Above: Bayard Rustin
As the world gears up for the fiftieth anniversary of the great 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom, the Social Democrats USA remember the crucial role of Bayard Rustin, and the ”Shachtmanite” organisation, of which he was a member: their role has been figuratively airbrushed out of official histories. Rustin was the key figure linking the Civil Rights movement and the unions:
By David Hacker
The 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington is [this coming Wednesday]. Everyone knows about Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech that he delivered at the rally outside the Lincoln Memorial for this event. What most do not know is that the entire march was conceived and planned by the Shachtmanites. A Philip Randolph conceived it. But Max Shachtman also had a hand in the idea for the march. He also chose Rustin to be the main organizer for the march. When Rustin was caught and arrested for homosexual conduct in a men’s room in Washington, Shachtman (though he was a homophobe) outlined for Bayard a defense of his action. Randolph was being pressured to fire Rustin and Southern Senators, such as Strom Thurmond, were attacking him on the issue of immorality. But as a result of Shachtman’s defense, Rustin continued to be the main organizer of the march (though his official position was downgraded a bit.), and he hired many Shachtmanites such as Norman Hill and Tom Kahn to assist him. At the same time, Bogdan Denitch organized the West Coast version of the march in California. At the rally itself, Kahn wrote the controversial speech by SNCC chair John Lewis in which the advanced text contained attacks on the Kennedy Administration and stated that “the revolution is at hand. We will take matters in our own hands and create a source of power, outside of any national structure that could and would assure us a victory…If any radical social, political and economic changes are to take place in our society, the people, the masses, must bring them about.” Then Att. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy said that Lewis shouldn’t be allowed to deliver his speech at the March. Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle, the Catholic prelate of Washington protested that he wouldn’t deliver the invocation for the rally if Lewis delivered his speech. Randolph, King, Rustin, Kahn and Lewis and other leaders of SNCC argued about revising the speech while the rally had already started. Finally, Lewis agreed to a rewritten speech and he was allowed to address the masses gathered at the Lincoln Memorial. (Lewis is now a Democratic congressman from Atlanta.)
What most history books do not tell you about is the Socialist Party conference that was held in Washington after the rally was over. It was entitled, “Socialist Party National Conference on the Civil Rights Revolution”. This was a 2 day affair held at the Burlington Hotel from Thursday August 29-Friday August 30, 1963. (The SP had a party for Marchers and Conference participants on the evening of August 28th after the conclusion of the March on Washington and rally.) The first session was Thursday morning with the theme: “Toward Full Equality in a Progressive America. Chairman of the session was Richard Parrish ( who was the chairman of the Civil Rights Committee of the United Federation of Teachers, Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers and Treasurer of the Negro-American Labor Council. Parrish was also running on the SP line for a special election for NYC Councilmember at Large in Manhattan and was supported enthusiastically by all factions of the SP.) Speakers were Norman Thomas, Floyd McKissick, Chairman of CORE (spoke in place of James Farmer, who was in jail in Louisiana), A. Philip Randolph and Congressman William Fitts Ryan (D-NY), a leader of the reform Democrats. Special remarks by Samuel H. Friedman, SP VP candidate in 1952 and 1956 and former editor of the Socialist Call. The afternoon session was entitled: “The New Phase: A Prospectus for Civil Rights.” Chairman of the session was long time SP activists Seymour Steinsapir. Speakers were Bayard Rustin, Deputy Director March on Washington. Responding to Rustin’s address were Robert Moses, Field Secretary, Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, Ike Reynolds, Task Force, CORE and Tom Kahn, Staff, March on Washington. The evening sessions theme was “A Political Strategy for Civil Rights. The sessions’s chairman was Eleanor Holmes, now DC Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. She introduced the conference’s keynote speaker, Max Shachtman, who spoke on the topic, “Drive Out Dixiecrats For Jobs and Freedom.” Responding to Shachtman’s address were Ernest Calloway, President, St Louis Chapter of the Negro-American Labor Council, and Wiloughby Abner, Vice-President, NALC, National Staff, UAW. The final session of the Conference took place on Friday morning. It’s subject was “Fair Employment-Full Employment. The chairman of the meeting was Warren Morse (a name I am unfamiliar with). Speakers were Lewis Carliner, Assistant to the Director, International Affairs Dept., UAW, Norman Hill, Assistant Program Director, CORE, Cleveland Robinson, Secretary Treasurer, District 65 RWDSU, Co-Chairman of March, Herman Roseman, Economist. Closing Remarks and Summary by Norman Thomas.
