Tuesday, January 17, 2017

South African Liberation Struggles: Toward (Revolutionary?) Democratic Self-Determination — A Bibliography

My latest compilation on South African Liberation Struggles is here.

The images are of two paintings by John Koenakeefe Mohl and are found here.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Charter 77: First published on 6 January 1977

Today, as the 2017 Verso Radical Diary reminds me, is the date of the signing of Charter 77. First, by way of historical backdrop and relevant causal conditions: 

“The sweeping political reforms introduced by [Mikhail] Gorbachev in the late 1980s completely altered the Soviet government’s response to civil resistance both in east-central Europe and in the Soviet Union itself. Far from seeking to crack down with force on non-violent resistance in east-central Europe, Gorbachev tolerated and indeed actively encouraged sweeping political change in the region. Similarly, by the late 1980s, Gorbachev had given unprecedented latitude for the formation of unofficial groups in the Soviet Union that sought to achieve their demands through civil resistance. Even when in 1989 the communist systems in east-central Europe collapsed and when the proliferation of unrest in the Soviet Union began to threaten the Soviet regime’s own existence, Gorbachev declined to use force with the ruthless consistency that would have been needed to re-establish order. Hence, civil resistance, which would have been forcibly suppressed under previous Soviet leaders, contributed to the dissolution of both the [Party-State] communist bloc and the Soviet Union.”—Mark Kramer  

And now a bare bones introduction to Charter 77: 

“Motivated in part by the arrest of members of the psychedelic band Plastic People of the Universe, the text of Charter 77 was prepared in 1976. In December 1976, the first signatures were collected. The charter was published on 6 January 1977, along with the names of the first 242 signatories, which represented various occupations, political viewpoints, and religions. Although Václav Havel, Ludvík Vaculík and Pavel Landovský were detained while trying to bring the charter to the Federal Assembly and the Czechoslovak government and the original document was confiscated, copies circulated as samizdat and on 7 January were published in several western newspapers (including Le Monde, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, The Times and New York Times) and transmitted to Czechoslovakia by Czechoslovak-banned radio broadcasters like Radio Free Europe and Voice of America. 

Charter 77 criticized the government for failing to implement human rights provisions of a number of documents it had signed, including the 1960 Constitution of Czechoslovakia, the Final Act of the 1975 Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Basket III of the Helsinki Accords), and 1966 United Nations covenants on political, civil, economic, and cultural rights. The document also described the signatories as a ‘loose, informal, and open association of people . . . united by the will to strive individually and collectively for respect for human and civil rights in our country and throughout the world.’ It emphasized that Charter 77 is not an organization, has no statutes or permanent organs, and ‘does not form the basis for any oppositional political activity.’ This final stipulation was a careful effort to stay within the bounds of Czechoslovak law, which made organized opposition illegal.” (From the introduction of the Wikipedia entry on Charter 77) 

For an excellent online introduction to the role of Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, please see this post (Part III of a wonderful series) from several years ago, “Helsinki and the Charter 77 Declaration,” by Mark Edwards at the law blog, Concurring Opinions.


Here is a short list of essential reading:  
  • Kramer, Mark, “The Dialectics of Empire: Soviet Leaders and the Challenge of Civil Resistance in East-Central Europe, 1968-91,” in Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash, eds. Civil Resistance and Power Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). [There are several pertinent essays regarding civil resistance in the East-Central European ‘Velvet’ revolutions.] 
  • Skilling, H. Gordon. Czechoslovakia’s Interrupted Revolution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976). 
  • Skilling, H. Gordon. Charter 77 and the Human Rights in Czechoslovakia (London: Allen & Unwin, 1981). 
  • Skilling, J. Gordon. Samizdat and an Independent Society in Central and Eastern Europe (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1989). 
  • Thomas, Daniel C. The Helsinki Effect: International Norms, Human Rights, and the Demise of Communism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001). 
Regarding the second image immediately above: 

