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Commentary :: Organizing
Working Class Emancipation: Guilty of Left Racism
02 Oct 2006
Fred Bergen and Working Class Emancipation takes a Racist view of Black workers call and ability to lead the building of a post Katrina Independent Reconstruction Party.
Working Class Emancipation: Guilty of Left Racism

Working Class Emancipation's (WCE)criticism of the BWL's call for a Reconstruction Party as one of the instruments for organizing the Black led working class majority in New Orleans in particular and the Gulf Coast in general as "reformist" points out not only the infantile view of revolutionary struggle on their part. It also points out a disregard of the state of the revolutionary forces, the mass social movements and the international conditions needed to carry out a revolution against US imperialism. It further points to the racism and social chauvinism of this group.

First, who is the WCE group? What work is it doing relative to Organizing around the Gulf Coast disaster or any other struggle to "rate" their political line? The life of some sectarian groups is built totally around engaging in abstract polemics. We believe its important to have political exchanges that are geared to flush out important critical issues of tactics, political line and questions of organizational relations. This criticism by WCE (what a big name and claim) does neither. However, since the question of a Reconstruction Party is an important one speaking to the organization of the African American and working class masses that were impacted by the disaster, we decided to reply to the criticism.

WCE does not feel any need to ask the BWL any questions about how it sees the Reconstruction Party contributing to a revolutionary movement and perspective. It does not deal with any of the complexities about transitioning the response to Katrina from a largely emergency relief humanitarian movement to a Reconstruction Movement with a sharper political program, strategy and organizational alignments regionally, nationally and internationally to mount a political struggle. It only feels the need or some sense of entitlement to make criticisms without offering any real alternative except "Socialist Revolution" as an immediate game plan.

WCE does not speak to the question of the struggle for African American self-determination as part of the struggle to alter the balance of power between imperialism and the working class and oppressed nations/nationalities. This dismisses the historical reality of racism and of the role of white supremacy and the system of national oppression in shaping white working class national chauvinism which has served to place limits on how far the white working class will go to support Black power.

If the white working class in New Orleans who was also impacted by the Katrina triggered disaster can't be organized in a Black working class led Reconstruction Party fighting for structural reforms that increase the power of workers to rebuild, shape policies and to organize new power relationships between workers, communities and the institutions impacting their lives in the Reconstruction process, how can WCE so confidently state that the working class, with no reference to any special role of the Black working class, will be the savior of the oppressed African Americans in the Gulf Coast or anywhere else in the US?

It has been the African American peoples struggle that has won basic democratic rights not only for Black people but also for other sections of the working class. The workers movement has in many ways tailed the African American national movement. It was not the workers movement that defeated the McCarthy period. It was the Black civil rights movement, the Montgomery Bus Boycott and other mass actions that enable the left to move off the defensive.

A Reconstruction Party is a necessary part of the revolutionary preparation of the African American masses under the leadership of Black workers in waging a struggle for self-determination similar to the role of a labor party in helping to prepare the working class to engage the capitalists within the bourgeoisie democratic arenas in struggling to win areas of control of the bourgeois state to align with the mass movements and power of the working class and oppressed.

The working class and the African American masses have been discouraged politically and ideologically from acting in their own name with the demise of the Soviet Union and the major camp of socialism. Any recognition of this reality, would make clear that mere declarations about "ultimate" stages of a revolutionary process don't move the masses forward in struggling against oppression.

The face of the working class in the US is also changing, at least the sections coming forward in struggle. The Latino upsurge is one example. The Charleston Dockworkers, Raleigh Sanitation workers, Smithfield Food workers, grocery workers, Transit workers in New York, etc. These workers are coming forward and must raise the issues impacting their communities and national oppression in the whole of society. Working class unity must be built around this new largely non white leadership and their class struggles. Let's see the "purest" declarations of WCE help to bring about the working class unity around these struggles and leadership.

The BWL has no expectations that US capital will roll over because a Reconstruction Party and movement is formed, but "power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and never will." It's clear that these demands and the demand for self-determination can't/won't be made or won through the Democratic or Republican parties or even the reformist liberal parties.

It is clear that the WCE does not know anything about the BWL's practice. BWL has a practice that can be measured in terms of what contribution it is making to developing revolutionary national liberation, working class and internationalist consciousness and fighting organizations among the African American and working class masses.

Part of the task of revolutionaries is to organize fight against the rise and consolidation of fascism. The struggle for democracy based on increasing workers power and self-determination for oppressed nations, workers and working class women is a major part of this struggle, as fascism seeks to smash the democratic and political organizations of the oppressed.