Thus, well known figures took part in this conference. such as leaders of CORE, SNCC, Randolph, Rustin, Norman Thomas, Norm Hill, Kahn, prominent folk singers like Joan Baez, etc. But my main point is that the Shachtmanites, militant civil rights leaders, labor, were all united seemingly in the same broad realignment movement of the democratic Left. SDS was still also a part of this coalition, despite of Harrington’s tirade against them over the Port Huron Statement, the year before. As long as the Shachtmanite-militant civil rights alliances continued, it would be counter-productive for SDS to seem to be against this realignment coalition. This is the very positive aspect of the Shachtmanites activities in the SP that too many are unfortunately not aware of. Harrington was not at the March. He was in Paris writing his second book, The Accidental Century.
David Hacker is Vice Chair of Social Democrats USA. The above article is excerpted from a book he is writing about Max Shachtman. Historical note: The Socialist Party in existence in 1963 would be renamed Social Democrats, USA in 1972. Harrington chose to leave the organization at that time. But organized labor stayed and so did Bayard Rustin, becoming National Chairman.
More on Rustin’s role in the Civil Rights Movement, and his subsequent political evolution, here
Gary Younge in the Gruan doesn’t even mention Rustin’s Shachtmanism
From the Workers Liberty archives:
Like a brilliant gleam of light in the gathering darkness of the post-war years, the rising of the German working class has already shattered myths and shamed despair. It has already answered a host of questions that had been passed by those who became panic-stricken before the seemingly invincible strength of Stalinist tyranny.
These June days may well go down in history as the beginning of the workers’ revolt against Stalinism — the beginning, in the historical view, quite apart from any over-optimistic predictions about the immediate aftermath to be expected from this action itself.
Is the Iron Curtain empire monolithic? Have the workers of East Europe been so duped by Stalinism as to become cowed creatures, hypnotised, straightjacketed by the Stalinist ‘mystique’? Has the working class lost its revolutionary dynamism? Is the Russian power so solid, or all-intimidating, within that there is no hope of stopping its menace except by Western military might and the third world war? The German working class has given an answer, and it is the answer we Independent Socialists have looked to.
Beginning as a spontaneous, peaceful mass demonstration against the latest speed-up decree increasing work norms, in 24 hours it necessarily became a battle with the real power in the country, the Russian troops. Beginning as a movement for economic demands, it was at bottom, and quickly became overtly, a political demonstration.
Five hours after it began at 9 am on June 16, the regime had already capitulated on the immediate issue of speed-up, withdrawing its ukase.
On the second day of the action, Russian tanks, armoured cars, artillery and soldiery had taken over from the East German police, who had refrained from blocking the riotous demonstrators.
In the vanguard of the march, and apparently its inspirers, were several hundred construction workers…
(Hal Draper, Labor Action, 22 June 1953)
For the full article by Hal Draper, and more by Max Shachtman and others…
This is from Amandla! magazine. Achcar is associated with the ‘Mandelite’ United Secretariat of the Fourth International, but tends to have saner views on ‘imperialism’ than the majority of that tendency. He didn’t, for instance, simply denounce the Libyan rebels for calling for and accepting western support. In this interview on Syria he’s good against conspiracy-style ‘anti-imperialism’ on the left, the difficulties of post-civil war state formation owing to the centrifugal nature of the uprisings, and the reactionary character of the Muslim Brotherhood. He seems to think that Islamism will have difficulty becoming hegemonic because of its lack of socio-economic solutions. Let’s hope he’s right about that. http://www.amandla.org.za/amandla-magazine/current-issue/1706-amandla
H/t: Liam McN
Interview with Gilbert Achcar, academic, writer, and activist, Professor at the Development Studies Department at the School of African and Oriental Studies in London (SOAS).
Amandla!: What would you say to those who argue that the Syrian uprising may be an opening for imperialist interests in the region?
GA: We have to distinguish between two aspects of the question. One aspect hints at the kind of conspiracy theory among those that call themselves anti-imperialist and tend to see the hand of imperialism behind everything. But believing that the United States is behind this massive uprising in the region is senseless. The fact is that the US has been confronted with a major dilemma: recent events came at a point when US influence in the region was at its lowest since the first war on Iraq in 1991, and at a time when it the US was preparing for its final withdrawal from Iraq without having accomplished any of the invasion’s goals. On top of that, uprisings overthrew faithful allies of Washington, including Egypt’s Mubarak, a key strategic partner in the region. To think Washington would have wished for this is ridiculous.
Actually, these events were so overwhelming that Washington rapidly understood it couldn’t oppose the tide; it had to pretend to welcome it in the name of the ‘democratic values’ to which it supposedly adheres. It had no choice but to renew the old alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood that existed until the 1990s, on which it now bets today, in the same way that it relies on the Emir of Qatar to play the go-between.
