Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist League

Negro National Colonial Question


Any real analysis of the Negro people’s movement has to begin by seeing it as an integral part of the international revolutionary upsurge of the colonial peoples against imperialism. In the Communist League we use as our base the historic as well as the political conclusions of the October Revolution.

Stalin points out:

Thus the October Revolution, having put an end to the old bourgeois movement for national emancipation, inaugurated the era of a new, socialist movement of the workers and peasants of the oppressed nationalities, directed against all oppression, which also means national oppression, against the rule of the bourgeoisie, their own and foreign, and against imperialism in general.[1]

Further Stalin states:

It became obvious that the emancipation of the toiling masses of the oppressed nationalities and the abolition of national oppression were inconceivable without a break with imperialism, without the overthrow by each of its ’Own’ national bourgeoisie and the assumption of power by the toiling masses themselves.[2]

It is obvious that no national bourgeoisie can successfully lead a movement of national liberation, just as it is obvious that in this period of its extreme parasitism, imperialism will not peacefully allow any colonial nation, especially a small nation, an independent existence.

Therefore, in our discussion of the Negro movement we will divide history into two parts; 1) the period prior to the October Revolution in the Soviet Union which we call the Negro Bourgeois Democratic National Movement, and 2) the post 1917 period which we call the Negro People’s Liberation Movement. (In general, this division conforms to the whole of the colonial emancipation movement. However, the People’s Liberation Movement as such actually began more in 1922 than in 1917. Nevertheless, the shift in political forces was the result of the October Revolution.)

Due to the years of confusion on the Negro question, it is necessary to answer the question, how and why did the Negro Bourgeois Democratic National Movement arise? We have already indicated the difference that existed between the patriarchal slavery in some areas of Brazil and certain other areas of Hispanic America and the capitalist slavery that existed in the areas owned or controlled by England, the most advanced of the capitalist countries. Basically, and in the long run that difference is the reason why it became inevitable that the slaves of Brazil became the proletariat and the slaves of the United States of North America (in the Black Belt) developed toward nationhood and a national movement.

Let us examine the political and military conditions that existed at the end of the Civil War. Firstly, in President Johnson, who became president in 1865 after Lincoln’s assassination, the landlord planters had a firm ally. At his invitation scores of former Southern members of the House of Representatives and the Senate showed up to reclaim their seats in Congress. Had they succeeded, the political battle would have been decisively won by the Confederacy. Johnson forbade the moves by some democratic generals to implement the military victory of the North. He removed all Negro military organizations from the South and allowed the re-grouping of military organizations of the Confederacy. These military battalions roamed the countryside, pillaging, looting and murdering the Negro people. One of many examples, was the Hamberg, South Carolina Massacre. There, a military unit in civilian dress commanded by General Butler received cannon and heavy weapons from the Federal arsenal at Augusta, Ga.. With these weapons he conducted the massacre at Hamberg as well as pillaging and looting throughout South Carolina. (See Woodson and Wesley, The Negro in Our History. Associated Publishers, N.Y., 1966, p. 415)

In a real sense, the planter-landlords never lost military supremacy in the South. After the defeat of the Confederacy in conventional warfare, the armed struggle assumed other forms. One of these forms was the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK, as it is called carried out widespread intimidation of the masses. The KKK combined with other terrorist extra-legal organizations, and the Confederate military units were the forerunners of Hitler’s Brown Shirts and Storm Troopers, with exactly the same division of labor between them. General Sheridan estimated that 3,500 Negroes were killed in the first decade after “emancipation”.

Other estimates range up to 10,000 the first year. At any rate, the truth is that these armed bands and military units roamed the countryside, surrounding encampments of Negroes and carrying out orgies of hangings, burnings at the stake, whippings and all manners of torture and mass murder. Throughout the South “race riots” were instigated that left whole sections of villages and towns burned and thousands of Negroes dead from mob violence. Clearly, the Negro people were being driven back into slavery. The sheer horror and violence of this first stage of the counterrevolution was a blood soaked testament of the great democratic upsurge of the Negro and poor Anglo-American masses.

The massed conventional armies of the Confederacy were clearly defeated in the field. The surrender of General Lee at Appomattox was the formal recognition of this fact. War, however, is the extension of politics by other means and there is much in history to show that winning the military victory in no way assures the political ends. Actually the specific property relations in the North and the South put the victorious Northern bourgeoisie in a difficult position. On the one hand they did not dare disturb the capitalist property relations of the South, on the other hand they had to break the political power of the landlord-planters who still dominated the Judicial branch of the government through the Supreme Court whose justices were appointed by pre-war presidents who represented and were loyal to the slave powers.

Through President Johnson, who remained loyal to the slave owners, the slave power also continued to dominate the Executive branch. The decisive fight was being made in the Legislative branch. The landlord-planters of the South were making a strong effort to take over the House of Representatives and the Senate. This was feasible because the voting restrictions of the South allowed only pro-landlord votes to be cast, the Negroes and the vast majority of the poor Anglo-Americans were not allowed to vote. Thus, by the beginning of 1869 it was clear that the planters were winning the political-battle against the financial capitalists of the North.

As a result the financial capitalists of the North raised the battle cry of “the Revolution is in danger”. In response to this call stepped forward the petty bourgeois radicals. The political leadership of the revolution slipped into their hands. The best representatives of these latter day Robespierres were Thaddeus Stevens, Frederick Douglas, Charles Sumner and Wendell Phillips. These radical democrats had the decisive task of enfranchising the freedmen so that the Southern political base, represented by pro-landlord votes would be denied the landlords. It was this need to crush the political resistance of the landlord-planters, and this need alone, that dictated the* period of reconstruction.

For the moment, the needs of the Northern financial capitalists and the needs of the Negro people to some extent coincided. The Negro people and the poor Anglo-Americans of the South became pawns in what has been named the “Battle for Democracy”. (See Allen, Reconstruction, the Battle for Democracy, International Publishers, N.Y., 1937) In fact, it was a war where the rules were, heads I win; tails you lose.

