[Marxism] George Breitman: What A Minority Can Do (1964)

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Feb 13 05:40:35 MST 2007

One of the most inspiring speeches I have ever heard in my life, George Breitman's
WHAT A MINORITY CAN DO, published later as a pamphlet under the slightly revised
HOW A MINORITY CAN CHANGE SOCIETY was a revelatory, astounding work of Marxist
pedagogy. Though it reads very well as a transcript, it had and continues to have so
much more impact as a sound file, that I'm pleased now to make it available to every
person in the world with access to a computer and the internet. I personally attended
the meeting where the speech was given, a run-down second-floor office located at
302 S. Canal Street, Chicago, on the New Years weekend of December 1964, have
listened to it in recorded form for years, lost track of it and finally got a copy through
the good offices of the Holt Labor Library in San Francisco, California, and it is now
posted to the internet thanks to help from Alan Minsky of KPFK in Los Angeles, all of
whom receive my warmest gratitute.

Take the time to listen to the entire speech, and I'm sure that you will be inspired as
much as I was at the time. He mentions the Cuban Revolution in passing, as part of
the political context of his presentation, which was primarily aimed at helping to arm
and education his listeners on a simple but profound point of political understanding:
how much, rather than how little, a minority can accomplish when it stands tall and
takes on th powerful, or just the noisy majority. While the majority can try to drown
out the critics, a combination of the justice of its cause and the determined posture
of a broad mass movement fighting for justice can finally bring results in the end.
Those lessons, which were demonstrated in the Cuban experience, had relevance
for the United States at that time, which Breitman was trying to explain to those
young and not-to-young socialists who were fortunate to hear his discussion then

Today, Blacks in the United States have the right to vote, and they play a far more
prominent role in the life of the United States than they did when Breitman spoke in
Chicago on that wintry weekend. Capitalism remains in control in the United States
today, though its institutions are breaking down, and its international power is in a
state of deep decline. U.S. capitalism appears stronger in relation to the competition
which has itself broken down (the USSR and the countries allied with it have fallen
back into capitalist social and economic relations). Washington is actually in a much
more isolated position today than it was when Breitman was speaking back then.

In the United States, Blacks were and remain a numerical minority, but one with a
size and a history which provide them with the reason and the possibility of rising 
up and moving the entire country. That has in fact taken place, though disparaging
words don't stop being written about life in the United States. The historic gain of
voting rights, of the right to buy property (by those who have the money) should
not be underestimated. Alas, there's virtually no one worth voting for, but that's a
separate issue. The construction of a new political movement which can take the
country out of its current malaise is one still very much on the agenda. A struggle
is now unfolding, a veritable battle of ideas, for the hearts and mind and political
allegiance of Blacks in the United States. Will they stand with the immigrants now,
or with the xenophobes? The outcome hasn't been decided, but the vanguard role
which today's immigrants are playing on society can learn a good deal from what
George Breitman tried to teach his audience not so very long ago.

Breitman's discussion holds contemporary relevance, too, for any who would hold
a minority point of view against that of but numerically larger force which stubbornly
refuses to recognize the just cause of a minority. As Israel today tries to construct
an apartheid-like state in the occupied territories, a minority within Israel has taken
up the struggle against institutionalized racism. They, like the immigrant millions who
fight for justice in the U.S. today, need our fullest solidarity now.

Walter Lippmann
Toronto, Ontario



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