Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Workers Group (Marxist-Leninist)

Our Tasks on the National Question

Against Nationalist Deviations in Our Movement


The CPUSA developed its original position on the national question through a series of discussions within the Third International between 1928 and 1930. Prior to 1928 the Party held that Blacks in the U.S. were simply a racial minority and had no special role within the general class struggle. Racism would be eliminated through socialist revolution, and consequently there was no need to create special propaganda for Blacks or to treat the problem of racism as a separate question. During the Comintern discussions, however, it was revealed that the Party was unsuccessful in organizing Blacks. Further, the Black cadre within the Party exposed racist behavior in the Party itself, the exclusion of Blacks from some Party functions, and a refusal to take up the fight against racism seriously. In an attempt to develop a principled position on the condition of American Blacks, the Comintern stated (in 1928) and developed systematically (in 1930) the thesis that Blacks in the Black Belt South satisfied the basic criteria of a nation and were therefore entitled to the right of self-determination.

The adoption of the line was meant to resolve three main problems before the Party. First, to resolve contradictions within the Party due to racism, which in turn stemmed from the Party’s overall lack of principle and grasp on Marxism-Leninism. Second, to develop a correct position adequate to conditions peculiar to the U.S. And third, to win the Black masses away from Garveyism and other bourgeois separatist trends. Another more general aspect was the desire of the Comintern to establish firm principles on national movements in order to counteract Trotskyism on the national question.

The Comintern resolution did correctly resolve the national question in the U.S. in theory. The problems that arose within the Party after 1930 were due not to the theoretical formulation, but to its interpretation and practical application. In practice it was rarely applied, and in theory consistently misunderstood. The overall misconception of the question carried through the 30’s and 40’s, and became especially evident in the debates during the 50’s when the CP finally liquidated the entire affair. Harry Haywood, one of the participants in the 1928 discussions, recounted his understanding of the Comintern thesis as follows:

...[Black nationalism] was an indigenous product, arising from the soil of Black super-exploitation and oppression in the U.S. It expressed the yearnings of millions of Blacks for a nation of their own.

As I pursued this logic, a totally new thought occurred to me, and for me it was the clincher. The Garvey movement is dead, I reasoned, but not Black nationalism. Nationalism, which Garvey diverted under the slogan of Back-to-Africa was, however, an authentic trend likely to flare up again in periods of crisis and stress. Such a movement might again fall under the leadership of Utopian visionaries who would seek to divert it from the struggle against the main enemy, U.S. imperialism, and onto a reactionary separatist path. The only way such a diversion of the struggle could be forestalled was by presenting to Blacks a revolutionary alternative.

To the slogan of ’Back to Africa’, I argued, we must counterpose the slogan of ’the right to self-determination here in the Deep South’. Harry Haywood “The Black Nation in the South” The Guardian 8-8-73 p.9

The right of nations to self-determination is a right based on the status of nationhood, and is independent of a peoples’ subjective national identity. According to Haywood, however, the attraction of the slogan is that it is an effective means to combat a reactionary form of separatism. The adoption of the slogan is, from this point of view, a demand pressured by existing nationalist tendencies. There is nothing wrong with Haywood’s formulation as such, since the slogan fulfills both purposes, i.e. combats great-nation chauvinism and narrow nationalism. The error lies in the matter of emphasis. If we are adopting a slogan in order to combat narrow nationalism, in order to win the masses away from narrow nationalism, then we begin to create an identity between the right of nations and the degree of nationalism. The stronger the narrow nationalism, the more forcefully must self-determination be put forward. The right to self-determination then becomes a function of the intensity of nationalist tendencies within the masses, i.e. is put on a subjective basis.

Such shades of interpretation are important since a small error can grow into a major deviation, as was the case throughout the development of the line in the CP. There is another, more profound error in Haywood’s analysis, and that is in saying that Black nationalism “expressed the yearnings of millions of Blacks for a nation of their own.” That is fundamentally incorrect. Nationalism is a bourgeois ideology, and expresses the “yearnings” of the national bourgeoisie for a nation of its own, i.e. a home market and the right to exploit its own people. The masses may support the national movement, not because they wish to be dominated solely by ’their own’ bourgeoisie, but because they wish to throw off the burden of foreign rule. The masses do not yearn for a nation of their own, but simply yearn for an end to all oppression. Haywood’s departure from Marxism on this point is indicative of a general deviation on the national question that results in distortions of the categories of psychological make-up and common territory.