The Northern financial capitalists had shown their “democratic” colors by smashing unions, maintaining a 12 to 18 hour work day and by ruthlessly exploiting the labor of women and children. There was nothing in the make-up of the class to indicate that they were willing to grant the Negroes privileges that they denied the Anglo-Americans. So the Negro and Anglo-American pawns were moved forward. No matter who won the “Battle for Democracy”, for sure the Negroes were going to lose. What the revisionists Foster, Dennis, Aptheker and others describe as the “Battle for Democracy” was the political phase of the struggle between the financial capitalists of the North and the blood-sucking feudal-minded brutal landlords of the South – both capitalists – different wings of the same brutal class. At any rate, the Republicans of the North had to win over the freedmen and it was only their political opportunism that dictated the passage of the 13th and 14th amendments of the Constitution. These amendments prohibited slavery and at least formalized the civil fights of the freedmen.

The Negro People and Reconstruction

The passage of the 13th amendment to the constitution, (Dec. 18, 1865) abolished slavery and was the opening gun in the battle to reconstruct the South. The forces of the landlord-planters lashed out in a brutal effort to terrorize the ex-slaves and drive them back into slavery. This sharp and bitter class struggle presented the Negro masses with their first opportunity and necessity for organization. This resistance movement was known as the Negro People’s Convention Movement. This movement only lasted from 1865 through 1866. However, it was organized in all states and was very important in blunting the counter-revolutionary efforts of the landlord-planters.

The 13th amendment unleashed social forces that the Northern capitalists feared more than they feared the planters. This was shown in the way they dealt with the freedmen when they went “too far”. Thus, when property rights were at stake, the Northern finance capitalists and the Southern planters found common cause.

The freed Negroes, knowing that real freedom lay only in their ownership of the land, launched a powerful movement for re-distribution of the former slave holder lands. In the same manner as the present day Brazilian, Indian or Peruvian peasant, the freedmen simply squatted on the plantations and took possession in fact. The “benefactors” of the Negro people in Washington did not hesitate to send troops to murder the squatters where the KKK was not up to the task of removing them. These instances exposed the real intent of the Northern capitalists. Following these “excesses” of the revolutionary Negro people, the inevitable link-up of the Northern monopolies and the remnants of the Southern “landlord-planters” took place. This was foretold in a letter from Engels” to Marx when he wrote; “And shall guerrillas come forth on the terrain? I certainly expect that after the definite dissolution of the armies the white trash of the South will attempt something of the sort, but I am too firmly convinced of the bourgeois nature of the planters to doubt for a moment that this will make them rabid Union men forthwith. The former are bound to attempt this with brigandage, and the planters will everywhere receive the Yankees with open arms.

This business (the burning of New Orleans, Ed.) must necessarily bring the split between the planters and merchants, on the one side, and the white trash, on the other, to a head and therewith the secession is undone.[3]

This link-up between the remnants of the capitalist landlord-planters and the Northern bourgeoisie was formalized in the Hayes-Tilden agreement of 1877.

It must be stated at this point, that W.Z. Foster on p. 337 of his book The Negro People in American History, concedes the point that the planters were “bourgeois”. However he fails to explain why it is that the CPUSA’s program concerning the struggle for democracy in the South is based on the destruction of lingering FEUDAL RELATIONS, not feudal social, but feudal economic relations. The CPUSA fails to distinguish between the Negro people which was developed as a people prior to the Civil War, and the Negro national movement which developed only after the defeat of Reconstruction. The leadership of the CPUSA knows full well that to admit that slavery in the United States of North America was a crude, brutal, primitive form of capitalist exploitation would bring the CPUSA’s house of revisionist cards down around their heads. Therefore, they blandly state a fact and then completely disregard it.

The passage of the 14th amendment to the Constitution which gave large numbers of ex-slaves the right to vote, threw the masses of Negro people into the political arena. Literally thousands of Northern Anglo-Americans (the Carpetbaggers) flooded into the South. They came with various intentions, but the basic reason for the recruitment of these missionaries was to assist the Negro people in organizing themselves as a political force and taking their indispensable place in the struggle to smash the political power of the landlord-planters.

This struggle, known as the struggle for reconstruction, gave birth to the Populist movement. As was stated above, the Northern finance capitalists were faced with the delicate task of defeating the enemy politically without disturbing the existing capitalist property relations. They found the answer in the Populist movement. Here, “poor” people were thrown into struggle against “rich” people without any consideration as to class and history. Thus a political front was skillfully built that threw the energies of the ex-slaves, poor Anglo-Americans and the free Negroes against the existing power of the landlords.

From 1865-1874 the most important and powerful organization of the mass movement was the famous Union Leagues. These adjuncts of the Republican Party were often armed defense units of the ex-slaves and poor Anglo-Americans. The Negro locals of the Union Leagues were finally crushed by KKK terror in 1874.

During the period of Reconstruction a rapid proletarianization of the Negro people took place. During the 1870*s the Colored National Labor Union expanded until it had locals in 23 states. The CNLU associated itself with the International Workingmen’s Association led by Karl Marx.

One of the most powerful and broad organizations of the Populist movement was the Southern Farmers Alliance. The development of the Southern Farmers Alliance was largely independent of the integrated democratic National Farmers Alliance. The Southern Alliance (a base of the Populist Movement) endorsed white supremacy and excluded Negroes from its ranks. The role of the Alliance was to be the main battering ram to finish off the landlord-planters. The monopolies certainly intended that the Negroes were not to play a role in it. However, in the course of the political struggle with the planters, it became evident that the Alliance would have to broaden its social base in order to out fight and out vote the landlords. It was for this reason alone that the leadership of the Alliance defended the Negroes right to vote, and on many occasions, leading armed men to prevent the lynching of a Negro member.

This movement was widely supported by the Negro people despite its white supremacy. In the struggle of the Alliance we can see the crucial position of the Negro masses. While the Anglo-American locals tried to dominate and dictate to the Negro locals, the Anglo-Americans were compelled to fight for the right to vote and the right to organize for the Negroes. It had been obvious from the beginning that the South would have to rely on the Negroes whether in organizing a struggle for progress or to exploit the wealth of that region. The monopolies, acting through the Populist movement were able to drive the planters to the wall and defeat them only by relying on the deep democratic aspirations of the Southern Negroes.

