Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The October League (M-L)

The Struggle for Black Liberation and Socialist Revolution

Resolution of the Third National Congress of the October League (Marxist-Leninist)

1. A Nation Is Forged From Slave Chains

In the U.S. today, the national question stands at the center of the revolutionary struggle against the imperialist ruling class. This country is a “prison house of nations” and within its borders live many oppressed nations and nationalities. The reactionary policies of imperialism within its own home borders can most clearly be seen with its vicious treatment of its 50 million minority peoples.

Of special significance are over 25 million Black people. While slavery was formally abolished more than a hundred years ago, the Afro-American people still suffer under the yoke of severe national oppression.

Never sharing the fruits of capitalism, Black people still face national oppression and racial discrimination by the ruling class that has both kept alive the backward plantation system and extended its Jim Crow segregationist policies into the industrial centers of the North and West.


”The evil system of colonialism and imperialism arose and throve with the enslavement of Negroes and the trade in Negroes,” said Mao Tsetung.[1] The barbaric slave trade, which resulted in the death of millions, was one of the most important foundations for capitalist development in the U.S. and England. It enabled the ruling class to accumulate enormous sums of capital, and force its way into the mainstream of world capitalism. Slaves, whose cost in Africa was $50, were sold in the Americas for over $400 and each voyage usually yielded from 100%-1000% profits. As Marx wrote:

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of Black-skins, signalized the rosy dawn of capitalist production.[2]

From the very first days of slave-hunts and capture of native Africans, the system of slavery was marked by the most resolute resistance from its victims. Africans refused to board slave ships, mutinied on the high seas and a number of slave mothers took their own lives to prevent the enslavement of future generations.

Stripped of their rights under the weight of the planter’s lash, African slaves labored from before sun-up to long after dark. In the Deep South, a young male slave, once entering full-time field work, had a life expectancy of a mere nine years. Children were sold from mothers, husbands from wives. The rape of slave women, a Mississippi court ruled, was an offense unknown to common or civil law. Slaves were forbidden to leave the plantation without passes nor could they blow horns, beat drums, or learn to read or write. Oftentimes, slave patrols roamed the backwoods to insure that every slave was in his “proper” place.

Despite and because of all this, Black slaves continually dared to risk their lives for freedom and southern slave states were in a constant state of upheaval. Numerous work stoppages, often embracing an entire plantation’s workforce, are recorded. Thousands of slaves, aided by militant Black freedmen and white abolitionists, found freedom in flight on the “underground railroad,” based on an intricate system of “stations.” One of the most famous “conductors” on the underground railroad was Harriet Tubman, born a slave in Maryland. She escaped to freedom but guided nearly 300 slaves to freedom on repeated journeys from the South to the North. Sometimes runaway slaves would retreat into mountains or swamps, harbored by friendly Indians. Ex-slaves became members of Indian tribes. Others hid out in “maroon colonies,” continually harassing the plantation owners with raids.

Constant watch by overseers and slave patrols could not put a halt to rebellion, as over 250 recorded slave revolts rocked the slave states-the first of these occurring in South Carolina 94 years before the Mayflower landed. Many times these conspiracies were based on elaborate and well thought out plans, such as Denmark Vessey’s planned siege which embraced nearly 100,000 recruits of Charleston, South Carolina. The revolts of Gabriel Prosser (1806) and Nat Turner, in particular, sent shock waves through the “big houses” throughout the South. So scared were the slaveholders by Turner’s Virginia Rebellion in 1831 that most never slept without a pistol under their pillows.

His plans betrayed, Prosser and his men were found, arrested and hanged. Before his death, in a stirring speech, Prosser expressed the hatred which the slaves held for the slaveholders and chattel bondage: “I have adventured my life in endeavoring to obtain liberty of my countrymen, and am willing to sacrifice to their cause; and I beg, as a favor, that I may be immediately led to execution. I know that you have pre-determined to shed my blood; why then all this mockery of a trial?”[3]

Thousands of leading speakers and writers emerged during the struggle for emancipation of the over 4 million slaves. Slavocracy over and over again jailed, whipped, and hung those who rebelled. Again and again new leaders arose to take the place of those fallen. Some of the most eloquent speeches and messages were delivered from those leaders–some slave, some freed.