The United Front period of the middle and late 1930’s marked the complete embourgeoisiement of the Communist Party, and consequently the practical liquidation of all points of principle. In the national question this took the form of official support of the right to self-determination, but practical capitulation to the leadership of the Black bourgeois reformists. In an article in the CP theoretical journal, The Communist, in 1936, James Ford wrote:

In the building of our country, the Negro people have fulfilled a role in productive labor, heroic struggle, and cultural contribution. They have served the nation well in all past crises and they continue to do so today. James Ford “The Struggle of the Building of the Modern Liberation Movement of the Negro People” The Communist Vol.XVTII No.9 p.817

Such magnanimity by the Communist Party must have had Mr. Roosevelt choking on his mint-julip. Instead of slavery and wage-slavery we have something nice, ’productive labor’. And struggle is inoffensive too, as long as it’s heroic, as long as the enemy is unnamed. And we should ask, building whose nation? The nation of the working masses, or the nation of the bourgeoisie. Our Browderite continues:

The issue now in the world is democracy against fascism. This requires the utmost development of labor unity as a cementing factor in the construction of a powerful democratic front movement unity of labor, the toiling farmers, the Negro people, and the middle classes against capitalist reaction, fascism and war.

For Negros, the central task is the promotion of unity around their principal organizations: NAACP, National Negro Congress, Southern Negro Youth Congress, the Urban League, and many other organizations of the Negro people, including the powerful church groups. Ibid p.826

And who will provide the political leadership in this United Front?

The Communist Party supports the New Deal as the political expression of the democratic front and strives to unite the Negro People’s movement with it. Ibid p.828

The political leadership of the New Deal was not the Communist Party, which had only marginal influence, but the liberal bourgeoisie. The principle of the United Front, like every other fundamental of Marxism, was transformed by the CPUSA into a means of tailing after liberal reformism.

The opportunism of the United Front period was consummated by the voluntary dismemberment of the Party immediately after World War Two. The liquidation of principles was followed by the liquidation of the organization, and it was only through the force of criticism by the international movement that the Party’s lesser opportunists regrouped.

We must here distinguish between two post-war tendencies that influenced the CP’s liquidation of the national question. The first are changes in the Black population itself due to migrations, changing class structure, and the development of the civil rights movement. The second is the further drift of the Party towards revisionism, and its need to accommodate ’friendly’ forces in the liberal bourgeois camp. It was the ’reorientation’ of the Party that demanded changes in the national question, and not changes in the objective conditions of Blacks that demanded changes in Party line.

The liquidation proceeded by a series of stages, meeting resistance at every step by the more consistent elements in the Party. During the late 40’s, Blacks within the Party once again exposed the pervasive racism within Party ranks and demanded changes. An intense debate over white chauvanism continued through 1949 until the right wing had again consolidated its position.

We should understand that throughout this process of liquidation, what was at stake was the Party’s formal position on Blacks in the U.S. The Party’s practice remained unchanged, i.e. reformist. The liquidation of the question was important from the standpoint of revisionism, since the principle of the right to self-determination would interfere with the full consolidation of revisionist tendencies. In the same way, the Russian revisionists attempted to liquidate the principle of the dictatorship of the proletariat and create a revisionist ’party of the whole people*. From the standpoint of revisionism, it mattered not at all whether Blacks were or were not a nation. The Party’s reassessment was not based on objective conditions, but on the need to draw closer to the bourgeoisie. The Party would have liquidated the national question regardless of the objective status of Blacks.

The groundwork for liquidation was laid by William Z. Foster in his book The Negro People in American History (1954). Foster here defends the old line, but introduces the means to dissolve it.

Owing principally to Negro migration to the North and the more rapid increase of the white population, there has been a steady decline in the number of counties of Negro majority – in 1900, 286; in 1910, 264; in 1920, 221; in 1930, 191; in 1940, 180; in 1950, 169. Nevertheless, the number of Negros in the Black Belt as a whole Is greater than the population of any one of 23 nations affiliated to the United Nations. Foster The Negro People in American History p.463

What has the size of population have to do with nationality? Absolutely nothing. Foster either cannot, or does not wish to at this point, deal with the problems of migrations, and so makes his escape through a meaningless comparison. In the process he has introduced an arbitrary element into the territorial criteria, which will later make it much easier to abandon. He is a little more direct later on in the book:

In assaying the substance and forms of self-determination, the significance of the steadily declining area of Negro majority in the Black Belt of the South must be considered. This decline is caused by the influx of whites into these regions and by the migration of Negros northward and into Southern urban communities. The conclusion to be drawn from this situation is not that the right of self-determination for the Negro nation is thereby invalidated, as opponents assert, but that more extensive territorial reorganization will be necessary when the time comes and the Negro people determine to exercise this basic right. Foster Ibid p.555

