Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee

Black Liberation Today

Against Dogmatism on the National Question


The fate of Marxism in the U.S. has been intimately related to its capacity to identify and correctly analyse the Afro-American National Question, that is the character of Black people in the U.S. and the relationship of the struggle for Black freedom to the class struggle and proletarian revolution. In the concrete circumstances of the U.S., no theory can purport to serve as a guide to revolutionary action unless it can untie this Gordian knot. In the history of the revolutionary labor movement in this country, the mishandling of this question has approximated a kind of Achilles heel. In spite of the urging of Marx, Engels and their American followers, the labor movement at the time of the Civil War and later Reconstruction was to fail to grasp Marx’s dictum that labor could not be free in the white skin while branded in the Black.

The Socialist Labor Party and the Socialist Party after it were to regard the oppression of Black people as a large incidental feature of capitalist society that would automatically disappear with the rise of the working class to power. The SP even tolerated the presence of outright white supremacists in its midst and segregated its locals in the South. Its almost pure indifference to the condition of Black people was reflected in a sorry chauvinist practice. Once searches the deliberations of the SP conventions in vain for any sign of identification with the oppression of the Black masses. One single resolution in all the years of the SP’s glory in the first two decades of this century is all there is. And this resolution, on lynchings, reads more like an apology for the lynchers than a defense of their victims.

The failure to appreciate the revolutionary potential of the Black masses and the deeply reactionary implications of white supremacy for the working class were not simply moral blots on the historical record of American socialism. White chauvinism was to cripple the revolutionary workers movement, leaving it unable to forge unity with its strongest ally while at the same time unable to speak to the most poisonous division within the class itself.

The formation of the Communist International, which brought the insights of Leninism to bear on the U.S. scene, was to bring about a qualitative leap forward in the theory and practice of revolutionary Marxism in relation to the Afro-American people. The CPUSA, aided by Lenin and Stalin, was to recognize the existence of a national question in the U.S. The CPUSA recognized the special character of Black oppression and the corresponding need for a special approach and program. The Party, unlike its predecessors, did grasp the revolutionary significance of the Black struggle and the anti-revolutionary character of white chauvinism. It sought in the 1920s and 30s with varying degrees to success to develop a fighting program based on this understanding.

While there are ample weaknesses in the CP’s practice during this period, what stands out is the enormous leap forward – the Scottsboro case, the Sharecroppers Union, the involvement of masses of Black workers in the CIO organizing drives and the internal life of the Party itself, which was probably more free of white chauvinism than any other multi-national institution in the social life of the U.S.

The war years, when the party was rushing headlong into the slimy embrace of Browderism, mark a step backwards. The CPUSA as part and parcel of its right line of uncritically subordinating the struggles of the masses to every twist and turn of the bourgeoisie’s war policy, acted as a brake on the Black masses drive for freedom. Later the Party partially recovered, only to drift even deeper into the swamp in the late fifties with the full triumph of revisionism including the liquidation of a revolutionary line on the National Question.

Today there is no revolutionary party in the U.S. As Marxist-Leninists seek to build a new Party, the National Question as both a theoretical and practical imperative is a central arena for struggle. And this is as it should be, for clearly there can be no real Marxist-Leninist party unless this question is correctly handled.

We believe that the main theoretical impediment to forward progress within our movement is dogmatism. Nowhere is this general illness better illustrated than in the offerings on the National Question. This statement, which presents the position of the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC), is directed mainly against those who are seeking to tie our revolutionary apron-strings to the past, to those who refuse to take off their blinders and look at the world as it is today. It is for this reason that we have devoted so much space to the question of the Black nation. The starting point for correct theory, for sound strategy and tactics, must be a correct assessment of the objective reality—in this case a correct assessment of the character of the Black people. If we go wrong here we will be unable to be correct further down the road. Thus the second, third and fourth chapters are largely an analysis of this question. The chapter on strategy and program is by no means exhaustive and is really only a beginning. It is here that we and other Marxists-Leninists must ultimately direct our energy, but first we must cut away the weeds of dogmatism that are choking the life out of our movement and plant the seeds of correct understanding.