Henry H. Garnet, a slave who escaped to his freedom in New York, recounted the horrors of the slave system and called for liberation in his “Address to the Slaves of the United States” in 1843. “And forget not that you are native born American citizens and as such, you are justly entitled to all the rights that are granted to the freest. Think how many tears you have poured out upon the soil which you have cultivated with unrequited toil and enriched with your blood. ..” He concluded, “If you must bleed, let it all come at once–rather die freemen, than live to be slaves.”[4]

The appearance of “Walker’s Appeal” in 1829 had a tremendous impact, not only on the abolitionist movement but on slaves in the South as well. Written by David Walker, the “Appeal” openly advocated armed revolt of the slaves. “Let twelve good Black men get armed for battle and they will kill and put to flight fifty whites. . .Had you rather not be killed than be a slave to a tyrant who takes the life of your wife and children?”[5] Walker sent bundles of his “Appeal” into the South. Frightful of the effect of the “Appeal” several states passed even more harsh laws against the slaves.

The man who is perhaps the most well-known Black spokesman of this period, Frederick Douglass, increasingly became the most important political figure in the abolitionist movement in the North. Escaping slavery in Maryland in 1838, and becoming a wage worker, he rapidly gained prominence by speaking across the nation exposing slavery and arousing the masses against it. During a split in the abolitionist movement, Douglass quickly took the stand of more direct political action and endorsed the use of armed force by the slaves themselves. Realizing the road to emancipation, Douglass stated: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, yet depricate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.. . Power concedes to nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”[6]

It was during the centuries of slavery that the Afro-American people began the development of their national characteristics. Through common experience, born in centuries of slavery and resistance, the Afro-Americans were drawn together as a nation of people. They had become distinct from their ancestors-stolen from different areas of Africa and speaking different languages. At the same time, they were also distinct from the dominant mainly white U.S. nation. In understanding this phenomenon, we note how J.V. Stalin, the Bolshevik leader, in analysing the rise and development of “modern nations,” makes the following observations:

Of course the elements of nationhood–language, territory, common culture, etc.-didn’t fall from skies, but were being formed gradually, even in the pre-capitalist period.[7]

The evidence of the growing national consciousness of Black people, concentrated in their great majority in the backward areas of the slave South, in pre-Civil War period, can be found in the resolutions and statements of the mass meetings and conventions they held. Although many such meetings were held prior to the Annual National Negro Conventions (as early as the mid-17th century), these conventions, formally beginning in 1830, represented a leap in the development of the Afro-American people. The discussions and decisions were clearly national in character, and the delegates represented the aspirations of the Afro-American people in a well-organized manner.

One participant in this early convention movement offers an excellent analysis of the character of the oppression of Afro-American people during this period:

The injury sustained by the colored people, is both national and personal; indeed, it is national in a twofold sense. In the first place, they are lineally stolen from their native country, and detained for centuries, in a strange land as hewers of wood and drawers of water. In this situation, their blood habits, minds and bodies have undergone such a change, as to cause them to lose all legal or natural relations to the mother country. They are no longer her children; therefore they sustain the great injury of losing their country, their birthright and are made aliens and illegitimates. Again, they sustain the great injury by being adopted subjects and citizens, and then denied their citizenship, and the benefits derivable therefrom–accounted as aliens and outcasts, hence, are identified as belonging to no country–denied birthright in one, and had it stolen from them in another–and, I had like to have said, they had lost title to both worlds; for certainly they are denied all title in this and almost all advantages to prepare for the next. In light of this subject, they belong to no people, race or nation; subjects of no government–citizens of no country–scattered remnants of two races and of two different nations–severed into individuality–rendered a mass of broken fragments, thrown to and fro, by the boisterous passions of this and other ungodly nations. Such, in part, are the national injuries sustained by this miserable people.[8]

The national development of the Afro-American people during this period can also be seen in the maturing of a separate Black culture. The music, Song, dance, drama, paintings, and literature of the Afro-American people can be traced to its origins among the Black people in the 17th and 18th centuries. The common language, object of much scorn today, “Black English,” as it is now referred to, developed from the various dialects, etc., to be found among the Black people of this period. The pre-Civil War period also saw the development of a Black press, one of the earliest regular newspapers being the “North Star,” initiated in 1847 and edited by Frederick Douglass. An early editorial explains the tasks of the paper:

While it shall boldly advocate emancipation for our enslaved bretheren, it will omit no opportunity to gain for the nominally free complete enfranchisement.

Remember that we are one, that our cause is one, and that we must help each other, if we would succeed. We have drank the dregs of the bitter cup of slavery; we have worn the heavy yoke; we have sighed beneath our bonds, and writhed beneath the bloody lash;–cruel memories of our oneness are indelibly marked on our living flesh. We are one with you under the ban of prejudice and proscription–one with you under the slander of inferiority–one with you in social and political disfranchisement. What you suffer, we suffer; what you endure, we endure. We are indissolubly united, and must fall or flourish together.[9]

It should be noted that prior to the Civil War, the Afro-American people were not yet to be considered an oppressed nation. While the “elements of nationhood” Stalin speaks of did exist, the bonds of chattel slavery held back the process of class differentiation and economic relations that are part of national life. The possibility of a democratic solution also existed. The Afro-American people, once the chains of slavery were broken, could conceivably be absorbed into the bourgeois democratic society of the U.S.

