First Published: The Communist, Theoretical Journal of the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, Vol. 2, No. 1, Fall/Winter 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The following article was written by a former leader of the Black Workers Congress (BWC) and the Revolutionary Workers Congress (RWC), the most significant of the organizations that survived a series of splits within the BWC, and the only one of the offshoots of the BWC to make any real attempt to actually apply Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought to concrete struggle and on this basis to link up with and help build the mass movement. In recent months, summing up the lessons, both positive and negative, of their past experience and reaching agreement with the line of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), many members of the RWC have, in accordance with the Constitution of the RCP, joined its ranks. (In the course of this the RWC itself dissolved.) The author was a member of the National Liaison Committee, whose history is summarized below–Ed.
The degeneration and disintegration in late 1973 and after of the Black Workers Congress and another organization with which it was closely allied, the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization (PRRWO) was the result of a retreat by these organizations away from Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought and into nationalism and other forms of bourgeois ideology which were closely linked to this nationalist outlook–though all of this was put forth in the guise of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought. This turn toward opportunism resulted in a split between the BWC and the PRRWO on the one hand and the Revolutionary Union (RU) on the other, and caused the breakup of the National Liaison Committee (NLC) which had been built by these three organizations and served for over a year in 1972-73 as a vehicle for building toward the single Party of the U.S. working class and carrying out joint mass work with that goal in mind (for a time, another organization involved in the NLC was I Wor Kuen, about which more shortly).
Over the past several years a good deal has been said and written about the National Liaison Committee, most of it inaccurate gossip and subjective summation by people and groups who were not involved in it and/or whose ideological and political line prevents them from making a scientific analysis. For this reason, and most of all because the real history of the NLC and the line struggles which led to its breakup hold valuable lessons for the revolutionary movement today, it is important to sum up the actual development of the Liaison Committee and the forces and struggles within it.
In the summer of 1972, a major advance was made by Marxist-Leninist forces in the U.S., particularly towards the creation of a multinational revolutionary communist Party. This was represented by the formation of the National Liaison Committee, marked by the coming together of the Black Workers Congress, organized in 1970, the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization, originally (1969-72) the Young Lords Party (YLP), and the Revolutionary Union, formed in 1968.
The BWC and PRRWO had their roots in the left wing or radical elements of the struggle of the oppressed nationalities. The makeup of these organizations was primarily students, revolutionary intellectuals and youth turned political activists. There were some workers, including from basic industry, particularly in the case of the BWC which had developed in part out of the thrust of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, a Detroit-centered organization which had built political organization among Black workers in the late ’60s.
The League was particularly noted for its development of the Revolutionary Union Movements–the most noted of these groups being Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM). The League greatly influenced and inspired the radical wing of the Black liberation movement and the entire revolutionary movement in those years, particularly in the wake of the degeneration of the Black Panther Party. For a time the League had a direct organizational relationship with the BWC until 1972, when a split occurred between the two groups.
To a large degree the BWC was composed of former “movement activists” from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), revolutionary intellectuals from the League, students who were turning towards Marxism-Leninism, and a smaller number of workers out of the Black workers caucus movement of the late ’60s. Among the principal strengths of the early BWC–and this was perhaps even more the case for the YLP-PRRWO–were these attempts to link up with the actual mass struggle of the people.
However, particularly in the early years of BWC (and the same is true of PRRWO) there was a tendency to downplay or deny altogether the revolutionary role and potential of white workers and to hold that Black people and “third world people” in the U.S. could make revolution in this country, in alliance with other liberation movements around the world but without the rest of the working class–or at least without white workers as a group. This was characteristic of the movement of the oppressed nationalities and the revolutionary movement generally in those times which BWC and PRRWO shared to a large extent.
The BWC in particular tried to unite with and develop the growing Black workers struggle–attempting to organize “RUM”-type (Revolutionary Union Movement) organizations from Los Angeles to New York, from Birmingham to Buffalo, from Detroit to New Orleans. BWC also played an active role in prison struggles through the Harriet Tubman prison movement which it led.
At the time of the Attica uprising in 1971 the BWC in coordination with the Harriet Tubman prison movement held significant mass demonstrations rallying masses in the Black communities in support of the prisoners’ demands.
In Detroit the BWC linked the Attica struggle with the stop and kill policy of the police under the name of STRESS, and organized a demonstration of 10,000 Black people in that city. In Buffalo it organized the largest demonstration in the history of the Black community there, bringing out over 4000 Black people. It built struggle against the war in Vietnam, and organized a Black Workers Freedom Convention which was attended by nearly 500 Black and other “third world” workers.
PRRWO was composed of students, a very large number of unemployed youth and a small number of workers. PRRWO had evolved out of the YLP; a major influence in the development of the YLP was the Black Panther Party–hence YLP’s early heavy emphasis on the ”lumpenproletariat as the vanguard.”
YLP-PRRWO had strong ties, even significant influence, among the Puerto Rican masses, especially in New York City, based on its leadership in the mass struggle. In the early years of YLP, even with its “lumpen vanguard” line, it had organized the Health Revolutionary Unity Movement, an organization of health workers which developed out of the struggle against proposed layoffs and cutbacks in services in the city hospitals of New York. Later they led the takeover of a large church in Spanish Harlem, turning it into a center where masses in the community received necessities and education in the basically revolutionary principles of the YLP. Hundreds of people were mobilized in this struggle.
The Lords set up health and breakfast programs in the church. They led numerous struggles against police brutality, bad housing and welfare, and played an important role in raising the issue of independence for Puerto Rico.
The RU was a multinational organization, and had been so almost from the start. It was true that, when the RU was first formed in the San Francisco Bay Area, it was composed almost entirely of white youth of student origin, most of whom had been active in building support for the struggle of the oppressed nationalities, the antiwar movement, the student movement, community organizing or all of these. A small number of veteran communists who had left the CPUSA after its revisionist betrayal played an important role in the RU’s formation. It was also true that the birth of the RU occurred primarily as a result of the struggles of the oppressed nationalities in this country.
The RU began directing its main activity to the working class and its members began rooting themselves in industrial work–an orientation and line that was greatly strengthened by an ideological struggle in the RU in late 1970-early 1971 against infantile adventurism and terrorism.
As the RU’s work developed it made ties with a number of white and oppressed nationalities workers who, as they became revolutionary oriented, joined the ranks of the RU.
The RU had significant influence on the antiwar movement and the youth and student movement generally, helping to develop it in a more consistently anti-imperialist direction. The RU did much to spread Marxism-Leninism among revolutionary-minded people, making many contributions in this regard through developing political line and carrying on ideological struggle over important questions facing the movement–the working class as the leading and decisive class in making revolution in U.S. society, the united front strategy, the correct line on the Black national question, the women question, the nature of the Soviet Union and others.
From its beginning the RU carried on hard-hitting polemics against erroneous trends in the movement, playing a big part in exposing many incorrect lines which still had popular currency and summing up scientifically a number of opportunist lines that were hated, but not deeply understood by many people. It took on anarchism and revisionism as well as Trotskyism and upheld and explained Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought and its basic application to the U.S. in opposition to these bourgeois lines within the movement.
In particular the RU struck hammer blows at the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), especially as the struggle against its line was coming to a head within Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1969. At that time PLP claimed to uphold Mao Tsetung and China but actually promoted Trotskyism–denouncing the Vietnamese people for not fighting immediately for socialism; attacking the Black liberation struggle in the U.S. because it was nationalist not socialist and, PLP claimed, “all nationalism is reactionary”; denouncing the student movement as useless since it did not make its main focus linking up with workers in economic struggles, etc. The RU showed how PL’s line was in fact a perversion of and objectively an attack on Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought. This inspired many revolutionaries among the youth and students in particular to take up Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought and provided a revolutionary alternative not only to PLP’s Trotskyism but also to the two main tendencies within the student movement opposed to PLP at that time–the adventurism of the Weathermen and the even less justifiable stereotyped, stagnant and reformist “Marxism” and petty promoterism of forces clustered around Mike Klonsky (now head of the Communist Party–Marxist-Leninist).
The RU upheld the Black Panther Party (BPP) when it was a leading revolutionary force, building support and defense for it, especially with the growing violent attacks by the state on the Panthers. At the same time, while not engaging in open polemics against the BPP or incorrect aspects of its line, the RU carried on principled ideological struggle with the Panthers and popularized the understanding that the working class and working class ideology are the leading force in the revolutionary movement.
The RU not only carried on ideological struggle about the revolutionary role of the working class but initiated communist work in the working class itself, linking up with strikes and spreading revolutionary ideas in connection with workers struggles. All this had a big impact on the revolutionary movement and represented an important step in merging communism with the workers movement.
For a time I Wor Kuen (IWK), an Asian organization, was a part of the NLC–until it discovered it could no longer dodge ideological struggle and the carrying out of common work particularly among the industrial proletariat. IWK then fled like a vampire from a cross.
IWK’s development was quite the opposite of BWC, PRRWO and RU. It suffices to say IWK did not develop out of any particular mass struggle nor did it play any real role in linking up with mass struggle. Where it did join it more often than not played a backward role. IWK used as its principal cover–or more to the point, its capital–the fact that they were members of oppressed nationalities, and when it became fashionable to call themselves Marxist-Leninist they did so, only, however, to oppose Marxism-Leninism.
It sometimes happens as a section of the movement turns to Marxism-Leninism for honest reason, some who have in fact based their careers on attacking Marxism-Leninism suddenly take up the banner of Marxism-Leninism only to oppose and attack it from another angle.
So much for IWK. Back to the NLC. At its inception the NLC set for itself two basic tasks: common work and ideological struggle, that is, the linking up with the actual mass struggle of the American people especially the working class and the building of a new communist Party through forging a unified ideological and political line.
The NLC was formed based on the recognition that in the U.S. there is only one working class, a single multinational proletariat, and this multinational proletariat, especially the industrial proletariat, is the main and leading force of the revolution. The NLC was united around the need to build the Party of the proletariat to act as its vanguard at the earliest time in accordance with placing ideological and political line in the forefront and on the basis of establishing deeper ties with the masses, especially the working class. Further principles of unity of the committee were upholding Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought and opposition to revisionism and Trotskyism.
The NLC started with this basic level of unity and in roughly a year BWC and PRRWO had come to a higher level of unity with the RU, reaching essential agreement on Party building, the trade union question, the united front as the basic strategy for revolution, the analysis of the Black national question, and the woman question.
A charge made by some opportunists is that the NLC was simply “negotiations at the top.” The real fact of the matter was the Liaison Committee was far from this. There was the National Liaison Committee, which was composed of representatives from each organization; in addition, in each city where at least two of the organizations existed a local Liaison Committee was established.
While upholding the democratic centralism of the organizations in the NLC, joint work was carried out on the closest political and organizational unity, on a national and local scale. On the basis of discussion within and between the three organizations and within certain limits, the National Liaison Committee discussed priorities of mass work, nationally mapped out plans to unfold such work, struggled over the line and policy of work and later summed up the work.
On the local level a similar process was carried out. When comrades from the organizations which made up the NLC found themselves in the same work place, or the same general industries, or same area of mass work, work teams were set up. In one city commissions were established to give overall guidance to almost every major area of work. During the period of the NLC’s existence, a city-wide hospital organization was built in New York; in Detroit the organizations jointly took up building of a rank and file committee around the ’73 auto contract.
The NLC attempted to provide some leadership for the antiwar movement, and to particularly involve workers and oppressed nationalities in this effort. This took the form of the November 4th Coalition in several cities–named after the 1972 demonstrations held by the coalition right before the ’72 election. The NLC through the November 4th Coalition gave crucial and timely leadership as a large section of the antiwar forces had fallen under the McGovern hoax of ”vote for me and I will stop the war.”
