Henry Winston

Strategy for a Black Agenda


It seems paradoxical that the recent avalanche of books and articles portraying the Black condition in the U .S. as that of a colony has been issued by the same monopoly-controlled book and newspaper publishers who use most of the rest of their ideological output to deny the imperialist nature of U.S. state monopoly capitalism.

It seems paradoxical but it is not. This development marks a new state of sophistication in the ideological offensive of U.S. imperialism. The colony theory is particularly useful to the monopolists because it appears to be so radical; in fact, it contains the admission that the oppression of Black people in the U.S. is comparable to colonial oppression in Asia, Africa and Latin America. This emphasis on the intensity of Black oppression gives the colony theory its ring of authenticity.

But this admission of oppression is not as candid (one might even say benign) as it might seem. By promoting the colony theory, the white ruling class aims to define and determine the direction of the Black liberation movement. In yet another form, the monopolists are striving to prevent Black people themselves from defining the specific features that constitute the special oppression they experience.

By analogy, this theory directs attention to those aspects of the Black condition in the U.S. which most closely resemble colonial conditions. These similarities are so powerful that one’s attention may be diverted from what is unique in the status of the triply-oppressed Black peoples in colonial or semi-colonial situations, past or present.

Via the colony analogy, and variations on this unscientific, anti-Marxist theme, U.S. imperialism’s ideologists are trying to influence the Black liberation movement into adopting a self-defeating strategy. While the U.S. “internal Black colony” theory resembles a winning strategy for an oppressed majority living in a colony, it would mean certain defeat for an oppressed minority—which has indeed been the Black condition for more than 350 years in this part of the world.

The supposedly “revolutionary” (even so-called “Marxist”!) books on the colony analogy, now in mass circulation, were written by white radicals who have abandoned the struggle against racism, and by Black radicals who seek theoretical short cuts to liberation. By portraying the status of the Black people in the U .S. as a colony, these radicals assist the ruling class’ aim of diverting the Black liberation movement from a winning strategy: one that would advance the self-organization of the Black liberation movement, and simultaneously combine this independent of strength with that of allies—the working class, Black, Brown, Yellow, Red and white, together with all the poor and exploited—in a new formation. This is the basis for an anti-monopoly coalition, the only strategy that opens the way to a future without racism, exploitation, or oppression.

Genesis Of the Colony Theory

Among the radicals, Black and white, who have popularized the colony theory are Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton, Regis Debray, James Foreman, Tom Hayden, Harold Cruse, James Boggs, Stokely Carmichael and Robert L. Allen.

It is ironic that many of these radicals, who claim that Marxism is European in origin and must be revised in order to apply to the Black people in the U.S., advance theories based on revisions of Marxism by such Europeans as Herbert Marcuse, Leon Trotsky and Regis Debray, as well as the Trotsky-like revisions to be found in the “thought” of Mao Tse-tung.

It was especially under the influence of Marcuse and Maoism that the New Left radicals began to be attracted to one or another pseudo-revolutionary theory, including the concept of an “’internal colony” of Black people in the U.S. While Marcuse’s ideas are not identical with “the thought of Mao,” the views of both stimulated anti-Marxist misconceptions of the world revolutionary process, the historic role of the working class and its relationship to the liberation struggles of oppressed people, and the imperative need for strategies based on the specific features and historic development of each country, each working class and each national liberation movement.

During every upsurge in the people’s struggles, especially those of the mainly working-class Black people, there is a more extensive activation of counter-measures designed to sustain disunity and block alliance between Black and white workers, together with the Black people as a whole, against corporate monopoly.

In writing about this, Marcuse is revealed as very much a part of the problem, rather than the solution:

Contemporary society seems capable of containing social change . . . the capitalist development has altered the structure and function of these two classes (bourgeoisie and proletariat) in such a way that they no longer appear to be agents of social transformation. An overriding interest in the preservation of the status quo unites the former antagonists in the most advanced areas of contemporary society. (Quoted in an article by Allen Graubard, in Beyond the New Left, pp. 147, 148, McCall Publishing co., New York, 1970.)

Marcuse also makes it clear that his elitist contempt is not limited to the working class:

Technological controls appear to be the very embodiment of Reason for the benefit of all social groups and interests—to such an extent that all contradiction seems irrational and all counteraction impossible . . . (My italics—H.W.) (One-Dimensional Man, p. 9, Beacon press, Boston, 1966.)

And he spells out even more precisely which “social groups” are included in his elitist contempt in the following quotation:

If the worker and his boss enjoy the same television program and visit the same resort places, if the typist is attractively made up as the daughter of her employer, if the Negro owns a Cadillac, if they all read the same newspaper, then this assimilation (!!!—H.W) indicates not the disappearance of classes, but the extent to which the needs and satisfactions that serve the preservation of the Establishment are shared by the underlying population. (Ibid. , p. 8.)

There is, of course, no more truth to Marcuse’s assertion that Ford assembly line workers go to “the same resort places” as the Ford family (except as moonlighting waiters trying to make ends meet!) than to his racist stereotype of the Cadillac-owning Black workers.

It is with such fantasies that Marcuse seeks to convince us that, even though classes have not disappeared, the struggle for class and national liberation has been eliminated because of “the extent to which the needs and satisfactions . . . of the Establishment are shared by the underlying population.”

This Alice-in-Wonderland vision of mass satisfaction—instead of mass hatred of exploitation, poverty and racist oppression—forms the core of Marcuse’s “revolutionary” ideology. And his inclusion of Black people among those incapable of “counteraction” is a direct ideological descendant of the racist stereotype of the “happy,” “docile” slave.

It is logical that Marcuse’s contempt of the working class and of Black people be accompanied by hatred of the Soviet Union! The Soviet Union embodies the power of the working class and of formerly oppressed peoples. It is precisely such forces that will end exploitation and racism in the U.S. and internationally.

The Historic Distinction

It is not far-fetched to assert that those influenced by Marcusian ideology—which dismisses the masses, Black and white, as incapable of struggle against racism and exploitation—would be receptive to any theory seeming to offer a “short cut” to mass struggle.

In the recent period these “short cuts” took the form of advocating “instant revolution,” “power out of the barrel of a gun,” “urban guerrilla warfare,” etc. However, as this rhetoric became increasingly exposed as a roadblock to mass struggle, the colony theory emerged as a new diversion.

