Book review on Michael C Dawson's "Blacks in and out of the Left"
Michael Dawson's Blacks In and Out of the Left examines the causes and outcomes of the demise of black radicalism. The black left is identified as a critical instrument in the twentieth-century fight to equality and justice in an effort to attain an egalitarian society. The author argues that the black left movement has failed to sufficiently consider race as a historical force that played a significant historical role in reforming American civil society, institutions, and even politics. This review explores the relationship between the black radicalism and the organized U.S. left as presented by Dawson. Some of the key issues that will be examined are the reasons behind Dawson's belief that the black radicalism was critical in the success of an egalitarian society and why they were more successful when they followed the third path.
Rise of the black left amidst the larger U.S. Left
In his book, Blacks In and Out of the Left, Dawson explores the history and state of the U.S Black Left in the freedom movement. This segment examines the historical relationship between the black racial movements and the larger U.S. left. Following the death of Martin Luther King Jr.'s, the black radicals started concentrating on the verdicts made concerning the alleged linkage of King to communism. As a result of this attention, numerous alliances sprouted among the leftist forces and the black activists. They adopted different kinds of leftist radicalism. Dawson notes that during the first half of the 20th century, a good number of whites were not afraid of supporting the presence of black equality. The majority of these whites belonged to the communist group, and the rest were their friends. At the time, many black and white communists severely suffered due to their unshaken advocacy of racial equality.
However, at the time, the black mass struggle for an egalitarian society are the ones who suffered more due to inequality, especially violence perpetrated by the white civil society in collaboration with the government. The unemployed whites were a bit tolerant of the blacks. However, the whites who belonged to the working class did not support the black radicals in their efforts to attain social equality. Contrarily, they were more subjected to their racial interests, unlike class interests. Moreover, even the white women in the working class category preferred race interests and not gender or class. Even though somehow tolerant, subjugated whites still supported their racial and gender interests as they considered them more practical. The notion of white supremacy is what influenced the act of racism depicted by the whites. White supremacy perceived the blacks as a threat to all whites in terms of status quo and material interests.
Deducing from the argument, the author notes that in the 1960s, the majority of the white liberals held on to the notion that black separatism was a threat to having a unified left. Due to this belief, there emerged a general known as white left writers who attacked the achievement of the black liberation movement. From these attacks, there came a distortion and repression of the long sustained black leadership record. Through such a struggle, Dawson is trying to showcase the challenges faced during the rise of the black left. In his book, he also highlights the achievements attained by the black leaders and the organizations that had been removed from black popular history.
In evaluating the black radical movements, Dawson examines several key figures who are not very popular in contemporary society. Some of the figures explored are the likes of Hubert Harrison, Fannie Lou Hamer, Cyril Briggs, Harry Haywood, W.E.B DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, Paul Robeson, and Claudia Jones. Through these leaders, Dawson tries to show that the black revolution movement was there even before the 60s only that it was not popularized. The white intellectuals in the 60s did not want the blacks to unify since this would have been a danger to their interests. However, he mentions Hubert Harrison as a critical figure in the establishment of the third path, which had a significant contribution to the lefties. However, in his exploration of the key figures in black radicalism, Dawson fails to cover the t by C.L.R. James. Hubert Harrison strongly fought for the blacks pushing for a black system whereby the blacks will independently work and organize for their liberation inclusive of fighting for cultural, political and economic control, aspects which were supported by like Malcolm X and Martin Luther. James's plan the other hand, though not mentioned by Dawson, was radical against behaviors that were intended to impress and mislead identity politics. He was strongly against European colonialism and advocated for an egalitarian society.
Generally, the author presents a warring relationship between the black radicals and the broader U.S. left. He draws his assumptions on how the whites tried to erase the blacks from American history. He notes of Harry Haywood and Cyril Briggs as crucial figures that have been deleted and can only be found in footnotes of the historiography within the American radicalism.
Alienation from the enforced imperialist enlightenment universalism paved the way for the black radical movements to develop themselves in terms of culture, leadership on the grounds of self-determination. This form of alienation among the blacks was not majorly a separation but rather a mechanism for incorporating self-determination with the struggle for equality within the multiracial society. The future that was being anticipated by the blacks, American Indians and the Chicanos bore a great force to the extent that it even attracted a substantial population of the whites.
Movements such as League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW) came up with ideas that were interested in liberating the blacks and the multiracial workers and seeing that they come to work together while fighting for social revolution. A common characteristic noted by Dawson between the black radical movements and the more massive U.S. is that they were both interested in attaining social revolution which was perceived as a threat to the America capitalism group. Both groups wanted the internalization of the black radicals, which, according to the author, was a better option compared to the universalism that was not universal.
Why black radicalism was critical in attaining an egalitarian society
Dawson believed that the enforcement and internalization of black radicalism were essential for the achievement of an egalitarian society. The reason for this is because the earlier proposed universalism was not genuine and thus did not provide the actual universalism. During the time, the American capitalists had influenced the corporate sector and together they fostered racism.