The NLC put forward the line that given the mounting military defeat at the hands of the Vietnamese people, U.S. imperialism would be forced, before long, to change course in Vietnam, no matter who sat in the White House. It called for demonstrations around the country on election eve, under the slogan “Victory Through Our Struggle, Not Through the Election.” It called for the American people, through persisting in mass action, to continue struggling against U.S. aggression in Indochina. The demonstrations raised, among other demands, support for the Vietnamese peace proposal.
In New York more than 5000 people participated, one third to one half being minorities–Latin, Asian and Black, with 25% of the demonstration working class in composition.
This was followed with organizing an anti-imperialist contingent, drawn from people in many parts of the country, in the January 20 demonstration on inauguration day in Washington, D.C. A demonstration was held at the same time in San Francisco. On May Day ’73 the November 4th Coalition in New York organized a demonstration and rally of 2000 people, 60% of whom were oppressed nationalities and a solid core of which was working class. It should be remembered that these events took place in the general period, though at the end, of the mass upsurge of oppressed nationalities and antiwar struggle.
This was one aspect of the life of the NLC–the carrying out of common work–but the life of the NLC was also characterized by sharp but mainly productive ideological struggle as well as common study. The early meetings of the NLC focused particularly on deepening and further clarifying the understanding of the need for a multinational communist Party. Today this struggle might seem superficial to some, but it must be kept in mind that both the BWC and PRRWO had only recently broken with the line of a party for each nationality and began to grasp there was a single working class in the U.S. (IWK in essence remained wedded to these earlier positions even while stating formal agreement. This line manifested itself particularly in IWK’s reluctance to do work among workers, especially the industrial proletariat, and their constant retreat to work exclusively in Chinatown–and not much of that, to be frank.)
Further, at the time of the YLP-PRRWO Congress there had also been struggle around the role of multinational organization in the pre-Party period. Some members of PRRWO argued for the need for an all white communist organization among white people.
The struggle over this question was closely linked with discussion and debate over the relationship between the national and class struggles and over what were the necessary steps towards a new Party. The RU put forward that the key to creating such a united general staff was active participation in the class struggle and the carrying out of theoretical work and ideological struggle in that context.
This discussion on the Party itself was followed by a period in which the question of line for work in the workers movement was the focus of discussion. This had two aspects: struggle against the IWK line which amounted to opposing the concentration of work in the working class–and actually opposed the line that the working class is the main and leading force in socialist revolution; and the achievement of greater clarity and unity on the part of the other groups around the need to build workers organizations intermediate between the Party and the trade unions, to rely on the rank and file not trade union leaders but not to abandon the unions to these hacks or promote dual-unionism, ripping the advanced away from the rest of the class, etc.
Towards the middle of the period of the NLC’s existence the Black national question was taken up as a major issue of discussion. This discussion occupied a center spot for several meetings, with PRRWO, then BWC reaching unity around the basic position put forward by the RU. Once this struggle began–and it was clear that the RU, PRRWO and BWC were moving toward unity, IWK split.
This was followed by a discussion on the initial Party-building proposal (more on this later). An enlarged meeting discussion of the full proposal was then held, which was in fact the last meeting of the NLC.
But ideological struggle was not simply limited to the confines of the NLC. It was conducted throughout what was then the new communist movement. The forums sponsored by the Guardian newspaper in 1973 were a case in point.
These forums covered major questions, from Party building to the national question. While the Guardian had its intention of using these forums to set itself up as the rallying center of the new communist movement, overall these forums were positive. They focused the attention of many revolutionary-minded people on Marxism-Leninism and how to apply it to some of the burning questions facing the revolutionary movement, and through the role of the RU, BWC and PRRWO a basically correct line was put forward and popularized through these forums in opposition to various opportunist lines.
This, too, was just one example of the fact that the purpose served by the unity of these three organizations was not, as some had slandered, to secretly go off and form the Party, but rather to take concrete steps toward building it through common work and ideological struggle and to be in a stronger position to unite all who could be united around a correct line to form the Party when more of a basis had been laid to take that step.
The three organizations joined in the NLC because they shared basic unity around some major questions–as opposed, for example, to the opportunist lines represented by the October League (OL) and the Communist League (CL). Part of their contribution to laying the basis for the Party was to be to build this unity from a lower to a higher level within the NLC. This was a serious approach to political line and unity, as opposed to trying to opportunistically use the level of unity achieved as a kind of capital, by advertising it publicly. The point was not to proclaim “here’s the center of the movement, here’s the core of the Party” but to actually build political unity through work and struggle.
This approach was again clearly evidenced later by the RU Party proposal, which–taking into account both the unity and differences among the three groups–put forward that the development of things had reached the point where the leap to the Party was required and that differences could only be resolved in the context of moving toward the Party. The proposal called exactly for these three organizations to go out broadly to involve many others in the actual struggle over the Programme for the Party and to unite all who could be united in this process. (More on the RU’s Party proposal later.)
Beyond these Guardian forums there was particularly sharp struggle throughout this period against the right opportunist lines of the October League and the Guardian on the one hand and the dogmatism of groups like the Communist League on the other.
It should also be stated frankly that throughout the existence of the NLC there were certain tendencies by PRRWO towards dogmatism and sectarianism and in the case of BWC a certain tendency during a large portion of the life of the NLC toward reluctance to involve themselves in mass struggle, following a July ’72 organizational conference of the BWC, which planned a three month program of cadre training and clarifying the political line of the BWC as virtually the sole task. This was followed by a series of internal struggles in the BWC, and very little real mass work was done.
A major aspect of the NLC right from its inception was Party building. The NLC came into existence based on the recognition that the formation of the NLC was a step towards bringing the Party into being. It was also understood by all organizations in the NLC that the next big step which the NLC would play a role in facilitating was the formation of the Party itself. The NLC was seen as the cornerstone of the new Party. This was roughly summed up in what became the unofficial slogan of the NLC: “the subordination of each organization in the Liaison Committee to what was coming into being” (the multinational communist Party).
While there was the tendency to downplay the importance of building toward the Party, the truth is quite contrary to the dogmatist invention that the RU in particular and the NLC in general placed Party building on the back burner until one day the RU decided to get the jump on the opportunists and issued a Party building proposal.
The real story and real line differences with the dogmatists, however, are quite another matter. These dogmatists argued that Party building is always the central task when you don’t have a Party, and therefore the principal task must be given to the study of theory and to ideological struggle within the communist movement against opportunism and for a correct line. The RU, since its formation and later in the NLC, stressed the importance of forming the Party as soon as possible. It did not, however, take the position that Party building was the central task for the entire period until the Party was formed. Such a position reduces the question to meaningless generality and phrase-mongering; it avoids the concrete conditions and the necessary steps which had to be taken to lay the basis for the Party.
During the period prior to the formation of the RCP, the period Marxist-Leninists were faced with was characterized by the fact that on the one hand there existed no vanguard Party, but on the other hand there were tremendous mass movements involving large numbers of people, from various classes, strata and groups. It was these struggles that brought forward many forces who, inspired especially by the Cultural Revolution in China, took up the study of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought. The question posed by these developments was how to bring into being a real vanguard, able to act as a single staff.
The correct road was to begin the process of linking of Marx-ism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought with the mass movement, and in particular to begin the process of merging communism with the practical struggles of the working class. In this way the RU was able to deepen its theoretical understanding, to conduct ideological struggle within the context of carrying out practical work as the main task. To the dogmatists a correct line is simply the working out of an idea in one’s head; they are blind to the basic principle that the correct line must be developed on the basis of and returned to practice–yes, theory must be developed to guide and must be tested in the “funky mass movement” (as leaders of the BWC who later completely degenerated into dogmatism would refer to the mass struggle).
As it was stated in the Communist, Volume 1, No. 2, in the article “WVO: Undaunted Dogma from Puffed-Up Charlatans,” “Studying theory and carrying out ideological struggle, though very important, was not then the key link to resolving these questions–applying Marxism-Leninism to the actual struggles and summing this up was the key link” (p. 78).
The attitude of the NLC towards the question of Party building was summed up perhaps in the most straightforward and frank way by the RU representative at the YLP-PRRWO Congress shortly before the formation of the NLC: “Ideological struggle to resolve differences between these various groups is extremely important; but in order for this to be meaningful, it must go on in the context of actual struggle around common areas of work . . .”
As stated earlier, the NLC was indeed a big step forward; it represented a significant break, at least to a large degree, with some of the major ideological and political weaknesses of the movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s, which were rooted in the nationalism and the tailing after the bourgeois nationalism of the oppressed nationalities, and which held sway among a significant section of the new communist forces.
These lines took many forms in the developing communist movement, such as each nationality working for revolution exclusively from its own “national tent” and exclusively among its own “national sector” of the proletariat.
Perhaps this is brought out most sharply in the early practice of the BWC (1970-72) which refused as a matter of principle to even give leaflets, or sell its paper to white workers at the plant gates. Black or “third world” workers as the vanguard, the denial of the revolutionary potential of white workers, the idea of forming separate communist parties for each nationality, of working separately (perhaps in alliance on programs, tactics and joint struggles)–such was the baggage that, in sometimes “updated form,” was carried over from the movement of the ’60s.
But right from the start the NLC reflected the ideological and political growth of the new communist movement–or at least of a very important section of it. This was reflected most clearly by the BWC representative at the YLP-PRRWO Congress: “Our organization has come to realize that the fundamental problem inside the U.S. is between capital and labor and that the solution to this problem is proletarian revolution. We recognize that the working class in this country is multinational and that to accomplish the task of proletarian revolution requires a proletarian party that represents and leads the whole class.” This was in 1972.
To bring out more vividly how this position represented significant forward motion, a good example in contrast is the line put forward by the League in 1970 and later taken as part of the guiding line of BWC and many others throughout the developing revolutionary and communist movement up to that time. In an interview in the Leviathan, Volume 2, June 1970, a representative of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers stated boldly: “Whites in America don’t act like workers. They don’t act like a proletariat. They act like racists. And that is why I think that blacks have to continue to have black organization independent of whites. In terms of the future it depends on whether or not whites can make the transition of giving up, you know, the privileges that they have.” This political conclusion was reflected in the early platform of the BWC: “. . .we hold firm to the position that the working class of blacks, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, Asians, and other Third World people are the vanguard force in the United States ...” (from the “Constitution for the Black Workers Congress,” 1971, p. 1).
The critical point here is not merely to recount what group held what line back when. While this is important, the central point is that the line of “Bundism,” of adapting socialism to nationalism, ran throughout the history of the revolutionary movement in the U.S. in the ’60s and early ’70s and the development of what was then the new communist movement (and it is alive and well in many so-called communist organizations or “parties” today).
One of the earlier forms this line took was that Black people and other oppressed nationalities in the U.S. (perhaps in alliance with the peoples of the Third World) could and would make revolution alone in this country, or with a small number of white supporters mainly from the petty bourgeoisie. The situation of the oppressed nationalities in the U.S. was seen as being essentially the same as the peoples of the colonial and semi-colonial world of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and the task of the revolution seen as similar–national liberation.
James Forman, onetime Executive Secretary of SNCC and later the central figure in the BWC from 1970-72, set forth this position most clearly in his speech, “Liberation Will Come from a Black Thing” (1967):
To view our history as one of resistance is to recognize more clearly the colonial relationship that we have with the United States.” In the same speech he goes on to say, “The serious conditions in which we find ourselves as a people demand that we begin talking more of the colonized and the colonies.
In another speech, entitled “Total Control as the Only Solution to the Economic Problems of Black People” (1969), Forman further elaborates on the implication of this line:
We say that there must be a revolutionary black vanguard and that white people in this country must be willing to accept black leadership, for that is the only protection that Black people have to protect ourselves from racism rising again in this country.
