The City Is the Black Man’s Land By James Boggs

Racism and the Class Struggle     Further Pages from a Black Worker’s Notebook

Ch. 5      The City Is the Black Man’s Land

By James Boggs

 

jimmy_boggs

Population experts predict that by 1970 Afro-Americans will con-

stitute the majority in fifty of the nation’s largest cities. In Wash-

ington, D.C., and Newark, N.T., Afro-Americans are already a

majority. In Detroit, Baltimore, Cleveland, and St. Louis they

are one-third or more of the population and in a number of

others-Chicago, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Oakland

-they constitute well over one-fourth. There are more Afro-

Americans in New York City than in the entire state of Missis-

sippi. Even where they are not yet a majority, as in Detroit,

their school children are now well over 50 percent of the school

population.

In accordance with the general philosophy of majority rule

and the specific American tradition of ethnic groupings (Irish,

Polish, Italian) migrating en masse to the big cities and then

taking over the leadership of municipal government, black

Americans are next in line. Each previous ethnic grouping

achieved first-class citizenship chiefly because its leaders became

the cities’ leaders, but racism is so deeply imbedded in the

American psyche from top to bottom, and from Right to Left,

that it cannot even entertain the idea of black political power

in the cities. The white power structure, which includes or-

ganized labor, resorts to every conceivable strategy to keep itself

in power and the black man out: urban renewal or Negro re-

moval; reorganization of local government on a metropolitan

area basis; population (birth) control. Meanwhile, since their

“taxation without representation” is so flagrant, safe Negroes are

 

* Co-authored with Grace Lee Boggs.

 

40 Racism and the Class Struggle

 

appointed to administrative posts or hand-picked to run for

elective office. In Hitler-occupied Europe such safe members

of the native population were called collaborators or Quislings.

All these schemes may indefinitely delay or even permanently

exclude the black majority from taking over the reins of city

government. There is no automatic guarantee that justice will

prevail. But those who invent or support such schemes must

also reckon with the inevitable consequences: that the accumu-

lated problems of the inner city will become increasingly insol-

uble and that the city itself will remain the dangerous society,

a breeding place of seemingly senseless violence by increasing

numbers of black youth, rendered socially unnecessary by the

technological revolution of automation and cybernation, policed

by a growing occupation army which has been mobilized and

empowered to resort to any means considered necessary to safe-

guard the interests of the absentee landlords, merchants, poll

ticians, and administrators, to whom the city belongs by law

but who do not belong in the city and who themselves are afraid

to walk its streets.

America has already become the dangerous society. The na-

tion’s major cities are becoming police states. There are only

two roads open to it. Either wholesale extermination of the black

population through mass massacres or forced mass migrations

onto reservations as with the Indians (White America is ap-

parently not yet ready for this, although the slaughter of thirty-

two blacks in Watts by the armed forces of the state demonstrates

that this alternative is far from remote.) Or self-government of

the major cities by the black majority, mobilized behind leaders

and organizations of its own creation and prepared to reorganize

the structure of city government and city life from top to bottom.

This is the dilemma which Northern liberals have been evading

ever since May 1963, when the Birmingham city masses (Bir-

mingham is over 40 percent black) took the center of the stage

away from Dr. Martin Luther King and precipitated a long hot

summer of demonstrations, followed by a long hot summer of

uprisings in Harlem, Philadelphia, Rochester, New York, and

New Jersey in 1964. The McCone Commission has warned that

the 1965 revolt in Watts may be only a curtain-raiser to future

 

 

The City Is the Black Man’s Land 41

 

violence in the nation’s ghettos unless the public adopts a

revolutionary attitude” toward racial problems in America; and

Vice-President Humphrey proclaims that the “biggest battle

we’re fighting today is not in South Vietnam; the toughest battle

is in our cities.” But the war is not only in America’s cities; it

is for these cities. It is a civil war between black power and

white power whose first major battle was fought last August

in southern California between 18,000 soldiers and the black

people of Watts.

