“In the place of a matured social vision there will always be those who will gladly substitute the catastrophic and glorious act of martyrdom and self-immolation for a cause.”
—Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual
Whatever else “Black Power” means, the slogan itself indicates that the movement for racial equality has entered a new phase. Even those who argue that the change is largely rhetorical or that Black Power merely complements the struggle for “civil rights” would presumably not deny that “Black Power” articulates, at the very least, a new sense of urgency, if not a sense of impending crisis. Together with last summer’s riots, it challenges the belief, until recently widespread, that the United States is making substantial progress toward racial justice and that it is only a matter of time and further effort before the color line is effectively obliterated.
Now even the opponents of Black Power issue warnings of apocalypse. “We shall overcome” no longer expresses the spirit of the struggle. Race war seems a more likely prospect. The Negro movement itself is splitting along racial lines. In the form in which it existed until 1963 or 1964, the civil rights movement is dead: this is not a conjecture but a historical fact. Whether the movement can be revived in some other form, or whether it will give way to something completely different, remains to be seen. Meanwhile time seems to be working on the side of an imminent disaster.
What has changed? Why did the civil rights movement, which seemed so confident and successful at the time of the Washington march in 1963, falter until now it seems to have reached the point of collapse? Why has “Black Power” displaced “freedom” as the rallying- point of Negro militancy?
There are several reasons for this change. The most obvious is that the apparent victories of the civil rights coalition have not brought about any discernible changes in the lives of most Negroes, at least not in the North. Virtually all the recent books and articles on Black Power acknowledge this failure or insist on it, depending on the point of view. Charles E. Fager’s White Reflections on Black Power, for example, analyzes in detail the Civil Rights Act of 1964—the major legislative achievement of the civil rights coalition—and shows how the act has been systematically subverted in the South, title by title, and how, in the North, many of its provisions (such as voting safeguards and desegregation of public accommodations) were irrelevant to begin with. The inadequacy of civil rights legislation is not difficult to grasp. Even the most superficial accounts of the summer’s riots see the connection between hopes raised by civil rights agitation and the Negroes’ disappointing realization that this agitation, whatever its apparent successes, has nevertheless failed to relieve the tangible miseries of ghetto life.
NOT ONLY HAVE the civil rights laws proved to be intrinsically weaker and more limited in their application than they seemed at the time they were passed, but the unexpectedly bitter resistance to civil rights, particularly in the North, has made it difficult to implement even these limited gains, let alone to win new struggles for open housing, an end to de facto segregation, and equal employment. Northern segregationists may not be strong enough to elect Mrs. Hicks mayor of Boston, but they can delay open housing indefinitely, it would seem, in Milwaukee as well as in every other Northern city—even those which have nominally adopted open housing. Everywhere in the North civil rights agitation, instead of breaking down barriers as expected, has met a wall of resistance. If anything, Negroes have made more gains in the South than in the North. The strategy of the civil rights movement, resting implicitly on the premise that the North was more enlightened than the South, was unprepared for the resistance it has encountered in the North.
The shifting focus of the struggle from the South to the North thus has contributed both to the weakening of the civil rights movement and to the emergence of Black Power. The implications of this change of scene go beyond what is immediately evident—that federal troops, for instance, appear on the side of the Negroes in Little Rock, whereas in Detroit they are the enemy. The civil rights movement in the South was the product of a set of conditions which is not likely to be repeated in the North: federal efforts to “reconstruct” the South; the tendency of Northern liberals to express their distaste for American society vicariously by attacking racism in the South, rather than by confronting racism at home; the revival of Southern liberalism. Moreover, the civil rights movement, in its Southern phase, rested on the indigenous Negro subculture which has grown up since the Civil War under the peculiar conditions of Southern segregation—a culture separate and unequal but semi-autonomous and therefore capable of giving its own distinctive character to the movement for legal and political equality.
E. FRANKLIN FRAZIER once wrote that the Negro’s “primary struggle” in America “has been to acquire a culture”—customs, values, and forms of expression which, transmitted from generation to generation, provide a people with a sense of its own integrity and collective identity. Under slavery, African forms of social organization, family life, religion, language, and even art disintegrated, leaving the slave neither an African nor an American but a man suspended, as Kenneth Stampp has said, “between two cultures,” unable to participate in either. After the Civil War, Southern Negroes gradually developed institutions of their own, derived from American sources but adapted to their own needs, and therefore capable of giving the Negro community the beginnings at least of cohesiveness and collective self-discipline. The Negro church managed to impose strict standards of sexual morality, thereby making possible the emergence of stable families over which the father—not the mother, as under slavery—presided.
Stable families, in turn, furnished the continuity between generations without which Negroes could not even have begun their slow and painful self-advancement—the accumulation of talent, skills, and leadership which by the 1950s had progressed to the point where Southern Negroes, together with their liberal allies, could launch an attack against segregation. The prominence of the Negro church in their struggle showed the degree to which the civil rights movement was rooted in the peculiar conditions of Negro life in the South—conditions which had made the church the central institution of the Negro subculture. Even radicals like Charles M. Sherrod of SNCC who condemned the passivity of the Negro church realized that “no one working in the South can expect to ‘beat the box’ if he assumes…that one does not need the church as it exists.”
The breakdown of the Southern Negro subculture in the North has recreated one of the conditions that existed under slavery, that of dangling between two cultures. Unlike other rural people who have migrated over the last hundred and forty years to the cities of the North, Southern Negroes have not been able to transplant their rural way of life even with modifications. The church decays; the family reverts to the matricentric pattern. The schools, which are segregated but at the same time controlled by white people, hold up middle-class norms to which black children are expected to conform; if they fail they are written off as “unteachable.” Meanwhile the mass media flood the ghetto with images of affluence, which Negroes absorb without absorbing the ethic of disciplined self-denial and postponement of gratification that has traditionally been a central component of the materialist ethic.
In the South, the Negro church implanted an ethic of patience, suffering, and endurance. As in many peasant or precapitalist societies, this kind of religion proved surprisingly conducive—once endurance was divorced from passive resignation—to effective political action. But the ethic of endurance, which is generally found among oppressed peoples in backward societies, cannot survive exposure to modern materialism. It gives way to an ethic of accumulation. Or, if real opportunities for accumulation do not exist, it gives way to hedonism, opportunism, cynicism, violence, and self-hatred—the characteristics of what Oscar Lewis calls the culture of poverty.