Racism in the U.S. is so pervasive in the mentality of whites that only an armed, well-disciplined, black-controlled government can insure the stamping out of racism in this country. . . We say . . . think in terms of total control of the U.S. Prepare ourselves to seize state powers. Do not hedge, for time is short and all around the world, the forces of liberation are directing their attack against the U.S. It is a powerful country, but that power is not greater than that of Black people. We work the chief industries in this country and we could cripple the economy while the brothers fought guerrilla warfare in the streets.
This line, however, in the period in which it developed and held sway, represented a big step over the militant reformism of the early and mid-’60s. It represented a break with the line of passive resistance. It looked for the solution of the liberation of Black people and other oppressed nationalities outside the bounds of the system. It placed the struggle of the oppressed nationalities in the context of worldwide struggle against imperialism, particularly the fight being waged by the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
On the other hand this line was a far cry from a scientific analysis of the actual condition and requirements even of Black liberation–it was not a line which showed the actual relationship between Black liberation and revolution in the U.S., which could only mean proletarian revolution. While it was a real advance in that period, in the end this notion of liberation or revolution proved to be illusory.
As Mao points out in On Practice, “If a man wants to succeed in his work, that is, to achieve the anticipated results, he must bring his ideas into correspondence with the laws of the objective external world; if they do not correspond, he will fail in his practice. After he fails, he draws his lessons, corrects his ideas to make them correspond to the laws of the external world ...” (Selected Readings, p. 67).
In the face of the fact that such a line could not lead to further advances, some forces began to seriously take up the study of Marxism-Leninism and see that revolution in a capitalist country like the U.S. means proletarian revolution. This new understanding, however, was often still combined with the baggage of the earlier period, producing an erroneous political current, the line that the proletariat will make revolution, but Black and other oppressed nationality workers are the only real proletariat.
This went hand and glove with the infamous “white skin privileges” line. According to this reactionary position the white worker has been bribed off, has sold out through a “gentleman’s agreement” between the ruling class and the masses of white workers through the “labor lieutenants” of the capitalist class. The white workers have supposedly agreed not to make trouble as long as they have privileges denied Blacks; hence the cornerstone of the white workers becoming revolutionary is for them to repudiate their privileges. The implication of this runs counter in every possible way to the approach of the proletariat to inequality–”an injury to one is an injury to all,” not “injuries must be suffered equally by all.”
When all is said and done this position lets the bourgeoisie dead off the hook, and ends up holding hands with the Kerner Report, reducing the fight against national oppression to the subjective attitude of white people and particularly white workers.
Yes, white workers do have some petty privileges denied Black people and other oppressed minorities but these petty privileges as compared to a lifetime of exploitation and oppression are exactly that–mere crumbs. Nor is the source of the oppression of Black people these crumbs, or anyone’s attitude. Black people suffer dual oppression in the real world by a real monster–U.S. monopoly capitalism which fosters and promotes racism and chauvinism.
As this white skin privilege line, too, ran up against a wall, showing itself to be a mortal sin against objective reality, some of these forces studied Marxism-Leninism more deeply, summed up this development and grasped more firmly, that “the question is not what this or that proletarian, or even the whole proletariat at the moment considers as its aim. The question is what the proletariat is, and what, consequent on that being, it will be compelled to do” (from The Holy Family, Marx). In a word, many began to understand more fully that the proletariat is an objective social class, defined fundamentally by its relationship to the means of production and that in the U.S. the proletariat is multinational.
In order to understand why these earlier incorrect lines were able to flourish on the one hand and on the other hand the significance of the development of the NLC and later the struggle waged by the RU against these incorrect lines and particularly the retreat of BWC and PRRWO back to nationalism, it is necessary to review the development of the revolutionary mass movement and what was then the new communist movement.
In the late ’50s the Black people’s struggle for civil rights erupted and later developed into the modern Black liberation movement shaking the country at its very foundations. This movement produced many revolutionary-minded people and gave tremendous inspiration and encouragement to millions of other people in the country–and around the world–who were fighting back against the same imperialist ruling class, especially other oppressed nationalities, the youth, students, women and sections of the working class in the U.S.
This occurred at a time when U.S. imperialism still sat alone atop the imperialist pile, when there was a lull in the workers movement and, due to the revisionist betrayal of the CPUS A, the working class was without its general staff, its vanguard Party. The workers struggle, while often breaking out, was mainly on the trade union level, and not marked by a high degree of class consciousness or political struggle against the ruling class and its various forms of oppression of the people.
It was in this context, with the upsurge of Black people, other oppressed nationalities and students and youth generally, that many people began to see there was something more at stake than a particular injustice or a struggle they were involved in, that there was something more fundamentally wrong with society, and that the problem couldn’t be solved without getting to the root of it.
Many activists began to look at the experience of other countries where revolutionary struggle was being waged. Some began to see there was only one ideology which enabled people to consistently and thoroughly stand up to imperialism, one ideology which, when grasped by the masses enabled them to change the material conditions they faced in a thoroughgoing way–Marxism-Leninism. In a word, many began to see the need for revolutionary theory–though, of course, this did not mean that even the most advanced forces in the U.S. at the time grasped this theory and applied it in a consistent, scientific way.
The rapid development of the Black struggle was accompanied by the development and growth of Black revolutionary organization that did much to change the political map of the U.S. Revolutionary ideas and the conscious study of Marxism-Leninism spread among a large section of Black people; this was also a major force in turning large sections of other oppressed nationalities and white youth to the study and practice of Marxism-Leninism.
The group that by far had the most profound effect in turning many heads towards revolutionary struggle and Marxism-Leninism was the Black Panther Party. The BPP’s ideology was, to be sure, eclectic–reflected most sharply in their characterization of the “brother on the block” (i.e. unemployed youth in particular) as the leading social force in making revolution and picking up the gun (“offing the pigs”) as the principal content of revolutionary work in the U.S.
It was, however, the BPP that placed the issue of revolution on the table in a way that it had never been done before since the betrayal by the CPUSA. It was the BPP that most clearly stated that the contradiction between the masses of American people and the system of imperialism could only be resolved through revolutionary struggle. The BPP however, exactly because it did not understand the role of the working class and the way in which Black workers, in particular, could act as a kind of link between the Black liberation struggle and the overall workers movement, could not grasp the correct relationship between Black liberation and the revolutionary struggle as a whole in the U.S.
Still it was the BPP at that time that most forcefully (if not thoroughly) raised the banner of Marxism-Leninism, and delivered telling criticism against those in the Black liberation movement such as the cultural nationalists, Pan Africanists and Black petty bourgeois reformists who all sang in single chorus, Marxism-Leninism is a ”honky thing” and has no relevance to Black people.
The raising of the banner of Marxism-Leninism by the Black Panther Party also administered a positive shock to those white youth and students who sought to create a new revolutionary ideology–New Leftism–claiming Marxism-Leninism was nothing but the obsolete dogma of the “old left.”
As was said earlier, while the BPP placed these things squarely on the table, the BPP itself remained in the final analysis within the walls of petty-bourgeois revolutionism and petty-bourgeois nationalism–its nationalism being characterized by such things as its advocacy of the line of a Black vanguard. Ultimately this inability of the BPP to make a leap beyond this outlook meant that the BPP was turned into its opposite, ceased to play a revolutionary role and degenerated.
Another important development which began to take place beginning around 1968 was the insurgent movement of Black workers which swept the country particularly in the basic industries. Black rank and file groups sprang up to combat the oppressive conditions of factory life and the racist sellout policies of the union misleadership. This movement reached its highest political expression with the development of the Revolutionary Union Movement based principally in the auto plants of Detroit and referred to earlier.
In 1969 the development of the RUM resulted in the formation of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, also Detroit based. The General Policy Statement and Labor Program of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers laid out quite explicitly where the League was coming from–“The League of Revolutionary Black Workers is dedicated to waging a relentless struggle against racism, capitalism and imperialism. We are struggling for the liberation of black people in the confines of the United States as well as playing a major revolutionary role in the liberation of all oppressed people in the world” (p. 1). This showed both the strengths and weaknesses of the League.
The League represented a significant advance for the Black liberation movement and the overall workers movement. In addition to sparking struggle in the working class–even, despite narrow nationalist lines, among white workers–the development of the Revolutionary Union Movement and the League acted as sort of a revolutionary kick in the pants to turn toward the working class some forces in the revolutionary movement who had felt the industrial proletariat, Black workers as well (if not as much) as whites, had been bought off; that it either actually benefits from imperialism, or is so bribed by the imperialists that at best it will fall in line at the rear of the revolutionary ranks somewhere far down the road to revolution.
However, while the League began to turn some activists in the revolutionary movement towards the working class, both in the case of the League itself as well as many revolutionaries who began to turn towards the working class, they summed up only half of reality–that Black and other oppressed nationalities workers were not bought off.
The communist forces which arose in this overall period were marked by both its positive factors–the great inspiration of the revolutionary national movements–and on the other hand its negative aspect–the revolutionary movement that had very little roots in the workers movement generally and among white workers in particular. Further, since these young communist forces had been cut off from the historical experience of class struggle as summed up by the leaders of the international communist movement, there was a strong basis for bourgeois ideology within the new communist movement, with regard to the national question mainly taking the form in those times of narrow nationalism and tailing after bourgeois nationalism of the oppressed nationalities.
Another thing influencing this development was the fact that in the face of the storm of Black rebellion the ruling class panicked, responding with the stick and the carrot as well. Under the guise of economic development and Black capitalism, the government pumped millions of dollars into Black enterprises.
Black capital went from $500 million in 1965 to $1.6 billion in 1973. Poverty programs were set up in virtually every ghetto in the country, while some professional jobs opened to Blacks, Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, etc. In addition, in several major cities which had become in the main Black, a number of Black faces replaced white faces as mayors, police chiefs and a whole host of bureaucrats. The essence of all this was to build up the petty bourgeois and bourgeois forces among the oppressed nationalities in an effort to put a brake on the struggle and divert it away from its revolutionary thrust–co-opt it.
This was coupled with somewhat of a tactical shift by the ruling class in the sphere of ideology and public opinion. While maintaining and even stepping up its chauvinist poison propaganda about the inferiority of the oppressed nationalities and pointing to them as the cause of their own oppression–and problems in society in general–the ruling class especially through its so-called liberal wing put tremendous effort into promoting and spreading bourgeois nationalism among the oppressed nationalities.
This took the form of pointing to white people and especially white workers as the real enemy of Black people and the source of their oppression. This bourgeois line was not walled off from the revolutionary movement, including the new communist forces, but in fact in some quarters it was picked up and promoted in more subtle forms and sometimes not so subtle forms.
Particularly with this backdrop, the NLC was an extremely positive development and was, as noted earlier, a testament to the ideological and political growth and developing influence of communists of all nationalities in the mass movement.
In the case of BWC and PRRWO what characterized these groups then and for much of the period of the NLC was their general forward direction toward Marxism-Leninism, towards taking the stand of the working class and away from nationalism and Bundism (adapting socialism to nationalism). This positive aspect of their development was not without its negative side, however, a tendency towards nationalism and Bundism in new forms.
For example, the YLP resolution at the Congress of 1972 (in which YLP became PRRWO), while stressing the necessity of building a single multinational party, also stated that in the United States, before that Party could be built, Marxist-Leninist organizations had to develop among Afro-Americans, Chicanos, Asians, Native Americans (meaning separate organizations for each nationality) to analyze their work and experiences with the proletariat of their nationality to create a base for a multinational proletarian Party in the future.