The colony theory, with its radical ring of protest against oppression, has great attraction for radicals on the Left and for advocates of “Black capitalism” on the Right. Although concealed by a rhetorical facade of “colonization,” “under-development,” etc., both these groups can be found on a parallel—or even a common—platform of accommodation to monopoly.

However, those radicals who advance the “Black colony in the U.S.” theory fail to see the historic distinction between the effect of the slave trade on Africa—which altered Africa’s relationships internally and externally and resulted in the colonial subjugation of many African peoples—and the role of slavery within the United States.

The African people transported to slavery within the U.S. became the basis of and impetus for the most rapid rate of original capitalist accumulation in history. Every people, on every continent, has passed through one or another form of slavery in the course of world history. But slavery in the United States was unique: it was the most massive, the most brutal type, because it was directly tied to the capitalist market, to the rise of capitalism. Karl Marx wrote:

. . . as soon as people, whose production still moves within the lower forms of slave-labour . . . are drawn into the whirlpool of an international market dominated by the capitalistic mode of production, the sale of their products for export becoming their principal interest, the civilized horrors of overwork are grafted on the barbaric horrors of slavery, serfdom, etc. . . . But in proportion, as the export of cotton became of vital interest to these states, the over-working of the Negro and sometimes using up of his life in 7 years of became a factor in a calculated and calculating system. It was no longer a question of obtaining from him a certain quantity of useful products. It was now a question of production of surplus-labor itself. (Capital, Vol. l, p. 236, International Publishers, 1967.)

Many times Marx compared the inhuman exploitation of workers in the textile mills of England and New England in the pre-organization days of the working class with that of the slaves in the South. At the same time, Marx did not confuse analogies in intensity of exploitation with scientific explanations, as do the contemporary advocates of the colony theory. Marx never lost sight of the distinction between the nature and role of exploitation on a directly capitalist basis.

Marx, for instance, quoted this statement from the County Magistrate of Nottingham, which appeared in the London Daily Telegram of January 17, 1860:

. . . There was an amount of privation and suffering among that portion of the population connected with the lace trade, unknown in other parts of the kingdom, indeed, in the civilized world. . . . Children of nine or ten years are dragged from their squalid beds at two, three, or four o’clock in the morning and compelled to work for a bare subsistence until ten, eleven, or twelve at night, their limbs wearing away, their frames dwindling, their faces whitening, and their humanity absolutely sinking into a stone-like utterly horrible to contemplate. . . . We declaim against the Virginian and Carolinian cotton-planters. Is their black market, their lash, and their barter of human flesh more detestable than this slow sacrifice of humanity which takes place in order that veils and collars may be fabricated for the benefit of capitalists? (Ibid. , pp. 243-244.)

As Marx demonstrated, the intensity of exploitation—though it required different strategies of struggle—developed for a considerable period of time, in England and the Northern United States, along parallel lines with that of slavery in the Southern United States. Marx quoted the following from a speech of a member of the House of Commons, April 27, 1863:

The cotton trade has existed for ninety years. . . . It has existed for three generations of the English race, and I believe I may safely say that during that period it has destroyed nine generations of factory operatives. (Ibid. , p. 267.)

Then Marx went on to state:

That which today, e.g., in the State of Massachusetts, until recently the freest State of the North-American Republic, has been proclaimed as the statutory limit of the labour of children under 12, as in England, even in the middle of the 17th century, the normal working-day of able-bodied artisans, robust labourers, athletic blacksmiths. (Ibid., p. 271.)

These are some of the many examples Marx used to show the relationship between the effects of the rise of slavery in the South and the rise of the capitalist mode of production in the North and in England.

But in making these analogies in human misery, Marx—unlike those who now make an analogy between colonial oppression and the oppression of the descendants of slaves in the U.S.—always sought out the specific strategy of liberation of the oppressed and exploited.

For example, the emerging proletariat, still in its unorganized state, suffered inhuman exploitation comparable to that of the slaves in the South. But the development of capitalism opened up the material basis for collective class resistance of the workers; while the slaves, within a different and lower form of production, did not have the objective possibility of carrying out anything except fragmented, though heroic, struggles.

Marx saw that “The establishment of a normal working-day is the result of centuries of struggle between capitalist and labourer.” (Ibid., p. 270.) He saw this as the center and generator of the class struggle. And, along with Frederick Douglass, he was in the forefront of forging the broad strategy to destroy the slave power. He knew that only when the oppressed Blacks became a part of the same mode of production as the other exploited could the class struggle in North America achieve the full collective might of labor with a Black skin joined to labor with a white skin.

And Marx warned that just as the English ruling class used religious and national prejudices to divide the Irish and English working class, the U.S. capitalist class would do all in its power to disfigure and divide the class struggle through racist practices and ideology in order to hold off the day when Black and white labor would lead the struggle against monopoly capital and achieve what Marx’s and Douglass’ strategy achieved in ending the slaveocracy.

A Different Liberation Strategy

Marx recognized that the strategy of struggle under slavery could not be the same as that against capitalist exploitation. And today, despite similarities in oppression, the liberation strategy for the oppressed Black minority in the U.S. cannot be the same as that for a colony. Both, for example, need and would be greatly aided by allies on an international scale; but the Black liberation movement requires first of all a strategy that involves internal allies.

While Marx demonstrated what was similar in the intensity of exploitation under slavery and capitalism, he also showed what was different in the nature of the oppression of the slaves as compared with that of “free” labor. Along with Frederick Douglass, Marx developed a strategy that combined the of slave and “free” labor within the Abolition movement. Because of this strategy, Marx and Douglass were able to combat and overcome weaknesses in the Abolition movement and bring about a broader anti-slavery coalition, resulting in national power strong enough to defeat the slavocracy.

This strategy succeeded because Marx and Douglass distinguished between the condition of the oppressed Blacks in the U.S. and those coming under colonial subjugation in Africa and elsewhere. Despite the similarities in this oppression, Marx and Douglass based their strategy on the specific economic and political developments in the U.S. It was a strategy in which the fate of the slaves was recognized as more immediately tied to that of “free” white labor in the North than to Black people within the African colonies.

