[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #7 in December 2008]
Following the assassination of civil rights (see below) leader Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4th 1968, urban areas throughout the U.S. erupted in revolt. This has popularly been described as a riot and is generally considered to have been spontaneous. The most notable precursors to this moment were a wave of urban riots in primarily African-American neighborhoods such as the August 1965 riots in Los Angeles’ Watts area, then the 1967 riots in July in both Detroit, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey. Chicago had seen a number of smaller revolts before this, including the 1966 Division Street Riots took place in a mainly Puerto Rican neighborhood. The April ’68 riots erupted primarily on the West Side along Madison Street, but the arson that accompanied them stretched south to Roosevelt Road and north to Chicago Avenue. In this event there were 125 fires, over 200 buildings were impacted and many were torn down, and 1,000 people were left homeless. Mayor Daley (our current Mayor’s papa) ordered a curfew for anyone under 21 and famously told the police and National Guard to “shoot to kill” anyone who was perceived to be looting or rioting. There was only a small amount of protesting, rioting and looting on the south and north sides of the city.
Similar revolts occurred in every major city in the country. As with any large-scale social and political event, the legacy lives on in many forms. The aftermath of the event spawned a number of community and social service organizations that live on to this day. The legacy is felt in the built environment as well—buildings that were burned in that area have left many vacant lots that leave the impacted area with a feeling of isolation and disorganization to this day. It is widely speculated that the post-riot economic development strategy for this area of the near west side has been one of speculative “warehousing” of poor people and vacancy, in order to drive prices and public perception lower so that large scale redevelopment at large profit margins could occur in the future.
Black Arts Movement:
Many people see this as the cultural wing of the Black Power Movement (see below). While it is largely associated with literature and poetry including the writings of Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, and Rosa Grey, BAM was a broad movement that included a great deal of theater and visual arts. One strong pole was in Harlem, the other was on the south side of Chicago with groups like AFRICOBRA. Publishing was important to the movement; in Chicago, important institutions included Negro Digest/Black World, part of the Johnson Publishing empire, and Third World Press, founded by poet Haki Madhubuti.
While the Civil Rights Movement (see below) against legal segregation laws was committed to desegregation and non-violence, some tendencies of the movement questioned the usefulness of that framework. These mostly African-American activists started to articulate more militant approaches in 1966 with the transition of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, a key early civil rights formation for young people) from a racially integrated group to one that made calls for “Black Power” and for white people to leave the organization and work within white communities to fight racism and for issues impacting those groups. Earlier versions of these concepts could be seen in the writings of W.E.B. Dubois and C.L.R. James, as well as the early ’60s organizing of Robert F. Williams’ Black Armed Guard in North Carolina. Williams’ writings such as “Negroes with Guns” and Malcolm X’s call to use “any means necessary” had a strong influence on groups ranging from SNCC, to the prisoner George Jackson’s Black Guerrilla Family, and most famously on the 1966 formation of the Black Panther Party (BPP). The BPP would greatly elaborate on the written and embodied theories of Black Power as they expanded from one chapter in Oakland, CA to at least 30 chapters with 5,000 members at its height in 1969.
Other groups such as the Black Liberation Army continued militant versions of this work into the early 1980s and the theories had influence on practices such as Black Anarchism, African Internationalism, pan-Africanism, Black nationalism, and Black supremacy. The work associated with Black Power also had huge influences on many segments of the New Left (see below), especially on Asian-American activists like I Wor Kuen, Latino activists such as the Brown Berets and Young Lords, as well as on many segments of the mostly-white groups which emerged out of the demise of the student movement such as the Weather Underground and many groups associated with the New Communist Movement (see below). The Black Arts Movement (see above) was considered to be cultural wing of Black Power. Many active proponents of Black Power can now be found organizing in prison and political prisoner related efforts because of the significant number of individuals from various Black Power organizations who ended up incarcerated as a result of their work and actions.
This term is largely associated with the social movement for equal rights and end to legal racial segregation (known as Jim Crow Laws) for African Americans in the southern U.S.; it also applies to work that was done in the north. In addition, it has generally been used to describe any variety of civil rights work done by or on behalf of a politically and socially marginalized group of people, especially between the years 1960-1980. In this respect it relates to the concept of Human Rights as well as social movements which originate in the collective identification of a people group as requiring distinct political rights or forms of struggle (this has been called Identity Politics, but also see New Social Movements definition below for more information).
