In response to:
The Need for Negro Politics from the February 11, 1965 issue
To the Editors:
…Miss Carper, is very concerned [NYR, Feb. 11] because one can gather no information about SNCC’s political orientation from reading SNCC: The New Abolitionists. This is not the fault of Howard Zinn. How are you going to conjure up a political orientation in an “organization,” whose “membership” is defined entirely by those who happen at the moment to be doing something for it? Inactivity and non-membership are synonymous. Every time someone gives a dollar to the organization, he is working as a member.” Every time someone participates in a sit-in, he is working as a “member.” If someone has participated in twenty-five sit-ins, and been in three jails, and is presently doing nothing, he is not at this present moment, a “member”!
With “membership” so loosely defined, so constantly in a state of flux, how is it possible to uncover any consistent “political orientation”? In the January issue of The Activist, there was an article by Staughton Lynd, which pursued a similar folly. This was very concerned about the “ideology” of SNCC. SNCC should have an ideology. All movements have ideologies. What Bob Moses thinks must be an “ideology.” Rather, Bob Moses, James Farmer, and John Lewis should sit down and come up with some ideology. Communists have an ideology; Pop artists have an ideology; the Black Muslims have an ideology. SNCC, to be a genuine “movement,” had better develop its ideology before it’s too late!
Our situation, as I see it, is this. We live in a difficult, problematic and troubled world. There are many problems in life, in politics, in philosophy, art and science, which are very hard to solve. Justice and injustice, as seen from the capitalist and the socialist point of view, as interpreted by Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Mohammedans, and believers of other religions, are thorny issues, not admitting of easy solution.
In such a world, we look around, and see a situation such as we have in Mississippi, in which justice and injustice have been reduced to infantile terms. In a world which is pondering relativity and the quantum theory, it is disconcerting to see that our most immediate problems are on the level of addition and subtraction. We are asking, in the area of civil rights, “why weren’t these problems solved a long-time ago?” Why do these elementary school problems of justice still remain, when the world is plagued with so many other difficult and subtle issues, all of which require ideology and political orientation? Our work is too unsophisticated, the issues are to clear cut, the problems too immediate, to require a “dialectic” in order to attack them.
March 25, 1965