The Defeat of Reconstruction and Populism, the Imperialist Offensive and the Rise of Fascism

By the early 1870’s the basic goals of the Northern capitalists had been achieved. Woodward points out in his Origins of the New South. “At least half of the planters after 1870 were either Northern men or organized in corporations and financed by banks.”[4] Further, “Not one third of the cotton plantations of the Mississippi Valley were owned by the men who held them at the end of the war.”[5] It was plain that the financial capitalists of the North had finally achieved hegemony throughout the U.S.N.A.

As the positions of the finance capitalists were consolidated, the horror of the Ku Klux Klan, now under the direction of Wall Street, was unleashed against the Negro people. For example in Vicksburg, Mississippi, over 200 Negroes were killed in the week before the city election. President Grant reported to the Senate in 1875, “...A butchery of citizens was committed at Colfax, Louisiana, which in blood-thirstiness and barbarity is hardly surpassed by any acts of savage warfare.”[6]

The counter-revolution took on the aspects of a slaughter of a people. In 1871, in the area around New Orleans, 297 Negroes were lynched in one month. Reporting on the situation in North Carolina, Judge Albion W. Tourgee said, ”Of the slain there were enough to furnish a battlefield and all from these three classes, the Negro, the Scalawag and the Carpetbagger....the wounded in this silent warfare were more thousands than those who groaned upon the slopes of Gettysburg.”[7]

It is worth noting that it was during the most bloody years of the terror and counter-revolution that the Republican Party increased its strength. In 1872, Grant was reelected. The Senate held 49 Republicans against 19 Democrats the House of Representatives held 195 Republicans against 88 Democrats.

So we see that the conditions for the defeat of Reconstruction was the consolidation of hegemony, both economic and political, of finance capital. This does not at all jibe with the CPUSA’s contention that the defeat of Reconstruction was based on an agreement between the feudal landlord planters and the Northern industrialists.

The Hayes-Tilden Agreement

The presidential balloting of 1876 gave the Northern monopolies their chance to crush the last vestiges of democracy in the South, while at the same time relieving themselves of any responsibility for the slaughter, new slavery (peonage) and colonization of the Negro people. Hayes, the Republican candidate lost the popular vote by 252,224 votes to the Democrat Tilden, who represented strictly the planters without the demagogy of Hayes. Tilden claimed the election. So, the Republicans challenged the ballots from So. Carolina, Florida, Louisiana and Oregon. This manouver threw Tilden out of the race but still left Hayes one electoral vote short of the needed majority. A constitutional crisis followed. There were many threats and even a phoney plan for the Southern Tilden supporters to take Washington by a coup d’etat.

Of course, the crisis and the threats of a new civil war were merely the smokescreen for a legal coup. This came in the form of the infamous Hayes-Tilden agreement. Basically the agreement was to turn the Southern state governments over to the Democrats, including the governments of South Carolina and Louisiana where the Republicans still held democratic populist control. The most telling part of the agreement was that the North would withdraw all Federal troops out of the South and let the South settle its own problems. By returning the state governments to the Democratic Party, now fully controlled by the imperialists, and deepening the concepts of states rights, counter-revolution could triumph and the will of the democratic masses of the North would be legally blocked.

The Hayes-Tilden agreement had the same effect in the South as when President Hindenberg of Germany “felt” compelled to appoint Adolph Hitler as Chancellor of Germany. Every fascist current in the South zeroed in on the Negro masses and the democratic minded poor Anglo-Americans.

The Fascist Offensive

The Hayes-Tilden agreement and the following withdrawal of the federal troops from the South in 1877 was only a big event in a well defined trend. To the degree that the financial capitalists politically subdued the landlord-planters, to that degree did the monopolies hand the Negroes back into a new slavery. As the troops left, the landlords surfaced as a political power. However, this time they were not in opposition to, but were the direct and brutal agents of the bloodthirsty monopolies. In became clear that they had never lost military supremacy over the Negro people. At no time and at no place had the Negroes ever won a clear political majority. The pro-slavery storm troops allied with the terrorist KKK never allowed Reconstruction to stabilize or develop.

In the South, the offensive of imperialism had a marked fascist character. The withdrawal of the Federal troops was the signal for the “revolt of the poor whites”.

The democratic, anti-monopoly Populist movement that reached its high point just before the counter-revolution was led, in the South by such men as Ben Tillman and Tom Watson. These so-called leaders were opportunist vacillating men who constantly compromised with the landlords while trying to fight them. The most crucial and decisive question was the question of the unity of the Negro and Anglo-American masses. Despite all the speeches to the contrary, Watson, Tillman et al, never moved to do away with Negro segregation in the Farmers Alliance. The only outcome of a revolutionary mass movement led by vacillating, petty bourgeois leaders was the fascist drive.

Just as the Populist movement was led by Tillman and Co. when the monopolies needed to crush the landlords, so the “revolt of the poor whites” was also led by Tillman and Co. when there was the need to crush Populism and especially the Negro masses.

The newly enfranchised poor Anglo-Americans from the hills were manouvered out of the struggle between the monopolies and the landlords, were imbued with rabid white supremacy and turned against the Negro masses. There was no “revolt of the poor whites” any more than there was a Hitler inspired revolt of the poor peasant or the lumpen-proletariat. What took place at the birth of imperialism and fascism was a skillful manouver which relied on the centuries old white supremacy to co-opt the Populist movement, garb it in the mantel of the Ku Klux Klan and push it onto the stage of history as the hangman of Democracy.

This “revolt of the poor whites” was led by such fascists as Vardaraan, Tillman and Cole Blase. They constructed a social order that was faithfully copied by Hitler, who also referred to his fascist movement as the “revolt of the poor peasants”, “the petty bourgeoisie” etc.. In the pamphlet “The Economics of Barbarism”(International Publishers, N.Y., 1940,p. 50,52) Kuczynski and Witt point out how the rules for Hitler’s Slave State were copied from the black does.