On May 29, 1979, StB undertook a major police action against VONS members, subsequently ten of them were arrested and taken into custody. VONS is the Czech acronym for Výbor na obranu nespravedlivě stíhaných (Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Persecuted): 

“The committee was founded on April 27, 1978, by a group of Charter 77 signatories [among whom were Václav Havel and Jan Patočka, the latter having died of a stroke ‘after a long and intense interrogation by the secret police’ before the committee was formed] with the aim of following cases of persons facing various forms of state persecution, from police harassment to unjust prosecution in courts of law. Its members helped individuals facing persecution with obtaining legal representation and acted as mediators in acquiring assistance of a financial or other nature. Observing legal formalities, they addressed their communiqués to the Czechoslovak authorities, calling on them to take steps to rectify injustices perpetrated against individuals in the cases monitored. They also passed reports on the cases monitored to entities and persons abroad, from where this information was reported back to Czechoslovakia via the radio stations Radio Free Europe, Voice of America and the BBC. A number of VONS members were persecuted by the police and justice system for their activities, the most well-known case being the legal process against six of its members in 1979. The vast majority of VONS communiqués were published in the samizdat bulletin Informace o Chartě 77 (Information on Charter 77). The Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Persecuted was also active after November 1989, when it focused on amending the criminal code, calming the stormy situations in the prisons at the time, as well as, for example, on preparing a general amnesty and rehabilitation laws. Members of VONS also made efforts to purge the judiciary, but with minimal success. At their meeting of July 3, 1996, VONS members decided to suspend the activities of the committee for an indefinite period.” 

See too this: “Existentialism, Phenomenology, and Intellectual Responsibility: The Playwright & The Philosopher” 

And: “Socio-Political Conflict Resolution & Nonviolence: A Select Bibliography and Historical Exemplum”

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Vice President-elect Mike Pence pontificates

“The American people want us to start over,” Pence said. “Releasing the power of the free market is the pathway toward expanding access and affordability of health care across the country.”  

This is one of the dumbest f*ckin’ things any national politician has said of late, and that’s a startlingly low standard. First of all, it was not “the American people” as such, but those who voted Republican, and they are not a majority of the American people. Second, you’d have to be the dullest tool in the shed (or succumb to wishful thinking, self-deception, or a state of denial) to think a regressive return to “the power of the free market” is going to be the panacea to our health care system, as Vice President-elect Pence claims. Such a claim is dangerous ideological claptrap that, to the extent it proves capable of motivating policy changes, will be responsible for endangering the health and lives of countless people in this country, apart from its evisceration of any tangible conception of and movement toward “health justice.” 

Recent relevant links courtesy of the Los Angeles Times
“Republicans offer no plan to repeal Obamacare as more party members express concern.
“Republicans call Obamacare a ‘failure.’ These 7 charts show they couldn’t be more wrong.”

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

C.L.R. James (4 January 1901 – 19 May 1989) [revised post from last year]


Today is the birthday of C.L.R. James (4 January 1901 – 19 May 1989), the remarkable Marxist humanist and Afro-Trinidadian socialist, historian, journalist, and essayist. 

Here are two posts from the archives on James: From “Cricketing in Compton” to the “Cricketing Marxist,” and The Marxist Spirituality of C.L.R. James. And here is a fitting celebratory essay by Christian Høgsbjerg on James’ “magisterial work,” The Black Jacobins (1938, second ed., 1963): “CLR James and the Black Jacobins.” 

The following works help illuminate the life and writings of C.L.R. James, the “cricketing Marxist” and “urbane revolutionary.”

