The two line struggle around the national question, which developed both within the RU and between the RU and other organizations, did not pop up “in the abstract,” nor is it just over “fine points of theory.” Rather it came about in response to burning questions arising in the mass struggle, and out of the need to sum up practice that U.S. revolutionary forces were engaging in, both among third world people and among the multinational working class as a whole.
The final test of the correctness or incorrectness of any line is practice. At the early stages of development of the revolutionary movement, and when two line struggles first break out, the differences and the consequences of opposing lines may not be immediately clear. But this makes it all the more decisive to sum up practice constantly and to conduct sharp and principled ideological struggle on this basis to determine the correct line in opposition to incorrect lines. The RU believes that practice as well as ideological struggle has already begun to show which line on the national question is in fact correct–not just “in the books” but in the real world.
Errors that may appear small and hold back work to a limited extent when the revolutionary movement is young, can, if they are persisted in and raised to a principle, become magnified into tremendous roadblocks to revolution as the movement grows and millions of people are involved. This is not to say that all the difficulties of communists in building and leading the Black liberation struggle and linking it closely with the class struggle can be passed off as simply the influence of a bourgeois nationalist line within the communist movement. There is the objective fact that, within recent years, there has been a temporary ebb in the struggle of the Black masses, relative to the revolutionary storm of the 60s.
Even give that, however, communists, including those who have fought against incorrect lines on the national question, have not yet found the ways to apply the correct line to mobilizing masses of Black people in more conscious anti-imperialist struggle, overcoming objective and subjective obstacles, and advancing the Black liberation struggle to an even higher level than before. But the struggle to defeat incorrect lines, and in particular the bourgeois nationalist line, helps clear the way for the communist movement–and the new Party–to apply itself to this task in a systematic way, guided by a correct proletarian approach.
The major documents of the two line struggle on the national question are printed earlier in this Red Papers. The purpose of this introduction and the reprints from Revolution that follow is to examine some important examples of how these two lines have been reflected in practice. But to do this it is necessary to briefly summarize the incorrect line.
This bourgeois nationalist line has meant, in essence, separating Black workers from the rest of the class, and separating the Black liberation struggle from and raising it above the overall class struggle. This has taken several forms. One is advocating the slogan “Black Workers Take the Lead.” Another is inventing a “third” ideology for Black workers (and workers of other oppressed nationalities)–“revolutionary nationalism.”
The result of this has been not only to promote separatism but also to promote sectarianism toward non-proletarian strata of Black people who, according to this line, cannot be “revolutionary nationalist” because they are not part of the “working masses” of Black people.
How did this line affect work in the real world? The following are just a few examples of how it held back the struggle against national oppression and the development of a class-conscious revolutionary workers’ movement.
A group of white longshoremen on the West Coast took the initiative to organize a boycott against unloading cargo from a South African ship that was docking at their harbor. A Black comrade from the RU was assigned to investigate the ways to unite with and develop this struggle, and in particular to spread it among the Black longshoremen.
But this comrade, holding to the bourgeois nationalist line, made no real effort to carry this out, arguing that it wasn’t very important anyway, since “Black workers aren’t taking the lead,” and those white longshoremen “don’t really understand the national question.”
This comrade, and others influenced by the bourgeois nationalist line, saw the struggle against national oppression and support for African liberation movements as a “special province” of Blacks. This prevented them from uniting with the progressive stand of these white longshoremen and raising their understanding of the national question and its relation to proletarian revolution. And it prevented them from mobilizing Black workers in this struggle and building the broadest possible support for the African liberation struggles.
Fortunately, this bourgeois line was defeated, and a successful demonstration was organized to boycott the cargo. But the participation of workers, especially Black workers, was not nearly so broad, nor the unity and consciousness of workers not nearly so advanced, as it would have been without the interference of this bourgeois nationalist line.
This kind of stand characterized the bourgeois nationalist line not just around this one struggle, but in general. For example, the approach of the “Bundists” (separatist “Marxists”) was to argue that white comrades who were developing ties with Black workers in their shop or school should “turn over” these Blacks to Black comrades. But, besides the fact that workers–Black, white or whatever–are not capital to be “turned over,” these Bundists had no program for building struggle, and the result, where this policy was followed, was that many of the Black workers and students were turned off to the RU and to communism generally.