The challenge represented a revolutionary situation, requiring a revolutionary solution. The slave system of the South was irreconcilable with the rapidly maturing capitalist system of the North. If the northern industrialist bourgeoisie were to consolidate capitalism, it had to establish complete hegemony over the union. Capitalism requires economic cohesion and concentration. Above all, capitalism requires a mobile labor force, unchained to the land as was the case in the slave South.

Central to the solution to this antagonistic conflict between the developing capitalist forces in the North and the slave system in the South-a hybrid of ancient, feudal and capitalist relations–was the Afro-American people. Constituting a majority in the slave areas, there could be no development of complete capitalist economic cohesion without a thoroughgoing reconstruction of the South which freed this majority. For there was no proletariat in the South to speak of and there could be none without a break-up of the plantation system and a thoroughgoing land reform. Only in this way could the necessary conditions for the expansion of capitalism be guaranteed. As regards the development of the Afro-American people as an oppressed nation, the relationship of the South to the rest of the country – in particular of the Afro-American people – rested on the outcome of this conflict. The slaveowners faced a similar dilemma. Their system had to expand or die. Free labor could not long co-exist with slave labor, and they were thus compelled to launch their “rebellion” against the North.

We noted earlier the development of national characteristics among the Afro-American people in the pre-Civil War period and referred to Stalin’s outline of the rise of national elements in a general sense during the pre-capitalist period. Stalin continues his observation with the following:

But these elements [the elements of nationhood] were in a rudimentary state, and, at best, were only a potentiality, that is, they constituted the possibility of the formation of a nation in the future, given certain favorable conditions.[10]


The period of the Civil War and Reconstruction was decisive in the development of the Afro-American people as an oppressed nation in the U.S.

The industrial bourgeoisie of the North was hampered from the very beginning by its own vacillating character, and unity with the slave masters as owners of property, even property in slaves. A brief look at events leading up to the actual outbreak of hostilities reveals clearly their defensive stance and limited zeal.

– 1820: The Missouri Compromise. Under this new law, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana were admitted as slave states. This was really not a compromise, but an act of aggression by the slave oligarchy.

– The annexation of Texas in 1845. The slave holders settled there while Texas still belonged to Mexico. Although under Mexican law slavery was forbidden, the slaveholders brought in slaves on “99 year apprenticeships.” By hatching an insurrection, the slaveholders won U.S. recognition for Texas resulting in the 1845 annexation.

– The 1850 Compromise: New Mexico and Utah were brought in without prohibition of slavery. The slaveholders had already settled there so the “referendum” on whether these would be free or slave states was a foregone conclusion. In addition, a fugitive slave law which allowed capture of slaves in the territorial U.S. was a notable part of the 1850 “compromise.”

Coupled with the fact that the slaveholders through the Democratic Party had controlled the Presidency and the Senate for 24 years, the Supreme Court 26 years, and the House of Representatives 22 years, these three examples show the offensive stance of the Southern planters and the basically defensive position of the Northern bourgeoisie. Republican President Abraham Lincoln, elected in 1860, was the main political spokesman for the rising Northern bourgeoisie. His statement quoted here sums up in a concentrated way the limited “preserve the union” politics of the bulk of his supporters:

If I could save the union without freeing any slaves, I would do it; if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.[11]

This limited perspective which led to continuing vacillation during the first years of the Civil War caused Frederick Engels to doubt victory for the union forces. In a letter to Karl Marx, he wrote:

If the North does not proceed forthwith in a revolutionary fashion, it will get an ungodly hiding and deserve it–it looks like it.[12]

Marx, who along with Engels, followed events in America during this period closely, was also critical of the Lincoln government’s policies which he said was to “. . .dissemble away the principles of the war and to spare the foe’s most vulnerable spot, the root of the evil – slavery itself.”[13]

Conscious of the progressive nature of the bourgeois-democratic revolution along with the overwhelming superiority in manpower and resources of the North, Marx replied to Engels that “In the end, the North will make war seriously, adopt revolutionary methods. . .”[14]

The progressive forces, which pushed for revolutionary policies included the left-wing or radical Republicans, the mass of farmers, the working class-particularly the more advanced leaders of the period, many of whom were socialist in outlook–and the Afro-American people. Although the differences in the ranks of these forces were many, they were generally agreed that only a policy which guaranteed full emancipation for the slaves coupled with forced suppression of the Southern planters and redistribution of the land could lead to a decisive victory.

