By Kwame Somburu
The cover story, of issue #168 of the Black Commentator, “Black Convention Tackles Economic Issues Jobs, and Development,” by BC Publishers Glen Ford and Peter Gamble stated:
“Back in 1972, it was ‘Nation Time!’ in Gary, Indiana, at the historic convening of the National Black Political Assembly. In 2006, it’s time for another mass political gathering, “to bring together the collective wisdom, creativity and resources in our community, to map out a bold economic agenda that can unite us and be a catalyst to forming new economic relationships that will empower communities of color across the nation.”
The Call to Convention for the National Black Peoples Unity Convention—to be held at the same Gary high school as the 1972 gathering—promises that the March 9-12 event “will be a potent catalyst to refocus and rejuvenate the movement for Black economic empowerment.” And by “empowerment,” the organizers don’t mean some mythic trickle down from Black millionaires to the masses:
“We must explore new concepts to build partnerships among the religious community, the trade union movement and the investment community. We must use these partnerships to anchor economic empowerment and job creation, more affordable health care and housing, and improvements to an educational system that will prepare our youth to succeed rather than fail or falter.”
It seems that we are, once again being told that “the collective wisdom, creativity and resources in our community…will map out a bold economic agenda that will empower communities of color across the nation.” A National Black Peoples Unity Convention…“will be a potent catalyst to refocus and rejuvenate the movement for Black economic empowerment.” Further, the organizing political sophisticates state that: “We must explore new concepts to build partnerships among the religious community, the trade union movement and the investment community.”
One should learn from the profiteering of New Orleans after Katrina by the “investment community” to know that the policy of “partnership” with this community is one with “wolves and prey.” In past centuries, the “partnership” was known as the African Slave Trade.
History has proven that these partnerships will not: “anchor economic empowerment…job creation, more affordable health care and housing,” and improve the educational system to prepare our youth for success rather than failure. The politically naďve that believe this rhetoric should also believe in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus.
Government of by and for the rich
This government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich, indoctrinates their economic subordinates to accept their concepts of success. The exploited masses need to define their standards of success. There are tens of millions of whites in this capitalist nation that the white capitalists do not and never have cared about. Those naďve Blacks that think that we will have success in this society, should study the history about how European and European-American ruling classes have exploited their own in extremely brutal ways and horrible conditions for a few thousand years. That should get them out of their fantasies about the redeeming virtues of this criminal society which is also a government of criminals, by criminals, and for criminals.
I was present in Gary for the 1972 “Nation Time” convention. The Democratic Party was well represented there—directly through Mayor Hatcher, and his ilk, and indirectly through the significant numbers of politically naďve attendees.
Hatcher, Jesse Jackson, Ron Daniels, Amiri Baraka, and others, heavily influenced the resulting death of what some thought would be very positive for the Black masses. The lessons learned were positive for those with a total commitment to the Black working class, and other exploited sectors.
As a result of my prior independent studies in politics, history, economics, philosophy, contemporary social struggles, and my local, national, and international experiences, I did not expect that an organized movement for significant social change would result from that type of event. My expectations were to find some committed African Americans that were receptive to adding a class analysis to their nationalistic views. Since 1960, I have considered myself to be a Black Nationalist Socialist, because that designation is totally appropriate for our situation in white racist, capitalist America.
I remember reading the speech that the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Chairman John Lewis was prevented from delivering at the March on Washington in August 1963. It was printed in the September 9, 1963 issue of The Militant. (John Lewis has since become a Democratic Party Congressman from Atlanta Georgia.) In that speech he said:
“We are now involved in a serious revolution. This nation is still a place of cheap political leaders who build their career on immoral compromises and ally themselves with open forms of political, economic and social exploitation. What political leader here can stand up and say ‘My party is the party of principles’? The party of Kennedy is also the party of Eastland. The party of Javits is also the party of Goldwater. Where is our party?” I ask the same question today: “Where is our party?”
I was a founding member of the short-lived Freedom Now Party, which was formed after the 1963 March on Washington. When I heard of it in the early fall of that year, I became very actively involved in trying to build and develop it to build “our party.” Reverend Albert Cleage, Detroit pastor of the Shrine of the Black Madonna, was the national chair of the FNP. Their branch had 23 candidates in the 1964 Michigan state elections (including Cleage for Governor), and received 6,000 votes, and no electoral success. That demoralized the major section of the FNP centered in Detroit—and sent Cleage and many supporters into the Democratic Party in 1965.
The Harlem branch, of which I was Chair, was infiltrated by a police agent provocateur in 1963. He was able to provoke and entrap a few supporters in an alleged plan of violence against national monuments (not people). In June, a brutal police killing of an unarmed Black student returning from summer school in a white community sparked a rebellion that took the lives of about 35 people and caused much property damage. The community was awakened and receptive to alternative views.
