Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Workers Group (Marxist-Leninist)

Our Tasks on the National Question

Against Nationalist Deviations in Our Movement

XII. FROM THE LIBERAL CAMP: Critique of the Black Nation Thesis

At every creation or revival of the communist movement, a handful of well-mannered liberals suddenly appear to lecture us on how the “kind of logical-historical analysis modeled after Marx’s Capital, has been altogether absent” in our movement, how on more than one occasion we have committed what “might be dismissed as a minor logical exercise on some obscure episode of illogicality”, but which is usually more than that, that our errors can be traced to lack of “strict attention to dialectical rigor”, the sort of “rigor” we somehow missed along the way, that “all of us on the Left” should be “alert to illogical thoughts, reproduced illusions, and ideological restorations” and that only if we have got this firmly in mind can we then “proceed in medias res”, that is, in confusion.

We, of course, have probably read him wrongly, but we at least have read our Marx, and so have some foggy notion of the fact that the intelligentsia brings political knowledge to the workingclass. Here are some representatives of this intelligentsia, some “friends of the people”, speaking in a learned way to us, and we strain our feeble minds to make out what sort of political knowledge this is. But we are too uncouth, dull-witted, and lack “rigor”. We are, no doubt, “mistaken theoretically and obfuscated ideologically”. We cannot understand that although our learned liberals speak, think and act like bourgeois, and draw bourgeois conclusions, they are, in fact, our “friends” and mean only to guide us through the subtleties of illogical “in congruencies” and thus up to the loftier heights of pure “Marxism”. Professor Harry Chang is one such “guiding light”, a true “friend of the people”, and in his small work, Critique of the Black Nation Thesis documents the encounter between academia and “Marxism”. The result, as we might expect, is not a Marxist critique of bourgeois deviations, but a bourgeois critique of “Marxist” deviations.

If “anarchism was not infrequently a sort of punishment for the opportunist sins of the workingclass movement” (Lenin), then the appearance of the Critique of the Black Nation Thesis is our punishment for the “opportunist sins” of the RU and the BWC on the national question. The liberals smell out every possible weakness in our movement, and then set out, “on the Left”, to give our confusion a coherent and liberal form. These people have the best of intentions. They are, like Doctor Chang, quiet and introspective folk, profoundly profound, and of course quite “sensitive”, who ponder for days at a time over the dialectics of the gemeinschaft and gesellshaft, and who occasionally consent, but only through the promptings of their admirers, to pronounce on the failings of the contemporary movement. This in itself is significant. Formerly our liberals were content with the universities, with their alienation, angst, and neo-Marxism. It never occurred to them to intervene in the current movement, something they left to the Trotskyites and revisionists. Now, however, they are looking for influence, not among students who may enter the movement in the future, but within the present movement itself. What has prompted these “friends of the people” to such daring acts? First, because they suspect, and quite rightly, that the movement may soon coalesce into a true Marxist-Leninist Party. The debate around vital questions is intense, the pace of the movement’s maturation very rapid, and the dedication to building a principled communist movement very strong. Secondly, the confusion around essential questions is still high, and it is still possible at this “historical juncture” to introduce a completely liberal rendition of Marxism, and thus steer the movement away from its communist destination.

It is on the one hand our strength, and on the other, our weakness, that calls the liberals forth.

A. Some Conceptual Confusion

Professor Chang’s basic thesis is that “most writers have accepted racial categories as social immutables” and thus criticize “race relations while simultaneously embracing racial categories”; that because of this “racist” acceptance of racial categories, the communist movement has transposed the “race question into a national question”, and thus negated racial oppression; which in turn leads to “the assumption that the degraded conditions of Blacks inside the U.S. is due mainly to the ’undeveloped’ or ’underdeveloped’ condition of the Black Nation”. In short, to consider the Blacks in the U.S. from the standpoint of the national question is a means of placing the blame for Black oppression on Blacks themselves. Given this “unsavory” conclusion, Dr. Chang sets out to prove that Blacks are not a nation, and that therefore their oppression is racial oppression pure and simple.

Our liberal bases his analysis on the following assumptions: (1) that racial oppression and national oppression are contradictory; (2) that racial oppression is more severe than national oppression; (3) that national oppression somehow is related to the ’underdeveloped’ condition of a subject nation; (4) that the communist groups dealing with the Black question are completely ignorant of the racial aspect; (5) that the communist groups somehow wish to minimize Black oppression; (6) that the approach to Blacks by way of the national question is a means of removing responsibility from “whites in general”; and (7) it is possible to prove or disprove the existence of a Black nation on circumstantial evidence.

According to Professor Chang,

...most writers have accepted racial categories as social immutables, either given by natural biology or derived by continental descent. In particular, the peculiarly chauvinist logic of assigning the offspring of Black-White ’mixtures’ to the side of Black has never been questioned by Marxists. Thus,

we find ourselves in the incongruous position of criticizing race relations while simultaneously embracing racial categories. ...

The failure to criticize the vulgar conception of racism led the Old Left to handle the race question in a schizophrenic fashion. On the one hand, racism was understood only within the limited scope of individual subjective attitudes of prejudice and bigotry, leaving unanswered the socio-economic reason for these attitudes ever becoming so widespread and sustained to begin with... Critique of the Black Nation Thesis p. 1-2

If we are to believe Dr. Chang, the Old Left, meaning the CPUSA, never understood that racism was a device used by one class to divide and exploit another. From this historical “perspective”, the old CP merely accepted race lines as “social immutables”, and racism as an “innate” feature of human prejudice. Further, the “peculiarly chauvinist” logic of ”assigning the offspring of Black-White ’mixtures’ to the side of Black” was never questioned by the CP, meaning the CP not only put racism on a subjective basis, but did so in a racist way. Is this the case? From the CPUSA we have:

White chauvinism, the bourgeois ideology of white supremacy, is based upon the false notion that Negros are inferior beings to whites. It is systematic discrimination and persecution directed against the Negro people economically, politically, socially. Although completely disproved innumerable times scientifically and in the real life of our people, it still persists. This is because £he planters and industrialists, finding that it enables them to force lower living standards upon the Negro people, assiduously cultivate it. Originally the plantation owners’ ideological justification for slavery, white chauvinism still infects in varying degrees all the strata of the white population, including large sections of the workingclass. W.Z. Foster History of the CPUSA 1952 p.87

Foster is simply giving the official party line on racism, a position that is elementary to any Marxist, and which, in the CP history, pre-dates the Party’s adoption of the national question line. The CPUSA never considered racism simply a subjective attribute of the masses, but exposed it as a form of bourgeois ideology, and therefore as having a class basis rising from class exploitation. The CP’s failing was not that it considered racism as a subjective phenomenon, but was that although it correctly analysed the source of racism, it did not actively work to eliminate it in its own ranks.

