Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Harry Haywood – “My Life as a Bundist”

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First Published: Revolution, Vol. 3, No. 15, December 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist, Harry Haywood (Liberator Press, Chicago, 1978). 700 pp. $15.00.

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The last few years have seen several books of memoirs published by former members of The Communist Party, USA, such as those by Al Richmond {A Long View From the Left), former editor of the West-coast paper People’s World, and Peggy Dennis (The Autobiography of an American Communist), widow of Eugene Dennis, General Secretary of the CPUSA after Browder’s expulsion. These were written by people who quit the CPUSA because it failed to go far enough in its bourgeois liberalism for their taste, and the fact that their books reek with the most blatant reformism and will appeal mainly to tired ex-radicals and anti-communists makes it not worthwhile to review such garbage in these pages.

Harry Haywood, on the other hand, bills himself as a consistent fighter against revisionism, as one who is still a communist. Thus his book is aimed at misleading revolutionary-minded people–mislead, because in fact Haywood has not remained a communist and is in fact an exponent, rather than a fighter, of opportunism. Connected with this is the fact that Black Bolshevik has been vigorously touted by The Communist Party Marxist-Leninist (CPML), of which Haywood is a member and with which “Liberator Press” is connected. This book is symptomatic of the way in which the CPML attempts to fool and mislead a certain number of revolutionary-minded people by putting an anti-revisionist and communist varnish on its thoroughly opportunist line am activities, and thus it bears examination.

Haywood, a member of the CPUSA from 1925 to 1960, has written a book which relies heavily on anecdotes whose political analysis is very superficial when it is present at all, and which reveals its author as both a careerist and a dogmatist. When it comes to the Black national question, which has been Haywood’s life-long stock in trade and of which he has the reputation of being a major theoretician, he has little to offer besides vague recollections and off-the-cuff remarks which are, if any thing, even vaguer.

Indeed it is little short of incredible how little political content this book has for an opus by one who bills himself as a “Bolshevik.” However, running through the entire book is Haywood’s (and the CPML’s) Bundism, the adaptation of Marxism to nationalism. But before going further into what political content the book does possess, let us follow the lines of Haywood’s own self-centered autobiography and give sketch of his career.

Born with the surname Hall in 1898 in South Omaha, Nebraska, Haywood adopted the pseudonym which stayed with him when he was sent to the Soviet Union to study in 1926. While attending the Lenin School in Moscow, he participated in the drafting of the 1928 and 1930 Comintern (Communist International) resolutions on the Black national question, which for the first time analyzed the oppression of Black people in the U.S. as national rather than simply racial. Returning to the U.S. in 1930, Haywood worked for various Party organizations, including beading the National Negro Department from 1931-1934. He later for a brief time went to Spain during the Civil War there, served in the Merchant Marine during World War 2, and then continued working on ships for several years. In 1948 he published a book, Negro Liberation. During the final stages of the degeneration of the CPUSA in the late 50s, he joined the Provisional Organizing Committee to Reconstitute a Marxist-Leninist Party, but was expelled from it after a few months, after which he went to Mexico for several years, being apparently expelled from the CPUS A in 1960.

Throughout his career with the CPUSA, Haywood was dogged by charges of personal misconduct. Accused, among other things, of womanizing in the Soviet Union, of fleeing the front lines in Spain, and with mismanagement of Party funds in Baltimore, his position in the Party deteriorated to the point that William Z. Foster offers him the following greeting at the end of World War 2:

His frown deepened. “You had trouble in New York. You had trouble in Baltimore. You had trouble in California. Now I suppose you’ve come here to make some more, trouble,” he said accusingly. (Page 529.)

Haywood claims that none of these charges are true, and his analysis of them is that they were due to petty jealousies and personal animosity. Rather than fighting against the recurrent charges, however, he usually tries to run away from them, with explanations such as: “I felt it was impossible to work in this atmosphere. Thus I requested to be transferred to Chicago….” and “angered and fed up with those false charges, covert accusations and innuendos, I decided to get a job [at sea]” (pages 442 and 500).

Haywood offers descriptions of various political activities in which he was engaged. One notable feature of these is lists of names of Party people who attended the various meetings and rallies he describes. Another notable feature is the absence of any explanation of the developments which Haywood is describing. This is especially glaring with regard to Browderism. Haywood presents himself as a member of the “left” in the CPUSA, as part of the revolutionary forces fighting against the Party’s degeneration. But his analysis and explanation of this degeneration, represented most notoriously by Earl Browder and his line, is superficial in the extreme.