The Afro-American people, both the freedman of the North and those enslaved in the South, played a decisive role in the Civil War. One of the main struggles which the Afro-American people and their progressive allies waged was for the direct enlistment of Blacks into the Union Army. Frederick Douglass, Thaddeus Stevens (a leader of the Radical Republicans) along with other prominent spokesmen and groups, agitated from the very beginning for the arming of Black people, North and South. Karl Marx, writing to Engels, said that “a single Negro regiment would have a remarkable effect on Southern nerves.”[15] Finally, two years after the start of the Civil War, on the last day of 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It should be pointed out that Lincoln relented only after numerous attempts to placate Southern racists with all sorts of compromises short of complete emancipation. Frederick Douglass criticized Lincoln for “. . .his contempt for Negroes and his canting hypocrisy.”[16]

Once issued, the Emancipation Proclamation was greeted by Blacks with great enthusiasm. Mass meetings were held in Black communities all over the country. This new law led to the legal admission of Blacks into the Union Army. The Black population responded mightily. Douglass wrote his famous editorial – “Men of Color, to Arms!” – which in part said:

The day dawns; the morning star is bright upon the horizon! The iron gate of our prison stands half open. . . Remember Denmark Vessey of Charleston; remember Nat Turner of Southhampton; remember Shields Green and Copeland, who followed noble John Brown, and fell as glorious martyrs for the cause of the slave.[17]

During the Civil War, about 200,000 Blacks were in the Union Army; 30,000 in the Navy. Another 250,000 served as teamsters, nurses, cooks, pilots, guides, spies, and scouts.

Also during the Civil War, there was, in the Confederate states, a “general strike” by the Black slaves which is well-described by Dr. W.E.B. DuBois’ famous work “Black Reconstruction in America.” While the above figures speak to direct participation in the organized armed forces, Dr. DuBois notes that:

Back of this half million stood 3 and a half million more. Without their labor, the South would starve. With arms in their hands, Negroes would form a fighting force which would replace every single Northern white soldier fighting listlessly and against his will with a Black man fighting for freedom.”[18]

The resistance on the part of the slaves coupled with the growing disaffection of the Southern poor whites with this “rich man’s war,” was decisive in the Union victory.

Labor played an important role in the Civil War. Certain backward sections were under the influence of the section of Northern finance sympathetic to the South. Known as “Copperheads,” these Northern financiers had direct ties to the Southern planters through the cotton trade. The “Copperheads” instigated the “draft riots” of New York which were aimed primarily at Black people.

Organized labor, however, for the most part, supported the Northern efforts. Whole unions enlisted in the Union Army. The Marxists were instrumental in getting many trade unions to take an active stand in support of the war. Internationally, the workers’ movement, particularly in England under the leadership of Karl Marx and the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA), agitated actively against slavery and for a successful conclusion to the war. The IWA sent many telegrams and letters of support and encouragement to Lincoln and the Union forces. Many historians attribute the prevention of England’s entrance into the war as a Confederate ally to the work of the IWA. Marx summed up the vital role that the fight against slavery played in the labor movement in this way:

In the U.S.A. any sort of independent labor movement was paralyzed so long as slavery disfigured part of the Republic. Labor with a white skin cannot free itself where labor with a Black skin is branded. But out of the death of slavery, a new and vigorous life sprang. The first fruit of the Civil War was an agitation for the 8-hour day.[19]


With the defeat of the Confederacy on the battleground, the next task was to institute a program which would thoroughly destroy the rule of the Southern plantation owners. The conditions for such a program were ripe: 1) the planters were decisively defeated militarily. There was little chance of military comeback because the planters’ resources had been thoroughly depleted in the war effort; 2) There was great dissatisfaction on the part of the poor white population in regards to the planters and their cause. During the war the ruling oligarchy of the South exempted anyone who owned 20 or more slaves from war service.

In addition, the planters offered no program of reform for the poor whites except the dim “hope” of becoming a plantation owner. For the poor whites, a program of agrarian reform, and confiscation and break-up of the plantation system was objectively the best course; 3) along with the victorious northern armies, there stood in the South a force of 200,000 armed Black men and millions of newly emancipated ex-slaves to back up the consolidation of the bourgeois-democratic revolution.

Thus the basis for forging an alliance between the Black and white poor farmers existed. A program of complete suffrage for the freed slaves, land reform and forced suppression of the Southern planters was called for. This program was known as Reconstruction.