Regardless of whether Blacks continue to fulfill the criteria of nationhood, the Party will still uphold the right to self-determination. Foster has done two things. One, he splits the right of self-determination from its actual base, nationhood. And two, he reveals the Party’s real attitude towards self-determination, i.e. that it is largely imaginary, just as “extensive territorial reorganization” is a fiction. The question arises, why does Foster go to such extremes to maintain the old line? Primarily to reestablish continuity with the pre-Browder period, and thus tie the Party of 1954 to the relatively more prestigeous Party of the early 1930’s; to reassure the Black cadre (such as Haywood) that the general swing to the right does not mean abandonment of the concept of the Black nation; and because the Party is not yet ready to make the full return to revisionism. In the meantime, revisionist consolidation becomes all the more possible the more that arbitrary factors are introduced into the major questions.

A year after the publication of his book, Foster issued what amounted to an official invitation by the Party leadership for the liquidation of the question by the rightists:

During recent years, especially since the end of WWII there have taken place very considerable changes in the status of the Negro people, economically, politically, and socially. This situation requires that we carefully evaluate and draw the necessary implications from these new features in the position of the Negro people. If we fail to do this boldly and precisely, we will be writing, not of the actual Negro problems of today but of those of yesterday. This means, too, that we need also to re-think through some of the older questions in this general regard. William Z. Foster “Notes on the Struggle for Negro Rights” Political Affairs May 1955 p.20

What is meant here by ’re-thinking’? Either Blacks are still a nation, or they are not. If they are, they are entitled to the right to self-determination; if not, then the Party must change its position. Foster is playing both sides at once, maintaining that

...the Negro question remains a national question which clearly implies the slogan of self-determination as our orientation slogan. Foster Ibid p.21

However, self-determination is interpreted here largely in terms of proportional representation within the same state structure.

The official liquidation of all points of principle began in 1956 with the XXth Congress of the CP Soviet Union. It took three years for Khrushchev to bury Stalin and to declare the CPSU the vanguard of international revisionism. Eugene Dennis, then General Secretary of the CPUSA, wrote from the Congress that the new ’theoretical contributions’ of the Russian Party should inspire creative re-evaluation by the American Party, among which should be:

...whether at a time when we see the new level and scope of the heroic struggle of the masses of Negro people in the South for integration and full equality, the slogan of self-determination is valid. Dennis “Questions and Answers on the XXth Congress” Political Affairs April 1956 p. 26

A re-evaluation based not on the objective status of Blacks as a nation, but on the subjective trend towards civil rights. The right to self-determination from this interpretation has nothing to do with nationhood or the fulfillment of criteria, but is seen only as a tactical slogan. Tactics, in turn, are not determined by overall strategy, but according to ’palpable’ results, and utility. That is the opportunist conclusion Dennis reached during the XXth Congress. If Blacks are fighting for democratic civil rights, then the Party must not raise their right as a nation, but simply tail behind the parliamentarianism of the liberal bourgeoisie.

The CPUSA formalized its retreat to revisionism with its 16th National Convention in 1957. The CP took no position on the Black nation or self-determination, which it referred to a special ’theoretical committee’, but did adopt resolutions effectively dissolving the old line:

Negroes unite not in order to separate themselves from the political, economic or social life of our country. They unite to more effectively employ the strength of their own numbers and the weight of their alliance with the other parts of the population _to level all barriers to their fullest integration into all aspects of the economic, political and social life of the American people as a whole. They are forging an internal national unity to facilitate their struggle for full integration as free and equal American citizens. Proceedings of the 16th National Convention p.295

Here the liquidators take advantage of the original misconception of the Party in identifying self-determination with the degree of nationalism. But whether Blacks are nation-minded or integration-minded has nothing at all to do with their objective status as a nation, and therefore in no way invalidates the right to self-determination. The right exists even when the main focus of a movement is towards assimilation. It ceases to exist only when a people no longer constitute a nation, when they lose one or more criteria of nationhood.

The main opposition to the Party’s liquidation of the question came from Harry Haywood:

I greet whatever points towards a program of action in the field of Negro work projected into this resolution. But let us have no illusions. The struggle to put into life even these minimal points can only proceed within the framework of a consistent, relentless fight against the right-revisionist position on the Negro question– a blatant line of abandoning the leading role of our Party in the struggle for Negro rights.