Some of the fascist characteristics of the counter-revolution were: 1) It conformed to the description of being the “open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialistic elements of finance capital.”[8] 2) “The ascension to power of fascism is not an ordinary succession of one bourgeois government by another, but a substitution of one state form of class domination of the bourgeoisie – bourgeois democracy, for another form – open terrorist dictatorship.”[9] 3) “Fascism comes to power as a party of attack on the revolutionary movement of the proletariat, on the masses of the people who are in a state of unrest; yet it stages its accession to power as a revolutionary movement against the bourgeoisie on behalf of the whole nation.”[10]

What made up the “fascist character of the counter-revolution was not simply its brutality or violence, but the fact that the “revolt of the poor whites” cloaked itself in the mantel of saving the “South”. The fascist led “revolt” was the absolute agent of finance capital of the North. The counterrevolution attacked and overthrew the Reconstruction bourgeois democratic governments. Then, the fascists substituted a reign of terror as the new state form of domination over the emerging Negro Nation. In the Anglo-American nation the capitalists in the main relied on deception, bribery and fraud, in short, on bourgeois democracy. This was not the case in the Black Belt! Here, the rule of finance capital was maintained by an unheard of reign of terror, legal and extralegal, both by police and the KKK.

From time to time Communists have raised this question of fascism in the Negro Nation and in the entire South only to retract their statements because they held that there was a contradiction between their conception of fascism and imperialism. So they were told, and so they thought. Fascism is rampant imperialism. George Seldes was quite correct when he said that fascism is imperialism turned inward. To understand the rise of fascism in the South, means taking fully into account that even during the periods of radical reconstruction, segregation remained a way of life. In the Union Leagues, in the Labor Unions, in the Farmers Alliance, there were Anglo-American and Negro locals. Because the decisive element of Negro-Anglo-American unity was not fought for, it was easy for the fascists to appear on the scene as the progressive leaders of the “poor whites”. Confusion around this question of the role of the Anglo-American leaders has been common. For example, in Foster’s book (The Negro People in American History, International Publishers. N.Y., 1954) on page 381 he states, “Ben Tillman of Georgia (actually Tillman was from South Carolina, Ed.) declared for Negro, white cooperation....” and on page 384 he states, “Pitchfork Tillman, a rabid white chauvinistů.” (Foster’s book is marked by such contradictions.)

It would seem that the book was written by several people who didn’t speak to one another or that Foster had a severely split personality.) Foster accounts for the transition of Tillman and Watson from democrats to chauvinists in this manner, ”In the early upswing of the Alliance movement, they scoffed at the boogey of ’white supremacy’, made fiery attacks on the big planters, and expressed solidarity with the oppressed Negro masses. Unstable petty bourgeois elements, however, they all wound up as the most vicious of Negro baiters. This is a typical example of Foster’s historiography. Subjective, inaccurate and an affront to Marxism. According to this sort of analysis, Benito Mussolini, a Socialist who wrote to Lenin and marched on Rome under the banner of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, introduced fascism in Italy because he was an “unstable petty bourgeois element”, who wound up as the most “vicious” of anti-communists. With the same analysis German fascism can be explained because Hitler was a petty bourgeois element. No, M. Bourgeois, this will never do, we have to look deeper, something the Communist Party dared not do. Any investigation shows that the Watsons, Tillmans etc., were elements that were groomed and paid for by the finance capitalists. When it was necessary to organize the masses to gain the political victory over the landlords, these “leaders” came forth with a particular line; then, when it was necessary to stop the democratic upsurge, prevent it from getting out hand, they took another line. Yet, Foster’s line inevitably leads to the conclusion that the white chauvinist text books are correct, that the counter-revolution was a reaction to “black reconstruction”. The facts show otherwise, the “revolt of the poor whites” was merely the mask for the fascist counter-revolution financed and conducted by Northern finance capital.

A political force, constructed and funded by finance capital which overthrows a legal bourgeois democratic government and substitutes as a state form the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic elements of finance capital is called fascist. Such a political state we call fascism.

It should be noted that the historic roots of the Communist Party go through the old Socialist Party into the Populist movement. The Populist concepts are still strong in the CPUSA. Their “anti-monopoly coalition” is but one of these Populist slogans, if not the most important. It must be said that the main reason for the confusion of the Communist Party on this period of Reconstruction is the fact that they themselves are Populists, not Marxist-Leninists.

Many of the Populist leaders who became the worse white chauvinists and fascists such as Ben Tillman were “progressive” leaders of the mass movement. Like their followers, Hitler and Mussolini, these fascist leaders of the South were recruited from the peoples’ movement. This was the only way that fascism could have the necessary social base.

The positive aspects of the Populist movement was proof enough that the general toiling masses cannot move forward without the Negro people. This history also shows that the special democratic demands of the Negro people cannot help but be the demand for political independence.

As the heavy hand of imperialism was clamped on the South, and especially on the Black Belt, the mass movement became a real Negro movement. Its main content was the special demand of the Negro people for anti-lynch laws and for civil rights. Prior to the defeat of Reconstruction, the demands of the Negro people for bread, land and liberty, were so intertwined with the demands of the general toiling masses that to separate the motion of the Negro people from the rest of the toiling masses in the Black Belt was impossible.

Even during the worst days of reaction, it was impossible to totally single out the Negro for the chain gang, the lynch rope, the burning stake or the peonage camp.

The terrorist military overthrow of Reconstruction opened the way for the re-enslavement of the Negro people. The peonage system, the shares farming system and the black codes forced this re-enslavement. At the same time the forced segregation laid the basis for the development of a Negro bourgeoisie. Existing insurance companies refused to do business with Negroes, so Negro insurance companies rose. Existing banks refused to service Negroes, so a Negro banking system arose. The old axiom of “Whatever can happen, will” was proven in the development of the Negro bourgeoisie. The dialectics of reaction transformed the enslavement of the Africans into the enslavement of a nation.