They correctly saw that this “turn them over” line actually amounted in good part to chauvinism, reflected an unwillingness of white communists to unite with them, while struggling out ideas as equals, and made a mockery of talk about “uniting the class.” These tendencies exist in the communist movement generally, because of the influence of bourgeois ideology and because much of it is still drawn from the petty bourgeoisie. But the point is that the Bundists raised these tendencies to a line, and attacked anyone who opposed this as “racist” or “chauvinist.” For this reason, the struggle against this Bundist line is an important part of fighting not only against bourgeois nationalism but also against white chauvinism.
What this line came down to in practice was not striving to unite the working class, to unite the national movements with the workers’ movement, but striving to maintain divisions in the working class and the separation of the national and class struggles. One white comrade, for example, who was under the influence of this line, failed to do anything about a blatant act of discrimination against a Black worker in his shop because, he said, he was white and “couldn’t give leadership to the national struggle.” He argued that “Black workers must take the lead” in cases of discrimination because this is “part of the national liberation movement.”
This comrade was the only communist in the shop. He had the duty, whether white, Black, Chicano or whatever, to unite the workers to stand up against this act of discrimination, as an attack on Black-people and on the whole working class.
Black communists must, on the whole, give practical leadership to the Black liberation struggle. But this example points up two important lessons: first, the struggle against national oppression is closely linked with the class struggle, and second, this Bundist line, once again, encouraged some comrades to hold onto petty bourgeois baggage, including chauvinism, in the form of not struggling politically with Black, or white, workers.
This Bundist line also led to setbacks in the national movement itself. For example, some Black comrades influenced by this line went into coalitions and committees of Black people trying to shove the slogan, “Black Workers Take the Lead,” down the throats of others, including petty bourgeois Blacks.
This became a substitute for providing proletarian leadership in practice. As NB13 says, the correct way to build the leading role of Black workers and proletarian ideology in the Black people’s struggle is to put forward a line and program that can mobilize and rely on the masses of Black people–who are overwhelmingly workers–and point the way toward the unity of all who can be united, of all nationalities, against the common imperialist enemy.
The result of using “Black Workers Take the Lead” as a weapon was that the proletarian forces, including the RU, became isolated. This was the case, for example, in some African Liberation Day Committees. But this didn’t bother the Bundists, in our organization, who said that ALD was not important anyway, since it was controlled by the Black bourgeoisie, acting as the agents of the U.S. imperialists, and it only attracted “petty bourgeois Pan Africanist elements.”
Certainly there were and are opportunists within the leadership of ALD, but there are also many honest forces, including many non-proletarians, who have become involved out of a sincere desire to support the struggles of the African people for liberation, and to link this with the struggle against imperialism at home. It is the duty of communists to unite with these people and, through the course of struggle, win them to a proletarian stand.
A key part of this, of course, is ideological struggle. It is definitely correct and necessary to struggle within the ALD and other Black coalitions and organizations for the line that the Black liberation struggle must rely on the masses of Black working people and be guided by working class ideology. But this is different than raising as a general slogan, “Black Workers Take the Lead” and using it to try to club down progressive forces that have not yet been won to proletarian ideology.
The struggle against this Bundist line developed because it had become clear that this line prevented the RU and other communists from getting involved and applying a correct line in many important struggles, and it had the effect of isolating us from the masses. The struggle developed because of the needs of the mass movement and the tasks of communists in relation to it.
As the imperialist system has gotten deeper into crisis, the state apparatus, particularly the police, have stepped up terror and repression against the resistance of the people. This is especially true in Black and other minority communities. Naturally, the nationally oppressed masses resist even more. Any honest, progressive and revolutionary person is moved to join in this struggle.
But, under the cover of upholding the national struggles, the bourgeois nationalist line actually leads communists to stand aloof from these struggles, instead of actively uniting with them and developing them into a conscious movement against the imperialist system and for socialist revolution.
For example, in the Bay Area, after several members of the Nation of Islam (“Black Muslims”) were shot down by police, the Bundist line within the RU was that neither Black nor white comrades should take this up, because “whites can’t do anything about it,” and “Blacks who are connected with whites can’t do anything about it either.”
While, given the situation, it would have been difficult for the RU to get involved, the duty of communists is to find the ways to overcome these difficulties, and not to take the Bundist position of sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing while the police shoot down Black people.