  • Buhle, Paul. C.L.R. James: The Artist as Revolutionary. London: Verso, 1988. 
  • Buhle, Paul, ed. C.L.R. James: His Life and Work. London: Allison & Busby, 1986. 
  • Høgsbjerg, Christian and Charles Forsdick, eds. The Black Jacobins Reader. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017.  
  • Renton, Dave. C.L.R. James: Cricket’s Philosopher King. London: Haus, 2007. 
  • Robinson, Cedric J. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. London: Zed Books, 1983. 
  • Rosengarten, Frank. Urbane Revolutionary: C.L.R. James and the Struggle for a New Society. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2008.  
  • Worcester, Kent. C.L.R. James: A Political Biography. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996.

Most of the major works (books only) of C.L.R. James:

  • James, C.L.R. World Revolution, 1917-1936: The Rise and Fall of the Communist International. London: Secker & Warburg, 1937/ New York: Prism Key Press, 2011.  
  • James, C.L.R. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. New York: Random House/Vintage Books, 2nd ed., 1963/1989 (1938).  
  • James, C.L.R. A History of the Pan-African Revolt. Oakland, CA: PM Press, in conjunction with Charles H. Kerr Publishing Co. (Chicago), 2012 (1938).  
  • James, C.L.R. (Noel Ignatiev, ed.) A New Notion: Two Works by C.L.R. James (The Invading Socialist Society and ‘Every Cook Can Govern’). Oakland , CA: PM Press, 2010 (1947 and 1956, respectively).  
  • James, C.L.R. Beyond a Boundary. London: Stanley Paul & Co., 1963/Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 50th anniversary edition, 2013. 
  • James, C.L.R. The Future in the Present. London: Allison & Busby, 1977.  
  • James, C.L.R. Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution. London: Allison & Busby, 1977.  
  • James, C.L.R. Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In. Detroit, MI: Beswick, 2nd ed., 1978/London: Allison & Busby, 1985.  
  • James, C.L.R. Notes on Dialectics: Hegel, Marx, Lenin. London: Allison & Busby, 1980.  
  • James, C.L.R. Spheres of Existence. London: Allison & Busby, 1980.  
  • James, C.L.R. At the Rendezvous of Victory. London: Allison & Busby, 1984.  
  • James, C.L.R. (in collaboration with Raya Dunayevskaya and Grace Lee) State Capitalism and World Revolution. Chicago, IL: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Co., 1986.

Friday, December 23, 2016

A few thoughts on “passive resistance”

“Passive resistance” is an awful term: it is not a true oxymoron in the sense that it might be “surprisingly true,” but rather close to a conceptual and practical contradiction insofar as it is both descriptively and normatively misleading. We need not accept Gandhi’s stark contrast between “principled nonviolence” (i.e., satyāgraha) and what he called “nonviolence of the weak,” that is, “passive resistance,” to see this, for strategic or tactical nonviolence need not denote or imply weakness in either one’s methods or in the character of or power wielded by those who’ve chosen such means and methods from motivations that differ from those intrinsic to the political morality crafted by Gandhi (which does not, in turn, efface the value of a conceptual or moral distinction between principled and strategic nonviolence). There are different ideals and models of nonviolent theory and praxis that reflect different kinds of political motivation and political morality: so, different types of nonviolent resistance, none of which is truly “passive.”

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Blacks on the (Radical) Left: A Select Bibliography

My latest bibliography, Blacks on the (Radical) Left, is here. What follows is the introduction to this list:
This compilation was inspired by a blog post—and the excellent suggestions in the comments appended thereto—of the African American Intellectual History Society by Terrell Jermaine Starr. The original list, which was not intended to be exhaustive, focused on “African Americans and Communism,” while this compilation is—hence the title—broader than what motivated Starr’s list. By “radical Left” is meant those individuals and groups committed to more or less Marxist, Communist (and communist), and/or Socialist moral principles, political ideas and values, and their corresponding methods and means of praxis. I welcome suggestions for possible additions to this list. As with most of my bibliographies, this one has two main constraints: books, in English. Because I have a separate bibliography on the Black Panther Party, I have not included titles that would otherwise be added here, given the Panthers’ “socialist core.” Readers may be interested in a handful of other lists loosely related to this one: (1) Africana and African American Philosophy; (2) After Slavery & Reconstruction: The Black Struggle in the U.S. for Freedom, Equality, and Self-Realization; (3) Pan-Africanism, Black Internationalism, & Black Cosmopolitanism; (4) Marx & Marxism; and (5) Philosophy and Racism
                                                            
