Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Letters on the Arab-Israeli Dispute in James Forman's "The Making of Black Revolutionaries"

PANW Editor's Note: Dr. James Forman, former Executive
Secretary of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee
(SNCC) and a leading member of the League of Revolutionary
Black Workers (LRBW) and the Black Workers Congress (BWC),
passed away on Monday, January 11, 2005 in Washington, D.C.
at the age of 76.

SNCC was the first civil rights organization to take a
position in opposition to the state of Israel and in support
of the Palestinian struggle for national liberation in 1967.
Below is an article examining the dynamics surrounding the
decision to take a public stand during and after the so-
called six-day war between Israel and Egypt in June of 1967.

The views expressed in the article are those of the author,
Matthew Quest, and do not reflect the opinions of the Pan-
African News Wire.
Letters on the Arab-Israeli Dispute in James Forman's The
Making of Black Revolutionaries

Matthew Quest

James Forman was the Executive Secretary and Director of
International Affairs of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating
Committee (SNCC). Later, he would be a leader of the Black
Manifesto movement, a call for Black reparations from major
U.S. religious institutions, and the Black Workers Congress,
an organization which emerged from the Detroit based League
of Revolutionary Black Workers.

SNCC (1960-1971) was a multiracial organization which used
non-violent direct action to register Black folks to vote in
the Jim Crow South. Members often faced brutal attacks by
fascists and a white supremacist state often synonymous with
one other. Early American television images of their
subjection to police dogs and high powered water hoses are
legendary. If Dr. Martin Luther King was the figurehead of
the southern civil rights movement, SNCC was the shock troops.

Associated with Stokely Carmichael, the banner of “Black
Power” emerged from SNCC in 1966 foreshadowing its
transformation into a Black nationalist organization. In its
early years SNCC would be part of a social democratic
coalition. They would be careful to maintain their autonomy
from both public communist sympathies and dependency on the
Democratic Party.Later it would be among the first Black
liberation organizations of its generation to take public
militant anti-imperialist positions enduring the wrath of the
liberal-labor coalition which used to cautiously embrace
them. [1]

A major historical figure in these struggles, James Forman
wrote an eloquent and provocative autobiography The Making of
Black Revolutionaries (1972, 1997)[2] , both documenting and
providing important strategic analysis.This essay examines
two letters contained in that text, James Forman wrote to
Stanley Wise, a fellow member of SNCC, regarding the
prospects for Palestine solidarity during the 1967 Arab-
Israeli War. These letters predate the publication of Ethel
Minor’s “The Palestine Problem” in the SNCC Newsletter (July
1967) by a month. The latter was the basis of the first major
public controversy around Black Power and Palestine
solidarity, and accusations that the group was marred by
racism and anti-Jewish bigotry. Minor’s article was not meant
to be a public position by SNCC but an internal document for
discussion. Exposed to public light without SNCC’s consent in
a preemptive strike, and never repudiated, it in effect
became the SNCC position. Nevertheless, whatever its
shortcomings, its explicit pro-Palestine character created a
whirlwind of disputes and condemnations, many which Forman’s
letters anticipated.

It is beyond the scope of this inquiry to make comprehensive
claims about SNCC’s politics on Palestine as a whole, which
would have to be a product of more extensive research. The
type of tactical questions Forman asks in his letters to Wise
about SNCC’s capacity to develop and defend a Palestine
solidarity position are still of much relevance for
contemporary activists. This essay highlights those
considerations. But first, it’s worth reflecting on the Minor
article more closely.

Ethel Minor was a close associate of Stokely Carmichael in
SNCC, leading a study group on Israel/Palestine in which he
participated. Formerly, she was a colleague of Malcolm X when
he was in the Nation of Islam and later in the Organization
of Afro-American Unity. She was known to be friends with many
Palestinians from college. Carmichael credits Minor with
helping to initiate his “long time disciplined study of
Zionism.”[3] Her article “The Palestine Problem” was
subtitled “Test Your Knowledge” and listed thirty
two “documented facts” aimed at giving a brief history of the
state of Israel from its inauguration to the 1967 Arab-
Israeli War. Minor’s article, meant for discussion, was
attributed to SNCC as a whole by Newsweek.

Among other questions, SNCC asked the readers whether they

That the US Government has constantly supported Israel and
Zionism by sending military and financial aid to this illegal
state ever since it was forced upon the Arabs in 1948? ‘That
the Zioinist terror gangs (Haganah, Irgun, and Stern gangs)
deliberately slaughtered and mutilated women, children and
men, thereby causing the unarmed Arabs to panic, flee, and
leave their homes in the hands of the Zionist-Israeli
forces? ‘That the famous European Jews, the Rothschilds, who
have long controlled the wealth of many European nations,
were involved in the original conspiracy to create the ‘State
of Israel’ and are still among Israel’s chief supporters?
That the Rothschilds also control much of Africa’s mineral
wealth?’ [4]

This article was accompanied by photographs of members of pre-
1948 Zionist terrorist groups, as well as Arab civilians
killed en masse by Israeli soldiers in 1956. These pictures
were accompanied by a caption which noted: “This is the Gaza
Strip, Palestine, not Dachau, Germany.” Another cartoon image
can be seen of a hand with a six pointed star and a dollar
sign on it, holding a hangman’s rope around the necks of
Gamal Abdul Nasser, late president of Egypt, and Muhammad
Ali, former black heavy weight boxing champion. An arm
labeled “Third World Movements” is poised to cut the rope.

