Sunday, October 11, 2015

1995's "Million Man March": a Marxist view

`Million Man March' Leaders Offer No Way Forward  


WASHINGTON, D.C. - A march called by the Nation of Islam will convene here October 16. The call for the event proclaims it will be a "Million Man March - led by Minister Louis Farrakhan."

In recent days, a host of capitalist politicians - liberal and conservative - along with leaders of national civil rights organizations, businessmen's groups and other middle-class associations have endorsed the October 16 march. Jesse Jackson, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference have joined with mayors Edward Rendell of Philadelphia, Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore, and Marion Barry of Washington, D.C., in announcing their support for the action.

Tens of thousands are expected to participate in the event. Many students and working people planning to attend are drawn by the idea of a public action in opposition to racist discrimination.

Despite some vaguely anti-government rhetoric, however, not a single demand is placed on Washington in defense of affirmative action, against cop brutality, for a jobs program, or any other measures to protect the working class in general, or Black workers in particular, from the ravages of economic depression and the employers' offensive against the labor move ment.

Publicity for the march emphasizes the themes of reinforcing faith, family, and country in an effort to "uplift" Black men. Farrakhan's political and religious demagogy in promoting the action echoes many of the same reactionary themes often used by capitalist politicians to justify attacks on the working class - particularly immigrants, oppressed nationalities, and women.

`Crisis of the Black family'

In speeches across the country Farrakhan has pointed to "fatherless" families as a central cause of deteriorating conditions in Black communities. "If you want to test the mettle of a nation you must test its men," he told a rally in Houston, Texas. The call for the march, penned by Farrakhan, states that "We are ready to take our place as the head of our families and our communities and that we, as Black men, are ready to shoulder the responsibility of being the maintainers of our women and children."

In the August 30 issue of the Final Call, newspaper of the Nation of Islam, columnist Abdul Allah Muhammad exclaimed, "As the time for the Million Man March rapidly approaches, Black communities across America have come to fit the description of the Old West - `Where the men are men and the women are glad of it.' "

While many liberal supporters of the march embrace Farrakhan's emphasis on the father-headed family and "uplifting" the Black man, they have tried to sidestep the broad anti-woman overtones of the action.

In recent weeks organizers of the event have said that women are not encouraged but will not be prevented from participating in the event.

"As a Black woman, I'm proud to see the Black man stand up for us," said Linda Greene, the October 16 national fund- raising coordinator. "They are coming to the forefront for us. They are recommitting their lives to us as the provider of their families."

The march is called as part of a "Day of Atonement," after a Jewish holiday with the same name, in which Black men are called on to rededicate themselves to their communities. March organizers are asking supporters unable to travel to Washington to stay at home, pray, fast, and teach their children. The march has received the endorsement of many church organizations that have decried the "moral decline" of the Black community.

"It is our intention in the Nation of Islam and among concerned Black clergy, politicians, and other leaders to reduce crime and violence in our community by increasing the level of productivity, particularly in the Black male," states the call for the action.

March organizers call for expanded economic entrepreneurship and self-sufficiency among Blacks. "We will begin to see as never before the value of pooling our resources to buy farmland, to set up factories, to enter into international trade and commerce, to petition the government that they should not cede manufacturing to Third World countries but the Black community," states the call.

The document castigates the government for allowing goods imported from "China, Japan, Korea, and Italy," stressing that "we will take the responsibility for food, clothing, and shelter for our people, with a partnership with the government, a partnership for mutual progress. This army will be the true army of salvation of the Black nation and the army of salvation of America and the salvation army of the world."

Contract with America

Some march supporters present the "Million Man March" as a viable response to the Republican-sponsored legislation of social cuts known as the Contract with America.

Indeed, while the march initiators' central purpose was - and is - to build the Nation of Islam financially and politically, a raft of political groups and individuals who are moving to the right have found cause to associate themselves with the action.

At a September 7 meeting of the Hispanic/Latino Coalition in this city's Adams Morgan district, several political activists responded favorably to an appeal by Bob Brown to support the "populist movement" represented by the march. Brown is a leader of the All-African Peoples' Revolutionary Party and national logistics coordinator for the march.

Other march endorsers include Philadelphia managing director Joe Certaine; Rosa Parks; Washington D.C. delegate to the House of Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton; C. DeLores Tucker of the National Political Caucus of Black Women; the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity; Dorothy Leavell, president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the trade association of Black-owned newspapers; the National Black Police Officers Association; and Blacks in Government.