                                           

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Ronnie Kasrils: militant activist and intellectual in the struggle against apartheid & member of several post-apartheid South African governments


I had wanted to cross-post this but grounds-maintenance work kept me busy all day and afterwards I was worn out (such things happen when you reach my age). So, belatedly, please see here.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

The History, Theory & Praxis of the (‘old’ and New) Left in the 1960s: A Basic Bibliography.

Below is the introduction to my latest compilation, The History, Theory & Praxis of the (‘old’ and New) Left in the 1960s: A Basic Bibliography.

This bibliography is not exhaustive owing, in part, to three constraints: books, in English, with a largely (thus not exclusively) North American orientation. In addition, this compilation assumes the 1950s spill over into the 1960s and that the cultural ethos and politics of “the Left” in the 1960s, in turn, coherently and often vibrantly persist in one way or another into the 1970s (in other words, our periodization lacks mathematical rigour and so our historical parameter, in spite of the title, can encompass several decades). The works below by avowedly Left or Left-leaning intellectuals (some of which were written prior to or after the ‘60s) are intended to be merely representative and thus indicative of their formative influence during this period. I assume there are rarely good reasons for drawing hard and fast boundaries between a Left worldview or lifeworld and countercultural identities and endeavors. Finally, there is only a smattering of analytical, critical, and biographical titles devoted to these selfsame intellectuals (perhaps less so for the groups, organizations, and movements they were associated with).
 
Bobby Seale, ordered by Judge Hoffman to be bound and gagged during the trial of the Chicago Eight in 1969 (later ‘Seven,’ when Seale’s case was severed from that of the other defendants), as drawn by the “dean of courtroom art and revered artist from CBS news,Howard Brodie.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Marxism (or ‘the Left’), Art & Aesthetics: A Select Bibliography

Here is a link to my latest bibliography: Marxism (or ‘the Left’), Art & Aesthetics.  

“’Stupid people often accuse Marxists of welcoming the intrusion of politics into art,’ John Berger once wrote, with his customary pugilistic elegance. ‘On the contrary, we protest against the intrusion. The intrusion is most marked in times of crisis and great suffering. But it is pointless to deny such times. They must be understood so that they can be ended: art and men will then be freer.’ Presented in this way, art and artists don’t just have a moral interest in political struggle. Anyone who is interested in art has an interest in struggling for a more equal world because equality is a condition for creativity to realize its full potential in our lives. At this point, however, we begin to transcend the question of artists as a professional group. In fact, we begin to see that making the distinction between art in a narrow sense and art in its broad sense is already political, in that it forces us to interrogate the conditions that create this separation, which confines our aspirations for our creative selves to one particular niche career.”—Ben Davis, in his collection of superb essays, 9.5 Theses on Art and Class (Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2013): 181. 


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The USS Kitty Hawk “mutiny” and Vietnam antiwar resistance among sailors (1970-1972)

Friends and family of Kitty Hawk SOS sailors wait at Fleet Landing in San Diego to distribute copies of the ‘Kitty Litter,’ the sailors’ anti-war underground newspaper.