As to the American Marxists never questioning the classification of racial mixtures to the side of Blacks:

The Negro people are widely characterized as simply a ’race’. But obviously, this term is inadequate. A race is but a broad generalized biological concept, without specific political meaning. . . .Only in the most general sense can the people of the earth be classified under the head of three ’races’, or ethnic groups: Mongoloid, Negroid, and Caucasian. The Negro race is all the more tenuous as a concept in the United States, because, due to prevalent white supremacy, any person who has even the slightest percentage of Negro ancestry is characterized as a Negro.

There is no scientific definition of Negro, especially in the United States. Throughout the South the rule prevails, as in the Virginia law, that all those persons are Negroes ’in whom there is ascertainable any Negro blood*. The U.S. government uses the same rule of thumb in characterizing predominantly white persons as Negroes. Thus, the Census enumerators were instructed that ’A person of mixed white and Negro blood should be returned as a Negro, no matter how small the percentage of Negro blood’. This definition is essentially political, not biological. The purpose of such a crude white chauvinist, politically determined biological classification is to save the precious white master race from being ’contaminated’ by even the slightest Negro admixture. W.Z. Foster The Negro People in American History International 1954 p.473-474

Either our professor has simply not bothered to document his accusations, on the assumption that what he doesn’t know, no one else will; or, he is familiar with the CP’s background, but is “critically” selecting what suits his own purpose. What is it, Dr. Chang? Have we caught you in a lie, or did you have a momentary fit of ”illogical thoughts, reproduced illusions, and ideological restorations”?

Our critic unwinds a little more rope with the following observation

On the other hand, Black people were depicted as ’objectively’ constituting a nation, a nationality, or a national minority by means of an argument which also made a shambles of the Marxist position on the national question. This created tremendous confusion in the communist movement in the U.S. – the race question and the national question have been weaved in and out of each other subject to the eclectic whim of whoever was ’interpreting’ the line at the moment. After all, to define a Black Nation is to make use of the racial category Black and to characterize racism as the persecution of a national minority is to negate racial oppression altogether. Matters are not helped by asserting that the oppression of Black people is a ’combination’ of racial and national oppressions, for this is merely an admission of analytic failure disguised as a mélange of analytic profundity. Critique of the Black Nation Thesis p. 2

And as we see, he is content on hanging himself. Very good, Professor! Apply your “rigor” to that, and we will help you all we can. What was the means by which the CPUSA made ”a shambles of the Marxist position on the national question”? It was only through the prompting of the Comintern that the CP adopted the line that Blacks In the Black Belt constituted a nation. This thesis was supported by statistical data on Black concentrations in the South, the mode of production, the degree of class structure, and on the basis of common language and common culture, distinguishing Blacks from the rest of the American population.

Does this argument conflict with the Marxist position on the national question? The Marxist position is that nations develop under specific conditions, and are identified through certain characteristics. If we study a people and find those characteristics present (and it should go without saying that these characteristics are completely interrelated, so there can be no talk about “combining” characteristics to create an artificial nation) then we conclude that those people constitute a nation. For example, if we find an integral economy, a common territory, language and culture, distinct from the surrounding population, then we have a nation. The specific conditions this particular phenomenon occurs in are the conditions of capitalist development. Nations are created and dissolved in the capitalist epoch.

What a people are objectively, and how they are interpreted, are two very different things. The CP “made a shambles” not by describing Blacks in the U.S. as a nation, but by misinterpreting what they meant. The line became, on the one hand, a means of liquidating, at certain times, the struggle against white chauvinism, and on the other hand, a means of creating a co-existence with nationalist tendencies within the Party. But these conclusions, or deviations that rise around any line, in no way prove or disprove the validity of the line itself. To prove or disprove the line, in this case, to prove or disprove the existence of a Black nation, we cannot simply critique the errors that emerge around the line, but must look to the objective reality, the sum total of facts. Our liberal cannot bother with the sum total of facts, has no idea that they exist, and thinks instead he will make some capital out of secondary deviations. Opportunists within the CP were responsible for the distortions of the original line. Mr. Chang opportunes off the opportunists.

The race question and the national question have been “weaved in and out”. Since by this line of reasoning race and nationality are mutually exclusive, this cohabitation of racial and national categories amounts to a crime of sorts. After all,

...to define a Black Nation is to make use of the racial category Black and to characterize racism as the persecution of a national minority is to negate racial oppression altogether. Critique p. 2

Race and nationality are mutually exclusive, and thus it follows that if we talk about oppression it must be, either/or, racial or national. This is the crucial insight our Professor has brought us to: the Black Nation is a contradiction in terms. Black = race. Nation = nationality. Race # nationality, hence, Black Nation is an “illogical thought”.

The notion of a Black Nation does indeed contradict our Professor’s logic, but what does any of this have to do with reality? A nation is composed of many distinct races, or admixtures of races, or almost wholly of one race. Race has nothing to do with the definition of a nation, but that does not prevent it from being a significant aspect of a particular nation. And that is precisely the case in the U.S. It is here that the color line is drawn so firmly by the bourgeoisie to split the workingclass. It is precisely here that one sector of the population is marked off on the basis of race and held to the lowest strata of the workforce. Supposing the Blacks in the Black Belt compose a nation, not because they are Black, but because they have developed historically into a national unit, it is in no way contradictory to define such a nation as a Black Nation. The term would only indicate that aspect of a people which is most pronounced, in this case their race, and here defined entirely in terms of what the bourgeoisie has made the most pronounced element.