Shallow Criticism of Browder

For instance, after the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 the rightist line embodied in the slogans “Everything for National Unity!” and “Everything for Victory!” is characterized as “the Party’s correct position for consolidating the united front...” (Page 498). And although he devotes a whole chapter to “Browder’s Treachery,” his explanation of its causes is to be found in just one inadequate paragraph:

The ascendency of Browder’s revisionism was based upon both objective and subjective factors within the Party. Objectively, bourgeois ideology had long penetrated the working class movement in the United States, had been nurtured during the reformist years of the Roosevelt era and had thrived in an atmosphere of inadequate Marxist-Leninist training of Party members and leaders. (Page 536.)

What Haywood says here is all true, of course, but it explains nothing, and leaves unanswered more questions than it answers.

As the Programme of the RCP points out, “The decay of a fighting Party such as this must be studied to learn the causes, so they can be avoided” (page 66). Already the study of these causes by our Party has contributed to the repulsion of the Jarvis-Bergman clique’s attempt to seize the Party and make it another vehicle of revisionism.

The basis of the CP’s degeneration was its failure to apply Marxism-Leninism to the concrete conditions in the U.S., and to implement the mass line. Further, during the 30s the Party worked on the erroneous premise that the U.S. was entering a revolutionary situation. When this revolutionary situation didn’t materialize, the CP flipped over into reformist errors. (See the RCP Programme, pp. 66-67.) These failures were in turn connected with certain features of the development of capitalism in the U.S., such as widespread bourgeois democratic rights, an expanding frontier, relatively high wages and a very heterogeneous working class, which combined to hold down the political awareness and class consciousness of the U.S. proletariat. Further, this century has seen the growth of U.S. imperialism to a position of dominance in. the imperialist world, and this has been the material basis and most important single objective factor in the relatively low level of class consciousness among U.S. workers. (See “Some Preliminary Thoughts on Bourgeois Democracy and the U.S. Working Class,” The Communist, Vol. 1, No. 1.) Further, the rightist errors of the U.S. Party were linked with certain erroneous analyses and lines put forward by the Comintern during the 30s and 40s. (See the three-part series on the origins, nature and effects of World War 2 in The Communist, Vol. 1, No. 1, and Vol. 2, Nos. 1 and 2.)

In addition, it was not just any form of bourgeois ideology which penetrated the working class movement and the proletarian party, but a specific variety “Made in U.S.A.” As the RCP Programme points out,

In this situation The Communist Party fell into pragmatism, an American ruling class philosophy which says, “It is not really possible to know the laws that govern nature and society; if something seems to work, never mind the reasons, do it.” this leads straight to revisionism which proclaims, “The movement is everything, the final aim nothing.” (Page 68. For a detailed analysis of this philosophy of U.S. imperialism, see “Against Pragmatism,” The Communist, Vol. 2, No. 2.) But Haywood, by contrast, does not have even an adequate understanding of what pragmatism is, characterizing it at one point as simply “empirical and superficial methods of evaluating conditions” (page 542).

In fact, rather than showing the causes of the degeneration of the U.S. party of the proletariat, what the book actually shows is Haywood’s own degeneration–from revolutionary nationalist to dogmatic careerist and pseudo-communist nationalist. For it becomes apparent that Haywood never made the leap to communism, but instead clung to his first successes within the Party and came to make a career out of being a theoretician of the Black national question.

In fact he made a career of it in the most literal sense. In 1938, after the 10th Party Convention, which had seen him removed from the Central Committee and the Politburo (part of the effects of his “difficulties” in Spain), Haywood no longer has a job. He laments, “After twelve years of being on the Party payroll, I was suddenly faced with the need to find employment outside.” (Page 493.)

Harry Haywood: Pioneer Bundist

Much more serious than this, though, is Haywood’s tendency to become nothing but a nationalist with a veneer of communism. This’ is hinted in the title of the book, “Black Bolshevik,” which seems to put Haywood’s nationality on an equal level with his supposed communism. And it is revealed within the book in his way of evaluating almost everything that happens in terms exclusively of its impact and effects on the Black national question. After describing the dangerous rightist tendencies which manifested themselves at the 1936 Party Convention, for instance, he then says, “I was concerned about a tendency to downgrade the importance of the right of self-determination [for the Black Belt nation].” (Page 465.) Or, speaking of the period when Browder had been expelled, but when Browderism was not really being eliminated, Haywood says: “To me, the one bright spot in all this was the struggle to reaffirm our revolutionary position on the Black national question, for the Party to once again take up the fight for the right of self-determination in the Black Belt.” (Page 548.)