Ralph Featherstone, publicity director for SNCC at that time,
in response to media condemnation that SNCC was anti-Semitic,
wished to clarify that the organization was not against Jews
as a race, but limited its opposition to Zionism and the
State of Israel. Yet Featherstone also felt the need at this
same time to defend an awkward analogy about Zionism in the
Middle East and its similarity or relation to Jewish
shopkeepers’ exploitation of African American urban

Now, merely in this brief synopsis of Ethel Minor’s “The
Palestine Problem,” and the images and ideas associated with
it, we see a mixture of radical anti-colonial ideas, sympathy
for populist Third World rulers such as Gamal Abdul Nasser,
and African Americans which identified with them, such as the
boxer Muhammad Ali. We also see an unpolished and unexplained
connection of some of the most brutal founders of the
colonial state of Israel with Hitler’s Nazi Germany. [7]
Continuing on what most would see at best as an irresponsible
slide toward an implied embrace of fascist myths, the Minor
article suggests there are inherent Jewish ethnic
characteristics. These would be equivalent to the exploitive
behavior of capitalists and colonizers, whether by the
Zionist state of Israel, the Rothschilds (who were said to
own much of the wealth of Europe and Africa), or the small
Jewish American shopkeeper. Thus whatever actual anti-
capitalist content is suggested within the article’s anti-
colonialism, it was ill-defined, smeared, injured, and could
be called into question.[8] Were capitalist and imperial
relations being objected to in principle? Or was it their
racial origin and nature? The emphasis on who owned the
wealth in African and African American communities suggests
it was primarily the latter.[9]

My intention in this article is not to call into question
SNCC’s internationalism in regard to Palestine solidarity.
Rather, through examination of James Forman’s letters to
Stanley Wise shortly before the debacle around the article by
Ethel Minor, I wish to illustrate the dangers and
considerations for a group seeking to become a Palestine
solidarity organization in the United States. Whatever the
shortcomings of Minor’s “The Palestine Problem,” formulated
to stimulate internal discussion, as per Forman’s earlier
letters, it would have provoked exactly the kind of
discussion that was needed in SNCC.

The summer of 1967 was distinguished by the Black liberation
struggle in the U.S.being noticed by the entire world. Fierce
rebellions in Newark, Detroit, and fifty-five other cities
marked the decline in emphasis of the southern civil rights
movement. Many SNCC activists were going abroad to many parts
of Africa, Latin America, and Asia to forge international
solidarity as recognized freedom fighters. International
support for Black liberation in America compelled those, who
had not yet considered it, to ask what was the African
American relationship to anti-colonial struggles abroad?
Before leaving for Tanzania and Zambia, James Forman wrote
the first of two letters under discussion as a prelude to
encouraging and preparing SNCC to take a position on the 1967
Arab-Israeli War in the Middle East.

In Forman’s first letter to Stanley Wise (June 7, 1967) he
argues SNCC should patiently formulate their position on
Israel/Palestine because the Arab-Israeli War “will not be a
short war. It already has been a long protracted struggle and
it will continue to be one.” SNCC should consider that there
is a large public opinion favorable to the Israelis. Many
Jewish community organizations who previously have been
sympathetic and in some ways sponsored the civil rights
movement constantly lobbied for U.S. support of Israel.
Forman noted that the liberal-labor leadership circle of the
movement, which was more conservative than SNCC, including
African American leaders A. Phillip Randolph and Dr. Martin
Luther King, was openly supportive of Israel. SNCC would need
to be prepared to be attacked in the media.

At the same time, Forman felt awareness of the Arab-Israeli
conflict would heighten the class struggle in the African
American community. The “gut reaction” among most SNCC
members would be against Israel and on the side of the Arabs
reflecting a growing awareness by African Americans of
the “semi-colonial” nature of racism in their own country.
But Forman told Wise, members and particularly those in
leadership positions, should not take these instincts for
granted. "Study of the historical development and
contemporary economic policies of Israel” was very necessary.
Forman explains:

Actually Israel represents an extension of United States
foreign policy as well as an attempt by Zionists to create a
homeland for Jews…the implications…for us, it seems, is not
to fall party to a reactionary position that even the Syrians
and Egyptians don’t articulate: namely, a hatred for the
people of Israel. Rather, they detest what Israel represents—
an extension of imperialism and a violation of territory of
the Arabs, to put it mildly. [10]

After making this point, and emphasizing SNCC must stop
putting off developing an autonomous financial base in the
Black community, Forman detailed different scenarios he
anticipated could occur as a result of SNCC taking a stand on
Israel. He believed like their stance against the war in
Vietnam, “the reaction would be fantastic against us.”

Manning Marable has noted that SNCC was a non-ideological
vanguard organization which “talked the talk and walked the
walk” in their commitment and risk taking, organizing
everyday people, such as sharecropper Fannie Lou Hamer, to be
their own leaders.[11] The organization’s unquestionable
historical integrity obscures the group’s inconsistency of
membership requirements and political education.
Acknowledging this is important, not to challenge SNCC’s
historical legacy, but in fact to appreciate the
inconsistencies in less heralded social movement
organizations today, and the real lack of clarity committed
folks have even as they strive to take up difficult positions
and tasks.

James Forman’s scenario questions included possible reactions
from inside and outside SNCC:

A. Why was it necessary for SNCC to issue a statement? What
does this statement do for the people that we are organizing?
Why did we do this when the issue; was and remains touchy in
this country?

B.SNCC is wrong. Did not the Jews help SNCC in Civil Rights?
Is this not a minority issue and SNCC should support
minorities in this country? How could SNCC dare to be so
inhumane as to not recognize the rights of the people of

C. This is not any of our business period.

D. SNCC must be isolated further and it must be destroyed and
never forget that it came out in favor of the Arabs (assuming
we do that). [12]

It’s quite illuminating that Forman’s sober assessment of one
of the most courageous radical civil rights organizations
with a mass following was that it had membership who feared
being destroyed. It was not clear at all what an outlook of
international solidarity with non-African people would do for
community organizing among everyday Black folks. “Touchy”
issues, seen not immediately relevant to Black folks, would
not be seen as SNCC business by at least some members. Others
might choose to equate solidarity with Jews as synonymous
with support for the state of Israel. These contradictions
all seem contemporary, if paradoxical, for organizations
explicitly dedicated to Palestine solidarity.But they also
inform why many ethnic and multiracial, religious and secular
organizations do not identify with this cause today. Many
ask: “What would be the benefit to us?”