Black radicalism was founded upon six political ideologies that supported the presence of an egalitarian society. The six ideologies examined by Dawson are radical egalitarianism, disillusioned liberalism, black conservatism, Black Nationalism, black feminism, and black Marxism. Basing on the radical egalitarianism, African American suppression could be removed through constantly opposing the racial disparity that was being upheld by the American political and corporate entities. The black radicals through these ideologies constantly challenged the major reforms to incorporate reforms that will promote more freedom and opportunities for the blacks.
Basing on the author, it was the blacks who had good intentions for attaining an egalitarian society. He provides an example of the League of Revolutionary Struggle (LRS) that was in operation starting 1978 up to 1990. Dawson asserts that this was the most effective group. The group was grounded on the belief that America required a new communist party since the community party at the time was not effective. Another factor that made him consider the black radicalism as critical to the process of attaining equality is because LRS was not racist in any way since it incorporated even white members.
Also, the black radicalism had a vision for a social revolution that will one day become a world revolution. In this vision, LRS saw a society whereby the black societies in Chicano and America south would work in collaboration with the international working class inclusive of workers in third world countries. This vision was not among the whites left and thus they would not play a critical role in seeing the attainment of an egalitarian society.
Some of the efforts made by black radicals were a true indication that they really wanted a society that fostered equality. Members of the black radicalisms who were earning well paid a sum of around $250–400 every month just to make sure that the movement was intact and in operation. This contribution was not taxed and it was used to pay the people working for the movement and support childcare and breed an environment whereby children were able to make from all American races. This kind of society whereby the issues of racism were absent is what a majority of the black radicalism members wanted. From this depiction, it is clear that black radicalism was critical to the achievement of an egalitarian society.
The entry of the third path and its contribution to black radicalism
Much success was attained from the middle 1960s when the black radicals followed the new wave which he terms the "third path." Years before the mid-60s, many black people were not into the idea of aligning with the third path and it was significantly abandoned during the early 1920s.
Black radicalism was more effective when it followed the third path because a third path brought them closer to the Democratic Party. Even though the alliance of the black radical liberals and the Democratic Party had some challenges, for instance, some of the black radicals were converted into active collaborators as in the case of the red scare and during the attack that was commissioned on the black left, still these challenges made them turn out stronger than before. Also, their alliance with the democratic liberals taught other blacks the value of loyalty. For instance, when NAACP leaders, Bunche and Randolph betrayed the black radicals and yet they had been loyal members, once their services were no longer required, they became targets by the McCarthyites. This showed black people that they need to fight for themselves and should not trust outsiders.
Another significant reason as to why black radicals were often successful when they followed the third path is because these groups had strong foundations and efficiently crafted manifestos. For instance, the ten-point program that had been formulated by the Black Panther Party was very popular. The core vision of this program was bringing an end to all forms of oppression. Such a program was consistent with nearly all the other black radical movements thus fighting for equality was much easier when there was a huge force from varied groups seeking the same thing. The Liberty League and the African Blood Brotherhood also supported this program making it easy for black radicals to attain success when they followed these groups.
Moreover, there were efforts to join all these third path groups into a single black movement group which imposed more powers among the blacks unlike when they worked separately. In his book, Dawson argues "the black power movement destroyed the universalist impulse, particularly as a wide range of groups came to emulate its separatist philosophy and organizational strategies" (Dawson, 134). This is a vivid indication that the black radicalism was successful historically because by following the third path, unity was attained.
Furthermore, the fall of the left is another evidence provided by Dawson to showcase that the black radicals worked best when following third paths. It is the black power movement that orchestrated the demise of the left during the late twentieth century. The rise of the black power movement made leftist politics weak. A unified black power movement showcased that the class-based idioms were irrelevant thus weakening its social and political ideologies. This would not have been attained if the black radicals had not united under the one-third path. The demise of universalism led to further weakening in the class movement and reforms in the politics of identity and culture. Subsequently came reduced concentration in the major economic issues which were something that was highly regarded by the working-class white men. The working-class white men came to believe that the interest they had placed in class did not matter and were attracted to the side of the social and class liberals. The success of diminishing politics of culture, class, and identity is attributed to the black power movement since the other movements copied what they were doing. From this, it is evident that the unity of the black radicals is what convinced the other movements to join them and thus making the success possible.
In conclusion, Dawson has effectively traced the complex and contentious relationship that existed between the black radicalism and the larger U.S. left. The author has based his arguments based on several key figures in the black radical moments. Through the examples provided in the book, he has been able to present a strong argument. Even though he left out other key figures such as C.L.R James, still the numerous examples of black radical figures have made the book effective in showcasing the history of black radical movements towards attaining an egalitarian society.
Dawson, Michael C. Blacks in and Out of the Left. Harvard University Press, 2013.