First Published: Unite!, Vol. 2, No. 5, October-November 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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We do not shrink with embarrassment because we hold the position that Black people are a national minority in common with the CPUSA. In point of fact the revisionists are not wrong in regarding Black people as a national minority. As we have seen, science is on the side of this formulation and the plain facts can only embarrass our dogmatists. It is infantile to think that every formulation of the revisionists is incorrect. (BLACK LIBERATION AGAINST DOGMATISM ON THE NATIONAL QUESTION),Philadelphia Workers’ Organizing Committee, p. 59-60)
These are the words of the Philadelphia Workers’ Organizing Committee (PWOC) in concluding their position on the dissolution of the Black Nation. Their fundamentally national chauvinist and imperialist stand on the Black National Question is a mirror image of that put forward by both the CPUSA and the Soviet social imperialists toward the nations oppressed within their boundaries, and represents a thoroughly revisionist position.
Holdovers of the bankrupt, consolidated right opportunist program of the CPUSA are still readily apparent on most questions. Indeed, the influence of modern revisionism has been a major factor in holding back the ability of the communist movement to advance a revolutionary program, while at the same time, raising the vigilance of communists to its ideological roots and consequences, and serving to strengthen the Marxist-Leninist line through struggle.
Historically, the position of communists on the Black National Question has been of major to the revolutionary nature of the party. As we have seen in the experience of the CPUSA, when the party upheld the right of self-determination for the Black Nation, when it conducted intense and comprehensive work in the Black communities in and outside the Black Belt, and when it struggled against national chauvinism in the ranks of the party itself, the integrity of the party was sound. And when the party began to put forward the revisionist line on the peaceful transition to socialism through the progressive nature of US imperialism, all other lines of the party followed suit. The basis of opportunism and national chauvinism on the Black National Question was laid initially by the CPUSA. On the one hand there are the centrists, who posture as being “left”, such as the ’Wing’, WVO, and others, but who in essence are Right. This form of national chauvinism has the right of self-determination on its lips, but exposes the opportunism in its heart by never developing a position or plan of action to lead the Black liberation movement or to build multi-national unity. Consolidated right opportunism has been carried on faithfully in the positions of the New American Movement; the Communist Labor Party; the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA; the Progressive Labor Party, Harry Chang; and now by the PWOC. The position of the PWOC is but a modern-day version of the same revisionist line, cloaked as such lines always are, in the appearance of Marxism-Leninism.
The identity between the line of the PWOC and that of the CPUSA on the Black National Question is starkly clear. In the context of revisionism on the national question, revisionists and imperialists alike are aiming for the destruction of the national liberation movements and the triumph of socialism. The national chauvinist position of the PWOC must be thoroughly exposed and defeated in the spirit of resolutely defeating, once and for all, all opportunism as traitorous to the interests of the working class and oppressed peoples.
The positions of both the PWOC and the CPUSA start from a distortion of the nature of imperialism and end with the liquidation of the national question. The CPUSA’s line on the Black National Question results directly from their position on the international situation, and their failure to recognize the class nature of imperialism. Fundamentally, the CPUSA’s analysis does not get beyond the realm of the objective factor. It concentrates on the development of the forces of production and ignores its reflection in conscious actions by the masses of working people. This theory ignores class struggle, which is in fact, the motive force of the development of society.
Common to all revisionist theories on the National Question is the denial of the class struggle. Marxism-Leninism teaches us that as long as capitalism exists in most of the world, the amalgamation of nations cannot take place. In the socialist countries the class struggle continues both internally, and through external pressure exerted by the capitalist countries; in the capitalist countries, the exploitation and oppression of the working class, oppressed nations, and national minorities domestically, is the order of the day, while the imperialist bourgeoisie make every attempt to gain control of possessions internationally and especially to defeat the dictatorship of the proletariat where it exists.
Errors are common in many honest theoretical statements. They are errors which stand in opposition and contrast to the basic line that is being put forward. However, when an important question such as the Black National Question is dismissed in such a way as the PWOC has, we must be vigilant toward all aspects of the line. Such national chauvinism toward the Black liberation struggle, and such collaboration with the interests of the bourgeoisie are not small mistakes, but representative of the bourgeois world outlook on all questions.
The CPUSA was developing their “theory” on the international situation during the early ’40’s, simultaneous with WWII and with the rapid industrialization of the US economy. National minorities entered production on a large scale. According to the CPUSA, it was the motion of the productive forces, namely industrialization, which was supplying the material basis for the proletarianization of Blacks, and the end of their national oppression. Through industrialization, Blacks were ’integrated’ into the working class as a whole. They no longer had special exploitation outside that suffered by the working class generally, and therefore, there was no longer a national question.
For precisely this reason, the CPUSA then proceeded to discontinue its work among Blacks in the trade unions, Black community organizations, and in the national liberation movement, thus consolidating its liquidationist position in practice.
The PWOC holds an integrationist theory on the Black National Question, like the CPUSA. The PWOC’s entire position is underlined by the failure to grasp class struggle as the motive force of historical development. They do not see the national question as a class question, but view it apart from the class struggle. They see the development of society absent of its division into classes or the interests of the class in power.
