1981 - RWH Pamphlet - Build the Black Liberation Movement

Revolutionary Workers Headquarters Pamphlet:
Build the Black Liberation Movement

June 1981

Table of Contents


Introduction: Two Great Revolutionary Movements

Basic Theory on the National Question

Against the RCP

Three Key Points in the History of the Black Nation

Classes in the Black Nation

The Black Liberation Movement Today

The Question of Program

Marxism and the Black Liberation Movement



Black people and the Black nation have been central to the development of this country and the class struggle in it. A broad attack by the ruling class on the gains won by the Civil Rights movement and Black liberation struggle and the rekindled anger and resistance among Afro-Americans underline the importance of the Black national question. For communists, Black nationalists and other fighters against the system of exploitation and oppression, a good understanding and correct approach to this question is crucial.

This document is an initial effort by members of the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters to develop such an understanding and approach. It was originally written in 1979 by the Philadelphia district of the RWH as a key part of rectifying the ultra-left and chauvinist line of the Revolutionary Communist Party, the group from which the RWH split in January 1978.

The RCP and its predecessor organization, the Revolutionary Union, attempted to develop an original and complete position on the Black national question in the U.S. and wound up perverting Marxism and backstabbing the Black struggle. The main theoretical documents in this process, criticized extensively in this pamphlet, were Red Papers 5; National Liberation and Proletarian Revolution, and Red Papers 6; Build the Leadership of the Proletariat and Its Party. Unfortunately, neither of these are presently available. (It is not even clear whether the RCP, in its current incarnation as the avant-garde of the ultra-left, still upholds them.)

This paper was circulated, studied and discussed extensively in the RWH. After over a year of consideration and implementation it was a major topic at the RWH congress in late summer 1980. The present draft is a product of the criticism and in depth discussion which took place there, particularly the addition of sections on the relationship of the Black movement to that of the multinational working class. Some improvements are due to closer contact with other Marxist-Leninists, from whose practical and theoretical work and criticisms we have learned.


Starting with a brief introduction which lays out the basic thesis, the rust part is a theoretical polemic against the line of Red Papers 5 and (i. This is long and quote-heavy, makes for tough reading, but it was necessary to smash the theoretical justifications the RU/RCP had erected around its line.

The next two sections make points on the history and class structure of the Black nation. Without understanding the past and present of the Black struggle, no one can fully comprehend the Black liberation movement's current advanced, problems and tasks. This part closes with some points on the basis of and ways to build multinational unity.

The last part deals in three sections with the Black liberation movement as it exists today and some of the tasks that face it. It includes material on strategy and tactics, on a number of issues mat a program for the Black liberation struggle would have to address and on the role of Marxism and Marxists in the BLM.

Both the strengths and weaknesses of Build the Black Liberation Movement grow out of its character as a polemic against the rotten RU/RCP line. It is a policy for rectifying its remnants and effects on our work. It is not intended as a definitive position on the Black national question despite its length. Rather, it reflects the partial nature of our understanding and position, and is a modest contribution to developing a solid general line.

The perceptions, practical experience and summation on which this pamphlet was based are, of necessity, somewhat limited. For one this, the RU/RCP line and policy insured that the RWH was born with relatively few minority cadre, even though they have made a substantial contribution to our work and thinking.

Also, because this is an amended and edited version of a two-year-old paper, it is a bit dated. The delay in publishing it is one of the paper's strengths. The democratic process of discussion, study, written criticism, and implementation in practice followed by further summation and discussion, have helped us grasp and strengthen the line. Still, since Build the Black Liberation Movement was first written a number of important developments, among them the formation of various local Black United Fronts and Reagan's election, have taken place and are only partially reflected in this version.

We hope that Marxist-Leninists, Black nationalists and others on the Left will find this paper useful despite its shortcomings. For our part, the RWH is committed to deeper study and the summation of more practice around this question. A better understanding of the oppression and struggle of the Black nation is a crucial part of the long and demanding task of developing an American socialist theory, program and trend, without which revolution in this country will never be possible.

It is in this context, and with a sharp awareness of how much we have to learn that we offer this pamphlet. In combating the prevalent errors of the '70s, we have come to realize both the limits of our own knowledge and the fact that no individual or group has a lock on the truth. The Revolutionary Workers Headquarters looks forward to other publications on this subject and welcomes all comments and criticisms on the present document. We are considerably less interested in defending every phrase and formulation here (although, of course, we have done our best in developing this paper), than in taking part in the building of the Black Liberation Movement and in developing the understanding and line to do it.

NOTE: Thanks and appreciation go to the Philadelphia Revolutionary Workers Headquarters district for their work in researching and writing of the original draft of this pamphlet.


Black people in the U.S. have traveled a long and hard road of particular and special oppression. They suffered 200 years of history's most barbaric slavery. They endured a century of semi-feudal peonage and racist white rule in the deep South. They have faced the decades long brutality of urban ghettoization, mass unemployment and super-exploitation in industry both North and South.

In the course of this history, direct ties to the original African tribes and civilizations were lost. Over the same time the experience of both special oppression and the struggle against it have made Blacks a distinct and common people, the Afro-American nation.

From a nation concentrated in the Black Belt South, Black people today are largely dispersed in urban ghettos all across the country. Despite this, the national sentiments of Black people continue to thrive, and their national aspirations continue to inspire other people in the U.S.

The Afro-American people today continue to wage struggle as a people-from urban uprisings to Vote Black and Buy Black movements, from Black United Fronts to Black music. And this Black national movement throws Black people directly against the system and rule of imperialism.

The revolutionary character of the Black national movement arises directly from the nature of national oppression Blacks face. This oppression and the divisions amongst the people along national lines that go hand-in-hand with it constitute an essential prop for the survival of U.S. imperialism. This oppression is so deeply ingrained in the system that struggle against it means struggle against imperialism.

This makes the Black Liberation Movement an extremely important ally of the working class in the struggle for socialism. Both movements can only succeed by overthrowing the imperialists. This provides the basis for the firmest unity. And neither movement can succeed without the other, requiring the closest possible alliance between the two movements. Building this alliance is a major task for communists.

But to bring about this revolutionary merger, we have to be clear that we are talking about two distinct movements. The Black liberation struggle has its own revolutionary potential, Significance and development. The independence of this movement for liberation is and will continue to be safeguarded by Blacks. Their cruel history has shown them that they have to rely on their own strength.

The future merger of the two movements will in great part take the form of an alliance between two revolutionary partners, each of which maintains their independent existence. (The movements of other oppressed nationalities, particularly the very large Spanish-speaking ones, are also a crucial part of this alliance. These movements and struggles also have their own independent character and are not adjuncts to either the workers movement or the Black liberation movement.)

Therefore, Marxists must enter into, support and actually build up the Black liberation movement, and Marxists must promote support and respect for the national liberation movement among all the people, particularly among white workers.

For Marxists working in the national movements the principal criterion for uniting with other forces should be the recognition of, and actual efforts toward, building the national struggle as an independent force against imperialism. Even when we have differences within these movements, we should always seek unity with those who promote the national struggle and aim our major criticism at forces who attack, undercut or ignore this struggle.

The goal of the Black liberation movement is liberation, freedom, and the right of Black people to control their own destiny. Politically this cannot exist without the right to self-determination - political power in areas of concentration, including the right to secede and form a separate state in the national homeland.

Self-determination is the highest democratic right and the only guarantee of equality. It includes the right to agitate for secession throughout the course of the struggle around national oppression and not only when the time to choose is at hand. The demand for self-determination is not, however, an abstract question. It is latent in all the struggles of Afro Americans for equality and political power.

For Marxists, the question of upholding self-determination has been central to building the national liberation movement. When the CPUSA, with the help of the Comintern, recognized this, they were able to make real advanced in linking up the labor and national movements and build up the national movement (more on this later).

The reverse is also true. Every time a Left organization has denied the right to self-determination to the Black struggle this has been accompanied by not building the Black liberation movement, to denying the revolutionary character of this movement, to denying the progressive content of nationalism. This was the case with the Revolutionary Communist Party, and, to a great extent, its predecessor, the Revolutionary Union, which was an extremely influential force in the development of the new Marxist-Leninist movement in this country. Despite an early orientation of supporting the Black struggle and a serious effort to grapple with the national question in the U.S., the RU/RCP wound up theoretically denying the right to self-determination. Similarly, the present-day CPUSA, the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC) trend and other forces who deny the right to self-determination wind up liquidating practical work around Black liberation.


Self-determination is a central principle of socialist theory, It has been recognized as the key to thoroughgoing revolution. The classic explication of the national question is found in the writings of the Bolsheviks Lenin and Stalin. They examined it in depth to solve the pressing practical question of making revolution in Czarist Russia, the "prisonhouse of nations." A study of their work provides a basis for seeing how completely the RU/RCP went off the tracks,

Stalin wrote that “…in the history of Russian Marxism there were two stages in the presentation of the national question: the first, or the pre-October stage, and the second, or the October stage. In the first stage, the national question was regarded as part of the general question of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, that is to say, as part of the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. In the second stage, when the national question assumed wider scope and became a question of colonies, when it became transformed from an intra-stare question into a world question, it came to be regarded as part of the general question of the proletarian revolution, as part of the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat."1

In the second period, including today, the national liberation struggle is objectively linked to the proletarian struggle against imperialism, independent of consciousness or intent.

The early theoretical works of Lenin and Stalin on the national question, Lenin's "Critical Remarks on the National Question" and "The Right of Nations to Self-Determination" and Stalin's "Marxism and the National Question" were written during the bourgeois democratic revolution, or, in the first period.