In the course of advancing their closely parallel antislavery strategies, Marx and Douglass strongly advocated the principle of international solidarity of the oppressed and exploited—while recognizing that each develops under different conditions.

A New Sophistication

The monopoly-controlled publishers have been demonstrating a new sophistication in the books they issue by radical writers on the colony theory and other subjects. But there has also been a spate of materials written, as well as published, by direct representatives of the ruling class, and these, too, display in many cases a new sophistication.

Take, for example, the Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, which made quite a stir when it was published a few years ago. popularly known as “The Kerner Report,” it was the work of the commission, headed by former Illinois Governor Otto Kerner, which President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed following the 1967 ghetto upsurges in Newark and Detroit.

In substance, this massive report is no different from its predecessors dealing with “civil disorders”; in 600 pages of historical and contemporary material on the Black experience, it avoids any mention of the class source of racist oppression. And the “solutions” offered by the report are also an echo of the past, as the well-known Black scholar Dr. Kenneth B. Clark in effect forecast when he appeared at the hearings of the National Advisory Commission:

I read that report . . . of the 1919 riot in Chicago, and it is as if I were reading a report of the investigating committee on the Harlem riot of ’35, the report of the investigating committee on the Harlem riot of ’42, the report of the McCone Commission on the Watts riot.

I must again in candor say to you members of this commission—it is a kind of Alice in Wonderland—with the same moving picture re-shown again, the same analysis, the same recommendations, the same inaction. (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, Bantam Books, New York, 1968, p. 483.)

In its class essence, the “Kerner Report,” issued after these hearings, reflects the same state monopoly capital interests as the report of the McCone Commission, which was chaired by John J. McCone, former head of the CIA and currently an official of ITT, the giant conglomerate so actively involved in Wall and Washington’s efforts to block freedom struggles in Chile and other parts of the world, as well as in this country.

However, there is an interesting difference between the Kerner Report and its predecessors—its “solutions” are presented in a more sophisticated style, even including echoes of the rhetoric used by the radicals who have popularized the “internal colony” theory.

Where the McCone Commission spoke in the language of “law and order” to maintain segregation and racist oppression, the Kerner Report adapts radical concepts for the same purpose, as well as for diverting the mass struggles of the oppressed.

In the hands of the Kerner Commission, the pseudo-revolutionary “Black colony” concept becomes a liberal admonition, a “warning” that the country is divided into “two societies” and that this may become a condition:

To continue present policies is to make permanent the division of our country into two societies; one Negro and poor, located in the central cities; the other predominantly white and affluent, located in the suburbs and outlying areas. (Ibid., p. 22.)

The resemblance between this statement and the “Black colony” theory is inescapable: all the radical adherents of this concept also assert that the country is composed of “two societies.”

But two separate societies do not and cannot exist in the United States. The segregation and triple oppression of Black people occur within a single system, a system that locks all forms of class and racist oppression into one society based on the same economy.

The concept of separate societies—whether presented in terms of an “internal colony” or “two societies”—obscures rather than explains the special character of segregation and triple oppression of Black people within the same society, the same economic system dominated by the same racist monopolists who control the lives of the white as well as the Black masses.

Those in the Black liberation movement who advance the idea of “’two societies” or an “internal colony” inevitably become attracted to the separatist fantasy of a “Black revolution,” i.e., a revolution without allies; or to the other extreme of the same separatist illusion—”black capitalism.”

Monopoly’s Role Obscured

The Kerner Report advances the “internal colony” concept of “two societies” in order to promote directly the separatist fantasy of “black capitalism.” But in doing this it simultaneously feeds illusions about a separatist “Black revolution.” By concealing the special character of Black oppression, the Kerner Report seeks to divert the oppressed from a strategy of liberation as a people within a single economy and a single society.

In pursuing its “two societies” theme, the Commission also projects the fantasy of a “predominantly white and affluent society,” thus obscuring monopoly’s role in the special oppression of Black people as a whole, the superexploitation of Black workers, and the exploitation of white workers.

In this way, the Commission suggests a complementary fantasy, i.e., that the conditions and class interests of white workers on the GM assembly line are identical with those of the GM Board of Directors and are therefore contradictory to those of their fellow Black workers.

The Kerner Report skillfully uses the “radical” concepts of the advocates of separatism to camouflage its Washington-Wall Street strategy. It exploits the “separate society”—”separate colony” theory in an effort to divert the Black liberation movement with the allurement of the “Black capitalism” fantasy of “ghetto enrichment.” “We believe,” states the Kerner Report, “that the only possible course for America” is a policy “which combines ghetto enrichment with programs designed to encourage integration of substantial numbers of Negroes into society as a whole.” (Ibid., p. 24.)

When the commission suggests that a “substantial number” (read: a small minority of the Black petty bourgeoisie) be given a limited degree of opportunity outside the ghetto, while the vast majority—offered the illusion of “enrichment” via the fantasy of “Black capitalism”—are to continue to be contained within the ghetto, we can see the link revealed more clearly between the “two societies” and “internal colony” theory and monopoly’s strategy against the Black liberation movement.

For serving the aim of the monopolists, the Black bourgeoisie is offered the myth of ghetto “enrichment,” a euphemism for the permanent segregation and inequality of Black people within the single economy of monopoly capitalism.

The only path for “enrichment” of the people is through a great anti-monopoly formation, with Black and white workers at its center and in its leadership, which—in moving to break the power of monopoly over the total economy—can bring about Black liberation and end poverty and exploitation for all.

The concept of an “underdeveloped,” “colonized” people represents a backward step from the direction taken by Martin Luther King before his death. In fact, such concepts were often advanced as a substitute for King’s increasing orientation on Black workers united with all the exploited and oppressed in struggle against the ruling class.

The programs advanced by those who advocate the “internal colony” and “underdevelopment” concept are not aimed at challenging monopoly through struggle against racism, inequality and Instead, they offer either the rhetoric of “revolution” or the illusion of “Black capitalism” as alternatives to mass struggle.

Substituting the “underdevelopment” concept for that of struggle against racist oppression and class exploitation is not just a question of semantics. The idea of “underdevelopment” in the ghettos would bury the struggle against racism, poverty and war by obscuring the fact that the oppression of Black people arises directly out of the national economy, which is totally controlled by state monopoly capitalism.