The Right-revisionist line of trailing behind the top NAACP leadership caught us unaware at the sudden outburst of mass struggle under new, militant, petty bourgeois leadership in the South... We were training the top Right-reformist leadership, while the masses ran far ahead of them, and us, under new, militant leadership. ...

In his attempt to revise our basic position on the Negro question, Wilkerson tries to make a big point about the out-migrations of Negroes from the Black Belt area. This is a piddling point–a prime example of a schematic non-dialectical approach. It is an attempt to reduce the national question to nose-counting. Proceedings p.107

Haywood correctly exposes the revisionist treatment of the national question, but objectively facilitates revisionism by not giving a Marxist-Leninist analysis of the actual conditions of Blacks in the Black Belt. It is a fact that the liquidators used migrations as an excuse for pulling the Black movement behind bourgeois leadership. What Haywood fails to show is that they would have found any means available to accomplish that. This will lead Haywood to defending the old line regardless of objective conditions, which puts him on the same theoretical plane as the liquidators. Haywood confused the changes within the Black population with the changes within the Party, and so failed to accurately analyse both.

Meeting only moral opposition, the revisionists pushed the offensive with a ’scientific’ analysis of the Black population to support their thesis that Blacks were no longer a nation and that self-determination therefore no longer applied. The offensive was headed by James E. Jackson, who in 1958 presented the economic and demographic data (“Basic Data on the American Negro People” Political Affairs October 1958). Jackson merely compiles his facts and figures and makes no analysis, but it is clear that this superficial study is meant to be the basis of the Party’s discussion. Speaking for the revisionists, Jackson posed the problem this way:

The question is not how to compress the phenomena of the Negro people’s movement in the U.S. into the conditions of a given Marxist category but how to effectively use the science of Marxism-Leninism to serve the cause of Negro equality and freedom. Jackson “The Negro Freedom Fight” Political Affairs January 1959

The CP has moved from the tactical ’inappropriateness’ of the slogan of the right to self-determination, to the tactical ’inappropriateness’ of defining Blacks as a nation. The “phenomena of the Negro people’s movement” is a political category, since the movement itself is towards political ends, either basic democratic rights, or the right to form their own political entity, or both. From the revisionist point of view, it is the movement towards democratic rights, towards assimilation, alone. The “given Marxist category” is either the right to self-determination, in which case it includes both the right to separation and the right to civil liberties. Or it is the Marxist category of a nation, in which case, a nation is more than a specific political phenomenon; it is also a cultural, economic and social phenomena. Indeed, Dr. Jackson, it is not a question of “compressing” a specific political category into a “given Marxist category” that is broader and more comprehensive than the specific political phenomena itself.

What is Jackson trying to accomplish here? He is stating that the right to self-determination is “too narrow” to contain the “phenomena of the Negro people’s movement”. That we must go beyond a “given Marxist category” in order to encompass all the implications of the Black movement. In reality, there is no contradiction between the right to self-determination and the struggle for democratic rights. The only difference between the two is that self-determination applies to nations, while the struggle for democratic rights is contained within, but does not include, self-determination. What Jackson finds uncomfortably “narrow” in the “given Marxist category” is that the right of nations to self-determination does not accommodate liberal reformism but rather exposes it. It is of little consequence to Jackson whether Blacks are or are not a nation. If they are not a nation, all the better to defeat the principle of the right to self-determination from within “the science of Marxism-Leninism”, rid the Party of it, and draw closer to the liberal bourgeoisie. If they in fact are a nation, something on the order of “self-determination is not the essential thrust”, etc. would do nicely. Jackson calls for the effective use of ”the science of Marxism-Lenin-ism” to serve the Black cause. But is the equality and freedom of any people served when they are encouraged to tail behind bourgeois leadership, are fed illusions about bourgeois parliamentarianism, when their struggle is limited to bourgeois rights and bourgeois reformism? Who is being served? That is the class content of revisionism.

Jackson’s committee, formed during the 16th Convention to find a way out of the national question, put seven propositions before the Party in January 1959 under the title of “Theoretical Aspects of the Negro Question (Draft Resolution)”. The revisionists have for the moment retained the form of the national question, while liquidating its content:

The Negro question in the U.S. is a ’national question’; it is one of the many varieties of the national question embraced by Marxist science. “Theoretical Aspects of the National Question” Political Affairs January 1959 p.42

The National Committee is apparently afraid that if they state from the beginning that the Black question is not a national question they will be accused of liquidationism. So they merely expand the definition. Using the phrase ”is a national question” becomes a sort of protective shell under which the revisionists can do their work unnoticed.