Stalin wrote that "under the conditions of rising capitalism the national struggle is a struggle of the bourgeois classes among themselves ... , In its essence it is always a bourgeois struggle, one that is to the advantage and profit mainly of the bourgeoisie," and that the "bourgeoisie plays the leading role."2

This is not to say that the national struggle was contrary to the interest of the working class. As Stalin wrote, "restriction of freedom of movement, disenfranchisement, repression of language, closing of schools, and other forms of persecution affect the workers no less, if not more, than the bourgeoisie ... the policy of nationalist persecution is dangerous to the cause of the proletariat and also on another account. It diverts the attention of large strata from social questions, questions of class struggle, to national questions, questions common to the proletariat and the bourgeoisie .... The policy of persecution does not stop there, It not infrequently passes from a system of oppression to a system of inciting nations against each other, to a system of massacres and pogroms."3 .
In this situation, Lenin and Stalin called upon the working class to stand for resolute struggle against all national oppression, while opposing the nationalism of the bourgeoisie, in order to bring about the unity of the proletariat.

Lenin wrote, "Insofar as the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation fights the oppressor, we are always, in every case, and more strongly then anyone else, in favor, for we are the staunchest and the most consistent enemies of oppression. But insofar as the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation stands for its own bourgeois nationalism, we stand against."4 And also, “[t]he bourgeois nationalism of any oppressed nation has a general democratic content that is directed against oppression, and it is this content that we unconditionally support. At the same time we strictly distinguish it from the tendency towards national exclusiveness."5

Lenin called for the working class to advance its own principles in the national struggle, in opposition to the principles of the bourgeoisie. And these principles were "complete equality of rights for all nations, the right of nations to self-determination; the unity of the workers of all nations." 6 and "[t]he recognition of the right of secession; the appraisal of each question of secession, from the point of view of removing all inequality, all privileges, and all exclusiveness." Thus, the right of self-determination was raised in order to unite the workers of the various nations, not to encourage secession. It was in this sense that Lenin referred to it as a "negative demand."

World War I and the October Revolution in Russia ushered in the second stage of the national question. Imperialism had widened the scope of national oppression to include the colonies, while the October Revolution inspired national rebellions, provided a strong base of support for them, and demonstrated how national problems could be resolved under socialism.

Lenin stated that the era of imperialism means "the national question can be solved only in connection with, and on the basis of, the proletarian revolution, and that the road to victory of the revolution of the West lies through the revolutionary alliance with the liberation movements of the colonies and dependent countries against imperialism."? Thus in the second period the national liberation movements are part of the worldwide united front against imperialism and the slogan of the working class in supporting these movements is again the right of nations to self-determination.

The correctness of these early statements by Lenin and Stalin has been amply demonstrated. At the present time, the struggles of the countries and nations of the Third World are a driving force worldwide against imperialism and Soviet social-imperialism. The struggle of nations for liberation from U.S. imperialism has not stopped. The struggle of nations to escape the yoke of social-imperialism is clearly on the rise. The central role of the national-colonial question is an established fact of revolutionary life.
The same holds true for the U.S. revolutionary struggle. The Black liberation struggle has been hitting at imperialism for the past two decades and more in a heavy and ongoing manner. It is an established fact of U.S. revolutionary life. All radical activists must recognize it, build on it and make their contribution to the united front that will end the rule of the U.S. monopoly capitalist class.


Following the split with the RCP, the RWH quickly began to see some of the forms RU/ RCP liquidation of the national question had taken and its practical consequences. The RU/ RCP had almost invariably condemned existing Black organizations, even local ones, and denounced as traitors and bourgeois agents such leaders as the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The group took the wrong side on critical issues. Most significant and infamous was the Boston busing struggle of the mid•I970s when the RU/RCP twisted and turned to portray the issue as limited to two questions: class unity vs. racial division and how to get "really quality education" for everybody. It was a desperate effort to ignore the actual struggle of Black people for equality, justice and democratic rights under the banner of uniting the working class against the bourgeoisie.

As a result of such policies, the RCP at the point of our departure had minimal ties among the Black masses, no concrete strategy for the Black liberation movement, a bare handful of Black cadre and a reputation for white chauvinism. Due to its size and presence, the RU/RCP was, for many revolutionary-minded Blacks, an argument against multi-national organization and Marxism-Leninism, The greatest damage on this front was the RU's 1973-74 "anti-Bundism campaign" which helped to break up the unity of several important M-L groups and drive organizations of good communists based among the oppressed nationalities into ultra-leftism and eventual collapse.

Thorough rectification by the RWH, however, required more than a recognition of the severity of our practical errors. The following section is an effort to go back and dismantle the theoretical framework which guided the RU/RCP's practice.

The RU/RCP line ran as follows:

A) The first period of the national question dealt only with oppressed nations which were part of larger multinational states. The Bolsheviks opposed secession for oppressed nations in this period.

B) In the second period the national struggle was objectively revolutionary and aimed at the imperialists. But as this period dealt only with external colonies oppressed by imperialism, the Black nation in the U.S. cannot be part of it. The Black struggle in the U.S. is more similar to the first period than to the second. Blacks are a "nation of a new type" and part of a "new third period" of the national question, where secession is once again an incorrect demand and should be opposed.

C) In this third period, only the fact that most Blacks are workers gives the Black struggle revolutionary potential. The struggle for democratic rights is reformist, bourgeois, and so not very important, especially since Blacks were a "proletarian nation."

D) All nationalism is nationalism.

Let's go through this point by point.


The first period of the national question was the stage of the bourgeois democratic revolution in Russia, and the Bolsheviks considered the national question part of that revolution. They vigorously opposed national oppression and upheld the right of oppressed nations to self-determination as a component part of the solution to national oppression.

Lenin and Stalin struggled for the unity of workers of all nations and against the bourgeois nationalism of the oppressed nations' bourgeoisies. They argued that each question of secession must be evaluated on the basis of concrete conditions, to decide whether it is a necessary step towards equality and unity.

The RU/RCP, however, maintained that in the first period the Bolsheviks opposed all demands for secession.

In Red Papers 5 the RU/RCP said:

Lenin and Stalin insisted that, when the national question is an "internal state problem," when there is the direct possibility of a single proletarian revolution throughout the entire state, the right of self-determination was a negative demand. Lenin compared it to the question of religion: Marxists are against all forms of religious persecution, but they are also against religion. So we are against all forms of persecution of oppressed nationalities, but we are also against the separation of the working class along national lines. 8

The RU/RCP analysis of the first period is important because they contended that what was true for oppressed nations in Russia then applies to the Afro-American nation in the U.S. today as well. And their conclusion, based on their interpretation of Lenin's and Stalin's Writings, was that: "Under any presently conceivable conditions, it [secession] would be a step back, and communists, especially Black communists, should politically oppose separatism." 9

But this interpretation cannot find support in either Lenin's or Stalin's writings on the national question. The "negative demand" formulation comes from Lenin's article "The Right of Nations to Self-Determination" written in i914. "The proletariat confines itself, so to speak, to the negative demand for recognition of the right of self-determination, without giving any guarantee to any nation and without undertaking to give anything at the expense of another nation." 10

The RU/RCP always left off the first part of the quote, which reads:

Theoretically, you cannot say in advance whether the bourgeois-democratic revolution wm end in a given nation seceding from another nation, or in its equality with the latter; in either case the important thing for the proletariat is to ensure the development of its class. For the bourgeoisie it is important to hamper this development by pushing the aims of its "own" nation before those of the proletariat. That is why the proletariat confines itself, so to speak, to the negative demand ....11

Negative demand means negative in that it is raised against privilege and not positive in that it is always programmatic and correct for the oppressor nation. Self-determination for Great Russians would not imply the right to oppress others. Lenin's whole article is about how communists always uphold the right of self-determination in opposition to oppression, rather than to say who gets it and who doesn't because the bourgeoisie will always misuse it. The Russian Social Democrats upheld the right of self-determination for Poland but not the right of Poles to oppress Jews. In fact, in the section of the quote which the RU omitted, Lenin specifically said that you can't say in advance whether secession will occur or not, and called for the proletariat to ensure its development in either case.

Lenin did compare the right to self-determination to the right of divorce. (The reference to religion the RU/RCP paraphrases is from Stalin.) Marxists uphold the right to divorce, but hope it won't be necessary. In general, Marxists hope that the unity of a marriage can be maintained.

Nor can you say, in advance, that any particular demand for secession is wrong and Lenin never advocated this. He called for "the appraisal of each concrete question of secession from the point of view of removing all inequality, all privileges, and all exclusiveness." 12

The whole thrust of Lenin's article, in fact, is defending the absolute necessity for the Bolsheviks to uphold and defend the right of self-determination. In it, he was arguing against Rosa Luxembourg who opposed the Bolshevik: position. "By supporting the right to secession, we are told, you are supporting the bourgeois nationalism of the oppressed nations. This is what Rosa Luxembourg says .... " 13

To which Lenin responded:

Whether the Ukraine, for example is destined to form an independent state is a matter that will be determined by a thousand, unpredictable factors. Without attempting idle "guesses," we firmly uphold something that is beyond doubt: the right of the Ukraine to form such a state. We respect this right, we do not uphold the privileges of Great Russians with regard to Ukrainians; we educate the masses in the spirit of rejecting state privileges for any nation .... In her quest for "practicality" Rosa Luxembourg has lost sight of the principal practical task both of the Great-Russian proletariat and of the proletariat of other nationalities-that of day by day agitation and propaganda against all state and national privileges, and for the right, the equal right of all nations, to their national state. This (at present) is our principal task in the national question, for only in this way can we defend the interests of democracy and the alliance of all proletarians of all nations on an equal footing." 14

Did Lenin say that the Ukraine shouldn't secede, that secession would be a step back because a single state revolution was possible? Not at all.

The RU/RCP references to Stalin don't help them much either. They Sought support for their position in Stalin's Marxism and the National Question.

The right of self-determination means that a nation may arrange its life in the way it wishes. It has the right to arrange its life on the basis of autonomy. It has the right to enter into federal relations with other nations. It has the right to complete secession Nations are sovereign and all nations have equal rights.

This, of course, does not mean that Social Democracy will support every demand of a nation. A nation has the right even to return to the old order of things; but that does not mean that Social Democracy will subscribe to such a decision if taken by some institution of a particular nation. 15

Note that what Stalin talked about here is not a mass movement for secession (or any other demand) but a demand of some (undefined) institution of a nation. Bear in mind, too, that this was written in the period when "the bourgeoisie plays the leading role" in the main institutions of a nation. Later, in the same article, Stalin himself said:

It is quite possible, therefore, that Ii combination of internal and external conditions may arise in which one or another nationality in Russia may find it necessary to raise and settle the question of its independence. And, of course, it is not for Marxists to create obstacles in such cases. 16


Were there cases where some small minority, and not the masses, demanded secession where it was a backwards demand which the Bolsheviks opposed?