Clearly from this letter, James Forman, is trying to get SNCC
to turn the corner and be a consistent anti-imperialist
organization. A political organization which is self-
interested in terms of reform, or gains for one narrowly
defined community, cannot maintain such a position. Forman
was not personally sure that SNCC could decide to take “a Pro
Arab position,” yet “increasing horrified at the prospects
for blacks in this country.” Forman explained:

I am also absolutely convinced that we can go nowhere in the
future in terms of programming if we do not accentuate a
class analysis of the national and international scene. We
cannot, for instance, just explain glibly the events in the
Middle East as a struggle of Blacks against whites when the
actors themselves have a different viewpoint. That is not to
say we should not speak of racism for racism is involved in
the Middle East crisis. But it is a serious error to even
think one can eliminate racism without dealing with the
fundamental cause of exploitation, the unequal distribution
of wealth throughout the world, and the desire for those who
have control of the wealth to keep it. [13]

Forman was coming to the conclusion that SNCC, to evolve
radically further, would have to declare itself a socialist
organization to have meaningful international relations. He
was charged with facilitating this responsibility, and to
have a proper method in evaluating people and struggles. This
would bring future controversy but the responsibility of
radical commitments dictated that SNCC rise to the challenge.

"Dear Brother Stanley" begins the second letter to Wise
written a day later. Forman is now on a diplomatic trip to
visit with an ambassador from the West African nation of
Guinea. Whether they are meeting this ambassador in Tanzania
or Zambia is not clear. What is obvious is the following:
Forman observes Floyd McKissick and Lincoln Lynch, two
leaders of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), another non-
violent direct action civil rights organization of that era
that would soon make the turn from multi-racialism to Black
nationalism, making excuses to the ambassador as to why they
do not publicly support the Palestinian cause. They believe
it would rip their organization apart both through inflaming
internal divisions on the matter and through public scrutiny.
This is the exact crisis that SNCC soon faces.

Interestingly Forman shows both sympathy and disdain for
CORE’s position. Clearly he thinks they should be more
uncompromising. But citing the ideas of Tanzania’s Julius
Nyerere, Forman imagines CORE’s position as equivalent to a
moderate African nation state such as Zambia, which must
compromise at times to attain independence from colonialism.
It is clear in this allusion, and in Forman’s satisfaction at
establishing contacts with many populist African and Arab
ruling elites based at the U.N. as similar to a “people to
people” foreign policy, that he equates the leaders of
certain Third World nation-states as anti-imperialist forces.
[14] Forman writing to Stanley Wise explains:

Frankly, I have not changed my position on the Middle East
crisis since I last wrote. A public stand ought not to come
before there is a special meeting and education of the staff.
I would hate for someone in Alabama to read about the
position of the Central Committee and [have] no education on
the question. Secondly, I am worried about SNCC’s ability to
withstand the external pressures.I know we would almost be
united internally, but the external pressures would be
fantastic, especially in New York. Thirdly, the situation is
very muddy in the Middle East and I think we should give some
time to see what is going to happen. One has to be concerned
about the wording of any position, for that is a very
delicate question given the nature of the government of some
countries. [15]

Under the pressure of realizing the need for public
accountability for taking any position on Israel/Palestine,
not only with Zionists but rank and file African Americans,
James Forman suggests mass and internal organizational
education is important. He argues any stand SNCC takes must
be worded delicately “given the nature of the government of
some countries” implying the possibilities of American state
repression and the desire to unite with regimes imagined as
progressive abroad.

Palestine solidarity activists can learn much from some of
the experiences of SNCC as detailed briefly by James Forman.
Many Palestine solidarity coalitions come together with less
discipline or commitment than did SNCC, who were prepared in
many respects to define the struggle for democracy, and
opposition to white supremacy, as necessarily breaking unjust
laws and confronting the American state. Nevertheless, there
are few understood commonalities with the experience of this
heralded movement organization and Palestine solidarity

SNCC’s political philosophy was remarkably undefined like
that of many Palestine solidarity activists today. Activists’
visions became more concrete from unexpected confrontations,
difficult to imagine when beginning such work. Opposition to
empire is not a mere slogan, teach in, or charity event. It
is a political campaign against an opponent that will strike
back. Attacks in the media need not be a crisis. If one
prepares they are opportunities for a clear statement of
principles and demonstration of the capacity for action.

Many Palestine solidarity activists are primarily concerned
with securing their own civil and human rights in their own
countries under the logic of ethnic competition, capitalism
and the state. These can account for some of the shortcomings
of SNCC’s perspective. For those with integrity, it takes the
experience of struggling under this rubric to find out that
freedom cannot be secured in this way. The most insightful
freedom fighters in SNCC came to this conclusion.

Palestine solidarity is often conceived as something which
should not offend outsiders and not cause existing community
and cultural organizations to implode. But if they are not
built for Palestine solidarity how can this not be an
eventuality? Consequently, the Palestine solidarity movement
thus far has been unsustainable under pressures, often
unintentionally provoked, by those who wish to avoid conflict
with Zionists and the American state.

Many Palestine solidarity activists, as did most SNCC
activists, do not see a clear distinction between liberal and
revolutionary ideas, nor opposition to empire as a universal
principle. Consequently, they are caught off guard when
Zionists, especially liberal ones, seize what should be their
platform. That is the task in a campaign of defining to the
public what they believe are the principles of democracy and
anti-racism and who and what institutions constitute their

Ethel Minor’s discussion piece on the Palestine problem
stressing the ethnic character of certain capitalists, Ralph
Featherstone’s equation of Zionist colonialism with Jewish
small business owners in predominantly Black American
communities, and James Forman’s alliance making with newly
independent governments who were willing, despite populist
speeches to subordinate their own working classes to the
logic of international capital, suggests something crucial.
SNCC was unable to consistently apply their vision of direct
democracy as a principle to guide their global politics.
Having a just reputation for facilitating direct democratic
processes in community meetings, encouraging working class
folks on the local level not to be dependent on aspiring
representatives from above, SNCC still at times fell prey to
the logic of capitalism and state power.