According to the PWOC, the material basis for the existence of the Black Nation was the plantation. However, they say that the Black Nation did not actually come into being until the development of classes among Blacks brought about economic cohesion, the characteristic of the nation that had been missing up until then. This supposedly occurred with the defeat of slavery during the Civil War.
This is incorrect on several counts. First of all, the position that the PWOC holds on the material basis of the Black Nation as being the plantation is totally anti-Marxist-Leninist. Marxism-Leninism holds that the basis of the Agrarian Question is the question of land ownership, not the form of exploitation and oppression. The plantation was only one historically developed form of deriving surplus value. After the defeat of the southern aristocracy, this form was changed to meet more directly the interests of the northern bourgeoisie. However, this new form, mainly share cropping, did not in the least alter the content of the Agrarian Question, but rather only served to bring the Blade Belt South under the fold of rising northern finance capital. Secondly, classes among Blacks existed prior to the Civil War. But most importantly, the formation of classes does not determine whether or not a nation exists. Economic cohesion or common economic life do not imply that there is an independent, developed class structure. In fact, a nation oppressed by rising imperialism need not, and usually cannot develop its own independent economy. Under imperialism it is typical for the economic life of the imperialist to be imposed on the oppressed nation. Such is the case in the Black Nation.
One of the first duties of Marxist-Leninists is to consistently expose the reactionary nature of the bourgeoisie, in every stage of the revolutionary struggle, and in every single instance. There is no place for liberalism with the bourgeoisie. Our failure to expose them is at the expense of the working class and oppressed peoples.
The PWOC holds that the Black Nation existed at the time of the 1928 and 1930 Comintern Resolutions, but that the material conditions for nationhood changed over the next period with the disintegration of the plantation system. They say that as a result of industrialization, the formerly rural peasantry was transformed into a predominantly urban proletariat. The Black Nation was dissolved and the Black people were dispersed. Thus the PWOC liquidates the Black National Question. This position is clearly only a slight variation of the integrationist position of the CPUSA, and the liberal bourgeoisie.
The Marxist-Leninist position as put forward in the 1928 and 1930 Comintern Resolutions, holds that the disintegration of the plantation system was a process which occurred as a result of the strengthening of capitalism, and the needs of the rising bourgeois class to make maximum profits. The plantation system was dated in its agricultural techniques and had the effect of holding the rest of the economy back. It was a necessary step in the interests of consolidating capitalism in the U.S.. It is true that at this time, the rise of the capitalist class was dependent upon the rapid industrialization in the U.S. However, capitalism did not dissolve the Black Nation, nor did it end national oppression. It intensified it. The capitalist class found the most efficient means of maximizing profits by maintaining certain aspects of the plantation system, and incorporating them into the rapidly expanding and industrialized economic system. Speaking to this point precisely, the 1930 Comintern Resolution says:
In so far as industry is developed here, it will in no way bring a solution to the question of living conditions of the oppressed Negro majority, or to the agrarian question, which lies at the basis of the national question. On the contrary, this question is still further aggravated as a result of the increase of the contradictions arising from the pre-capitalist forms of exploitation of the Negro peasantry and of a considerable portion of the Negro proletariat (miners, forestry workers, etc.) in the Black Belt, and at the same time owing to the industrial development here, the growth of the most important driving force of the national revolution, the Black working class, is especially strengthened. (UNITE! VI, #1, p. 15)
The liquidation of the Black National Question by the PWOC represents a serious problem for the movement, not because the Black National Question is in fact liquidated, but because it means that revisionism on the national question is yet to be defeated.
According to the PWOC, along with industrialization came the dispersal of Blacks from the Black Belt South. They say that Blacks were not forced off the land during the rapid industrialization of the U.S.; they left voluntarily. Blacks supposedly chose to become proletarians because it was a real improvement in living conditions, and was an inevitable and progressive step forward.
The PWOC states that through their proletarianization and voluntary dispersal Blacks have been assimilated into the country as a whole (ibid. pp. 40-45). Anywhere in the U.S. it is obvious that Blacks have not been assimilated into the country as a whole. If Blacks have been assimilated, why is busing in Boston an issue? Why are most of the inmates on death row in South Carolina prisons Black? And why was there a civil rights movement in the sixties?
It is because Blacks have not been assimilated into the country as whole. Outside the Black Belt Nation Blacks are an oppressed national minority because of the existence of the oppressed Black Nation. This is why Blacks outside the Black Nation have much to gain in their struggle for democratic rights by supporting the right of the Black Nation to self-determination. The fate of all Blacks in the U.S. is tied to the liberation of the Black Nation.
The PWOC has arrived at their position on the basis of distortion of reality, to fit bourgeois interest, including the almost total omission of the national liberation movements, because,
A nation that has been dissolved and assimilated, not surprisingly, does not think like a nation. (ibid, p.40)
The PWOC goes so far as to say that Black people do not see the Black Belt South as their “historic homeland”, and that Blacks do not see self-determination as a means to end their oppression!
