A few days ago I wrote one letter on the Black/Labor project and discarded it. I had been confused about what, essentially, this first experimental stage is. I was misled by the idea of a “transitional,” multi-ethnic organization.
The organization adheres to the full party program. This is too narrow a base for a transitional organization, except in a very narrow sense. A transitional organization, in the sense that the Old Man taught, requires a transitional program. We start from the present mass consciousness, with its immediate demands, and build a programmatic bridge toward the ultimate demands. Labor/Black may be adequate for the present, because it obviously reflects what you have. But if you intend a multi-ethnic organization that designation will not attract the Latino militants.
To me, what it adds up to is that you are really assembling a non-(party) membership black cadre. This is not a bad first step. The radical blacks are the key to a broader really transitional organization.
We were on the verge of such a development in 1946. During the war and immediately after, we never had it so good. The CP had deserted the field, and could not come back except with the Progressive Party. So, we had the black cadre, at least in New York, where I was organizer of the Chelsea Branch off and on for some years, Los Angeles, and Detroit. I was able to spend 2 summers at the Grass Lake Camp which is near Detroit, where we had a fabulous black movement. It was led by (Dr.) Ed Keemer (Jackson in the Militant). He proposed to the Political Committee that he be authorized to launch an independent organization to fight against discrimination, racism, etc. The question was referred to a group of NC members in the Midwest, and to the Trotsky School, which contained 3 NC members.
Keemer made his proposal, and the brains went to work on him. The principal argument with which they destroyed his proposal was that the black workers, when they reached a social consciousness, would move to the NAACP—just as the working class first moved to the AF of L as they developed consciousness.
The three black comrades—Milton Richardson, Joe Morgan, Ernie Dillard—and myself just sat there like wooden Indians selling cigars. If learning from failure and error is really so great, I ought to be smartened up pretty good, for I have had my share of both. My failure at that time was largely just ignorance, but also partly a too great respect for my betters, so to speak.
That episode disturbed me. I had an ugly feeling that everybody except Keemer had been wrong, but I didn’t know why. I decided to try to analyze why I had that feeling, and when I realized that the brains had, indeed, been wrong, I brought it up in the school, asking that we find some way of getting the decision against Keemer reversed. I didn’t get much response, but George Novack finally agreed to present my ideas to the P.C. Of course, nothing came of it.
Virtually the entire black cadre disappeared within a very few years. This was partly because of the fundamentally nationalist-separatist feelings of most of the leading white people, who had been indoctrinated by C.L.R. James in his nationalist period. After he changed his mind, he hadn’t admitted an error, but just quietly slid over into the opposite, as though there were no contradiction. Consequently, the indoctrination remained intact. The desertion of the black comrades was also caused by the fact that the strictly political activity of the party was too narrow a framework for them—they required action on pressing problems.