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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It is not for nothing that the Afro-American movement and black nationalism are associated with nationalism. To achieve liberation from his colonial status and the economic-political-social-cultural structure which imposes it on him, it is right and proper as well as probably necessary for the Afro-American to rally around the black nationalist flag. Since his anti-colonial war is against a strong and well entrenched foe, the Afro-American can hardly afford to and cannot rightly be asked to worry about, much less to sacrifice his battle strategy for the some-time support of fair weather progressive friends. His friends, if they really are that, will not for their part seek to deny the Afro-American his legitimate and effective battle flag: Though they belong to another nation, true radicals will not deny the Cuban his nationalist cause— or the Afro-American his. Like the Cuban also, it is the Afro-American himself who must in the future as in the past bear the brunt of battle and the bulk of sacrifice. In this war against internal colonialism, black nationalism is the Afro-American’s most immediately effective flag and weapon, irrespective of whether it gains or loses him the support of other nationals. Spain once separated true radicals and progressives from false ones; Cuba does so today; the Black Nationalist’s forming battle lines seem to pose another but harder test for the radical tomorrow.
Black nationalism, progressive and revolutionary as it is, must not be confused with the chauvinist nationalism and racism of external and internal colonialists and their oppression. There are two kinds of nationalism, reactionary and progressive. Though modern nationalism began as a progressive bourgeois movement of liberation against oppressive power in the hands of others, the Western bourgeoisies soon learned to use nationalism and patriotism to enlist popular support for their imperialist ventures to oppress and exploit the peoples of Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Still in our times, right wing British Tories, German and Italian Fascists, and American rightists invoke super-patriotism as a cover for their foreign and domestic colonial exploitation. The other nationalism is the response of these same oppressed and exploited peoples. It is the nationalism of the national liberation movements the world over. It is the black nationalism of the Afro-Americans. Its flag can mobilize the oppressed for their liberation. But as the failure of the ’third way’ and the success of the socialist road has shown, to achieve liberation from the system that produces the oppression, the nationalist banner must be in the hands not of the bourgeoisie but of the people; for only the people themselves have an interest in changing the structure of exploitation. Membership in the Nation of Islam and other militant movements shows that the black nationalist flag is today in the hands of the people. The black bourgeoisie, far from being nationalist, every day shows its Quisling colors more clearly. In the hands of the Afro-American people as it is, black nationalism becomes revolutionary radicalism to recapture the liberation movement from those and their allies who have corrupted it.
Radical and revolutionary black nationalism cannot be likened to racism. Particularly in its anti-Negro form, racism is an instrument of economic oppression and exploitation. There was no trace of racism in Shakespeare’s Othello. There was racism in Aristotle’s slave society, and he defended it in the name of God and Nature. Then, reinvented by capitalist society as an instrument of its slave, external and internal colonial exploitation, racism came to be defended in the name of God, Nature, Science, and personal prejudice. Black nationalism, on the contrary, is the product of this same oppression among the colonised and it will be the instrument of his liberation from that oppression. In his nationalist and revolutionary fight for liberation from colonialism, the oppressed and discriminated against Afro-American should certainly take full advantage of the liberal rules of the game to the limited extent possible. But to win this all too serious game which, liberal rules and all, is obviously stacked against him, the Afro-American must rely on black nationalism to advance well beyond the battlefront liberals and many would-be radicals want to draw for him Pseudo-progressives’ liberal confusion of black nationalism with racism and their use of the insidious term “reverse-racism” are liberal sophistry. Advice ’not to go to extremes which antagonize the good friends you have’ is hypocrisy. Any appeal to the Afro-American to stop short in his fight for national liberation which is made in the name of liberalism or ’consistency’ is no more than a modern Aristotelian appeal for slavery in the name of God and Nature. The Afro-American will take care of his enemies himself; let God and himself protect him from his friends and liberals.
Today and tomorrow black nationalism is the Afro-American’s most powerful mobilizing force for his liberation notwithstanding that this banner excludes those outside the ranks of Afro-Americans who may also have cause and desire to fight But though black nationalism may exclude other radicals from the Afro-American movement, it does not exclude them from fighting the same war under their own banner (s). To show their readiness to do so, the first step that today’s circumstances impose on true radicals is to recognize and accept the black nationalist banner for the force of revolutionary liberation that it is. Lenin already emphasized that the nationalist assertion of different nationalities need not weaken the revolutionary effort but is often necessary to strengthen it. Indeed on the international level, the truly progressive nationalism of oppressed nations has served to unify the peoples of all these nations in their common war against the system that exploits them all.
The circumstances of the Afro-American make black nationalism the necessary response to and correct strategy against the structure of oppression from which he suffers. The Afro-American is the victim of internal colonialism carried on within the country’s borders rather than across them.
Unlike other nationals therefore, the Afro-American can and must rely on internal nationalism, on black nationalism, to mobilize his revolutionary forces of liberation. Faced by a tougher enemy and problem than most other colonial peoples, the Afro-American cannot sacrifice his strongest weapon on the altar of doctrinaire orthodoxy. Moreover, their experience with the doctrinally sweet sounding fruit of “metropolitan working class unity with colonialized peoples against their common oppressor” has properly left a bitter taste in the mouth of the Algerian, the Cuban, and with perhaps still more reason, the Afro-American revolutionary. As is well known, the working class leadership in the industrialized countries, be it by Social Democrats before the First World War or by their successors after the two World Wars, far from having made the cause of colonial liberation its own, abandoned the colonial peoples and often even opposed them in their revolutionary struggle. More than anyone, it is the Afro-American who has been left to sacrifice, suffer, and fight alone so far. Are these same would-be revolutionaries, radicals, progressives, liberals, and other ’friends’ now to ask the Afro-American to lay down his revolutionary black nationalist flag and weapon to fight under the flag and with the feeble arms of liberalism, consistency or unity? Liberals and doctrinaire “Marxists” may wish to answer in the affirmative; but theirs is not the revolutionary doctrinal Marxism of Marx and Lenin.