On this date during the Vietnam War in October 1972, there was a “mutiny” or “riot” on the Navy aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk ostensibly led by African American sailors (‘The ship’s complement consisted of 4,483 sailors, aircrew, and Marines, 302 of whom were black.’) Accounts vary as to what precisely precipitated the mutiny (and various conditions contributed to the proximate causes), one stating it began when Marines attempted to disrupt a protest meeting of black sailors. The meeting had been called in response to what occurred when the warship was in Subic Bay, the night before its scheduled departure: 

“…[S]erious fighting erupted at the Subic Bay men’s club, the San Paquito. On the evening of the twelfth, after the first full day of combat in the Tonkin Gulf, the ship’s intelligence investigator exacerbated still smoldering tensions by calling in only black sailors for questioning and possible criminal action related to the brawl at Subic. Outraged at what they considered blatant discrimination, over one hundred blacks gathered for an angry meeting on the mess deck at approximately 8 P.M. The ship’s Marine detachment was summoned to suppress the meeting, and an explosive situation soon developed. Commander Benjamin Cloud, the executive officer and a black man himself, entered the area and attempted to restore calm by ordering the blacks and the Marines to separate ends of the ship. Moments later, however, Captain Marland Townsend, the commanding officer, arrived and issued conflicting orders. As confusion spread, the blacks and the armed Marines encountered each other unexpectedly on the hangar deck, and a bitter clash quickly broke out. The fighting spread rapidly, with bands of blacks and whites marauding throughout the ship’s decks and attacking each other with fists, chains, wrenches, and pipes. [….] Finally, after a 2:30 A.M. meeting in the ship’s forecastle, the fighting subsided. The uprising left forty whites and six blacks injured. Of the twenty-five sailors arrested for the incident, all were black.” (David Cortright) 

Twenty-nine sailors–all but three of them black–eventually were charged with crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and 19 were found guilty of at least one charge. The “mutiny” should be viewed as part of widespread antiwar protests within the US armed forces, in this case, as part of the movement called SOS (Stop Our Ships/Support Our Sailors). H. Bruce Franklin provides the requisite historical context which should preclude us from reducing this incident to solely racial tensions and provocations: 

“In 1970 and 1971, ships had been sporadically forced out of action by outbreaks and even sabotage by crew members. Occasional inconspicuous newspaper articles allowed perceptive members of the general public to get inklings of what was happening to the fleet. An early example was the destroyer Richard B. Anderson, which was kept from sailing to Vietnam for eight weeks when crew members deliberately wrecked an engine. Toward the end of 1971, the sailors’ antiwar activities coalesced into a coherent movement called SOS (Stop Our Ships/Support Our Sailors) that emerged on three of the gigantic aircraft carriers crucial to the Tonkin Gulf Strategy [and later, Operation Linebacker]: the USS Constellation, the USS Coral Sea, and the USS Kitty Hawk. (One early act was a petition by 1,500 crew members of the Constellation demanding that Jane Fonda’s antiwar show be allowed to perform on board.) On these three ships alone that fall, thousands of crew members signed antiwar petitions, published onboard antiwar newspapers, and supported the dozens of crew members who refuse to board for Vietnam duty. 

In March 1972 the aircraft carrier USS Midway received orders to leave San Francisco Bay for Vietnam. A wave of protests and sabotage swept the ship, hitting the press when dissident crewmen deliberately spilled three thousand gallons of oil into the bay. In June the attack carrier USS Ranger was ordered to sail from San Diego to Vietnam. The Naval Investigative Service reported large-scale clandestine movement among the crew and at least twenty acts of physical sabotage, culminating in the destruction of the main reduction gear of an engine; repairs forced a four-and-a-half month delay in the ship’s sailing. In July the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal was prevented from sailing by a major fire deliberately set by crewmen, which caused millions of dollars of damage to the captain’s and admiral’s quarters of the ship. In September and October the crew of the Corral Sea, which had been publishing the antiwar newspaper We Are Everywhere for a year, staged renewed protests against the war, with over a thousand crewmen signing a petition to “Stop Our Ship.” It was forced to return to San Francisco Bay, where crew members held a national press conference and helped organize rallies and other demonstrations. Almost a hundred crew members, including several officers, refused Vietnam service and jumped ship in California and Hawaii. In September crew members of the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga organized their own “Stop It Now” movement, and navy intelligence tried unsuccessfully to break up the SOS movement on the showpiece carrier USS Enterprise, home of the antiwar paper SOS Enterprise Ledger. A bloody September battle between groups of marines on the amphibious landing ship USS Sumter in the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam was not made public until the following January.” 