There were two views on Reconstruction. One was favored by Lincoln and his running mate as Vice-President, Andrew Johnson. In the 1864 election, the Lincoln-Johnson platform contained none of the revolutionary measures necessary for a thorough reconstruction of the South. In fact, the most stringent measure in their reconstruction program was the requirement of a loyalty oath for those who had supported the Confederate cause. Once this was done, there would be a full pardon “with restoration of all rights of property, except as to slaves.”

Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865–five days after the Confederate army had surrendered. Andrew Johnson, who was placed on the Lincoln ticket to placate right-wing Republicans and Southern sympathizers, assumed the Presidency. He continued and defended the lackluster “reconstruction” program offered by Lincoln. The Lincoln-Johnson platform was backed by and represented the interests of the Northern industrial bourgeoisie and finance capital. Content with a military victory which established their hegemony, they were anxious to return to “business as usual.” The rising imperialist class was quite willing to come to terms with the Southern planters. The idea of confiscation of the planters’ “property,” the plantations, was quite repugnant to them. The idea of a million Black voters along with poor whites controlling local governments and assuming economic independence did not sit well either with the rising imperialists. Their class interests led them to seek compromise with allies from among their closest counterparts in the South-the Southern land aristocracy and newly emerged middle classes.

An opposing view on Reconstruction came from the Afro-American people, their allies in the labor movement and left-wing of the Republican Party. The Black soldiers of the Union Army in many instances immediately began land redistribution when they entered a new town. Many documented cases of ex-slaves, backed by Union troops, setting up county and municipal governments are available. This was happening during the Civil War. At the war’s end, there was a mass demand by the Black people for land redistribution and suffrage.

The Johnson government resisted these demands–acting instead to recognize Southern state governments hastily organized under its bogus reconstruction plan. The Radical Republicans, led in Congress by Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner, mounted a parliamentary offensive against the Johnson government. They pointed out that without adopting the revolutionary course spoken of earlier in the text, there would be a “Southern restoration” which would allow the plantation system of the South and the political power of the Bourbons to remain intact, changed in form only.

At the same time, the Afro-American people were actively organizing to define clearly their demands for Reconstruction. These organizational efforts were the continuation of the Negro conventions. In 1865, conventions were held in all the Southern states and many northern states. They demanded that the state governments recognized by the reactionary Johnson administration be disbanded and that new state assemblies be held which recognized the “rights of Negroes.” Recognizing the danger of Southern “restoration,” they demanded that the Black troops be allowed to “maintain their arms,” to safeguard the rights of the population. In 1866, a delegation of Blacks led by Frederick Douglass and George Downing visited President Johnson to demand “full rights to Negroes.”

These efforts by the Afro-American people and their allies led to the “Reconstruction Acts.” The radical Republicans had introduced and passed the “Bill of February 1867,” which disbanded the bogus reconstruction state governments and divided the South into 5 military districts. The Union Army was to oversee the development of constitutional conventions in the Southern states which recognized a democratic electorate and full voting rights for Blacks. The leading Confederates were to be excluded from participation. The implementation of these measures was overseen by “Union Clubs” which represented an organized alliance between the Blacks and the Radical Republicans. In addition, there were the “Negro Militias,” organized on a state basis. These groups of armed Blacks worked to protect the community from Klan terror and the like.

It was during this period of Radical Reconstruction that democracy came closest to being realized in the South. The new Reconstruction governments represented closely the Southern populace in a democratic manner. There was of necessity, then, heavy Black participation in these governments.

In the South at the beginning of Reconstruction, some 700,000 Negroes and 660,000 whites were registered–of the whites of voting age, 100,000 were disfranchised for their part in the war and 100,000 more for the same reason were disqualified from holding office.”[20]

In the Reconstruction legislatures, there was significant Black participation. In the South Carolina legislature, for example, there was a Black majority–“84 of the 157 members were Negroes.”[21] These governments, were decidedly progressive for the period. They are much maligned by present-day historians as “Black parliaments” and “uncouth, uneducated” governments.

Under the Reconstruction governments, legislation was passed which included for the first time, a public school system, equality of civil rights, relief for the aged, rights for women and more. The new governments also abolished the infamous Black Codes and slave laws and outlawed the newly-formed Ku Klux Klan.

Anyone further interested would do well to study the works by Foster, DuBois, Haywood and others on the Reconstruction period.


The reactionaries were busy plotting and organizing to overthrow the Reconstruction governments. The reactionary forces were headed by the Southern planters. Their main appeal was to “white supremacy.” Under this banner, they rallied the poor and middle-class whites. They attacked Southern white sympathizers of the Reconstruction governments as traitors to the white race–“Scalawags.” The Northern allies were attacked as “Carpetbaggers.” They called on all white men to unite and put the Blacks in their places, out of government and back working on the plantations. The poor whites were thus divided, and while many fought heroically with the Black people, many more were won over by a combination of racist demogogy and Klan terror. This was due largely to fear instigated by the planters that free Blacks would take whatever jobs and land were available. It was also due to the class outlook of the poor whites, who were largely small farmers, not workers, interested in owning their own farms more than unity with the newly-freed Black slaves.