The Negro Bourgeois Democratic Movement

The nature of the struggle of the Negro people changed rapidly during Reconstruction, and the counter-revolution accelerated this change. What began as the struggle of a peasant mass with a minute proletariat rapidly became the struggle of an oppressed nation with all classes developing rapidly under the pressures of fascist imperialism.

Under such circumstances the developing Negro bourgeoisie split in two. That portion which sold to the people and therefore had to rely on the people came out in opposition to Wall Street imperialism. The portion that sold to the imperialists and therefore had to rely on the imperialists became the Negro people’s comprador bourgeoisie. Woodson and Wesley noted this split in the Negro leadership:

Other Negroes who thoroughly understand the inevitable result from such a surrender, gave up the fight for democracy in return for the profits of segregation. The extension work of church organizations, social welfare agencies and institutions of learning controlled by white advocates of caste have all been brought under the direction of Negroes who have sealed their lips as to actual democracy. Such Negroes are approached beforehand and thoroughly tested as to their stand on race matters. If they conform to the requirements of genuflecting Toadyism they are placed in these commanding positions to use their influence in keeping the Negro content with their lot.[11]

In a slightly more sophisticated manner, the situation is the same today. The base of the Negro comprador bourgeoisie is still the clergy, social welfare agencies, the educational bureaucracy, and the governmental bureaucracy. It was from this split in the bourgeoisie that the Negro People’s Liberation Movement arose.

The struggle of the Negro masses was directed first against slavery and then against peonage. Such a movement could not and was not simply a “Negro” movement except in the sense of its being national.

During the period of the overthrow of Reconstruction, the struggle of the Negro masses could not be separated from the struggle of the rest of the colonial world. In fact, the struggle of the Negro masses against imperialism was an integral part of the struggle of the Cubans, the Puerto Ricans, the peoples of Santo Domingo, Haiti, the Philippines and everywhere that U.S.N.A. imperialism was enslaving nations and peoples. Neither could the fight for the Negro people be separated from the struggle of the workers and dirt farmers against the Robber Baron monopolies.

The Negro people protested the imperialist acquisition of Haiti, the Virgin Islands and the West Indies. Not only did they fight against the practice of color discrimination, but they clearly saw that their fight for democracy and e-quality was undercut by the expansion of imperialism.

Both Presidents Harding and Coolidge were compelled to appoint Negro Commissions to look into conditions in the newly conquered territories. These commissions could not accomplish anything, but they were evidence of the international concern of the growing Negro bourgeoisie.

The Church

The Negro church emerged from slavery as the only social institution allowed by first the slave masters and then the Wall St. masters of the South.’ The leading role of the Negro church remains stamped on the movement to this day. Consequently, in the beginning at least, spokesmen for both sections of the new Negro bourgeoisie spoke from the pulpit. The result of this was that the movement was split into various locals and therefore, individual leaders instead of masses seemed to emerge as the leading factor. This was especially true in view of the fact that the churches did not exist in limbo. They were, in fact governed by bourgeois clerics in the North and sometimes the metropolitan South. Furthermore, the leading bishops etc., were an integral part of the Anglo-American ruling class. The “Negro-Church” is a misnomer. In fact, “Negro Churches” are Anglo-American capitalist controlled churches for Negroes. At one time the Colored Baptist and the AME Zion Churches made a stiff fight for their independence, but such a fight could not be won under capitalism. The only exception to the fact that Anglo-American bourgeois clerics dominate the Negro church is the innumerable store-front churches.

Some of the churches under slavery became important and wealthy institutions. After the capture of Atlanta, General Sherman called together the leading slaves and free Negroes and was surprised to find that one slave owned church was valued at $50,000 and another at $35,000. (The War of the Rebellion-Congressional Inquiry, Vol. 33)

Although the slaves had been taught the European religions in an effort to pacify and ideologically chain them, the church also served as a meeting place to plot escapes and plan such resistance as was possible under the conditions of slavery.

During the counter-revolution, there was a great demand for segregated churches and when that didn’t seem to be enough, there was the demand for entirely separated church administration systems. This experiment in apartheid was set aside when it was realized that such a complete separation would mean Negro bishops and a church attuned to the problems of the Negro people. The church rulers soon saw the folly of abandoning religious thought to the Negroes as the Southern churches had done after the Civil War. (See Woodson and Wesley, p. 534) Thus, the church remained a Trojan horse to the Negro movement, populated by Negroes and controlled by a bourgeois Anglo-American clergy. It could not but play a dual role, both progressive and reactionary. The major aspect, however, was to drain off the militant energy and to misdirect the struggle of the Negro people. The fact that the Negro church despite its anti-democratic structure, became the birth place of so many Negro movements is a testimony to both the vitality of the Negro masses democratic aspirations and the deeply rooted social position of this institution.

The Split in the Negro Movement

Booker T. Washington’s famous Atlanta speech signaled the fully matured split in the Negro National Movement. Washington became the most powerful and tyrannical Negro individual in the movement. A word from Washington was enough to financially and politically destroy almost anyone who dare oppose him. He went so far as to buy up newspapers he disapproved of. In his position of directing the funds that went to social service agencies and to the schools etc., it was simple to transform that economic position into a political one. His position was an extension of the “Head Negro” under slavery.

