Indignant Heart and Charles Denby’s self-development as worker-editor

Recently, Charles Denby has been getting some much-deserved recognition.  Denby was a lifelong revolutionary, an African-American production worker who became the editor of News & Letters at its founding in 1955 until his death in 1983, and wrote a column for it called “Worker’s Journal.”  He wrote the book Indignant Heart: A Black Worker’s Journal, which is his “life story as part of the worldwide struggle for freedom.”  (More about this book: http://newsandletters.org/literature.htm#IH; http://books.google.com/books/about/Indignant_heart.html?id=DqYQjL3SJfMC; http://www.worldcat.org/title/indignant-heart-a-black-workers-journal/oclc/18779162.)

I’m bringing this up now because of two recent posts: http://libcom.org/history/testimony-black-worker-charles-denby posted excerpts of the book, with some brief comments; and http://nothingbutahuman.wordpress.com/2011/08/21/themes-from-indignant-heart-a-black-workers-journal-part-1/ is a very fine review of it.

What I think is important now is to draw a new generation’s attention to the importance Denby himself saw in Part II of Indignant Heart.  He published Part I of the book in 1952 as Indignant Heart (no subtitle)Part II, first published in 1978, came to be after his experiences as editor of News & Letters.  Part II is the fullest expression of Denby as a unity of both worker and theoretician.  As he wrote in response to Manning Marable’s review of the book,

“Far from being ‘merely’ an update of my views, the second part represents the last 25 years of my life, when I was working out a clear political, philosophical and organizational perspective of what I am for, not only what I am against.”  (Below I reproduce the whole column this is quoted from.)

In a similar vein, his Foreword to the 1978 edition points out:

“It isn’t only that 25 years separate Part I and Part II.  More importantly, the great events of the 1960s that gave birth to a new generation of revolutionaries could but give a new direction to my thoughts and actions as a Black production worker who became the editor of a very new type of newspaper—News & Letters.”

In another look back (his December 1980 “Worker’s Journal” column, which is excerpted at http://newsandletters.org/Issues/2005/May-June/CD_May-June_05.htm), he wrote:

“There have been terrific changes in the past 25 years and that has made me a different person. But to me the chief reason I am a different person is my 25 years as editor of News & Letters. My experience throughout those years has taught me more about what journalism really is than any journalism school could teach. It is a question of learning, not just editing. Let me go back to how it all began.

“What I had been learning then in the movement was that it wasn’t left all to intellectuals to do all the thinking and writing, but that workers could do it too. There didn’t need to be this separation that I had been taught all my life between mental and manual labor, where the educated do all the thinking and the workers do all the legwork.

“When there had been a break in the state-capitalist tendency and the Marxist-Humanist newspaper News & Letters was formed, I was asked to become the editor. At first I was reluctant. The thought kept turning over in my mind that it was all right to have a worker-editor as a policy, but it was something else to put it into practice, especially starting with me. But after I kept hearing the words coming from everyone about myself becoming the editor, I decided to try it out.”

My fervent hope is that everyone who has read and appreciated Part I of Indignant Heart will consider these words and take a fresh look at the significance of Part II.  It’s worth it.

*******

Here is Denby’s response to Marable, from his “Worker’s Journal” column in the October 1979 News & Letters:

Worker-author nails lies about book

by Charles Denby, Editor

Author of Indignant Heart: A Black Worker’s Journal

The following letter is my response to a slanderous review of my book, Indignant Heart: A Black Worker’s Journal,by Manning Marable, an associate professor in the Department of History and Ethnic Studies at the University of San Francisco. Printed in the August 16, 1979 issue of WIN magazine, the review not only has many errors of fact, but is such a serious attack against me that I feel strongly about the need for this immediate reply.

* * *

Associate Professor Manning Marable’s review of my book, Indignant Heart: A Black Worker’s Journal,sharply brought to mind what Marx must have meant when he said, “The educators must be educated.”

For example, Marable knows well that the workers’ paper I edit is News & Letters, not News & Notes. This is deliberate falsification. In my book I refer to News & Lettersmany times. It is not only a workers’ newspaper, it is the official monthly publication of News and Letters Committees, the organization of Marxist-Humanists in the U.S.

MARABLE DISTORTS TRUTH

The wrong newspaper identification, however, is the least of Marable’s misrepresentations. He has his right to disagree with my politics, but no right to distort the truth. Even honest bourgeois historians would not tolerate Marable’s smear tactics, let alone someone who is serious about Afro-American “historiography.”

The second part of my book, the part Marable disagrees with so completely, he calls an “addendum, which merely updates Denby’s views on politics and society.” Nobody else reading my book could possibly describe the second part as an addendum. Far from being “merely” an update of my views, the second part represents the last 25 years of my life, when I was working out a clear political, philosophical and organizational perspective of what I am for, not only what I am against.

I don’t understand Marable. He says that I “failed to respond positively and constructively” to the rise of the Black movement of the ’60s and ’70s; that my “former Black allies” in the South made political marriages of convenience with racist Governor Wallace of Alabama; that during the Black revolt of the ’60s I “sided with the more conservative Black protest leaders of Lowndes County”; and that I walked out of the 1972 National Black Assembly in Gary, Ind., along with “Black bureaucrats and officials” who realized they couldn’t sell the Assembly politics “to their white counterparts.”