The growing repression in the Black community has been dramatically shown by the recent “Operation Zebra” round-ups in the Bay Area and the growing numbers of police murders of Black people in that area and across the country. The two line struggle in our organization and the defeat of the Bundist line has helped to arm comrades ideologically and to prepare our organization to build struggle against these attacks, uniting workers and other people of all nationalities in the course of this struggle. The following articles, which originally appeared in the June issue of Revolution, are examples of how the correct line has begun to be applied in building this struggle.
Oakland, Calif.–About 500 people of all nationalities marched through the streets of West Oakland on May 18 to Bobby Hutton Park, where they joined 1000 others for a rally demanding the prosecution of the police murderers of Tyrone Guyton.
On the night of Nov. 1, 1973, the 14-year-old Black youth was shot in-the back by Emeryville, Calif, police. The three police officers involved claimed they were chasing a stolen car, although the car they refer to was not reported to them as stolen until two hours after Tyrone’s murder! The police claim Tyrone fired a gun. State crime lab tests prove conclusively that Tyrone did not.
Despite eyewitness testimony that Guyton was viciously murdered, the Alameda County Grand Jury refuses to issue an indictment and the District Attorney refuses to prosecute. But this came as no shock to the people of the Bay Area. Clarence Johnson was killed in Hunters Point two years ago by the Tac Squad while he was up against a wall with his back turned. Vincente Gutierrez was killed in a paddy wagon in the Mission District. The list of such murders is long.
The militant May 18 march and rally represents a major step forward in the struggle against national oppression. Several contingents from work places and unions, as well as the May Day Workers’ Committee, took part in the action.
This is an example of how the working class as a whole, with communists playing an active, leading role, is taking up the fight against national oppression.
The RU and others took up the issue of Guyton’s murder in the factories and unions. In one small plant of 70 workers, 50 raffle tickets supporting the campaign were sold. At the Oakland Post Office, 22 workers set up a table and collected 200 signatures on a petition demanding justice in the Guyton case.
Within the Committee for Justice for Tyrone Guyton, a coalition of groups, there has been lively political discussion on how to build the campaign. Some people feel that it is important to rely mainly on legal channels and get some big names to back the campaign.
Others have insisted that the Committee must reach out broadly to the entire working class and rely on the strength of the masses. They have stressed the need for an active mass campaign in general, and the march and demonstration in particular, as being most important in waging a truly effective campaign against police repression. Most of the Committee has been generally won over to the idea of basing the campaign in the working class and relying on the masses, and the result was the successful march and rally.
The Committee for Justice for Tyrone Guyton also had a large contingent in the Bay Area May Day march, and Mrs. Shepherd, Tyrone’s mother, spoke.
The Committee is planning to further broaden and step up the campaign. A nationwide petition, calling for the prosecution of Tyrone’s murderers, is being circulated. Anyone who would like petitions or information about the campaign should contact: Committee for Justice for Tyrone Guyton, 6118 E. 14th St., Oakland, Calif. 94621.
[On May 21, after the article on the Tyrone Guyton march and rally had been written for Revolution, the RU, Bay Area Worker, and the Unemployed Workers Organizing Committee (UWOC), together with several groups of strikers from plants in Oakland and the East Bay area, organized a picket line at the Oakland City Council meeting to protest growing police repression against strike picket lines. Approximately 150 workers came to the demonstration, which also linked the police repression against strikes to the case of Tyrone Guyton and the murder of Black people by police. Mrs. Mattie Shepherd, Tyrone’s mother, spoke at this demonstration. This is another example of what we mean by working “from two sides” to unite the workers’ movement with the struggle against national oppression–Ed.]
Mass outrage and demonstrations in San Francisco have forced the city to retreat from its “Operation Zebra” dragnet campaign against Black people.
Without citing a shred of evidence, S.F. Mayor Joseph Alioto and the police claimed that the city was menaced by “a cult of maniacal Black killers out to get whites,” and the papers ran wild with stories warning that innocent whites could be shot in their own neighborhoods. Bay Area police, have used this as an excuse to stop, search and interrogate hundreds of Black men, sometimes arresting them afterwards on other charges such as unpaid traffic tickets.
