A Freedom Budget for All Americans: Recapturing the Promise of the Civil Rights Movement in the Struggle for Economic Justice Today
Paul Le Blanc, Michael D. Yates
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While the Civil Rights Movement is remembered for efforts to end segregation and secure the rights of African Americans, the larger economic vision that animated much of the movement is often overlooked today. That vision sought economic justice for every person in the United States, regardless of race. It favored production for social use instead of profit; social ownership; and democratic control over major economic decisions. The document that best captured this vision was the Freedom Budget for All Americans: Budgeting Our Resources, 1966-1975, To Achieve Freedom from Want published by the A. Philip Randolph Institute and endorsed by a virtual "who's who" of U.S. left liberalism and radicalism.
Now, two of today's leading socialist thinkers return to the Freedom Budget and its program for economic justice. Paul Le Blanc and Michael D. Yates explain the origins of the Freedom Budget, how it sought to achieve "freedom from want" for all people, and how it might be reimagined for our current moment. Combining historical perspective with clear-sighted economic proposals, the authors make a concrete case for reviving the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement and building the society of economic security and democratic control envisioned by the movement's leaders—a struggle that continues to this day.
resolution cautioned against “elitist developments,” insisting that “our aim must always be to broaden the base of the movement and to stimulate mass action. The vast potential of the movement will not be fulfilled until the great mass of unorganized working-class Negroes are actively mobilized.”28 The resolution noted that “at present only the Negro American Labor Council appears to be cognizant of the necessity for developing a mass action program aimed at the bread and butter needs of the
Commentary, The New Republic, and Dissent, and he developed a reputation “as an up-and-coming freelance thinker to whom it was worth paying attention.” An increasingly prominent presence on the intellectual scene, and an appealing public figure, he wrote and spoke tirelessly on behalf of the Socialist Party. He helped to launch its well-produced biweekly paper, New America, became immersed in various aspects of the civil rights movement, and focused especially on issues related to poverty.18 In
and SCLC, calling on the entire civil rights movement “voluntarily to observe a broad curtailment, if not total moratorium, of all mass marches, mass picketing and mass 104 / A FREEDOM BUDGET FOR ALL AMERICANS demonstrations until after Election Day.” Instead, there should be “political action,” by which they meant exclusively electoral action, such as massive voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts. This was not accepted by SNCC, and very quickly radical members of CORE caused their
organization to pull back as well. For many of his erstwhile followers and protégés, Rustin was now coming to represent something different from the principled and uncompromising revolutionary in whom they had believed. The centrality of mass action to his politics, emphasized in his discussion with Dissent editors only two months earlier, seemed to have slipped away. “I think he just flip-flopped,” commented central SNCC activist Robert Moses, who had led the Mississippi Freedom Summer project.
victims of poverty, neglect, and injustice. Nor can the goals be won by segments; or ad hoc programs alone; there is need for welding such programs into a unified and consistent program.” He was sharply critical of “the pessimists and the tokenists” who “counsel ‘gradualism’ and those who urge piecemeal and haphazard remedies for deep-rooted and persistent evils.” Randolph’s response: “Here again, ‘gradualism’ becomes an excuse for not beginning or for beginning on a base too small to support the