It is not, of course, that Haywood should hot have been concerned about the Party’s position on the Black people’s struggle. But at times of crisis in the life of the Party, with clear dangers of revisionism, to have made this his almost exclusive concern betrays a lack of Marxism-Leninism, much as if a worker were to be concerned with the trade union question to the exclusion of the national question, the woman question, etc.–but most of all, to the exclusion of concern with the general line of the Party, which must be the focus of concern for a communist.

There are in our time only two fundamental world outlooks–the proletarian and the bourgeois. Insofar as anyone attempting to be a communist fails to fully take up the proletarian, the Marxist-Leninist, outlook in all its facets and ramifications, he will fall into some form of bourgeois ideology. And insofar as Haywood retreats to the point of view of “my nationality first and foremost,” he fails to be a communist and falls into the bourgeois world outlook. And, as Haywood himself gives lip service to, it is only the proletarian outlook and science of Marxism-Leninism which can lead the way to actual liberation for Black people.

For this reason, the more Haywood veers toward nationalism and away from Marxism, the less is he able to actually take a revolutionary position on the Black national question. By the present time he has come to substitute dead dogmatism for living socialism.

Dead Dogmatist

The Comintern 1930 Resolution correctly stated that the masses of Black people in the U.S.

live in compact masses in the South, most of them being peasants and agricultural laborers in a state of semi-serfdom, settled in the ’Black Belt’ [the area which formed the heart of the old plantation system, given this name because of the color of its soil) and constituting the majority of the population, whereas the Negroes in the northern states are for the most part industrial workers of the lowest categories who have recently come to the various industrial centers from the South (having often fled from there).

On this basis, the Comintern held that Black people constituted an oppressed nation in the “Black Belt” South, while in the North they were a national minority whose conditions were bound up, though, with the struggle of the Negro Nation in the South for liberation. According to these Comintern resolutions, the struggle for self-determination, that is for the right of independence and secession, was the heart of the Black liberation struggle.

And the Comintern stated explicitly why it thought self-determination was the highest expression of the struggle for Black liberation at that time: “Owing to the peculiar situation in the Black Belt (the fact that the majority of the resident Negro population are farmers and agricultural laborers and that the capitalist economic as well as political class rule there is not only a special kind, but to a great extent still has pre-capitalist and semi-colonial features), the right of self-determination of the Negroes as the main slogan of The Communist party in the Black Belt is appropriate” (1930 resolution, emphasis added). In other words, the slogan was basically correct because the masses of Black people, constituting the majority in the Black Belt south, were still peasants suffering under the semi-feudal oppression of the share-cropping system. The Black national question was inextricably bound up with the peasant question, the agrarian question.

Haywood says much the same thing in the opening paragraph of his 1948 book, Negro Liberation:

The Negro question in the United States is agrarian in origin. It involves the problem of a depressed peasantry living under a system of sharecropping, riding-boss supervision, debt slavery, chronic land hunger, and dependency–in short, the plantation system, a relic of chattel slavery.

Is the same thing true today? Obviously not. It was already changing when Haywood wrote this book. And today the great majority of Black people, in the South as well as the North, are part of the working class, not peasants, and in the South agriculture itself is now essentially capitalist, not semi-feudal. And this, together with the general dispersal of Black people from the “Black Belt,” is what marks the Black national question as fundamentally different today than in the 1920s and 30s. Today the vast majority of Blacks in the U.S. are urban workers, not peasants in the Black Belt, although the continued oppression of Blacks still has, and shows, its roots in the history of national oppression in the Black Belt. Because of these historical changes, the aim of the Black liberation struggle today is not a bourgeois democratic revolution and the right of self-determination, of secession, for the Black nation. Today the Black national question is not in essence a peasant but a proletarian question, and can be linked immediately and directly with a single stage socialist revolution.

