First Published: Progressive Labor Vol. 4, No. 3, March 1965
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Editor’s Note: The convention to found a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist party in the United States, called some months ago by the Progressive Labor Movement, will be held in New York City from April 15 to April 18, 1965. The following is a contribution to the pre-convention discussion. The purpose of the discussion is to arrive at a concensus for policy for the new party.
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In recent years, the rapid and stormy growth of social, economic, and political struggle by masses of Negro people in the United States is the most promising new development. Together with the world wide assault by the liberation forces on the positions of old and new colonialism, it has injected one of the sharpest expressions of the world crisis of capitalism into every aspect of U.S. politics.
Formerly the government of the United States pretended not to notice officially even the existence of such a people, let alone their oppression Today, Presidents speak of equal opportunity for all Americans as a big vote catching issue while taking care not to do anything to upset racism and double exploitation.
Formerly, the Republican loyal opposition spoke of itself as the “Party of Lincoln” In the recent elections, it made a serious bid to unite all the open racists for the double purpose of mobilizing the white-supremacy type of fascist and at the same time give added lustre to the Johnson hypocracy as a means of paralyzing the emergence of a united mass movement to the left of and independent from the control of the administration and the Democratic Party.
Formerly the AFL-CIO leadership also made light of the demands of the Negro workers, defending and justifying discrimination, jim-crow locals, and lily-white unions, defending the status-quo. At present it makes some concessions, also hoping to contain the struggle lest it also infect white workers who after all are not entirely immune to ideas of class struggle!
Formerly the official Negro leadership confined itself to legal courtroom activity, deplored mass activity and was sometimes rewarded with a few crumbs and fewer political plums. Today this leadership is hard put to both run fast enough to keep up with the movement and at the same time hold back hard enough to satisfy those representatives of government and big business who may not always pay the fiddler, but who certainly do call the tune.
At one time the Communist Party U.S.A, made a notable contribution to the theoretical, political and practical growth of the liberation movement. Following the basic approach of Lenin and Stalin it promoted an understanding of the special oppression of the Negro nation, the roots of white supremacy and racialism directed against people with a black skin and the double exploitation of black workers.
It joined in organizing vigorous mass defense of legal victims, initiated organizations of Negro-white unity, combated white chauvinism, contributed to the organization of the unorganized Negro worker by the CIO and the AFL in the 30’s and 40’s.
Today the CPUSA has liquidated its theoretical position on the Negro question, in order to tail after those who tailed after Kennedy, and now Johnson. The result is that this party which once had no brighter promise for the future than the Dixie epithet “Negro Party,” today has practically nothing to do with that struggle except sometimes to express alarm at the possibility that the movement may soon out grow its present ’non-violent, passive resistance,’ collaborationist leadership.
Fortunately there are other forces coming forward to form the vanguard which is more and more demanded by the pace of events.
There are two chief sources for the revolutionary cadre of a new vanguard.
First and largest is the liberation movement itself which is producing hundreds of people with a revolutionary spirit and desire, although mainly with little or no Marxist-Leninist background. The second is composed of communists who have not succumbed to revisionism whose numbers are relatively small but still greater than the revisionists dream of, and who are now greatly strengthened by the growing victories of revolutionary Marxism-Leninism on a world scale. The proper combination of these two sources equals the creation of a new revolutionary vanguard and will be a great victory for both the liberation movement and for the entire working class of the U.S.
Important contributions toward this combination have been made by Robert Williams in defending the right of the Negro to self-defense, by PLM in restoring the concept of self-determination, by positively recognizing revolutionary aspects of Black nationalism while rejecting some of its anti-working class tendencies, and by posing the need for working class and revolutionary leadership in the liberation struggle.
Nevertheless, much remains to be done to lay a solid foundation for a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary position on Negro liberation and Negro-white working class unity in the U.S. which is necessity for any serious revolutionary movement.
As a starting point, it is useful to identify some of the chief shortcomings of the previous main attempt to apply Marxism-Leninism to the Negro question in the U.S. Long before the complete triumph of revisionism in liquidating the Marxist analysis of this question by the CP, there were serious errors and mistakes in the application to the U.S. of Leninist theory.
The first great error was a mechanical posing of the question of Negro nationhood–once and for all–is it or is it not a nation. No more than a faint glimmer of the dialectical notion that a nation also lives, grows, embodies contradictions, may also transform itself or be transformed, even pass out of existence depending on circumstances.
To the small extent that a process was admitted at all it was placed entirely in the past–hence–on the one hand the mechanical proposition–the Negroes are a nation–hence they will exercise self-determination hence there must be constructed in the South an imaginary Black Republic which will become the revolutionary ideal.
All this did serve a purpose in arousing both white and Negro to a conscious struggle. At the same time when the Black Republic did not start a revolutionary storm at once, its mechanicalism laid the basis for Browder’s revisionist dictum, the Negroes have exercised the right of self-determination and have chosen to amalgamate with the entire U.S.