The culture of poverty is a relatively thin culture…. It does not provide much support or long-range satisfaction and its encouragement of mistrust tends to magnify helplessness and isolation. Indeed, the poverty of culture is one of the crucial aspects of the culture of poverty.
These observations rest on Lewis’s studies of the ghettos of Mexico City and of the Puerto Rican ghettos of San Juan and New York, where the breakdown of traditional peasant cultures has created a distinctive type of culture which comes close to being no culture at all. Something of the same thing has happened to the Negro in the North; and this helps to explain what Frazier meant when he said that the Negro’s primary struggle in America had been “to acquire a culture.”
This analysis in turn makes it possible to see why nationalist sects like the Nation of Islam, which have never made much headway in the South, find the Northern ghetto a fertile soil; while the civil rights movement, on the other hand, has become progressively weaker as the focus of the Negroes’ struggle shifts from the South to the North. The civil rights movement does not address itself to the question of how Negroes are to acquire a culture, or to the consequences of their failure to do so. It addresses itself to legal inequalities. In so far as it implies a cultural program of any kind, the civil rights strategy proposes to integrate Negroes into the culture which already surrounds them.
Now the real objection to this is not the one so often given by the advocates of Black Power—that Negroes have nothing to gain from integrating into a culture dominated by materialist values. Since most Negroes have already absorbed those values, this is a frivolous argument—especially so since it seems to imply that there is something virtuous and ennobling about poverty. What the assimilationist argument does overlook is that the civil rights movement owes its own existence, in part, to the rise of a Negro subculture in the South, and that the absence of a comparable culture in the ghetto changes the whole character of the Negro problem in the North. American history seems to show that a group cannot achieve “‘integration”—that is, equality—without first developing institutions which express and create a sense of its own distinctiveness. That is why black nationalism, which attempts to fill the cultural vacuum of the ghetto, has had a continuing attraction for Negroes, and why, even during the period of its eclipse in the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties, nationalism won converts among the most despised and degraded elements of the Negro community in spite of the low repute in which it was held by Negro leaders.
Nationalist sects like the Black Muslims, the Black Jews, and the Moorish Temple Science movement speak to the wretchedness of the ghetto, particularly to the wretchedness of the ghetto male, in a way that the civil rights movement does not. Thus while the free and easy sexual life of the ghetto may excite the envy of outsiders, the Black Muslims correctly see it as a disrupting influence and preach a strict, “puritanical” sexual ethic. In a society in which women dominate the family and the church, the Muslims stress the role of the male as provider and protector. “Protect your women!” strikes at the heart of the humiliation of the Negro male. Similarly, the Muslims attack the hedonism of the ghetto. “Stop wasting your money!” says Elijah Muhammad. “…Stop spending money for tobacco, dope, cigarettes, whiskey, fine clothes, fine automobiles, expensive rugs and carpets, idleness, sport and gambling…. If you must have a car, buy the low-priced car.” Those who see in the Black Muslims no more than “the hate that hate produced” mistake the character of this movement, which joins to the mythology of racial glorification a practical program of moral rehabilitation. As Lawrence L. Tyler has noted (Phylon, Spring 1966), the Muslim style of life is “both mystical and practical,” and it is the combination of the two that “has definitely provided an escape from degradation for lower-class Negroes.” If anyone doubts this, he should consider the Muslims’ well-documented success in redeeming, where others have failed, drug pushers, addicts, pimps, criminals of every type, the dregs of the slums. In subjecting them to a harsh, uncompromising, and admittedly authoritarian discipline, the Black Muslims and other sects have organized people who have not been organized by nonviolence, which presupposes an existing self-respect and a sense of community, or by any other form of Negro politics or religion.
Black Power represents, among other things, a revival of Negro-American nationalism and therefore cannot be regarded simply as a response to recent events. Black Power has secularized the separatist impulse which has usually (though not always) manifested itself in religious forms. Without necessarily abandoning the myth of the Negroes as a chosen people, the new-style nationalists have secularized this myth by identifying the American Negroes—whom many of them continue to regard as in some sense Negroes of the diaspora—not with “the Asian Black Nation and the tribe of Shabazz,” as in Black Muslim theology, but with the contemporary struggle against colonialism in the third world. Where earlier nationalist movements, both secular and religious, envisioned physical separation from America and reunion with Islam or with Africa, many of the younger nationalists propose to fight it out here in America, by revolutionary means if necessary, and to establish—what? a black America? an America in which black people can survive as a separate “nation”? an integrated America?
Here the new-style nationalism begins to reveal underlying ambiguities which make one wonder whether it can properly be called nationalist at all. Older varieties of black nationalism—Garveyism, DuBois’s Pan-Africanism, the Nation of Islam—whatever their own ambiguities, consistently sought escape from America, either to Africa, to some part of America which might be set aside for black people, or to some other part of the world. The new-style nationalists, however, view their movement as a revolution against American “colonialism” and thereby embark on a line of analysis which leads to conclusions that are not always consistent with the premise that American Negroes constitute a “nation.”
Clearly, the rhetoric of Black Power owes more to Frantz Fanon and to Che Guevara than it owes to Marcus Garvey or DuBois, let alone to Elijah Muhammad. Last August, Stokely Carmichael presented himself to the congress of the Organization of Latin American Solidarity in Havana as a conscious revolution. Claiming to speak for the black people of the United States, he is reported to have said:
We greet you as comrades because it becomes increasingly clear to us each day that we share with you a common struggle; we have a common enemy. Out enemy is white Western imperialist society; our struggle is to overthrow the system which feeds itself and expands itself through the economic and cultural exploitation of non-white, non-Western peoples. We speak with you, comrades, because we wish to make clear that we understand that our destinies are inter-twined.
The advocates of Black Power, it should be noted, do not have a monopoly on this type of rhetoric or on the political analysis, or lack of it, which it implies. The New Left in general more and more identifies itself with Castro, Guevara, Régis Debray, and Ho Chi Minh; many of the new radicals speak of “guerrilla warfare” against “colonialism” at home; and in fact they see the black militants, as the black militants see themselves, as the revolutionary vanguard of violent social change. The congruence of the rhetoric of Black Power with the ideology of the more demented sections of the white Left suggests that Black Power is more than a revival of Negro-American nationalism, just as it is more than a response to the collapse of the civil rights movement in the North. Black Power is itself, in part, a manifestation of the New Left. It shares with the white Left not only the language of romantic anarchism but several other features as well, none of them (it must be said)conductive to its success—a pronounced distrust of people over thirty, a sense of powerlessness and despair, for which the revolutionary rhetoric serves to compensate, and a tendency to substitute rhetoric for political analysis and defiant gestures for political action. Even as they seek to disentangle themselves from the white Left, of which they are understandably contemptuous, black militants continue to share some of its worst features, the very tendencies that may indeed be destroying what strength the New Left, during its brief career, has managed to accumulate. The more these tendencies come to dominate Black Power itself, the gloomier, presumably, will be the outlook for its future.