This did occur, in fact, after the October revolution, when the bourgeoisie of the formerly oppressed nations tried to stir up nationalist movements against the new Soviet governments. In this case, the Bolsheviks did oppose secession and it was in this context that Stalin said:

It should be borne in mind that in addition to the right of nations to self-determination, there is also the right of the working class to consolidate its power, and the right of self-determination is subordinate to this latter right. There are cases when the right of self-determination conflicts with another, higher right-the right of the working class that has come to power to consolidate its power. In such cases-this must be said bluntly-the right of self-determination cannot and must not serve as an obstacle to the working class in exercising its right to dictatorship. 17

The situation referred to here was during the civil war in Russia when the survival of Soviet power hung in the balance. There was a possibility of the old Russian reactionaries gaining power. Certain bourgeois forces had cut deals with them to build national movements aimed at the revolution.

These movements could in no way alleviate the national oppression of the masses in these areas, and it endangered the newfound freedom of all the other oppressed nations as well as I of the working class. The Bolsheviks, together with the oppressed masses in the border region, I did crush these particular movements, because they were reactionary movements. But this did not settle the question of self-determination for the masses in these areas.

The Bolsheviks upheld and applied the principle of self-determination in practice. Finland, for instance, was granted complete Independence. From 1917 until the actual establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics various forms of self-government were established. There were no less than eight separate states, including the Ukranian, Azerbaijian, Armenian, and Georgian Soviet Socialist Republics. There were nearly 20 autonomous regions created including the Chuvash, Bolga Tartars, Bashkir, and Karelia.

Was this practice of a Party which held, as the RU/RCP claimed, that "wherever the possibility of a single revolution throughout the state is real, secession is a step back"? (emphasis ours)

Lenin and Stalin struggled for the unity of workers of all nations but they never substituted their desire for multinational unity and a larger state for a concrete analysis of the national movement in relation to the proletarian struggle. The RU/RCP proceeded from a subjective vision of a single revolution, not from an actual analysis of where the national and working class movements stand in relation to each other- The thought of Blacks seceding on the eve of the revolution was so unbearable to them that they proceeded from this fear rather than determining and implementing the practical steps necessary to build the Black liberation movement and forge an alliance between the two movements.


The RU/RCP analysis also treats self-determination as if it were only a question on the eve of revolution - they discuss it as the right to choose whether or not to secede after state power has already been seized.

Lenin and Stalin, in the articles and quotes we have cited, deal specifically with the possibility of national movements demanding secession before the success of the proletarian revolution. Furthermore, they define self-determination not only as the right to secede but as the right to organize for separation throughout the course of the national struggle. As Lenin said, "Specifically, this demand for political democracy implies complete freedom to agitate for secession and for a referendum on secession by the seceding nation." 18

So, although the RU/RCP claimed to uphold the right to self-determination for the Black nation, they in fact denied it, first by characterizing it as a negative demand and then defining negative demand to mean a backwards demand which should be opposed.

The RU/RCP's reasoning led to their failure to raise the demand for self-determination. Self-determination was put off for later with the understanding that later it would be opposed. It is not possible to uphold the right to self-determination and declare in advance against secession.

The RU/RCP totally missed Lenin's point that:

Victorious socialism must necessarily establish full democracy and consequently, not only introduce full equality of nations but also realize the right of the oppressed nations to self-determination, i.e., the right to free political separation. Socialist parties which do not show by all their activity, both now during the revolution and after its victory that they would liberate the enslaved nations and build relations with them on the basis of a free union-and free union is a false phrase without the right to secede-these parties would be betraying socialism) 9

One further point. The RU/RCP said that autonomy in certain districts was the way in which self-determination might be carried out. In other words, they upheld firmly the "right to autonomy." Of this Lenin said:

As far as autonomy is concerned, Marxists defend, not the "right" to autonomy, but autonomy itself. as a general universal principle of a democratic state with a mixed national composition, and a great variety of geographical and other conditions. Consequently, the recognition of the "right of nations to autonomy" is ... absurd .... 20

The RU/RCP line stands in direct contradiction to Lenin and Stalin on this point and did, in fact, betray socialism.


The national struggle changes in conjunction with the proletarian struggle. As Stalin explained it:

The national question does not always have one and the same character, that the character and tasks of the national movement vary with the different periods in the development of the revolution ... changes in the character and tasks of the revolution in various stages of its development give rise to corresponding changes in the character and aims of the national question, that in conformity with this the Party's policy on the national question also changes .... 21

World War I and the October Revolution ushered in a new overall stage in the worldwide proletarian revolution - the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution. In this stage, the world is completely divided up by the advanced capitalist countries, and oppressed nations worldwide become the stomping ground of the imperialists.

The character of the national struggle changed accordingly. The national liberation movements were now directed against the imperialists and became part of the worldwide united front against the imperialist blocs.

Imperialism intensifies national oppression, thereby calling forth more resistance to it.
And the October Revolution, proving the possibility of liberation from oppression, both inspired the colonial peoples to rebel and provided a strong base of support for their liberation struggles. The national movements took on much more of a mass character. The stand of the Soviet government for democracy amongst nations created the basis for relative political independence of many nations and hampered the ability of the imperialists to brazenly divide up the world, as they did during the Versailles Peace Conference of 1919.

The second period of the national question, then, corresponds to the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution, and the national liberation movements in this period are objectively an ally of the proletarian socialist revolution.

The world is still in this era, and the Black struggle, like other national liberation movements in this period, is an independently revolutionary force and an objective ally of the proletariat.


The RU/RCP, however, unable to accept the reality of a movement separate from the working class movement, with its own revolutionary significance, tried to write the Black struggle out of this historical period. One major way they did this was to claim that the distinction between the two periods of the national question is not a matter of historical development, but of geography.

Throughout its writings, the RU/RCP makes the distinction a question of locality-in the first period, the national question concerned only oppressed nations within a single multinational state, it was "internal and particular," In the second period it concerned only the rebellion of colonies, and was "external and general." 22

Again, this represents not a deepening, but a distortion of the writings of Lenin and Stalin.

The internal/external contrast comes from Stalin's Foundations of Leninism:

During the last two decades the national question has undergone a number of very important changes. The national question in the period of the Second International and the national question in the period of Leninism are far from being the same thing. They differ profoundly with each other, not only in their scope, but also in their intrinsic character.

Formerly, the national question was usually confined to a narrow circle of questions, concerning primarily, "civilized" nationalities. The Irish, the Hungarians, the Poles, the Finns, the Serbs, and several other European nationalities-that was the circle of unequal people in whose destinies the leaders of the Second International were interested. The scores and hundreds and millions of Asiatic and African people who are suffering national oppression in its most savage and cruel form usually remained outside their field of vision. They hesitated to put white and black, "civilized" and "uncivilized" on the same plane. Two or three meaningless, lukewarm resolutions, which carefully evaded the question of liberating the colonies-that was all the leaders of the Second International boast of Now we can say that this duplicity and half-heartedness in dealing with the national question has been brought to an end. Leninism has laid bare this crying incongruity, broke down the wall between whites and blacks, between Europeans and Asiatics, between the "civilized" and "uncivilized" slaves of imperialism, thus linked the national question with the question of the colonies. The national question was thereby transformed from a particular and internal state problem into a general and international problem, into a world problem of emancipating the oppressed peoples in the dependent countries and colonies from the yoke of imperialism. 23

The italicized sections are the parts the RU/RCP deliberately left out, in order to hide the true meaning of this excerpt when quoting it on page 30 of RP 5. As the full quote reveals, Stalin was referring to the whole approach the Second International held on the national question. The Second International saw it as a particular problem in the sense that it was particular to, and only included, the multinational states of Europe. It was an “internal” problem because it only concerned those nations which were forcibly subjugated within the boundaries of a given state.

Stalin argued against this whole approach. First, it was incorrect to split the question of dependent nations from the question of the colonies, because the oppression of both 'was fundamentally the same. Furthermore, it was this narrow, ''internal'' view that allowed the chauvinists of the Second International to keep the oppressed colonies of the world outside of their "field of vision." It allowed them to ignore the millions of Africans and Asians suffering from national oppression.

The Bolsheviks considered both "internally" and "externally" oppressed nations in both periods of the national question. In "The Right of Nations to Self Determination," which was written in the pre-October period, Lenin talks at great length about the Irish movement to secede from England. He not only says that it is revolutionary but insists that supporting it is crucial. Later he says:

Is it not clear that it is least of all permissible to contrast Europe to the colonies in this respect? The struggle of the oppressed nations in Europe, a struggle capable of going all the way to insurrection and street fighting, capable of breaking down the iron discipline of the army and martial law, will "sharpen the revolutionary crisis in Europe" to an Infinitely greater degree than a much more developed rebellion in a remote colony. A blow delivered against the power of the English imperialist bourgeoisie by a rebellion in Ireland is a hundred times more significant politically than a blow of equal force delivered in Asia or Africa. 24

And in the second, October, period of the national question, Lenin says this:

It is possible, however, that five, ten, or more years will elapse before the socialist revolution begins. This will be the time for the revolutionary education of the masses in the spirit that will make it impossible for social-chauvinists and opportunists to belong to the working class party and gain a victory as was the case in 1914-16. The socialists must explain to the muses that British socialists who do not demand freedom to separate for the colonies and Ireland, Gentian socialists who do not demand freedom to separate for the colonies, the Alsatians, Danes, and Poles, and who do not extend their revolutionary propaganda and revolutionary mass activity directly to the sphere of struggle against national oppression, or who do not make use of such incidents as that at Zabern for the broadest illegal propaganda among the proletariat of the oppressor nation, for street demonstrations and revolutionary mass action-Russian socialists who do not demand freedom to separate for Finland, Poland, the Ukraine, etc, etc.-that such socialists act as chauvinists and lackeys of bloodstained and filthy imperialist monarchies and the imperialist bourgeoisie. 25

Lenin makes a point here that for each imperialist nation the same task on the national question is present for both "colonies and internally oppressed nations.”