The Civil Rights Movement, as it is popularly understood in the U.S., lasted from around 1954 until 1968. As with any complex social movement, the origins and endings are not clear cut – but they are often associated with the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas case which in 1955 led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to desegregate public schools which has previously been segregated by racial groups. Other significant events include the 1963 march on Washington DC planned by Bayard Rustin and A. Phillip Randolph; the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964; the Montgomery Bus Boycott; the campaign to desegregate a high school in Little Rock Arkansas; a number of sit-ins in public spaces and private spaces which were segregated; the Freedom Rides on southern bus lines which were effected by laws preventing racially integrated buses from crossing State lines; voter registration drives which resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965; Martin Luther King Jr.’s push to build on the successes of southern organizing by moving to northern cities to fight for equal housing and other economic justice issues (most significantly, there was the 1966 Freedom Summer campaign in Chicago).
The movement is seen as “ending” following the end to Jim Crow segregation laws in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting rights act, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act—as well as in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968 (see April ’68 above). These later years also saw a shift of some activists into the official political and business class, while others became more militant in their struggles for economic justice and in some cases moving into the Black Power work associated with the late 1960s (see above).
Feminists associated with “second wave feminism” or “women’s liberation” are credited with the invention of consciousness raising (or C.R.) as a process and practice. The practice typically involved a small group of people (usually women-only as a rule) openly discussing their opinions, experiences and feelings—though the methodology was not envisioned as a strict process. The approach could be more broadly thought of as the process through which anyone (typically with the help of others) arrives at a political consciousness, which allows them to understand how power is organized. The feminist version of this concept was widely circulated in 1968 National Women’s Liberation Conference, which was held in Chicago. The concept has resonance with other calls for creating consciousness associated with the counterculture (see below) and other Leftist (see below) political thought organizing which political or class consciousness as a prerequisite to revolution (or even more simply, as a prerequisite to just getting started on getting organized towards whatever goals were set forth). C.R. has developed an association with group therapy that was not initially intended, and many radical and not radical organizations practice some method of discussion and deliberation in groups towards achieving greater clarity of purpose.
Often associated with the 1950s beatnik culture, the Black musical and artistic subcultures and also the hippies, the counterculture should broadly be understood as the explosive cultural production which occurred simultaneous to the New Social Movements (see below) of the 1960s and ’70s. More generally, we could see it as subculture because of its active seeking of minority style, fashion and aesthetics. What defined the late ’60s period as unique is simply its scale of influence and popularity and its desire to be different from the social norms and culturally perceived “dominant” or “mainstream.” Often, counterculture was and is understood as a dreamy, sex- and drug-fueled hippie drop-out lifestyle that was not politically active. But the “counter” of counterculture also had a complex relationship (involving both affinity and conflict) to a more aggressively oppositional political culture defined by “anti-”: anti-fascist, anti-hegemonic, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-nuclear, anti-GMO, etc.
In the re-telling of narratives of the 1960s, clashes between political activists and counterculture figures are downplayed, and the New Left and even New Social Movements (see below) become subsumed under a narrative of hippie lifestyle counterculture. This lighter narrative is particularly convenient for a capitalistic society which attempts to extract profit from all material, labor, culture and ideas. What would a popular narrative of the 1960s which combined the R-n-B and Rock-N-Roll of Detroit with the League of Revolutionary Black Workers from the same time period in Detroit look like? How would that narrative be more challenging to the status quo than merely sex, drugs and music?
Democratic National Convention (1968):
The DNC of this year is often referred to as the year in which a major political shift occurred where Republicans took control over U.S. politics and began the slow process of rolling back the gains of previous social-democratic reform. The event was marked by division inside the convention over the Vietnam War, and protests outside the convention and the Delegate’s hotels, often called a “police riot” (see riot).
