July 1966, Chamberlain
JOHN CHAMBERLAIN ... 'Black Power'-Recalls Commie Efforts In raising the issue of "black power" and giving it a political twist, the leaders of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) have taken a backward plunge that brings to mind that slightly batty period of the Nineteen TA?en- ties when the American Communist party was going all out for something called "self-determination for the Black Belt." This particular Communist plank, if I remember correctly from cub reporting days in New York, was the concoction of a Hungarian representative of the Communist International who went by the pseudonym of "John Pepper." Nothing could have been better calculated to frighten the daylights out of those Mississippians and Alabamians who had all along been telling the world that "black power" would end by cutting white throats. In time, the Communists learned that Hungarian theorists were not necessarily to be trusted to formulate policy for the American scene. They sent "John Peppper" back to Europe, dropped the idea of building black republics in the Deep South, and took up the refrain,. ''Communism is Twentieth Century Americanism." With his recent accent on reviving the Popular Front atmosphere of the late Nineteen Thirties, Gus Hall, the U.S. Communist party leader, can hardly be accused of selling the "black power" line to Stokely Carmichael, the new head of" SNCC, or to Floyd McKissick, the leader -of CORE. This time the idiocy of raising the specter of "black power" — which is simply another way of saying "self-deter- mination" for the Negro wherever he fc in & position to get on top — seems to be native- grown. It could have Maoist connections, however, for it is quite in line with what the anti- Muscovite "splinter" Communist groups have been talk ing about The idea of "black power" is idiotic in the American world for the simple reason that this is a pluralistic country of manifold "blocs" which make law by a continuous process of combining and recombining for reasons which may be ethnic at one time, or economic at another, or even religious or spiritual in a third instance. What seems like an unbreakable "power structure" at one moment may lie in utter ruins the next. It follows from the very complexity of a fluid capitalistic economy and a regionally diversified country that any "bloc" which wishes to get anywhere must keep itself poised to make new alliances. So what will it avail the leaders of SNCC and CORE to declare that*power is the "total control of the economic, political, educational, and social wealth of our community from top to bottom, and the exercise of this power at the local level is simply that which all other groups in American society have done to acquire their share of American life?" This talk of "total control" leaves no scope for minorities anywhere; it is profoundly at variance with the spirit of the Bill of Rights, and it is just the thing to set off the sort of white backlash that failed to materialize during the Presidential campaign of 1964. Fortunately for the Ne- gro communities, Ro/ WiUdfit, the Mfecuttvt director of fee National Association for foe Advancement of Colored People, has been around long enough to remember what the atogan of "self - determination . for .Mie Black Beit" did to extend the period of lynch - law psychology in southern communities where Negroes were practically as numerous as wiates- His speech at the 57th annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Los Angeles was both infinitely courageous and infinitely wise. "No matter how they explain it,** he said, "the term 'black power' means anti-white power. In a racially pluralistic society, the concept, the formation and the exercise of that ethnically tagged power, means opposition to other ethnic powers . . .It has to mean 'going it alone.' It has to mean separatism." I doubt that any single member of CORE or SNCC has ever heard the name of "John Pepper" or even recalls the period when the Communists were advocating separatist black republics in Alabama and Mississippi. This country is not long on memories. Because yesterday is an unremembered book, we repeat the idiocies of the past in every new generation. I realize that praising Roy Wilkins in this column for opposing the separatist idiocy may only expose him to tunats of "Uncle Tom." But when Roy Wilkins says that "black power" is a "reverse Ku Klux Klan," he speaks a truth that must be heard.