Dr. Chang must create a contradiction between race and nationality, and make them mutually exclusive, since it is only on that basis that he can then state that “to characterize racism as the persecution of a national minority is to negate racial oppression altogether”. We will see very shortly why he is so intent on making this conclusion.

What is racism? It is a form of bourgeois ideology, designed to divide the laboring classes on the basis of color. What is national chauvinism? Also a form of bourgeois ideology, designed to divide the laboring classes on the basis of national distinctions, culture, language, mode of production, etc. Both racism and national chauvinism are more than ideologies. Racism rewards the bourgeoisie with higher profits from a firmly stratified workforce. National oppression rewards the bourgeoisie with cheaper labor, but also with raw materials, control of the home market, defense bases, etc. When the two are combined, as in the case when an oppressed nation is also oppressed on the basis of race, the resulting oppression is naturally both racial and national. This is all very elementary, but is something that liberal “logic” cannot comprehend. To characterize racism as an aspect of national oppression in no way negates the severity of racial oppression. The only difference is, racial oppression may be applied to races regardless of nationality, whereas national oppression applies to national units and to people having national attributes.

What sort of “logic” is it that creates a contradiction between racial and national oppression in order to show that there cannot be both racial and national oppression applied to one people and from this draws the curious conclusion that national oppression “negates racial oppression altogether”? The same sort of logic that can evolve the following:

The Black Nation Thesis must be seen, therefore, as another attempt to give a non-racial name to a racial entity.

The political consequences of this are no less pernicious. To put it simply, the Thesis could lead to the assumption that the degraded condition of Blacks inside the U.S. is due mainly to the ’undeveloped’ or ’underdeveloped’ condition of the Black Nation and the transferred onus falling upon the descendants of this nation. Behind this apparently sympathetic and concerned tone of pronouncement lurks the rank mythology of racist historians. Is this not a replay of the same old racist tune which says, in effect, that the U.S. as a nation is essentially the ’work’ of Whites to which Blacks, as ’outsiders’, ’contribute’ occasionally, episodically, and inessentially? ’Credit to one’s race’ now has its opposite, ’debit to one’s nation’ –presumably, if one had put more into the developing of one’s own nation, rather than into contributing to another nation, one would be less degraded. Critique p. 3

First we are told that the concept of a Black Nation is a way of giving a racial name to a non-racial entity. Now we are told that the Black Nation is an “attempt to give a non-racial name to a racial entity”. This is all very dialectical, Dr. Chang, but is it real? To describe a nation on the basis of race is, as we have seen, in no way contradictory if because of bourgeois racism the racial aspect of that nation is put in the forefront. Likewise, to describe a “racial entity” as a nation is in no way contradictory if the people of a certain race have developed as a national unit. In order to prove that the notion of a Black Nation gives “a non-racial name to a racial entity”, our Professor will have to prove Blacks are not, and never were, a nation.

Now we begin to see what our liberal has been up to all long. First, there must be a complete separation of racial and national categories. Secondly, those categories must not only be separate, but mutually exclusive. If they are mutually exclusive, then the Black Nation is a contradiction in terms. Now that it has been discredited, we can draw the “inevitable” political implications from the Thesis as a whole: describing Blacks as a nation, and as suffering from national oppression, is a means of making Blacks responsible for their own oppression.

But who is it that assumes, on the basis of the Black Nation Thesis, that the “degraded conditions of Blacks inside the U.S. is due mainly to the ’undeveloped’ or ’underdeveloped’ condition of the Black Nation”? What class assumes that national oppression is simply a matter of underdevelopment, the uneven development of capitalism, or historical backwardness of the oppressed people? Our Professor would like us to think that this “political consequence” follows directly from the Black Nation Thesis, that because of this Thesis we are all likely to draw “unsavory” conclusions. But in fact, the only class that automatically draws such conclusions is the imperialist bourgeoisie, whose every interest lies in obscuring the actual source of oppression. The conclusion has no “sympathetic and concerned tone”, but is the worst sort of bourgeois jingoism. Even liberals would hesitate to draw such “inevitable” political consequences. Our Professor has taken offense at the “political consequences” of the most reactionary line on national oppression, of imperialist economism, the sole “possible” response that occurs to him, and generalizes this bourgeois apology as the “natural” conclusion of the Black Nation Thesis. To this he opposes his own brand of imperialist economism, his liberalism, and thus attempts to create a “two-line struggle”. On the one hand, the overtly chauvinist response to the Black Nation Thesis. On the other hand, our Professor’s self-righteous indignation, his liberalism and soft-core chauvinism, which he attempts to pass off as ”Marxism”. If we are as simpleminded as our Professor takes us to be, we will, of course choose his bourgeois liberalism over bourgeois jingoism, and in the process denounce the Black Nation Thesis as one of those nasty “illogical thoughts”. Our Professor has thus realized his true ambition: to attack Marxism-Leninism from within by worming his way into the contradictions of our movement, and once it has been sufficiently obscured, fashion his own liberalism into a passable replica. In the face of this we can only say with Marx: “Well grubbed, old mole!”

But that is not all:

Some such argument is marshaled to drive home the point that the struggle against racism is a special task reserved to its victims while ’progressive-minded’ non-victims can only ’support’. In this way, the Black-White dialectic of racism is reduced to the need for Blacks to ’catch-up’ with Whites, and the struggle against racism is conceived as a latter-day Roman spectacle in which Blacks would be the gladiators and Whites would be the spectators.

It is a measure of the infiltrated racism in the Left that it translates the special stake Blacks have in dismantling racism into a special task reserved for Blacks. Critique p. 4

This position, if we are to believe Harry Chang, “had the standing of a general line in the Left”. We can only wonder what this “Left” consists of. Everyone to the left of the American Nazi Party? Doctor Chang has in mind “progressive-minded” non-victims, that is, liberals, for it is only the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie that holds, as a ”general line”, the position that the struggle against racism is the task of Blacks. That this is the way liberals perpetuate racism is common knowledge to every new-comer to the movement. We can only wonder what sort of company Professor Chang has been keeping “on the Left” that he draws this sort of conclusion. There is indeed some “infiltration” going on here, but not “infiltrated racism in the Left”, i.e. in the liberal camp, since racism is a natural attribute of that camp, but the infiltration of Dr. Chang himself into the movement.

