Re: The Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam

Tue, 23 Apr 1996 16:37:27 -0400

I liked alot of what Candi Ellis had to say about civil rights/ Vietnam &
radicalism. But some questions and possible differences (is this a totally
"silly debate"?)... I agree that one clear way the 60s were radicalizing was
in the "wearing down" of Americans' "naivete" so dominant in the 50s. I also
agree on the fundamental connection between civil rights & Vietnam and the
degree to which the latter war and much of its ugliness was facilitated by
racism. However, I don't buy what seems to be a kind of single-factor
radicalism that Candi SEEMS to be implying: that the root source of oppression
in American culture is racism. It's one of the them, but it's not the only
one in my view; capitalism/classism and sexism (and heterosexism) also operate
independently and symbiotically to oppress millions of Americans .
So maybe the question is, what is "radical"? I would say it is analysis,
explanation, theory of forms of oppression that go to the roots of a society,
that are embedded in its institutional structures. I would use the word
"militant" to describe the kind of "tactical radicalism" that often cropped up
in the black power movement. [One reason I'd make the distinction, as I do in
my classes, is that the right and fellow-traveling 60s-bashers like to use the
word radical to describe every bomb-thrower or other advocate of violence
irrespective of their politics; whereas, I like to think the word radical
stands for a very profound substantive politics and is far from mindless.]
Thus, I tend to see Malcolm X as a little more militant in tactic and more
liberal in analysis (e.g., black power voting paralleling other ethnic
block-voting) in his earlier years, and a little less militant and more
radical in his analysis at the end of his life (when he was decrying imperialism
and capitalism in addition to racism, but was more "inclusive" in his struggle).
Also, Martin Luther King was clearly less militant in tactic, but became
increasingly radical in analysis over time (when he saw the link between
racial inequality/poverty and capitalism).
Lastly, I still think the Panthers, for example, contained radical strains
(even if these were obscured by their militant tactics, revolutionary rhetoric
and media hype) --e.g., the view of the inner city ghetto as colonized
territory, the rough embrace of Marxist tenets and 3rd-world anti-imperialism,

Ted Morgan