Stalin wrote that "this question has been transformed from a local, intra-state question into a world question, a question of the struggle waged by the colonies and dependent nationalities against imperialism." 26

It's worth checking this article out more closely. In it, Stalin is arguing against a Comrade Semich, from Yugoslavia, who is denigrating the national movement of the Croats and Slovenes (oppressed nations in Yugoslavia). This was in the mid-1920s, after the October Revolution. Semich, using quotes from Stalin's Marxism and the National Question, argued that these movements were mainly a case of fighting between the Croatian and Slovenian bourgeoisie on the one hand and the Serbian bourgeoisie on the other.

Attacking Semich's position, Stalin wrote:

Stalin's pamphlet was written before the imperialist war, when the national question was not yet regarded by Marxists as a question of world significance, when the Marxists' fundamental demand for the right to self-determination was regarded not ail part of the proletarian revolution but as part of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. It would be ridiculous not to see that since then the international situation has radically changed, that the war, on the one hand, and the October Revolution in Russia, on the other, transformed the national question from a part of the bourgeois-democratic revolution into apart of the proletarian-socialist revolution. 27

Thus, the national struggle of the Slovenes and Croats changed in character from one period to the next. In the first period it was mainly a fight between competing bourgeoisies. (Not, we must point out to the RU/RCP, because all national struggles in the first period had that character, but because that particular struggle had that character.)

But World War I and the October Revolution ushered in changes. The Croats and Slovenes didn't change locally. They were still part of a single state (although a new one, Yugoslavia, instead of Austria-Hungary) but the nature of the struggle had changed. As Stalin explained it, 'The essence of the question lies in the struggle that the masses of people of the colonies and dependent nationalities are waging against financial exploitation, against the political enslavement and cultural effacement of those colonies and nationalities by the imperialist bourgeoisie of the ruling nationality.” 28

The RU/RCP attempt to make geography the dividing line between the two periods would be purely laughable if not for its insidious purpose-to deny the revolutionary significance of the Black struggle in the U.S.

The RU/RCP argument bluntly proclaimed that the national question for Blacks was in a "third period" - once again an internal state question, but under new conditions of a new type.

(We will address some of the RU/RCP "new conditions," including the class composition of the Black nation and its dispersal from the Black Belt, elsewhere in this paper.)

This argument - that the Black national question is not part of the second period of the national question and is more similar to the first - is not only incorrect but flagrantly non-Marxist as well. So is the contention that in the first period secession was a backwards demand and communists never supported it.

From these premises, the RU/RCP concluded that the Afro-American demand for self-determination was itself backward and should be opposed. This whole position is dead wrong and counter-revolutionary. It was never baldly stated but disguised in the form of twin assertions: self-determination is not the "essential thrust" of Black people's struggle, and anyway, secession is impossible except after a revolution when it would be totally undesirable.

This is all in addition to the fact that Blacks in the U.S. are not a European nationality.
Afro-Americans, in fact, are a people that originally came from the colonies. Their presence in the U.S. and the particular form of their national oppression is a product of colonialism. And the particular race hatred that is employed against Blacks in the U.S. is both the basis and an integral part of the white supremacist policy U.S. imperialism has employed around the world for many years. The RU/RCP line pitted the fight for self-determination against the fight for socialism.


Throughout its analysis the RU/RCP slighted the content of Marxist analysis on the national question in favor of scheming. The national movements were viewed by Avakian & Co. as either a force to be brought under control and used or as a force to be isolated and diffused.

The national movements are indeed a force. And a Marxist analysis must reckon with and understand that force. However, a current policy on the national question must have as its goal one thing: ending national oppression as quickly as possible. This figured only peripherally into RU/RCP policy.

A hallmark of this policy was a disdain for democracy in general and the view that socialism solves the national question. This view is similar to one held by certain ultra-leftists in Russia. They felt that since the national question had become part of the question of worldwide proletarian revolution, it had become the same as the question of proletarian struggle. This led to the denial of both the right to self-determination and the political struggle for democracy. To this Lenin answered:

Having failed to understand that, Kivesky bypasses the central question, that belongs to his special subject, namely, how will we Social Democrats abolish national oppression? He shunts the question aside with phrases about the world being "drenched in blood," etc. (though this has no bearing on the matter under discussion). This leaves only one single argument: the socialist revolution will solve everything! Or, the argument sometimes advanced by people who share his views: self-determination is impossible under capitalism, and superfluous under socialism.

From the theoretical standpoint that view is nonsensical; from the practical political standpoint it is chauvinistic. It fails to appreciate the significance of democracy. For socialism is impossible without democracy because: (1) the proletariat cannot perform the socialist revolution unless it prepares for it by the struggle for democracy; (2) victorious socialism cannot consolidate its victory and bring humanity to the withering away of the state without implementing full democracy. To claim that self-determination is superfluous under socialism is therefore just as nonsensical and just as hopelessly confusing as to claim that democracy is superfluous under socialism ....

The economic revolution will create the necessary prerequisites [emphasis added] for eliminating all types of political oppression. Precisely for that reason it is illogical and incorrect to reduce everything to the economic revolution, for the question is: how to eliminate national oppression? It cannot be eliminated without an economic revolution. That is incontestable. But to limit ourselves to this is to lapse into absurd and wretched imperialist Economism.29

This "absurd and wretched imperialist Economism" is clearly the error of the RU/RCP. Taking the truism that economic revolution is necessary to truly eliminate national oppression, these liquidators drop the democratic content of the struggle both before and after the socialist revolution. The RU/RCP never had a Marxist understanding of democracy. Its view was that democracy was one stage in the struggle and socialism was another stage. In doing this it equated democracy with capitalism and belittled its importance. Is this a correct stand? No, it is not. As Lenin said,

All general democratic demands are bourgeois democratic demands, but only anarchists and opportunists can deduce from this that it is not the business of the proletariat to back these demands in the most consistent manner possible. 30

The RU/RCP did not just negate the importance of upholding bourgeois democracy, they also made a mockery of proletarian democracy.

The RU/RCP view was that proletarian democracy amounted to nothing more than the dictatorship of the proletariat. To raise democracy in any other sense or context was to uphold bourgeois dictatorship. (This view obviously goes hand-in-hand with the RCP's support for the fascist approach advocated and practiced by the Gang of Four in China.)

The relationship between working class rule and democracy is a crucial and difficult problem which Marxism is still working to resolve. The RU/RCP, however, has already placed itself outside the parameters laid out by Lenin over half a century ago.

The difference lies in the fact that certain economic evils are part of capitalism as such, whatever the political superstructure, and that it is impossible to eliminate them economically without eliminating capitalism itself. Not a single instance can be cited to disprove this. On the other hand, political evils represent a departure from democracy which, economically, is fully possible "on the basis of the existing system," i.e., capitalism, and by the way of exception is being implemented under capitalism - certain aspects in one country, other aspects in another. Again, what the author fails to understand is precisely the fundamental conditions necessary for the implementation of democracy in general! 31

In other words, democracy is something the people and communists fight for under capitalism, but can fully achieve only under socialism. The seizing of state power by the working class doesn't solve the national question but rather creates the economic basis for consistent democracy which in the long run is the only solution to national oppression. This must include the right of self-determination which is, after all, only a democratic right.

The association of democracy with capitalism showed up again and again in RU/RCP articles. They asserted that the only reason Blacks would choose secession would be to return to capitalism. This is preposterous. As Lenin said,

For the fact is that we do not know and cannot know, how many of the oppressed nations will in practice require secession in order to contribute something of their own to the different forms of democracy, the different forms of transition to socialism. And that the negation of freedom of secession now is theoretically false from beginning to end and in practice amounts to servility to the chauvinists of the oppressing nations-this we know, see and feel daily. 32

Any Marxist who does not see that a certain distrust will legitimately continue to exist among at least some sections of Afro-Americans or who feels that white chauvinist attitudes among white workers will be totally wiped out during the process of the U.S; revolution is a hopeless idealist. Resolving the national question in the U.S. will be a delicate and central problem well past the seizure of power and will only be accomplished by a firm commitment to democratic rights, including self-determination.

The RU/RCP had no commitment to consistent democracy around the national question.

"Nation of a new type" is not a "cute phrase" (see BWC paper, p. 15) but the key to understanding the real and powerful basis of unity between the struggle for Black liberation and proletarian revolution in the U.S., and the real and profound importance of the struggle of the masses of Black people against U.S. imperialism. It is the key to understanding why in essence this struggle is exactly not a bourgeois movement, why it is not in essence a democratic question of the old or new type, but in essence a proletarian question and directly linked in a single stage revolution with the proletarian struggle for socia1ism. 33

Later, the RU/RCP again metaphysically tied democratic content and self-determination to capitalist rule:

Self-determination is also a democratic right, and the struggle for self-determination
where it is the essential thrust, is part of tire democratic stage of revolution, even in the second period of the national question, where it is part of the national democracy revolution leading to proletarian rule and the socialist stage. 34


The only feature that made the Black struggle important to the RU/RCP is the fact that most Blacks are workers. The proletarian character of the Black nation is a major factor in making it a "nation of a new type," and it is only this which makes the Black struggle revolutionary. This was stated right at the beginning of RP 5:

The Black people's struggle has become such a powerful force and has shaken U.S. society so fundamentally exactly because, since World War II, the Black people, while still suffering national oppression, have been transformed from peasant-farmers concentrated almost entirely in the Black Belt of the South, into wage workers, concentrated overwhelmingly in urban centers and, more importantly, in the large scale industry that makes up the cornerstone of power of the country's rulers. For this reason, the Black liberation struggle is smashing the restraints that the ruling class and certain bourgeois Black "leaders" have tried to impose on it. 35

An internal RU document, National Bulletin 13, made the same point:

The key point is the dual oppression of the masses of Black working people. The national oppression they suffer, and the mass struggle against it, is bound together by a thousand links with their struggle against class exploitation and oppression, and the oppression and exploitation of the whole class. This is exactly why the Black liberation struggle has been a "powerful driving force" pushing forward the whole struggle against U.S. imperialism and helping to lay the basis for the revolutionary unity of the class. This is the heart of our line on Black liberation and proletarian revolution. 36

Did the Black struggle have no revolutionary significance when Blacks were mainly peasants? Wasn't it a powerful driving force then? One trick the RCP used to get over this "new period," "nation of a new type" line was to quote Stalin from the previously cited article on the Yugoslav situation, saying that the national question was a peasant question. They then asserted that the agrarian question is not important in this case, so the Black national question must be a proletarian question.