Franklin proceeds to note the outbreak that took place on the Kitty Hawk — “where organized antiwar activities (including publication of the antiwar paper Kitty Litter) had continued during its eight-month tour off Vietnam” — only to be followed several days later by fighting on the Kitty Hawk’s oiler, the USS Hassayampa. “The Kitty Hawk was forced to retire to San Diego, whence it sailed to San Francisco in early January, where it underwent a ‘six-month refitting job.’ The sailors’ movement had thus removed this major aircraft carrier from the war.” 

That “Black Power” ideology and political praxis was making inroads among African American soldiers in the antiwar movement is evidenced in what is described as the “largest and most significant” of these antiwar protests and rebellions, namely, one that took place aboard the USS Constellation in early November 1972, and “has been aptly described as ‘the first mass mutiny in the history of the U.S. Navy.’” 

“In October, during training operations off the Southern California coast, black crew members formed an organization called the ‘Black Fraction,’ with the aim of protecting minority interests in promotion policies and in the administration of military justice. Throughout October the group held several meetings, including one attended by the ship’s executive officer, where programs were developed to defend blacks subjected to court-martial proceedings and to examine the ship’s records for evidence of discrimination in non-judicial punishment. As the organization grew in strength, the command, on November 1, singled out fifteen leading members of Black Fraction as agitators and ordered that six of them be given immediate less-than-honorable discharges. At approximately the same time, a notice appeared in the ship’s plan of the day announcing that 250 additional men were to be administratively discharged. Fearing that most of these punitive releases would be directed at them and angry at the command’s apparent efforts to suppress their activities, over one hundred sailors, including a number of whites, staged a sit-in at the after mess deck on November 3 and demanded that the ship’s commander, Captain J.D. Ward, personally hear their grievances. The captain refused to acknowledge them, however, and the dissidents continued their strike throughout the day and into the early morning hours on November 4, refusing a direct order to report for muster on the flight deck. As tensions aboard the ship mounted, a series of high-level consultations were held among Captain Ward, the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Zumwalt in Washington, and other senior naval commanders. To avert another Kitty Hawk, the officials reluctantly decided to cut sea operations short and return the rebels to San Diego as a ‘beach detachment.’ Captain Ward pulled the ship into the harbor on the fourth and allowed more hand one hundred thirty men to go ashore. The Constellation returned a few days later to pick up the dissidents, but the men refused to board ship, and on the morning of November 9 staged a defiant dockside strike—perhaps the largest act of mass defiance in naval history. Despite the seriousness of their action, not one of the one hundred thirty sailors was arrested. Several of the men received early discharges, but most were simply reassigned to shore duty.” (David Cortright)

References: 
  • Cortright, David. Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2005 (Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1975). 
  • Franklin, H. Bruce. Vietnam and Other American Fantasies. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000.  
  • Freeman, Gregory A. Troubled Water: Race, Mutiny, and Bravery on the USS Kitty Hawk. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
  • Sherwood, John Darrell. Black Sailor, White Navy: Racial Unrest in the Fleet during the Vietnam War Era. New York: New York University Press, 2007.  

    My select bibliography for the Vietnam War is here

    Monday, October 10, 2016

    Learning about the world of Islam


    Everything (well, not everything, but a lot of stuff) you wanted to know about the Islamic World but heretofore (and apart from Wikipedia) did not know where to begin, I have gathered together below. The following resources should suffice by way of an introduction and material for further exploration, research and reading, should you summon the requisite motivation:

    Tuesday, October 04, 2016

    James Forman, October 4, 1928 – January 10, 2005

    James Forman is one of the under-appreciated figures of the modern civil rights movement. His autobiography, The Making of Black Revolutionaries, is a classic.