BECAUSE BLACK POWER has many sources, it abounds in contradictions. On the one hand Black Power derives from a tradition of Negro separatism, self-discipline, and self-help, advocating traditional “nationalist” measures ranging from cooperative businesses to proposals for complete separation. On the other hand, some of the spokesmen for Black Power contemplate guerrilla warfare against American “colonialism.” In general, CORE is closer to the first position, SNCC to the second. But the ambiguity of Black Power derives from the fact that both positions frequently coexist—as in Black Power, the new book by Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton, chairman of the political science department at Roosevelt University.
This book is disappointing, first of all because it makes so few concrete proposals for action, and these seem hardly revolutionary in nature: black control of black schools, black-owned businesses, and the like. Carmichael and Hamilton talk vaguely of a “major reorientation of the society” and of “the necessarily total revamping of the society” (expressions they use interchangeably) as the “central goal” of Black Power, and they urge black people not to enter coalitions with groups not similarly committed to sweeping change. But they never explain why their program demands such changes, or indeed why it would be likely to bring them about.
In order to deal with this question, one would have to discuss the relation of the ghetto to the rest of American society. To what extend does American society depend on the ghetto? It is undoubtedly true, as the advocates of Black Power maintain, that there is no immediate prospect that the ghettos will disappear. But it is still not clear whether the ghettos in their present state of inferiority and dependence are in some sense necessary for the functioning of American society—that is, whether powerful interests have a stake in perpetuating them—or whether they persist because American society can get along so well without black people that there is no motive either to integrate them by getting rid of the ghettos or to allow the ghettos to govern themselves. In other words, what interests have a stake in maintaining the present state of affairs? Does the welfare of General Motors depend on keeping the ghetto in a state of dependence? Would self-determination for the ghetto threaten General Motors? Carmichael and Hamilton urge black people to force white merchants out of the ghetto and to replace them with black businesses, but it is not clear why this program, aimed at businesses which themselves occupy a marginal place in American corporate capitalism, would demand or lead to a “total revamping of the society.”
On this point the critics of Black Power raise what appears to be a telling objection, which can be met only by clarifying the Black Power position beyond anything Carmichael and Hamilton have done here. In a recent article in Dissent (“The Pathos of Black Power,” January-February 1967), Paul Feldman writes:
A separatist black economy—unless it were to be no more than a carbon copy of the poverty that already prevails—would need black steel, black automobiles, black refrigerators. And for that, Negroes would have to take control of General Motors and US Steel: hardly an immediate prospect, and utter fantasy as long as Carmichael proposes to “go it alone.”
But a related criticism of Black Power, that it merely proposes to substitute for white storekeepers black storekeepers who would then continue to exploit the ghetto in the same ways, seems to me to miss the point, since advocates of Black Power propose to replace white businesses with black cooperatives. In this respect Black Power does challenge capitalism, at least in principle; but the question remains whether a program aimed at small businessmen effectively confronts capitalism at any very sensitive point.
STILL, SMALL BUSINESSMEN, whatever their importance outside, are a sensitive issue in the ghetto and getting rid of them might do wonders for Negro morale. Not only that, but Negro cooperatives would help to reduce the flow of capital out of the ghetto, contributing thereby, if only modestly, to the accumulation of capital as well as providing employment. A “separatist black economy” is not really what Black Power seems to point to, any more than it points to exploitive Negro shopkeepers in place of white ones. “In the end,” Feldman writes, “the militant-sounding proposals for a build-it-yourself black economy (a black economy, alas, without capital) remind one of…precisely those white moderates who preach self-help to the Negroes.” But Black Power envisions (or seems to envision) collective self-help, which is not the same thing as individualist petty capitalism on the one hand, or, on the other hand, a separate black economy.
Black Power proposes, or seems to propose, that Negroes do for themselves what other ethnic groups, faced with somewhat similar conditions, have done—advance themselves not as individuals but as groups conscious of their own special interests and identity. The Irish advanced themselves by making politics their own special business, the Italians by making a business of crime. In both cases, the regular avenues of individual self-advancement were effectively closed, forcing ethnic minorities to improvise extra-legal institutions—the political machine in the one case, crime syndicates in the other. These were defined as illegitimate and resisted by the rest of society, but they were finally absorbed after protracted struggles. Those who urge Negroes to advance themselves through the regular channels of personal mobility ignore the experience of earlier minorities in America, the relevance of which is obscured both by the tendency to view the history of immigration as a triumph of assimilation and by the individualism which persistently blinds Americans to the importance of collective action, and therefore to most of history.
Carmichael and Hamilton mention the parallel with other ethnic groups, but only in passing, and without noticing that this analogy undermines the analogy with colonial people which they draw at the beginning of the book and wherever else their militant rhetoric appears to demand it. They observe, correctly, that on the evidence of ethnic voting “the American pot has not melted,” politically at least, and they recognize that “traditionally, each new ethnic group in this society has found the route to social and political viability through the organization of its own institutions.” But they do not explain how this analysis of the Negro’s situation squares with the argument that “black people in this country form a colony and it is not in the interest of the colonial power to liberate them.”
Quite apart from this inconsistency, the ethnic parallel, whether or not it finally proves useful, needs to be systematically explored. Did the struggles of other minorities contribute to a “major reorientation of the society”? Not if a “major reorientation” is equivalent to the “complete revision” of American institutions, which is the precondition, according to Carmichael and Hamilton, of black liberation. Perhaps the analogy is therefore misleading and should be abandoned. On the other hand, it may be that the special institutions created by other nationalities in America—like Tammany and the Mafia—do in fact represent “major reorientations,” even though they fall somewhat short of a “total revamping” or “complete revision” of society. Perhaps it is confusing to think of “major reorientations” as synonymous with “complete revisions,” particularly when the nature of the changes proposed remains so indeterminate. In that case it is the colonial analogy that should be dropped, as contributing to the confusion.