Stalin's article, in fact, refutes the RCP's line. It is not, he argued, explicitly an agrarian question. Land to the tiller is not the resolution. Why is the national question in the second period in essence a peasant question? Because the main force in the national struggle is the peasantry, in contrast to the first period when the national question arose mainly as a battle of bourgeois vs. bourgeois. The resolution is self-determination. (Stalin also referred to other aspects of the question-national culture, statehood, etc.)

The national movement is a movement of many classes. The fact that Black workers have replaced peasants as the main popular class in the Black community and as the main, if not leading, force in the BLM has not changed the essential nature of the struggle. (Certainly there is no resemblance to the pre-World War I, pre-October, period when the rivalry of the oppressors determined its character.) In the future, workers may be the main force in the national struggle in many places as developments in Northern Ireland and Eastern Europe certainly seem to indicate, but that doesn't change the essential nature of the national question.

What these excerpts, which were hailed as "the heart of the RU line," come down to is that only the class demands of the Black workers are revolutionary and their national demands are not. This fallacy was deepened in Marxism vs. Bundism:

We believe that, although there is no stage of bourgeois-democratic revolution-In the U.S. today, there is still a question of (bourgeois) democratic Tights, including the rights of oppressed nationalities. Whether this is a reformist or revolutionary question depends on whether these democratic rights are treated as an end in themselves, abstracted from and raised above the class struggle, or whether they are treated as part of the struggle for proletarian revolution-waging the fight against national oppression "as part of the overall class struggle," and merging the national struggle with the class struggle. In other words, it is a question of whether bourgeois or proletarian ideology is in command, in the final analysis. 37

This says that the struggle is not objectively directed at the capitalists unless this is subjectively understood by the forces in the struggle. It confuses the ideology of the struggle with its politics. The fight for self-determination is separated from the fight for democratic rights - the former is backward and the latter is reformist. The result was the RU's practice: hardly every taking up the fight for democratic rights and never raising the demand for self-Determination when they did.

Because U.S. imperialism rests on national oppression, the 'Black liberation struggle is objectively a force against imperialism. This is true despite the fact that Blacks are "internally oppressed" (and not a classically defined colony), regardless of which line leads the Black struggle, and whether or not the majority of Blacks are workers.
Furthermore, the fight to ensure democracy, in general, is not contrary to the fight for socialism, but it an integral part of it.


In polemics with the movement, as well as amongst the people, the RU/RCP make the main target of criticism the proponents of Black nationalism, letting the imperialists and white chauvinists off the hook.

The RU/RCP formulation of "all nationalism is nationalism" must be viewed in this context. It is true that nationalism, as a worked-out ideology is bourgeois, and when it is compared to Marxism and internationalism, we uphold the latter ideology. But overwhelmingly, what the RU condemned as nationalism amongst the Black people was not an ideology but national sentiment, the recognition of their national oppression and the determination to fight against it and bring an end to it.

Even as an ideology, nationalism has progressive aspects. As Lenin said,

An abstract presentation of the question of nationalism in general is of no use at all. A distinction must necessarily be made between the nationalism of an oppressor nation and that of an oppressed nation .... The fundamental interests of proletarian revolution, and consequently of the class struggle, requires that we never adopt a formal attitude to the national question, but always take into account the specific attitude of the proletarians of the oppressed (or small) nations toward the oppressor (or big) nations. 38

Looking at the Afro-American nation in the U.S. we must agree with the old Black Workers Congress when they said essentially that Black nationalism is mainly the nationalism of the working masses. This nationalism is not primarily a case of two bourgeoisies fighting for a market. Rather, it is an eclectic political philosophy expressing the historical lessons of the Black liberation movement as summed up by its dominant trend.

This is not to say there is nothing to the struggle against national exclusiveness. Tendencies toward such exclusiveness are not uncommon. For instance, among many otherwise advanced fighters in the BLM there exist antagonism and discrimination against other minority nationalities who own shops or other property in the Black communities; for example, Koreans in Philadelphia and New York, Arabs and Lebanese in some parts of the Midwest, and so on.

The RU/RCP consistently pitted nationalism against internationalism as though the two were mutually exclusive. But, because Black people everywhere are an oppressed race (as noted in the Comintern statement of 1928), Black nationalists tend to move very quickly toward adopting an internationalist perspective. Support for the struggles of oppressed nations throughout the world is not the same as Marxism-Leninism, but is a far cry from the "my nation first" ideology of the bourgeoisie.

To conclude that in the abstract all nationalism is nationalism is useless for guiding the practical struggle. It is meaningful only for organizations like the RU/RCP, which set for itself the impossible dream of keeping all bourgeois ideology out of the workers' movement. Their quest to eliminate "narrow" nationalism from the workers' ranks prevented RU/RCP cadre from uniting with the national sentiments of the Black people. It sealed the fate of the RU/ RCP as an isolated, mostly white sect, divorced from the national movement and the masses of Black people.

It is this fundamentally counter-revolutionary and white chauvinist approach to the national question that the RWH had to repudiate in order to begin uniting with the great revolutionary force of the Black liberation movement.


An understanding of the Afro-American national question in the U.S. is impossible without a thorough knowledge of Black people's 350 year history of oppression, exploitation and struggle. A full review of that history cannot be included in this paper. (The RWH has a six part, internal study course in Black history developed from dozens of books on Afro-American history.)

There are, however, three key points of history that have particular bearing on this paper and will be addressed in this section. The first is how the African slaves were forged into an Afro-American nation in the aftermath of the Civil War and the defeat of Reconstruction. The second is how the Black movement and the labor movement developed along separate paths for decades and how the adoption of a correct line by the CPUSA (Communist Party, U.S.A.) laid the basis for big advances in linking up the two movements during the progressive upsurge of the '30s and '40s. The third is how the major changes in objective conditions since the Comintern resolutions of 1928 and 1930 have not eliminated the Afro-American nation or the national character of Black people's struggle.


The 12 years of Reconstruction, 1865-1877, immediately following the Civil War were a period of broad revolutionary struggle to determine the content of the victory attained in the previous years of bloodshed. It was a decisive turning point. Would Black people be able to win the material and social positions which could assure amalgamation into the U.S. nation on the basis of equality? Or would counter-revolution block this avenue to advance, forcing Black people back into some form of near slavery?

Out of the' broad united front that fought against the slave-holder's rebellion, two class forces in particular stand out in relation to the struggle over Reconstruction. The thrust of the movement of freed slaves was for full democracy centered around the questions of land, the vote and social equality. For the northern industrialists, the goal was a unified nation controlled and exploitable as they saw fit.

During the Civil War the Union leaders had been compelled to free the slaves in order to pacify widespread Abolitionist sentiment in the North, collapse the economic base of the Confederacy by encouraging Blacks to flee the plantations, and to prevent England from recognizing the Confederacy and extending it full aid. (The loss of Southern cotton triggered a depression in Britain but anti-slavery agitation by progressives, including Karl Marx, kept the English working class firmly in the abolitionist camp.) It was for these political reasons and the military strength that Black volunteers added to the union forces and not from any moral virtue, that led Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

Reconstruction was the continuation of the war alliance between Northern industrialist, : and Radical Republicans. The Union Army occupied the South and forcibly suppressed the political rights of the deposed plantation owners. Under Federal protection, "freedmen" and their" white allies reconstructed the Southern legislatures and held various conventions, elected themselves to these bodies and produced a large body of progressive legislation and state constitutional reform. .

They abolished old slave laws, established universal suffrage, and broadened the democratic rights of the people to an extent unequaled anywhere in the world. This legislation was truly remarkable considering that a great many of these new legislators were formerly illiterate slave" totally without political experience. In this situation the legal basis, as well as the social/political climate necessary for the assimilation of the Black "freedmen" into the American nation, was established and the process was proceeding with great momentum.


But the flaw in this process was land reform, the economic condition for advance, the basic underpin~ of social and political freedom. The victorious Northern capitalists supported Reconstruction, to the extent that it crippled their defeated rivals in the Southern slavocracy. Only a handful of Radical Republicans in the government were willing to champion so basic a challenge to property rights as appropriation and redistribution of productive land.

The failure to achieve land reform after the war, except in a few isolated areas, foreshadowed the betrayal and reversal of Reconstruction. In 1877, by means of the infamous "Hayes-Tilden Agreement," the Northern bourgeoisie broke the war alliance with the Black people and Northern progressives in favor of a new alliance with their former Confederate enemies.

Having secured national unity and their dominance over the South, the Republican government, representing the Northern bourgeoisie, surrendered control of two key state legislatures (South Carolina and Louisiana) and withdrew the Federal troops. Blacks were then faced with an upsurge of planter-inspired white terror. With their base in the old plantation economy, the former slave owners forcibly recaptured political power in the South. They then proceeded to re-enslave the landless Black masses in a system of land tenancy (sharecropping), enforced through inescapable debt and both legal and extra-legal violence.

With economic subjugation came political disenfranchisement through such methods as poll taxes and literacy requirements. On a national scale the federal government abrogated the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, and the Supreme Court declared the "Civil Rights Laws" unconstitutional, legalizing Jim Crow segregation. As capitalism became imperialism, the monopoly capitalists crushed the Black masses underfoot.


Thus, the weapon of counter-revolution was wielded by the victorious industrialist class.