    *   *   *

    The following is from the Foreword (June 1997) by Julian Bond to Forman’s The Making of Black Revolutionaries (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1997 ed. [Macmillan, 1972]): xi-xiii.

    In a determined voice, Forman describes his life and activism. He doesn’t mince words. Nor is he cautious in his descriptions of those he believes to be enemies of black progress, whether black or white. Revolutionaries is precious because it represents one of the very few autobiographies by a youthful activist. [….]

    James Forman had enormous influence on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the civil rights movement, and on me personally. He molded SNCC’s near-anarchic personality into a functioning, if still chaotic, organizational structure, and insured that most of its parts functioned smoothly most of the time. He brought his trained historian’s eye and values to our work, thereby accounting for the large repository of field and other reports, giving SNCC the best detailed records (for its short life) among its contemporary and often competing organizations.

    ‘Write it all down’ was his constant injunction; because he insisted, the SNCC files contain often lyrical descriptions of exactly how an organizer goes about his or her work. Here one may learn who the real ‘leaders’ are, and how those who aspire to leadership can be helped to develop to their fullest. The SNCC field secretaries’ reports, written at Forman’s insistence and withheld at great peril, offer a day-to-day account of community organizing that cannot be found anywhere else. [….]

    Forman’s scholarly bent also guided his selection of SNCC staff; the organization had the best research arm of any civil rights organization before or since. Field secretaries entered the rural, small-town South armed with evidence of who controlled what, and who, in turn, owned them.

    ‘Power structure’ was no abstract phrase for SNCC’s brand of brothers and sisters, but a real list with real people’s names and addresses and descriptions of assets and interlocking directorships, demonstrating how large interests, ranging from Memphis and New York banks to the Queen of England, might own at least partial control of a plantation in Mississippi’s Delta. Knowledge of who owned what was crucial to SNCC’s strategies. From it, we knew that Southern peonage was no accident, but rather the deliberate result of economic policies determined thousands of miles away from the cotton field. [….]

    James Forman was slightly older than most SNCC people, and that age advantage gave him a solemnity and seriousness well suited to the task he undertook. Undoubtedly, his military experience—recounted in frightful detail in these pages—made a great difference, too, for most of us were just old enough to worry about the draft when the movement caught us up and made several of us happily ineligible for military service. Imposing governance on the self-styled revolutionaries was a difficult task, but Forman proved equal to it.

    He became SNCC’s Executive Secretary because the field staff wanted firm assurance that they would receive their meager pay on time and, equally as important, that a steady hand was ever present in the Atlanta headquarters to insure that the jailings, beatings, and deaths they expected to occur would not pass by unnoticed.

    Forman was a master propagandist. He insisted that SNCC develop a publicity apparatus—called Communications—and that it produce material of the highest quality and unassailable objectivity. In time, we owned a large web-fed offset press, had four staff photographers and a professional-level darkroom, and printed a newspaper, The Student Voice. [….]

    My favorite Forman memory is of the many youthful whites who trickled into the office, usually convinced that their unique determination and commitment were just what the movement needed, demanding to be put to work leading demonstrations in deepest Mississippi or organizing some other dangerous action elsewhere. Forman’s usual response was to give them a broom and instructions to report back when the office floors were swept. Some left before they finished; those who completed the task were given a second look. He also often swept the floor and cleaned restrooms, believing he ought never [like Mohandas Gandhi] to ask anyone to do task he would not do himself.

    ‘Forman provided a necessary ingredient in the development of an organizational structure for the southern student movement,’ writes SNCC historian Clayborne Carson. ‘Without a leader like Forman, who was prepared to assume responsibility for fund-raising and directing the activities of a full-time staff, it is unlikely that SNCC could have become a durable organization.’

    Carson is right—without Forman, there would have been no SNCC, at least not the one that developed in the early 1960s. Without SNCC, it is doubtful that the movement would have succeeded as well as it did….” [….]