It was exactly this Bundist thinking that led PRRWO to push virtually as a “matter of principle” for the inclusion of IWK in the NLC, as there was clearly no ideological or political basis for IWK’s inclusion–no Marxist-Leninist basis, that is–outside of the faint possibility they might in the course of the NLC reverse their course. All the other groups held at least basic unity around the fact that the multinational proletariat was the main and leading force and needed a single vanguard representing it as one class. For IWK it was quite another matter, however. At the YLP-PRRWO Congress, IWK called not for unity of the multinational proletariat but for a common front of the oppressed nationalities. “The present stage in the American revolution calls for unity among Black, Brown and Asian people in the U.S.” Further IWK upheld the reactionary line of “white skin privileges” and spoke almost entirely of basing themselves not among the industrial proletariat but on “community work.”
BWC, which knew nothing of IWK at the time, went along with PRRWO’s proposal to include IWK for the same Bundist reason that had prompted PRRWO to make the proposal in the first place.
The RU struggled against IWK’s inclusion, based on IWK’s line and practice, but felt in the end that the general forward motion of such a committee was more important than making the issue of IWK a splitting matter.
This tendency towards nationalism was also present in the BWC which, for example, defined the scope of its task as being “to sink deep roots among the Black sector of the proletariat” (July 8 Conference Report, 1972). However, the principal aspect of both PRRWO and BWC and their motion at that time was away from this baggage.
During this period, the matter of building the unity of the proletariat became much more than a declaration of intent. The three organizations attempted to build multinational organizations in the workplace, took up the task of working to build the struggles of the unemployed of all nationalities through the Unemployed Workers Organizing Committee, and built multinational coalitions such as the November 4th Coalition. BWC, while still attempting to build all-Black forms of mass organizations, also undertook the building of a multinational coalition around police brutality against Black people in Atlanta.
However towards the end of the existence of the NLC, and shortly before the discussion of the Party building proposal, the retreat back to nationalism began to manifest itself sharply. As opposed to moving forward in the direction of the need for the organizational unity of all proletarians and particularly the formation of the single vanguard of the working class, BWC and PRRWO began a steady backtrack, that was later to take leaps and bounds backwards.
This drift first began to manifest itself in PRRWO and BWC’s attempt to create more sophisticated justification for separate communist organizations based on nationality, for splitting the workers’ cause, organization and movement along national lines.
Towards the end of the NLC period, PRRWO set for itself, as its central task, the building of national forms of mass organizations around the democratic rights of the Puerto Rican national minority based on three principles: 1) the right to speak their language, 2) to struggle for bilingual programs that really teach Puerto Rican people’s history and culture, 3) the right to mobilize freely and agitate for the national liberation struggle of Puerto Rico.
These things should have been taken up by PRRWO but PRRWO should not have restricted its activity nor certainly its outlook to taking up these questions, nor should these questions have been seen as the sole responsibility and province of Puerto Rican communists.
BWC for its part put forth its central task as “the raising of the proletarian banner in the Black liberation struggle and to build the leadership of Black workers in the struggle of the entire multinational working class and the anti-imperialist struggle of all the people in the U.S.”
BWC began to rigidly stress that in order to build a lasting multinational proletarian Party, a Black communist organization must raise the proletarian banner in the Black nation and defeat bourgeois nationalism. The essence of this line was a retreat back to “sole representation” with the bottom line that the Black masses generally and the Black workers in particular could not be won right then to the line of a communist Party with a correct line and correct methods of work because it had white people in it. Hence a Black communist organization must first wipe out bourgeois nationalism–quite a feat!–in order to prepare the way. The “leading role of Black workers” line was also showing its head.
In general, however, these lines were just emerging in what became an overall backward turn and they still represented mainly seeds of differences which could possibly be resolved through struggle in the course of moving to the Party.
As pointed out earlier, some have claimed the Party proposal put forth by the RU in late 1973 was simply an opportunist maneuver of the RU to turn itself and its clique (meaning BWC and PRRWO) into the Party; it was an attempt to build a Party behind closed doors, they say.
The essence of the proposal was far different. At the heart of the proposal was the matter of ideological and political line, the Party programme. A draft or several drafts would be circulated publicly among all organizations, collectives and individuals with the objective of “uniting all who can be united” to form the Party. The adoption of the final programme and the selection of leadership of the Party were to be accomplished from the bottom up as opposed to top down, taking place at the founding congress. The members of all the organizations and other forces would be represented on a proportional basis (one delegate for so many members), guided by the principle all communists are equal regardless of nationality or the size of the group they had belonged to. The delegates would vote as individuals, not in blocs.
Further, in order to unite all who could be united, there would be teams set up–“flying squads”–with the task of contacting and struggling with independent collectives, organizations and individuals that were not marred by a consolidated opportunist line such as OL and CL–unless, of course, they repudiated this line. The flying squads were to go throughout the country.
It was proposed by the RU that the National Liaison Committee be expanded to include representatives from other forces that would be unifying around the building of the new Party. It was felt that if the three organizations took up this task, working together they could unite many forces.
BWC and PRRWO opposed this with Bundism, claiming that these collectives and individual Marxist-Leninists would be mainly “white petty bourgeois.” This completely overlooked the fact that there did exist at that time various Black and other oppressed nationality collectives as well as a number of people from the oppressed nationalities who were beginning to break with nationalism and turn towards Marxism. The RU further pointed out to BWC and PRRWO that while class origins are important the critical and decisive question is ideological and political line.
Although BWC and PRRWO rejected the Party proposal and broke up the Liaison Committee, the RU and others did carry out the line of “uniting all who can be united” to form the Party, contacting many forces throughout the country, discussing the need to form the Party in the immediate period ahead, the importance of building such a Party, and on what ideological and political basis it could be built, etc. The RU conducted extensive polemics against all major opportunist trends, and held Party building forums, drawing in some places many hundreds of people.
Even after BWC and PRRWO broke off the Liaison Committee, and initiated public polemics, the RU’s approach was that, while things were clearly on a downhill road for the BWC and PRRWO, the RU still called on these forces to unite on the basis of Marxism-Leninism to build the Party.
The RU stated at that time (as expressed in “Marxism vs. Bundism,” page 61, Red Papers 6):
We would like to remind the BWC and PRRWO of the high spirit of unity that marked the original formation of the liaison. This was based not on an absolute agreement on every political question, but on the commitment to subordinate the interest of our particular organizations to the overall and general interest of the proletariat and to ’what was coming into being’–the Party. This was not an organizational question of abolishing the democratic centralism of the separate organizations, but an ideological question of putting our priority on working together to build the mass movement and build toward the Party.
For our part, the RU has always recognized that organizational unity and merger would have to be based on developing closer and closer political unity. But we have always felt sure that this would be achieved so long as we all upheld the spirit of serving the people with which the liaison was formed. It was in this same spirit that we made our party proposal to the liaison committee. And we are convinced that by reviving and upholding this original spirit, principled unity can be achieved through struggle and we can move forward together to ’what is coming into being’–the Party and the revolution.
But because of their opportunist lines the BWC and PRRWO were bent on creating a breakup of the Liaison Committee. They were not interested in reviving the original spirit of the Liaison Committee; instead they were intent on reviving nationalism in the guise of Marxism.
It is by no means surprising that all-out struggle would break out with the issuing of the Party building proposal by the RU in late 1973, for the formation of the Party required a leap.
The Party proposal in many ways represented the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Why? Because in order to build a single unifying center–a Party–to develop a battle plan, a Party programme to guide the Party, in order to lead the class, to merge the national and class struggle, required a break with the petty bourgeois baggage of the past movement.
The whole of the communist movement was confronted with the necessity to make this leap–and in the case of BWC and PRRWO as for many others, it meant breaking with the most sacred of sacred possessions, the supreme sacred cow, narrow nationalism and the raising of the national question above every other–above and apart from the scientific class stand of the proletariat and the class struggle.
Further it was not as if the struggle just simply jumped out of the sky. As the objective conditions were changing, including the fact that the struggle of the whole class was beginning to grow, the mass movement had come up against the absence of a genuine vanguard to lead the struggle and build the united front under proletarian leadership to overthrow capital. The consciousness of the need to unite, along with the growing awareness that the whole system is rotten, was developing among all sections of the working class and masses.
What was required was to move the mass struggle to a higher level, showing the masses how to build unity, how to identify the enemy and how to fight him. This demanded an end to the scattered circles, activity working at cross purposes, and duplicating efforts. This situation called for uniting all who could be united around a correct line and programme to form a single general staff.
Thus, while BWC and PRRWO played a very progressive role at one stage in the development of the new communist forces, as the objective conditions made it impossible to continue on the old basis, BWC and PRRWO, like many others, were confronted with either moving forward on a qualitatively new basis or falling backward.
Unfortunately, BWC and PRRWO took the latter course, retreating into nationalism and then dogmatism combined with nationalism as their guiding ideology. For these reasons BWC and PRRWO were no longer able to contribute to building the Party and the revolutionary movement in general, but set themselves on an opposite course, resulting in further splits and degeneration on the part of these organizations.
In many ways it was as Stalin had pointed out regarding the development of the working class movement in Russia and the Bund: “Even before 1897 the Social-Democratic [Marxist] groups active among the Jewish workers set themselves the aim of creating a ’special Jewish workers’ organization. They founded such an organization in 1897 by uniting to form the Bund. That was at a time when Russian Social-Democracy as an integral body virtually did not exist. The Bund steadily grew and spread, and stood out more and more vividly against the background of the bleak days of Russian Social-Democracy. . . . Then came the 1900s. A mass labor movement came into being. Polish Social-Democracy grew and drew the Jewish workers into the mass struggle. Russian Social-Democracy grew and attracted the ’Bund’ workers” (Stalin, “Marxism and the National Question,” Vol. 2, p. 346, emphasis in original).
While the situation in the U.S. in 1973-74 was not exactly the same, nor is it correct to analyze history by parallel, the critical point is however the same, and the general lesson does hold true. To continue on the old basis when the objective and subjective condition demand a leap forward is to go backward.
One specific thing that kept BWC and PRRWO from making a leap forward was a tendency that had existed in both organizations, although it had not all along been the principal aspect. This was not summing up on the basis of Marxism-Leninism, looking for the essence of problems on the basis of ideological and political line, but instead adopting get-rich-quick schemes, hoping to develop enthusiasm into a substitute for a correct line and hard and patient work.
A good example of this came up towards the last meeting of the NLC. BWC and PRRWO had incorrectly summed up that the more they had taken up Marxism-Leninism the more isolated from the masses of the oppressed nationalities they had become–though this was not put forward in quite so straight up and blatant a way. Of course, taking up Marxism-Leninism does not enable one to have quick success or that automatically at any given time you have broad support among the masses. But it provides a basis of applying mass line to unite with the needs of the people in the practical struggle, while being able to point beyond that to the general and long-term interests of the working class and masses of people, and to persevere through the twists and turns of struggle, to keep sight of the long-range goal, and guide the mass movement toward that goal.
But looking for get-rich-quick schemes BWC and PRRWO failed to grasp this. This began to take sharp focus in the BWC with the consolidation of the line put forward by the RU on the Black national question–that Black people in the U.S. are a nation with their historical homeland in the Black Belt but today are dispersed from that homeland and concentrated mainly as workers in the urban areas of the North and South–that the Black national question in the U.S. is no longer in essence a peasant question but a proletarian question and that the Black nation in the U.S. existed under new and different conditions (more on this question later).