A revolution involves the conquest of state power by oppressed

strata of the population. It begins to loom upon the horizon when

the oppressed-viewing the authority of those in power as alien,

arbitrary, and/or exclusive-begin to challenge this authority.

But these challenges may result only in social reform and not

in the conquest of power unless there is a fundamental problem

involved which can be solved only by the political power of

the oppressed.

It is because labor is becoming more and more socially un-

necessary in the United States and another form of socially neces-

sary activity must be put in its place that a revolution is the only

solution. And it is because Afro-Americans are the ones who have

been made most expendable by the technological revolution that

the revolution must be a black revolution.

If the black liberation movement had erupted in the 1930’s

in the period when industry was in urgent need of unskilled and

semi-skilled labor, it is barely possible (although unlikely in

view of the profound racism of the American working class and

the accepted American pattern of mobility up the economic and

social ladder on the backs of others) that Afro-Americans might

have been integrated into the industrial structure on an equal

basis. But the stark truth of the matter is that today, after cen-

turies of systematic segregation and discrimination and only

enough education to fit them for the most menial tasks aban-

doned or considered beneath their dignity by whites, the great

majority of black Americans now concentrated in the cities can-

not be integrated into the advanced industrial structure of

America except on the most minimal token basis. Instead, what

expanding employment there has been for Afro-Americans has

 

42 Racism and the Class Struggle

 

been in the fields of education and social and public service

(teaching, hospitals, sanitation, transportation, public health,

recreation, social welfare). It is precisely these areas which are

the responsibility of city government, and it is also precisely

these areas of activity which are socially most necessary in the

cybercultural era. But because the American racist tradition de-

mands the emasculation of blacks not only on the economic and

sexual but also on the political level, the perspective of black

self-government in the cities cannot be posed openly and frankly

as a Profession and perspective toward which black youth should

aspire and for which they should begin preparing themselves

from childhood. Instead, at every juncture, even when conces-

sions are being made, white America makes clear that the power

to make concessions remains in white hands. The result is in

creasing hopelessness and desperation on the part of black youth,

evidenced in the rising rate of school dropouts, dope addiction,

and indiscriminate violence. Born into the age of abundance and

technological miracles, these youths have little respect for their

Parents who continue to slave for “the man,” and none for the

social workers, teachers, and officials who harangue them about

educating themselves for antediluvian jobs.

The fundamental problem of the transformation of human

activity in advanced America is as deeply rooted as the problem

of land reform in countries which have been kept in a state

of underdevelopment by colonialism. Like the colored peoples

of the underdeveloped (i.e., super-exploited) countries, Afro-

Americans have been kept in a state of underemployment, doing

tasks which are already technologically outmoded. But where

75 to 80 Percent of the population in a country like China or

Vietnam lives in the countryside, a comparable proportion of

Afro-Americans now lives in the cityside. And whereas countries

like China or Vietnam still have to make the industrial revolu-

tion (i.e., mechanize agriculture and industry), North America

has already completed this revolution and is on the eve of the

cybercultural revolution. Socially necessary activity for the ma-

jority in an underdeveloped country is essentially industrial

labor; education for the majority is vocational education. The

peasantry has to be educated to the need to abandon outmoded

 

44 Racism and the Class Struggle

 

advanced country; hence his concentration on land ownership

and small businesses. Also, as so often happens with those who

build a powerful organization, he became preoccupied with the

Protection of the organization from destruction by a determined

enemy. As a result, when the Northern movement erupted in

1963, he did not take the offensive which, consciously or un-

consciously, large numbers of non-Muslim blacks (the so-called

80 percent Muslims) had been hoping he would take. It was this

failure to take the offensive which led to Malcolm X’s split from

the organization. That such a split was inevitable was already

portended in Malcolm’s now-famous speech to the Northern

Negro Grassroots Leadership Conference in Detroit on Novem-

ber 10, 1963, in which he analyzed the black revolution as re-

quiring a conquest of power in the tradition of the French

Revolution and the Russian Revolution. Malcolm was assassin-

ated before he could organize a cadre based on his advanced

political ideas, but in one of his last speeches he made very clear

his conviction that “Harlem is ours! All the Harlems are ours!”