Farrakhan and former NAACP executive director Benjamin Chavis, the central spokespeople for the march, are barnstorming the country to drum up support.

Among the most enthusiastic partisans of the action are supporters of the organization headed by fascist Lyndon LaRouche and its newspaper, the New Federalist.

Chavis granted a lengthy interview to the New Federalist that appeared in its August 31 edition in which he plugs the October 16 demonstration. Chavis credits former civil rights activist James Bevel, now associated with the LaRouche outfit, with coming up with the original idea for the "Day of Atonement." Chavis also praises the "strength" of LaRouche, and the New Federalist's "importance... to the struggle of Black Americans."

Repeated references by the interviewer, Dennis Speed, to a Jewish conspiracy to oust Chavis as head of the NAACP were unanswered in the printed version of the interview.

Independent politics?

Some liberals and radicals supporting the march present it as the opening salvo in a new movement for independent Black politics.

"I support the march," said Rep. Kweisi Mfume. "I feel strongly that it is one of many things we need to do to mobilize people of color in this country. I think it is going to galvanize people in a way that is unprecedented."

"We will present a Black agenda for the candidate of either party to address forthrightly," states the call for the march, "since both parties, Democrat and Republican, have never addressed the real needs of the Black people of America. I will therefore ask all Black men to register or re-register as independents, holding our vote to be given to whomsoever will address the Black agenda."

As a bargaining chip in this process, organizers are calling for a voter registration drive to accompany the march.


Why Big Turnout For Million Man March?  


WASHINGTON, D.C. - Hundreds of thousands of African- American workers, youth, and middle-class men turned out here October 16 for the Million Man March. The rally has provoked debate and discussion on why so many people would attend, on the results of the day's event, and on what road forward in the fight for Black rights today.

The rally was overwhelmingly made up of working people, many of whom came with co-workers, with church or school- organized groups, or with small groups of friends. Nearly everyone these reporters spoke with explained they participated to demonstrate Black pride and to reject an image in society of Black men as violent, criminals, and an irresponsible "underclass." A few argued that women have supplanted the role men should play in the family, echoing the themes of rally organizers.

U.S. government officials put the rally size at 400,000. Organizers of the event say some 1.5 million participated. It was among the largest events ever held in the nation's capital.

Editorials, news articles, and opinion columns in the big-business media have been generally favorable to the event, supporting the push for "family values" presented by the main speakers and the lack of protest directed against the government by rally organizers.

"One Magnificent Day," was the title of a major opinion column in the Wall Street Journal by editorial page writer Hugh Pearson. "Attendees proved that while most of the pundits and politicians who observed from afar were obsessed with the past racial and ethnic schisms encouraged by the principal organizer [Nation of Islam leader] Louis Farrakhan, unity was the issue for them." Pearson notes that Farrakhan, in a two-hour speech at the rally, "rather than preach a message of racial hate, preached a message of racial conciliation."

Pearson, calling "problematic" Farrakhan's anti-Semitic comments and "his sexism," notes a deeper and more unsettling problem from his point of view: the "gulf Mr. Farrakhan has stepped in to fill" and the "chasm that is the product of years of political grandstanding by both Democrats and Republicans, as well as other interest groups, resulting in the division of the nation across racial lines."

What Pearson merely touches on - and what he and the wealthy rulers in America are unsettled over - is what they face in pressing forward the assault on working people in the United States.

The turnout for the rally shows the intertwined realities of politics in the United States today.

This includes the impact of the employer/government offensive on the wages, social conditions, and democratic rights and its effects on the Black nationality, which remains in its large majority working class in composition. At the same time, the fact that the rulers have failed in their drive to break the resistance of working people or make African-Americans believe that to be Black in America means acceptance of the institutionalized racism and oppression that continues to be perpetuated in capitalist society.

Stark reality for Blacks

An article in USA Today the day of the rally highlighted some of the most glaring social indicators of this assault. The figures - for both Blacks and whites - are in "median" terms, which means half are below and half are above the figures cited.

According to the statistics, the median Black family has zero net financial assets. If houses and vehicles are included, the median Black family's net worth is $8,300 compared with the median white family's worth of $56,000. The jobless rate for Blacks was 11.3 per cent in September, twice the rate of whites. Since 1960 Blacks on the average have earned 60 percent that of whites. The typical Black family has 11 cents of wealth compared with every $1 owned by a white family.