BWC felt now it was set to go to recreate the BPP or the League of Revolutionary Black Workers–on a higher basis, of course. However, it is not so simple a matter to recreate the past because both objectively and subjectively the conditions do not exist. Again this line itself was rooted in the case of both BWC and PRRWO in nationalism, namely that once communists of the oppressed nationalities take hold of Marxism-Leninism they could really get this thing going. When this petty bourgeois scheme fell short, when there was no instant mass base that fell into line behind BWC and PRRWO, it was concluded that groups like the BPP, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers and Young Lords Party were able to get a base among the masses of oppressed nationalities because they were both revolutionary nationalist and Marxist-Leninist.
This was the wrong conclusion, rather than summing up correctly that these groups, while progressive and even revolutionary and while raising the banner of Marxism-Leninism for a time, did not make a complete rupture with nationalism and were essentially revolutionary nationalist and not Marxist-Leninist.
The point is not that such groups automatically failed because they were not from the start thoroughgoing Marxist-Leninists. Such an analysis is metaphysics, not dialectics. The point is that for such groups–and this was directly relevant for BWC and PRRWO in early 1974–continuing to advance would have required making a qualitative leap, to grasp and apply Marxism-Leninism more thoroughly, and definitely not to go backward into bourgeois nationalism.
However, failing to draw the appropriate lessons from this, BWC and PRRWO began to take their weakness in ideology and raise it to a matter of principle. So the next get-rich-quick scheme consisted in first combining two into one–Marxism and nationalism.
This was followed by another erroneous position. To recreate the movement of the late ’60s, it was felt it was necessary to have an upsurge. So BWC and PRRWO set about to invent such an upsurge, or create it out of subjective desire to see it. BWC and PRRWO refused to face objective reality, denying that the movement of the oppressed nationalities had grown through a flow reaching a high tide in the mid and late ’60s–and then began to ebb in the early ’70s.
In their view there was no flow and ebb but just one continuous upward movement in a straight line, and to say that the struggle had ebbed was “racist,” was to say the oppressed nationalities were “bogged down.”
Further this overall line reflected BWC and PRRWO’s retreat from a correct summing up of the movement of the oppressed nationalities in the ’60s, which was sharply underlined in the September 1977 Revolution.
Similarly, the powerful Black liberation struggle which reached its high tide in the ’60s also suffered from the lack of class conscious working class leadership within it. . . . As in the antiwar movement, the lack of a strong working class ’pole’ within the Black liberation struggle made it easier for wrong and harmful tendencies to arise and more difficult to combat them. . . . And without the working class being in a position to clearly point a direction forward for the struggle, many were easily taken in by various schemes promoted by the capitalist enemy to direct the struggle from the real target–themselves.
This brings us right down to the heart of the matter which divided RU on the one hand and BWC and PRRWO on the other, Marxism vs. Bundism. At the outset of the struggle there were two questions around which the three organizations were divided into two camps: First, is the slogan “Black Workers Take the Lead” a correct slogan for the working class movement or for the Black liberation struggle in particular? And second, the issue of revolutionary nationalism–is revolutionary nationalism the same thing as Marxism-Leninism, is there an equal sign between them? That today a Black Marxist-Leninist must be a revolutionary nationalist meant that ideologically they are the same thing.
The issues raised in this struggle were very important in the development of the correct line and program on how to wage the fight against national oppression as part of the overall class struggle and how to bring about the merger of the national and class struggle.
To understand the actual development of this struggle it is important to grasp that while the RU essentially held a proletarian line, for the RU, too, it was a matter of motion and development and one dividing into two in this matter as well. The RU had also held many of these incorrect lines, or aspects of them.
This is most evident, for instance, in a pamphlet on a strike by workers at Temple University in Philadelphia, published by the Revolutionary Union in 1972. This pamphlet called Black workers “the most advanced section” of the working class–in essence the “Black Workers Take the Lead” line. In fact the pamphlet was entitled “Black Workers Lead Strike to Victory.”
It was in fact through the course of trying to apply such positions that the RU began to sum up that these policies were in contradiction to a correct line and to the general development of the RU’s work, that they were not aiding the revolutionary struggle, not aiding the building of the unity of the working class, not aiding the development of the struggle of the working class as a whole or the Black people and other oppressed nationalities but in fact were holding it back.
In one plant, for example, the RU was putting forward the need for a Black shop steward. In opposition to this, many workers raised questions and objections. One Black worker pointed out, “What’s important is that we have somebody good to represent us, to fight against discrimination in the plant and to fight around all the questions the workers here face. It’s not the question of what nationality somebody is that’s important, but what stand they take and what they fight for that’s important.”
One white comrade under the influence of this incorrect line failed to do anything about a blatant act of discrimination against a Black worker in the shop, because he was white and “couldn’t give leadership to the national struggle.” In another case a Black comrade influenced by this line went into coalitions and committees of Black people, including many petty bourgeois Blacks, trying to push “Black Workers Take the Lead” down their throats and was unable to unite people broadly. In yet another case where there had been some police shootings of several members of the Nation of Islam (now the World Community of Islam in the West), the Bundist line advocated doing nothing–white comrades shouldn’t take this up, and Black comrades cannot do anything because they are connected with whites (see Red Papers 6, “National Bulletin 13,” by the RU).
It became clear that these erroneous positions prevented communists from getting involved in applying a correct line in important struggles. Under the cover of upholding the national struggle this line led communists to stand aloof from struggle on this front, and in the working class as a whole it meant maintaining divisions.
On the basis of this experience and the need to sum it up, a sharp struggle broke out with the RU, with a small handful, led by the RU representative to the NLC, taking a reactionary stand of upholding all that was wrong and reactionary in these positions. This representative carried this struggle into the NLC and more generally colluded with leaders of the BWC and PRRWO to oppose and attack the RU in its move to sum up and correct its errors and the line that led to them.
The RU as a whole overwhelmingly rejected this line, while BWC, PRRWO and a few within the RU (who soon split from it) went on to seek profound justifications for it. This led to the struggle between the organizations, which immediately was felt most sharply on the NLC level.
In fact it was the NLC that became one of the chief headquarters of bourgeois nationalism. In the later stages of the NLC it more resembled a “third world caucus” than communists coming together to hammer out serious matters of line and to sum up and give guidance to practical work.
In a real sense, however, it was the RU representative who took the lead in consolidating many of these incorrect lines–though to be sure there already existed fertile soil for this development in BWC and PRRWO.
This relates to the fact that in the way the RU approached the NLC involved a concession to nationalist tendencies in BWC and PRRWO. This was manifested in the RU’s decision to have as its representative to the NLC a Black member of its leadership in place of the leading RU comrade who had represented it at the YLP/PRRWO Conference in 1972 when the NLC was first formed. The erroneous thinking behind this decision was the idea that having a Black to deal with would “soften” things for BWC and PRRWO in relating to a multinational organization. The full consequences of this error were felt later when the RU representative on the NLC used it as a base for pushing a reactionary nationalist line.
In the later days of the NLC the question of Black leadership of the American revolution was stressed, as a matter of principle, and became a major rallying cry. The line was put forward that since there is a Black nation therefore before a Party can be formed there must be a Black communist organization to have a significant base in the Black proletariat and deal a major defeat to the Black bourgeoisie’s hold on the Black masses.
Then there was the position that revolutionary nationalism is Marxist-Leninism for a communist of an oppressed nationality.
The BWC had never previously held such a position, and PRRWO while holding this line back in the days of the YLP had never put it forward in recent years and had in fact moved away from it. In fact it was promoted by the RU representative on the NLC, representing to a large degree, especially on this question, his own views and not the RU’s. This was followed by the “caucus” (NLC) demanding an all-Black meeting to sum up the Black liberation movement as opposed to a meeting of those with the most extensive experience and most of all those with the best grasp of Marxism-Leninism, including its application to this question, to sum up the Black liberation movement. In fact the spectre of Black nationalism was rising to such a degree that PRRWO, which also had Black members, had to ask in a subtle way, couldn’t Puerto Ricans attend such a meeting?
To keep this line from going so far as to cause a split between Blacks and Puerto Ricans, the banner of Black and Puerto Rican unity became a big rallying cry–with the bottom line that Puerto Ricans are really just like Blacks. They can “party,” “get down,” etc.–in a word, they are basic brothers and sisters. But in the end this Black and Puerto Rican unity would also deteriorate, showing itself as only a mere opportunist marriage of convenience.
Following BWC and PRRWO’s break with the RU and later with the CL, their unity soon broke up. The only basis for real and lasting unity among people of different nationalities is a correct ideological and political line representing the outlook and interests of the working class.
Towards the last days of the NLC some of the nationalism was nothing but a straight up, unrefined, mask torn off and coming out naked “my nationality first and only.” Chicanos were attacked outright by the RU representative who created a distinction between Chicanos and Mexican-Americans, claiming the former are part of the oppressor (white) nation, that they are descendants of the original holders of Spanish land grants in the Southwest, that given they are white (according to some bourgeois legal classifications) unlike the “dark-skinned Mexican-Americans,” they do not really suffer national oppression. Hawaiians were referred to by the RU representative as “pineapples,” Chinese Americans as nothing but petty bourgeois, and Japanese as white people.
While hardly anyone from BWC and PRRWO united with this blatant national chauvinism, the basic line of nationalism was united with by all. During this period and increasingly as BWC and PRRWO sank deeper into nationalism and dogmatism and the polemics between them and the RU sharpened, BWC and PRRWO members could be seen wearing red, black and green (the so-called “national colors” of Blacks) caps, scarves, buttons, etc. and some were even referring to the white masses as “honkies” and white communists as “white boys,” longing for the day when we get “our state” and be rid of these racists (more on this later).
The line of “Black Workers Take the Lead” was in essence a throwback, in more sophisticated form of course, to the position that said Black and other oppressed nationalities are the only real workers. The line of “Black Workers Take the Lead” as put forth by BWC had both a political as well as organizational content. Firstly, BWC and PRRWO seized on a correct aspect–that the Afro-American people’s struggle had been a “clarion call to all the exploited and oppressed people of the United States to fight against the barbarous rule of the monopoly capitalist class” (as powerfully stated by Mao Tsetung in 1968, emphasis added). Further the struggle of Black workers in particular had been a spark in the struggle of the industrial proletariat as a whole. But they seized on this correct aspect only to twist it into its opposite –combining two into one by confusing a struggle that had played an advanced role with the question of the conscious leadership of the working class and the masses generally.
The political aim of this erroneous line was first to proceed as if Black workers are automatically or spontaneously class conscious, as though Black workers are more advanced in their political consciousness than other oppressed nationality workers or white workers. This denies the correct understanding and method of leadership, as summarized by Mao in writing on the mass line: “The masses in any given place are generally composed of three parts, the relatively active, the intermediate and the relatively backward. The leaders must therefore be skilled in uniting the small number of active elements around the leadership and must rely on them to raise the level of the intermediate elements and to win over the backward elements” (“Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership,” Selected Works, Vol. 3, p. 118). But exactly because in the U.S. there is a single multinational proletariat the advanced section will not be simply workers of a given nationality but is made up of workers of all nationalities.
This brings us to the second point that was erroneous with “Black Workers Take the Lead”–it brings to the fore and emphasizes not the common cause of the proletarians of all nationalities, but instead places stress on the distinctions within the class by nationality. To be sure the com ion interest of proletarians of different nationalities includes the struggle against all national oppression–this was a point which, contrary to the demagogy of BWC and PRRWO at the time, the RU emphasized, but BWC and PRRWO were bent on raising the national divisions within the class to a principle.
Going hand and hand with “Black Workers Take the Lead” was the exaggeration of oppressor nation privileges, and running throughout this argument was just plain old nationalism, which had been posed against multinational unity in the ’60s.