Nixon Exploits the Fantasy

Richard M. Nixon also exploits the fantasy of the Black people determining their own destiny through the perpetuation of ghetto enclaves. In a radio broadcast on March 28, 1968, Nixon stated that it was his aim that the Black people should have power “over their own destinies, the power to affect their own communities . . . the power that comes from participation in the political and economic processes of society.”

Nixon then went on to make it clear that by “participation in the political and economic processes of society,” he meant the continued exclusion of Black people from equal participation in the economic and political life of this society as a whole. Along with the bourgeois liberals of the Kerner Commission and the “radical” adherents of the “internal colony” idea, Nixon based himself on the “two societies” concept. And upon this false premise he projects his own strategy for the defense of corporate monopoly.

“What we do not need now,” continued Nixon in a broadcast on April 25, 1968, “is another round of unachievable promises of unavailable funds. What we do need is imaginative enlistment of private funds, private energies and private talents, in order to develop the opportunities that lie untapped in our underdeveloped urban heartland.” (My italics—H.W.)

Here, of course, we see how the anti-Marxist concept of Black Americans as a “colonized” people living within “underdeveloped” urban enclaves fits right into Nixon’s racist, imperialist ideology and strategy. This strategy seeks to impose on the Black people a “Nixonized” version of Booker T. Washington’s “self-help” submission to racism, segregation, poverty and inequality. According to this idea, Black people should not demand equal participation in the nation’s total economy, but should instead determine “’their own destinies” through “Black capitalism” within the ghettos, shut off from the economy they helped build.

To accept the colony analogy in any form is to allow pseudo-radical theories to condition us to accept imperialist ideology, and thus to submit to monopoly capitalism’s offensive against’ the Black liberation movement.

Unlike a subjugated people who form a majority within a viable though underdeveloped economy, this country’s Black minority is segregated within the urban ghettos not because of underdevelopment but because of racism and inequality within the most highly developed economy in the capitalist world.

The populations of the so-called “underdeveloped” ghettos in the “urban heartland” of the U.S. are certainly more directly a part of the laboring process of the single developed economy of this country than, for example, many better-off white suburban ghettos of the country.

When Nixon speaks of “unachievable promises and unavailable funds” for Black people, he is simultaneously trying to use the power of the Federal Government to make good his promises to Wall Street to make funds available for imperialist profits and aggression, instead of for the needs of the people.

The true “opportunities that lie untapped” in the urban ghettos consist of maximum mobilization of the Black masses in the struggle for full equality and unrestricted political and economic participation in order equally to share in the highly developed economy built through more than 350 years of Black oppression and super-exploitation.

The Black people in the U.S. will reject the misleading, though radical-sounding, colony analogy because they will not accept permanent inequality in the guise of overcoming “underdevelopment” within the most industrially developed economy in the world. And while rejecting the “tokenism” inherent in the colony theory, the Black people will just as resolutely reject the pseudo-revolutionism that it gives rise to.

The colony theory lends the appearance of nationalist militancy to cover both conservative and “radical” accommodations to state monopoly capitalism—accommodation to new and devious forms of “self-help” which amount to no more than fake alternatives to struggle against the racist oppressors.

Differences Outweigh Similarities

Of course there are many similarities between the oppression of the Black minority in the U.S. and of present and former imperialist-controlled colonies. But in terms of strategy for the Black liberation movement in the U.S., the differences in status outweigh the similarities in oppression.

In colonially-subjugated countries, the people’s movement emerges in the struggle for independence from foreign domination of the country and its economy. When independence is won, the economy of the country, depending on circumstances, comes either under the control of the people or of the national bourgeoisie allied with and accommodating itself to neo-colonialism.

But can the struggle against racist oppression in this country enable either the Black bourgeoisie or the Black masses, a minority within the country, to take control of the state and the economy? Even to ask the question suggests the absurdity of the “Black colony” or “Black capitalism” concept.

Those who use the colonial theory as the basis for advocating “Black capitalism” do so in the hopeless effort to somehow give the word “capitalism” a revolutionary sound. In fact, placing “Black” next to “capitalism” is supposed to cancel out the negatives that people now associate with capitalism. Even to get the ear of the Black masses, any proposed solution to the hard fact of oppression must at least appear to have a revolutionary potential.

At a time when the people’s anti-imperialist movements all over the world—from Hanoi to Santiago—find that even independence does not mean liberation unless a non-capitalist, socialist direction is taken, it is ironic that some in the Black liberation movement who like to consider themselves revolutionary, propose “Black capitalism” as the solution to oppression.

Those who talk of taking over the economy of the ghettos either through “Black revolution” or “Black capitalism” fail to understand the fundamental difference between the position and demands of a colonial people and those of the oppressed Black people in the U.S.

Unlike colonies, the ghettos scattered across the country have no economy and territory that can be separated from the monopoly-controlled economy dominating every nook and cranny of the country, including the ghettos. Moreover, unlike colonies, there are no riches in the form of oil, minerals and agricultural products to be extracted from the ghettos.

Overlooking the history of capitalism in this and other countries, the advocates of “Black capitalism” pursue the illusion that the white monopolists stand ready to share their control of the country’s economy with Black capitalists. This is particularly ludicrous since any would-be Black capitalist can recount the difficulties he faces in even trying to get a petty loan from the Small Business Administration to get his projected business venture off the ground.

Black business has always been marginal even within the ghetto. And capitalism in its present stage takes the form of giant conglomerates that increasingly devour all small business. Any possible “enrichment” for Black business lies not within monopoly’s strategy of perpetuating the ghettos but within a broad all-encompassing people’s strategy—an anti-monopoly movement in which the primary force is the working class, Black, white, Brown, Yellow and Red, together with the organized Black liberation movement as a whole.

Ghettos, Descendants of Slave Quarters

A liberation movement in a colony consists of a majority struggling to take over the economic life of a common territory. But Black liberation in the U.S. cannot be based on a colonial strategy of political independence to be won for a majority within a common territory and a viable economy. The ghettos of this country, despite the intensity of their oppression, are economically and politically unlike a colony. These ghettos are the descendants of the original Southern Slave quarters, and as economic units they are no more viable than were their forerunners on the plantations.