WCE does not put forth any strategic program for moving the working class and oppressed forward through the maze of contradictions, left fragmentation, defensive posture of the trade unions, split in the main trade union federation and imperialist war.

WCE proposes that the AFL-CIO and Change to Win "convene a national panel of inquiry composed of black trade unionists and working class Katrina survivors, empowered to investigate the government's crimes against the people of the Gulf Coast, and recommend measures of restitution.

WEC apparently feels that these trade union federations led by the labor bureaucracies since no reference to the rank-and-file is made, can act short of a "socialist revolution." WCE harshly criticizes the formation of a Reconstruction Party, a political form of the struggle for African American self-determination calling for the unity of all workers in the Gulf Coast impacted by the disaster with the African American working class majority, but proposes that the labor bureaucracy with a history of racism against the Black working class is the better line.

An analysis of the stolen 2000 election points out the weakness of WEC line. The trade unions did not take up the fight against the political disenfranchisement of Black people. They demanded the votes be recounted. The Democrats with lots of Senators--not one stepped forward to sign on to the Congressional Black Caucuses challenge to the 2000 election. The trade unions with its millions of dollars to Senators to not demand that one of them sign on.

WCE's criticism is nothing more than the liquidation of the right of the African American majority to develop the organizations to led out on struggle. It reflects the racism and social chauvinism still deeply rooted in the white left.

by Fred Bergen
Email: f_red_bergen (nospam) (verified)
29 Aug 2006
We revolutionaries insist that black liberation, including the conquest of full democratic rights for blacks in the US, can only be achieved through socialist revolution. It is hopeless and naïve to expect the US government to "rebuild for democracy". The face of US capitalist "democracy" was unmasked by Hurricane Katrina, and it's not going to get any prettier.
From the September, 2006 issue of Working Class Emancipation:

One year after Katrina: An indictment of the criminal racism of the ruling class; prospects and a strategy for black liberation

by Fred Bergen August 29, 2006

Working Class Emancipation: 401-837-3685 laboraction (at)

One year ago, on August 29, 2005, the wind, rain, and ocean storm surge of Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans and the US Gulf Coast. But it wasn't the weather that was deadly, killing at least 1,800 people, with hundreds more still missing one year later. The storm merely swept away the hypocritical mask of US capitalist "democracy". It revealed to the world a ruling class and its government that could send hundreds of thousands of soldiers halfway around the world on a hair trigger to protect its imperialist interests, but was incapable of and unconcerned with organizing the most basic humanitarian measures for the working class black people of New Orleans. The floods swept away the government's false promises of "civil rights" and "democracy" and revealed that the horrors of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib are the ruling class' rehearsal for repression against blacks, other oppressed nationalities, and the working class at home. They exposed the criminality of a ruling class that went far beyond the callous indifference of "heckuva job" Bush or the bungling incompetence of the FEMA bureaucracy: a ruling class whose first reaction to the sight of working class and black masses stranded in the wastelands of the Gulf Coast was, in the words of the Democrat, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, "shoot to kill". Blanco sent National Guard troops, battle-hardened from Iraq, into the city with these orders. The entire black population of the Gulf Coast was once again convicted, without trial or jury, of a crime familiar to most poor black youth in the US: being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong skin pigment, and the troops were sent in to carry out the execution.

The lynch-mob media whipped up rumors of anarchy on the flooded streets of New Orleans, claiming that rapes and murders were being committed in the refugee-packed Superdome. All these rumors were lies, but they sprang up easily from the fertile ground of the centuries-old campaign of racist demonization of black people in the US that is used to justify police repression and social inequality. The deadly anarchy in New Orleans was the anarchy of capitalism: Katrina proved that a system that devotes brilliant minds and billions of dollars to predicting the wild fluctuations of commodity prices could not prepare for the most predictable (and predicted) natural disaster. The media cheered the entry of killer troops. While hundreds of working class residents of New Orleans, branded as "looters", went to extraordinary lengths rescuing and supplying their neighbors with improvised measures, police and troops mustered their forces to guard the high and dry, wealthy and mostly white suburbs, arms in hand.

Space limitations prevent us from cataloging even a fraction of the injustices suffered by the workers and oppressed people of the Gulf Coast in the year since Hurricane Katrina. We invite hurricane survivors and eyewitnesses to share their observations and conclusions with Working Class Emancipation and we will try to publish and respond to them in future issues. So that the awful truth will not be obliterated by the ruling class' selective history, we propose that the AFL-CIO and Change to Win convene a national panel of inquiry composed of black trade unionists and working class Katrina survivors, empowered to investigate the government's crimes against the people of the Gulf Coast, and recommend measures of restitution.