Democracy and anti-racism as principles must be defined in
any Palestine solidarity campaign as the negation of all
existing and aspiring states and ruling classes if it is not
to fall prey to accusations that Israel is the focal point of
special unprincipled venom. It is difficult to accomplish
this task. Anti-imperialist solidarity for most activists,
locally and globally, is an attitude of fellowship
subordinated to defense of our individual, or our ethnic
group’s aspiring representatives’ ability to seize power and
patronage for survival under the terms of oppressive systems.

Israel, Zionist Jews claim more or less fairly, would appear
to be justifiably doing the same thing as other states.
Racial and imperial oppression, capitalist and class
relations, cannot be discovered and objected to merely in one
corner of the globe. SNCC was one step further on the road to
revolution by grappling with what it meant to consolidate a
consistent internationalist position. This is a contemporary
task for us all.


[1] The standard work on SNCC is Clayborne Carson’s In
Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s.
Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1995. Two
other valuable general works on SNCC to consider are the
following. From the pre-Black Power era, Howard Zinn’s SNCC:
the New Abolitionists. Boston: Beacon Press, 1965. Discussing
SNCC in the context of a general survey of the Black Power
Movement is Robert L. Allen’s Black Awakening in Capitalist
America. Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 1990.

[2] James Forman. The Making of Black Revolutionaries.
Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995.

[3] Carson, 267. See also Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture).
With E. Michael Thelwell. Ready For Revolution: The Life and
Times of Stokley Carmichael. New York: Scribner, 2003. The
late Carmichael/Ture extensively covers his controversial
views on Palestine on pages 557-563. He avoids naming Ethel
Minor by name whom he terms only as a “courageous activist
sister.” He believed her document to be “entirely accurate.”
Her name is mentioned elsewhere in the book but is clearly
marked in the historical record in James Forman’s The Making
of Black Revolutionaries (1972, 1995).

[4] “SNCC and the Jews.” Newsweek, August 28, 1967. 22. Cited
in; Louis Young. “American Blacks and the Arab-Israeli
Conflict.” Journal of Palestine Studies. 2.1 (1972): 70-85.

[5] Young, 77. Carson, 267-269. The content of the Minor
document is also summarized in Robert Weisbord and Richard
Kazarian Jr.’s Israel in the Black American Perspective.
Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1985. 33-36. And in;
Melani McAlister. Epic Encounters: Culture, Media and U.S.
Interests in the Middle East, 1945-2000. Berkeley,
California: University of California Press, 2001. 84-124.

[6] Carson. The analogy of Jewish shopkeepers in African
American urban communities to Zionists in the Middle East I
believe is problematic because it is consistent with a
critique of these communities as “neo-colonies,” a term Kwame
Nkrumah applied to post-colonial Africa. The theory of neo-
colonialism laments the lack of sovereignty of the native
state and ruling class in relation to outside racist and
corporate elements. This seemingly anti-capitalist and anti-
racist analysis obscures that non-native shopkeepers are
insulting simply because petty capitalist exploitation should
be organized by nationalist business owners—thereby negating
whatever injuries were thought to exist previously. While I
see no need for a revolutionary class struggle or anti-racist
vision to prioritize attacking small businesses, national
liberation at its best is not a project which prioritizes
liberating the middle classes. Further Zionism in the Middle
East is not maintained primarily by a conspiracy of Jewish
capitalists, but by the U.S. state and ruling class of
varying religions and ethnicities.

Featherstone was later killed with William “Che” Payne in
March of 1970 in Bel, Maryland. A bomb exploded in their car
rendering their bodies unrecognizable. They were in Maryland
to do solidarity work for H. Rap Brown (now Imam Jamil
Abudllah Amin, and again a political prisoner) who was framed
up at that time for inciting a riot while giving a speech in
Cambridge, Maryland. It was believed these were
assassinations associated with the FBI’s COINTELPRO program
to disrupt domestic radical organizations. Forman, 542;
Carson, 297

[7] “Zionism=Nazism” is often a slogan used to this day by
some Palestine solidarity activists. Seen as extreme and
irresponsible, a relationship can in fact be documented but
is not often explained clearly by activists who use this
analogy. For a discussion of the politics of Zionist terror
gangs and their fascist and Nazi connections see Lenni
Brenner’s Zionism in the Age of Dictators. Westport,
Connecticut: Lawrence Hill, 1983.

[8] Minor’s article suggests at least some influence from her
experience in the Nation of Islam (NOI). The NOI’s record
opposing imperialism is rather a mixed one. If it can be said
to have been an anti-colonial organization most certainly it
was never anti-capitalist. The NOI throughout its history has
promoted white supremacist manufactured ideas about Jews as
good coin such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zionand
Henry Ford’s The International Jew. This is not to say this
was Minor’s intention in this article but rather to take note
of previous influences on her ideas. The emphasis on the
Rothschild family is a particular eyesore, not because of
their reprehensible capitalist activities (which many
nationalists do not oppose in principle), but rather their
supposed Jewish character. Nevertheless, it must be said The
NOI, especially under Malcolm X’s leadership, was certainly a
radicalizing influence on SNCC toward its evolving Black
nationalist and internationalist orientation.

[9] The question that must be raised is not one focusing
solely on ownership which is part of any anti-colonial
struggle, but also on the social relationships that entails
that ownership. To replicate the social relations in
capitalist property relationships negates the anti-capitalist
content of any movement. Hence the critique of Jewish
ownership of African resources can be questioned for its anti-
capitalist merits because on what basis is it anti-
capitalist? If indigenous ruling classes appropriate
resources and rule with capitalist relations then it cannot
be supported just because of the fact that they are people of
color. The same standards of anti-capitalism and democracy
must be applied to all societies or else the possibility
exists that the abilities of people of color in creating an
autonomous anti-capitalist society may be degraded. The
alternative is a world based on direct democratic control of
mines, factories, schools, and neighborhoods with social
relations, whether titled nationalist, religious, or
revolutionary, that entail such dynamics as will solve the
fundamental question of self-management in Palestine, Africa,
and throughout the world.