It was in 1985 that black militants began to discuss Black

Power seriously. Before 1965 the movement had been so domi

nated by the concept of integration, or the belief that the “revo-

lution” would be accomplished if American Negroes could win

equal opportunities to get jobs, housing, and education, that even

those black militants who were profoundly opposed to the

American way of life devoted a major part of their time and

energies to the civil rights struggle. What, up until 1965, few

black militants had grappled with is the fact that jobs and

positiotls are what boys ask to be goen, but pou;er is something

that men have to take and the taking of power requires the de-

velopment of a revolutionary organization, a revolutionary pro-

gram for the reorganization of society, and a revolutionary

strategy for the conquest of power.

As early as August 1963, at the March on Washington, the

idea of Black Power had been anticipated in John Lewis’s speech

threatening to create another source of power, and in the an-

nouncement of the formation of a Freedom Now Party by Wil-

liam Worthy. In 1964 the Freedom Now Party won a place on

the ballot in the state of Michigan and conducted a state-wide

 

 

The City Is the Black Man’s Land 45

 

campaign running candidates for every state-wide office and

stressing the need for independent black political action The

party did not win many votes, but it contributed to establishing

the idea of independent black political power inside the North-

ern freedom movement. In early 1965 a Federation for Inde-

pendent Political Action was created in New York by militant

black leaders from all over the country who went back into their

communities to link the idea of black power with concrete

struggles. On May 1, 1965, a national Organization for Black

power was formed in Detroit.

The first task which the Organization for Black Power set itself

was to establish a scientific basis for the perspective of Black

Political Power in the historical development of the United

States. Thus, the following statement was adopted at the found-

ing conference:

At this juncture in history the system itself cannot, will not,

resolve the problems that have been created by centuries of ex-

ploitation of black people. It remains for the Negro struggle not

only to change the system but to arrive at the kind of social system

fitting to our time and in relation to the development of this country.

That Negroes constitute this revolutionary social force, imbued

with these issues and grievances that go to the heart of the system,

is not by accident but a result of the way in which America devel-

oped. The Negroes today play the role that the agricultural workers

played in bringing about social reform in agriculture and the role

that the workers played in the 1930’s in bringing about social reform

in industry.

Today the Negro masses in the city are outside of the political,

economic, and social structure, but they constitute a large force

inside the city and particularly concentrated in the black ghettos.

The city itself cannot resolve the problems of the ghetto and/or

the problems of the city. The traditional historical process by which

other ethnic groupings were assimilated into the economic and po-

litical structure has terminated with the arrival of the Negroes en

masse (1) because of the traditional racism of this country which

excludes Negroes from taking municipal power as other ethnic

groupings have done; and (2) because of the technological revolu-

tion which has now made the unskilled labor of the Negroes socially

unnecessary. The civil rights movement which originated in the

South cannot address itself to these problems of the Northern

 

 

46 Racism and the Class Struggle

 

ghetto which are based not upon legal (de jure) contradictions

but upon systematic (de facto) contradictions. It remains there-

fore for the movement in the North to carry the struggle to the

enemy in fact, i.e., toward the system rather than just de jure to-

ward new legislation.

At this conference we arrived at the recognition that the prop,

the force, that keeps the system going is the police which is an

occupation force of absentee landlords, merchants, politicians, and

managers, located in the city, and particularly in the black ghetto,

to contain us.

Negroes are the major source of the pay that goes to police,

judges, mayors, common councilmen, and all city government em-

ployees, taxed through traffic tickets, assessments, etc. Yet in every

major city Negroes have little or no representation in city govern-

ment. WE PAY FOR THESE OFFICIALS. WE SHOULD RUN

THEM.