The path to amalgamation was blocked and the former slave developed instead into a distinct, though subject, nation under the heel of the imperialists. The relative freedom of the period of Reconstruction had allowed class differentiation to take place rather rapidly. Black land-grant colleges had been founded. A nascent intelligentsia and many Black businesses were established. In the following years these elements would combine with the common experience of oppression to form Black people into a new nation.

Marxist-Leninists generally recognize that Black people constitute an "oppressed nation within a nation" up until roughly World War II. The Black nation fulfilled all of Stalin's criteria for nationhood, as described in Marxism and the National Struggle:
A nation is an historically evolved, stable community of people formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture. 39

The vast majority of Black people throughout the period formed a stable community of English-speaking people in the Black Belt territory, united on the basis of the plantation economy, and reared in a common psychology of racial oppression, exclusion and resistance, manifested in a common culture of survival and struggle.

This situation existed for nearly 70 years, changing qualitatively only in the last 30 years. As late as the mid.'50s the majority of Blacks were Southern sharecroppers or in other ways tied directly to the Southern sharecropping system. Jim Crow remained the legal status quo and Klan terror flourished unabated.


The 1928 and 1930 resolutions on the national question in the U.S. adopted by the Communist International (Comintern) marked a turning point in the young CPUSA and also for the broader working class movement. From the time of the Civil War, with the rise of the organized labor movement and the left wing forces within it, the freedom struggle of Black people and the workers' fight against capital traveled, for the most part, along separate roads. The first 10 years of the CP's life had 'seen a measure of success in taking up particular issues of Afro-American oppression - in itself, a qualitative change over the previous 30 years. But it was only with the new resolutions on self-determination that the Party's work was put on a solid revolutionary footing with results that demonstrated the correctness of that approach.


The period from 187O to 1920 saw the rise of imperialism in the U.S. Blacks were driven back into the near-slavery of sharecropping, Jim Crow, and lynch terror. The working class fought many hard battles against the capitalists and began to get organized into trade unions.

Increasingly, however, official trade unionism came to ignore and exclude Blacks. To a large extent, Samuel Gompers' AFL craft unionism became part of the imperialist assault on the Black people. Left forces worked against this trend to some extent, but were largely swept along in the chauvinist current. Throughout the entire period the Left's guiding line, regardless of organization, was that Blacks had no special demands. They were approached as workers. Trade unionism and a future socialism were the way out for Blacks as well as white workers.

Organized labor took the form successively of the National Labor Union (1867-71) and Colored National Labor Union (1869 and '70s), the Knights of Labor (l869-1890s) and American Federation of Labor (18808 on).

The upsurge of industry during and after the Civil War was accompanied by the organizing of the NLU. Its focus was on the struggle of workers against capital. They had no program for Reconstruction in the South, opposed the Freedmen's Bureau, and saw the Republican Party as "the party of the bosses." This same party, especially its radical wing, was viewed by most Blacks as their political leader in struggling against the plantation ruling class in the South.

Although the NLU passed resolutions against discrimination and upheld organizing workers of all races, they refused to allow a representative of the Colored National Labor Union or the Black Lt. Governor of Louisiana to address their 1870 convention. The reason given was that the speakers were too closely identified with the Republican Party. Instead of land, the vote and equality for Blacks in the South, the NLU pushed schemes like currency reform. (The CNLU itself was founded in 1869 with a program of both labor demands and support for radical Reconstruction. They were open to merging with the NLU, but the 1870 convention rebuffed them and set back Black-white labor unity).

The Knights of Labor made notable gains in organizing Black workers. In 1886, around 15% of its members were Blacks. Parades of both white and Black workers were held at various times, including in some Southern cities. But they too had no special program for the South, nor did they campaign to see that Blacks were hired in all industries.

The AFL in its early years made some attempt to organize Blacks. But in 1900 they passed a resolution to organize Blacks into separate. Jim Crow unions only. Combined with its narrow craft approach, organizing only skilled workers, the AFL in effect stopped organizing Blacks at all.

In 1902 there were only 30,000 Blacks in the AFL, or less than 3% of the total membership. (This compares to the 60-90,000 in the K.. of L.) Also, of these 30,000, 20,000 were in the United Mine Workers and 600 in the International Longshoremen's Association, two more industrial-type unions. Sam Gompers' attitude was that Blacks, having recently emerged from slavery, could not be expected to make good trade unionists. This contrasts sharply with statements of the Knights of Labor leaders 20 years previously that Blacks were solid trade unionists. The situation in the AFL got even worse in the following years.

How did this come to pass? An obvious answer is that the racist ideas and white supremacist ideology promoted by the bourgeoisie for generations were deeply rooted among white workers. This is true, but as an explanation it misses the crucial element. As early as the 1600s, the rich and powerful in the U.S. established a system whereby whites, no matter how ground down and exploited, enjoyed relative privileges over Blacks.

This relative advantage has taken different forms at different times, from slavery and Jim Crow laws to the effects of discrimination and national oppression. Such privilege promoted competition and antagonism between nationalities and laid much of the material foundation for white supremacist views.

So the situation prevails to the present day, even though it can be demonstrated in practice ' that these white privileges harm not only the long-term, but also the Immediate interests of white workers. The classic example is in the South where privileges are the most formalized and entrenched and the living standards of workers are the worst in the country .(The existence and effects of such privileges will be touched on again, later , but a more thorough discussion and an approach to combating white supremacy in the proletariat and other popular strata is outside the scope of this paper.)


Developments on the Left to a large extent reflected the situation in the broader working class movement. The International Workingmen's Association (1864-1876) and the Socialist Labor Party (1876-1900) worked to organize Black and white workers as common class fighters. But during this 30 year period of Reconstruction, rising KKK terror and step by step disenfranchisement of Blacks in the South, the Left had no program for the South and sponsored no actions in support of Black people's particular demands.

The Socialist Party (1901-1919) was even worse. Continuing the Blacks-are-just-workers approach, their press at times would contain Outrageously chauvinistic statements with regard to Blacks which went unchallenged. Books written by Socialist Party leaders would not even refer to Blacks, or if they did, would propagate slanders of Black history such as Blacks are passive and don't fight for their freedom.

Socialist Party functionaries were always white. There were no chapters in the South except Texas and Oklahoma, and there Blacks and whites met separately. Even the left wing of the SP, which eventually split to form the CPUSA, did not challenge the SP's approach to Blacks~ It was only after the Bolshevik Revolution and Lenin's writings began to be circulated that the SP passed a resolution specifically dealing with Blacks, characterizing the problem as a "race question."

From 1905 to the 1920s the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) led many important battles, especially among the unskilled workers. The Syndicalist League of North America and later the TUEL (Trade Union Educational League) were also active during this period. Each group organized many Black workers along with whites, but none had a program to deal with the special oppression of the Afro-American people.

It was only with the formation of the CPUSA in 1919 that a change began to take place. The guiding line for the first few years was little different from the old SP's. The racist oppression of the Negro is-simply the expression of his economic bondage .and oppression, each intensifying the other. This complicates the Negro problem but does not alter its proletarian character. 40

In 1921 for the first time particular problems of Black people's oppression began to be mentioned and a program developed around them: for the right to work in industry and belong to unions, against lynching, for full social equality and against white chauvinism. For the first time Blacks began to be attracted to a Marxist organization and enemies characterized the Party as a "Negro Party ," a title which the communists proudly accepted. The African Blood Brotherhood, the first Black Marxist organization, set up around the time of the Garvey movement, merged with the CP during the early Twenties.

But, even though the CP had broken with much of the chauvinist practices of the SP, their work among Blacks was unable to rally the Black people behind their leadership. A united front organization, the American Negro Labor Congress, founded in 1925, never got off the ground. Other work was carried on among Blacks through regular Party organizations, the TUEL, ILD (International Labor Defense), presidential campaigns, and the Party press. By 1928, the date of the 6th Congress of the Com intern , there were only 50 Black Party members out of the millions of Blacks in the country. No Party organizations existed in the South, and there was general recognition that the work among Blacks was not really being carried out in a revolutionary way.


The 6th World Congress of the Communist International was convened against the background of the imminent economic collapse of the capitalist "prosperity" period of the Twenties. The Comintern saw the crash coming and the purpose of the Congress was to prepare the various Communist Parties to be able to lead the people's struggles in the period of crisis ahead.

Thus the Black national question was only one among many questions that were dealt with intra-party factionalism, trade union work, the overall situation in the U.S., and others. In the course of the struggle over these questions, the leader of the majority faction in the CPUSA, Jay Lovestone, and his close followers, were eventually isolated and their lines defeated. The new line on the national question was adopted during this process.

Lovestone's position was that Blacks in the South were a "reserve of capitalist reaction." He saw their proletarianization, being drawn into industry, as the path to resolving the question of Afro-American oppression. National movements were ruled out as divisive and reactionary, being led by the Black bourgeoisie who only wanted to further exploit the Black people.

The problem according to Lovestone was basically a race question: Blacks were said to see themselves as part of the American nation and their goal was intermingling and assimilation. Proletarianization would solve the problem along with a fight against race prejudice in order to unify the working class. Defenders of this viewpoint said that no basic change of line was needed, the problem of the Party's work stemmed from chauvinism among the Party membership and some of its leaders. What was needed was a more resolute carrying out of the line.

The new line proposed by the Negro Commission of the 6th Congress viewed the main problem as being the line itself. The approach of Lovestone & Co., attributing shortcomings in the organizing to people's attitudes and not to their underlying grasp of objective reality, was seen as subjective by the Commission.

The Commission's position was that Blacks in the South constituted an oppressed nation, requiring agrarian, national-democratic revolution to achieve their freedom. The situation was made more complex and the Black people's oppression intensified by the race factor, but this should not be separated from its material, economic base in the semi-slave sharecropping system of the Black Belt South. The struggle of Blacks everywhere in the U.S. was for equality, but in the South the struggle for democratic rights also included the demand for self-determination, full political power in the area of concentration.

Self-determination could only be achieved with the revolutionary overthrow of the plantation oligarchy and their imperialist Wall Street backers. Self-determination was seen as a demand for unity, for it linked the Black people's struggle with that of the multinational working class throughout the country in targeting imperialism as the enemy. The resolution called on white workers to actively support the struggle for equal rights and for self-determination in the Black Belt South.