That caused the capitalist political establishment to place a ban on all speakers who posed a threat to the status quo. I was arrested twice in the summer of 1964 for attempting to publicly speak at street rallies during my campaign for State Senator representing the FNP. Those were significant reasons for the demise of the FNP. The Democratic Party was involved in all of those actions against the Black community.
In 1970, I was involved in another attempt at building an independent Black political party (“Our Party”) with some cultural nationalists and other tendencies in New York. It was based at the “East,” a center for Black cultural, community activism in Brooklyn. After a few months of discussions on structure, goals, and related issues, a combination of “cultural, apolitical nationalism from Ron Karenga, and cultural nationalism that was supposedly “politically astute” headed by Amiri Baraka, was able to destroy the weak political awareness of the majority of the Black party adherents, and it was destroyed.
Baraka was pushing his concept of supporting Kenneth Gibson for mayor of Newark. He stated that Gibson and other Black Democrats were Afro-Democrats, and if Black voters supported them in an organized way, they would be responsive to the needs of the Black community. Gibson welcomed his support, and after he was elected, turned his back on the Black community in favor of supporting the white capitalist establishment.
In 1977, Bobby Seale and the Black Panther Party supported the Democrat, Lionel Wilson, for Mayor of Oakland, California. Wilson won, and turned his back on the Panthers and the Black community. With the exception of a few token crumbs to the Black community, his administration supported the white capitalist establishment.
In the fall of 1979, the National Black Independent Political Party was founded. I and many others thought that finally, a politically mature, Black Nationalist, class conscious, non-sexist, democratically-controlled party with a national and international progressive orientation, was going to be a reality. Ron Daniels was the national co-chair. My wife, Zakiya was the co-chair of the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area Chapter of NBIPP.
Despite the involvement of people with ties to the Democratic Party, many of us were confident that the progressive sectors would win out over their attempts to weaken and/or destroy this most advanced attempt to politically mobilize African Americans against the white racist, capitalist establishment.
We were very active in the day-to-day activities of the party. In 1980, Ron Daniels came to Oakland to address a well-attended public meeting. He gave one of the most insipid, apolitical talks that it was ever my misfortune to hear (a prior one was in 1963, when the national chair of the Freedom Now Party—the Reverend Albert Cleage came to New York to address a gathering of FNP supporters and members).
Well, NBIPP was ultimately destroyed by Democratic Party agents, and other U.S. government infiltrators—even though it took a few years to accomplish. It was in 1983, that the burial took place. My wife and I were holdouts until our political ship could no longer stay afloat.
In the article: “Fighting the Theft of New Orleans,” by Glen Ford and Peter Gamble, the publishers of Black Commentator, Issue 167 (January 19, 2006) summed up the events in the Seventies as follows:
“The citizens of New Orleans are paying the cost for the mistakes of the late Sixties and early Seventies, when aspiring electoral and corporate officeholders convinced Black folks that mass movements were no longer necessary. Progress would trickle down from the newly acquired heights. Popular political capital could be wisely invested in the few, the upwardly mobile.
“What we got was chicken-with-his-head-cut-off Ray Nagin and his many counterparts in plush offices across Black America. We must invent Black Power all over again, under changed conditions. New Orleans in its present state is the worst possible place to start—but that’s where we’re at.”
‘Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it’
Now a replay of that Danse Macabre is being planned again. The conscious and unconscious Judas goats are using “Nation Time” to demoralize a new generation of aspiring activitists.
Are we going to continue paying the costly mistakes of the late Sixties and early Seventies, when aspiring electoral and corporate officeholders convinced Black folks that mass movements were no longer necessary for our escape from overt and covert types of racist and class oppression? And that progress would trickle down from the newly acquired heights won by our leaders? Popular political capital could be wisely invested in the few, the upwardly mobile, and that “Black Power” did not include our own political party.
The tragedy of the first “Nation Time” is turning into a farce the second time around. In the name of “Black Unity,” are we going to perpetuate the very same policies that will cause many attendees to eventually become disillusioned, politically disoriented, drawn into Democratic Party reformist politics that support the same rotten system as the neo-con Republicans, and possibly lost to ever becoming totally aware of the real nature of the beast that is racist, capitalist America?
In today’s world, there is more school segregation than in the Sixties and almost all the gains for equality have been turned back as we witness the bi-partisan gentrification of the cities and concurrent phony welfare-to-work scams.
Congressman Richard Baker, who was widely reported to have told lobbyists, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans, summed up the failure of this nation, after the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” However, he could have added, God helps those that help themselves. And He certaintly had plenty of help from the capitalist class, and its bipartisan government.
People over profits, not profits before people
The present Economic Order is, and always has been, based on profits over people and must be totally opposed with unity based on people over profits.” From its inception in the spring and summer of 1787 in Philadelphia, to the present day, the United States Government has been a tool of its ruling classes.
Kwame M.A. Somburu has been a fighter for a socialist world, for independent Black and working-class political action for over 40 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.