The city is the base which we must organize as the factories

were organized in the 1930’s. We must struggle to control, to gov-

ern the cities, as workers struggled to control and govern the fac-

tories of the 1930’s.

To do this we must be clear that power means a program to

come to power by all the means through which new social forces

have come to Power in the past.

  1. We must organize a cadre who will function in the cities as

the labor organizers of the 1930’s functioned in and around the

factories.

  1. We must choose our own issues around which to mobilize the

mass and immobilize the enemy.

  1. We must prepare ourselves to be ready for what the masses

themselves do spontaneously as they explode against the enemy-

in most cases, the police-and be ready to take political power

wherever possible.

  1. We must find a way to finance our movement ourselves.

 

Since the founding conference, and particularly since the

Watts revolt and the deepening crisis from the U.S. occupation

of Vietnam, black revolutionaries all over the country have

been working out the theory and practice of building a black

revolutionary oganization.

  1. They are clarifying what black political power would

 

 

The City Is the Black Man’s Land 47

mean in real terms, that is to say, the program which black

government in the cities would institute. Thus, for example,

Black Political Power would institute a crash program to utilize

the most advanced technology to free People from all forms of

manual labor. It would also take immediate steps to transform

the concept of welfare to one of human dignity or of, well-faring

and well-being. The idea of people faring well off the fruits of

advanced technology and the labors of past generations without

the necessity to work for a living must become as normal as the

idea of organized labor has become. There should be no illusion

that this can be accomplished without expropriating those now

dwning and controlling our economy. It could not therefore be

accomplished simply on a city-wide basis, i.e., without defeating

the national power structure. However, by establishing beach-

heads in one or more major cities, black revolutionary govern-

ments would be in the most strategic position to contend with

and eventually defeat this national power structure.

In elaborating its program, the black revolutionary organiza-

tion, conscious that the present Constitution was written nearly

two centuries ago in an agricultural era when the states had the

most rights because they had the most power, also aims to

formulate a new Constitution which establishes a new relation-

ship of government to people and to property, as well as new

relationships between the national government, the states, and

the cities, and new relationships between nation-states. Such a

Constitution can be the basis for the call to a Constitutional Con-

vention and also serve to mobilize national and world support

for the black government or governments in the cities where they

establish beachheads and where they will have to defend them-

selves against the counter-revolutionary forces of the national

Power structure.

  1. They are concentrating on the development of paramilitary

cadres ready to defend black militants and the black community

from counter-revolutionary attacks. The power which these

cadres develop for defense of the community can in turn bring

financial support from the community as well as sanctuary, when

needed, in the community.

 

48 Racism and the Class Struggle

 

  1. The most difficult and challenging task is the organizing of

struggles around the concrete grievances of the masses which

will not only improve the welfare of the black community but

also educate the masses out of their democratic illusions and

make them conscious that every administrative and law-enforcing

agency in this country is a white power. It is white power which

decides whether to shoot to kill (as in Watts) or not to shoot at

all (as in Oxford, Mississippi, against white mobs); to arrest or

not to arrest; to break up picket lines or not break up picket

lines; to investigate brutality and murder or to allow these to go

uninvestigated; to decide who eats and who goes on city aid

when out of work and who does not eat and does not go on city

aid; to decide who goes to what schools and who does not go;

who has transportation and who doesn’t; who has garbage col-

lected and who doesn’t; what streets are lighted and have good

sidewalks and what streets have neither lights nor sidewalks;

what neighborhoods are torn down for urban renewal and who

and what are to go back into these neighborhoods. It is white

power which decides which people are drafted into the army to

fight and which countries this army is to fight at what moment.