Washington’s Atlanta speech of 1895 was a high sounding declaration of compromise and acceptance of the social and economic enslavement of the Negro people. Washington’s statement that, the wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremist folly, was the battle challenge to the Negro national bourgeoisie. Led by DuBois and W.M. Trotter, they set out to organize the majority who were resisting this line of Washington’s. Woodson and Wesley report, “With the exception of a small minority, the Negroes regarded this policy as a surrender to the oppressors who desired to reduce the whole race to menial service.”[12]

Harry Haywood characterizes Washington as: The voice of the embryonic middle class. Foster paints him as a “Bourgeois nationalist”. (See Foster, The Negro People in American History, International Publishers, N.Y., 1954, p. 413) Foster and other Communist Party writers and theoreticians quite correctly characterize DuBois as a Negro bourgeois leader – pointing out that in respect to building up Negro businesses, DuBois and his followers out did Washington in some respects. (See Foster, op. cit., p. 417) Finally, Foster makes an attempt to explain the obvious difference between these two leaders. Foster says,

The main point of divergence between the movements however – and this was decisive, was where Washington preached humility and submission for the Negro people, DuBois and his followers advocated a course of militant struggle.[13]

Foster’s description of the split in the Negro bourgeoisie insults the intelligence of even the most naive Marxist. Was it that Washington just happen to chose the path of submission and DuBois just happened to chose the path of struggle? Not at all. Such historiography makes history revolve around the subjective whims of leading individuals. The difference between a Congolese Lumumba and Mobuto was hardly their likes and dislikes – it was their class position in relation to imperialism – and so it was with DuBois and Washington. The maturing of a modern nation under the oppression of imperialism inevitably brings out two wings of the national bourgeoisie. On the one hand the comprador bourgeoisie and on the other, the national bourgeoisie with the social and political and economic base that has been previously described.

Foster was an intelligent man and the Communist Party gave him a staff of Ph.D.s to assist him in writing his book on Negro history. Why was it that the class and social differences were so incomprehensible to him? The secret of their ignorance is simply this: The Communist Party is tied by a thousand financial, social and political threads to the liberal Anglo-American bourgeoisie. These threads absolutely prescribed the Party’s understanding of the Negro question as a National Colonial question. Therefore, relying on the backwardness of the radicals of the U.S.N.A., the CPUSA found it possible to do away with the most glaring theoretical and social contradictions by either ignoring them or obscuring them with bourgeois drivel.

The fact is the Washington was the leader of a maturing Negro comprador bourgeoisie. DuBois emerged as a leader of the Negro national bourgeoisie. By overlooking these contradictions, the CPUSA could claim to be the Party of the Negro people. Actually, the CP represented the Negro national bourgeoisie, if anything at all. The social background of the leading Negroes in the CP shows this. To name but a few – Ben Davis, lawyer, son of a leading Negro family in Atlanta, Georgia; Dr. James Jackson, Ph.D, son of a leading Negro family in South Carolina; Langston Hughes, a leading Negro author and poet. Such men as Henry Winston, although coming from the Negro working class, had long lost his connections with the people. The one exception was Pettis Perry, a Negro worker who never reconciled himself to the Party’s revisionism, and during his lifetime was constantly harassed by the leadership. Harry Haywood, the Negro author and sociologist was almost outlawed from the CP for publishing his “Negro Liberation”. Even such outstanding non-party leaders as Eslanda Goode and her husband Paul Robeson could not represent anything but the radical Negro bourgeoisie.

The fundamental difference between the position of the Communist League and the CPUSA on the Negro question is the description by the CL of the Negro question as a modern National Colonial question with all its ramifications for the proletarian revolution and the daily class struggle. The CP position on the Negro question is an abstraction that flows from the fundamental Party position that the movement in the Negro Nation is a continuation of the “Battle for Democracy” and the program must be a complete wiping out of the remains of feudalism and the completion of the bourgeois democratic revolution. Under the conditions of fascism and the total control of monopoly the CP proposals become thoroughly exposed as reactionary.

The Party position on the Negro question is not simply an isolated case. On the contrary, the CP is quite consistent. Jay Lovestone’s contribution to the CP was American exceptionalism in American political economy; Browder’s contribution was American exceptionalism in the critique of American imperialism. Foster’s contribution was American exceptionalism on the national question as regards the Negro Nation. His concept of a nation within a nation is not so striking because it is a unique concept in Marxism, but it is striking in that it is an extension of the basic form of CPUSA revisionism – American exceptionalism. The Negro question is not an exception. Even Foster admits that, “...the peonage known as share cropping (much akin to types of tenancy found in colonial Asia), which (was) enforced by terrorism.”[14] The path of peoples from slavery is into peonage. This is just as true for the Negro people as for the Mexicans or the Puerto Ricans or the Hondurans. Foster admits to this when he writes, “It had been the tragic history of emancipated slaves, during the past century and throughout the western hemisphere – whether Indians or Negroes – that they did not pass from the status Of slavery to that of free farmers and workers, but rather to one form of peonage or another.”[15] There, apparently, the science of history ends and the development of the Negro question reverts back to the Communist Party’s specific form of revisionism – American exceptionalism.

Under such intellectual giants as Dr. W.E.B. DuBois and James Monroe Trotter, editor of the “Boston Guardian”, the Negro bourgeoisie broke into the political life of the U.S.N.A. This vigorous and new bourgeoisie did not confine itself to the national scene, but understanding the necessity of fighting the enemy in the international arena, took the fight against imperialism into the World War I Peace Conference (1918). They demanded that the spread of imperialism be halted and that the African colonies and Haiti be set free. They formed political organizations, such as the National Independent Political Rights League to enforce the constitution.

It may appear that DuBois was the worldwide champion of the dark skinned people and not necessarily fighting imperialism per se. But a closer examination will show that the only place for imperialism to expand was to the dark skinned people, and the fight for racial equality was the form that the anti-imperialist struggle had to take.

Because of the “race riots”, lynch law and tightening segregation this Negro bourgeoisie enjoyed a rapid growth. The Negro as a consumer held little attraction for the expanding monopolies so the Negro market was wide open to this Negro bourgeoisie. Negro businesses doubled between 1910 and 1920. By 1920, Negro farmers owned 13,948,512 acres of land and in addition, Negro tenants rented land valued at $1,676,315,864. (See Woodson and Wesley, The Negro in Our History, Associated Publishers, N.Y., 1966, p. 538) Where Anglo-American businesses failed to service the Negro people, Negro businesses arose – in catering personal service, in drayage and storage, in forging and carriage making in butchering and in mattress making, etc.