A colony, which always has a common economy and territory, is usually geographically separated from the “mother” country. But whether separated or adjacent, a colony’s economy is detachable from the imperialist country to which it is linked. When we speak of colonial economies, we are talking about diamonds, cocoa, sugar, cotton, bananas, copper, spices, oil, silver, coffee, tin, jute, gold, uranium, tea, nickel—the sources of untold billions in imperialist super-profits. The raw materials of industry and agriculture are found in the colonies—but not on the barren, rubble-littered streets of a U.S. ghetto.

In the colonies, some of the key imperialist investments go into developing mechanized means of transporting the resources of mine and field from the colony to the “mother” country. In U.S. ghettos, such as Watts, the monopolists do not provide even the semblance of adequate human transportation despite the fact that the majority of Black workers have to travel long distances to jobs—if they can get them—outside the ghetto.

In a colony, the agricultural and other raw materials come from a common territory with more than ample scope for development—the consistent hallmark of such colonies is always and everywhere their underdevelopment. Obviously, this underdevelopment cannot be equated with the condition of economic, social and political inequality within the ghettos of the U.S.

Central to a colony’s underdevelopment is the imperialist’s export of capital for the purpose of controlling its resources and economy. No matter how great the extent of imperialist penetration into a colony, imperialism prevents production of the means of production.

As a consequence, many former colonies and semi-independent countries remain underdeveloped and tightly controlled by neo-colonialism except, in today’s context, when and to the degree that they join with the world anti-imperialist forces, with the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, break the shackles of neo-colonialism and take the non-capitalist path of development toward socialism.

Are Ghettos Detachable from U.S. Economy?

The people who live and toil in a colony earn their living within that colony. But do the majority of the people of Harlem, Watts, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Chicago’s South Side, etc., earn their living in these ghettos? Are these ghettos geographically separated or detachable from U.S. monopoly capitalism—except in the eyes of those who confuse segregation with economy and geography? Do these ghettos possess fields, mines, oil wells and an economy separate or detachable from the U.S. economy? A colony does have the possibility of providing complete economic, social and political, development for its people. But is this possible in a Harlem or a Watts?

Stokely Carmichael Claims that it is possible. He equates the barren ghettos with colonies that have provided the raw materials for the super-profits of imperialism. He states:

The struggle for Black Power in the United States, and certainly around the world, is the struggle to free these colonies from external domination, but we do not seek merely to create communities where black rulers replace white rulers, controlling the lives of black masses and where black money goes into a few black pockets. We want to see it go into the communal pocket . . . (Stokely Speaks, by Stokely Carmichael, Vintage Books, New York, 1971, p. 87.)

Carmichael’s rhetoric about “black money” going into the “communal pocket” contributes nothing to the struggle to put money into the pockets of unemployed, underemployed and underpaid Black masses. That requires a different strategy.

In equating U.S. ghettos with colonies, Carmichael also distorts the meaning of Black power. He equates the strategy of Black liberation with that of colonial peoples fighting for independence and liberation. Despite his radical rhetoric, what Carmichael proposes closely parallels the “Black capitalism” myth of “enrichment” within the ghetto advanced by Nixon and other advocates of segregation and inequality.

That Carmichael’s program is camouflaged as “communal” instead of capitalist does not conceal its accommodation to racism and oppression; power and liberation for the Black people cannot be won via a separatist “strategy” based on the illusion that they can be found within the confines of the ghetto.

When we talk about power, we are talking about political power—the shift of power from one class to another. The Civil War resulted in the change of power from the slave-owners to the rising capitalist class. Today the monopoly capitalist class controls the total economy of the United States. Therefore, all talk of self-determination in the ghetto is a fraud. And this certainly includes the concept—called “Ujamaa”—advanced by Imamu Amiri Baraka:

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit together from them.

Baraka offers not a strategy for Black liberation but a recipe for bourgeois nationalist accommodation to the white ruling class against the interests of the Black people. The Black bourgeoisie will share in the limited Black market, while the mass of the Black people are diverted from the wider anti-monopoly for equality and jobs—that is, for jobs where, as and if they can be found, outside the ghetto.

An Indivisible Part of National Economy

If the possibility of a separate economy for Black people in the U.S. ever existed, it was before Southern agriculture was transformed into large-scale capitalist agriculture. With the massive penetration of monopoly capital throughout the South, any possibility whatsoever for a separate economy disappeared. The area of the former Black majority in the South became an indivisible part of the total national economy, in which Wall Street, not cotton, is king.

In the period between the betrayal of Reconstruction and the end of World War II, while the majority of the former slaves worked the land as sharecroppers and tenant farmers—a serflike condition somewhere between chattel slavery and wage labor—the economy of the South was gripped in a process of dual development. Though coming more and more within the orbit of the national economy, the South—and especially the area of continuing Black majority—still retained aspects of differentiation from the country’s total economy. The pattern of economic development in the area of Black majority was until recently neither fully separate nor identical with the national economy.

It was in the period when the South’s dual process of development had not yet brought its economy fully into the national pattern of monopoly control, and along with it the shifting of the former Black majority to the urban ghettos, that the Communist Party was organized. It developed from the Left forces within the old Socialist Party and the Left forces that emerged from the struggles of Black people in the post World War I era.

A central difference between the Left and the Right in the old Socialist Party was the rejection by the founders of the Communist Party of the anti-Marxist, simplistic denial of the special character of racist oppression in the U.S. While the Communist party saw from its inception that the struggle against racist oppression was part of the class struggle, it also recognized that Blacks were oppressed as a people and that labor with a white skin and labor with a Black skin could not be free unless the special demands of the triply oppressed Black people were put at the center of the struggle for progress and socialism.

At that time the Communists based their approach to Black liberation on an analysis of this continuing duality in Southern development. In October, 1930, the following resolution was adopted at a Congress of the Communist International, describing this duality and it significance for the Black people:

It is not correct to consider the Negro zone of the South as a colony of the United States. Such a characterization of the Black Belt could be based in some respects only upon artificially construed analogies, and would create superfluous difficulties for the clarification of ideas. In rejecting this estimation, however, it should not be overlooked that it would be none the less false to try to make a fundamental distinction between the character of national oppression to which the colonial peoples are subjected and the yoke of other oppressed nations. Fundamentally, national oppression in both cases is of the same character, and is in the Black Belt in many respects worse than in a number of actual colonies. On one hand the Black Belt is not in itself, either economically or politically, such a united whole as to warrant its being called a special colony of the United States. But on the other hand, this zone is not, either economically or politically, such an integral part of the whole United States as any other part of the country.