In Syria, we see Washington’s great quandary. As in Libya, it refuses to deliver weapons to the insurgency despite insistent requests (although it intervened directly in Libya, by bombing). The result is a total disproportion in weaponry and training between the regime’s forces and the insurgency, even though the insurgency encompasses a much larger section of the population. The truth is that the war has dragged on much longer than it might have had the insurgency received weapons. And the cost is terrible and tragic because of the loss of thousands and thousands of lives. The war is devastating Syria to the point that the insurgents are convinced – for good reason – that Washington and the western powers are happy with the conflict because ultimately it will create a weak, post-Assad Syria, which the US and Israel believe to be in their interests.
A!: What are the specific formations that are acting in Syria right now? Is there a class basis to the uprising?
GA: It’s not a class uprising in the sense that it has any form of clear-cut class consciousness. But the uprising started with a peripheral movement in poor rural towns, and the poorest, most downtrodden sections of the population were the insurgency’s initial force. The bourgeoisie as a whole is very afraid of the whole movement and the chaos that it creates. So there is no doubt that the uprising is a popular movement.
But because of the historical failure of the left in the region, we have a massive uprising without any capable left-wing leadership. It’s a very decentralised type of uprising with all sorts of groups waging a common fight against the regime. Read the rest of this entry »
“With the Korean War, passions in The Club became more aroused and after a vote on Birmingham Trades Council in which Cliff’s supporters, including Percy Downey, voted for a neutral, third campist, position they were expelled en masse from The Club. Cliff himself, being a member of the almost non-existent Irish section of the FI, could not be expelled. The final result of these events was the foundation of the Socialist Review Group organised around the magazine of the same name” - Wikipedia
“‘The War in Korea’ appeared in the second issue of the group’s duplicated paper, Socialist Review, in January 1951. It should finally nail the lie that the organisation ‘supported the Americans in Korea’. Incidentally, it should be noted that, at the time it appeared, the FI position, as determined by world congress decision, was that North Korea was one of the states about which it had been resolved: ‘The capitalist nature of these countries imposes the necessity of the strictest revolutionary defeatism in war time.’ This fact did not prevent the British section of the FI from giving uncritical support to the Stalinist propaganda machine during the Korean war” - Duncan Hallas, introduction to The Origins of the International Socialists, August 1971.
SW said that North Korea’s nuclear weapons tests have “nothing to do with anti-imperialism or socialism“.
However, it declared the North Korean government not to blame for those tests. All the blame lies with the US and its allies.
SW said that North Korea is “a nuclear bogeyman created by the US“. SW cannot mean to say that North Korea really has no nuclear weapons (i.e. the story that it has them has been manufactured by the US). It cannot mean to say that the North Korean government is controlled by the US, and carrying out nuclear tests only because the US tells it to.
It seems to mean that the US is so aggressive towards North Korea that North Korea somehow has no choice but to stage nuclear tests. “North Korea’s third nuclear test was a direct result of bullying by South Korea, the US and Japan”.
The UN Security Council had increased sanctions against North Korea because of a previous rocket launch. The US and South Korean government had warned of further action.
This allegedly means that: “North Korea’s nuclear weapons and rockets are ‘monsters’ created by US imperialism“.
How? Let’s concede that the US has adopted an aggressive tone towards North Korea. It’s mild stuff compared to what the US has done over the decades in central America. If North Korea has developed nuclear weapons, and the central American countries haven’t, it is a matter of the North Korean government’s choice, not of compulsion.
SW’s argument here seems like their argument that Islamist terrorism, though not exactly what SWP members would want to see in their own front rooms, is an inevitable response to US misdeeds in the Middle East, so inevitable that people like those who bombed the World Trade Centre should not be condemned.
Why then haven’t the peoples of Central America been “forced” into Catholic-fundamentalist terrorism? For that matter, why haven’t workers in the US itself been “forced” into systematic bombing of civilian targets by the exploitation to which US bosses subject them?
SW continues: “The US demonisation of North Korea is part of its strategy to maintain hegemony in East Asia… There is even talk of supporting regime change in North Korea“.
The US State Department declares officially that “outstanding problems includ[e] the North’s attempts to develop a nuclear program and human rights abuses”. Facts about North Korea do not cease to be facts if the US government repeats them.
The SW article nowhere mentions the totalitarian and exploitative regime in North Korea, or its denial of all workers’ rights.
The issue on which the forerunners of the SWP first separated from other (“orthodox”) Trotskyists was that in 1950 they refused to consider the Korean war as simply an attack by the US on innocent North Korea, and insisted that Stalinism was also playing an imperialistic role in Korea.
At that time the Stalinist regime in North Korea (as far as can be guessed) had sizeable popular support. Why rally to the defence of its raddled and corrupt successor in 2013?
Presumably, to now re-write their own history and renounce, once and for all, the “third camp” politics that was their original, defining, characteristic. Professor Callinicos really believes that Tony Cliff got it wrong over the Korean war and James P. Cannon, Ted Grant, Gerry Healy and the ISFI (“orthodox” Trotskyists) got it right.