This flies in the face of years of struggle of the national liberation movement. The struggle for self-determination has been raised countless times by many Blacks that are not Marxist-Leninists. Perhaps the PWOC does not think that such people as Malcolm X are capable or worthy of leading the struggle for self-determination of the Black Nation. We are convinced that the Black people themselves will not wait for the blessings of the PWOC in their great struggle for national liberation.
Yet the PWOC is very sure that the struggle for self-determination represents narrow nationalism and separatism of the Black bourgeoisie, and must be crushed (ibid, p. 47).
On the contrary, what must be crushed is the blatantly national chauvinist and right opportunist position of the PWOC! As communists we support politically and materially those national liberation movements which objectively undermine and weaken imperialism. We do not determine on the basis of shallow and incomplete investigation, whether a nation really is a nation, or if its struggle for self-determination is revolutionary. Furthermore, we do not belittle the national liberation struggles that are waged by the people of an oppressed nation or oppressed national minority, as the PWOC does when it says that the Black liberation movement has historically been weak.
The theory of revisionism is that imperialism has developed to a new stage; that further developments in the world have given rise to a qualitatively different alignment between the imperialist powers and the oppressed nations. We have heard of the “new stage” of the Soviet revisionists, the RCP,USA’s “nation of a new type”, and the CPUSA’s and PWOC’s new type of progressive and democratic monopoly capitalism which can dissolve the Black Nation through industrialization.
The purpose of falsely declaring that the international situation has developed to a new stage is two-fold. To begin with the revisionists must confuse and deceive the masses, nations, and oppressed national minorities into thinking that the class struggle is over. This is done by twisting objective reality in order to lay the basis for their imperialist needs, all the while being careful to express it in Marxist-Leninist terminology.
The most important reason, of course, is to carry out the oppression of those same people. The Soviet social-imperialists, for example, have done exactly this. While masquerading as a socialist country and developing the trust of the working class and toiling masses internationally, the Soviet revisionists have meanwhile begun the imperialist plunder and the subjugation of nations within its borders.
The Soviet revisionists say that they are in the stage of the construction of classless society, where national differences have disappeared to the point where the nations and nationalities are merged into one great communist people.
What really goes on, however, is the repeated or continued subjugation of nations and national minorities. Typical is the intrusion of the great nation’s economy, culture, and/or military onto an oppressed nation or national minority while the imperialists declare that they are accepted voluntarily.
It is not surprising to learn that the PWOC does not recognize the Soviet Union as an imperialist country. This is no ’accident’ or ’coincidence’. It is because there is no real difference in the world outlook, political line or social practice of the PWOC and the Soviet revisionists. The line of the PWOC in state power would lead to the same oppression and exploitation of nations as exists in the USSR today. Both the PWOC and the CPSU are vultures from the same flock, only the Soviet revisionists are perched in state power, while the fledgling PWOC trails along behind the CPUSA and the US imperialists, picking at the carrion they have left in their path.
Those “Marxist-Leninists” that would aim to crush the struggle for self-determination of the Black Nation are objectively supporting and defending US imperialism. They are supporting the imperialist bourgeoisie at the expense of the national liberation movement.
The only difference between revisionism and outright imperialism, is that revisionism disguises itself as Marxism-Leninism. This so-called friend of the people has every intention of maintaining the bourgeois order while continuing to oppress nations and national minorities.
The extinction of nations and national distinctions takes place over a protracted period of time and on the basis of their strengthening and flourishing. Nations are not oppressed out of existence. This is why it is fundamentally incorrect for the Soviet social-imperialists to declare that the nations and national minorities have merged into a single people. This is why it is fundamentally incorrect for the PWOC to declare that the oppressed Black Nation has dissolved; that Black people have voluntarily dispersed and been assimilated into the people as a whole, right here in the heartland of imperialism!
Comrades, the imperialists and revisionists will do what they can to prevent us from seizing state power in the United States. We will meet class collaborationists at every bend in the road – in the trade unions, social-democratic organizations, among the electoral candidates, and in state power. We must expose and defeat them tirelessly.
And we must establish a clear understanding once and for all on such positions as PWOC’s, anyone who sets out to disprove the actuality of a nation and to liquidate support for that national movement does more to aid the bourgeoisie than the bourgeoisie itself. And, further, that it is not enough to understand this position. It must be crushed. Not because the PWOC creates a problem in the mass movement, as they basically have no mass ties, but because it is the line of the bourgeoisie within our own midst.
We see that the line on the Black National Question put forward over thirty years ago by the CPUSA still emerges in the movement. This represents a failure of Marxist-Leninists to carefully study the errors of the US revisionist party, and revisionist parties around the world, so that we may forge a vanguard party along genuinely revolutionary lines. The failure to defeat opportunism, especially right opportunism, on the questions of the revolutionary movement is holding back the building of a vanguard communist party, which is essentially a question of the fusion of the communist and working class movements. Without a clear Leninist position on the Black National Question the forging of multi-national unity will be impossible, as will the seizure of state power. The line of modern revisionism which the PWOC holds will lead to social-fascism and social imperialism if in state power. This is what is at stake, and is why this line must be liquidated from our movement.