When the resolution was adopted, it put the Party's work on a whole new basis. Lovestone's position had, in essence, been the same "pure proletarian" line that had dominated Marxist thinking in the U.S. since the Civil War. It was an historic breakthrough, a new way of thinking about the issues of Black oppression and resistance and it led to solid results in practice. Quoting Harry Haywood:

For the first time since Reconstruction, the Party broke the solid South. The opening wedge was the case of the Scottsboro Boys. At its height, the Party led a movement which saw hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. and around the world fight for the freedom of nine Black youths.

In the Black Belt, south of Birmingham, we used the Scottsboro campaign to build the Sharecroppers Union. This organization grew to 12,000 Black members: tenants, sharecroppers. Farm laborers and independent farmers, all oppressed by the semi-slave conditions of the rural South. And the Alabama Sharecroppers Union practiced armed self-defense against Klan terror.

Just at this time the economic crisis hit bottom. We responded on March 6, 1930, with demonstrations of one and a quarter million Black and white workers all over the U.S. This led to the formation of the National Unemployed Councils, which won relief and unemployment insurance. In Atlanta, the Unemployed Councils led a demonstration of 5,000 Black and white workers - the largest of its kind in southern history. It also initiated the nationwide fight to free Angelo Herndon [a Black Party member convicted for organizing the unemployed in the South].

In 1936 the Party initiated and led the National Negro Congress, a broad-based united front organization. It was also at this time that the Party took the lead in building the CIO, the pioneer in integrated, militant, industrial unionism.

Under the guidance of the correct line, the Communist Party carried out its best work. Those years of the Great Depression were a time of tremendous mass upheaval and the Party held unquestioned leadership of every major struggle. Under the slogan of "Negro-labor Alliance" we were able to merge the Black Movement and the general workers movement. Because of our line, we held leadership of the Black united front as well. 41

As the U.S. moved to World War II, the CPUSA entered into a united front to fight German and Japanese fascism which included the monopoly capitalist class. This was an overall correct policy for the war but in initiating it the CPUSA, headed by Earl Browder, sacrificed many of its basic principles. This is not the place for a full analysis of Browderism and World War II. We can say, however, that the basic interests of the Black masses were sacrificed in the interests of the united front.

The most glaring example of this was the opposition of the CPUSA to the extremely popular "Double V" campaign. Under this slogan a section of Black leaders united to say, "Yes, we must win II victory against fascism abroad, but we also need a victory against racism at home." They demanded equality in hiring, especially in the war industries, and integrated units in the armed forces, as well as equality in housing, voting rights, etc. The CPUSA did its best to scuttle this movement, arguing that it would hurt national unity against fascism. They especially undercut and opposed a "Double V" march on Washington. This whole policy was wrong. It compromised on principles and caused the communists to lose support among the Black masses. It put the CPUSA on a wrong path around the national question from which it was never able to fully break. Finally, it led to denying Black nationhood and the right to self-determination. While we cannot predict the future, we must understand the lessons that the struggle for Black liberation is not a luxury that can be dispensed with to meet the needs of a particular period or policy.


Outward migration from the Black Belt began during World War I. Northern industries were burdened by huge war contracts and faced a labor shortage due to massive conscription and the cutoff of European immigrants. Labor recruiters were sent to the South to entice impoverished and oppressed Blacks with promises of jobs and freedom. Thousands and eventually millions responded to this and subsequent calls, thus beginning a long-term trend of dispersal of the Black nation to all parts of the country.

At first the Southern planters opposed this drain of cheap labor and feared the growing trend of emigration. They mobilized Klan terror, night riders and train bombings to thwart the trend. But the hope of escape to Northern freedom and prosperity was irresistable to Black people.

Around the time of World War II, the mechanization of southern agriculture reduced the demand for agricultural labor and ended the Southern rulers' opposition to the Northern migration of Black labor. Klan terror turned toward the forcible eviction of the Black sharecropper. Millions were driven from the land by economic encroachment and KKK terror.

The mass migration North brought large numbers of Blacks into a situation where the postwar economic boom created jobs for them, but no place in society. The racism and national oppression which trapped newly-arrived Blacks in brutalizing jobs and gave them no decent place to live, no quality schools to attend, and third-rate social services was the underlying economic cause of the period of intense struggle and urban rebellion in the late 1960s. Today less than 5% of Black people are economically tied to the land. Just over one-half live in the Black Belt area.


This dispersal from the Black Belt South didn't eliminate the national character of the struggle but rather created conditions under which it blossomed and became more intense. Black people today are still very much a nation, welded together as a people through the history of this country. Black people continue to feel the weight of national oppression in every aspect of life. Common oppression gives rise to national sentiment and consciousness and the resistance to national oppression takes the form of a national movement for liberation. Black people are still one people, a nation.


Dispersal of the Black nation has not meant assimilation into the dominant nation. On the contrary, the shadow of the plantation continues to hang over the Afro-American people and follows them to the cities, reproducing its oppression in new ways conditioned by the new environment.

Blacks were forced into the streets of U.S. history in a peculiar manner, as chattel slaves, and are victims of an excruciatingly destructive system of oppression and persecution, due not only to the economic and social survivals of slavery, but also to its ideological heritage-racism. Given this, Blacks could only remain unassimilated into the "melting pot." 42

Massive unemployment, segregation in urban ghettos, systematic disenfranchisement, police brutality, job discrimination, decrepit schools, poverty, racism and social ostracism this is the "assimilation that Blacks have received.

In fact, the process of dispersal was itself a form of violent national oppression as the land question was only "resolved" through dispersal and eviction. To this day, the land struggle goes on in the South and oppression abounds. But, no less does oppression exist in the urban ghettos both North and South. While regional differences are important, national oppression now is centered in an urban setting, the common plight of the great bulk of the Black nation.

Unlike the European immigrants, Irish, German, Polish or Jewish, Black people have been shut out of the mainstream of society. The dispersed and urbanized Black people remain "alien" within the U.S. after 350 years, heavily subjected to national oppression.

As a result of dispersal, most Blacks are workers involved in the economic life of the broader U.S. society. This situation has 'an effect on the struggles of Black people but it does not mean that they have been assimilated. In the Black community, credit ripoffs, higher prices and redlining force Black people to pay more for consumer goods on the average. Black ~ are excluded from a host of building trade unions and are second class citizens in many other unions.

The common history of oppression is a powerful force holding Black people together as a nation. From slavery through Reconstruction, from Jim Crow and sharecropping to police terror and an unemployment rate twice that of whites, the experience of Black national oppression is the legacy of every Black man, woman and child.

From early childhood, Blacks become aware of national oppression and racial discrimination and 'are reminded of it constantly, "if you're Black, get back.' In a sense the most valuable legacy that is handed from generation to generation if the history of Black resistance. The story of this rich experience itself is a material force. The significance of generations of oppression was brought out by the mass response to the television special "Roots."

In response to this common experience, a national identity, consciousness, and culture of resistance has developed. Given great impetus in the rebellious '60s with such symbols of national defiance as the slogan "Black is Beautiful," afros, dashikis, and the red, black and green flag, Black national pride has continued to deepen through the years and become more broadly popular.

Born of resistance, Black culture is vibrant and vital, It is a driving force in the development of culture in the U.S. overall, affecting American music, dance, literature and the arts in general. Black music in particular reflects the national sentiments of the people. This has been true historically through spirituals, jazz, blues and soul music. Just in the last few years "One Nation Under A Groove," "We Are Family," "Happy Birthday," "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" have all become huge hits because they have tapped the political sentiments of the Black people.

Most cities have a Black press and radio station. In Philadelphia the Black radio station has become one of the major centers of communication for the Black movement. Even in cities where the Black radio stations don't exert influence in a political direction, they do serve as a means of communication that unifies people. Black culture reflects the spirit of the people and pushes them forward as it unites and inspires them.

A distinct Black dialect of English exists among Blacks throughout the country, complete with unique sentence structure, word usages, expression and terminology.

Also, because Blacks live in concentrated groupings throughout the country, small businesses which Blacks own and operate are patronized primarily by Blacks. Such economic ties are also evident in struggles and slogans like "Buy Black." Blacks in Philadelphia supported street vendors in the central business district who were actively resisting a "clean-up" campaign sponsored by big retailers trying to ensure the downtown area didn't become too Black.

Developing on this historical, cultural and material base is a national movement that has thrived during the '50s, '60s, and '70s despite changes in the Black nation caused by dispersal. This national movement has included groups like the Nation of Islam, SNCC, DRUM (Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement), the Panthers, the Congress of Afrikan People, United Black Workers (Mahwah), and US. Also, the United League in Mississippi, the Black United Fronts in Philly and New York, the SCLC, the NAACP, and Urban League, local groups like 100 Black Men, the Family of Leaders, the House of Umoja. and MOVE, and literally hundreds of other Black organizations and caucuses from the Congressional Black Caucus to the National Black Policemen's Association and professional caucuses of every kind.

There are those who say that Blacks are a nation only in the Black Belt South and are a national minority in the rest of the country. Generally, people who hold this view cite the Comintern Resolutions and/or a strict application of Stalin's criteria for nationhood to explain their position. We have found this formulation insufficient and potentially misleading. Certainly there are differences in the struggles and demands of Blacks in the North and South. The problem is that it over-emphasizes the differences between North and South and because it contradicts the feelings of the Black people. Moreover, it does not deal correctly with the relationship of Blacks North and South to each other and to the American revolution.

The Black Belt South is the national territory of the Afro-American nation. It has been so historically and remains so today. Secession, if it does occur, would be in the Black Belt. But self-determination, including the right to secession, is part of the political program of Blacks throughout the country.

Any approach to the Black national question which excludes Blacks in the North from the right of self-determination or which artificially separates Blacks in the North and South cannot draw on the full revolutionary strength of the Afro-American nation. In general, political struggles of Blacks in one part of the country are the common concern of Blacks throughout the country. This point was brought home during support work in the North for the struggle in Tupelo, Mississippi, and when the NAACP sent organizers up from the South to defeat Rizzo. Most recently, the huge nationwide response to the murder of Black children in Atlanta decisively underlines this commonality.