[10] Forman, 493. The “attitude of Egypt and Syria” referred
to is that of the short lived United Arab Republic federation
led by Gamal Abdel Nasser.

[11] South End Press. “A Humane Society Is Possible Through
Struggle: An Interview with Manning Marable”

[12] Forman, 494.

[13] Ibid, 494.

[14] A critique of American financial and military dominance
in the world by a peripheral nation-state’s leader can not
with historical hindsight be termed anti-imperialism. Rather
it is obligatory “democratic” rhetoric for subordinating
these nations to the logic of the market by uniting its
working and ruling classes. Observers of the left wing of
capital, the Democratic Party in the USA, can see a similar
analogy in the obviously empty concerns with opposing certain
policies of warfare, but not whether America should be an
empire at all, through other channels such as the U.N. and
World Bank.

[15] Forman, 496.

1 comment:

Pan-African News Wire said...

The Political Thought of James Forman

Edited by the Staff of Black Star Publishing in Detroit

In January, 1969, James Forman published Sammy Younge, Jr., a biography of a young black man who was killed in Tuskeege, Alabama on January 3, 1966. In order to write that book he interviewed many people, including the mother of Sammy Younge.

Applying the same technique of tape recording interviews, Forman went to Martinique and interviewed the family of Frantz Fanon. While there he also made an extensive study of the social and political realities of Martinique in order to better understand the early formation of Frantz Fanon.

The “Ten Year Plan” is a letter to two friends Donald and Flora Stone describing the emotions he felt as he interviewed the mother of Frantz Fanon, comparing the life of Sammy Younge Jr., to that of Frantz Fanon.

Forman takes the occasion in this letter to review his organization life for the past ten years and to conclude that all efforts in the seventies must be directed to the organizations of black workers, the vanguard of the revolutionary struggle in the United States.

Forman’s Diary

Sunday, December 21, 1969

2:30 P.M.


Today is Sunday in Fort-De-France. We are living in the center of town and all is quiet. Today is the one day that the workers have for rest, a respite from the grueling pace of day to day living in the Antilles. The heat and the humidity are sometimes formidable, but the courage and endurance of my ancestors swells up in me and gives the fortitude to keep on pushing, trying to learn the Martiniquian reality, its history and contemporary status.

This is just one aspect of the work I am trying to do here, for as you know I have long been working on the biography of Fanon. The other two aspects is to interview people who knew Fanon and discuss his thought with some important thinkers of Martinique.

Last night I interviewed his mother who is seventy eight years old. She is still very strong and healthy although her memory is fading. This is to be expected. Few of us will live as long as Dr. W.E.B. DuBois and fewer still have the power of retention that he had at ninety years old should it be our fortune to live that long. As for me, my dear brother and sister, I am not in the least contemplating living that long and I am happy for each year that I am alive.

I have lived so close to death for so long that I have learned that each year alive in the type of work that we do is a miracle unto itself. But my interview with Mrs. Fanon impressed once again upon me the absolute need for historical documentation, and record keeping. Of course I have just finished reading Dr. DuBois’s autobiography written at the age of ninety and that too impressed the same result upon my consciousness.

Sammy Younge & Frantz Fanon

Mrs. Fanon stated that she had a package of letters that she had been keeping from the time her son went into the army until his death. She wrapped them in a package and gave them to another one of her sons, Felix, who seems to have misplaced them. A storehouse of information has been lost, information that would have revealed, perhaps, Frantz Fanon’s attitude about the second world war in which he participated as a fighting soldier. He was wounded three times in that war and one bullet was quite close to his heart. It was impossible, therefore, to dislodge. It stayed with him until his death, Lukemia is unknown in its origin and there is yet no cure. Perhaps that bullet and the wounds he received might have been a cause.

Our interview was conducted in her dining room around the table. It lasted for an hour and a half. Her grandchild, Frantz Fanon, the nephew of the great writer and revolutionary helped us to conduct the interview. He will translate at a later date the French of his grandmother. As you know I can speak the language, but not well enough to transcribe tapes. As I recorded her words, a great sense of history swelled up in me, a sense that I was participating in a moment of enormous value, a moment that I wanted to share with you and Flora, with Joyce and Dorie, with all my friends in Atlanta and all my friends around the world.

It was a moment I lived when I interviewed the mother of Sammy Younge, but the moment was different and yet it was the same. It was the same moment for I was talking to the mother of another dead hero, another dead black hero, another man of Africa who had given his life to humanity, another man who had paid the same price as a Che Guevara, as a Patrice Lumumba, as a Malcolm X, as a Charles Mack Parker, as a Herbert Lee, as thousands of our brothers and sisters have paid over the years that we have been separated from our native continent, that glorious land which the Western imperialists are raping and plundering, robbing and destroying, choking and suffocating, exploiting and oppressing, mining its riches and stealing its profits, bribing its leaders and starving its children, propping up South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, and Ian Smith, while trying to eliminate Guinea, Tanzania, Congo Brazzville, Sekou Toure and Julius Nyerere.

It was more than the same moment. It was a different moment, for Mrs. Fanon lived in Martinique while Mrs. Younge lived in Tuskeege, Alabama. Their life experiences were different. One suffered under the hands of the racist Americans while the other suffered under the hands of the French. Mrs. Younge had two children. Mrs. Fanon had seven. Sammy Younge died at home at the hands of racist and is buried in Tuskegee.