The new President elected in 1869, Ulysses S. Grant, did little to stop the Southern planters. Although empowered to do so, he did little to check the growth of the Klan and like organizations. Grant instead handcuffed the Union Army and ordered the Reconstruction state militias disbanded. In 1872, Congress passed the Amnesty Act freeing thousands of former Confederate officers and leaders. Thus the Klan and other white terrorists groups began a systematic drive to reinstate “white supremacy.” The Democratic party in the South, representing the former slave barons with their allies agitated for the withdrawal of Union troops and “home rule” or “States Rights.”

The onslaught by the reactionaries was met with resistance by the Black population. They, along with their dwindling allies in the Republican Party, introduced, to no avail, many measures designed to curb the Klan and protect the democratic gains. The Radical Republicans, once slavery was formally abolished, began to splinter with only a small number of hard-core revolutionists who were willing to fight to the end for a complete democratic change. The Black population, abandoned by the government, fought back as best it could. In many instances, both on re-distributed land and in the legislatures, they fought armed struggles to maintain their newly-won position.

In 1877, Rutherford B. Hayes ran on the Republican Presidential ticket against Sam Tilden, the Democratic candidate. Tilden ran on a ticket which called for full “autonomy” for the South. It was a close election with Tilden winning the popular vote and Hayes the vote in the electoral college.

To secure the victory Hayes made a “bargain” with Tilden which allowed for the recognition of the Democratic party governments in the Southern states (opposed to the Reconstruction governments) and the complete withdrawal of Union troops from the South. Thus the betrayal of Reconstruction, of the fruits of bourgeois democracy for the Afro-American people was finally sealed. Some reasons for the defeat of the Reconstruction were:

1) The class make-up and outlook of the leaders of the progressive forces. The Radical Republicans were representative of the Northern middle classes or petty-bourgeoisie. They opposed slavery and to a lesser degree the rising monopolist capitalist class. At the same time, their class interests kept them from giving full play to the working class and toiling masses, North and South, to defend Reconstruction. This would have been possible through such organizations as the Union Leagues. Among the Black leaders of the period, most were free Blacks who had gained some education and property prior to the Civil War. Their outlook was one of an aspiring bourgeoisie which led them to rely on the Republican Party rather than building independent organizations of the Black and white farmers.

2) The political immaturity of the working class. The newly developed working class forces, with a few notable exceptions, did not comprehend the significance of the need for a democratic solution to the national question in regards to Blacks. Even such progressive leaders as William Sylvis, president of the National Labor Union, failed to see the importance of Reconstruction and attacked such institutions as the “Freedman’s Bureau” as “government handouts.”

3) The lack of thorough-going land reform. The leaders of the Radical Reconstruction movement, while paying attention to parliamentary democracy did much too little in this direction. They did not see that there was precious little chance for Blacks or poor whites to utilize formal democracy while the land and economic resources were still in the hands of the planters.

4) A new middle class arose in the South, manufacturers, cotton brokers, merchants, etc. They made a direct appeal to the imperialist bourgeoisie to get the full benefits of a reconstituted plantation system in the South.

5) The class perspective of the Northern bourgeoisie. It wanted social peace to get the full benefits of the plantation system and the new internal market. It feared the rise of labor and saw the potential of the huge Black labor force as a surplus that could be used as a lever against the working class movement.


The failure of Reconstruction brought about the systematic exclusion of Black people from the U.S. bourgeois democracy. The rising imperialist class of the North, in alliance with the Bourbon Southern aristocracy opted for a policy of exploiting the backward plantation system of the South. However, the majority population in the South, the Black masses, had been awakened to political life. The fight for democracy, the Negro peoples’ conventions, the fight for land and economic independence had awakened the Afro-American national movement.