This analysis was made at a time when the duality in the South’s development had not yet culminated in the changes which would eventually wipe out the main differential between its economy, with its huge Black majority territory, and that of the rest of the country. At that time the Communist party adopted a program calling for the right of self-determination in the area of Black majority in the South, but even then the Party placed the primary, immediate emphasis in every struggle, North and South, on the fight for full equality.

Some may feel there is room for differences on whether the Party was correct in adopting the program of the right to self-determination in the Black Belt—a policy it discarded after the South’s economy had become an integral, undetachable part of the total economy of state monopoly capitalism. This basic change in the South’s economy was accompanied by a fundamental shift in Black/white population ratios in the South, one that above all meant the reduction of the former Black majority in the 189 counties comprising the Black Belt. In turn, this transformed the existence of the majority of the Black people from agrarian to urban in character.

But when the Communist Party advanced the slogan of the right of self-determination, the circumstances were fundamentally different from those of today. By contrast, adherents of the “Black colony” theory continue to advance the idea of self determination when it no longer has even the semblance of relationship to present-day economic and political reality. As a result, the colony analogy has given rise to distorted, anti-Marxist variations of the slogan of self-determination sometimes in the form of “Black capitalism,” sometimes as “revolutionary” self-determination in the scattered ghettos of the country.

Of course there are profound historic differences between earlier period when the Communist party advanced the slogan of the right of self-determination and today when, among the adherents of the “Black colony” theory some can be found advocating a conservative, some a “revolutionary” form of self-determination. The reasons are many.

For one, the area of Black majority in the South is gone. Yet even more important than this change are the basic economic and political differences underlying the shift of the Black majority from the rural South to the big urban ghettos—North, South, East and West. This mass population shift, literally involving millions, reflects a transformation in the class composition of the overwhelming majority of the oppressed Black people.

From a predominantly agrarian population constituting a majority in a vast contiguous Black Belt and plantation area, the oppressed Black people, goaded by hunger and fleeing oppression, have been transformed in their overwhelming majority from peasants to proletarians—suffering new forms of super-exploitation and racist discrimination within the total national economy under the control of corporate monopoly.

It was in this context that James E. Jackson, a leader of the Communist Party, wrote:

The objective factors operating in relation to the Negro people in the United States are working not in the direction of national insularity or separate development of its nationhood. (Theoretical Aspects of the Negro Question in the U.S., February 1959, p. 11.)

Contrast with the Status of Puerto Rico

One need only contrast the status of the people of Puerto Rico and their relationship to U.S. imperialism with that of the oppressed Black people to expose the fallacy of the “internal colony” analogy.

While the analogy suggests some of the common features of oppression, it conceals the fundamentally different position of Afro-Americans from that of Puerto Ricans within the system of U.S. monopoly oppression. As a result, it obscures the basically different strategy and demands required by the Black liberation movement in the U.S. compared to the Puerto Rican or other independence movements against neo- or semi-colonial rule.

The people of Puerto Rico occupy a territory in which they are a majority. Puerto Rico’s economy, now linked to and dominated by U.S. imperialism, is—as was Cuba’s—detachable from the U.S. economy. And the first demand of the Puerto Rican people—like that of the Cuban struggle, which opened the way for national and social liberation—is for political independence: Puerto Rico is forcibly kept within the orbit of U.S. monopoly capitalism under the so-called “Commonwealth” formula. This demand for political independence represents the starting point of the Puerto Rican strategy for sovereign control of Puerto Rico, its economy and government.

The bourgeois nationalists of Puerto Rico, however, continue to oppose political independence. To the demand for independence, they counterpose the myth of Puerto Ricans jointly determining their future with the U.S. within the “Commonwealth.”

It is interesting in this connection to see what Lenin wrote concerning radicals in his time who misunderstood the meaning of the right to self-determination:

Our Polish comrades like this last argument, on joint determination instead of self-determination, so much that they repeat it three times in their theses! . . . All reactionaries and bourgeois grant to nations forcibly retained within the frontiers of a given state the right to “determine jointly” their fate in a common parliament. (Collected Works. Vol. 22, p. 322.)

And today we see how the position of the Puerto Rican bourgeois nationalists merges with that of U.S. imperialism; for Puerto Rico—which has its own Separate economy on the common territory occupied by the Puerto Rican people—the monopolists do not fear to offer the “right” to “determine jointly” with the U.S. Congress the fate of that country.

Any formula for so-called joint control of Puerto Rico is a fraud, a one-way street. The Puerto Rican liberation movement is not out for joint control or participation in the U.S. economy in any form—it is demanding an end to so-called joint control of its economy.

In Puerto Rico, the Puerto Ricans constitute more than a majority—apart from the handful of representatives of U.S. imperialism, they make up the entire population. On the other hand, the Black liberation movement represents a minority which seeks equality in determining the economic and political life of the U.S. But the ruling class does all in its power here to prevent, to stifle, to block the right of Black people to determine, “jointly” or otherwise, or even to share in the economy of this country along with all other segments of the oppressed and impoverished.

Of course, the oppressed and exploited within the U.S. do not have the objective of even becoming “partners” in a joint enterprise with U.S. imperialism! The task of the majority of the people of all races and backgrounds, under the leadership of Black and white workers, is to break the power of monopoly over the government and the economy. It is this anti-monopoly struggle—which cannot be waged by the Black minority alone, but only in unity with the non-Black majority—that alone can bring about joint power to the people and control of the economy.

U.S. imperialism uses and has always used its economic and military power to oppose self-determination in Puerto Rico, Vietnam, Chile and the other countries throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America where the people have in some degree their own separate economies. Ironically, it is this same U.S. imperialism that deliberately fosters every form of separatist fantasy for Black people, including “self-determination” for a people who have no common territory or separate economy but whose population on the contrary is dispersed in more than 160 major urban ghettos around the country. The same U.S. monopolists who propose “joint control” of Puerto Rico with the Puerto Ricans offer Black people the trap of “self-determination” in ghettos where that is impossible—either in the form of “Black capitalism,” Baraka’s “cooperative economics” or Carmichael’s “communal” concept.

