” is ultra-left for one more reason. To accept this slogan you not only have to be anti-imperialist, you would have to be Marxist, or pretty close to it. Marxists struggle for leadership of the working class because of a particular analysis of the interplay of classes and the necessities of revolution. At the present historical point where the basic tenets of Marxism are little known outside of limited circles, even the broad masses of Black workers could not rally around this slogan.

What Happened Under This Slogan

The slogan “Black Workers Take the Lead” was developed as part of the effort to combat an incorrect view held by some nationalists which denied the significance of class struggle and class differentiation. Some nationalist politicians and groups like the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party and the Congress of African Peoples had at the outset adamantly maintained that while classes may exist in the Black community, their significance was inconsequential. Whites were the enemy and all Blacks must unite to fight them. The Left leadership of ALSC, including Mark Smith, Owusu Sadaukai, Abdul Alkalimat. . . (soon to represent the communist organization known as the Revolutionary Workers League) opposed this view with the more correct Marxist analysis that the Black Liberation Movement must deal with issues of both race and class. The latter’s attempt to put forward and struggle for a more correct line brought forward the slogan “Black Workers Take the Lead.” This ultra-left response to the reactionary nationalist position proved just as dangerous.

The most dramatic result of this line and slogan was that ALSC’s base dwindled quickly. Mass confusion raged in the organization beginning with the Frogmore conference in June 1973. The document united around at this conference called for ALSC to take an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist position with the Black working class at the lead both ideologically and practically. Few of the non-Marxist-Leninist democratic forces were quite prepared for this big change in direction. Being neither Marxist-Leninist nor nationalist, most fell out of the organization through the crevices between the two poles. To deal with this situation, basic Marxist-Leninist study circles were hurriedly set up in most of the chapters, but to no avail (these circles were to be used to pull the core of the ALSC together and unite members around a common direction). At a time when ALSC need to grow, efforts to reach out to non-Marxist-Leninist democratic forces declined. Many honest but reformist elements were maligned as members of the so-called “comprador petty bourgeoisie” and discounted as necessary elements of the united front (the Frogmore document includes in this category all local and national Black politicians and elected officials).

Given the broad array of political forces in early ALSC, political struggle among different political tendencies was only natural. If handled correctly, this struggle could have strengthened the mass base of the organization. It did not. Let’s look once more at the struggle over working class leadership. The positions in support of or in opposition to working class leadership in the Black Liberation Movement were ideological in character. In mass organizations, ideological struggle should be raised concretely over program, strategy and tactics. In proceeding to this manner, the masses have a say and a stake in the process and outcome, as well as the movement of the organization. The struggle over working class leadership, for example, could have been waged over: (a) what local issues had greater mass appeal, (b) how to ally with the largely Black union locals, (c) whether a big forum should be held in a popular church or at a university, (d) how important is it to gain the organized support of the Black longshoremen, etc. The solutions to these questions reflect ideological positions. In taking up the struggle in this way, everyone can participate – not just those already trained in Marxism or the leading spokespeople among the nationalist organizations. Otherwise, the masses will simply vote with their feet– which they did in the ALSC.

Another consequence of this incorrect policy is that Marxism-Leninism was given a “worse” name in the Black community and labelled an instrument of division of Black unity. The government-sponsored red-baiting of the 1950’s and early 1960’s plus the sell out of the Black Liberation Movement by the Communist Party, USA during the same period had made Marxism-Leninism an extremely weak ideological trend in the Black Liberation Movement. World-wide struggles against imperialism as well as political advances in the Black Liberation Movement during the 1960’s and 1970’s once more put Marxism-Leninism on the agenda of ideological choices. Wariness of Marxism-Leninism by honest and dishonest forces should have been expected given the uneven history of communism and the Afro-American people’s liberation movement. The most backward elements in ALSC in 1973-1974 railed against the introduction of what they considered “White Boy Ideology” in the organization. Some claimed such an ideology was by nature “divisive” to Black unity. Unfortunately, events that followed appeared to give credence to that point of view.

In 1974, the core of the Marxist-Leninists in ALSC were members of the newly formed Revolutionary Workers League. They held many key positions in both local and the national ALSC structure. In line with their ultra-left orientation as summed up in “Black Workers Take the Lead,” they called for the disbandonment of ALSC in 1975 so that progressive elements within ALSC could concentrate their energies at the “point of production” rather than in the communities. (Note: this move was called for one year after many Center and nationalist forces quit the organization after it lost its united front character.) Because of the key leadership positions of RWL cadre, this move would have spelled the death of ALSC and the protests against this move were loud. Due to this protest, RWL leadership decided to reevaluate its position but it was too late. The anti-Marxist-Leninist forces (the few within ALSC as well as the many outside of the organization) now had the ammunition they needed to once more discredit Marxism-Leninists as “proven” splitters and wreckers of Black unity efforts. While being in complete disagreement with the view that the introduction of Marxism-Leninism itself destroyed ALSC, it is understandable that such views would gain popularity when the Marxist-Leninists under the influence of ultra-left tendencies commit such dangerous political errors.