This term is used interchangeably with “Left-wing” and “Leftist,” and the context in which it is used generally clarifies what exactly it means. Historically, the term is associated with the groups and individuals who, during the French Revolution (1789-1799), were opposed to absolute monarchy. The term has since been closely aligned with the political and social thought of early socialism, utopianism, Marxism, anarchism and later with emancipation and liberation struggles throughout the world from the Civil Rights Movements (see above) and New Social Movements (see below) in the U.S. to the anti-colonial and Nationalist (see below) struggles of the Third World (see below). While this frustrates those on the extreme Left or Right, the definition of what is Left is generally determined relative to the dominant politics of the context in which it is used—meaning that in the U.S. we get a definition of Left which is closely linked to the socially liberal views of the Democratic Party (as opposed to the socially conservative views of the Republican Party). This relativist dynamic produces problems for most groups and individuals interested in articulating their visions and aspirations, especially those with goals that are radically different than that of the dominant ideology of their context.
The distinction between the words “emancipation,” “freedom,” “autonomy,” “sovereignty,” and “liberation” are often difficult to decipher because of their misuse as interchangeable objectives. In brief, the term Liberation has its most significant origins in the French Revolution (see The Left above) – which had as one of its slogans “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” In the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (France, 1789), the definition of liberty was “Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.” The French Revolution has become a historical sign-post which is referenced consistently by Leftist movements from the nineteenth century forward—many of the concepts and terms from that period still inform the rhetoric of today’s social and political movements. While its early usage clearly relates to the individual, as history has evolved the application has been broadened. Most of the anti-colonial struggles of the 1950s and 1960s were taking on European powers, and often they were taking on the French who had established strongholds in most corners of the earth from southeast Asia, to North and West Africa and the Caribbean. This means that many of the anti-colonial struggles were either French speaking colonies themselves, or were invested in using terms that translated well into French in order to produce international solidarity. This is one possible explanation for the adoption of the word “liberation” in so many of these struggles, as it is a French word. Given the historical significance of these struggles, and the wide circulation of revolutionary writings and thought and from Algeria, Guinea and Vietnam (all former French colonies)—it is not surprising that a French term became so widely used by the New Left of the 1960s. While the term was originally used by those who sought to free the French from the monarchy at the end of the eighteenth century, “liberation” was picked up as the word-of-choice to describe attempts at breaking chains of colonialism as well as sexual, gender and racial oppression in the 1960s.
While the term is historically linked to a self-identified “People” identifying as a nation and creating a nation-State, the term is also used more broadly to articulate calls for self-determination (see below) and liberation (see above) for people groups who have no intention to (or capacity for) creating a State. While nations, tribes and other collectives have existed throughout human life, the pursuit of the State form by nationalists is a modern invention which has changed the world’s political map continuously and constantly since the late eighteenth century. In the 1960s “Nationalist” was a term that was closely associated with anti-colonial struggles in the third world (see below). Since most States include different nations, they are multinational—which leads to conflict over the priorities and definition of political power. In the U.S. this problem could not be more complex, with indigenous people being politically marginalized following their genocide during the formation of this State and then a continuous mixing of immigrant populations coming to this land, alongside those who were forced here due to legalized and illegal slavery. So when the anti-colonial struggles were occurring in other parts of the world, the oppressed people living on this land took notice and began to articulate their own version of nationalism and/or National Liberation for what was often called “internally colonized” people groups living within the U.S.. The critical debates over different approaches to and definitions of nationalism and “internationalism” were central to the fragmentation of Leftist political organizations in the U.S. in this period.
New Communist Movement:
This term is associated with the Marxist-Leninist, Cuban and Maoist inspired socialist organizations and political parties which came about following the 1969 split of the Students for a Democratic Society. Like other efforts of the New Left (see below), these groups resisted association with the pre-60s groups like the Communist Party and other American and European Leninists, Trotskyists and Stalinists. Early groups included the Revolutionary Union, League of Revolutionary Black Workers, October League, and the Guardian magazine. Groups which still exist today and have their origins in this work include the Revolutionary Communist Party USA, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, and the League of Revolutionaries for a New America.
While the term is often associated with the Students for a Democratic Society (who often used the term in their writings), it has come to mean almost anything that happened or anyone working on the Left from the mid-1960s until the mid 1970s. This can be confusing because there is other work that later was termed the New Social Movements (see below) and the New Communist Movement (see above) which evolved soon after the development of the New Left. Sometimes it is used to understand the broad range of work spanning from Black Power (see above) to Student Free Speech Activism to Women’s and Gay Liberation (see above). It should be understood primarily as activism that was non labor union and as breaking from the monolithic Communist Party USA (which suffered declining membership in the 1950s due to government repression and its commitment to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union despite increasing criticism of the direction of the Soviet Union). The New Left is often credited with opening up more dialogue around the subjective and/or individualistic aspects of politics. It is also associated with a looser and less ideologically rigid form of politics than much of what preceded it, and is linked therefore to “social activism” over a particular political party or a method of organizing people or power. As time moved on, it mainly turned into some combination of political party formation, politics based on identity, or into a de-politicized counterculture associated with lifestyle choices.