Black liberation in the U.S. calls for a strategy the exact opposite of Puerto Rican and other liberation movements outside the U.S. In colonial and dependent countries, the people’s aim is to break the links that artificially tie their economies to imperialism. A liberating strategy for Black Americans does not involve a break with the U.S. economy, but instead must aim at overcoming forcible exclusion of Black people from their rightful participation in the LIS. economy: The goal here is for full equality within the total economy.

Thus, James E. Jackson wrote:

The path of development of the Negro people toward individual and national equality does not take the route of struggle for national independence and political-geographical sovereignty and statehood. The Negro people in the United States historically, now, and most probably for the future, seek solutions to its national question in struggle for securing equality of political, economic and social status. . . . (Ibid., p. 10.)

The fact that Black people were forcibly transported to this country and held in chattel slavery for over two centuries should not be allowed to obscure the specific reality of the Black condition in the U.S. today, which has been transformed into the opposite of what it was in the past. Today, instead of being forcibly attached to the economy, Black people are increasingly excluded from it by racist discrimination and underemployment. The only path to liberation is through resistance to the forces that now forcibly separate, segregate and exclude Afro-Americans from full equality within the total economy.

Revolution Proceeds in Its Own Way

Lenin wrote, “One must understand the changes and growth of every revolution. The revolution proceeds in its own way in every country . . . ” (Collected Works, Vol. 28, Progress Publishers, p. 123.) And on another occasion, Lenin declared that “different nations are advancing in the same historical direction, but by very different zigzags and bypaths . . . “(Collected Works, Vol. 29, p. 195.)

For colonial peoples, liberation starts with rejection of the myth that their fate can be determined “jointly” within the framework of the tight controls that link it to the U.S. economy. For the Black people in the US, on the other hand, liberation is realizable only on the basis of overcoming exclusion and inequality through an anti-monopoly movement, in which the Black people and all who are exploited by the common corporate enemy seek to establish joint control of the country’s economy, It is within such a revolutionary process that Black people will gain full and equal participation in the entire economy, and equality of representation in all aspects of the social, political, economic and governmental life of the country.

The ideology of separatism, of determining “Black destiny” on a go-it-alone path—rejecting united action with non-Black opponents of monopoly power—is in today’s context equivalent to the idea of emigration to Canada or Africa counterposed by some as an alternative to Douglass’ strategy of forming an anti-slave power coalition—the strategy which did ultimately bring an end to chattel slavery.

This becomes most apparent when one considers the parallelism between the separatist ideology of Imamu Amiri Baraka and the racism of George Wallace—a contemporary version of the pre-Civil War parallelism between Black emigrationism and the American Colonizing Society, formed by slavery-supporting antecedents of George Wallace for the ostensible purpose of returning slaves to Africa. However, the real purpose of the American Colonization Society was not to abolish but reinforce slavery by stimulating separatist tendencies aimed at bringing about the withdrawal of Black people from the emerging Black and white majority movement against the slave power.

Today there is a coincidence between the Baraka and the Wallace stand on busing—but for both it is a false issue. Nixon, Wallace and Baraka have demagogically inflated this issue at a time when less than 3% of busing is used to alleviate school segregation. Wallace and Baraka are well aware that busing is only a small part of the school segregation question, but each has his own separate but parallel ideological and political motives for opposing it.

Wallace exploits the busing issue in order to serve the pro-fascist forces of monopoly capital, who aim at preventing the unity of Black and white—especially of Black and white labor—by vastly intensifying the ideology and patterns of racism. Baraka’s opposition to busing is related to his strategy of exploiting every issue in order to promote the ideology and politics of separatism, of withdrawal from the struggle against the racist monopolists Wallace serves.

Separatism also distorts the meaning of valid features of the struggle for Black liberation. For instance, all varieties of separatist ideology, including Baraka’s and Carmichael’s, equate “community control” and Black institutions with liberation. Black institutions and control of communities in which Black people constitute a majority are a vital part of the struggle for liberation. But Black liberation can develop only as a part of a wider struggle for “national control” over the economic and political life of the entire country, a struggle which cannot be carried out by Black people alone.

There is no realistic basis for the Black people determining their lives through a strategy limiting the struggle to “community control”—which is but one of the key starting points in the struggle to take national control out of the hands of the monopoly power.

There are some, however, who will admit that “self-determination” in the ghettos is impossible—but who nevertheless entertain an equally unrealistic view: by expanding the idea of community control to black control of a separate state, these forces maintain that the concept of Black separatism would then become a viable instead of an illusory one.

However, the reality of the matter is that the shift of national power from the monopoly oppressors to the people calls for a wider strategy in which the self-action of the Black minority becomes a vital, independent part of the total struggle in alliance with the non-Black majority against the common enemy.

Baraka Exploits the Views of Nyerere and Senghor

While radicals such as James Boggs, Stokely Carmichael and James Foreman falsely attach a “Marxist” label to their variations on the theme of separatism, Imamu Amiri Baraka, an openly anti-Marxist bourgeois nationalist, exploits the views of Julius K. Nyerere and Leopold Sedar Senghor to advance his divisive separatist aims. For instance, in calling for “Ujamaa, collective or cooperative economics,” Baraka says it is the “’traditional’ way of distributing wealth for the Black man.” But, he points out, “Ujamaa is not, as it has been said, ’African Socialism’. Ujamaa has always been the African attitude towards the distribution of wealth. . . . It has never been a European attitude, but rather a theory. Can you get it?” (See Julius Nyerere’s paper Ujamaa in Uhuru na Umoja.) Italics in the original.

Baraka uses the “outer forms” of African tradition in order to mystify—i.e., to conceal his adherence to capitalism in both Africa and the United States. There are differences as well as similarities in Nyerere’s conception of Ujamaa as “African socialism” and Baraka’s Ujamaa as “collective or cooperative economics.”

Even a cursory examination of Nyerere’s views reveals that when he refers to “African Socialism,” he is really talking about African capitalism:

In the individual, as in the society, it is an attitude of mind which distinguishes the socialist from the non-socialist. It has nothing to do with the possession or non-possession of wealth. . . . The basic difference between a socialist society and a capitalist society does not lie in their methods of producing wealth, but in the way that wealth is distributed. (Nyerere, Freedom and Unity/Uhuru na Umoja, by Julius K. Nyerere, Oxford University press, London, 1967, pp. 162-163.)