In Sum

The call in the 1980’s is for strong local united front efforts summed up in a strong national Black United Front in order to meet the offensive already being waged against Black people. The struggle for ideological hegemony over this and other mass efforts has already begun (i.e., the struggle over which class viewpoint will direct the development and direction of the people’s movement). In taking up this struggle we are not beginning from scratch. We have a rich history of successes and failures to learn from. ALSC’s unsuccessful effort to maintain its united front character is one such lesson. If we are to avoid a repetition of history, then it is essential that revolutionaries come to grips with the seriousness of the ’left’ opportunist errors made in the ALSC. We cannot pass off these errors as just “mistakes” which “we have all made.” When in the current situation of the building of Black United Fronts, some revolutionaries begin to repeat old mistakes or aspects of old mistakes, then we know that lessons have not been sufficiently learned. It behooves us to fight ultra-leftism in order to unite the many to defeat the few. We can only hope that this short paper is some assistance in overcoming these old, though much alive deviations.


In June of 1980, Black activists from across the country met in New York to form a National Black United Front. Preceding this historical occasion, several cities had already developed local Black United Fronts or pre-Front formations. These efforts to unite all who can be united are of short-term as well as long-term (or strategic) importance. In the short-term, Black communities are largely fighting defensive battles against racist attacks, far reaching cuts in social services and to maintain political gains won in the 1960’s (e.g., school desegregation, voting rights.) United fronts which draw in the range of forces in our communities and mold them into a strong fighting force will prove to be invaluable organizations. But united fronts are not only defensive organizations. Almost all liberation movements make use of the united front formations to draw on the strength and traditions of existing organizations in fighting the agreed upon enemy.

Since the Black Liberation Movement is a multi-class movement, successful struggle will necessitate an organizational form that facilitates the joint action of Black workers, petty bourgeois forces, and even members of the national bourgeoisie. It is because of the necessity that Black revolutionaries take an active interest in the growth and political development of Black United Fronts that we present the following eight (8) discussion points.
(1) Black United Fronts should be coalitions of organizations and individuals committed to the struggle against imperialism and white-supremacist national oppression. These should be broad formations and include all those forces who can achieve a basic level of working unity in opposition to a common opponent. These forces need not define the problem in the same terms.
(2) Black United Fronts (BUF’s) cannot be consciously revolutionary mass organizations in this period. If BUF’s are to be truly united fronts in name and character, they must speak to the current problems in the Black community. They must additionally seek to encompass and represent the broad range of forces active in the Afro-American national movement. This can range from Marxist-Leninists to cultural nationalists to reformist activists.
(3) For BUF’s to seek to encompass the broad range of organizations and progressive thought in the Afro-American national movement, they should not replace existing organizations. Rather, they should be a means to pool resources toward attacking a common target. This will undoubtedly mean a relative fluctuation in participation by different groups.
(4) The key to building Black United Fronts is the development of a minimum, working program and basic rules of non-sectarian behavior within the Fronts. Program does not equal principles of unity. In some ways, principles of unity are a lot less substantive and critical to the development of BUF’s. A program can include certain specific areas around which the BUF makes the commitment to work. This is not the same thing as a “laundry list.”
(5) Of these areas, there will generally be one area which is the main focus while the other areas continue to operate but do not necessarily receive the time and attention which the main focus does.
(6) For the BUF program to be actively supported, we should guard against BUF’s being called into existence by proclamation, but rather Fronts should form as a result of consultation and cooperation by different sections of the more active Afro-American forces: consultation and cooperation tested in actual joint work. This is not to say that BUF’s should be formed by the left-wing of the Afro-American movement in isolation from more moderate forces. Consultation and cooperation with active forces include NAACP youth councils or chapters which show a commitment to struggle. It can include active Black trade unionists or Black professionals’ groups, as well as block clubs. The essential point is that rather than working from the top down, i.e., rather than first proclaiming the Front and then asking people to come in and join, it is essential for the Black Left to work patiently in winning over broader sectors of the Black population to recognize the need for practical, working unity.
(7) Progressive, mass organizations and united fronts are not the same thing. They should not be confused. If we want to build Fronts, we must be good at building alliances of a variety of forces. While it is essential to win the active support of unaffiliated individuals, Fronts necessitate the close, working collaboration of already organized forces.
(8) We should pay close attention to questions of organization. Bureaucracy can kill an organization, coalition or Front. Structure must flow from the needs of the work and not the other way around. Develop only as many committees and committee heads as there are interested people to do the work. Also, once leadership is determined, it is important to develop a workable method of criticism/ self-criticism as a safe-guard against bureaucracy as well as other errors.