Frantz Fanon died far away from Fort-De-France, from Martinique, from an illness that cut short his revolutionary struggle against the racist French who had dominated his life until he took up arms against them. Sammy Younge only wrote a few articles for the school newspaper wailing against the system around Tuskegee, Fanon wrote three major books and articles which are founded in a fourth wailing against the total system of racism and colonialism.

It was more the same moment. Yet, it was a different moment only because the life experiences of Sammy Younge and Frantz Fanon were different, but in their essence it was the same moment, for it was a moment of talking to two mothers, both of whom grieved and cried over their sons as they recalled their memories, both of whom had preserved various papers from the military to show their sons participation in the corrupt armies of their oppressors, both of whom understood their sons belonged to history and who had made a historical contribution to the liberation of man.

Hence, the difference in the life patterns of a Mrs. Younge and a Mrs. Fanon, of both of their sons becomes only a matter of the smallest detail in the broad span of history which the sons and daughters of Africa have written in blood, sweat, slavery, the sugar cane fields of the Antilles, the cotton fields of North America, the heat of a Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Martinique, the chilling cold of Boston, New York, Chicago, and other metropolitan centers of the United States.

It was a moment when I realized once more that all the sons and daughters of Africa have paid a heavy price to build the great capitals of France, England, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, the United States, capitals that flourish now off the backs of all of us who have been dispersed throughout the Western Hemisphere, into the Antilles, North America, from the northern part of Canada to the southern tip of South America.

It was a moment when my insides gripped each other, churned against my stomach, for it was a moment when I had to face once again that the reality of the sons and daughters of Africa is that many of us do not understand our historical relationship to the African continent, do not understand, cannot feel the whip lash of the white bosses over our black mothers and fathers as it sears into their flesh as they swing the machete into the sugar cane or stoop over to grab some cotton from its stalk, the whip lash, searing, bringing forth blood, pain and anguish, muffled groans and loud cries, again, again it comes forth and we do not understand.

We are colonized. Slavery was a thing of yesterday, a passing mirage, an accident of history, an unknown, a forgotten quantity, Je suis francais, the Queen of England rules over me, Belgium gave us independence after Livingstone discovered us, I am clean like my Dutch friends, I am an American.

It was a moment of pain when I realized yet another time that the day is still to come when we will shatter the myth of clinging to the allegiance of our colonizers, when we will no longer yell we are French, English, Belgium, Dutch, American, but assert our African allegiance, our black togetherness our desire for Pan African Socialism, an end to racism, colonialism, capitalism, and imperialism.

And the moment of malignant pain endured, lingered on, spreading throughout my body as a cancer when I realized that those of us who lived under the yoke of colonialism were only half of the African experience. Our brothers and sisters in Africa have forgotten us, the sons and daughters of Africa, their brothers and sisters. They have a flag, a seat in the United Nations, a capital city, a few French, English or American cars, coca-cola, pepsi-cola, Kodak, First National Bank of New York, Chase Manhattan Bank, Firestone, Goodyear, Kaiser Aluminum, Esso, Standard Oil, United Fruit and all the other trapping of neo-colonialism.

The pain endures, it is malignant because our brothers and sisters have not paid attention to the experiences of those of us who have been wrenched from the shores of Africa. They have not learned from the catastrophic, the earth shaking dynamics of African history in which more than one hundred million souls of Africans were dispersed throughout the Western world, killed, beaten, brutalized, enslaved with only a few surviving.

It is not that they have not been told, they have heard many voices crying out at night, wailing at midday, yelling Africa for Africans the world around. They have heard all of this, they know the definitions of racism, colonialism, capitalism and imperialism. They have heard but they do not understand. They too cannot feel the whip lash. Alas! They too have been colonialized. Slavery was a thing of yesterday, a passing mirage, an accident of history, an unknown, a forgotten quantity.

An as Mrs. Fanon speaks of her son, Frantz Fanon, a ray of delicious experiences enters my being like the coolness of rain on a hot tropical day, reminding me of how my grandmother in the heat of a Mississippi day would tickle her toes under the flow of the same cool rain. My face lights up, my heart is less heavy. She smiles as she talks of his concern for others, the same trait that led him to Algeria and that drove him to fight with arms against the French. It is the same moment I experienced with Mrs. Younge who wanted to talk of her son and to tell of his humanity to others.

It was the same moment, two mothers proud of their sons. Yet it was different for Frantz Fanon spoke to the total African experience and Sammy Younge had been murdered when he was young and have lived enough to record his thoughts on all humanity. Frantz Fanon spoke to the African experience in the West Indies and Africa and Sammy Younge spoke to the Black experience in the United States.

But the moment was different only in time and place and circumstances of life of both mothers and sons. But the experience of both sons, Sammy Younge and Frantz Fanon was again the same essence, for both were sons of Africa, proud black men whose voices cried out against racism and exploitation and whose lives were cut short before the world knew what might have been their final contribution to the liberation of man.

Brother Stone and Sister Flora, I have tried to share with you that moment of last night when I began to interview Mrs. Fanon, you who are the second set of grandparents for my son, James Lumumba along with Bobby and Mathew Jones, Donald asked me the last time we met in New York if I would write a piece for the magazine he is going to edit. He asked if I would delineate from my experience certain concepts that might be useful and point to a direction for struggle in the decade of the seventies.

The Black Vanguard & 1970s Repression

I have given much thought to his request. At the time he made it, I told him much of what I had written should be reproduced but that I wouldn’t write anything unless I felt that I had something fresh to say, some new construction of ideas. I suggest you print this letter in its entirely, for it is written not only for you but all of my friends.

I am convinced that the decade of the seventies will be one of serious repression for us, black people in the United States. Although we are black and will suffer the most from repression we must not fail to understand that the racist United States government is going to try to kill all forms of dissent. The trial of the Conspiracy Eight in Chicago is only the latest example of the repression which will come down on those who are white who are struggling to died with the effects of racism and exploitation upon themselves.