Our movement has no problem recognizing the objective role of racism, and even reformist elements in the movement advance the idea that the struggle against racism must be taken up primarily by and among whites. If anything, there is the opposite tendency, to “bow and scrape” before the minorities. Harry Chang is not trying to discredit our movement, but only widen its definition to include himself and every other penny-ante liberal. Only when he has done this is it possible to strike a bold contrast between outright liberalism, now “on the Left”, and his own peculiar brand of reformism. In reality, the only problem our movement has with the issue of racism is how to implement the struggle against white chauvinism among whites. That has been the question in our movement, on the communist left, a left that has absolutely nothing in common with Harry Chang’s.

B. Liberalism and Playing with Words

Our critic sees “two distinct presentations of Black nationhood”. One is the possibility of creating a Black nation, hence “potentiality”. The other is the present existence of a Black nation, hence “actuality”. The main formulations on the Black Nation have come from the RU and the BWC, but since Mr. Chang does not name names, we have no way of knowing which group Is advancing which one of the “two distinct presentations”. In reality, both groups assume “actuality” and “potentiality”. That is precisely the contradiction of the RU and BWC presentations. Both assume, without thoroughly investigating the actual conditions, that Blacks are presently a nation. In order to do this both suspend the necessary criteria of nationhood, especially territory and economy, in order to guarantee the right of self-determination. But when speaking of actual self-determination they must then revive the suspended criteria in order to establish a politically independent Black nation. The failing of the RU and the BWC in this respect is not that they define Blacks as a nation, but that they do so without a concrete investigation of the real conditions of the Black population in the South. This is too subtle for our liberal, who likes to see things in black and white. It sails right over his head. He therefore grabs onto a simplistic contradiction, as he has grubbed up the mutual exclusiveness of race and nationality, and presents us with “actuality” and “potentiality”. Even with these two stark guidelines, he cannot keep on an even course.

This matter of “potentiality” gives our critic some problems, since he knows nothing of the national question in general, let alone the formation of nations. It’s best not to talk about it at all:

This is not the place, however, to dwell on the question of the Black Nation as a potentiality, even though we would also dispute the wisdom of this view. In any case, this aspect is better handled in the context of a political evaluation of the established programs of ’nation-building’. Instead, the Black Nation as an actuality will be the main object of this Critique. Critique p. 5

We understand, Professor. No one likes to “dwell” on something they know nothing about. But even this diversion is an “illogical thought”. First we are told that the Black Nation Thesis is a way of giving a “non-racial name to a racial entity”, that to describe Blacks as a nation is a means of negating racial oppression, and further, it puts the burden of Black oppression squarely on the shoulders of Blacks. Now we are told this question of “potentiality”, the question of creating what, by Dr. Chang’s definition, is a contradiction in terms, cannot be discussed here, and that anyway ”we would also dispute the wisdom of this view”. Wei1, Dr. Chang, either the notion of a Black Nation is all that you say it is, and therefore should not have either “actuality” or “potentiality”; or, there is no inherent contradiction in the notion of a Black Nation, in which case you’ve made a fuss over nothing. Either you accept the notion of a Black Nation as a valid theoretical concept, or you do not. If you do not, as you claim, then you do not merely “dispute the wisdom” of creating a Black Nation; if you are consistent you must deny it altogether. What will it be, Professor?

In any case, this aspect is better handled in the context of a political evaluation of the established programs of ’nation-building’.

We will not bother considering the possible creation of a Black Nation (sic, to our Professor) in terms of the objective conditions of Blacks. No. We will go by the “established programs”, that is, by the theoretically opportunist programs that have been put forward to date. That will conveniently excuse us from a real presentation of the question, and allow us to make capital on the movement’s mistakes. Very convenient, Doctor, but not all that clever.

The position that Blacks are presently a nation, and are therefore entitled to the right to self-determination, has only one source:

This view has long been identified as the Marxist position on Black Liberation – both because its authors have invoked the name of Marxism in advancing it and because no one outside of ’Marxist circles’ has ever seriously espoused it. But strict attention to dialectical rigor and historical reality will show that such a view has no place in the Marxist method of historical analysis. If for no other reason than to dissociate Marxism from various incorrect views invoking its name, we wish to show that Black people in the United States have never constituted a nation or a national minority. Critique p. 5

Thus, while the rest of the world knows fully well that Blacks are nothing more than a “racial entity”, the Marxists stubbornly cling to the notion of nationality. Apparently, non-Marxist Blacks have never advanced the idea of a Black nation, or at least not “seriously”. From the old CP we hear:

Popular impression to the contrary, the concept of a Negro nation in the U.S. did not originate with the Communists. It has been given expression by Negro spokesmen before the Civil War and since. Martin Delany, for example, wrote in 1852: ’We are a nation within a nation: –as the Poles in Russia, the Hungarians in Austria, and the Welsh, Irish and Scotch in the British Dominions’ (A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States, edited by Herbert Aptheker, pp.326-27). Cyril Briggs “On the Negro Question” Political Affairs March 1959

Apparently Marxists who advance the Black Nation thesis are “serious”, while non-Marxist Blacks who advance the idea are not “serious”. What is our Professor’s criteria of sobriety? We have no way of knowing, except that it is much easier to prove that the Marxists are wrong if no one else is advancing the same idea. This must be what Dr. Chang means by “dialectical rigor”.

Our Professor wishes only to “dissociate Marxism from various incorrect view invoking its name” and is innocent of any class bias of his own. There are, granted, innumerable cases of incorrect views invoking the name of Marxism* But each incorrect view does not simply oppose itself to Marxist views, but also opposes itself to other incorrect views posing as Marxism. Our critic wishes to “dissociate Marxism” from one set of views in order to associate Marxism with his own. Formerly our liberals would attempt to “dissociate Marxism” altogether and swing the workingclass behind reformist leadership. This is such old hat by now that liberals cannot get a hearing before the workingclass, which universally holds liberals in utter contempt. What is needed is a suitable disguise. What better way to cover one’s tracks than to “dissociate Marxism from various incorrect views invoking its name” while advancing other incorrect views under the name of Marxism.