This line was really no different than that pushed by the notorious bourgeois nationalist and anti-working class advocate James Boggs, who wrote, “Yet American radicals have sought to propagate the concept of ’Black and White, unite and fight’ as if black and white had a common issue and grievance, systematically evading the fact that every immigrant who walked off the gangplank into this country did so on the backs of indigenous blacks and had the opportunity to advance precisely because the indigenous blacks were being systematically deprived of the opportunity to advance by both capitalist and workers (meaning of course the white worker)” (from “Black Power–A Scientific Concept Whose Time Has Come,” Racism and the Class Struggle, p. 54, emphasis added).
But, as stressed before, in speaking of the privileges white workers have, it is a matter of dividing one into two. On the one hand there are privileges often held by members of the oppressor nation, i.e. to get promoted to a skilled job, a little better housing and schools, etc. On the other hand there is the common exploitation and oppression, the common interest with the workers of all nationalities. By far it is this latter aspect which is principal.
George Jackson pointed out that in many prisons the guards allow white prisoners to smoke in nonsmoking areas, while Black prisoners are treated more strictly. In this sense white prisoners enjoy petty privileges denied Black prisoners. But the fact is that all the prisoners are in prison and this is fundamental, while the guards and ultimately the prison officials let some of them have these petty concessions exactly because they are afraid of all the prisoners uniting in common struggle. Jackson pointed out that the correct demand was not that whites should be denied the right to smoke there, but that Blacks should have it, too.
It is also a fact that although national oppression hits the oppressed nationalities sharpest, and most directly, even in the short run there is no real gain for white workers. Take the matter of the banks’ redlining of neighborhoods: while many Blacks and people of other oppressed nationalities are forced to pay exorbitant prices for old housing, often buying through FHA just to get bad housing, and find themselves unable to pay FHA which forecloses, then the house is abandoned and the neighborhood deteriorates, which means the white workers there are forced to sell homes often at ridiculously low prices. The fundamental point to all this is the material basis of unity of workers of different nationalities exists exactly because of the exploitation and oppression common to all these workers, which is far greater and more fundamental than national divisions.
One last point with regard to BWC and PRRWO raising national distinctions above the common cause of workers of all nationalities is the erroneous view that white chauvinism is inherent in the white worker. This is clearly not the class view which points to the source chauvinism comes from and is promoted by at every turn–the ruling class.
On the other hand “Black Workers Take the Lead” is also incorrect for the Black liberation movement because to raise such a slogan is to proceed as if Black people in the U.S. made up a separate country, apart from the rest of the U.S. It is to talk about Black workers as though they are a separate working class apart from the multinational proletariat. Again the reality is that it will be the workers of all nationalities led by their vanguard Party that will take the lead in the fight against all oppression, of which national oppression is a critical part.
Even in struggles in which mainly Black people are involved, “Black Workers Take the Lead” can have a sectarian effect, where it is necessary to unite with other classes and strata. Proletarian leadership is not declared–it is won through carrying out consistent communist work guided by a correct line and winning people to that line in the course of repeated struggles.
“Black Workers Take the Lead” also had an organizational platform. It demanded a special role for Black Marxist-Leninists within the communist movement. It insisted that Black Marxist-Leninists must play the leading role–consistent with the general error of “Black Workers Take the Lead”; this says that Black communists are the chief instrument through which Black workers will play the leading role.
This line could only lead BWC and PRRWO away from Marxist-Leninist ideology, away from building the vanguard Party. Because this position emphasizes national distinctions above the common cause of the proletariat, it liquidates the leading role of Marxist-Leninist ideology and the need for a vanguard Party to represent the whole class. In the end it essentially means advocating separate vanguards for each nationality–whether that is presented in the form of actually separate parties or separate factions by nationality within one Party, with Blacks as the leading faction in principle.
This platform actively stands opposed to complete equality between nationalities and between communists and makes nationality, not ideological and political line, decisive. How was this concretely done? On the one hand by reducing the question of being in a multinational Party with no “guarantee” of ”third world leadership” to simply “taking orders from whites”–so the central issue becomes whether there is a white or Black chairman, etc.
The flip side of this coin, which was implied in so many words, was that the most effective way to fight white chauvinism, for the RU in particular, was to accept Black leadership. As whites had never been accustomed to taking orders from Blacks or having decisions made for them by Blacks, the roles must be reversed so as to confront white chauvinism straight up–so the bottom line went. This was the acid test for RU–to declare themselves once and for all against white chauvinism by accepting Black leadership as a principle. And while nobody dared to say it that openly or crudely, this was very much the question.
The real issue however is not nationality but a question first and foremost of ideological and political line. Raising nationality to the first place squarely avoids the matter of first importance–line.
This does not deny the correct understanding of the particular tasks of communists of the oppressed nationalities, practically and ideologically. There is a necessary division of labor among communists, particularly with regards to the fight against national oppression. White comrades have a special responsibility of combatting national chauvinism and winning support for the struggle of the oppressed nationalities among white workers and white people generally. Comrades of the oppressed nationalities have a particular role in the struggles of people of their own nationality, especially as it arises in the communities, against national oppression, and in combating bourgeois nationalism.
But, first of all, this division of labor can never be raised to a principle–communists of any nationality must always represent and strive to give leadership to the whole working class and the overall mass movement. In this regard the RU laid out most sharply the correct position–which was later developed further by the RCP–on how to merge the national and class struggle. It is worth quoting this at length here:
. . . We have to work at it ’from two sides.’ On the one side, we have to help unite the greatest numbers of the oppressed nationalities, in the fight against national oppression. We do not say to the oppressed nationalities, ’do not wage a fight against your oppression, wait for the working class to become fully conscious and take leadership of that struggle.’ This would only guarantee that the national movements would be under bourgeois leadership, and it would also hold back the development of class consciousness and class unity of the proletariat. As communists we must involve ourselves in every possible struggle against national oppression, work to direct it against the imperialist enemy, to unite it with other anti-imperialist movements and raise the class consciousness of the struggling masses. . . .
From the other side, we must work to develop the workers movement as a class conscious movement, into a political force that fights against all forms of oppression, recognizing especially the crucial importance of the fight against national oppression” (from “Build the Leading Role of the Working Class, Merge the National and Class Struggles–National Bulletin 13,” Red Papers 6, by the RU, p. 16, emphasis in original).
Another matter of debate was BWC and PRRWO’s insistence that an oppressed nationality Marxist-Leninist was both a Marxist-Leninist and a revolutionary nationalist–that an oppressed nationality Marxist-Leninist was both for his nationality first and above all as well as for his class first and above all.
BWC now ran, “Revolutionary nationalism of Black people and all oppressed peoples, is a reflection of the nationalism of the working masses. In the world today, this sort of nationalism doesn’t have to make any sort of ’leap’ to a higher form of ’consciousness, class consciousness,’ because the national aspirations of the oppressed Black masses are in themselves revolutionary, and the national question is a class question’” (from “Criticism of ’National Bulletin 13’ and the Right Line in the RU,” by the BWC, reprinted in Red Papers 6, p. 28, emphasis in original).
If what BWC was trying to get at was that communists are the most consistent fighters against national oppression, and that the working class in liberating itself will liberate all mankind, it was just a matter of a confused formulation, that perhaps could have been quite easily cleared up. But as the statement of BWC indicates, it was much more than mere confusion.
Revolutionary nationalism as put forth by BWC and PRRWO– equating it with Marxism-Leninism–was nothing but combining two into one–nationalism with Marxism-Leninism. On the one hand this watered down Marxism-Leninism with nationalism and from the other side could not lead to unity with progressive nationalists because it tries to have it both ways and so pleases nobody and provides no principled basis for unity over program combined with struggle over ideology. In essence it was adapting the internationalist policy of the proletariat to nationalism.
Nationalism, no matter how progressive or revolutionary, in the final analysis ends up saying my nationality first. On the other hand revolutionary nationalism does have a revolutionary aspect, namely the fight against the imperialist system. However revolutionary nationalism is itself a question of motion, and in the final analysis, again, either it must take a qualitative leap to the stand of the proletariat or go backward to bourgeois nationalism.
Revolutionary nationalism as put forth by BWC and PRRWO came down, on the bottom line, to safeguarding the interests of Black people and other oppressed people, from being victims of “white man’s socialism.” So something more than Marxism-Leninism was needed–a little bit of nationalism, hence revolutionary nationalism, the highest expression of communism for Black people and other oppressed people.
It is thought by some that the more nationalist one is the more consistently one fights against national oppression. But the fact of the matter is, because nationalism as an ideology is the ideology of the petty bourgeois and bourgeois class not the proletariat, it cannot guide you to wage any consistent battle against the source of all oppression of the masses, including national oppression–the bourgeoisie and the capitalist system.
The proletariat, exactly because of its objective position and role in society, is the most consistent fighter against all oppression, including national oppression. And in the world today it is only the ideology of the working class with its goal of socialism and communism that is toppling the old order in a thoroughgoing manner. As for nationalism, while in the world today and among the oppressed nationalities in the U.S. it has played a progressive role in spurring resistance to the imperialists, nationalism, even of the most progressive form, will waver and vacillate in the face of the enemy.
Only Marxism-Leninism, with its illumination of the ultimate goal of socialism and communism, the most radical rupture known to mankind, stands staunch.
When all was said and done BWC and PRRWO were stepping over a quarter (Marxism-Leninism) to pick up a nickel (revolutionary nationalism). And with revolutionary nationalism it is a matter of finally making a radical rupture. While people can advance and move forward more and more in a revolutionary direction, only by making the radical rupture with bourgeois ideology can they advance to Marxism-Leninism, the stand of the working class.
And the ideology of the working class cannot be reconciled with any other ideology. As Lenin pointed out,
Marxism cannot be reconciled with nationalism, be it even the ’most just,’ ’purest,’ most refined and civilized brand. In place of all forms of nationalism Marxism advances internationalism, the amalgamation of all nations in the higher unity” (“Critical Demands on the National Question,” Collected Works, Vol. 20, p. 34).
In the concrete struggle, however, Marxist-Leninists support revolutionary nationalism while opposing reactionary nationalism. Communists, while putting forward their independent line, Marxism-Leninism, the stand of the single proletariat and not the stand of any particular nationality, unite with the progressive aspect of revolutionary nationalism and lead it forward. However, if they fail to put forward an independent line, communists will not be able to move revolutionary nationalists forward and in fact communists will be dragged back to nationalism themselves as BWC and PRRWO took to doing.
On the other side of the coin BWC and PRRWO equated revolutionary nationalism with Marxism-Leninism. With the posture of representing the working class, they echoed the words of Huey Newton more than five years after him: “To be a revolutionary nationalist you must be of necessity a socialist.”
BWC and PRRWO even made a play on the words of Malcolm X, “If you love Black nationalism you love revolution [they inserted socialist revolution] and if you love revolution then you love Black nationalism” (Message to the Grassroots).
It is wrong to equate these as being one and the same, and this is all the more immediately harmful in the U.S. where we have a single stage proletarian revolution. Since it is true that one cannot remain revolutionary in the final analysis unless you become a Marxist-Leninist, and because proletarian revolution is necessary to eliminate the oppression of Black people, there is a strong objective basis for many revolutionary nationalists to become Marxist-Leninists. But, once again, that means making a qualitative leap to the stand of the working class.
By equating revolutionary nationalism with Marxism-Leninism in the practical work one ends up isolating communists from many honest members of the oppressed nationalities who genuinely stand for the liberation of their people but are not Marxist-Leninists or for socialism.
Through the course of patient work communists can unite with the progressive aspects of revolutionary nationalism and lead it forward, but a communist must never compromise the stand of his class first and above all, as say opposed to his people first and above all. When all is said and done this is the watershed between Marxism-Leninism and nationalism even of the most refined and progressive sort.