In the traditional African society, Nyerere states:

Both the “rich” and the “poor” individual were completely secure . . . Nobody starved, either of food or of human dignity, because he lacked personal wealth; he could depend on the wealth possessed by the community of which he was a member. That was socialism. That is socialism . . . Socialism is essentially distributive. Its concern is to see that those who sow reap a fair share of what they sow. (Ibid., p. 164.)

Nyerere equates the early, classless African tribal society with the present day. But today there is no “traditional” or “third” way for countries that have broken the external chains of imperialism: they must take either a capitalist or non-capitalist path. Those who take the path of capitalism become involved in submission to new forms of imperialist domination.

On the other hand, those countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America which take the non-capitalist path and move toward socialism—are able to consolidate independence and insure liberation on the basis of internal socialist development and with the solidarity and support of the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries, together with the worldwide anti-imperialist forces of class and national liberation.

When Nyerere says that “Socialism is essentially a distributive system,” he reveals his hesitancy to break with the internal and external opponents of scientific socialism for his country, Tanzania. Socialism is based on abolition of capitalist control of the means of production. Nyerere’s so-called “distributive system” would imply simply to allow the means of production to remain in the hands of a developing capitalist class. He makes this very clear when he says:

Just as the Elder, in our former society was respected for his age and his service to the community, so, in our modern society, this respect for age and service will be preserved. And in the same way as the “rich” Elder’s apparent wealth was really only held by him in trust for his so, today, the apparent extra wealth which certain positions of leadership may bring to the individuals who fill them, can be theirs only insofar as it is a necessary aid to the carrying out of their duties. (Ibid., p. 168.)

This, of course, is Nyerere’s rationale for denying the development of classes. In the meantime the new bourgeoisie are gaining control of the economy of Tanzania. For Nyerere, these newly rich Tanzanians are not capitalist exploiters. They are the “Elders,” the preservers of the ancient traditions of African “communal” society.

In exploiting Nyerere, Baraka calls for “the African attitude toward the distribution of wealth” in monopoly controlled United States. His purpose is to divert the mass struggle against the class controlling the means of production—which, in the United States, means the monopolies, who control the entire economy.

But for Baraka, monopoly control is irrelevant. In effect, he calls for submission to instead of struggle against monopoly. He would pacify the Black liberation movement with the fantasy of an “African attitude towards the distribution of wealth”—which could mean only the continued distribution of poverty instead of jobs to the ghetto millions.

Baraka’s concept of “race” and a “nation” is also based on exploiting Senghor’s ideology of Negritude. In Senegal, Senghor’s ideology of Negritude is turned into an instrument for enrichment of a tiny minority and of accommodation to new forms of colonialism. In the U.S., the role of Baraka, who exploits the ideology of Negritude, reveals that all forms of separatism—whether his own “militant” rightist variety or one or another “leftist” variation—serve to separate, to divert the Black working class from leadership of the liberation movement.

There is a profound difference in the objective role of Nyerere and Senghor, and that of Baraka, despite the fact that Baraka, for his own purposes, seeks to project himself in the image of the views of these two African statesmen.

Both Nyerere and Senghor, though inconsistently, operate within the framework of the struggles for the independence of their own, and of all African countries. On the other hand Baraka’s role is to subordinate the Black Liberation Movement in the U.S. to the aims of bourgeois nationalist accommodation to racist monopoly at home—and to the new phase of U.S. imperialism’s neo-colonialist strategy against African liberation.

Baraka plays with the symbols of Africa’s past, adapting them to his own separatist aims in order to evade the substance of the Black condition and the imperative of an anti-monopoly strategy for Black liberation in the U.S.

However, the majority of Afro-Americans long ago decided that their roots and rights were second to none in this country.

Even before Frederick Douglass challenged separatist concepts, strong opposition appeared to such tendencies, expressing what is to this day the main thrust of the struggles and aspirations of the Black majority. As early as January, 1817, James Forten organized a protest meeting to combat separatist influences among his people, and to oppose the American Colonization Society. This meeting, held at the Bethel Church in Philadelphia, adopted the following resolution:

Whereas, our ancestors (not by choice) were the first successful cultivators of the fields of America, we, their descendants feel ourselves entitled to participate in the blessing of her luxuriant soil, which their blood enriched, and that any measure or system of measures, having a tendency to banish us from her bosom, would not only be cruel, but in direct violation of those principles which have been the boast of this Republic. (The Journal of Charlotte L. Forten, Macmillan Co., New York, 1967, p. 15.)

The resolution then went on to make it unmistakably clear that all forms of separatism were contrary to the interests of the majority of oppressed Blacks:

Resolved that we will never separate ourselves voluntarily from the slave of this country; they are our brethren by ties of consanguinity, suffering and wrong; and we feel there is more virtue in suffering with them, than fancied advantages for the season. (Ibid.)

Forten believed that “any tendency” separating Black people from a strategy to win full equality within the “bosom” of the country’s economy was contrary to the aspirations of the Black majority. This was underscored a few months later at another protest meeting organized by Forten, which adopted a resolution written by him, stating:

Let not a purpose be assisted which will stay the cause of the entire abolition of slavery and which may defeat it altogether, which proffers to those who do not ask for them benefits, but which they consider injuries, and which must insure to the masses, whose prayers can only reach us, misery, suffering and slavery, (Ibid., p. 16.)

The principles advocated by Forten, and later by Frederick Douglass, are still applicable. They need only be adapted to today’s total industrial economy, which has been “enriched” by the blood of Forten’s and Douglass’ ancestors and descendants. Today, the extension of these principles means that “any measure or system of measures, having a tendency to banish” the Black people from full and equal participation in the national economy would indeed mean offering “to those who do not ask for them benefits, but which they consider injuries . . . ”

As others said to the separatists of today: “Let not the purpose be assisted which will stay the cause” of the formation of a great new people’s challenge to the common enemy—the monopolist descendants of the slave power. This is the strategy for today’s Black agenda—the strategy for Black liberation.


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