From International Socialism, No.73, December 1974, p.29.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The Black Worker in Britain
International Socialist/Chingari pamphlet 15p.
‘The Black Power movement has been the catalyst for the bringing together of these young bloods – the real revolutionary proletariat ready to fight by any means necessary for the liberation of our people.’ Stokely Carmichael 1967.
SINCE the early sixties and the explosion of black Americans against their oppression, revolutionaries, marxists and socialists of all shades have looked to Black Power as the authentic expression of black people in revolt both inside and outside Western society. The romantic image of the original ‘urban guerrillas’ standing shotgun guard over a harassed community coupled with guilt and impotence of white revolutionaries divorced from the arena of working class struggle, served to strengthen the belief that the tactics of the Black Power movement were basically correct. But what is there now? There is a decimation and fragmentation of any base. There is the situation in which the Black Muslims are now millionaires living off the back of impoverished ghettoes. There is the situation in which the leaders of the Black Panther Party, like Huey Newton, have entered the maniac US electoral system.
In Britain, too, the approach of the BPM was copied. The Universal Coloured Peoples’ Association (UCPA), on the crest of the BPM wave, built a national organisation. Over the following years, progress was ever downwards. Numerous splits, exploitation by opportunists (Michael X, black culturalists, etc.), compromise with the state and media (Obi Ogbuni, the Black House Project, IRR, etc.) led to a position where black power groups today hardly exist.
Yet the importance of Black Power cannot be underestimated. The raw assertion of identity, pride, beauty, self-value had a tremendous impact – not just in the US but in Britain and Africa, the West Indies and the rest of the third world. It broke the shackles of a crippling white ideology – an ideology that denied a black man’s value as a human being. That rupture is indelibly printed on history. The weakness of the Black Power movement lay in the solutions that it posed.
In the American context, the sheer weight of reaction, the absence of a real labour movement and the vicious anarchy of production would lead most revolutionaries to despair. It is a tribute to the bravery of black men and women that they stood and fought. What marxists seemed blinded from seeing was that the heroic acts of small bands of revolutionaries were doomed to failure. The power of the oppressed in capitalist society lies in their collective power to take the system by the ‘short and curlies’. Where it hurts – at the point of production. And as we have seen, tragically, the fire power of the state will in time decimate the shotguns of bands of guerrillas. When black people organise as workers, not as disparate members of a community, they have more power than a few firearms.
‘Mobilise the community’ is the same rock on which the British Black Power movement has foundered. The vain attempts to hold together a diffuse incoherent mass with different interests and no common enemy, led many groups to despair and demoralisation. It is the same dependence on spontaneous outburst and not a confidence in the bedrock of organised collective action.
The Black Worker in Britain is the first pamphlet aimed at black workers, that lays down concisely the position of black workers in Western economies:– the carrot and machine gun reasons for our emigration; our struggles in the state, industry and the unions – and more importantly draws the strategies for struggle from the many recent strikes.
West Indians, Africans, Pakistanis, Cypriots, Portuguese, Turks, have begun to feel their grip on the handles of power. They have begun to ripple their collective muscles. Their struggles lead them straight into a realisation of the nature of the Trade Union bureaucracy and of the state. Because of the double oppression of racism, their demands advance by leaps and bounds. Direct representation of workers was the demand encapsulated in the fight of Imperial Typewriters workers for their ‘own stewards.’ In the Kenilworth dispute, the obstructions of racist TGWU officials raised the question of local rank and file action committees. The turban issue on Leeds buses raised the questions of who benefits from racialism, workers or bosses, of why should workers obey any petty rules devised by management.
As the pamphlet outlines, it is not an easy solution. Revolutionary black unions or spontaneous rising of a black vanguard lead only to established dead ends. To a shirking of the real and difficult tasks. It is a hard struggle in which many weapons will be forged, in which class bonds, across the racialist divide, will necessarily have to be cemented.
The American struggles of the past decade must show us a way forward. We must not, like Stokely Carmichael, bend the definitions of ‘revolutionary proletariat’ to fit unfavourable circumstances. There are no short cuts. The resolution of the struggle lies in the building of a revolutionary party in the black and white working class. A party that links the disparate battles of workers, and unite them against the common ties of bondage.
Last updated on 2.7.2008