This ability to unite with revolutionary nationalists politically flows directly out of the fact that communists take the stand of their class which, as pointed out earlier, makes them the most consistent revolutionaries, the most consistent fighters against all oppression, including national oppression.
Sometimes it is raised that Marxism-Leninism, while good for analyzing the class struggle does not deal with “racism”–meaning the matter of national oppression. But quite the opposite is the truth–Marxism-Leninism provides the basis for analyzing every problem, but from the point of view of the working class, whose ideology is the only thoroughly scientific world view and whose interests lie in finally eliminating every form of exploitation and oppression.
Marxism-Leninism poses the most thorough solution to national oppression, placing the fight against it in a revolutionary context as opposed to the reformist illusion that the oppression of Black people can be solved within the framework of capitalism, such as the election of Black mayors, Black capitalism, etc., or petty bourgeois Utopian, escapist schemes such as back to Africa, “get your mind together,” cultural nationalism, etc.
The starting point for Marxist-Leninists regarding national oppression is the understanding that it is rooted in the productive relations of society, that it cannot be solved within the framework of capitalism but only with its overthrow. Since national oppression is a product of a system based on class exploitation it is only natural that the working class, which has the historic mission of wiping out all forms of exploitation, should be the most consistent fighter against national oppression in any shape or form.
What is really the issue, is not that Marxism-Leninism does not “deal with racism,” but the fact that different classes have their own conceptions of the national question, representing different class interests and therefore posing different solutions.
Communists, however, by putting forward their independent line, subordinating everything to proletarian revolution, socialism and ultimately communism, can in the practical struggle unite with nationalists to the degree they objectively oppose imperialism and fight against its oppression of people. This cannot be done by adapting socialism to nationalism as BWC and PRRWO took to doing. During this period BWC, for example, found itself unable to move revolutionary nationalists forward to Marx-ism-Leninism, and on the other hand could not unite with them in the practical struggle because BWC wound up bickering with them over who were the real genuine nationalists–with these nationalists attacking BWC for being sham nationalists.
This came out most sharply at the time of the Black Liberation Conference organized by BWC and PRRWO on February 4, 1974, which had initially been planned to discuss the way ahead for the Black liberation movement and possibly to build some kind of mass organization.
Instead the conference became a platform for BWC and PRRWO to put forth in particular the dogmatist line on Party building, which they had then taken up–one-sidedly stressing study of Marxism-Leninism to the complete negation of practice–and in general a nationalist, Bundist line.
Members of the Republic of New Africa (RNA) at the conference attacked BWC and PRRWO for prostituting the concept of “nation time” (meaning their general attempt to pose as nationalists). RNA stated “nation time” speaks to the very special kind of nationalism that is most emphatically nationalist first, as it is based on an earnest need for a land base.
They went on to say, “We understand from past statements of the sponsoring organization, that the workers (Black, White, Yellow, etc.) will lead the struggle in Babylon. An ideology of nation time speaks to Black people leading the struggle for nation time. It does not isolate vague categories of Black people basically because we realize that almost all Blacks in this country are ex-slaves, i.e. workers” (emphasis ours).
In the course of the workshops on national liberation at this conference, BWC and PRRWO’s dilemma came out most sharply when the RNA demanded from BWC and PRRWO–do you or don’t you support our programme of building the Black nation on a separate land base? BWC and PRRWO really couldn’t answer.
Their combining nationalism with socialism made it impossible to put forth a Marxist-Leninist line–that is, on the one hand explaining the need to move forward to socialism and communism, and at the same time stressing the need to unite all who can be united against the imperialist ruling class. On the question of a separate Black state, that would have meant pointing out the need to support the right of self-determination but saying straight up that under present and foreseeable conditions we don’t advocate separation–a role especially important for Black communists. At the same time, while being consistent in this position, it would have been correct to point out to people who hold the RNA position that even the realistic possibility of separation requires the overthrow of imperialism. But BWC and PRRWO could not do this because they were attempting to combine and reconcile nationalism and Marxism.
Another important aspect of promoting revolutionary nationalism as the ideology of Black communists was to equate the Black liberation struggle in the U.S. with that of a semi-colonial or colonial country–claiming that revolutionary nationalism is applied internationalism. This was supposedly a takeoff on Mao’s statement about China during the War of Resistance against Japan, “Can a communist, who is an internationalist, at the same time be a patriot? We hold that he is, not only can be but must be ... in wars of national liberation patriotism is applied internationalism.”
The fact of the matter is that the Black nation in the U.S. is not a colony nor will the struggle for Black people’s emancipation take the form of a war of national liberation. When Mao wrote The Role of the Chinese Communist Party in the National War, the situation in China was one where it was necessary first to achieve national liberation–liberate the country from the domination of imperialism and its feudal and bourgeois accomplices–and then proceed to the stage of socialist revolution. The struggle between the Chinese proletariat and the Chinese bourgeoisie, between the socialist road and the capitalist road, could only come to the fore after this anti-imperialist, anti-feudal new democratic revolution had been completed.
As Mao pointed out during this first period and within that the War of Resistance against Japanese imperialism in particular, everything must be subordinated to the interests of resistance. This meant that the class struggle itself must be subordinated to the national liberation struggle at that point. Mao summed this up: “We do not deny the class struggle, we adjust it.”
This is not the case for the Black liberation struggle in the U.S., that it must first achieve national liberation before the question of the proletariat vs. the bourgeoisie can come to the fore. In fact, the most basic and the most important class struggle Black workers are involved in is not the struggle against the Black bourgeoisie for leadership of the Black liberation struggle, but the struggle, together with other workers of all nationalities, against the imperialist ruling class in this country. It is only through the overthrow of the U.S. bourgeoisie by the proletariat–the whole working class of the U.S.–that the Black masses can win liberation.
It is not a matter of subordinating class struggle to the national struggle but of developing the struggle against national oppression as part of the overall class struggle.
This leads us to BWC and PRRWO’s mad dash into dogmatism.
Unable to get over with raggedy nationalist lines in the crude form described, BWC and PRRWO had to find a more sophisticated cover for nationalism. So the next step was to resurrect the 1928 and 1930 resolution of the Communist International on the Negro national question, clinging to this most religiously, attempting to pose the reality of some 50 years ago as today’s reality, under the guise of upholding Marxism-Leninism.
The general description of the Comintern resolution was correct in those times–that the Black masses “live in compact masses in the South, most of them being peasants and agricultural laborers in a state of semi-serfdom [referring here to the system of share-cropping] settled in the ’Black Belt’ and constituting the majority of the population, whereas the Negroes in the Northern states are for the most part industrial workers of the lowest categories who have recently come to the various industrial centers from the South (having often fled from there).”
Further the Comintern pointed out that 86 per cent of all Black people lived in the South and ”74 per cent live in the rural districts and are dependent almost exclusively upon agriculture for a livelihood.”
In this light it explicitly pointed why self-determination–i.e., the right to political secession–was the highest expression of the Black liberation struggle at that time: “Owing to the peculiar situation in the Black Belt (the fact that the majority of resident Negro population are farmers and agricultural laborers and that the capitalist economic as well as political class rule there is not only a special kind, but to a great extent still has pre-capitalist and semi-colonial features), the right of self-determination of the Negroes as the main slogan of the Communist Party in the Black Belt is appropriate.”
It was estimated also that it would be possible, through revolutionary struggle, for Black people in the Black Belt area of the South to break away from imperialist rule in that region and establish a Black Republic even before the overthrow of the imperialist ruling class throughout the country.
The essence of all this is “Today (1930) this landed property in the hands of white American exploiters constitutes the most important material basis of the entire system of national oppression and serfdom of Negroes in the Black Belt . . . These are the main forms of present Negro slavery in the Black Belt and no breaking of the chains of this slavery is possible without confiscating all the landed property of the white masters. Without this revolutionary measure, without agrarian revolution, the right of self-determination of the Negro population would be only a utopia . . . .” (1930 Resolution)
While as stated before this position was essentially correct at that time, it is no longer essentially correct today. BWC and PRRWO used the 1928 and ’30 resolution as a cover to promote their bourgeois nationalism and separatism.
In turning the wheel of history backward some 40 years, BWC and PRRWO were reducing the essential thrust of the Black liberation struggle today to agrarian revolution–land to the tiller (40 acres and a mule, or 400 acres and a tractor). They saw proletarian revolution as a means to achieve self-determination–the highest goal of Black people in BWC and PRRWO’s view.
Proletarian revolution was kind of a necessary evil. Since Black people couldn’t make revolution in the U.S. alone, they needed the struggle of the proletariat to achieve self-determination. This position, of course, may be quite natural and understandable for a revolutionary nationalist, but for a Marxist-Leninist it is unforgivable. But this shows what really was guiding BWC and PRRWO.
And while claiming to uphold the Black liberation struggle this position really cuts the real revolutionary thrust out of the Black liberation movement as essentially a proletarian question today. In fact, the stand of representing the proletariat in its historic struggle to achieve socialism and ultimately communism and liberate all mankind was essentially out of the picture.
As BWC and PRRWO moved more into dogmatism, the debate centered directly around the question of the essential thrust of the Black liberation struggle today; interconnected with this was the question of the present material basis of the national oppression of Black people and the Marxist-Leninist approach to the matter of self-determination in multinational states.
The issues of debate were not, as BWC and PRRWO claimed, to uphold the right of self-determination or not to uphold it. Rather it was to take the stand of the proletariat on the Black national question or a bourgeois nationalist view, placing the national question above the class question, advocating separation, fragmentation and the formation of smaller states.
Firstly the RU had always upheld the right of self-determination going all the way back to the publication of Red Papers 2 written in 1969–although at that time its understanding of the question was still primitive and tended to downplay the fact that the historical homeland of Black people in the U.S. was the Black Belt. Still the RU was correct all along in insisting that secession in the Black Belt is not at the heart of the Black liberation struggle today.
In Red Papers 5 the RU’s stand was laid out most clearly, indicating that the Black Belt was the historic homeland of Black people and the area where a separate state would have to be set up, if that were a necessary step.
BWC and PRRWO, after first uniting with the RU position, then reversed themselves and fell back on the dogma that the essential thrust of the Black people’s struggle is an agrarian revolution, “land to the tiller,” and that it is liberating the Black Belt South area.
The RU insisted that significant changes had taken place since 1930–such as the fact that the average Black person is not a sharecropper in the rural South but an industrial worker concentrated in the urban areas both North and South.
Further, the RU pointed out that today the majority of Blacks have been dispersed from their historic homeland through a combination of economic compulsion and terrorism of the state and “private” fascist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. The fact of the matter is that the white population presently outnumbers Black people in the Black Belt.
The reconstitution of large numbers of Black people in the Black Belt in order to exercise self-determination, which is what would be involved, could only be done after proletarian revolution throughout the whole country (unless one would consider the ruling class making a “South African solution,” forcing Black people into some kind of “Bantustans” in the Black Belt).
The RU did not advocate separatism under the present and foreseeable condition nor the reconstitution of Black people in the Black Belt to wage a war of national liberation.
The RU also drew a clear distinction between the historical and the present day material basis of the oppression of Black people. The oppression of Black people is due in part of course to the whole history of slavery, followed by the period of semi-feudal exploitation as sharecroppers.
But the present material basis is essentially the super-exploitation of Black people as wage workers in industry and capitalist agriculture. This is re-enforced in the superstructure. It is reflected in the political, economic and social oppression which affects all classes of Black people. But in the face of all the evidence and analysis presented, which they could not refute, BWC and PRRWO continued to insist that the present material basis was still semi-feudal survivals.
It is necessary to stress several points regarding this matter of self-determination. First, there is a difference between upholding the right of self-determination and being in favor of the actual exercising of the right. Here again BWC combined two into one.