In the second proposition we find:

In applying the classic Leninist definition of the factors making up a nation, two such elements must be reexamined in the light of fundamental changes that continue to develop. First, the element of a ’stable community’. Ibid p.43

Stalin’s definition of a nation is Leninist, but it was Stalin nonetheless who formulated that classic definition. The CP cannot bring themselves to mention his name. Secondly, ’stable community’ is an element of the definition, but is not one of the basic criteria. A nation is a “historically evolved, stable community” of the four basic criteria. The CP doesn’t wish to deal directly with the issue of territory, which is one of the fundamental criteria, a criteria which even Jackson’s data cannot explain. Our ’theoreticians’ therefore take what suits them, the issue of stability, and combine several ’fundamental changes’ into one. We are told there has been a “major alteration in the geographical distribution of the Negro people” but are not told the specific nature of this alteration, and at what point one could say that migration became so severe that the territorial category ceased to exist. We are told nothing of this, but are fed a series of implications instead. The classic Leninist definition requires stability. There have been migrations. There has therefore been little stability. Therefore blacks are not a nation. Therefore self-determination does not apply. Therefore reformism and tailing after the liberal bourgeoisie does apply. “This is how the minds of certain people work.”(Mao Combat Liberalism).

This new criteria of “stable community” also includes our old criteria of ’economic community’. The proposition states that the majority of Blacks are no longer peasants and tenant farmers, but are wage-workers. Of course this in itself proves nothing one way or the other. But the CP introduces it to create a contradiction between Stalin’s statement that the national question under imperialism is essentially a peasant question and the present non-peasant status of the majority of Blacks. Again we get another serving of the CP’s five and dime dialectics: The national question is essentially a peasant question. Black people are no longer peasants. Therefore Blacks are not a nation. Therefore self-determination does not apply, etc.

What does Stalin mean when he states that the national question under imperialism is essentially a peasant question? Simply that the scope of the national question is broadened to include the colonies and semi-colonies, that these countries are predominantly peasant in composition, and that the national movements within them will naturally also be peasant movements. Does he state, or does it follow from Marxism-Leninism that all oppressed nations during the imperialist era will be predominantly peasant? Does saying it is essentially a peasant question mean that it is always and everywhere a peasant question? Only the most narrow-minded would give it such an interpretation. It matters little to the CP what Stalin meant, or what actually exists. They have their own affairs to look after.

Having driven home their point on “stability”, the CP pushes on to the ’element’ of common psychological make-up:

Taking into full account all that is distinctive in this feature of the nation-like development of the Negro people, nevertheless, this is not determinative for either the solution or representation of the Negro question in the U.S. The main currents of Negro thought and leadership in the struggle for advancement and freedom, historically, and universally at the present time, have projected their programs from the premise that Negros individually and as a people are no less Americans than any other claimants. Only in describing the dimensions of their oppression have the Negro people represented themselves as a people apart from the American nation. Ibid p.43

We hardly know where to begin. In the first place, the category of common psychological make-up has nothing to do with separatism, nationalism, or nation-mindedness. It is the product of common life-experience, pure and simple. It is the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation that attempts to give the common national life-experience a nationalist, non-class form. By making the interpretation of common psychological make-up dependent upon the degree and intensity of nationalist identity, the CP is able to put forward its proposition: Common psychological make-up = degree of nationalism. Black people are for integration and against separatism. Therefore Black people have no “determinative” common psychological make-up. Therefore Blacks are no longer a nation. Therefore the slogan of self-determination no longer applies, etc.

But that is not all. Even this deformation is based on an analysis of the ”main currents of Negro thought and leadership”, I.e. is based on the Black bourgeois and Black petty bourgeois self-conception. Since “Negro thought and leadership” are for assimilation, therefore the masses of Blacks are for assimilation. The CP posits a complete identity of interests between the Black bourgeoisie and the Black masses, which is precisely how the Party attempts to pull the Black movement behind right-reformist leadership. The CP ’forgets’ that the Negro people are composed of classes and that every class has its own interests. The dominant “thought and leadership” under capitalist society is invariably the thought and leadership of the bourgeoisie. Reformists may settle for this leadership, but Marxist-Leninists do not. Marxist-Leninists expose the “identity of interests” of the bourgeoisie, encourage the masses to follow the leadership of the workingclass, to ally with the national bourgeoisie only when doing so advances the interests of the masses, and not simply tail behind the “main currents”.

“Only”, only, we are told, “in describing the dimensions of their oppression have the Negro people represented themselves as a people apart from the American nation.” Only in the ways they are oppressed do Black people feel distinct. But it is this “only” that constitutes the day to day life-experience of the Black masses in the U.S. And as for the masses of whites? Why of course, being automatically part of the “American nation” they must be daily, hourly inspired with patriotic sentiments. This is the logical conclusion of the CP’s mannered jingoism.

