No Sellout in ’64: Black Nationalism, Western Marxism, and the Contested Third World Politics of the Freedom Now Party

Friday, January 5, 2018: 3:50 PM
Virginia Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Benjamin Feldman, Georgetown University
In 1963, following journalist William Worthy’s call for an independent, black-led political party, activists began to put together the platform for what would become The Freedom Now Party (FNP). While the FNP’s electoral efforts focused on the state of Michigan (also running candidates in San Francisco, New Haven, and New York), the Party situated itself as part of a global movement for Black Freedom, declaring that it was “[aligned] with all liberation movements throughout the world!” Running a slate of 39 candidates in 1964, the FNP fell far below its goal of 100,000 Michigan-votes, and by 1965, the Party had collapsed.

Harold Cruse—whose Crisis of the Negro Intellectual attacked the myopia of white Marxists and Black Nationalists alike—was the principal author of the platform of the New York chapter of the FNP. Prioritizing cultural radicalism and what he referred to as ‘community-ethnic consciousness,’ Cruse’s platform was met with criticism from James Boggs—perhaps the leading organic intellectual of the Black Labor movement—and from Marxian political-economist Paul Sweezy, for its de-emphasizing of political economy and the working-class.

Like Cruse, Boggs and Sweezy were fascinated by the Cuban Revolution, and came to believe that the only plausible path to a more equitable and rational society within the United States was the importation of Third World revolution through the radicalization of America’s black population. However, they differed in their analysis of how this radicalization might come to pass. In this paper, I illustrate the ways in which debates over the FNP—on nationalism and internationalism, separatism and integrationism, culture and labor, the role of intellectuals, and the path to political power—were informed by, and in turn helped to structure the debates over Thirds World Liberation movements that helped steer the course of American politics during the 1960s and 1970s.