But this trial balloon to whip up racist hysteria, pit white against Black and test more open fascistic repression against Black people was quickly punctured by an angry and militant response, not only from the Black community, but also from many Bay Area working people and others of all nationalities.
The first demonstration was held by a large group of Black students and workers from the San Francisco Postal Street Academy, followed by other small rallies and actions during the first week of the Zebra dragnet.
On April 22, a multinational crowd of over 500 massed in front of City Hall to denounce the Mayor, the police and the whole Zebra operation. The crowd’s temper was running hot, and when Alioto pushed his way down the steps to his car he was surrounded, shoved around and spit on, as people shouted, “Stop Operation Zebra!”
The Coalition to Stop Operation Zebra which sponsored the April 22 rally was initiated by the RU and included the Bay Area May Day Committee, Coalition to Dump Nixon, Concerned Muni (Municipal Bus) Drivers, National Lawyers Guild, Oakland Coalition to Save Our Schools, October League, Socialist Coalition, Vietnam Veterans Against the War/Winter Soldier Organization, Unemployed Workers Organizing Committee, Taishu (a Japanese-American anti-imperialist newspaper), and Wei Min She (an Asian-American anti-imperialist organization).
Workers from the longshore, construction trades and muni drivers, as well as other working people, came to the rally, where speakers denounced the city’s attempt to divide working people and institute police state repression.
A spokesman for Concerned Muni Drivers called the “Operation Zebra Identification Cards,” given to Black men to prove that they’re “clean” after they’ve been searched, the same as the South African pass law system for Blacks, which requires Africans to carry ID cards to prove they are “legitimately occupied and not in a restricted area.” A speaker from the Black Teachers Caucus pointed out that Operation Zebra is an attack on the whole working class. Half a dozen Black men who looked nothing alike told how they had all been stopped because they supposedly looked like “a composite drawing” of the alleged killer.
While the contempt and anger shown by the crowd for Alioto won the approval of the people at the rally and workers throughout the Bay Area as only part of what he deserved, it met with stern disapproval from the so-called Communist League (CL), which refused to take part in planning the rally because of its “liberal” line. They passed out a leaflet at the Laborers’ Hall a few days later denouncing the “cabal of infantile knee jerk lefts” who had come to the rally. “Spitting at Alioto,” they chirped, “only helped his sagging political career.” This was the same line put out by local liberals who wanted to direct the struggle toward the ballot box. The leaflet also said “The working class was correct in abstaining from that circus.” Since many workers did participate in the demonstration, it is clear that CL was simply trying to promote their defeatist, reactionary line that mass struggle is futile until a new Communist Party is created – a Party, of course, formed by CL! But how can an organization with such a reactionary line–as evidenced in their statement about the demonstration and spitting on Alioto–possibly form a Communist Party that can lead the masses in struggle?
The massive public outcry, rather than helping Alioto’s “sagging political career,” forced him and the police to modify their tactics, and on April 24 the Zebra dragnets were called off. But this has not stopped police attacks on the Black and other minority communities, nor the constant harassment and daily physical attacks. In fact, Alioto and company have stepped up their campaign to generate hate and fear and divide the people, now claiming that the “Zebra killers” are part of a nationwide Muslim sect called the “Death Angels” and a “nationwide conspiracy against whites which has killed 80 people already.”
Terrorism and racial fear have always been the bourgeoisie’s twin weapons to keep working people divided and crush the Black nation. For over 100 years this took the form of lynch law in the South. Now, in a time of economic crisis, the bourgeoisie is resurrecting it in a new form.
But the people’s upsurge against operation Zebra showed that fascistic tactics can be defeated when the people unite and fight back. In a way, the police tactic backfired, producing more anger than fear and forcing the bourgeoisie to retreat. The Operation Zebra campaign itself, however, is far from over. The fact that many workers of all nationalities rallied against national oppression is a clear sign that the solidarity of the working class is rising, and in the end that’s the most powerful weapon against such “operations” and fascism.
But we can’t count only on a couple of demonstrations to do this. The fight against Operation Zebra must be taken back to the plants and shops, and tied up with other struggles against police repression of Black people, such as the campaign to demand that the murderers of Tyrone Guyton, a Black youth recently killed by police, be indicted. By fighting these battles we can build real class unity and turn these attacks around.