Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist)

Carl Davidson

Review of Harry Haywood’s Black Bolshevik: Powerful Landmark of a Lifetime of Struggle

First Published: The Call, Vol. 7, No. 11, March 20, 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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There are times when, having read a certain book, one knows that a landmark has been established, that things will not be the same again once its impact has been felt among the people.

This is certainly the case with the publication of Black Bolshevik. Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist: by Harry Haywood. For this 700-page work is not simply the story of one man’s life and struggle. Rather, it is a powerful and authoritative account of both Afro-American history and the history of the communist movement over more than six decades of this century.

Furthermore, it is the first in-depth work from a Marxist-Leninist perspective which analyses the history of the Communist Party U.S.A. and the seizure of power within that once-revolutionary party by the modern revisionists.

A glance at the chapter titles gives an idea of the book’s scope. It begins with “A Child of Slaves,” giving a moving account of Black life in the U.S. around the turn of the century. It passes through “A Black Regiment in World War I” and “Searching for Answers,” the story of Black youth in Chicago in the 1920s.

But then the headings become extraordinary: “The Lenin School,” “A Student in Moscow,” and “Sixth Congress of the Comintern: A Blow Against the Right.” Next the scene shifts to the U.S., with “Class Warfare in the Mines” and “Sharecroppers with Guns: Organizing the Black Belt,” accounts of the revolutionary upheavals of the Depression years. Towards the end, the focus shifts again, beginning with “The Spanish Civil War: A Call to Arms” and concluding with “Browder’s Treachery” and “Revisionism Takes Command.”

Indeed, Black Bolshevik is a weapon – in fact an arsenal – in the struggle against imperialism, revisionism and white chauvinism.

Haywood is best known, of course, as the foremost communist theoretician on the Afro- American national question. He helped develop and consistently defended throughout his life the concept of self-determination as it applied to the Black nation in the Deep South.

An early passage in the book, for instance, gives an all-sided account of Garvey’s Black nationalist movement in the 1920s and the difficulties that Haywood and other young Black revolutionaries had in handling the contradictions between revolutionary nationalism and communism. In discussing the problem with other students in Moscow, Haywood says:

… A totally new thought occurred to me, and for me it was the clincher. The Garvey movement is dead, I reasoned, but not Black nationalism. Nationalism, which Garvey diverted under the slogan of “Back to Africa,” was an authentic trend, likely to flare up again in periods of crisis and stress. Such a movement might again fall under the leadership of utopian visionaries, who would seek to divert it from the struggle against the main enemy, U.S. imperialism, and on to a reactionary separatist path. The only way such a diversion of the struggle could be forestalled was by presenting a revolutionary alternative to Blacks.

That alternative, which Haywood and other communists took the lead in developing, was the fight for the right of self-determination as a rallying cry for unity between the national movement and the entire workers’ movement in the struggle for socialism.

Haywood gives a moving account of the importance of consolidating the Party against white chauvinism and taking the struggle for Black freedom to the masses of white workers. He uses the famous Yokinen trial in the early 1930s as an example. Here the Party took one of its members who had engaged in blatant white chauvinist practices and employed the tactic of a public trial to rectify his errors.

“The trial was a living political demonstration of our program on the Afro-American question,” says Haywood. “The basis was laid for our revolutionary leadership in the great battles of the 1930s.”

Haywood also explains that the Party did not simply wage a struggle against white chauvinism, but took up the struggle against narrow nationalism as well.

The lessons of Black Bolshevik are in no way limited to the national question, however. It takes up the trade union question and the tactics of waging strikes. It describes the organization of the mass struggle against unemployment and discusses how to fight the crisis in a revolutionary way. In addition, Haywood takes the reader from the streets of Chicago to the battle-front in Spain, showing how the communists built the fight against war and fascism.

Most of all, Black Bolshevik is a weapon in the struggle between Marxism-Leninism and revisionism, both in the U.S. and internationally. One of its early chapters takes aim at Trotskyism, the two-line struggle Haywood participated in as a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during his stay in Moscow. Another chapter is devoted to the struggle against Jay Lovestone and his line of “American exceptionalism,” the first major anti-revisionist battle of the CPUSA. Haywood gives a fascinating eyewitness account of a series of meetings in Moscow where Stalin himself took the floor several times in debate with this revisionist misleader.

Haywood’s main target, however, is the revisionist line of Earl Browder and his followers, such as Gus Hall, who lead the CPUSA today. “Browder’s theories,” he states, “were a systematic set of revisionist concepts which promoted collaboration with and accommodation to the imperialist ruling class. It led to a series of right opportunist policies which culminated in the liquidation of the Communist Party.”


Haywood points out that Browder’s revisionism did not spring up from nowhere, but was rooted in errors and weaknesses in the Party’s work in the 1930s. Likewise, Browderism was not defeated in the Party with Browder’s expulsion. The last part of his book exposes the revisionist maneuvers and treachery during the 1950s, which wrecked and disorganized the Party.

“Without a thorough purge of Browderism,” Haywood writes, “the Party preserved and built up a bureaucracy effectively insulated against the operation of the Marxist-Leninist practice of criticism and self-criticism. In this way, not only was the ideological level of our Party forced to remain at a low level, but at the same time, unification, purification and corrective replacements of leadership were made almost impossible. The end result is a party which today acts as a mouthpiece for Soviet social-imperialism, the labor aristocracy and the pro-detente sections of the U.S. ruling class.”

Haywood devotes the epilogue of his book to examining the tremendous significance of the Black Revolt in the 1960s, stressing the consequences of revisionism’s betrayal.


“The Party’s leaders,” he points out, “insisted that Blacks were well on their way to being assimilated into the old reliable American ’melting pot.’ But the ’melting pot’ suddenly exploded in their faces. In the 1960s, the Black Revolt surged up from the Deep South and quickly spread its fury across the entire country.” The tragedy was that there was no party at this time to lead the revolt and to consolidate its gains, thus allowing it to be choked by reformism.

Black Bolshevik ends, however, with a note of revolutionary optimism. Speaking of the new generation of revolutionaries, Haywood says:

This generation, left without guideposts after the betrayal of the CP, was forced to start almost from scratch. It has carried out a long march through the mass struggles of the 1960s, to recapture our revolutionary heritage. It is heartening that they, along with some of us veteran fighters, are building a genuine communist party – the first in this country in decades. To this new revolutionary movement falls the task of giving leadership in the coming upsurge.

This new generation, of course, never started completely “from scratch.” Our movement’s gains today are directly linked to those who, often with great sacrifice, steadfastly upheld the banner of Marxism-Leninism when it was under fire from all sides.

Harry Haywood is among the foremost of these veterans, a living demonstration that our party, the Communist Party (M-L), was born primarily in the struggle against revisionism. It is in this sense that Black Bolshevik and its lessons can serve as a rallying point for revolutionary workers and activists of all nationalities, young and old, in reconstructing a single, unified communist party.