Black Power contains many other examples of sloppy analysis and the failure to pursue any line of reasoning through to its consequences. Basic questions are left in doubt. Is the Negro issue a class issue, a race issue, or a “national” (ethnic) issue? Treating it as a class issue—as the authors appear to do when they write that the “only coalition which seems acceptable to us,” in the long run, is “a coalition of poor blacks and poor whites”—further weakens the ethnic analogy and blurs the concept of black people as a “nation”—the essential premise, one would think, of “Black Power.”
PAUL FELDMAN seems to me on the wrong track when he accuses SNCC of resorting to “what is primarily a racial rather than an economic approach.” On the contrary, the advocates of Black Power tend, if anything, toward a class analysis, derived from popularized Marxism or from Castroism, which considers the American Negro as an exploited proletarian. Thus Carmichael and Hamilton try to sustain their analogy of the Negroes as a “colonial” people by arguing that the Negro communities “export” cheap labor. This may be true of the South, where Negroes do represent cheap labor (although mechanization is changing the situation even in the South) and where racism, accordingly, is functionally necessary as a way of maintaining class exploitation. Here the Negroes might be mobilized behind a program of class action designed to change society in fundamental ways.* In the North, however, the essential feature of the Negro’s situation is precisely his dispensability, which is increasingly evident in the growing unemployment of Negro men, particularly young men. As Bayard Rustin has pointed out, ghetto Negroes do not constitute an exploited proletariat. They should be regarded not as a working class but as a lower class or lumpenproletariat.
The distinction [he writes] is important. The working class is employed. It has a relation to the production of goods and services; much of it is organized in unions. It enjoys a measure of cohesion, discipline and stability lacking in the lower class. The latter is unemployed or marginally employed. It is relatively unorganized, incohesive, unstable. It contains the petty criminal and antisocial elements. Above all, unlike the working class, it lacks the sense of a stake in society. When the slum proletariat is black, its alienation is even greater.
It is precisely these conditions, however, that make Black Power more relevant to the ghetto than “civil rights,” if Black Power is understood as a form of ethnic solidarity which addresses itself to the instability and to the “antisocial” elements of ghetto life, and tries to organize and “socialize” those elements around a program of collective self-help. The potential usefulness of black nationalism, in other words, lies in its ability to organize groups which neither the church, the unions, the political parties, nor the social workers have been able to organize. Rustin’s analysis, while it effectively refutes the idea that the Negro lower class can become a revolutionary political force in any conventional sense, does not necessarily lead one to reject Black Power altogether, as he does, or to endorse “coalitions.” Actually it can be used as an argument against coalitions, on the grounds that a marginal lower class has no interests in common with, say, the labor movement. If the Negroes are a lower class as opposed to a working class, it is hard to see, theoretically, why the labor movement is “foremost among [the Negroes’] political allies,” as Paul Feldman believes. Theory aside, experience does not bear out this contention.
Concerning the revolutionary potential of Black Power, however, Rustin seems to me absolutely right. “From the revolutionist point of view,” he says, “the question is not whether steps could be taken to strengthen organization among the lumpenproletariat but whether that group could be a central agent of social transformation. Generally, the answer has been no.” But these observations, again, do not necessarily lead to the conclusion that Black Power has no validity. Rather they suggest the need to divorce Black Power as a program of collective self-advancement from the revolutionary rhetoric of the New Left, while at the same time they remind us that other ethnic minorities, faced with somewhat similar conditions, created new institutions that had important (though not revolutionary) social consequences. Negro-Americans cannot be considered a “nation” and a revolutionary class at the same time.
NATHAN WRIGHT’S Black Power and Urban Unrest shares with the Carmichael-Hamilton book a tendency to ignore important theoretical questions or to discuss them without sufficient awareness of their implications. Nevertheless, the two books seem to have quite different conceptions of Black Power. As chairman of the Newark conference on Black Power last July, Dr. Wright, an Episcopal clergyman, appeared in the public eye as a militant. But Black Power seems to mean to him little more than the control by Negroes of civil rights organizations like SNCC and CORE (of which he is a long-time member). He does not appear to quarrel with the previous aims of those organizations. That is, he does not advocate black separatism, but “desegregation,” which he insists should be distinguished from integration. Integration, Wright argues, has come to imply assimilation, which undermines Negro self-respect, thwarts the black man’s struggle for “responsible selfhood,” and perpetuates his dependence on whites. “Desegregation,” on the other hand—“the universal goal,” according to Wright, of “all other rising ethnic groups” in America—means that Negroes should have access to the same facilities and the same opportunities as everyone else, without forfeiting their identity as Negroes.
As an abstract proposition, this distinction is reasonably clear, but it is hard to see how it applies to concrete issues like housing and schools. How can “desegregation” in housing be distinguished from “integration”? If “desegregated” housing means anything, it means the disappearance of ethnic neighborhoods (something, incidentally, which has not yet happened in the case of other minorities) and the assimilation of Negroes into white neighborhoods. Similarly, the schools are in any case already “desegregated,” in the sense that they try to inculcate black children with white norms and judge them by white standards of achievement.
Some people, Dr. Wright among them, propose to solve this problem by getting more Negroes on school boards. At one point Wright urges Negroes to band together “to seek executive positions in corporations, bishoprics, deanships of cathedrals, superintendencies of schools, and high-management positions in banks, stores, investment houses, legal firms, civic and government agencies, and factories.” This is, of course, exactly what many Negroes are doing already, but there is little reason to think that the trickle of middle-class Negroes into executive positions, where they are used as window-dressing, will lead to “a radically new power balance,” as Dr. Wright insists. Like Carmichael and Hamilton, he occasionally makes a parallel between Negroes and other ethnic groups, but he does not draw the proper conclusion from their history. Other ethnic groups achieved a larger share of power not by penetrating established institutions but by improvising their own institutions, which gave them political, economic, and cultural leverage as groups. They could not have achieved this leverage as upwardly mobile individuals. Irish Catholics did not win power by getting to be heads of corporations, infiltrating the Republican party, or becoming respectable leaders of municipal reform; they won power by creating the urban political machine.
Dr. Wright further confuses matters by criticizing Negro leaders for not advocating “social equality.” He remarks that
…no major civil rights leader, even today, espouses as a major plank in his platform social equality, at the very heart of which is the matter of intermarriage. Yet economic survival and advancement, as well as a sense of pride, depend in no small degree upon relationships of a blood and legal variety.