These stark statistics are in the context of a two- decade long assault which has resulted in a decline in real wages for all working people, cutbacks in the social wage, speed-up and harsher conditions on the job, and permanent high levels of unemployment. This has not come about because of "political grandstanding" but a bipartisan offensive on the federal, state, and local level.

Farrakhan, in literature building the march and in speeches around the country, speaks to some aspects of this government and employer assault, such as attacks on affirmative action, Congressional action to "turn back the hands of time, depriving our Black community of many of the gains made through the suffering and sacrifice of our fellow advocates of change during the `50s and `60s," the rising numbers of Blacks in prison, and greater use of the death penalty across the country.

As with other demagogues, by addressing with radical rhetoric some of the real and perceived aspects of the economic and social crisis in the county, he gains a platform and a broader hearing for his proposals.

At the rally and in promotional material for the event, Farrakhan simply reiterated "self-help" proposals the Nation of Islam has raised since its inception. He does not present a political road forward, or advocate struggle in opposition to the offensive by the government.

For example, he raised that "The Asian doesn't say I'm better than the white man," Farrakhan said at the rally, "he just starts building his economy. All we got to do is go back home and turn our community into a productive place. Clean yourself up Black man, and the world will respect you."

His main proposals at the rally included each march participant adopting a prison inmate and contributing $10 a month to a National Economic Development Fund that could generate $1.2 billion a year to help Black-owned businesses. He also noted 25,000 Black children are without families and need to be adopted.

The rally platform included a broad section of the established officials of civil rights organizations, government officials who are Black, and leaders of various religious denominations across the United States.

These included Congressional Black Caucus chair Donald Payne, who urged the gathering to take "our message to the voting booth;" Jesse Jackson; Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry; Southern Christian Leadership Conference president Joseph Lowery; poet Maya Angelou; Rosa Parks; widow of Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz; along with Congressmen Kweisi Mfume, Charles Rangel, and John Conyers.

No mention of struggles

Like Farrakhan, few made any mention of mounting a struggle against the bipartisan assault or to reaching out to those fighting against the effects of the economic depression and imperialist exploitation around the world. Brief mention was made of the fight to win a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal - the death-row inmate who recently won a stay of execution after international protests on his behalf.

Most accepted the false premise that those in the audience are, at least in part, responsible for the plight of Blacks today. Speakers repeatedly urged the men to stop being violent, build families, and respect women. Farrakhan and others urged participants to register eight million people to vote to "be prepared" for the next elections.

Expressions of Black pride and of determination to stand up for equality were evident throughout the crowd at the rally. The middle-class figures on the platform, though, offered nothing new or any break from the framework of capitalist politics they have been following.

The wealthy rulers have accomplished a great deal in their assault, but they are nowhere near their goal of defeating the unions and the social conquests of the Black and women's rights struggles.

In their pursuit of transforming the relations between labor and capital and thereby laying the basis for a new period of capitalist expansion, the ruling rich have run into strikes, protests, and rallies by those who want to resist these attacks.

Fight for Black rights today

There are real struggles today where the fight for Black rights can be seen, such as the battle to force the State of Pennsylvania to drop the death sentence against Mumia Abu- Jamal and grant him a new trial. Jamal, who is standing up and fighting against what seem to be overwhelming odds, has become an emblem in the fight for Black liberation. It can be seen in the fights to defend affirmative action from California to New Jersey.

All working people, and the organized labor movement in particular, have a stake in these struggles and in building a movement that can combat racism, national oppression, and the offensive by the wealthy families who run the United States.

We can join fights along with unionists on strike at Boeing and Caterpillar, youth and others marching for equality for immigrants and affirmative action, and protests against U.S. aggression directed at Cuba.

The Nation of Islam - as an organization and in the perspectives its spokespeople put forward - remains a dead end for anyone seeking to fight against racism, economic depression, and the effects of the bipartisan assault against working people today.

In the early 1960s Malcolm X had to break from the Nation in order to build an organization that could do politics, link up with fighters around the world, and take on the Democrats and Republicans and the social order they defend.

It is only through independent working-class political action that workers can begin to know our own capacities and worth. Through common action we build bonds of human solidarity, break down divisions organized and nurtured in class society, and create organizations capable of leading revolutionary struggles.

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