Communists lift every voice for Black equality

ST. LOUIS — Eighty activists, including trade unionists, elected officials, religious leaders and workers of all races, ages and genders gathered here June 9-10 for an extraordinary Communist Party conference on African American equality. The participants were united in believing the party had a big role to play in helping to build multiracial unity against the Iraq war and racism, along with bringing advanced ideas of the class struggle and socialism to all the movements for peace and social justice.

Jarvis Tyner, CPUSA executive vice chair, asked the gathering to remember the 2000 elections “when the theft of the presidency was being carried out by the racist conspirators in the White House.” He recalled that reporters interrupted the vote count to announce that a request for an injunction was being filed in St. Louis to extend the voting hours because election officials were trying to close the polls while thousands of mainly Black voters were waiting in line to vote.

The main impetus behind that fight to extend voting hours was the union movement, Tyner noted. “I was so proud as I watched that news,” he said, “because I knew that many of our comrades were playing a role in this militant action.” Tyner was referring to the Communist Party’s active participation in the labor-led voter registration and turnout drive aimed at defeating the ultra-right that year.

That drive, he said, was ultimately successful when, in 2006, the right-wing hold on Congress was shattered by the voters, including in Missouri.

This victory “has put the right wing on the defensive on the war and on all democratic questions including the fight against racism,” Tyner said. “There is a more favorable terrain and the objective conditions for a broad people’s upsurge are there.”

Many who spoke at the gathering stressed the role of the Communist Party in working to strengthen groups that help build the important labor/African American alliance, crucial to moving the whole working class forward.

Among the Black trade unionists in attendance was a United Auto Workers leader, who called for Senate passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. “Only by guaranteeing the right to organize,” he said, “can we create a situation in which Black workers in particular and all workers in general will survive and advance.”

Advancing the struggle requires “many more organized Communist Party clubs in the Black community,” Tyner said. The party “needs to recruit many more Black workers especially organized workers. We need more Black intellectuals and activists, as well.”

“The fight against racism is in the political DNA of the Communist Party,” Tyner said. He reminded the group that one of Karl Marx’s early statements on U.S. slavery was “Labor in the white skin can never be free as long as labor in the black skin is branded.”

Tyner told an anecdote to illustrate the special appeal he believes the Communist Party has for African Americans.

Ossie Davis, the lifelong political activist and star of stage and screen, was once asked why so many Black intellectuals had been drawn to communism. “Ossie’s reply,” Tyner said, “was, ‘Capitalism was beating the living crap out of us, segregating us and killing us. Along comes a system that challenges capitalism, a system that says there’s another way to organize the world. Naturally we listened.’”

Three conference panels tackled aspects of the struggle for African American equality: the state of Black America, the fight back and building the party in the African American community.

Discussion urged continuing to build the movement to bring the troops home from Iraq — a war which a large majority of African Americans oppose — and continuing to build unity with the immigrant rights movement. Discussion also cited the devastating effects of Bush administration policy in African American communities, layoffs resulting from job cuts in manufacturing, attacks on public education, the crisis in health care and housing and the homicides taking the lives of Black youths.

Oakland, Calif., activist Cassie Lopez stressed the need for providing concrete action to make a difference in young people’s lives when organizing in neighborhoods of people of color.

She also urged the party to take on the issue of violence, tying it to the Iraq war. “I’ve said this for a while: homicide is genocide. The violence is killing our babies,” she said. “What’s amazing is the resilience of our people.”

The conference proposed a national tour of members of the newly reorganized African American equality commission to key areas of the country to help strengthen the fight against racism and to build the party in the Black community.