Along with mechanical definitions went inevitably a second great error, a non-historical approach to the outcome of self-determination. Consequently, this was reduced to a subjective choice of Negroes–will they or won’t they–and in the end made possible the surrender of self-determination altogether because Reverend King and Walter White answered–to be sure we won’t. Mechanical materialism to pragmatic idealism. Failure to integrate a great principle of Marxism-Leninism with U.S. historical reality opened the way for the opportunist attempt to liquidate the principle altogether.
What are some of the historical and dialectical requirements of a correct definition of the struggles of the U.S. Negroes and its relation to the U.S. workers as a whole both in partial struggles and in the struggle for the socialist revolution?
First of all, the choice of Negroes for unity or separation as a nation is not suspended between heaven and earth. It depends not only on their undoubted feelings as Negroes but also very much on what they are choosing between. And this depends not only or not even so much upon them as it does on the state of the nation (in a world context) which they influence but do not determine. If it is left to the ruling class and the old parties, to the Meany’s and Reuther’s the Kings, the Wilkens, the revisionists, there will be only frustration of the demand for equal rights and much tokenism and the result will be a choice for a separate state.
What remains? Only the white working class and its allies and intellectual adherents whose future lies in revolutionary struggle against the same ruling class which oppresses both and uses the double exploitation of the black to disunite and hold down both. At the present moment the white workers are not yet seriously committed to the necessity of this fight. This is due to not only the influence of white chauvinism and divide and rule tactics but also very largely to the dulled class consciousness flowing from the combination of relative prosperity, crumbs from imperialist super-profits, cold war propaganda and revisionist and social democratic class collaboration.
Nevertheless, only a big upsurge in class struggle all along the line by the main forces of the working class has the strength to open the door to equal rights and economic improvement, jobs, education, housing and health, to provide the Negro with an assurance that if he should wish to be united it is a real and not a sham choice.
For the Negro at this point rejects to a very large degree both forcible imprisonment in a white man’s ghetto but also very largely the notion of being excluded in any degree from a full share in all the benefits obtainable in a nation which has always exacted from him more than his share of toil and trouble.
This is not just a perverse twist or national peculiarity, nor is it a choice forever. It is rooted in U.S. and Negro history from the Civil War on. In the Civil War and Reconstruction, separation was the banner of the slaveholder – not the slave. The slave and the Freedman’s banner was the Union, freedom, and Negro-white unity. State rights and local exclusiveness remains the slogan of racial fascism pending the day when it hopes to become a national power.
Negro-white unity was a banner in the unemployed struggles, in the organization of basic industry, in the early mass defense campaigns, in the World War II against fascism. It is a banner of socialism. It is true that this banner has been more than once betrayed, destroying Reconstruction, the promise of the CIO, of the CPUSA. This banner is today misused in an effort to put over tokenism and reliance on the old parties, and gradual reform.
Nevertheless, new upsurges of class struggle are inevitable in the U.S. also, some signs already appear. Given an effective vanguard this course is still not foreclosed. The Negro workers and other sections have not yet gone all out for either bourgeois nationalism or separate statehood.
For a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist Party in the United States certain conclusions are already evident. To support all the demands of the liberation movement for full rights and equality. To support and help to realize the rights of Negroes to self-defense. To encourage the Negro people not to rely on the favors of the white ruling class, to rely on their own strength and unity and not to wait for anyone’s consent. At the same time to promote white support, especially working class support for the full demands of the Negro movement and to redouble the struggle against class collaboration as the greatest peril to Negro-white unity.
To recognize that certain victories can be won over racialism and fascist conditions by Negro struggle and Negro-white unity, equal rights can be promoted and every struggle and every gain will be a hard blow to U.S. imperialism the source of racial oppression and national exploitation.
Racialism itself and its remnants will be completely overcome only by an arduous struggle in a socialist U.S. The ultimate working out of the national destiny of the U.S. Negro will also take a fairly long historical time and continue into socialism. Nevertheless two major questions at least will take shape meanwhile.
1. The dominant trend will continue to be for equal rights in one nation– or a mass turning toward a separate state will arise if this demand is frustrated due to inability of the white working class to unite closely with the liberation movement.
2. A growth in class consciousness and socialist consciousness of both Negro and white workers can create conditions where victories in national liberation are the result of struggles of an alliance including the leading role of the working class bringing about a merger with the struggle for socialism, or rapidly passing beyond national liberation to the socialist transformation of economic and social relations. Alternately, if the working class lags, a national independence movement may be lead by bourgeois, even by collaborationist element, remaining caught up in the swamp of capitalism and neocolonialism. The anti-white sloganeers reflect this tendency, seeking to utilize a revulsion against largely white imperialism to create a basis for the growth of a Negro exploiting class with a monopoly on its own sphere.
The question of what is possible under capitalism and what is possible only under socialism is not entirely a simple one. Some things are completely linked to capitalist relations of production and ruling class politics. Such are exploitation of the working force and the aggressive tendencies of the capitalist imperialist state. These can only be curbed or limited by struggle, they can be eliminated only together with capitalism.
Other tasks, by their nature can and must be taken up and carried forward by the workers under capitalism, but will only be fully carried out under socialism after a fairly long time. Such is the ideological-political struggle against capitalist ideas and prejudice. This includes racism, white supremacy concepts, and creation of new human relations.