It is white power which has brought the United States to the

Point where it is counter-revolutionary to, and increasingly

despised by, the majority of the world’s peoples. All these powers

are in the political arena, which is the key arena that the black

revolutionary movement must take over if there is to be serious

black power.

It is extremely important that concrete struggles and marches,

Picket lines and demonstrations, be focused on the seats of power

so that when spontaneous eruptions take place the masses will

naturally form committees to take over these institutions rather

than concentrate their energies on the places where consumer

goods are distributed. Political campaigns to elect black militants

to office play a useful role in educating the masses to the im-

portance of political power and the role of government in today’s

world. They are also a means of creating area organizations. But

it should be absolutely clear that no revolution was ever won

through the parliamentary process and that as the threat to white

 

 

The City’ Is the Black Man’s Land 49

 

power grows, even through the parliamentary process, it will

resort to all the naked force at its disposal. At that point, the

revolution becomes a total conflict of force against force.

  1. The most immediate as well as profound issue affecting

the whole black community and particularly black youth is the

war in Vietnam. The black revolutionary organization will make

it clear in theory and practice that the Vietcong and the Black

power movement in the United States are part of the same world-

wide social revolution against the same enemy and that, as this

enemy is being defeated abroad, its self-confidence and initiative

to act and react are breaking down at home. This is the revolu-

tionary task which Malcolm was undertaking and the reason why

he was assassinated. Like the black youth of Watts, the black

revolutionary organization will make it clear that black youth

have no business fighting in the Ku Klux Klan army that is

slaughtering black people in Vietnam. Their job is to defend and

better their lives and the lives of their women and children right

here. Moreover, speaking from a power base in the big cities even

before there is a national revolutionary government, black city

governments are the only ones which could seriously talk with

the governments of the new nations without resorting to the

power that comes out of the barrel of a gun, as the United States

must do today.

One final word, particularly addressed to those Afro-Americans

who have been brainwashed into accepting white America’s

characterization of the struggle for black political power as

racist. The three forms of struggle in which modern man has

engaged are the struggle between nations, the struggle between

classes, and the struggle between races. Of these three struggles,

the struggle of the colored races against the white race is the one

which includes the progressive aspects of the first two and at the

same time penetrates most deeply into the essence of the human

race or world mankind. The class struggle for economic gains can

be, has been, incorporated within the national struggle. Orga-

nized labor is among the strongest supporters of the Vietnam

war. The struggle of the colored races cannot be blunted in such

ways. It transcends the boundaries between nations because his-

 

50 Racism and the Class Struggle

 

torically the colored peoples all over the world constitute a black

underclass which has been exploited by the white nations to the

benefit of both rich and poor at home.

In the struggle of the colored peoples of the world for the

power to govern themselves, the meaning of man is at stake. Do

people of some races exist to be exploited and manipulated by

others? Or are all men equal regardless of race? White power

was built on the basis of exploiting the colored races of the world

for the benefit of the white races. At the heart of this exploitation

was the conviction that people of color were not men but sub-

human, not self-governing citizens but “natives.” White power

not only exploited colored peoples economically; it sought syste

matically to destroy their culture and their personalities and

anything else which would compel white people to face the fact

that colored peoples are also men. When Western powers fought

each other, they fought as men. But when they fought colored

peoples, they killed them as natives and as slaves. That is what

Western barbarism is doing in Vietnam today. Now the black

revolution and the struggle for black power are emerging when

all people are clamoring for manhood. Thereby they are destroy-

ing forever the idea on which white power has built itself, that

some men (whites) are more equal or more capable of self-

government (citizenship) than others (colored).

 

1965

 

 

* Because Afro-Americans were the first people in this country to pose

the perspective of revolutionary power to destroy racism, I have been

using the word “black” as a political designation to refer not only to

Afro-Americans but to people of color who are engaged in revolutionary

struggle in the United States and all over the world. It should not be taken

to mean the domination of Afro-Americans or the exclusion of other people

of color from black revolutionary organizations.

 

 

 

 

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