By Saeed Shabazz ~
The Left Forum convened its annual three-day confab at Pace Univ. from March 16 to18, which boasts of being the largest gathering in North America of the United States and international Left. The ‘Black Left’ was well represented; a ‘who’s-who’ in the Black Radical/Black Liberation movement in North America.
Names such as Dr. Maulana Karenga, Dr. Roderick Bush, Amiri Baraka, Sam Anderson, Dr. Johanna Fernandez, Dr. Michael Dawson, Dr. Komozi Woodard, Bill Fletcher, Jr., Rose Brewer, Monica Moorehead, Prof. Horace Campbell and Ajamu Baraka.
What was most interesting were the titles of some of the workshops that were directed towards the Black Left experience such as “Occupy Wall Street and Rebuilding the Black Liberation Movement Roundtable”, “Black Radicalism: Strategies and Solidarity”. “Is There a Crisis of the Black Left” and “Black America and the Left: Where do we go from here? What is to be done?” There were over 300 workshops during the three-day conference.
Probably the most important question was asked of this reporter by MOVE’s Pam Africa who is also the international chair of the ‘Free Mumia Abu Jamal’ movement: “Has the Black Left unified enough?” No, Pam Africa is not a Leftist.
There is an important position paper written recently by Saladin Muhammad of the Black Left Unity Network. Muhammad is also a member of the North Carolina-based Black Workers for Justice and The Freedom Road Socialist Org.
“The fragmentation of the Black Left and the Black Liberation movement has prevented us from working together to build this revolutionary infrastructure and the mass political work to raise sharper Black national and working class consciousness.” Muhammad’s thoughts on this issue may be found under the title “Uniting the Black Left Everywhere” at www.blackleftunity.org.
Muhammad was scheduled to participate in the “Occupy Wall St. & Rebuilding the Black Liberation Movement Roundtable” workshop, which was chaired by Brooklyn’s own Sam Anderson, who is also a member of the Black Left Unity Network. Muhammad didn’t make it to New York, but we had a long phone conversation the Monday after the conference.
“The fragmentation of the Black Left is not just ideological; but reflects the damage to the movement coming out of COINTELPRO,” Muhammad insists. In reading into his meaning, obviously the U.S. government’s intelligence program to break up the ‘Black Liberation’ movement meant there were people put into place to cause deliberate dissension in the ranks.
Muhammad also alluded to the fact that the so-called ‘White Left’ did not “understand that the Black Liberation struggle was much broader than the narrow struggle against capitalism.”
“The White Left viewed the problem of capitalism historically as a class problem – not a racial problem,” Dr. Bush said during our talk also the day after the conference. “I think there is a long and complicated history; the Black radical movement has always been to the left of the white Left,” he stressed.
“Our struggle has to be grassroots – dealing with the issues of police brutality, a living wage and health care ; and we cannot afford to get back into the ideological struggles of the past,” according to Newark’s Jose Velasquez, a former youth member of the NYC Black Panther Party, and also active in the Puerto Rican Freedom movement.
Velasquez had just attended the “Black America and the Left” workshop, and stopped for a quick chat in the hallway. “Rebuilding the Black Left around what?” he asked rhetorically. We have to have a working class network to be successful, he argued.
Dr. Karenga stated, “We have a right to define and defend our role as radical intellectuals; it’s a conceptualization problem.” Did we not say in the 1960s that capitalism is wrong, Karenga stressed. But, Karenga also called the Black Left a “conflicted” assembly of people. “Can we re-conceive ourselves?” he asked.
Dr. Fernandez argues that there is a “need to launch an ideological campaign that is going to expose racism in the post-civil rights era that must be driven by the working class.”
Moving outside of the box, a call was placed to Junious Stanton, The Black Communicator out of Philadelphia, Pa. whose radio program “From the Ramparts” may be heard on Harambee Radio, insists that the White Left won’t tolerate any such discussion. “The White Left treats the Black Left like step-children ; the Black Left cannot talk about the system of capitalism, raising the question of its impact as a racial dynamic,” he said.
Seth Adler is the coordinator of the Left Forum; and if I must point it out -- a White male. “The Left Forum is very fragile – many ways to morally challenge it – challenges around diversity and inclusion,” he said. Adler, who is the founder of the National Jobs with Peace Campaign and a college professor, added that the discussions that took place at this year’s Left Forum bode well “that there is hope for future generations.”
But he warns against the “audacity of anybody to say we are bringing the Left together.”
“The other side of the equation is what we are going to do!” argues Dr. Woodard.
Bill Fletcher, Jr.: “One of the larger challenges facing Black radicals – can they speak the language of the Black working class.” Note that he said “larger challenges”, because Fletcher also said the “Black Left remains fragmented.”
Dr. Tony Monteiro, professor of African American Studies at Temple Univ. writes: “The Black Left cannot be rebuilt on the delusion of some ‘lesser of two evils’ – we have to fight to rebuild the historical political consensus – and a Black left that is based on principle. We have to call for a boycott of the presidential election.” Prof. Monteiro may be found at the Institute for the Study of Race and Social Thought.
Maybe that is why Amiri Baraka said: “The whole question of post-racial politics has been cooled out!”
Well, if not being accepted by the White left isn’t enough to keep Black radicals busy; there is an ongoing issue with the White males that control Occupy Wall St. in New York City.
According to a group of young folks, who call themselves the ‘People of Color Caucus’, there were a plethora of “racists incidents” at Zuccotti Park, where the Occupy movement got its start some six months ago. They claim that they had to organize against the pitting of people of color against each other.
“We had to fight against the young White middle-class foundation of OWS,” the young people said during their workshop on March 18.
Malik Raashan is the backbone of the ‘Occupy the Hood’ movement in NYC. “Race issues!” he exclaimed. “There are still some in OWS that deny there is a racial divide.” However, he said, the conversation is changing.