On what basis is the Black Nation disproved? On whatever basis suits our liberal at the moment. We are given the following as an introduction of what our critic has in mind:

Consider, for example, the territorial aspect of the national question. If the national territory of the Black Nation is, or ever was, an actual reality, then such territory would have been disputed in social practice rather than merely debated in scholastic exercises. This is not a mere verbal quibble; for real nations, the defense of the motherland is one of the most powerful slogans for the political movement. The recognition of necessity is here directly translatable into a freedom movement.

By contrast, the defense of the Black Belt (or five southern states) has never been taken seriously by the masses but not because this defense would be a hard task. ...

This failure to reflect reality with accuracy is already in itself a sufficient ground for repudiating the Black Nation Thesis. Critique p. 6

The definition of a nation requires territory. Professor Chang does not begin with actual relations on that territory, does not “reflect reality”, but takes as his determinative reality the subjective state of the Black movement. In the first place, the development of Black nationalism is not a “scholastic exercise”, and the debate over the land question has been very real and very much “disputed in social practice”. Professor Chang would like to make political struggle a “scholastic exercise” and transform “social practice” into armed defense. If the political struggle is not also a form of social practice then it becomes a simple matter to “disprove” the territorial issue since it has “only” been debated on the political level. Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun, Professor, but it is the political movement that causes the guns to be taken up. In the second place, the subjective state of any national movement does not determine or define nationality. From Dr. Chang’s line of reasoning it would follow that Zionism, since it disputes territory through force of arms, substantiates the Zionists claim of nationality. Our Professor thinks that by putting things on a subjective level he is “repudiating the Black Nation Thesis”. All that he is proving is his own inability to “reflect reality” in its totality, and since he is not doing so, since he is drawing only on specific realities, must have some specific purpose in mind.

This failure to reflect reality with accuracy is already in itself a sufficient ground for repudiating the Black Nation Thesis.

A strange conclusion, isn’t it? Apparently if someone, say, reformists, fails to analyse classes “with accuracy”, classes thereby do not exist. Such “rigor”!

In defending “Marxism”, our critic is forced to defend Stalin as well. This is, of course, something absolutely necessary if he expects to get a hearing before the movement. Stalin was correct. But the people making the “prevalent error” do not understand Stalin. This proves, according to our critic, not that the national questioners have erred in incorrectly applying the national question, but that they have erroneously assumed that the national question applied at all.

The most prevalent error made in the application of Stalin’s thesis is a logical one, namely the inversion of necessary conditions of nationhood into sufficient conditions for nationhood. What Stalin says is that if a socio-historically developed community lacks any single one of the four characteristic features, then it cannot possibly be a nation. ...This is not the same as saying that if a socio-historically developed community exhibits all four characteristic features, then it is by that fact, automatically a nation; those characteristic features which a nation necessarily exhibits are not always what is sufficient to make a nation. As every student of logic knows, what is useful in disproving a point is not always useful in proving a point. Critique p. 7

Our Professor has, as the RU would say, “boiled the question down to its essence”, that is, taken what suits him and chucked the rest. The national questioners have made a “logical” error. They have assumed that the four characteristics are building blocks that can be fitted together to form a nation. Harry Chang, of course, is far above all that, and knows that characteristic features are not separate entities, but only aspects of a single unit, the nation. But that is not enough. To drive home his point there is the assertion that even historically evolved communities that display all the national characteristics are not “automatically” nations. We would ask, then, just what this community of people is, that is so nation-like and yet not a nation. If we assume Mr. Chang is still in this historical epoch, those people must, very “automatically” be a nation, since we have no other category to fit them into. The only people who share all four characteristics of a nation and yet are not a nation are those people who have transcended nationality, i.e. those people living under advanced communism. Our critic, “as every student of logic knows” is only playing with words with his talk about “necessary” and “sufficient” and ends up demonstrating not “logical” errors, but his own class biases. Indeed, Professor, what is “useful” in disproving the Black Nation Thesis is “not always useful” in proving yourself a “Marxist”. If utility is your criteria, then your ideology is not Marxism, but bourgeois pragmatism.

We have been given this crucial distinction between “necessary” and “sufficient”. Now we are given another profound insight, the distinction between gemeinschaft and gesellschaft. Gemeinschaft, or “being-together”, is what our Professor puts onto the natural course of development of nations. The characteristic features are in this case facets of a single unit. Gesellschaft, or “coming-together”, applies to common features not evolving from a single source, but merely related by their similarities. The Black Nation Thesis is accused of going the gesellschaft route, and thus arriving at an artificial nation:

All versions of the Black Nation Thesis rest on the faulty reasoning of first determining individuals by racial (i.e. non-national) considerations, then, grouping them by this logic into a ’nation’. Such reasoning is entirely capable of inventing such ’nations’ as ’youth nation’, ’women nation’, ’slave nation’ ’proletarian nation’, etc. More seriously, it can also characterize a part of a nation as a nation itself, and thereby serve as a sophistic means to divide a nation. For example, according to this reasoning, South Korea would be a nation in its own right since its inhabitants live in the same contiguous area, speak the same language, eke out their living in the same economy, and partake in the same culture. It has taken considerable ideological struggle on the part of nations in Asia to expose the reactionary and nation-splitting character of such sophistry usually promoted by kept spokesmen of imperialism. Critique p. 9 - 10

If the RU and the BWC simply approached the Black population on racial identity alone, even someone with Mr. Chang’s capabilities could make valid criticisms. We have seen that there is no contradiction in an oppressed nationality having pronounced racial characteristics. What is contradictory is in defining a specific people as a nation on the basis of race alone. We have also seen that any community that fulfills the basic criteria of a nation is in fact a nation. The errors of the RU and the BWC are not “illogical thoughts” but class deviations, resulting in the invention of new characteristics and the liquidation of old ones. What drives the BWC is Black nationalism. What drives the RU is accommodation of Black nationalism. Of this, of the class basis of nationalist deviations, not a word from Dr. Chang. To him it is simply a matter of ”faulty reasoning”, “illogical thoughts”, etc. that result in “unsavory” conclusions. At Dr. Chang’s altitude, everything just appears out of the blue.

