Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Harry Wells

Self-determination: Where does the CPUSA Stand?

First Published: The Call, Vol. 8, No. 46, December 3, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In the wake of its recent 22nd Convention, the revisionist Communist Party USA is making a new bid to increase its influence in the Black struggle.

In doing so, the revisionists have first sought to consolidate their ranks with a number of discussion articles on the Afro-American question in their press. And at the convention itself, the Afro-American resolution was debated longer than any other report.

Much of the discussion has also featured a militant veneer, stressing that a massive upsurge is taking place in the Black struggle on every front. A renewed use of Marxist terminology, such as “the Black question remains basically a national question,” is an additional feature.

Given all the talk and soul-searching of these “born-again Marxists,” it is appropriate to ask: Where do they stand on the question of supporting the Afro-American people’s right to self-determination? Moreover, do they fight for the demands of the Black masses in a revolutionary or a reformist way? Are they the liberators of Black people they claim to be, or simply one more force trying to save the racist system of capitalism with another touch-up job?

The CPUSA’s new resolution raises almost every basic immediate demand of the Black masses: jobs, equality in political and social life, an end to police brutality and racist attacks, and many others.

But nowhere in this basic document is any mention of the demand for the right of self-determination to be found. Even the paying of lip service to certain demands, however, does not get to the heart of the matter.

The CPUSA, for instance, can write resolutions against police brutality. But when the Black United Front in Brooklyn actually mobilized thousands to struggle against police and vigilante attacks, the revisionists worked to undermine the community’s self-defense efforts. Under the guise of ending “all violence,” they urged police to break up Black street patrols as well as the Zionist vigilantes.

The CPUSA likewise calls for outlawing the Ku Klux Klan. But when progressive forces tried to mobilize against Klan murders in Greensboro, N.C., two weeks ago, where did the revisionists stand? They dismissed the incident simply as a case of “a few Maoists” being killed. They did nothing to mobilize a mass response.

It is not surprising, of course, that the CPUSA should try to avoid the question of self-determination. The present leaders of the revisionist party, after all, are the same ones who, in the 1950s, led the attack on the CPUSA’s earlier revolutionary positions. All Marxist-Leninist viewpoints, including the strategic objective of the dictatorship of the proletariat, were abandoned in favor of entering the “mainstream” of liberal reformism.

“A realistic perspective has opened up,” declared the CPUSA at the time, “for a peaceful and democratic achievement of full social, political and economic equality of the Negro people within the framework of our specific American system and tradition.”

“To retain our previous position,” declared Party ideologue James Jackson (who helped draft the latest resolution), would be a presumptuous judgment and unwarranted interference in the actual course the Negro people is taking.”

The “actual course” taken in the 1960s, however, was far from what Jackson claimed it would be. The Black masses in their millions rose up in revolt against violent repression, and the demand for Black power and self-determination played a key role.

The CPUSA, for its part, was mired in the swamp it called the “mainstream.” As the struggle surged forward in 1964, it was campaigning for Lyndon Johnson and denouncing Malcolm X as a “police agent.”

In recent years, revolutionary activists have learned something of this history, especially through works like Harry Haywood’s Black Bolshevik. And today the demand for self-determination is once again being taken up by some of the most advanced sectors of the Black struggle. In response, Jackson now asserts that it is acceptable to make some superficial adaptations.

“There is sometimes an impatience to sloganize everything,” Jackson says in a convention paper. “But if we are confident of the soundness of the theoretical level of what we are about, then we can ’wing it,’ have a popular, loose and free-wheeling style.” To put it bluntly, this means the CPUSA can go along with self-determination in words, as long as its substance is denied in theory and practice.

An example appears in the resolution unanimously passed by the convention. The question of self-determination gets a vague reference in the section on Black culture, which supports “the fight for self-determined esthetic standards and art forms.” Thus the CPUSA relegates to the realm of cultural-national autonomy what once meant, in essence, Black political power.

The revisionists, of course, still make wide use of the term “political power” in relation to Blacks. They even advocate securing “majority rule for Afro-American peoples in all localities where they are a majority of the population, especially in the towns and counties of the South.”

Again, the real question is not what the CPUSA says in words, but what it actually means in theory and practice. The way to secure Black political power, according to the revisionists, is to form an “anti-monopoly alliance” which, in turn, will elect an “anti-monopoly government.”

“An anti-monopoly government,” says the convention resolution, “would drastically reduce military appropriations and the armed forces. It would affect radical democratic reforms in the three branches of government on each level. Racism in all respects would be outlawed.”

Such a government could supposedly accomplish these things prior to a socialist revolution. According to the convention issue of the revisionists’ theoretical journal, Political Affairs, it would “break the main forms of power of the ruling class, before the actual taking of full state power by the working class.”

And while taking away all their power, one would suppose, the ruling class would simply admit defeat, accepting this election verdict peacefully.

The brutal response to the civil rights movement, the assassination of King, Evers and Malcolm X, and the recent killings in Greensboro show the bankruptcy of the CPUSA’s policy and of its practice of trailing behind the reformist wing of the Democratic Party for more than 20 years. Rather than working to break up and isolate the influence of the reformists within the working class and the national movements, the CPUSA has incorporated reformism into its own program.

The demand for self-determination, or Black political power, linked to the struggle for socialism, raises revolutionary prospects which the CPUSA’s liberal allies find unacceptable. For that reason, it has labeled this position “dogmatic” and “ultra-left.”

Another Political Affairs article, written for the convention issue by Kendra Alexander, theoretically hits at the slogan as “inappropriate.” She argues that because many Blacks have moved north and the number of Black peasants has sharply declined, the Black nation no longer exists. Self-determination doesn’t apply, she concludes, since Blacks are a national minority capable of gaining their freedom within the system.

The Marxist-Leninist view, however, is that the existence of a nation and the importance of self-determination does not hinge on the existence of a large peasantry or population shifts. Rather it is a question of historical development and the fact that national oppression continues to intensify throughout the U.S. and especially in the Deep South.

It is true that many demographic changes have occurred with the industrialization of the South, and that these changes must be considered in any approach to today’s Black liberation struggle. But the most important thing for Marxists to see is that this industrialization and shift to the urban centers has not lessened the national oppression of Afro-Americans.

Furthermore, there are still millions of impoverished Blacks living in the rural areas and small towns of the Black Belt South. And in increasing numbers, they are taking up the slogans of land, freedom and self-determination.

But the revisionists paint another picture, Rather than taking the realities of increasing Black oppression as their starting point in analyzing the national question, and recognizing the distinction between an oppressed and oppressor nation, the CPUSA’s convention resolution makes this statement:

“This U.S. American nation can be likened to a national family of distinctive peoples who are more or less identified by the dominant traits of their respective earlier national origins.”

The aim of communists has always been, of course, for the workers of all nationalities to come to see one another as one harmonious family fighting in a common cause. But to give this as a description of past and present reality is to display a repulsive chauvinism.

The CP’s 22nd convention represents no new turning point towards the Black struggle, as the revisionists claim. Rather it is simply a further consolidation of a chauvinist program being promoted under the banner of Marxism.