These observations seem to me to reveal a misunderstanding of the way in which intermarriage, historically, always tends to erode a sense of ethnic allegiance—which is why it has always been opposed by those wishing to preserve a sense of nationally, including most advocates of Black Power. Nor is the rate of intermarriage a reliable indication of a group’s attainment of power, as Dr. Wright’s remarks seem to imply. Intermarriage represents the intellectual’s longed-for emancipation from what he regards as narrow ethnic prejudices, but the cultural emancipation of intellectuals, which often turns out to be illusory anyway, has nothing to do with the distribution of power in society. As an important social goal, intermarriage is utterly irrelevant.
BY REPUDIATING their white supporters, the advocates of Black Power have sent a moral shock through the liberal community, which two white veterans of the civil rights movement in different ways record. Charles E. Fager, a Northern radical and the younger of the two, has adjusted to the trauma of Black Power, and now defends it not only as an appropriate strategy for black people but as a strategy which makes clearer than before the kind of measures white radicals should take toward reorganizing their own communities. Fred Powledge, a Southerner and free-lance journalist who was formerly a reporter for The New York Times, sympathetically observed the civil rights movement in the South at first hand. He deplores the rise of black separatism, which he is convinced “will not work.”
By separatism Powledge means “the construction of parallel societies, black and white.” This is “impossible,” he thinks, because “black institutions, built alongside existing white ones, would be poverty-stricken by comparison.” Moreover, separatist “demagogues” would have to use violence “as an organizing tool” in order to keep the black community in line; and if that happened, “the white majority would respond with near-genocide.” Integration, on the other hand, does not necessarily mean assimilation. In fact Powledge thinks that it is “essential” for the civil rights movement to “stamp out the idea, held so long by so many white liberals who did not even know that they held it, that integration consists of turning ‘them’ white.”
Powledge’s position resembles Nathan Wright’s. Both writers advocate integration or desegregation—that is, equal rights and equal opportunities—while opposing assimilation on the one hand and black separatism on the other. If Black Power means that Negroes should not straighten their hair in order to win illusory acceptance by whites, then both Powledge and Wright support it. Nor does Powledge deny that, within the civil rights movement, Negroes should “run the show.” When he urges whites to restrict themselves to contributing their special skills to a movement led largely by Negroes, he agrees not only with Wright, but with Carmichael and Hamilton, who believe that white people are most effective in “supportive” roles. Since neither Wright nor Carmichael and Hamilton advocate the conception of black separatism which Powledge attacks, one begins to wonder whether the whole controversy about Black Power doesn’t boil down to a dispute about certain words. Everybody, it seems, supports Black Power and, at the same time, favors “integration.”
But as Stokely Carmichael pointed out in an interview in The Militant (May 23, 1966), “You can integrate communities, but you assimilate individuals.” Until black people become a community, in Carmichael’s view, efforts to integrate them necessarily imply assimilation. Here is the irreducible difference between the integrationist and Black Power positions. Fager’s book helps to clarify the debate. Without indulging in the liberal-baiting that so often accompanies discussions of Black Power, he challenges integrationists to demonstrate why “integration” does not work out in practice to mean assimilation, whereby a few middle-class Negroes are provisionally admitted to white society, leaving the others behind in the ghetto as unassimilable. According to Fager, this is certainly the way things have worked out so far. If more money were spent on education and welfare programs, he argues, the rate of mobility could be speeded up, but it is unlikely that the ghettos could be completely eradicated—not for a long time, anyway, and in the meantime more assimilation at the top will merely add to the hatreds and frustrations at the bottom of Negro society.
Whereas Bayard Rustin and others argue that Negroes cannot hope to win equality except in coalition with other groups, Fager believes, as do other advocates of Black Power, that at the present time the black community is not cohesive enough to enter into coalitions without being swallowed up. As a white radical who until recently worked in the civil rights coalition, he is left with the question of where next to turn his energies. He tries to show that Black Power demands of white liberals a parallel strategy, based on the premise that the “liberal community,” like the Negro community, “does not control the institutions around and through which its life is organized and controlled.” Each of these communities must therefore develop “an economic base which it can control, which can support the community substantially, and which can confront other power groups as equals.” Young radicals should “go back to school” and acquire the skills necessary to run parallel and competing institutions which will free the “liberal community” from its dependence on established structures; while the older radicals should “figure out how to withdraw their money and abilities as much as possible from status quo institutions and rechannel the bulk of them into the development and support of independent-base institutions.”
UNFORTUNATELY THESE SUGGESTIONS are exceedingly vague, although they are not much more vague than the strategy of Black Power itself. Fager’s effort to translate Black Power into its white equivalent unintentionally reveals the poverty of Black Power as a political strategy. For while a program of collective self-help seems closer than civil rights solutions to the psychological and even to the economic needs of the ghetto, the advocates of Black Power have not been able to explain what such a program means in practice or what kind of strategy would be necessary to achieve it. This is probably why they spend so much time talking not about politics but about therapy. By detaching Black Power from its context—the psychic and spiritual malaise of the ghetto, which Black Power, like other versions of black nationalism, is designed to cure—Fager makes clear what we had already begun to suspect, that Black Power not only contains no political ideas that are applicable elsewhere, it contains very few political ideas at all. As a program of spiritual regeneration, it offers hope to people whom the civil rights movement ignores or does not touch; though, even here, Black Power may prove to be less successful than the religious versions of black nationalism, since it can appeal neither to the mystic brotherhood nor to the authoritarian discipline of the Black Muslims. As a political program, Black Power does not explain how Negro cooperatives are to come into being or what they will use for money, how the ghettos are to control and pay for their own schools, or why, even if these programs were successful, they would lead to sweeping changes in American society as a whole.
Are the proponents of Black Power capable of formulating a workable strategy? Are they even interested in formulating a strategy? Although Black Power does address itself to certain problems of the ghetto which other approaches ignore, one cannot even say with confidence that the emergence of Black Power is a hopeful sign, which, if nothing else, will teach black people to stop hating their own blackness. If it merely teaches them to hate whiteness instead, it will contribute to the nihilistic emotions building up in the ghetto, and thus help to bring about the race war which spokesmen for Black Power, until recently at least, claimed they were trying to prevent. In so far as Black Power represents an effort to discipline the anger of the ghettos and to direct this anger toward radical action, it works against the resentment and despair of the ghetto, which may nevertheless overwhelm it. But Black Power is not only an attack on this despair, it is also, in part, its product, and reflects forces which it cannot control.