The period immediately before the Civil War and through Reconstruction brought about rapid developments of all national characteristics among Black people, including the fuller appearance of all capitalist economic classes. Says Harry Haywood:

Class differentiation among Negroes was of necessity a slow and tortuous one, taking place as it did against the overwhelming odds of Post-Reconstruction terror. But proceed it did, so that Negroes, who at the time of their release from chattel bondage comprised an almost undifferentiated peasant mass, had by the beginning of the 20th century become transformed into a people manifesting among themselves all the class groupings peculiar to modern capitalist society.[22]

A Black proletariat developed beginning before the Civil War, and by its close, 100,000 of the South’s skilled craftsmen were Black. As capitalism penetrated the South, a larger and larger Black proletariat developed. By 1930, there were over 2 and a half million Black workers in the South, although the majority were still in some way connected with agriculture (20% in lumber mills, 36% in domestic service and 20% agricultural wage workers.) Although Black people were systematically denied entrance into the booming southern textile industry, Black wage-labor was the foundation of Alabama’s mining and steel complex (centered around Birmingham) which included 9,000 Black steelworkers and 15,000 Black miners by the early 1900’s.

It was particularly during Reconstruction that a class of small businessmen, with more or less well-defined capitalist aspirations, began to appear. The demand by the Colored People’s Convention of South Carolina for land, the vote and the right to “amass wealth through thrift and industry” bears all the hallmarks of a bourgeois revolution and vividly portrays the strivings of this developing upper class. From the beginning, the Black upper class has been cramped and its development curtailed by the imperialists. It has always been quite poor and tiny in comparison with its oppressor.

Nevertheless, Black business developed in services (restaurants, hotels, beauty parlors, funeral homes) to the Black community as well as in small financial projects such as insurance and real estate. Oftentimes, the initial capital came from funds accumulated through Black churches and mutual benefit societies to which the Black people from all walks of life contributed for “community development.” The Grand Fountain United Order of Richmond, Virginia, for example, opened its own savings bank and began investing in various enterprises in the early 1900’s. Between 1899-1905, 28 Black owned banks were opened, although periodic capitalist crises would just as quickly wipe them out of existence.

During Reconstruction a system of Black public education was established in the South for the first time, with dozens of land-grant colleges springing up. This brought forward a number of Black intellectuals and professionals who became the leading spokesmen for national demands.

It was also in the Black Belt South that a distinct Black culture and common psychological make-up emerged. The marks of national oppression and resistance are a thread which runs through Black culture in its music, song, dance, paintings, drama and literature.

The Post-Reconstruction’s social disfranchisement and forced segregation of Blacks accelerated the welding of the national characteristics. (Plessey vs. Ferguson in 1896 formalized “separate but equal.”) The Civil War and Reconstruction represented, as pointed out earlier, a continuation of the bourgeois democratic revolution.

Such revolutions had occurred throughout Europe in the formation of capitalist nations. There were two paths, however, to these bourgeois-democratic revolutions. In some countries, such as France and Italy, the old feudal ties and principalities were abolished and the various regions were welded into one, homogeneous state. In others, however, a different course was followed. In Austria, for example, the regions where the Czechs and Poles lived were arbitrarily drawn into Austrian boundaries. The dominant Austrian capitalists who were more developed, swallowed them up. With the further development of capitalism, the national movement of the Czechs and Poles began:

The intelligentsia that had arisen was being imbued with ’the national idea’ and was acting in the same direction. . . but the nations which had been pushed into the background and had now awakened to independent life, could no longer form themselves into independent national states; they encountered the very powerful resistance of the dominant nations, which had long ago assumed the control of the state. They were too late. . . In this way the Czechs, Poles, etc., formed themselves into ^nations in Austria...[23]

Of course the development of the Afro-American national question did not exactly parallel that of the Poles and Czechs in Austria. There are particular features, such as the importation of Blacks into the South as slaves, the development of “English” as a common language, etc. that are different. However, in studying the development of oppressed nations within dominant nations in Europe, we can see certain universal characteristics that are useful in applying Marxism-Leninism to the Afro-American national question in the U.S. For example, the area of Black majority in the U.S., while not feudal or slave in a classical sense, certainly lagged far behind the North in the development of capitalism. How the process of an oppressed nation, a national movement, develops within a dominant nation is described as follows:

This special method of formation of states could take place only where feudalism had not yet been eliminated, where capitalism was feebly developed, where the nationalities which had been forced into the background had not yet been able to consolidate themselves economically into integral nations.[24]

Indeed in the South, with the failure of Reconstruction, the possibility of democratic assimilation was ended. This has been borne out by the systematic continued oppression to this day of the Afro-American people.

The end of the Civil War and Reconstruction found the plantation areas changed only in forms from the days of chattel slavery. Left without land and cheated out of a means of livelihood, the Black masses were forced back onto the plantations. The old slaveocracy, in alliance with the Wall Street imperialists, saw to it that Black people remained tied to primitive southern agriculture by both law and terror.

Thus, the area of Black concentration found before the Civil War, remained intact. This territory, known as the Black Belt because of the color of its soil, had since colonial times been the main area of Black concentration. At the end of the Civil War, Black people comprised 45% of at least 5 Southern states.

