Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Carl Davidson

In Defense of the Right to Self-Determination


What is the objective situation of the Afro-American people today in the Deep South and in the rest of the U.S.?

What important changes have taken place in recent decades and what political significance do they have?

There were nearly 23 million Black people living in the U.S. in 1970, or about 12% of the total population. A little more than half of these, or about 12 million, live in the South.

This was not always the case. In the past up to 90% of Black people lived in the South. And ever, today, 70% of Black people now living were born in the South.

There are two main points implied even in these few figures. The first is that the homeland of the majority of Afro-Americans, both historically and for those now living, is in the South. The second is that there is a general trend of out-migration from that homeland, although there have been periodic reversals, including the past five years.

This is not the only change. Less than 60 years ago, some 75% of Black people lived in rural areas and the majority of these worked on the land. In 1970, some 75% of Black people lived in metropolitan areas (more than half in central cities) and the majority of these worked in factories and service industries.

Thus since the time the Black nation was born in the late 1800s, three great changes have affected a majority of the Afro-American people. Most no longer live in the Black Belt, but in other parts of the South or in the rest of the country. Most no longer live in rural areas and small towns, but in urban areas. And most are no longer peasants or farm workers, but proletarians.

To put it another way: At the time of the October Revolution in 1917, most Afro-Americans were peasants–allies of the U.S. working class living in an oppressed nation–while a minority of Blacks were part of the U.S. working class living in national minority communities outside the Deep South.

Today the situation is exactly reversed. What has changed has been the specific weight of the various classes among the Afro-American people and the expansion of their contact with the U.S. working class as a whole.

The political significance of the change is twofold and readily apparent. First, it favorably increases the objective potential for the Black workers to play a leading role within the Black liberation struggle. Second, it strengthens the objective basis for the alliance between the U.S. working-class movement and the Afro-American people’s movement.

In this regard, the recent six-part series in the Guardian tries to determine what is the “class position” and what is the “class character of the Afro-American people .”Depending on the historical period, it says, the “class character” of the Afro-American people has been slave, peasant or worker.

The problem with this is that the question is posed erroneously. A people is always comprised of various classes. What changes is the predominance or specific weight of one or several classes within it, according to political and economic developments. Thus it is correct to ask what is the predominant class among a people, but not what is the class character of a people.


This may seem to be a subtle point. Its significance, however, is that the erroneous formulation tends to liquidate the national aspect of the oppressed people’s struggle and their importance as an ally of the oppressor nation’s proletariat, even if, in a given period, they in their majority are not proletarians.

While the Afro-American people have doubtlessly undergone the important changes just indicated, none of these have “dissolved” the Black nation in the South or eliminated certain key features of it. In fact it is not the “dogmatists” who uphold the right of self-determination there who are blind to contemporary reality. Just the opposite is the case, since they are the ones who take into account the actual particularities of the region.

What are some of the features of the Black Belt today? First, it is the main area of Black concentration in the country that has been going through a relative decline rather than advance in Black population. Actually, the trend is not recent, but has been persistent since the era of Reconstruction, as the following figures indicate: book, “Negro Liberation.” The 1970 figure was arrived at by totaling the data for all counties in the Deep South with a Black population higher than 30%. It should also be noted that many Black organizations believe the Census figures, especially for the South, to be inaccurate. Blacks, they charge, are systematically undercounted by as much as 20%. Thus the statistics are generally useful in determining general trends over time, rather than as an accurate count at any particular time.

Second, these are figures for more than 350 counties that cover a relatively contiguous area of at least 30% Black population, including 102 counties that are 50-80% Black. By way of comparison, in 1970 there were only seven counties outside the South with a Black population of more than 20%, and in the vast majority of the U.S., Black people comprise roughly 5% of the population.

A number of points are immediately clear from the above table. The first is the relative decline of the Black population in relation to whites in the Black Belt. Nearly 100 years ago, there were six Blacks for every four whites. Now there are four Blacks for every six whites, or just the reverse. This is one of the main reasons usually given to prove that Black people have been “dispersed” out of the Black Belt and thus “dissolved” as a nation concentrated there.


But this is one-sided and wrong. A look at the figures under the heading “Black Population” tells another side to the story. The fact here is that the absolute number of Black people living in the Black Belt area has remained relatively constant since 1900.

What both sets of figures indicate should be apparent. They show that the Black nation is an oppressed nation, a nation whose growth has been thwarted and curbed by the laws typical of imperialist superexploitation. Thus a point made by Haywood on this same matter in 1948 is still valid today:

If, therefore, we confine ourselves to the facts rather than to wishful thinking, the feature that stands out is not the breaking up of the Negro concentration in the Black Belt, but its stubborn persistence.

The growth of the Black national minority communities outside the Deep South are likewise the features typical of the existence of an oppressed nation and the tendency among its people to be compelled to migrate to the metropolitan centers of its oppressor nation. As Lenin put it:

There is not doubt that in the early stages of capitalism nations became welded together. But there is also no doubt that in the higher stages of capitalism a process of dispersion of nations sets in, a process whereby whole groups separate off from nations and go off in search of a livelihood, subsequently settling finally in other regions of the state, in the course of which these settlers lose their old contacts, acquire new contacts in their new domiciles, from generation to generation acquire new habits and new tastes, and possibly a new language . . .

Lenin describes here the process of the formation of a national minority as a tendency of groups that “separate off from nations.” He does not say, however, that the nation itself is transformed into a national minority and thus without the right of self-determination. In fact he says just the opposite. Precisely because of this “forced assimilation” (He gives the example of Great Russians in the Ukraine) it is all the more important to uphold the right of self-determination.