In order to deal with this repression we will have to develop new forms of struggle, not the least of which will be a conspiratorial method of fighting the United States. All black people are already a conspiracy against the United States. Since our arrival here we have been treated as if we were permanent conspirators. We will have to adopt our form of struggle to meet the realities of our lives.

More important than the form of struggle or just as important is the question of our ideology with whom we work. For years as you know I have been waging a fight against racism, colonialism, capitalism and against imperialism. I have been vilified throughout the United States for my ideological positions, sometimes by people who were very close to us at one time.

This has not bothered me, for the ideological struggle is one that must be pursued without any mitigations especially if one thinks he has a correct position and I am absolutely convinced without a doubt, without the least shade of doubt at that, that black people in the United States must see their fight and our struggle as one clearly against racism, colonialism, capitalism and imperialism. We must not hedge on that. We must not waver, but we must try to win recruits to our viewpoint.

It is not enough for revolutionary to be against something. He must fight and be willing to die for something. Many years ago I came to the conclusion that only socialism will solve the problem of black people and of all humanity and I will not engage in polemics about the various forms of socialism which might exist. I am talking about the form of socialism which all the wealth of the United States rests with the state for the benefit of all mankind, a form of socialism controlled by the workers, the poor families, and all the other wretched of the American earth.

The type of government I am talking about will have to be created by a ruling party dedicated to socialism and the end of exploitation of man by man. However, in the reality of the United States which suffers from economic exploitation and racism, the vanguard force of revolutionary change will be black people and my definition of black people are all nonwhites, including Indians, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, people of the Orient.

You might call them third world, but I think that is a mistake, for they are black people and suffer from the same essence of racism and exploitation by white America that all the African people suffer from. It would be the mistake of the highest order for those of us who are black and who are from African to fail to consider in our perspective that Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Indians and Orientals are not black. They certainly are not white.

The black vanguard force which is the cutting edge and real dynamism of the revolutionary movement in the United States must not give up its right to leadership of the revolutionary struggle; otherwise there will be no real consciousness of the effects of racism and concrete efforts to change the racist nature of the United States. This point must be clearly understood by all black revolutionaries. This is not a racist position and I do not feel compelled to defend it but I am only delineating its dynamics and interrelationship. This is absolutely necessary for we must know the type of world in which we wish to live.

Naturally a revolution for socialism cannot end racism in the United States overnight once state power has been acquired and won by armed struggle. But racism cannot e ever be eliminated unless one has power to control the means of production. As you know there are some leading personalities in the black movement who think our problem is only one of racism. These people have not yet acquired sufficient understanding of the economics of the world or either their class positions and material rewards resulting from the advocacy of this position makes them unable to understand that we have both a class and a racial fight and that it is not simply a question of race.

Quite often the dynamics of racism in the United States makes it difficult for some black intellectuals to understand the question of class. They are perplexed about what to do about white people. This is a legitimate question and must be understood from the point of view that we have suffered at the hands of white people and it is impossible to ever imagine that there will be white people who will fight imperialism in the United States. The record does not bear out this conclusion and the recent bombings in New York which may have been committed by some whites stands as proof against this argument.

Then, too, it is necessary to realize that our revolution is indeed many years off and it is my contention based upon certain experiences that there are and will be whites who will clearly understand the theoretical implications of the theory of the black vanguard leading the fight for world socialism in the United States. Indeed we will have a material and ideological struggle, but that is all a part of the revolutionary process.

In the final analysis the distribution of power in the United States is yet to be decided an it will not be our generation which will decide that although we have a responsibility to state our position, clearly and without reservation. As you know I do not run from the ideological struggle and my ideas are out there for the world to judge.

Struggle for World Socialism

Brother Stone and Sister Flora, I am in Martinique precisely because I believe that the ideological struggle is most important and that Frantz Fanon has much to say to those of us who are colonized in the United States. More than that, if we do not arm ourselves with sound theoretical concepts we will not survive the severe period of repression which is upon us.

We all know of too many people and leading personalities who have abdicated the struggle inside the United States for various reasons, but one of them comes from not understanding the long term nature of our struggle and a sound theoretical position that our fight is against racism, colonialism, capitalism and imperialism and that world socialism is the only permanent answer to our economic and political exploitation.

Personally, while I believe that ultimately the fight is for world socialism, I am not opposed to short term objectives. For instance, the issue of Pan Africanism is going to hit the stage inside the United States. This will be an advancement over many concepts, but it will not be enough if it does not speak to the economic framework of that Pan Africanism.

For inside Africa today there are many bourgeois nationalists running African governments and exploiting the people in the name of Pan Africanism. We have the right to at least demand that people regress from Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois who in his later years was pleading for Pan African Socialism. I am for Pan African socialism if it means taking all the wealth of Africa away from the imperialists and using it for the disposition of all oppressed people.

Our ideological positions must lead us to the position that it is the poor, the working class among black people who must have power. During the sixties we concentrated too much on the middle class. Most of the gains except the long range political consciousness have resulted in the middle class of the black community entrenching itself further.

Our failure to actively work with black workers is a serious indictment of our movement as well as the abdication of our bases in the rural south. We made a great mistake when we did not understand the long range importance of holding the power we had acquired in the rural south and using those as revolutionary bases which they were.

I cannot stress too much the importance of our working with poor unorganized urban black workers. Many of them will be employed and most of them will be off and on jobs. As you know I willing worked for the Black Panthers because I saw in them an extension of Frantz Fanon’s concept of the lumpen proletariat as being the most revolutionary force in a colonized situation, but since most of the black workers face employment off and on and many are unemployed I think it much better to talk in terms of organizing black workers, but keeping the accent on the youth.

In 1960 I felt that the greatest contradiction inside the United States rested in the deep south where black people were denied voting and public accommodations rights. I felt that a struggle could be waged there which could develop in time into a very revolutionary struggle once the contradictions inside the United States became popular issues. The support we are getting from revolutionaries around the world proves that was a correct decision and analysis. But I must repeat that we made a serious tactical mistake in abandoning those bases of support that we had won through struggle in the deep south.