As Lenin pointed out, “The social democrats [communists] will always combat every attempt to influence national self-determination from without by violence and injustice. However, our unreserved recognition of the freedom of self-determination does not in any way commit us to supporting every demand for self-determination” (“National Question and Our Programme,” Collected Works, Vol. 6, p. 452).
Lenin goes on to point out what this actually means, “After all recognizing the right of all citizens to form free association does not at all commit us ... to supporting the formation of any new association; nor does it prevent us from opposing and campaigning against the formation of a given association as an inexpedient and unwise step. We even recognize the right of the Jesuits to carry on agitation freely but, we fight (not by police methods of course) against an alliance between the Jesuits and the proletarians” (ibid., p. 453).
In a word, the proletarian stand on self-determination is not the same as the bourgeois nationalist demand for separation. For bourgeois nationalists the national question is an isolated and self-contained question or as BWC put it, self-determination is an “absolute right.” For Marxist-Leninists, however, the national question is part of a bigger question–proletarian revolution–and is in that sense subordinated to the interest of the working class to achieve and exercise its overall dictatorship and advance to communism as the ultimate goal.
In a multinational state where there is the direct possibility of a single proletarian revolution throughout the entire state, the right of self-determination is a negative demand. That is, while communists uphold the right of self-determination because it is a genuine right, it is not because communists want to see a separate state created but to create the condition for proletarian unity against the bourgeoisie.
The dialectics of the situation are that by upholding the right of self-determination for Black people the basis of voluntary union of proletarians of all nationalities as well as opposing the forcible oppression of the Black nation by the imperialist ruling class.
Further, under the conditions of all other things being equal-meaning of course the equality of nations, the right of self-determination being a key aspect of equality between nations–the needs of the Black masses would be better met in a larger single socialist state, for it allows for the fuller development of the productive forces and of the struggle against the bourgeoisie. As Lenin has pointed out, “Other conditions being equal, the class-conscious proletariat will always stand for a larger state.” (For more on this see the article, “Living Socialism and Dead Dogmatism,” in The Communist, Vol. 1, No. 2, May 1, 1977.)
The attempt by BWC and PRRWO to cling to an essentially correct but now outdated analysis of the past could only lead in one direction–“cutting the toes to fit the shoes” (as Mao put it) and into distortions and demagogy of the highest order–to completely depart from Marxism-Leninism and therefore from the real interests and struggles of the masses of Black people and the whole working class.
This dogmatist and nationalist line led BWC dead into the arms of one of the most notorious anti-communist outfits posing as Marxist-Leninists to discredit Marxism-Leninism–the Communist League, which for many years was a chief representative of dogmatism and sectarianism which existed within the U.S. communist forces at that time.
In late 1974 CL changed its name to Communist Labor Party (CLP) and became more openly rightist. However, in the time from its inception in 1968 to its name change in ’74, it held a consistent and consolidated line that party building must in principle be separated from the mass movement. And while it was formed at a time marked by the high tide of the Black liberation movement, CL stood aloof. This was not only because of its erroneous line on party building but because the actual character of the Black people’s struggle does not conform to CL’s line: that the heart of the so-called “Negro National Colonial question” lies in the fight of the white and Black members of the “Negro Nation” in the Black Belt South for independence. CL also held the infamous line that the basic industrial proletariat was the social base for fascism in this country.
In 1974 BWC and PRRWO joined with CL, in its National Continuations Committee, a supposed organizing committee to build a new party. In reality it was only CL and a very few forces directly under its wing and for a time BWC and PRRWO.
However as CL’s founding party congress moved nearer and nearer, its line got so ridiculous, particularly at the point when CL began stating openly that capitalism had not been fully restored in the Soviet Union, that BWC’s leadership, fearing its own political Watergate, quickly turned around and drew up a full polemic touching on all major questions, denouncing CL as thoroughgoing revisionists.
This move to attack CL and leave its National Continuations Committee–which some BWC leaders had called the road of Lenin and Stalin to the party today–was propelled not by Marxist-Leninist conviction, but by the fact CL would give BWC and PRRWO no special place within its party.
Further the BWC leadership in particular felt that for their own personal interests more might be gained by cutting CL loose and charting an independent course. BWC then declared it had led the fight to expose CL’s line. As BWC had got wind that CL’s latest move to run its line on the Soviet Union would be bad publicity, BWC quickly ran to write a 123 page polemic against CL. A member of PRRWO happened to be in Detroit before BWC had a meeting with CL, and this PRRWO leader quickly summed up that affiliation with CL was bad for business and joined in with BWC in denouncing CL.
However, after the CL episode, BWC’s only self-criticism was that it had not investigated more of CL’s line than its position on party building. BWC still said that CL still deserved credit for raising the question of party building.
In understanding the road that BWC and PRRWO followed, taking refuge in nationalism, it is critical to understand that nationalism rooted in dogmatism was a kind of a perverse and backward negation of a negation for these groups.
As noted before, during the early period of the contemporary revolutionary movement there was the line that treated the struggle of the oppressed nationalities in the U.S. as similar to that of a colonial country. This line held that the oppressed nationalities would make revolution by themselves or with a few petty bourgeois white supporters, i.e., John Brown. “Black Communists Are Revolutionary Nationalists” was another attempt at such analysis in a bit more sophisticated way. The dogmatist line summarized earlier (insisting on upholding the Comintern Resolutions of 1928 and ’30) was an attempt to superimpose the situation of a colony, as in Africa, Asia and Latin America, onto the U.S. situation, using a still more sophisticated line.
Further as BWC and PRRWO first came to Marxism it was off the high tide of the struggle of the mass movement, especially of the oppressed nationalities, and they fancied themselves as the ones who could get out there and do it–really build the people’s struggles. Their attitude toward groups like the RU was that they were a bunch of “white boys” who had read theory–and some of it was pretty good–but “they don’t and can’t link up with the people’s struggle like we can.”
Later in the turn to dogmatism what arose was nothing but the bourgeois line of Booker T. Washington in a Marxist-Leninist guise: the way to get ahead is to get an education and show them we are more educated–know more theory in this case–than they are (twice as good) and until we get this education we’ll always be led around by the white folks.
While the study of theory in its own right is of utmost importance, it cannot be approached from this kind of bourgeois outlook if any good is to come out of it. Nor can the study of theory be approached one-sidedly–completely divorced from the question of how to apply it to actual mass struggle.
This bourgeois (nationalist) line goes hand and hand with the line that when the CP went revisionist it simply sold out the Black people’s struggle–and even that the reason it went revisionist is that it sold out Black people. The fact of the matter is that the betrayal by the CPUSA meant the all-around betrayal of the working class and the American people’s struggle generally, including, as an important part, the Black people’s struggle.
A word must be said here regarding the role of the October League (OL)–now Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist)–in this major struggle which represented a major watershed break with bourgeois ideology and a significant advance in basing the struggle on the stand of the proletariat and no other class. Rather than go against the tide of bourgeois nationalism, OL outdid BWC and PRRWO in tailing after bourgeois nationalism ideologically and tailing bourgeois nationalists and reformists among Black people, like Hosea Williams and Maynard Jackson in Atlanta, Jesse Jackson and others around the country. OL sucked up to a whole array of nationalist forces, even some who left BWC because they feared it was going multinational. Virtually every nationalist slander that came out against RU found its way into the pages of the Call–the OL’s main organ for rumor mongering. And BWC, while supposedly criticizing RU “rightism,” had a kind word or comradely criticism for the then unabashedly rightist OL.
Instead of dealing with the decisive questions of ideological and political line raised in the struggle between the RU and BWC/PRRWO, OL joined with BWC and PRRWO in reducing these important questions of line to a matter of bourgeois psychology-guilt, blame, etc. which lets the ruling class dead off the hook and sets the proletariat off the track.
As the RU pointed out at the time, the issues that were being debated were certainly not who is more “messed up,” the communists of the oppressed nationalities or the white communists, as BWC and PRRWO, with OL chiming in, tried to pose the matter.
The question was one of ideological and political line. And it was no accident that the OL would line up where it did. For the OL leadership had itself resurrected the “Black Belt Is Key” line in recent years (and had through flips from “left” to openly rightist lines rigidly held to party building as the central task all along).
Earlier in Students for a Democratic Society and right after it split in 1969, it was some of these same OL leaders who tried to forge the “leading” Marxist-Leninist circle by linking up with forces putting forward the strategy of “white skin privilege,” in something called the Revolutionary Youth Movement-2 (RYM2).
At each point the role of those who head the OL (CP-ML) has been to unite all who can be united against whatever represents the road forward.
So much for OL-CP (ML). Back to BWC and PRRWO. Because these groups never scientifically summed up the line that led them to link up with CL in the first place, they continued in their dogmatism and nationalism, taking on the worst Trotskyite features, turning inward, splitting and dividing and further dividing, while many honest rank and file members of BWC and PRRWO got demoralized and took a “rain check” on trying to make revolution.
On the other hand, one of the groups which emerged out of the splits within the BWC, the Revolutionary Workers Congress, did, on the basis of taking part in mass struggle and applying Marxism-Leninism to sum up previous experience, begin to get back on the right track. In particular, over the last year, it played an important role in the African Liberation Support Committee (ALSC). Recently many members of the RWC came to see more clearly the essence of the errors that shipwrecked the BWC and to recognize that while there was the problem of knowledge and ignorance back then, the main problem was the consolidation of an opportunist line on BWC and PRRWO’s part, in opposition to the proletarian line which was put forth by the RU.
On this basis the RU went on to play the major role in the formation of the Revolutionary Communist Party, the Party of the U.S. working class, armed with a correct line.
The struggle between the BWC and PRRWO on the one hand and RU on the other was in fact a struggle between Marxism and incorrect lines rooted in nationalism; it was a struggle over burning questions of the class struggle, matters which had to be resolved on the basis of Marxism-Leninism, in order to build on the advances that had been made and make a leap forward. This struggle and its outcome demonstrate once again the truth that ideological and political line determines everything.
The line of BWC and PRRWO which was rooted in nationalism could only lead to degeneration. On the other hand, the Revolutionary Communist Party, in whose formation the RU played the major part in 1975, has continued to advance, bearing out the correctness of its line.
In closing, one argument that sometimes comes up is that yes, BWC and PRRWO fell into nationalism but it was caused by RU’s “white chauvinism.” This is bourgeois logic pure and simple, not Marxist dialectics, and liquidates the all important question of ideology.
The heart of the matter is that bourgeois nationalism, chauvinism, etc. are deviations in the direction of bourgeois ideology– none of them is proletarian ideology and there is no basis for opposing one form of bourgeois ideology with another; bourgeois ideology can only be opposed with proletarian ideology. And, most fundamentally, the fact is that the RU’s line was not “chauvinism” but proletarian internationalism–it was the bourgeois nationalism of BWC and PRRWO (and others) that led these groups to brand this internationalism ”chauvinism.” This, as has been said, was clearly shown in the direction that was taken by BWC and PRRWO on the one hand and the RU (and the RCP) on the other.
For many of us, it is clear how this struggle contributed to the development of a true vanguard of the working class, the Revolutionary Communist Party. And this understanding will help contribute to the continuing task of building the Party, in close connection with carrying out what is stated in the Party Programme on its central task: “The central task of the Revolutionary Communist Party today, as the Party of the U.S. working class, is to build the struggle, class consciousness and revolutionary unity of the working class and develop its leadership of a broad united front against the U.S. imperialists, in the context of the worldwide united front against imperialism aimed at the rulers of the two superpowers. As this is developed, together with the development of a revolutionary situation, the question of mobilizing the masses for the armed insurrection will then come to the fore as the immediate question.”