The Revolutionary Communist Party upholds the right of Black people to return to and reclaim their homeland, the Black Belt South. But at the same time, for the reasons indicated above, our Party does not hold self-determination for the Black Belt nation to be the heart of the Black liberation struggle, and the Party points out that to raise this demand as central is to push the Black liberation struggle away from the revolutionary direction it must take–of linking up with and merging with the overall struggle of the U.S. working class. This position is expounded in the Programme of the RCP (pages 119-125), and. is explained in detail in “Living Socialism and Dead Dogmatism: The Proletarian Line and the Struggle Against Opportunism on the National Question in the U.S.,” The Communist, Vol. 1, No. 2.

Haywood, however, continues to cling dogmatically to the old Comintern position, regardless of actual changes. The only defense he offers of the continued applicability of this analysis is to be found in the following paragraph:

Let’s take a look at current conditions. Despite the imperialist offensive against the Black masses, which resulted in tremendous out migrations from the Black Belt homeland, there remains a stable community of Black people in the rural South and a growing Black population in the urban areas. The actual number of Blacks has steadily increased. In 1940, there were over nine million Black people in the South and by 1970 the number had increased to nearly twelve million. Over 70% of all Black people in the U.S. were born in the South and still have roots there. Within the Black Belt territory itself, despite fierce economic and political coercion, there has remained since 1930 a stable community of over five million. The “escape valve” into the northern cities is being closed by the crisis, and out-migration from the South has slowed considerably with reverse migration now becoming the dominant trend. (Page 641.)

Aside from its obvious skimpiness and extreme superficiality, what is most notable about this “defense” is its dishonesty, with Haywood shifting the terms of argument several times in the space of a few sentences, first talking about the Black Belt, then about the southern U.S. as a whole, then back to the Black Belt, then back to the South again. While rattling off figures he deliberately ignores many facts which disprove his argument. Not the least of these is that the Black Belt is majority white today, and the great majority of Blacks live outside it. This is connected with the fact that, even in the South, Black people are predominantly urban workers, not rural peasants. Haywood tries to pretend that these facts, and the generally changed economic and social conditions of which they are a part, do not exist.

As he has grown older, Haywood has sunk even deeper into this comfortable swamp of dogmatism and nationalism. The “Epilogue” of the book, covering the late 50s, the 60s and the early 70s, speaks only of the Black liberation struggle, with no mention of the student movement, the anti-war movement, and with only a passing reference to the development of a new communist movement!

Haywood/CPML Marriage of Convenience

This is all the more strange in that the CPML boasts in the pages of the Call that Haywood is on their Central Committee, and Haywood claims that “I am happy to be considered a founding member of the [CPML].” (The Call, 6/20/77.) Yet there is not one mention of the CPML in these pages (nor even in its acknowledgements). Is it not strange that a professed communist should somehow forget to mention his public membership in what is alleged to be a communist party?

But whatever the reasons for this may be, it is fitting that Haywood should have found a final rotting place in the CPML. This group has long made it a practice to wave around former Black communists, like Harry Haywood and Odis Hyde, as a way of trying to entice revolutionary-minded Blacks, or more often, liberal petty-bourgeois whites, into their foul embrace. This is coupled with a shameless tailing after narrow nationalists and Black reformists, including lately even the notorious Ron Karenga. This not only shows the non-communist character of these opportunists, but equally reveals a particularly disgusting brand of white chauvinism.

The CPML is also notable for its particular mixture of dogmatism and reformism. Like Haywood, they cling dogmatically to the Comintern resolutions, defending them in the only way they can–dishonestly. (Their arguments [advanced in “The Struggle for Black Liberation and Socialist Revolution,” a pamphlet published by their predecessor group, the October League] are the same, almost word for word, as those of several opportunist groups before them, and are fully answered in advance in the “Living Socialism and Dead Dogmatism” article referred to above, which was originally published in 1974.) But along with this supposed “leftism” in theory goes a rank reformism in practice, which might be illustrated most succinctly by this organization’s relationship to Martin Luther King.

Although of course neither the CPML nor the OL was in existence when King was alive, they have had a history of tailing and lauding his ultra-reformist heirs like Jesse Jackson and Hosea Williams before it became completely impossible, and recently the CPML has taken to hailing King and trying to paint themselves as his true inheritors. During the Black liberation struggle of the past two decades, as the flames of rebellion of this struggle spread, King became the system’s fireman, coming more and more to play a reactionary role. (See “King’s Legacy: Reformism and Capitulation,” Revolution, June 1978.) It is thus entirely fitting that the CPML should attempt to portray themselves as sort of “communist” Martin Luther Kings.

And the marriage of convenience of the old careerist Haywood with this young but experienced opportunist group is equally fitting.