The year's worth of criminal governmental neglect and abuse do share a common thread: the notoriety of the Katrina disaster has harshly illuminated the racism and inequality endemic to US capitalist society. The government is preparing doomsday plans for global nuclear wars. It is building 40,000 more prison cells for captured immigrant workers, and a continent-wide fortified wall on the Mexican border. The rich live in unfathomable opulence, their every need catered and pampered, their global business empires organizing millions of workers on every continent into cooperative labor. But the Katrina refugees, scattered across the cities of the US, face the reality that confronts most poor and working people: a desperate struggle for jobs, housing, education for their children, and some elusive sense of social security and stability.

While Halliburton and other war profiteers fatten on government reconstruction contracts, bankers and real-estate moguls salivate over the the subsidized theft and reselling of the ruined homes and properties of black workers in New Orleans' flooded city wards, the lynch-mob media complains of "fraud": by refugees trying to stay in their hotels a month too long, or getting more than their share of charity relief supplies.

The exposure of the capitalist government's crimes was only one part of the political result of the hurricane. Katina put the question of liberation on the agenda of broad masses of working class and oppressed people across the US, no matter where they were when the storm made landfall. The unavoidable individual conclusions of millions of workers, the molecular and subterranean changes in mass consciousness, have not yet found a united political voice, although the outrage has forced its way to the surface. During a live televised charity drive on NBC, an obviously emotionally shaken rapper Kanye West, known principally for his reactionary celebration of bourgeois decadence and women-hating lyrics, went off-script and declared "George Bush doesn't care about black people". This brief and limited _expression of the anger of millions spread like wildfire and overran the network's attempt to cover it up through censorship.

The conclusion that many cannot fail to draw, beyond Bush's obvious racist contempt for blacks, is that the Civil War and Reconstruction were sabotaged by the reconciliation of the Northern and Southern capitalists in 1877, and were never completed: despite the heroic struggles of what is called (in order to bury it in the past) the "Civil Rights Era", blacks still find themselves prisoners in their own land, cast out of the house that they and their enslaved ancestors built.

The Black Workers League issued a statement on August 23 [1], which said, "The one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina ... is a moral and political statement about the meaning of so-called American 'democracy.' The act of leaving hundreds of thousands of Black and poor people to die in the richest country in the world and the treatment of those who survived as criminals and refuse to be discarded as a burden on society, is a crime against humanity." The statement condemns both Democrats and Republicans for their complicity in this crime. It calls for the formation of a Reconstruction Party: "Black, working class and poor survivors need a collective voice that speaks for and represents the interests of those most impacted by this human disaster; a political organization and voice that organizes and expresses the power and will of the people, a Reconstruction Party. Without political power, the most impacted survivors and communities throughout the Gulf Coast will receive little to no resources to rebuild."

We heartily agree that a political party is needed that can represent the workers and oppressed people, and finish the Civil War by putting black liberation at the top of its agenda. But the reformist politics of the B.W.L., its publicists in the Stalinist Workers World Party, and much of the "socialist" left in the US today, will prevent this initiative from succeeding. The B.W.L. makes its perspective clear in the quoted statement, where it says "Without a movement to exercise power and to win public opinion and support at the national and international levels, the U.S. government won't feel the pressure to adequately address in a timely manner the needs of the peoples in and dispersed from the Gulf Coast." In other words, the perspective of the B.W.L. and its publicists is to use radical rhetoric to lobby the capitalist government to do what it has historically been unable and unwilling to do: guarantee black people and workers in general their most fundamental democratic rights. To talk of "exercising power" when the racist capitalist class still has the weapons of the state -- Gov. Blanco's "shoot to kill" troops -- at its command, is simply a delusional cover for the powerless politics of reformism.

The B.W.L. concludes, "The rebuilding of the Gulf Coast ... must become a political model of building a zone of democracy that contributes to the spread of real democracy and social transformation throughout the country. ... This is an historical moment for African Americans and the poor to demand that the U.S. government use its resources to rebuild for democracy and human rights and not for war to destroy and divide."

We revolutionaries insist that black liberation, including the conquest of full democratic rights for blacks in the US, can only be achieved through socialist revolution. It is hopeless and naïve to expect the US government to "rebuild for democracy". The face of US capitalist "democracy" was unmasked by Hurricane Katrina, and it's not going to get any prettier. The statement of the B.W.L. reinforces the false, utopian notions that many workers, black and white, still hold about the nature of capitalist rule. Poverty, the racist criminal in-justice system, sexism, and endless imperialist war: this is what capitalist "democracy" looks like.

This work is in the public domain
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