In the third proposition we have the expected:

These variants in the essential prerequisite features of nationhood (as described [falsely, we may add. ed.] in Proposition II) compel [!!!] the conclusion: the oppressed Negro people are not a nation and, therefore, the strategic concept expressed in the slogan: ’the right to self-determination’, which applies only to nations, is not a valid, workable, scientific slogan for the emancipation of the Negro people in the U.S.

The Negro question in the U.S. remains a ’national question’ by definition as stated in Proposition I. [where, we may add, it is never defined, ed.] Ibid p.43

Valid, workable, scientific. We ask our revisionists, since when has utility been established as a criteria for validity and scientific accuracy? A principle is not adopted or abandoned because of its utility . A principle is a guideline, marking the objective limits within which we must work. We do not throw it aside because it is difficult to use, or because it may not be immediately understood. Of course, if your aim is to revise the interpretation of objective conditions to suit your own subjective aspirations, then you are quite free to judge principles according to their utility. That is, after all, “by definition” one of the “determinative” elements of modern revisionism.

As it is phrased in the Draft Resolution, the ’re-evaluation’ avoids mentioning whether Blacks ever were a nation. A scientific treatment should pin point the exact nature of a people at any given time, and if a specific people have ceased to be a nation, we would expect, within limits, to be able to say when that occurred. The CP has no interest in the actual conditions of Blacks as a nation, past or present. Its 1959 resolution is aimed only at ridding the Party once and for all of Black ’self-determination’, and the friction it creates with the liberal bourgeoisie.

The debate over the national question was one important facet of the general inner-Party struggle over revisionism. The opposition itself lacked the means to effectively expose the opportunist lines that rose on all points of principle. There was not only criticism from the left, but criticism from the right, encouraging the Party to swing even further towards opportunism. On the national question this struggle became especially intense. In 1959, Haywood wrote:

The Negro question can only be solved by giving the land to the Negro soil tiller, whose labor has paid for it a thousand times over. The Negro question can only be solved on the basis of full development of the Negro nation in the Deep South under socialism.

The territory of the Deep South belongs to the Negro people. They have earned it, as no other people have earned a homeland.

This is the meaning of self-determination: that the Negro people, in full possession of their homeland, have the right to decide the political future of that area. Harry Haywood “For a Revolutionary Position on the Negro question” The Guardian 3-13-74 p.11

Here Haywood has returned to his original error of 1928. The national question was largely a land question in the late 1920’s, but by stating that it is so in the late 1950’s, Haywood justifies the attacks of the revisionists. Jackson’s task is simplified, since he only needs to start rattling off his data, correctly state that the Negro question is not a ’peasant question’, and incorrectly conclude that it is therefore not a national question. “Land to the tiller” is not the issue. The South could be fully industrialized, the Black masses engaged in heavy industry, and they would still retain the right of self-determination if they met the four criteria. What is at stake is not the land, but the population occupying it. Are continuous areas of the Black Belt still occupied by Blacks? Do they have a division of labor, and so forth. That is the issue.

The territory of the Deep South belongs to the Negro people. They have earned it as no other people have earned a homeland.” Nowhere in Stalin’s criteria do we find a category of “earned” homelands. Earned from whom? Earned from the Indian tribes who were driven off the land to accommodate the plantations? Earned from the Southern aristocracy who only ’owned’ it by right of capitalist private property? It goes without saying that a people who have for generations lived in the same territory, labored on the land, built roads, housing, industry, etc. have a ’right’ to that homeland. As the right of a nation this means simply that no other peoples have a ’right’ to force them from their land. But if there are migrations away from that homeland, if large segments of the population leave in search of a livlihood and settle elsewhere, their land is not held in escrow until they decide to revive their property rights. Haywood introduces a completely moral category into the question, which makes him easy pickings for the revisionists.

Further on Haywood states:

It is true that at the present there is no mass movement for self-determination or regional autonomy. But what kind of Marxist bases himself upon what exists at present without taking into account what is developing and approaching? ...Self-determination is not an immediate, but an ultimate demand. Ibid

Here he replies to the revisionists in their own language. For Jackson, the fact that there was no nationalist drive in the late 1950’s was ”proof” that self-determination did not apply. For Haywood, it still applies since the demand may arise in the future. In point of fact, there is no identity between the right to self-determination, which is a principle, and any specific act of self-determination. Self-determination is not an immediate or ultimate demand. Communists do not demand self-determination, but the right to it. There need be no mass movement for self-determination in order for the right to self-determination to apply. All that is required is that a given people in fact constitute a nation. If Haywood had freed himself from his own nationalist inclinations, he would have been able to expose the revisionists. Instead he exposes himself and makes their job all the easier.