Still another case is that of reforms which will be more or less accomplished according to the relationship of forces, by the particular circumstances, or at a given time.
Such are the partial demands for housing, health, social security, wages, jobs, democratic rights, legislation, land reform, national liberation including Negro equal rights such as the right to vote, etc., peace in a given area or for a given time. Under one set of conditions reforms can be won by struggle or as concessions made by the ruling class as a maneuver; under other conditions the level of struggle and the reaction of the counter revolutionary and imperialist forces is such that only revolutionary defeat of the whole ruling class and its state power will accomplish these things. Of course, they can be won fully on a world scale only by the elimination of capitalism and the building of socialism.
In the last two categories, a neat division into what can and cannot be won under capitalism is wrong, mechanical, and leads to much confusion. It must be analyzed and determined historically and dialectically in each case.
In the present situation above all a vanguard revolutionary organization must:
1. Unconditionally support the right of the Negro people of the U.S. to determine their own course and aims and especially support the trend toward sharper struggle against ruling class political and economic oppression both North and South.
2. In order to give reality to the demand for equal rights, to recognize that the first condition of Negro freedom after their own efforts, is sharper class struggle against the common class enemy by the white workers and that Negro-white unity is the best defensive and offensive weapon both in partial struggles and for overthrowing U.S. imperialism altogether. That strong white support to Negro struggles is a necessity to such unity. Extending trade union organization to the South is another necessity.
3. That working class leadership in the liberation struggle is possible and desirable and so is the timely merger of the movement for socialism and the struggle for equal rights. This requires both a broad united front for all Negro demands and a great growth of class and socialist consciousness. This is especially possible because both the working class and the Negro people are exploited by essentially the same lily-white class of imperialists.
As long as this path is not entirely foreclosed, it is the most advantageous course and should be a central strategy of U.S. Marxist-Leninists projecting a solution of national and social questions now confronting the U.S. working class.
Due to the lag of class conscious struggle and chauvinist poisoning of the white majority of the working class, there exists at present an objective contradiction among the people between this general level and the level of conscious struggle of the Negro freedom movement which is relatively a great deal more advanced.
This expresses itself in revolutionary terms in calling on the one hand for Negro-white unity and merger of the liberation struggle with the class struggle and the socialist revolution. On the other hand in giving support to Negro self-defense, to Negro initiative and not waiting or holding back, and in ideas of separate political power by and for Negroes.
How to finally resolve this contradiction in practice is still far from clear at this stage of struggle, but analysis can give a certain direction to the effort.
First of all what are the main questions of principle for a revolutionary? For such class conscious members of the white majority the essential thing may be put as the fight against chauvinism, white supremacy, U.S. imperialism and its Dixiecrat agents, respecting the liberation aspirations of the Negro people, not giving orders or patronizing type aid and not holding back the struggle but supporting Negro demands. In a word, class struggle and genuine revolutionary solidarity.
For advanced Negro revolutionaries and workers, the main thing is to oppose the ruling class, the imperialists, and Dixiecrats rather than white workers (but not ruling out combatting prejudice and discrimination within the labor movement), to combat liberalism, social democracy and revisionism among Negroes, to strengthen the revolutionary socialist section within the broader movement, to combat programs designed to subordinate the freedom movement to the promotion of relatively dwarfish Negro capital, and finally to encourage class conscious struggle among all workers, Negro and white. In a word, to give leadership in the freedom movement while also promoting genuine revolutionary solidarity.
These are the Leninist principles tested in practice both here and elsewhere.
In addition there is the very closely related but distinct question of strategy and tactics, of choosing time and place and methods of struggle in order most expedite the growth, unity and successful outcome of struggle.
Here the central and potentially fatal weakness, is the fact that the advanced sections of the Negro freedom struggle meet with little support from white workers or the labor movement in the sharpest encounters with white state power and the fascist racists.
One of the greatest scandals of revisionism is the action of the World and the Peoples’ World in covering up for Mayor Wagner and his cops in the Harlem events, pointing the accusing finger only at Goldwater.
Particularly in the South does this situation lead to concepts of separate Negro political power. Growing out of the great need of Negroes to defend themselves bodily and by arms and the duty of white revolutionaries to support this struggle.
At this point it is suggested that revolutionaries ought to re-examine the de-facto surrender of the concept of effective Negro-white unity in the South. Recent history, it is true, gives only exceptional cases of white working class support to Negroes in the South. Alabama Mine-Mill, Mississippi IWA sharecropping struggles during the depression are some instances. Nevertheless, if Negro oppression is also a means of oppressing white workers, the focal point of this is precisely the deep South which has the worst conditions for white workers also. Objectively, it is not inevitable that the Negro must struggle alone in the South. Revisionism gave up this struggle.
Before going all out for separation in the South, raising a combining all against the Negro, revolutionaries ought to examine the possibility and conditions of mobilizing important white support and neutralizing others in a struggle for joint defense against the combined southern and national exploiters and reactionaries, and against combined state and federal racisms. Convert the demand to organize the South from a propaganda slogan to a practical struggle; together with the freedom struggle this will create opportunities to break through the paper tiger of seemingly solid white racism in South.