The Black Belt is one solid crescent of land 1600 miles long and 300 miles deep. It reaches as far as the Eastern shores of Maryland and Virginia-former slave-breeding areas. It goes as far south and west as the eastern edge of Texas. It includes large portions of Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and parts of Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and Texas. It is the area where slavery took root, with its crops of cotton, tobacco, sugar cane and rice. IT WAS IN THE BLACK BELT THAT BLACK PEOPLE WERE NOT ONLY CHAINED TO THE LAND, BUT WHERE OVER CENTURIES THEY DEVELOPED ALL THE CHARACTERISTICS OF AN EMERGING NATION. It was here that millions of people of African descent became “an historically constituted, stable community of people formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.”[25]

Through common experience, born in centuries of slavery and resistance, Afro-Americans were drawn together as a nation of people. They had become distinct from their ancestors–stolen from different areas of Africa and speaking different languages. At the same time, they were also distinct from the dominant, mainly white U.S. nation. Throughout its existence this area has been kept in a semi-feudal state. As Lenin pointed out in 1911, ”The economic survivals of slavery are not distinguishable from feudalism in any respect and in the former slave-owning South in the U.S., these survivals are still very powerful.”[26]

In other words, a Black nation has developed under conditions of extreme oppression which continues to this day. As with other oppressed nations, imperialism means the stifling of national development. In search of superprofits, the imperialists seek to maintain semi-feudal relations in agriculture to cheapen all labor.

What is more, national oppression consists not only of the gross economic inequality between nations–but also the political inequality. Oftentimes this is maintained with brutal, open dictatorship over the masses of the oppressed nation by the imperialists. The Black nation is a case in point.

The overthrow of chattel slavery promised the former slaves not only land and an end to economic bondage – but political liberty and an end to the dictatorship of the planter class. The brief rule of the majority-Black Reconstruction governments in the South showed some promise of this. They enacted broad and sweeping democratic reforms in education, taxation, and rights-benefitting not only the Black but the poor whites of the area. This was backed up by arms (which remained for a time) in the hands of the former slaves and on occasion by the federal troops. But even at the height of this brief spell of democracy (in the deep South), exercise of elementary bourgeois rights of assembly, speech and the vote could often mean death for the freed slaves.

With the rapid growth of monopolies and finance capital in the North, the democratic instincts of the industrial capitalists quickly disappeared. A new political alliance emerged between the Wall Street imperialists and the southern plantation owners. A short 12 years after the end of the Civil War, federal troops were withdrawn, KKK reigned and Reconstruction democracy and Black political power were betrayed.

As Lenin summed up this situation:

They (Negroes) should be classed as an oppressed nation, for the equality won in the Civil War of 1861-65 and guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic was in many respects increasingly curtailed in the chief Negro areas (South) in connection with the transition from progressive, pre-monopoly capitalism. . . to reactionary monopoly capitalism.[27]


[1] Mao Tsetung, “Statement Supporting the Afro-American People in their Just Struggle against Racial Discrimination.” Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, p. 751.

[2] Lerone Bennett, Before the Mayflower, p. 112.

[3] Ibid., p. 148.

[4] William Z. Foster, The Negro People in American History, p. 98

[5] Lerone Bennett, Before the Mayflower, p. 274.

[6] J. Stalin, “The National Question and Leninism,” (Works, Vol. 11, p. 351).

[7] Herbert Aptheker, A Documentary History of the Negro People in the U.S., Vol. 1, p. 167.

[8] Ibid., p. 265.

[9] J. Stalin, loc. cit.

[10] William Z. Foster, Negro People in American History, p. 239.

[11] Marx and Engels, The Civil War in the United States, International Publishers, p. 252.

[12] Foster, op. cit., p. 241.

[13] Marx and Engels, loc. cit.

[14] Ibid., p. 253.

[15] Foster, op. cit., p. 253.

[16] Aptheker, op. cit,, p. 479.

[17] W.E.B. Dubois, Black Reconstruction in America, p. 80.

[18] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, p. 287.

[19] Foster, op. cit., p. 313.

[20] James Allen, op. cit., p. 131.

[21] Harry Haywood, Negro Liberation, Liberator Press, pp. 142-3.

[22] J. Stalin, “Marxism and the National Question,” (Works, Vol 2

[23] p. 315).

[24] Ibid., p. 314.

[25] Ibid., p. 307.

[26] V.I. Lenin, “Data on the Development of Capitalism in Agriculture,” (Collected Works, Moscow, 1963, Vol. 22, p. 24).

[27] V.I. Lenin, “Sociology and Statistics,” (CW, Vol. 23).