After wrongly pinpointing the source of the Black Nation Thesis, we are given another “inevitable” conclusion. The Black Nation Thesis is a way to divide a nation. And this is what concerns our Professor most. There is the example of South Korea. But what is there in common between the Black Nation Thesis supposedly dividing an imperialist nation, the U.S., and imperialism dividing Korea? Nothing at all, and in fact, they are directly opposite. The notion of a Black nation as advanced by the RU and the BWC is not an attempt to split the U.S., but is solely a means to resolve the oppression of Blacks from a nationalist standpoint. Even here there are differences, since the RU states that establishing an independent Black nation is not the “essential thrust” of the Black liberation movement, and that Black oppression will be resolved through socialist revolution throughout the U.S. If we assume that Blacks are in fact a nation, then their exercise of self-determination is in no way divisive. If we assume Blacks are not a nation, the fact remains they are an oppressed people, and it is precisely the liberals and reactionaries who caution against civil rights on the grounds that the Black movement is “divisive”. If Dr. Chang is going to accuse the Black Nation Thesis on the basis of “divisiveness”, it follows from his line of reasoning that any move by Blacks to determine their own affairs Is “divisive”.

South Korea is oppressed, not by North Korea, but by U.S. imperialism. Where, then, is the parallel between Blacks in the U.S. in relation to the Black Nation Thesis, and South Koreans in relation to imperialist self-determination? South Koreans do not display distinct characteristics from North Koreans. Korea developed as an integral nation, and was split by imperialism. What differentiates them is that the North Korean state is in the hands of the workingclass and peasantry, and the South Korean state is in the hands of imperialism. Only imperialists could argue that South Korea is not only a separate state, but a separate nation. Likewise, only the workingclass recognizes that Korea is in fact one nation. By Dr. Chang’s reasoning, any artificially split nation can be justified on the grounds of an imperialist Nation Thesis and imperialist self-determination. Very true. But there is more. It has to be proven first that such a division is in fact artificial, something Dr. Chang has not proven for Blacks in the U.S. And this brings us to a form of sophistry Dr. Chang would rather not mention. If, in fact, Blacks in the U.S. are a nation, then the denial of the Black Nation Thesis is a means of justifying imperialist annexations and imperialist self-determination^ i.e. the self-determination of the oppressor nation over the oppressed nation. Dr. Chang’s line of reasoning hides, and then not very well, a rationalization for imperialist economism. Of this, not a word from Harry Chang. What moves him is his disgust for “divisiveness”, his liberalism, and his wish to contain the Black liberation movement within the limits of his own liberal rendition of the struggle against racism, and this he can accomplish only through playing with words.

C. Territory and Common Economy

In order to disprove the existence of a Black nation, our critic concentrates (such as he can) on the question of territory and common economy. We are given yet another commonplace, that territory means more than property title or residence, and involves social relations on a given land. After making this bold distinction, he then puts the national questioners in the category of property title, and himself in the category of actual relations. But this is not enough, since none of the existing groups who affirm the existence of a Black nation settle for property title or residence alone. So our Professor must bring in his original insight on the question of defining nationality on the basis of race:

What was the manner of this discourse? First of all, the Thesis determines individuals by means of racial, hence non-national categories; from there, it proceeds to study the settlement patterns of racially determined individuals; and finally, it collects such areas of racial concentration into a whole and calls it a ’national territory’ contrary to its non-national determination. Critique p. 11

This is all very “logical” but in no way corresponds to the truth. All groups dealing with the national question have had to consider the question of territory from the standpoint of both residence and productive relations on the land. The problem is not that they consider residence alone, or racial concentration alone, but that they do not objectively consider these relations with the “sum total of facts”. Our Professor obscures this point. Either he has not read the material, or the actual errors of the national questioners is too subtle for him to grasp. In reality, his purpose is not to show that the KU et al have wrongly applied the basic criteria, but that they have “transposed the race question into a national question”. It is only by this approach that our critic can liquidate the national question altogether.

First we were told that Blacks are not a nation from the fact that the national questioners failed to “reflect reality”, from the fact that Blacks have never heard of a Black nation, from the fact that the notion of a Black nation gives a “non-racial name to a racial entity”, from the fact that the Black Nation gives a “racial name to a non-racial entity”, from the fact that the national questioners have got their qemeinschaft and gesellschaft all askew, from the fact that the national questioners consider territory from residential concentrations alone, from the fact that a “nation within a nation” is an “intellectual fancy”, etc. Such, up to now have been the sum total of Harry Chang’s “facts”. Now for the first time Dr. Chang consents to drop down to the real world and flex his muscles over the question of common economy.

If the ’Black Economy’, or some variant of it, is to qualify as the common economic life of a Black nation, then this economy must be an incipient mode of production in its own right. Specifically this means that the dialectic of certain basic economic relations would be Internal to the Black Nation, generating such polarizations as slaves vs. masters, landlords vs. peasants, capitalists vs. proletarians, etc. within the Black Nation, even though this dialectic may be severely constrained by an externally imposed national oppression. In particular, if ’Black Capitalism’ were to signify the mode of production of a Black Nation and not merely the aggregate of entrepreneurial efforts of individual Blacks in U.S. capitalism, then it would exhibit such ’macro-economic’ phenomena as an emerging monetary and credit system, a suppressed but distinctive average rate of interest, a germinal but separate equity market, etc. Critique p. 15

This is all very good for determining the degree of economic development of a specific people, that is, whether the economy has got to the point of bank capital, a separate monetary system, etc. But whether the “macro-economic phenomena” is incipient or completely repressed, whether the national bourgeois has its own relations, its own sector of the home market, its own circulation, etc. depends entirely on the degree of domination of imperialism. Imperialism may completely dominate the financial institutions, monetary system, home market, etc. and that would in no way prevent an oppressed people from having a common economy. Do a given people, through the division of labor, provide their own subsistence? What areas of the economy do the petty bourgeoisie and national bourgeoisie control? What sort of goods and services are these, where are they located, and how does this domestic sector relate to the overall economy? The “emerging monetary and credit system” only indicates the degree of development of the national bourgeoisie, of the relative integrity of the economic system, and is in no way a basis for determining whether or not there is an economic system independent of imperialism.