Another speaker for the opposition, Cyril Briggs, struck closer at Jackson:

In advancing the ’compulsive’ conclusion that the Negro people are not a nation and have no claim on the right of self-determination, the Jackson article and draft resolution commit the not unfamiliar error of contraposing two definite trends in the Negro movement: 1, the historic resistance of the Negro people to jimcrow oppression and their fight for full equality in the American scheme; 2, the welding together of the Negro people and the development of their national consciousness in the process of that fight.

...Certainly the demand for self-determination, for the right of the Negro people to determine their destiny is not in contradiction to the proposition that Negros fight for the fullest rights as Americans. These two currents in the Negro movement supplement each other and constitute a harmonious whole. Briggs ”On the Negro Question” Political Affairs March 1959 p.60

On the relative lack of national consciousness among Blacks, Briggs writes:

That there is not now any broad popular awareness of nationhood among the Negro people is immaterial. Objective reality does not depend upon subjective recognition. And to say there is no broad popular awareness of nationhood is not saying there is no such awareness among growing sections of the Negro people. Ibid p.62

Briggs’ criticism and conclusion are correct, but in failing to give a thorough economic and demographic analysis, he essentially yielded the question to the Rights. The question cannot be thoroughly solved in theory until it is completely investigated. In 1959, all the concrete data (or at least what they had selected) remained in the hands of the revisionists. As long as the opposition limited themselves to general criticisms, or as in the case of Haywood, to moral arguments, the revisionists were free to do as they wished.

And that is exactly what they did. By 1959 Foster had completely reversed himself, and in a joint article written with Benjamin Davis put the official seal of the Party leadership on the liquidation:

Nation: this is a vital question. The Negro people, particularly in the South, possess a number of qualities (often listed) of nationhood. These, however, are not sufficient, under the given circumstances, for them to develop fully into an independent nation. The severest handicap in this respect, Is that the Negro people are situated geographically in the very midst of the greatest of all imperialist powers, and scatteringly at that. Consequently, they cannot exercise the right of self-determination, certainly not in its full sense of the status of an independent state. Foster & Davis “Notes on the Negro Question” Political Affairs April 1959 p.39

Under the given circumstances (that is, given the Party’s need to liquidate the question) these too often listed qualities are “not sufficient” for Blacks to develop into an independent nation. But the issue is not at all whether Blacks will develop into an independent nation, but whether they are presently an oppressed nation. If they are presently a nation, it goes without saying we have no way of knowing whether or not that nation will win political independence. That is precisely why communists raise the slogan of the right to self-determination, the right to political independence.

If prognostication will not do, the CP will introduce the notion of “achievability”. This is a form of selective imperialist economism, of which Lenin says:

Capitalism has triumphed–therefore there is no need to bother with political problems, the old Economists “reasoned in 1894-1901, falling into the rejection of the political struggle in Russia. Imperialism has triumphed–therefore there is no need to bother with the problems of political democracy, reason the present-day imperialist Economists. ...

If imperialist Economism were to spread among the Marxists...that would be a very grave blow to our trend–and to our Party. For it would discredit it from within, from its own ranks, would make it a vehicle of caricaturised Marxism. Lenin A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism CW Vol. 23 p.29

The CP’s version is a selective form of imperialist economism, since it does not completely reject political reforms. It only completely rejects democratic self-determination. Imperialism has triumphed– therefore Blacks cannot develop into an independent nation; therefore Blacks are not and should not be a nation. Therefore self-determination should not be put forward, etc. Self-determination is “unachievable”, and should be abandoned. But

All ’democracy’ consists in the proclamation and realisation of ’rights’ which under capitalism are realisable only to a very small degree and only relatively. But without the proclamation of these rights, without a struggle to introduce them now, immediately, without training the masses in the spirit of this struggle, socialism is impossible. Lenin Ibid p.74

The CP, however, wishes to train the masses in a specific form of “democracy”, i.e., “democratic” class collaborationism, “democratic” reformism, and ”democratic” gradualism, all under the leadership of the liberal bourgeoisie.

Further, we have the issue of proximity. Since the Black population is located in the “very midst” of the “greatest of all” imperialist powers, self-determination is absolutely hopeless. Along the same lines the CP may as well say that the American workingclass, located as it is geographically in the “very midst” of the “greatest of all” imperialist powers, has absolutely no hope in winning such an absolute political demand as the dictatorship of the proletariat. In effect, that is the CP’s line on the class struggle.

