POSITION ON BLACK AUTONOMY (Miscellaneous Big Flame Documents no 8)
Posted by archivearchie on November 28, 2010
This post is the eighth in an occasional series. This site already contains a large number of documents produced by Big Flame or its members. Most can be found in the 30 posts in Episodes in Big Flame History. Each post contains links to documents which relate to its theme. Links to the same documents are also listed on the website’s Publications page, this time sorted by type – pamphlets, journals, newspaper, internal documents.
A post in Episodes in BF history series on Racism and Fascism touched on the issue of the autonomy of black people. I would now like to focus specifically on this topic.
At the May 1978 Conference a motion passed on the Struggle against Racism and Fascism which included this point: “BF sees the strengthening of autonomous and socialist movements amongst all sections of the Black communities as of great importance. BF recognises that autonomous revolutionary socialist organisations of blacks have the most important role to play in this process and pledges political, and if necessary practical, support for the strengthening of such organisations.”
Nevertheless, there remained differences between members of Big Flame in their understanding of autonomy.
A document produced for the conference, which took the form of a draft article for the Big Flame journal Revolutionary Socialism, developed the position: Black Autonomy: Why Big Flame Offers Unconditional Support. It aimed to counter the argument that support for black autonomy encouraged divisions in the working class. There are already real division in the working class based on divisions in power. Black people require their own organisations to reflect their needs. There are no short cuts to unity, which can only be genuine when both white and black revolutionaries have developed their strength. The white left needs to avoid parachuting into black struggles and crude attempts to recruit black people. It priority (as written in 1978) should be to counter fascism.
A version of this document appeared in Revolutionary Socialism no 2 Spring 1978: Black Autonomy in Class Struggle. By them it had been heavily edited by some one else. It still talked about material divisions in the working class, and looked forward to a time of collaboration and co-ordination between equal partners. However, much of the document had been rewrittten and the Jamesian (after the writer C.L.R. James) discussion of material divisions watered down. It was now much less clear what a commitment to the autonomy of black people meant in practice.
In a previous post on “Racism and Fascism” I drew attention to something the author of the original document wrote several years later: Black Autonomy and the White Left (Discussion Bulletin January 1984). Apologies again for including something which is difficult to read (it has faint typing on a coloured background). It discusses from his perspective the differences between the two articles, and restates his position on material differences. He recognises changes in the years since the mid 1970s – both among black people in general and their political organisations, as well as on the white left.