Dr. Chang presents us with the following facts and figures: that less than 37. of the Black workforce is employed by Black-owned enterprises; that in 1971 the aggregate income of Black households was around $51 billion, most of which came from and went to “White institutions”; that economic integration is around 95%; that in 1973 of 163,000 Black enterprises, only 3800 employed labor-power; that of 347 enterprises with gross receipts of over $1 million, only 20 were large capitalist enterprises. On the basis of this, Dr. Chang concludes there is no Black economy, and therefore no Black nation.

It is curious that Professor Chang, who cautions us against the “illogical thought” of considering territory independently of the “socioeconomic relations on the land”, turns around and begins to consider the “socio-economic relations” independently of territory. Well, Dr. Chang, either common economy and common territory are integrally related or they are not. If, in order to determine the territorial question it is necessary to determine economic relations, it certainly follows that in order to determine the economic question it is just as necessary to show where those economic relations occur. The 3%, $51 billion, and 347, etc. are useful for determining the economic relations of a specific race, that is, regardless of territory, but tells us absolutely nothing about the economic relations of a possible nation. It is one thing to “transpose the race question into a national question”, and quite another to transpose the national question into a race question. More “rigor”, Dr. Chang.

Our critic has made this oversight in his haste to strike a few blows against the national questioners who have

...translated U.S. capitalists who are Black into ’capitalists of the Black economy’ and the U.S. bourgeois who are Black into the ’bourgeoisie of Black society’. The upshot of all this is to describe the class struggle of U.S. society as a two-ring circus, one within the ’White society’ and the other within the ’Black society’; and finally, the two are ’combined’ as the oppressive interference of a ’dazzling’ performance over an ’inept’ performance. Critique p. 18

Such is our Professor’s understanding of national oppression. To him it is unforgiveable to describe Blacks as a nation, since that “automatically” reduces Black oppression to a function of Black “ineptness”: Blacks simply do not have good business sense. There is no doubt that such a view does indeed minimize Black oppression and puts the ”onus” onto Blacks. But there is one small fact that Dr. Chang “overlooks”, and that is that only a bourgeois could ever draw the conclusion that our professor has. Only someone who is completely immersed in bourgeois bias, values and ideology, who understands absolutely nothing of class relations, of class oppression in all its forms, could conclude that because Blacks are a nation their oppression is their own doing. In polemicizing against the Black Nation Thesis under the guise of “defending” Blacks from such a chauvinist accusation, our professor has exposed himself as a bigger chauvinist, a great-nation liberal chauvinist, and created a theoretical framework for justifying imperialist economism while “invoking the name of Marxism”.

Instead of this “racist” national question, our critic offers us “a racially assigned disinheritance pole within the dispossession dialectic”. This “dispossession dialectic” is nearly as fruitful as the RU’s Third Period. It is because of the “dispossession dialectic” that the white bourgeoisie advances Black spokesmen, letting them have a little capital and political power. These Black spokesmen are not bourgeois at all:

Thus, the ’Black bourgeois’ are more likely to be what Engels called ’bourgeoisified proletarians’ rather than proletarianized bourgeois. Critique p. 20

There are, therefore, negligible class contradictions within the Black community: everyone is on the white payroll. The “dispossession dialectic” also allows us to avoid the “unsavory racist implications” of the national question, which, if we are to believe Harry Chang, falls directly in line with the “class conditioned view” that workers are “’unsuccessful’ capitalists”, a view that our professor, no doubt, had some difficulty overcoming himself.

Thus we are given a “dazzling” demonstration that the national question cannot apply on all counts: there is no territory, no common economy, and no class structure. There are merely Black folk, all commonly and equally oppressed by racism. The “dazzle”, playing with words, and complete distortion of even the opportunist presentations on the national question, is supposed to divert us from the fact that our critic has not come close to achieving his stated objective. He has not only failed to disprove the present existence of a Black nation, but hasn’t even touched the question of its past existence. That is all beside the point, anyway, since Dr. Chang’s real purpose is not just to liquidate the national question, but to substitute his liberalism for Marxism. To Dr. Chang, liberalism is preferable to Marxism, but cannot stand on its own. It therefore “invokes the name of Marxism”, hoping to gain an audience. But what can we say of Harry Chang’s “audition”? He is obviously very “articulate”, in the bourgeois sense, but his “profundity” is just a playing with words, a poor maneuver, a way of “streaking” the movement, a pathetic case of academic exhibitionism.

D. “Soft-core” Black Nationalism

If even the Black bourgeoisie are “proletarians” it follows there can be no real class basis for Black nationalism. There being no real basis for Black nationalism, it likewise follows that Black nationalism is just a distorted version of the struggle against racism. Hence, the transposition of the national question into a race question.

So far, we have assumed that Black Nationalism is primarily or exclusively concerned with nation-building, but this assumption may not be valid. If there is one common theme in the various Black Nationalist manifestoes, it is the need for the solidarity of Black people in the face of racism, even though this need is expressed in the misleading language of national formation. Therefore, we must distinguish the reason for the rise of movements like Black Nationalism from the reason for such movements taking on the language of nationalism, for the two are by no means the same. Critique p. 23

What prompts the Black bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie to create Black nationalism and the national movement has nothing at all to do with their class interests, with wishing to create and maintain a home market, a separate capitalist economy, or a national basis for international capitalist competition. No. What prompts them is the “need for solidarity of Black people in the face of racism”. Such solidarity is not a tool, used by the Black bourgeoisie to unify their “own” people, and so to later have sole rights to exploit Black labor. No. The proponents of Black nationalism are merely “mislead”, and their “sincere desire” to unify their people becomes cramped in the “language of nationalism”.

How does this distortion come about? Black proletarians (and we assume this includes the “bourgeoisified proletarians”, the Black bourgeoisie) have been “objectively” integrated into production, and yet “subjectively” separated from appropriation.