In 1969 the greatest contradictions are found in the urban ghetto. Black workers are essential to those ghettoes, which really should be called urban black communities. This is not suggest that we must go back into the rural south. We must, but we must concentrate on the urban black communities, especially those cities where black workers are strategically situated near the centers of mass production of the essentials of any industrialized society, steel, coal, automobiles and oil. We must carry with us the dynamism that we took into the deep South, coupled with our analysis of racism, colonialism, capitalism and imperialism.

We must learn from the Black Workers and they must become the leaders of the revolutionary movement. There are some of us who are already and have been working class in our viewpoint with the poorest class of Africans in the United States, the tenant farmer and the sharecropper and the workers of cities in the deep south. Our abdication of leadership and shift to the urban North left a vacuum that is now being exploited by certain middle class elements.

Hence, my own activity in the seventies will concentrate upon waging the ideological struggle and creating bases in urban black communities centered near the essential means of production. I shall try to get people back into the rural South and I shall try to forge new unity between workers, farmers, students and street brothers.

My own ideological thinking has developed tremendously in the last ten years and much of this is due to the writings of Frantz Fanon. As a people we must try to make him and his ideas a popular hero to black people in the United States and the world around.

One may correctly ask what were the weakness and strengths of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. I am in the process of writing my autobiography in which I deal extensively with this question. As you know I have finished one half of it and now I am in the process of writing the second half.

But it is essential to state in this public letter that with all its strength of organizing the rural South and generating a revolutionary thrust around the concept of Black Power, further internationalizing the struggle of black people in the United States, one of the essential weakness was that it kept the poor people, the working class people removed from the center of decision making in its own ranks.

It never made the shift from a cadre organization to a representative mass movement, although there were several opportunities to do that. It is my contention that this is rooted in the class nature of the organizers especially after its frontal assault on the racism and exploitation of the Democratic Party in 1964. The power in the organizing ranks of the cadre shifted from a rural base to an urban middle class orientation and this introduced all the conflicts around power and method of operation.

The problem of the class nature of the organization which I treat extensively in my autobiography is not just a problem isolated to us in the United States. It is the fundamental plague upon the houses of all revolutionary movements in the colonial world, for most of them have been started by the Western educated elite who have failed to understand that any revolutionary movement cannot succeed if the power of that movement is not in the hands of the poor.

The class composition of most of the African governments is middle class or petit bourgeois as well as liberation movements in colonized situations. Until this is changed one will not see much of revolution in colonial territories. Therefore the problems I raise with regard to SNCC have their relevance the world around, I am convinced.

Basically, the class nature of the organization made it impossible to organize street brothers and carry forth the implications of its raising the Black Panther as a symbol of the political process that black people should carry forth. That is why it was left to others who understand the streets of the urban ghettoes or urban black communities to organize the Black Panther Party, although the role of certain members of SNCC in that process cannot be minimized.

Armed with a correct ideology—the fight against racism, colonialism, capitalism, and imperialism and for the world socialism—and rooting all efforts to make sure black workers and poor farmers have power and lead the revolutionary struggle, trying to develop all forms of popular struggle and building a network of unknown revolutionaries, preparing for the long range armed struggle inside the United States and uniting workers, students, farmers, and street brothers into a disciplined, centralized, mass political party or workers organization—there can be no doubt that our struggle will advance in the seventies.

We will be carrying on the work of the late Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, Sammy Younge and all the other sons and daughters who have died from the whip lash of racism, colonialism, capitalism, and imperialism.

In brotherhood

Remember Lumumba

* * * *

“Naturally a revolution for socialism cannot end racism in the United States overnight once state power has been acquired and won by armed struggle. But racism can never be eliminated unless one has the power to control the means of production. As you know, there are some who think our problem is only one of racism. There people have not yet acquired sufficient understanding of the economics of the world, or either there class positions and materials rewards resulting from the advocacy of this position make them unable to understand that we have both a class and a racial fight. It is not simply a question of race.” —James Forman

* * * *

James Forman was born in Chicago in 1928, and grew up in a working-class neighborhood on the city’s South Side. Upon graduation from high school he entered the Air Force, serving four years there. A veteran of the Korean War, he continued his formal education during the fifties.

The emerging Civil Rights struggle in the latter fifties—and the Southern student movement in particular—had a stirring effect upon him. On assignment as a reporter for the Chicago Defender in 1958, Forman traveled to Little Rock, Arkansas, to, gather information concerning the aftermath of the school desegregation crisis. Not content with mere reportage, however, 1960 saw him involved as an activists in Fayette County, Tenn. where he came into contact with the then recently formed Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Forman was elected Executive Secretary of SNCC in 1961, a post which he held until 1966, when he resigned. In 1967, as International Affairs Director of SNCC, Forman traveled extensively throughout the African continent, representing SNCC at the UN International Seminar On Apartheid in Lusaka, Zambia. In winter of the same year he spoke before the Fourth Committee at the UN.

Seeing in the Black Panthers an “extension of Frantz Fanon’s concept of the lumpenproletariat as … mass revolutionary force in a colonized situation,” Forman assumed the role of Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Panthers in February, 1968—a post he resigned the July. From here he began work on the Black Manifesto, 1969. A member of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in Detroit, Forman has recently become Executive Secretary of the International Black Workers’ Congress.

In addition to his daily political activities, Forman is committed to the recording of his experiences on paper—what many other dedicated black revolutionaries in the U.S., unfortunately, have failed to do. A most important work in his political autobiography, The Making Of A Black Revolutionary (Macmillan), to appear in Fall ’71. More than just a personal analysis, this book delves into the essence of the black struggle as it passed through the forties, fifties, and sixties, with great emphasis placed upon the entire SNCC experience. Also in progress is a work centered around the life of Frantz Fanon.

Source: The Political Thought of James Forman. Edited by the Staff of Black Star Publishing. Detroit, Michigan, 1970.