In the last few months, we have seen more and more vivid examples of the way in which Black Power has come to be associated with mindless violence—as in the recent disturbances at San Francisco State College—and with a “revolutionary” rhetoric that conceals a growing uncertainty of purpose. It becomes increasingly clear that many of the intellectuals who talk of Black Power do not understand the difference between riots and revolution, and that they have no program capable of controlling the growing violence of the ghetto. It is also becoming clear that in fact they have not only given up the effort to control violence or even to understand it, but are themselves making a cult of violence, and by doing so are abdicating leadership of their own movement. Meanwhile white radicals, who supposedly know better but are just as foolish and patronizing about Black Power as they were about civil rights, applaud from the sidelines or, as at San Francisco State, join the destruction, without perceiving that it is radicalism itself that is being destroyed.
THE NIHILISTIC TENDENCIES latent in Black Power have been identified and analyzed not only by the advocates of “liberal” coalitions. The most penetrating study of these tendencies is to be found in Harold Cruse’s The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, which is also an analysis of integration and a defense of black nationalism. Cruse is a radical, but his book gives no comfort to the “radicalism” currently fashionable. It deals with real issues, not leftist fantasies. Cruse understands that radicals need clarity more than they need revolutionary purity, and he refuses to be taken in by loud exclamations of militancy which conceal an essential flabbiness of purpose. At a time when Negro intellectuals are expected to show their devotion to the cause by acting out a ritual and expatiatory return to the dress and manners of their “people”—when intellectuals of all nationalities are held to be the very symbol of futility, and when even a respected journalist like Andrew Kopkind can write that “the responsibility of the intellectual is the same as that of the street organizer, the draft resister, the Digger: to talk to people, not about them”—Cruse feels no need to apologize for the intellectual’s work, which is to clarify issues. It is because Negro intellectuals have almost uniformly failed in this work that he judges them, at his angriest and most impatient, a “colossal fraud”—a judgment that applies without much modification to white intellectuals, now as in the recent past.
The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual is a history of the Negro Left since the First World War. When all the manifestoes and polemics of the Sixties are forgotten, this book will survive as a monument of historical analysis—a notable contribution to the understanding of the American past, but more than that, a vindication of historical analysis as the best way, maybe the only way, of gaining a clear understanding of social issues.
As a historian, an intellectual, a Negro, and, above all perhaps, as a man who came of political age in the 1940s, Cruse sees more clearly than the young black nationalists of the Sixties how easily Negro radicals—integrationists and nationalists alike—become “disoriented prisoners of white leftists, no matter how militant they sound.” Instead of devising strategies appropriate to the special situation of American Negroes, they import ideologies which have no relevance to that situation and which subordinate the needs of American Negroes to an abstract model of revolutionary change. Marxism is such a model, and a considerable portion of Cruse’s book elaborates and documents the thesis that American Marxism has disastrously misled Negro intellectuals over a period of fifty years.
But the ideology of guerrilla warfare, which in some Black Power circles has replaced Marxism as the current mode, equally ignores American realities. According to Cruse,
The black ghettoes are in dire need of new organizations or parties of a political nature, yet it is a fact that most of the leading young nationalist spokesmen are apolitical. …The black ghettoes are in even more dire need of every possible kind of economic and self-help organization, and a buyers and consumers council, but the most militant young nationalists openly ridicule such efforts as reformist and a waste of time. For them politics and economics are most unrevolutionary. What they do consider revolutionary are Watts-type uprisings—which lead nowhere.
Black Power—with or without the guerrilla rhetoric—is a “strategic retreat.” “It proposes to change, not the white world outside, but the black world inside, by reforming it into something else politically or economically.” The Muslims, Cruse points out, have “already achieved this in a limited way, substituting religion for politics”; and Malcolm X (whom the advocates of Black Power now list as one of their patron saints) quit the Black Muslims precisely because “this type of Black Power lacked a dynamic, was static and aloof to the broad struggle.” By emphasizing “Psychological Warfare” as “Phase 1” of Black Power, as one of the new nationalists puts it, the advocates of Black Power have placed themselves “almost in the lap of the Nation of Islam.” Moreover, they have reversed the proper order of priorities, according to Cruse, for “psychological equality” must be the product, not the precondition, of cultural regeneration and political power.
He thinks that integrationists, on the other hand, while they may have addressed themselves to the “broad struggle,” conceive of the struggle in the wrong terms. They waste their strength fighting prejudice, when they ought to be organizing the ghetto so that it could exert more influence, say, over the use of anti-poverty funds. Instead of trying to change the Constitution in order to make it “reflect the social reality of America as a nation of nations, or a nation of ethnic groups,” even advocates of violence like Robert Williams propose merely to “implement” the Constitution, with, in Williams’s words, “justice and equality for all people.” Cruse accuses integrationists of being taken in by the dominant mythology of American individualism and of failing to see the importance of collective action along ethnic lines, or—even worse—of mistakenly conceiving collective action in class terms which are irrelevant to the Negro’s situation in America.
CRUSE HIMSELF is a Marxist—that is, a historical materialist. But he opposes the obstinate effort to impose on the Negro problem a class analysis which sees Negroes as an oppressed proletariat. He thinks this obscures, among other things, the nature of the Negro middle class and the role it plays in American life. Actually “middle class” is a misnomer, because this class is not a real bourgeoisie. The most important thing about it is that “Negro businessmen must depend on the Negro group for their support,” which according to Cruse means two things: Negro businessmen are more closely tied to the Negro nation than to their white middle-class counterparts, no matter how hard they may struggle against this identification; and they occupy a marginal position in American capitalism as a whole, since black capitalism can only function in limited areas—personal services to the Negro community, such as barbershops, insurance companies, etc.—which white capitalism does not choose to enter.
Because of its marginal position, the black bourgeoisie does not have the resources to support Negro institutions—a theater, for instance—which might help to give the Negro community some consciousness of itself. Negro intellectuals thus depend on white intellectuals—or white foundations—as much as Negro maids depend on white housewives, even though the intellectual world, according to Cruse, is the only realm in which genuine integration has taken place or is likely to take place. Even there, Negroes have been forced to compete at a disadvantage. They have had to regard their white counterparts not only as colleagues but as patrons. Hence the dominance of Jews in the Negro-Jewish coalition that has been characteristic of American Marxist movements.