New Social Movements:
This term, most commonly used in sociological research on activism and social organization, refers to the broad range of social activism that has occurred since the late 1960s. As opposed to the New Left (see above), which is typically defined in opposition to the history and legacy of the “old Left,” this categorization is mainly defined in response to work that happened after the beginning of de-industrialization of the economy. This brought about, according to the theorists, an increasing focus on immaterial issues like rights associated with minority people groups, cultures and lifestyles as opposed to focusing on “material” economic and labor concerns. This definition is messy and is subject to many critiques, but most thinkers who address activism today would agree that there is a difference in people’s concerns and goals that gradually shifted over the course of the 20th century.
Simply defined as public group violence, the term is often used casually to describe revolts of any kind—even those which produce damage (some might call it violence) to property but not to people, land or animals. In this sense, the term is used politically to describe what some perceive as violence but others perceive as symbolic protest. It was also used to describe the extreme police violence carried out against protesters at the DNC (see above).
This term has a long history of usage in association with a wide variety of politics. Generally it is associated with the right of a people, within a given territory, to define themselves as a people and to determine how the politics that affect their lives should be organized. This broad definition puts the term in close connection to Nationalism (see above). In the period associated with this issue of AREA, the term was used in the context of anti-colonial struggles in the Third World (see below) and the Liberation and New Social Movements (see above) in the U.S. Self-determination always involves the definition of a group, and the argument for their status as requiring new or different politics. Sometimes these groups are popularly understood or determined groups and ethnicities, and sometimes they are identities that are either suppressed or not well-known in dominant society. The term can encompass a diverse range of goals: to build new Nations, new States, to create new micro-economies and self-help communities, to succeed into autonomous territories, and simply to gain new political rights.
At the height of the Cold War, it was common to divide the world into three sections: the First World was the capitalist States of the “west”, the Second World referred to the Communist States which were aligned with the Soviet Union and the Third World referred to the States which were aligned with neither First or Second Worlds and were commonly called “non-aligned” States. Because of their non-aligned status, many of the countries had underdeveloped economies either because of their isolation, or in some cases their status as colonies or former-colonies. This fact led to the eventual adoption of the term “developing countries” to be used in tandem with “developed countries” to characterize the post-communist world map. In the 1960s, as many of these so-called Third World countries were experiencing revolutions and nationalist (see above) anti-colonial struggles for self-determination (see above), the Third World began to take on a particular connotation and was inspiring for activists and Leftists (see above) in the U.S. and the rest of the First World.
For those Leftists who were critical of the Soviet Union and opposed the State-sponsored violence they saw in many wars, their critiques of the imperialism of both the First and Second worlds were channeled into hopefulness about a third option on the world stage. This led many members of the New Left (see above) to adopt politics of “Third World Marxism” (or sometimes Third Worldism) which was inspired by the likes of Cuba, Algeria, Vietnam and other countries which were overthrowing colonial powers and military dictatorships (many of these groups and individuals were also inspired by the Cultural Revolution in China). Some proponents of Third Worldism, such as the New Communist Movement (see above), saw the political struggles and leaders from these countries as the vanguard (see below) of international revolution. Today it is also common to refer to these countries as the Global South.
Typically associated with a formal political party, the term is sometimes used to describe anyone or any group that is leading a revolution or a process towards revolution. The link to the formal political party as a vanguard has its roots in the text what is to be done? written by Vladimir Lenin in 1902. Leon Trotsky also worked on developing a theory of an international vanguard party around the same period. Confusion around the term is often arises between those who self-proclaim their vanguard role as central to the advancing revolution, and those who have the term applied to them by others. Often one of those instances merely precedes the other, and they are interrelated in the perpetuation of one group being identified as a vanguard. It is most often associated with these Lenin-inspired political parties, but it is sometimes used interchangeably with the term “avant-garde” in cultural work that is seen as pushing boundaries. Many leftists in the late 1960s and early ’70s viewed the Black Panther Party as the vanguard of the Movement.