Two big achievements spelled success for us at the Second National Plenum of the Comrades of Color Caucus of the Freedom Socialist Party and its sister organization, Radical Women. The first was mapping out a political direction for the two groups in the people of color movements. The second, infinitely important, was building participants’ confidence in themselves as political leaders.
We learned a lot about leadership- what it is, the factors that inhibit leadership among us, and what we can do to shove those roadblocks aside. The plenum was a wonderful exercise in doing just that.
The meeting lasted three intensive days over the 1989 Labor Day weekend, September 2-4, in a home overlooking San Francisco Bay in the majestic Berkeley Hills. Black, Asian American, Chicano and Alaskan Native comrades attended. Our agenda was packed, covering everything from firsthand reports on the situation of indigenous peoples in Nicaragua and Australia to a proposal and plans for an international FSP recruitment drive. We spent a lot of time evaluating the different movements of people of color and the work of party and RW branches in these movements.
We found time in the midst of everything to organize a forum on the Chicano struggle and to socialize. We ended companionably with humorous roasts of each other at a gala Chinese banquet.
The National Comrades of Color Caucus (NCCC) was established so that FSP and RW members of color can come together to discuss issues important to us and to take initiative, give direction, and propose policy on these issues.
Our role is vital in both organizations. The plenum made clear how vital, especially now, with the ’90s upon us and the prospect of revolution in the U.S. becoming a palpable reality.
International rainbow. The first day featured reports and discussion on a spectrum of movements: Black, Asian American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Native American, and lesbians and gays of color.
We noted that many radicals of color are in the Stalinist milieu, members or supporters of groups such as the Communist Party or Frontline Political Organization (formerly Line of March). Though Stalinism is a bureaucratic distortion of Marxism, it’s the dominant socialist tendency, and many committed revolutionaries have gravitated to it. It’s our job as Trotskyists to recruit them by boldly demonstrating a democratic, feminist, workable alternative road to socialism.
In most communities there is more openness to socialism than ever before. We concluded that our branches are doing good work in these movements and identified areas where we need to step up our involvement.
An arena where we need stronger intervention is in the Jewish community, now defending themselves against renewed anti-Semitism. We agreed that the NCCC should work with our Jewish comrades to launch a full-fledged discussion within the party and RW on the nature of Jewish identity and oppression and to intensify our work around Jewish issues.
We invited two of our Bay Area Jewish comrades to the plenum to begin an analysis of the Jewish question. Are Jews people of color or white? Are some Jews one and some the other? Or are they different from both? Is anti-Semitism racism? We didn’t answer these questions, but our preliminary exploration of them was fascinating.
Also a plenum first was Chicano Moises Montoya’s eyewitness account of the Australian Aboriginal struggle. Montoya traveled to Melbourne in August 1989 to visit and collaborate with Australians affiliated with FSP. He learned that the main Aboriginal issues are land rights, prison murders, education, and cultural survival. The NCCC pledged to study Aboriginal issues further and help guide the Australians’ involvement in the movement.
Another first-person report on indigenous peoples came to us electronically. New Yorkers Stephen Durham and Susan Williams, M.D., FSP National Committee members who toured Nicaragua early in 1989, were unable to attend the plenum. Instead, they sent videotaped reflections on their interactions with Miskito Indians and Creoles on Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast. The Indios told Durham and Williams that they support the Nicaraguan revolution, but criticize the Sandinistas for not supporting the Indios’ rights, as nations, to self-determination. It was evident that how the regime answers the national question will determine whether the Indios continue their support and will make or break the revolution. (Please see article page one.)
During our final session, Merle Woo presented a proposal for the content of a document on Asian Americans, analyzing how they are exploited and discriminated against in the U.S., and shattering the stereotypes of them as “model minorities”—passive and accepting of treatment as inferiors. Everyone agreed that the NCCC’s deliberations on the document’s political line were very productive.
Rising to new standards. Each plenum discussion was fruitful, but just as important was what we learned from the experience as a whole.
The comrades gathered together ready to work, do the tough job of thinking politically on all questions. We demanded clarity of analysis from speakers when it was lacking, and we got it. In so doing, we pointed the way for higher standards in the party as a whole. We can be proud of ourselves because we showed each other “tough love”-the kind that demands we be the best we can be.
Great expectations, yes. To meet them, we have to fight against society’s stereotypes about people of color as lazy, immoral, criminal, stupid, exotic, savage, passive, etc.
We must shed the second-class status capitalism has dictated for us, and that means being conscious of how we inflict second-class citizenship on ourselves and each other. We must realize we do this at times and work to eradicate it from our behavior.
As FSP comrades of color, we are leadership-with a capital “L”-of a vanguard party that will someday spearhead a revolution ending all the ills peculiar to capitalism.
Seeing oneself as a leader and accepting the responsibility that comes with it is a heavy thing. Each one of the comrades of color sitting in that meeting room for three days and nights dedicated themselves to becoming a revolutionary leader. Without leadership, the revolution–our revolution won’t happen.
To lead is to direct the course, to step in front with a program spelling out how to topple this system and replace it with a better one, and to be clear and bold about it so others will follow.
It’s not magic that has placed people of color in the forefront. Economics and sociology determined this reality long ago. People of color, people on the bottom, have the least to lose and the most to gain from revolution. Capitalism has made life hell on earth for us, creating in us a bottomless anger and the determination and capability to be trailblazers in throwing the old order out.
San Francisco comrade Tom Boot said it simply: “We have a job to do.” We agreed, and left the plenum much clearer about what that job is and how to do it well. We have to go proudly into our communities as professional revolutionaries and recruit. Everyone will benefit, new members and old.
Collective education. At this plenum, we gained a better, confident understanding of the identity of the National Comrades of Color Caucus as a leadership body.
We learned that tough love-honest, timely, upfront criticism and demands on one another that we change for the better-is absolutely essential to growth.
We recognize that it will be we, the most oppressed, who will lead in changing the world. Rhetoric? No; fact born of economic and social necessity.
We left the plenum realizing we need to recruit more Blacks, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Chicanos, and other people of color to join what we have devoted our lives to. We have a socialist feminist program; others deserve it, and we have the responsibility to take it to them.
This we vowed to do. Forward! iAdelante!