THE EFFORT to explain how this coalition emerged and what it did to Negro radicalism occupies the better part of The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual. The history of the Negro intellectual from the 1920s to the present necessarily becomes a history of American Marxism as well. Cruse begins with the “Harlem renaissance,” when Marcus Garvey’s version of black nationalism was only one of many signs of cultural and political awakening among American Negroes, and he shows, step by step, how Negro intellectuals retreated from these promising beginnings and began to preach culturally sterile and politically futile doctrines of proletarian uplift. Thus in the Twenties and Thirties Negro intellectuals lent themselves to the Communists’ efforts to convince Moscow that American Negroes could become the spearhead of a proletarian revolution. A delegation of Negro Communists in Moscow claimed in 1922 that “in five years we will have the American revolution”—just as Stokely Carmichael now carries a similar message to Havana. “I listened to the American delegates deliberately telling lies about conditions in America,” wrote the poet Claude McKay, “and I was disgusted.”
Thirty-eight years later Harold Cruse found himself in a somewhat similar position in Castro’s Cuba, where he had gone with LeRoi Jones and other Americans “to ‘see for ourselves’ what it was all about.” “The ideology of a new revolutionary wave in the world at large had lifted us out of the anonymity of the lonely struggle in the United States to the glorified rank of visiting dignitaries. …Nothing in our American experience had ever been as arduous and exhausting as this journey. Our reward was the prize of revolutionary protocol that favored those victims of capitalism away from home.” But in the midst of this “ideological enchantment,” none of the delegates bothered to ask: “What did it all mean and how did it relate to the Negro in America?”
The new-wave Negro militants, like their forerunners of the 1930s, “have taken on a radical veneer without radical substance” and have formulated “no comprehensive radical philosophy to replace either the liberalism they denounce or the radicalism of the past that bred them.” In a chapter on “The Intellectuals and Force and Violence”—in some ways the most important chapter in the book—Cruse examines a notable instance of the prevailing confusion among Negro radicals (shared by white radicals): the cult of “armed self-defense” as a form of revolutionary action. Robert Williams, an officer of the NAACP, raised the issue of self-defense in Monroe, North Carolina, in 1959, when he armed his followers against the Ku Klux Klan. In the uproar following the NAACP’S suspension of Williams and his deification by the new black Left, basic questions went unanswered. For one thing, violence in the South, where it is directed against the Klan, has been strategically different from violence in the North, where it has been directed against the National Guard. For another, the issue of armed self-defense does not touch the deep-rooted conditions that have to be changed if the Negro’s position is to be changed. Violence, Cruse argues, becomes a meaningful strategy only in so far as American institutions resist radical change and resist it violently. Since the Negro movement has not yet even formulated a program for radical change, violence is tactically premature; and, in any case, “the main front of tactics must always be organizational and institutional.”
NEITHER THE BLACK LEFT nor the white Left, however, understands that an American revolution (even if it were imminent, which it isn’t) “would have very little in common with the foreign revolutions they have read about.” Lacking a theory, lacking any understanding of history, confusing violent protest with radicalism, black radicals persist in yet another mistake—the equation of pro-blackness with hatred of whites. Violent hatred fills the vacuum left by the lack of an ideology and a program. Long before the new radicals came on the scene, Cruse writes, “this had been one of the Negro intellectual’s most severe ‘hang-ups”‘—one that in our own time threatens to become the driving force of the Negro movement. “This situation results from a psychology that is rooted in the Negro’s symbiotic ‘blood-ties’ to the white Anglo-Saxon. It is the culmination of that racial drama of love and hate between slave and master, bound together in the purgatory of plantations.” The self-advancement of the Negro community, however, cannot rest on ambivalent hatreds. “All race hate is self-defeating in the long run because it distorts the critical faculties.”
The complexity and richness of The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual is difficult to convey in a review. The book documents not only the failure of Negro radicalism but the failure of American radicalism in general, which lives off imported ideologies and myths of imminent revolution in which Negroes have always been assigned a leading part. Reading this book today, in the wake of such disasters as the Conference for New Politics, one realizes how little has changed, and how, in spite of its determination to avoid the mistakes of the radicals of the Thirties and Forties, the New Left remains trapped in the rhetoric and postures of its predecessors. The Left today should be concerned not only with the long-range problem of creating new institutions of popular democracy (a subject to which it has given very little thought) but with the immediate problem of saving what remains of liberalism—free speech, safeguards against arbitrary authority, separation of powers—without which further democratic experiments of any kind will come to an end.
The Left should take seriously the possibility which it rhetorically proclaims—that the crisis of American colonialism abroad, together with the failure of welfare programs to improve conditions in the ghetto, will generate a demand for thoroughgoing repression which, if it succeeded, would seal the fate of liberals and radicals alike. But instead of confronting the present crisis, the Left still babbles of revolution and looks to the Negroes, as before, to deliver the country from its capitalist oppressors. “We are just a little tail on the end of a very powerful black panther,” says one of the delegates to the Conference for New Politics. “And I want to be on that tail—if they’ll let me.” In the next breath he urges white radicals to “trust the blacks the way you trust children.”
In this atmosphere, Harold Cruse’s book, quite apart from its intrinsic and enduring merits, might do much immediate good. It might help to recall American radicals to their senses (those that ever had any). Perhaps it is too late even for intelligent radicals to accomplish anything. The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual exposes the mistakes of the past at a time when the accumulated weight of those mistakes has become so crushing that it may be too late to profit from the lesson. Crises overlap crises. The defeat of liberal colonialism in Vietnam coincides with the defeat of liberalism in the ghetto, and the deterioration of the ghetto coincides with the deterioration of the city as a whole: the flight of industry and jobs from the city, the withdrawal of the middle class, the decay of public transportation and schools, the decay of public facilities in general, the pollution of the water, the pollution of the air.
In the 1930s an alarming crisis stirred enlightened conservatives like Franklin Roosevelt to measures which palliated the immediate effects of the crisis and thereby averted a general breakdown of the system. By throwing its support at a decisive moment behind the CIO, the New Deal made possible the organization of elements which, unorganized, threatened to become an immensely violent and disruptive force. One might imagine that the still graver crisis of the Sixties might lead conservatives to consider a similar approach to the more moderate black nationalists. Indeed some gestures have recently been made in this direction. But given the total lack of national political leadership at the present time, and given the decay of the city, the kind of “solution” which will seem increasingly attractive to many Americans is a solution that would merely carry existing historical trends to their logical culmination: abandon the cities completely, put up walls around them, and use them as Negro reservations. This could even be done under the cloak of Black Power—“self-determination for the ghetto.” On their reservations, black people would be encouraged to cultivate their native handicrafts, songs, dances, and festivals. Tourists would go there, bringing in a little loose change. In American history there are precedents for such “solutions.”