The immediate choice in the U.S. is not between socialism and capitalism. We are still considerably short of that stage. George Morris Rebellion in the Unions CPUSA p.27

It does not occur to the CP that the only class in modern times that has a “choice” between socialism and capitalism is the petty bourgeoisie, in which case the CP should address its audience more directly. Does the CP in this respect differ in any way from other bourgeois parties who on the one hand push reforms and with the other warn of the invincibility of the imperialist bourgeoisie? We can now appreciate how far the Party has come since the XXth Congress.

Foster and Davis pad their imperialist economism with a “push-pull” theory on the oscillations of Black people between integration and nationalism. In this they create a contradiction between the fight for political equality (integration) and the fight for political equality (self-determination). The Party’s original, and now it seems, erroneous line on the national question occurred during one, nationalist, phase of oscillation:

It was during this general period, in the late 1920’s, that the CP adopted the theory that the Negro people in the South were a nation, and when it seriously over-stressed the theory of self-determination.

At the present time, however, the Negro people are developing a strong trend towards integration with the dominant institutions of the U.S. Foster, 8. Davis ”Notes on the Negro Question” Political Affairs April 1959 p.41

They do not deny that the original line was correct, but only that the natural conclusion from that line, the right to self-determination, was “seriously over-stressed”. If a people are a nation, they are entitled to the right of self-determination. There can be no ”over-stressing” of that right. In fact, it is the minimizing of that right that is the hallmark of great-nation chauvinism. The original mistake of the Party was not in over-stressing the right to self-determination, but in Interpreting that right as a call to the establishment of a Black nation.

If the original line was adopted during a nationalist phase, the new revisionist line, by the Party’s own admission, is adopted during an integrationist phase. The Party leadership apparently feels no embarrassment in tailing after, and basing their entire program on, the subjective state of the Black movement at any given time. When Blacks are nation-minded, they are a nation. When they are integration-minded, they are not a nation. By the same line of reasoning, if workers are only engaged in trade union struggles, then the Party obviously has no other choice but to tail behind the trade unionists.

Blacks are not only in a “strong trend” towards integration, that is, for civil rights and political liberties, but towards integration “with the dominant institutions of the U.S.”. And what are these dominant institutions? The dominant institutions of any capitalist country are naturally the bourgeois institutions. The CP is content with this trend, in fact supports it, and throws its weight (such as it is) behind the Black bourgeois congressmen and mayors, pulls the Black movement behind this bourgeois leadership, just as it pulls the workingclass as a whole behind trade union reformism.

The oscillations between the “poles” of integration and self-determination will of course continue. The CP is not totally insensitive to the nationalist currents in the Black population and so must somehow accommodate and neutralize them.

One of the worst errors that the Party could now make, would be to fall into the revisionist, opportunist policy to conclude that because the Negro people are now orienting heavily towards integration, therefore, they will have nothing further to do with the national question in general. Ibid p. 41

What can this mean? It would be “revisionist, opportunist policy” to do exactly what the CP has already done, i.e. base their line on the subjective state of the Black movement. Every time strong nationalist tendencies arise in the Black movement, the CP can proudly state that “We said it was a national question all along.” The entire phrase is meant to serve only as a safety valve, a means of consolidating “integration with the dominant institutions of the U.S.” while maintaining the national question as an empty shell.

How was this shell sucked dry?
1928-1935 Blacks are a nation. The Party’s main orientation slogan is therefore the right to self-determination, but this right is interpreted in terms of advocacy of an independent state.
1936-1953 Blacks are a nation and have the right of self-determination. However, the rights of Black people are subordinated to the New Deal and the war against fascism. The right to self-determination is pigeon-holed.
1954-1958 Blacks are a nation and self-determination applies, but may require “extensive territorial reorganization”. Foster creates a split between the criteria of nationhood and the right to self-determination.
1958-1960 Blacks are nation-like. Self-determination is inappropriate. But, it is still a national question.
1960- Blacks are not a nation. Self-determination is impossible. Integration is the only salvation of Black folk. And it is still a national question.

In 1972, we read:

Representation in Congress is far below what it should be. In short, there is still a very long way to go to achieve proper Black representation and political power. Resolutions of the 20th National Convention 1972 CPUSA p.38

“A very long way” indeed. The national question is thus resolved in theory by its simple liquidation, while in practice the Black liberation movement is transformed into a Congressional lobby.