To me, these are serious accusations of betrayal. And then Marable says, “Upon reading Indignant Heart, no one can doubt the courage and political integrity of Charles Denby.” Now either I don’t understand what political integrity is, or Marable is talking out of both sides of his mouth at the same time. I do understand what political integrity is, and I have doubts about how much Marable has.

I don’t know where Marable got the idea that, “like C.L.R. James, Denby believed that only a race conscious organization of Black labor could articulate the interests of the Black working class.” I’ll say it as plain as I know how—that statement is a pure and simple lie. Nobody will find that in my book, or in anything else I have ever written or said.

What I state clearly is that Black masses in motion have always been the vanguard of revolutionary development in this nation and have an independent role that cannot be placed in a second-class relation to any other group. But most important is that every true revolutionary development in the U.S. has taken place when Black and white movements for freedom united—during the Civil War, the organizing of the CIO and most recently in the revolts of the ’60s.

I totally reject the narrow Black nationalism of James and Marable, which is opposed to revolutionary nationalism that is truly internationalism. I show the difference clearly in the second part of my book where I deal with the relation of the Black Consciousness movement of Steven Biko in South Africa to the Black revolt in the U.S.

BROKE WITH JAMES

Far from agreeing with James, I broke with him organizationally and politically because I opposed him and his brand of opportunistic politics.

What also can’t go unanswered is Marable’s claim that the Socialist Workers’ Party’s 1948 resolution on the Black question in America that impressed me so much was “developed solely by James, in a series of conversations with exiled Soviet leader Leon Trotsky in Mexico before World War II.”

First, James’ original position was that U.S. Blacks did NOT have an independent role. Trotsky argued against James, and finally convinced him that Blacks represented a national question, an independent revolutionary force. Moreover, that 1948 resolution was developed in close collaboration with Raya Dunayevskaya, then known as Freddie Forest, the co-leader with James of the state-capitalist tendency in the SWP.*

My former “Black allies” who supported Wallace were . . . John Hulett, the first Black sheriff of Lowndes County, whose election I certainly did support. I mentioned Black mayor Charles Evers of Fayette, Miss., who also came out for Wallace. I disagree totally with Marable that it was “inevitable” for Hulett and Evers to support Wallace, or that it was because of the “destruction” of SNCC and Black Power. I’ve seen it too many times.

Black militants, elected to fight against oppression, are blinded by the power of the capitalist system, start playing self-advancement, opportunistic politics and turn against the people who elected them. It stems from the same attitude, whether it’s Stokely Carmichael and SNCC or Hulett and Lowndes County politics, they believe the masses are backward and that only the so-called leaders have the answers. I call it the bureaucratic mentality.

From his ivory tower in 1979 Marable is all for Carmichael’s 1965 call to arms for the Black masses in Lowndes County, Ala. Marable plays games with revolutionary rhetoric. Carmichael was deadly serious in his call for Black armed insurrection. He confused the Black revolt against Southern racism with a national revolutionary situation, which simply did not exist. Calling for Black armed insurrection then would have resulted in a massacre of Blacks. Blacks at mass meetings heard me and heard Carmichael, and did what they believed to be right. They weren’t afraid to die. They just didn’t want to throw their lives away for nothing.

BLACK MASSES IGNORED

As for the 1972 Black Assembly in Gary, I think Marable said all that needs to be said about his illusions, which seemed to have lasted until 1976. I pointed out that the Black politicians, Maoists, Stalinists and Black Muslims all know what they wanted—and none of it had to do with what the Black masses wanted, as the anti-busing resolution proved.

Detroit Congressman Diggs and other Black officials may have left because they were allied with the white power structure; others left because they could see there wasn’t anything there for the Black people. And whether others were or weren’t serious about a third political party, their talk about the “edges of consciousness” they had supposedly reached was nonsense.

We are now getting a whiff of the Middle East oil mixed into that Assembly from reports that Libya had started to bankroll the Black Muslims in 1971, the year before the Gary meeting. There’s more to oil politics at that meeting than has yet been revealed.

Marable refers to “structural flaws” and “structural inequities” I perceived in left groups and unions which led to “inequities” in Black-white relations. I used no such expressions. I said these organizations practiced racism, and described it in detail.

I am happy to see that Marable has read all the books referred to in his review—but not one has a thing to do with mine. All in all, to me Marable sounds very much like a white intellectual who doesn’t want workers to have thoughts of their own. The fact is they do.

—————–

*This is not the place to deal with Marxist-Humanist philosophy in relation to the revolutionary history and role of Black America, but the serious revolutionary or student can obtain the documented history of the state-capitalist tendency on microfilm by ordering The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection: Marxist-Humanism, Its Origin and Development in America, 1941 to Today from the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University, Detroit, Ml 48202.

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2 Responses to Indignant Heart and Charles Denby’s self-development as worker-editor

  1. Pingback: Miscellany « Poumista

  2. Pingback: Renewed attention to Charles Denby | Work of the Negative: A Marxist-Humanist blog

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