Identity and Struggle: An Analysis of the Ideological Contradictions Manifested in the New Black Marxist-Black Nationalist Debate
Calvin Richard Birdsong
J. Congress Mbata
Thesis DT 3.5 1976 B618
, vi, 196 leaves; 29 cm.
Since the spring of 1974 the Afro-American liberation movement has been divided by an extensive ideological debate between and among Black activists. The debate pits the New Black Marxists, former Pan-Africanists who now advocate Marxism, against the Black Nationalists, Black activists who maintain an anti-Marxist position based upon nationalist principles. Black organizations such as the Congress of African People and the African Liberation Support Committee have been split by the ideological debate. The debate has also given rise to many published articles which debate the validity of Marxist theory for the Black movement, the nature of White racism, and whether or not Blacks should coalesce with other racial groups in their struggle for liberation.
Although the debate between the New Black Marxists and the Black Nationalists is an ongoing, contemporary phenomenon, it has a note of familiarity for those familiar with the historical development of Black social and political thought. In the pre-Civil War period the Black movement was divided between Black Abolitionists and Black Emigrationists. The beginning of the 20th century was marked by a classical debate between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois. During the early 1920's Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association argued vehemently with Dubois and such groups as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In the late 1950's and the early 1960's the Nation of Islam differed with various Civil Rights organizations. The late 1960's saw a virulent conflict between Revolutionary Nationalists, such as the Black Panther Party, and Cultural Nationalists, such as the US organization.
So, although the present debate is popularly conceived of as being based upon the question of whether class or race factors are primary in socio-political development for Blacks, this study grows out of the belief that the contemporary Black ideological conflict is only the latest manifestation of conflict between two fundamental trends of Black ideological behavior. The first such trend is here termed Identity. Identity-centered Black activism is distinguished by its primary concern for the well-being and continued development of Afro-Americans as an oppressed racial group within American society. The second trend is here termed Struggle. Struggle-oriented Black activism is primarily concerned with the social struggle against certain specific social phenomena (laws, socio-economic systems) which work against the interests of Black people.
These two trends have been manifested throughout the development of Black ideology. They are based upon a narrow focus by Black activists upon one of two distinguishable types of Black oppression. One type is the general oppression of Blacks as a racial group. Although this oppression is aimed against Blacks in particular, its manifestation of racist beliefs and practices occurs as a general and apparently irreducible feature of American society. A focus by Black activists upon the racial general oppression of Blacks gives rise to Identity-centered Black activism. Struggle-oriented Black ideology, on the other hand, grows out of a focus by other Black activists upon the specific oppression of particular social phenomena which work against the interests of Blacks.
This study utilizes a methodology based upon the principles of Dialectical Materialism to analyze the origins, development and conflict of Identity and Struggle trends, up to and including the present debate. The information for this study was drawn from contemporary articles on the present debate, Black historical works, and from works concerned with the principles of Dialectical Materialism. A taped interview with Haki Madhubuti, one of the principals of the present debate was also used.