Under the leadership of DuBois, the Pan African movement was formed. Speaking in the name of dark skinned peoples everywhere, in the fight for justice, ending the slave trade and opposing the liquor traffic, the Negro national bourgeoisie extended its base throughout the world. The internationalism of the Negro bourgeoisie exists to this day. The ringing cries for world peace from a Martin Luther King; the eloquent cries for democracy and justice in the civil rights movement today is but an extension of the bourgeois movement of 70 years ago.

The right wing of the national bourgeoisie, the comprador wing remained firmly under the control of Booker T. Washington. Little has changed with respect to the role of the comprador. It is obvious that along with the concept of Asians fighting Asians and Africans fighting Africans, there is a definite move afoot to have Negroes control Negroes. This “Puerto Rican solution” to the Negro question is becoming more and more apparent. “There are now 665 Negroes holding elective offices in the 11 Southern states. This included blacks in the legislatures of Alabama and South! Carolina. In Alabama alone, 21 blacks were elected to office in 1970 – including coroners and one probate judge. Two black mayors were elected in Arkansas. In addition to local elective gains, a second black legislator was elected in Florida; a 15th in Georgia and a second in North Carolina.”[16]

Naturally, revisionists hail these “election victories” without at all estimating that what we are witnessing is the gradual application of neo-colonialism to the Negro colony. Who can control the raging Negro movement for national liberation better than Negro compradors? The imperialist leopard has not changed its spots. Far from being a cause to rejoice and lower the guard, the passive acceptance on the part of the ruling class of elected Negro officials is cause for alarm. While we welcome and fight for the participation of broad masses of Negroes in the political life of the Negro colony, we are not going to be fooled I into welcoming a gang of Negro Chiang Kai-sheks to replace the cops in the same way the cops have replaced the Ku Klux Klan as the imperialist spearhead against the Negro people.

The hegemony of the Negro national bourgeoisie began to be consolidated in the Niagara Movement. This movement, founded by James Monroe Trotter and headed by W.E.B. DuBois, was founded July 14, 1905. The Niagara Movement took as its goal the full equality of the Negroes. Its weapons were to be militant in politics and propaganda. This movement, gaining wide support amongst the masses, founded the militant Equal Rights Leagues. Clearly, there was a danger of the Negro bourgeoisie breaking the imperialist economic and political fetters. Moving behind the Anglo-American upper-class liberals, the imperialists moved to counter this threatened breakaway. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was formed May 30, 1909. It soon absorbed the Niagara Movement and the Equal Rights Leagues.

Foster states, “The basis of the New N.A.C.CP. was the rising wave of resistance among the Negro people, earlier expressed by the Niagara Movement.”[17] This theory accords with the needs of the imperialists and is contradicted by Foster himself (?) in the same book, where he states, “Among the white liberals signing the call were Professor John Dewey, Jane Addams, William Dean Howells, Rabbi Emil G. Hirsh, Reverend John Haynes Holmes, Dr. Henry Moskowitz, Dr. Charles E. Parkhurst, Louis Wald, Mary E. Wolley and Susan P. Wharton. There were also several white socialists among the signers, including William English Walling, Charles Edward Russel, J.G. Philips Stokes, Mary E. Dreier, Florence Kelly and Mary Ovington.”[18]

With this gang of honey mouthed liberals fronting for the imperialists, what chance did the Negro movement have. Little wonder that a militant like J.M. Trotter refused to join the NAACP and fought to keep the Equal Rights Leagues out too.

Actually, the formation of the NAACP and its co-option of the Niagara Movement and the Equal Rights Leagues spelled the end of the independent efforts of the Negro bourgeoisie to unite against imperialism. The real basis of the NAACP was imperialism exemplified by the backing of these imperialists; Mrs. Cyrus McCormick, Harvey Firestone, the Duponts and the like. The policy of imperialist co-option of the Negro people’s movements has remained a prime tactic of the imperialists.

The Negro People’s Liberation Movement

During the crisis and depression years of 1920-1927, one-half to two-thirds of all Negro businesses were wiped out. (See Woodson and Wesley, op. cit., p. 545) This could not but have the most striking effect on the Negro people’s movement. The budding energetic Negro bourgeois movement was defeated by imperialism, its economic base was all but done away with. The Negro businessman was hurled down into the ranks of the Negro proletariat.

The post 1917 period saw the Negro workers begin to assert themselves in an independent manner. Prior to this period it was not possible for the Negro workers to express themselves independent of the Negro national bourgeoisie. This was not because of the weakness of the Negro workers, but since the imperialists inherited the racist forms of oppression from slavery, this was the only social form at their disposal. The content of the oppression had changed from the oppression of individuals to the oppression of a nation. In the early 1900’s as today, the imperialists struggled to maintain this racist form of oppression. Thus it appears that the central contradiction was between all “blacks” and “whites” rather than between workers and capitalists.

Given the economic history of the U.S.N.A. it is impossible for the Negro workers to march very far in advance of the general working class of the U.S.N.A. Therefore, the construction of a party of the working class became a historical necessity and inevitability. The advances the Negro workers made during the 1930’s and 1940’s, was in the main due to the militant leadership of the Communists, including the Negro Communists. Proof of the growing awareness of the Negro workers and the lower middle class is expressed in the fact that in 1938 the Communist Party registered 10,500 Negro Communists.

Negro Communists played a heroic role in the building of the Unions, especially the C.I.O., the role of the Negro Communists in the building of the Party in the South was indispensible. Large sections of the Negro people followed the line of the Communist Party because of the struggles led by Negro Communists as well as the fact that most radical elements of the Negro bourgeoisie were in or openly backed the CPUSA. Because the CPUSA played an important role in the Negro people’s liberation movement, the betrayals of the Negro people by the CP etc., had a particularly destructive effect. The first of these was the dissolution of the CP in 1944. The second main betrayal was the unconstitutional dissolution of the Party in the South in 1949. This betrayal was accompanied by the wrecking of the powerful Negro labor Councils. Since the most advanced Negro workers were in or close to the Party, these anti-working class actions had an especially destructive effect on the general Negro people’s movement. The liberation movement floundered momentarily, the leadership either totally disoriented, scared off or bought off.