Yet, much of the material and spiritual fruit of the U.S. nation has been systematically denied to Black people. Critique p. 24

Being deprived of the “material and spiritual fruit” of U.S. imperialism, Blacks are therefore alienated, come to consider themselves as a distinct category, and, wrongly, as a nation.

Given this, it is entirely expected that White’s monopolized claim of the subjective would meet with a counter-claim by Blacks, even if they must envision a separation in the objective in doing so. In this sense, Black Nationalism is quite similar to the desire of some workers to set up their own Utopian colonies or cooperative communes in order to escape capitalist appropriation, if not upturn capitalist production altogether. Critique p. 24

Obviously, the “material and spiritual fruits” of U.S. imperialism have not been denied to our professor. He now repays the bourgeoisie in kind, that is, with more imperialist “fruit”. We are told that all Blacks are proletarians of one kind or another. Now we are told that whites are all bourgeois in one form or another. The whites, you see, have a “monopolized claim of the subjective”, that is, share directly in appropriation. White workers, then, are hardly exploited at all, sharing as they do the “material and spiritual fruits” along with the bourgeoisie. Black workers, on the other hand, are exploited, not because Black workers do not own the means of production, but because they do not get a “decent” wage, “decent” housing, and various “spiritual fruits”. Black nationalism is therefore not a form of bourgeois ideology, but only a reaction to this “unsavory” situation, an innocent and Utopian desire to escape “White” exploitation. Black nationalism has nothing to do with bourgeois class interests. No. It is only a “misleading” expression of mass sentiment. It is, in fact, a form of proletarian ideology, albeit “mislead” and Utopian. The BWC would be proud of this “workingclass nationalism”.

Our professor has not only succeeded in obscuring the class content of Black nationalism, and thus generated a rationalization for it, but has verified the Trotskyite thesis of “white skin privilege”. White workers, according to this line, have a “monopolized claim” over the “material and spiritual fruits” of American imperialism, and are therefore part of the exploiting race. Having all these “fruits”, it follows that white workers are in no way oppressed by racism, but in fact have a stake in it. Our professor doesn’t elaborate on this line, which has been sufficiently expressed by the Sojourner Truth Organization, but such is the drift of his “rigor”. If the entire Black question resolves into attaining “material and spiritual fruits”, then there is obviously no need for socialist revolution. The struggle against capital reduces to the struggle against racism, against racial inequality, and for the equal and democratic sharing of “fruits”.

To hear Harry Chang talk, nothing has a class content; everything is a matter of racially determined “dispossession”. Black nationalism is therefore not a class phenomenon, but a racial one, and on that basis we should only judge it according to its contribution to the struggle against racism:

Therefore, for Marxists, the question is not whether Black Nationalism has the right to exist or not, nor whether it is in itself progressive or reactionary. The real question is how Black Nationalism as a particular response may contribute or detract, at a specific time and in a specific context, vis-à-vis the general resolution of racism. Given this, in the broader movement to express the urgency of an all-out assault on racism, and to mobilize the people to that end, Black Nationalism has been an asset. Critique p. 25

There is no such thing as an objective class analysis of Black Nationalism. No. Nationalism has no objective source, you see, but depends entirely upon “specific times” and “specific contexts” vis-à-vis whatever you have in mind. Our criteria is therefore a completely pragmatic criteria, i.e. whatever, works is right. In the “dispossession dialectic” all we want are results.

The best of all possible results, of course, are those which pull the Black masses behind “bourgeoisified proletarian”, i.e. Black bourgeois, leadership, even if that leadership is momentarily “misled” by Utopian nationalism. The important point here, you see, is not whether the bourgeois leadership has one or another program, wants to create a nation or not. No. The most vital thing is that the leadership remain bourgeois. Dr. Chang’s mastery of opportunism puts the RU’s theoreticians to shame.

E. What is Harry Changism?

It is unlikely that many people in the communist movement bothered reading Harry Chang’s little Critique, or got beyond the first page when they saw what it was. That is easily done, since Dr. Chang has not written his pamphlet in order to be understood, but only in order to deflect. Still, it is important that our movement does confront such “friends of the people” when they go poking around in our affairs. The communist movement, and the Party it creates, is the political leadership of the workingclass. When the workingclass movement is weak, the “friends of the people” are content to engage in petty reformism and whine about the “excesses” of imperialism. But when the workingclass begins to consolidate, when a communist movement arises and begins to forge the ideological and organizational weapons for the overthrow of capitalist relations, our “friends” come off the fence, and with the best of intentions begin deflecting the movement from its goals.

The Critique of the Black Nation Thesis is one such attempt, not because it attempts to disprove the existence of a Black nation (since that is not its objective purpose) but precisely because it attempts to inject liberalism into the movement. We disarm ourselves if we simply write off such attempts, if we do not thoroughly expose their class basis, if we do not close off every possible avenue of bourgeois penetration. Every Harry Chang that slips by unexposed fosters a dozen more Harry Chang’s, and sooner or later these “friends” will be entering our movement with all their “profundity” and ”Marxism”. What today appears as an academic tract, as liberal exhibitionism, as a fumbling attempt to penetrate the communist movement, will tomorrow appear in more subtle and sophisticated forms within our own ranks.

The danger is not that Harry Changism will appeal to workers, which it will not, but that it will appeal to unformulated students and intellectuals and reinforce their existing bourgeois biases. It becomes, like Trotskyism, a rallying point for the petty bourgeois intelligentsia. The plain fact is that our movement needs more intellectuals and students to enter the workingclass movement, not as “friends of the people”, but as communists. We must in every case expose every sort of liberalism that “invokes the name of Marxism”, make it suicidal for the liberals to venture into print, and win the students and intellectuals to our side. We can only do this if, as an essential facet of our work, we continually demonstrate the superiority of the Marxist-Leninist outlook over the liberal-reformist outlook, and expose every attempt to divert or deflect the workingclass movement.

As unrewarding as it may be to decipher the “spiritual fruits” of such works as the Critique, it is absolutely necessary for us to do so if we are to set our movement on a solid foundation.