Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Amiri Baraka

The Black Liberation Movement: A struggle for Land and Power!

First Published: Unity, Vol. 3, No. 23, December 5-18, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The goal of the revolutionary Black struggle for Self-Determination is Land and Power! The Black Liberation Movement begins as resistance to the slave trade, and continues as resistance to the slave system in the new world. It changes as the context of its existence changes.

By the 19th century, with the invention of the cotton gin and the fantastic multiplication of slavery’s profits by the machine’s transformation of a domestic product into an international commodity, the terrible exploitation and diabolical abuse of the slaves intensified, and so did the slaves’ rebellion. The 19th century begins with Gabriel Prosser’s Virginia uprising (betrayed by two house servants) which gathered 1,000 armed slaves; and proceeds with Denmark Vesey’s abortive rebellion in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1822. The highpoint of this period of rebellions was the one led by Nat Turner in 1831 which took at least 55 white slaveowners’ lives. But each year in the early 19th century was marked by smaller uprisings, Black slaves poisoning slavemasters, rising numbers of escapes (Harriet Tubman set up a regular escape action in 1832), plantations being set ablaze, livestock killed.

Black demands for freedom were constant, but also many of these demands were accompanied by demands for Land! In the Emigration Convention held in Cleveland, August 24-26, 1854, as part of the overall Negro Convention Movement of the 184U’s and 1850’s “free” northern Blacks not only called for an end to slavery but demanded Land! The “Platform: Or Declaration of Sentiments of the Cleveland Convention” declared:

”1. That we acknowledge the natural equality of the Human Race.
”2. That man is by nature free, and cannot be enslaved, except by injustice and oppression.
”3. That the right to breathe the Air and use the Soil on which the Creator has placed us, is co-inherent with the birth of man, and coeval with his existence; consequently, whatever interferes with this sacred inheritance, is the joint ally of Slavery, and at war against the decree of Heaven. Hence, man cannot be independent without possessing the land on which he resides.


The promise to the Black masses of 40 acres and a mule during the Civil War by the radical Republicans like Thaddeus Stevens was only a response to the overwhelming demand by Black people for Land.

The Reconstruction governments set up after the Civil War were actually meant to secure complete political and economic power from the southern landowners who were the slavocrats, but theoretically these Reconstruction governments were supposed to guarantee democracy in the South, ensure the implementation of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. One integral part of the Reconstruction was the Freedman’s Bureau which was supposed to administer specifically to the needs of the newly freed slaves and provide for their complete democratic integration into American society.

But the Freedman’s Bureau was blocked from functioning with any consistent efficiency or real power. It was the Freedman’s Bureau that was supposed to supervise the distribution of the 40 acres and a mule. And for a time it actually did distribute land to the slaves, the basis of the new democracy. Like the Anti-Poverty agencies of the 1960’s and 1970’s the Freedman’s Bureau was sabotaged from the very beginning and never given any real funds with which to function (See W.E.B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction in America 1860-80).

DuBois says about the Freedman’s Bureau, “The Freedman’s Bureau had much Confederate property in its possession. But the seizure of abandoned estates in the South came as a measure to stop war and not as a plan for economic rebirth.”

Once it became clear that the federal government had no intention of consolidating or even of fully acknowledging the newly won citizenship of the Black masses, a citizenship won in the Civil War, Black petitions were sent in the thousands, Blacks resisted being put off the land as squatters. Before the Civil War, President Johnson had said, “Great plantations must be seized, and divided into small farms.” He was later in charge of giving this land back to the original owners, the southern plantation owners who now served as agents for the northern industrial capitalists headquartered at Wall Street.

The compromise of 1876, the Hayes Tilden Compromise, in which the land was given back to the plantation owners, the slavocrats, in exchange for Hayes becoming President, gave full legitimate impetus to the reactionary trend and counterrevolution which broke out to stop Reconstruction. The planter-organized Klan and other similar anti-Black groups bought and paid for by the Wall Street bankers killed and burned and terrorized throughout the South until the last vestiges of the democratic revolution were eradicated as far as the Afro-American people were concerned.

It is during this period when democracy is forcibly through organized terror denied to Blacks that the Afro-American Nation emerges, as an oppressed nation in the Black-belt South with the right of Self-Determination up to and including secession.