It was under such conditions that the magnificent struggle in Montgomery, Alabama Dec. 4, 1955 broke out. The militant bravery, the ingenuity and steadfastness of the Negro people in Montgomery was a catalyst to reactivate broad sections of first the Negro people and consequently broad sections of the petty bourgeois “left”. The struggle in Montgomery also brought about a re-awakening of interest in revolutionary Marxism. The Montgomery Boycott awakened the new militant Black Student Movement, and that movement was the political base for the S.D.S. In a real and concrete way, the rebirth of the Negro people’s national liberation movement caused the revitalization of the revolutionary movement in the U.S.N.A.

During the massive struggle of the Negro people in Birmingham in the spring of 1963, it became evident that there was a new internal contradiction developing. That development was the fight of the Negro proletariat for its independent role and the leadership of the Negro masses. Despite the ruthless police repression and the betrayal of the so-called leadership, a new stage in the struggle was evolving. This emerging stage became more pronounced during the summer of 1964. In Harlem, Bedford Stuyvesant and Rochester, the Negro national minority workers fully rejected the petty bourgeois leaders. The history of the mass struggle of the Negro people was taking a new turn. In Watts, on August 18, 1965, this new stage – this new qualitative development reached full maturity. Not simply rejecting – but shooting the misleaders, the Negro national minority workers were burled face to face against the naked power of the state.

Under these conditions of revolutionary mass struggle, the revisionism of the CPUSA became fully exposed. Acting as the left flank guard of President Lyndon Johnson, the editors of Political Affairs moaned advice, “What is essential of course, is the mounting of a real war against poverty.”[19]

The revolutionary Uncle Tom, William C. Taylor summed up the cause and effect of the Watts uprising,

Can anyone doubt that Chief Parker’s racist statements helped to pave the way for the infiltration of the Los Angeles police department by Birchites and ultra-Right elements to the detriment of the impartial enforcement of law and order.”[20] Begging for the reestablishment of the bourgeoisie’s hegemony over the struggle, Taylor concluded, “Within the Negro community there has developed a higher and stronger level of unity than ever before. This development has grown out of the recognition of the Negro middle class of their responsibility in relation to the aspirations of the poor and working Negro people.[21]

Aptheker topped it all off by his cry for the Red Cross to investigate the jails that were crammed with Negro national minority fighters.

The Watts uprising objectively linked the struggle of the Anglo-American workers to the national liberation movement in the Negro Nation. The new level of struggle that matured in Watts was carried even farther by the Detroit uprising of 1967. There the participation of Southern Anglo-American workers from the Negro Nation was, for the ruling class, a terrible harbinger of the future. Detroit showed that the struggle not only linked the Anglo-American working class to the Negro national struggles, but through the Negro people’s movement to the whole of the colonial world. Indeed, the Negro people whose enslavement was so necessary to the growth of capitalism were completing the encirclement of imperialism of the U.S.N.A. and shaking it to its foundations.

By the wholesale use of bribery, corruption and selective repression, the mass scale, but not the intensity of the struggle has slacked for the moment. An additional and major reason is the lack of a Marxist-Leninist Communist Party. But recent lively theoretical debate amongst revolutionaries on the Negro question and the drawing of broad masses of Negro workers into the theoretical struggle, all testify that the formation of a Marxist-Leninist Communist Party is a practical inevitability in the foreseeable future.

The Negro workers, who have now arisen in all their splendid heroism, had to cast aside non-violence as a tactic. They had to move directly into a confrontation with the state. In making this confrontation, the Negro national liberation movement laid the ground work for an international front of struggle against imperialism.

There can be no doubt that under the hegemony of the Negro workers the whole movement will leap forward. The imperialists know this better than we do. This is the reason that they will pay any price to keep the movement in the hands of the non-violent elements – that is, in the hand of the compromised petty bourgeoisie. One of the major aspects of this tactic is to revive and rearm the petty bourgeois, compromised syndicalist populist Communist Party of the United States of American and their assistants.

There can be no question that the Negro people’s liberation movement has opened the gates of the Socialist revolution. The Negro workers occupying the strategic position of the unskilled basic workers will radicalize the whole of the working class. In order to attack the Negro workers, the government is going to have to attack and become entangled with the whole of the working class. The position of the Negro workers is strategic and they will not fail. History will record the stirring of the Negro proletariat as the beginning of the American Socialist revolution. In this historic truth is the fundamental significance of the task of constructing a Marxist-Leninist Communist Party. The only course for revolutionaries today is to link the struggle of the Negro masses to the difficult task of establishing such a Party. The Negro movement has been a catalyst to re-activate the whole objective process of the revolution. That task can be completed only by bringing into existence a Marxist-Leninist conscious expression of the sub-conscious revolutionary process.


[1] Stalin, Joseph, Marxism and the National Colonial Question. International Publishers, N.Y., 1934, p. 74

[2] Ibid p. 70

[3] Marx. Karl, Civil War in the United States. International Publishers, N.Y., 1940, p. 245

[4] Woodson, Comer Van, Origins of the New South 1877-1913. Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1951, p. 196,

[5] Ibid p. 179

[6] Foster, William, The Negro People in American History. International Publishers, N.Y., 1954, p. 333

[7] Ibid p. 333

[8] Dimitroff, Georgi, United Front Against Fascism. New Century Publishers, N.Y. 1938, p. 7

[9] Ibid p. 3

[10] Ibid p. 4

[11] Woodson and Wesley, The Negro in Our History. Associate I Publishers, N.Y., 1966, p. 554

[12] Woodson and Wesley, op. cit., p. 441

[13] Foster, William, op. cit., p. 418

[14] Foster, William, op. cit., p. 365

[15] Foster, William, op. cit., p. 355

[16] L.A. Times, Nov. 29, 1970, Sec. F, p. 8

[17] Foster, William, op. cit., p. 423

[18] Foster, William, op. cit., p. 422

[19] Editor, Political Affairs, Oct. 1965, p. 7

[20] Taylor, William, Political Affairs, Oct. 1965, p. 7

[21] Ibid p. 20