Not only have things reached the point where any program of radical reform may be inadequate, it is still not clear whether even Cruse’s version of black nationalism, as it stands, points the way to such a program. That the book itself offers no program is not an objection—although the objection applies, it seems to me, to Carmichael and Hamilton’s Black Power which claims to present “a political framework and ideology which represents the last reasonable opportunity for this society to work out its racial problems short of prolonged destructive guerrilla warfare.” Cruse does not pretend to offer a “political framework”; his book attempts to clarify underlying issues. The question is whether his analysis clarifies those issues or obscures them.
THAT IT CLEARS UP a great deal of confusion should already be evident. Certain questions, however, remain. One concerns the slippery concept of “nationalism,” which may not be the best idea around which to organize a movement of Negro liberation. Cruse does not seem to me to confront the possibility that black nationalism, which he realizes has always been flawed by its “romantic and escapist” tendencies, may be inherently romantic and escapist—now looking wistfully back to Africa, now indulging in fantasies of global revolution. The analysis of American Negroes as an ethnic group should properly include a study of the role of other nationalist ideologies, like Zionism or Irish-American nationalism, in order to discover whether they played any important part in the successful efforts of those communities to organize themselves. From what I have been able to learn, Irish-American nationalism focused almost exclusively on Ireland and contributed nothing important to the political successes of the Irish in America. (See Thomas N. Brown, Irish-American Nationalism.) A study of other ethnic nationalisms might show the same thing. It is possible, in other words, that nationalist movements in America, even when they cease to be merely fraternal and convivial and actually involve themselves in the revolutionary politics of the homeland (as was true of some Irish-American movements), have had no practical bearing on ethnic group politics in America itself. In that case, nationalism may not serve Negroes as a particularly useful guide to political action, although it is clear that the Negroes’ situation demands some sort of action along ethnic lines.
Even as a means of cultural regeneration, nationalism may be too narrowly based to achieve what Cruse wants it to achieve. Black nationalist movements in the United States are largely movements of young men—of all groups, the one least able to develop values that can be passed on to the next generation. According to C. Eric Lincoln’s study of the Black Muslims, “up to 80 per cent of a typical congregation is between the ages of seventeen and thirty-five”; moreover, “the Muslim temples attract many more men than women, and men assume the full management of temple affairs.” Frazier remarks, in another connection, “Young males, it will be readily agreed, are poor bearers of the cultural heritage of a people.” Of course there is no reason, in theory, why black nationalism should remain a young man’s movement. The chief exponents of Negro-American nationalism or of a point of view that could be called nationalist—Booker T. Washington, Garvey, and DuBois (when he was not swinging to the opposite pole of integration)—were themselves men of years and experience.
But historically the nationalist ideology has owed much of its appeal to the need of the young Negro male to escape from the stifling embrace of the feminine-centered family and church. The assertion of masculinity so obviously underlies the present manifestations of black nationalism that it is difficult, at times, to distinguish nationalist movements from neighborhood gangs. It is easy to see why black nationalism might be associated with riots, especially as nationalism becomes increasingly secularized and loses its capacity to instill inner discipline; but can it produce a culture capable of unifying the black community around values distinct from and superior to those of American society as a whole?
There is the further problem of what Cruse means by “culture.” Sometimes he uses the word in its broad sense, sometimes narrowly, as when he asks Negro intellectuals to follow the lead of C. Wright Mills by formulating a theory of “cultural radicalism.” In modern society, Cruse argues, “mass cultural communications is a basic industry,” and “only the blind cannot see that whoever controls the cultural apparatus…also controls the destiny of the United States and everything in it.” This statement is open to a number of objections; but quite apart from that, it is not clear what it has to do with what Frazier called the Negro’s “primary struggle”—to acquire a “culture” much more basic than the kind of culture Mills and Cruse, in this passage, have in mind. How are Negroes to get control of the “cultural apparatus” until they have solved their more immediate difficulties? And how would their efforts to control the culture industry differ from the efforts of Lorraine Hansberry and Sydney Poitier, whom Cruse criticizes on the grounds that their personal triumphs on Broadway and in Hollywood did nothing to advance Negro “culture”?
THESE QUESTIONS ASIDE, Cruse leaves no doubt of the validity of his main thesis: that intellectuals must play a central role in movements for radical change, that this role should consist of formulating “a new political philosophy,” and that in twentieth-century American history they have failed in this work. They must now address themselves to a more systematic analysis of American society than they have attempted before, building on the social theory of the nineteenth century but scrapping those parts that no longer apply. This analysis will have to explain, among other things, how the situation of the Negro in America relates to the rest of American history—a problem on which Cruse has now made an impressive assault, without however solving the dilemma posed by W.E.B. DuBois: “There faces the American Negro…an intricate and subtle problem of combining into one object two difficult sets of facts”—he is both a Negro and an American at the same time. The failure to grasp this point, according to Cruse, has prevented both integrationists and nationalists from “synthesizing composite trends.” The pendulum swings back and forth between nationalism and integrationism, but as with so many discussions among American intellectuals, the discussion never seems to progress to a higher level of analysis. Today, riots, armed self-defense, conflicts over control of ghetto schools, efforts of CORE to move Negroes into cooperative communities in the South, and other uncoordinated actions, signify a reawakening of something that can loosely be called nationalism; but they express not a new synthesis but varying degrees of disenchantment with integration. The advocates of Black Power have so far failed to show why their brand of nationalism comes any closer than its predecessors to providing a long-range strategy not for escaping from America but for changing it. The dilemma remains; more than ever it needs to become the object of critical analysis.
In the meantime, will events wait for analysis? Immediate crises confront us, and there is no time, it seems, for long-range solutions, no time for reflection. Should we all take to the streets, then, as Andrew Kopkind recommends? In critical times militancy may appear to be the only authentic politics. But the very gravity of the crisis makes it all the more imperative that radicals try to formulate at least a provisional theory which will serve them as a guide to tactics in the immediate future as well as to long-range questions of strategy. Without such a perspective, militancy will carry the day by default; then, quickly exhausting itself, it will give way to another cycle of disillusionment, cynicism, and hopelessness.
February 29, 1968
This does not mean, however, that Southern Negroes will be receptive to the rhetoric of alienation, which depicts Negroes as a revolutionary vanguard. On the contrary, the Northern radicals at the Conference for New Politics failed to stir the delegates from the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party with their “easy talk about violence and guerrilla warfare,” as Feldman notes in an unpublished report on the conference. The rhetoric of alienation addresses itself not to the actual class situation of the Southern Negro sharecropper or tenant but to the rootlessness and despair of the Northern Negro. ↩