In a chapter of Black Reconstruction in America 1860-80 called “Counter-Revolution of Property,” DuBois points out, “The German and English and French serf, the Italian and Russian serf, were, on emancipation, given definite rights in the land. Only the American Negro slave was emancipated without such rights and in the end this spelled for him the continuation of slavery.” (p. 161)

Thus the denial of land was a fundamental necessity to the denial of Self-Determination and political power to the Black Nation.

Land and Power

The question of Land and Power is still fundamental in the liberation of the Black Nation. The question of Self-Determination is only a basic demand for democracy! To speak of Democracy for the Afro-American people is to speak of Self-Determination. Whether we focus on Employment, Education, Services, Housing, Police Brutality, Health, in America there is one standard, among the Black Nation and Black oppressed nationality outside the Black-belt South, there is an entirely different standard; an inferior one! By Self-Determination we mean that the Black masses must ultimately decide what their relationship will be with the United States, any United States, even a socialist United States!

In the early part of the 20th century, 1919, the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB) arose as one of the most progressive and militant organizations, a left-wing breakaway from the Garvey Movement. The ABB also demanded Land and Power for the Black masses, and at first focused on the South (later on Africa). The working class sector of the Black Nation and the CPUSA’s upholding of the line on the Afro-American Nation, as an Oppressed Nation with the Right of Self-Determination was only a fully scientific and revolutionary statement of the real demands of the Black masses! It is significant that as the CPUSA turned revisionist, one of the first of its revolutionary characteristics to be abandoned was its demand for Black Self-Determination! But white chauvinism, the most extreme form of opportunism, to paraphrase Lenin, has always been the key divider of the working class in the United States, and a consistent problem even inside the CPUSA.

Certainly there are organizations today calling themselves Marxist-Leninist that blatantly exhibit the same white chauvinist tendencies by either opposing Self-Determination for the Afro-American Nation, or by claiming to uphold this fundamental democratic right but then withholding one aspect of it or another.

The Nation of Islam, under Elijah Muhammad, demanded five states in the Black-belt South, and the RNA (Republic of New Africa) demands even now the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

Muhammad Ahmad, a Black revolutionary Nationalist states: “What are we fighting for: Black Peoples’ objective must be a struggle for land. The land mass most feasible for seizure and maintenance as an independent nation is the southern states where we constitute a majority.”

The Afrikan People’s Party, a revolutionary nationalist organization that had close historic ties with the now defunct Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) states in their current newspaper Black Star,“ 1. We want Self-determination and independent nationhood. We believe African Captives in America will not have freedom until they have land of their own and a government; a nation that we govern and run and control. We demand the states of Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Louisiana as partial repayment for injustices done to us for over 400 years.”

The struggle for Land and Power, Self-Determination, is a revolutionary struggle against U.S. imperialism, and its white racist monopoly capitalist ruling class. It is one aspect of the whole struggle of the U.S. masses against the bloody U.S. rulers, which must be led by the multinational working class. The Black Liberation Movement is part of the struggle to destroy monopoly capitalism in this country, because the enemies of Black Self-Determination are the very same enemies that face the multinational working class in the U.S. as well as oppress and exploit all the other oppressed nationalities.

While the fundamental weapon of Black struggle for Self-Determination is a National Black United Front, composed of all the classes, organizations and individuals fighting for Self-Determination and against U.S. imperialism, the basic weapon of the multinational working class to bring revolution to the whole of U.S. society must be a multinational communist party led by the advanced sectors of the working class in strategic alliance with the oppressed nationalities.

National oppression, to paraphrase Stalin, is characterized by Exploitation, Robbery and forcible restriction. Self-Determination for the Black Nation, Democracy, Democratic Rights, Equal Rights, etc., even outside the Black-belt South in those areas of Black concentration (about 20 cities in the U.S.) can only be ensured by Black political power. Black struggles for Democratic Rights are part of the thrust for Self-Determination and the granting of any partial demands or reforms simply raises the level of the struggle, puts the fundamental struggle even more clearly and openly for Self-Determination by means of revolution.

And ultimately the Black Nation, with its class contradictions, if led by the working class, will carry the struggle to the end, that is the destruction of monopoly capitalism and the building of socialism.