Many Blacks living in the North maintain ties with the South through family members who continue to live there. Local clubs like the Savannah Club or the Green Country Club located in the North maintain links to the home region. Older workers will often return to the South after retirement and in recent years net out-migration has stopped. Today more Blacks move back to the South as jobs disappear in the Northern cities.

Advanced forces in the BLM speak out against overemphasizing the differences between North and South. They tell people not to say it's bad down there, because it's bad up here, too. "You can't vote down there and you can't vote up here either." Malcolm X pointed out that the Mason-Dixon line Is actually the Canadian border.

Thus, a study of current conditions reveals that Black people constitute a nation. The material life of the masses is the base on which the national movement flourishes. To deny the existence of the Black nation and its struggle for liberation is to deny reality.


Among various Marxist-Leninist forces throughout the recent period of history, the question of whether Blacks were a nation or not has always been a major determining feature of line. Many "reasons" have been offered proving they are not a nation. Some directly deny the class character of Blacks, saying that there is no Black bourgeoisie, or, as a variant, that the Black bourgeoisie will certainly line up 100% with imperialism. This is the theoretical justification for opposing the United Front strategy in this country.

Another problem has been an approach that seeks to find solely within the writings of Marxism the answer to whether or not Blacks are a nation. This methodology turns the question on its head. The key document quoted from is Stalin's Marxism and the National Question.

It is a form of dogmatism, proceeding from theoretical concepts. It can come from the right, like the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC) which says that Black people have chose the route of assimilation and laid aside the national character of their struggle, or from the left, like the Communist Labor Party which argues that the Black Belt South is a Negro nation within which there is a large national minority, "white negros"!

We have based our view that Blacks are a nation on the Marxist approach of making a concrete analysis of the concrete conditions, of the historical development and current status of Black people and their struggle. Even if you use Stalin's criteria as a checklist instead of a guide in making an analysis, the conclusion is still that Blacks are a nation.

It is undeniable that Black people are a distinct, historically constituted community. It is extremely stable in composition with little motion into or out of it.

It is clear that Blacks speak a common language, English. The history of the national question is full of cases where two different nations speak the same basic language: the U.S. and England, Spain and Mexico. The question of Blacks' development of a distinct language is a separate question but even on this score there is growing scholarly evidence that there is a Black English with its own vocabulary, syntax and usage. Moreover, this does not differ greatly from region to region but is spoken in any sizable Black community.

It is difficult to deny that centuries of oppression and struggle have resulted in a common culture among Black people. This culture has contributed to and shaped all of American culture, more in music than anyplace else. To use the appropriation of Black forms by whites to deny the existence of an independent Black culture is the height of chauvinism, the more so since it is an ongoing process. The struggle to safeguard and develop Black culture, from fine arts like poetry to practical arts like cooking, has in fact been a big part of the national liberation struggle in the recent period.

Stalin's points on common territory and economic life are more controversial. The key to understanding them lies in understanding the fact that the Black nation developed under exceptional conditions. It has always existed within the borders of the U.S. Imperialism always dominates a subject nation and distorts its social structure and economy. This is very much the case with the captive Afro-American nation.

The Black Belt South is the historic homeland of the Black nation. Until the beginning of this century this was the actual homeland for the vast majority of the Black people. The dispersal already described has led to a situation where the majority of Blacks now live outside the homeland area. But the Black Belt South remains the area of the highest concentration of Blacks. And, there is a growing movement of Blacks hack to the South. This movement is not a big ideological/political drive. It is fueled by economic necessity, the uneven development between the North and South.

This is not to say that 95% of all Blacks will move back to the Black Belt South. But it remains the homeland of the Black nation. Dispersal did not change this. Stalin's analysis is once again helpful.

The persons constituting a nation do not always live in one compact mass; they are frequently divided into groups, and in that form are interspersed among alien national organisms. It is capitalism which drives them into various regions and cities in search of a livelihood. 43

The "persons constituting" the nation in this case are the Blacks in the North together with those in the Black Belt South. the territory of the Black Nation. This is where the right to secession, the right to set up an independent state, would be exercised. In other areas, where Blacks have been forced into relatively stable ghetto communities, the questions of territory and self-determination are linked. In these areas, autonomy is not, as Lenin pointed out, an abstract "right" to he defended. but a general universal principle to be upheld.

The first point on the issue of common economic life to make is that there are in fact different classes among Black people. There is an Afro-American bourgeoisie. It has been deformed, held down, but not eliminated. There is a Black market, a national economy, in the ghettos that is the target of the Black bourgeoisie and the Black petty bourgeoisie in their business efforts. "Buy Black" campaigns within the Black community indicate that the Black economy is small and under constant attack and that there is a material basis for a Black economy. The fact that most Blacks work for the U.S. bourgeoisie and not for other Blacks is a result of the particular forms of national oppression.

One question that has been raised since the first draft of this paper is what are the practical and theoretical implications of asserting that all Blacks constitute the Black nation as opposed to the more common formulation of nation in the Black Belt national minority elsewhere? In practical work it avoids artificial differentiation and the downplaying of the national character of struggles outside the Black Belt. One likely long-term implication is that in the event of a plebiscite on secession, all Blacks, not just those in the Black Belt area, would have the right to participate.

Another formulation which has been proposed is "nation in the Black Belt/oppressed nation elsewhere." This avoids some of the weaknesses associated with considering Blacks outside the South a national minority in the classic sense. We are less concerned about the form the evaluation takes than the content is the essentially common character of the Black struggle throughout the U.S. recognized. This is the touchstone.

This section should not close without examining the result of the incorrect view that Blacks are not a nation. Whether it is coming from a dogmatic reading of Stalin's criteria or a "creative new approach" to Marxism, the practice of the U.S. left in the past 20 years has shown a direct link between saying that Blacks are not a nation and various forms of liquidationist and chauvinist practice around the national question.

This takes various forms. Blacks are not a nation so they don't have the right to self-determination. Blacks are not a nation so Black nationalism is not progressive, but rather bourgeois and divisive nationalism. Blacks are not a nation so that the Black struggle is not really a national struggle but just a form of class struggle. Blacks are nut a nation so there should not be separate Black organizations, or multi-national organizations are inherently better than Black organizations.

The list goes on, but we will stop by restating the other, correct view and line. Black people in the United States are a nation.


The national character of the Afro-American struggle is a reflection of the objective position of Black people in America. National oppression welds people together and cuts across class lines within the Black community. This basic fact means that a class analysis cannot be an internal question of just looking into the Black nation, but must be done in a particular context-that of the basic contradiction between Black people and the U.S. bourgeoisie.

Historically, we are in the period of defeating the rule of monopoly capitalism. This is the way to move forward, for the working class, oppressed nations and mankind as a whole. It is the basic class struggle in our epoch. The national question exists in this context. As Mao said, "The contradiction between the Black masses in the United States and the U.S. ruling circles is a class contradiction." ("In Support of the Afro-American Struggle") It is part of the overall class struggle-which will lead to the establishment of socialism on a world scale.

We emphasize this to clarify our position and distinguish it from two significant incorrect lines on the relationship between the class and national struggles. A) The national struggle can be reduced to the fundamental class struggle of proletarian vs. bourgeoisie. B) Defeating white racist ideology is the precondition for the working class uniting to wage the class struggle.

We are not at a point of detailing the entire class structure of Blacks. We can, however, make some basic observations.


The Black bourgeoisie is by far the most distorted and deformed class within the Afro-American nation. In 1969 there were only 163,000 Black-owned businesses with total receipts of $34,373 million. Of these only 38,000 employed workers, the rest being single person operations. The total employees of these businesses were only 152,000, or 4 per business.

Of the 12.306 employees of Black-owned manufacturing firms, 3,645 were in logging camps, and a mere 2,094 were in durable goods industries combined.

The largest firms considered Black-owned were in banking, insurance, entertainment, retail, sales and cosmetics. The 100 largest non-financial firms had sales of $601 million, the first five being Motown ($46 millions), Johnson Publications (Ebony, Jet), a supermarket chain, Johnson cosmetics, and a record producer.

The largest banks were the Independence Bank of Chicago, assets of $56 million, and Carver Federal of New York with assets of $61 million. All Black-controlled banks had deposits of less than $1 billion total

The two largest Black-owned companies were insurance companies dating back to the turn of the century. They were North Carolina Mutual ($136 million) and Atlanta Life (S84 million). To put the size of these companies in perspective, the fiftieth largest white-owned insurance company had more assets than all 41 Black-owned insurance companies, and the largest white-owned company had 157 times the assets of North Carolina Mutual.

From the above we can come to a few basic conclusions about the Black bourgeoisie. First, Black firms employ less than 1.5% of the Black labor force. Therefore, although the relationship between the Black bourgeoisie and those who work for them is fundamentally one of class exploitation, this exploitation is not the dominant contradiction within the Black nation. It is completely overshadowed by the reality of national oppression.

At the same time, the figures show that Black firms are small, concentrated in retail sectors, not in capital-intensive industries. Overwhelmingly they are directed at and dependent for survival on the Black market. National oppression has meant that the Black bourgeoisie has access neither to a larger market nor the capital needed for "normal" growth and expansion.

The Black bourgeoisie does see itself as the upper class of the Black nation. It maintains a "high society" which mimics that of the white ruling class, with its clubs, cotillions and charities (and rejects with embarrassment much of the culture of the Black masses in favor of a white bourgeois lifestyle). Its ability to enjoy more of the benefits of wealth in this imperialist superpower than most other Blacks has made for a strong drive to assimilate into the mainstream of society. This is reinforced by the occasional wooing of the white power structure, especially the liberal section.

The Black bourgeoisie also recognizes that what little wealth and power it does have is based in the nation. A section tries to put itself forward as the national leadership of Black people through the Black media and, to what extent it can, the white-controlled media. They take on the role of model spokespersons and mediators with the government and white society. The Black bourgeoisie also uses the social forms it has created and the support of national institutions like the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and Black schools to tie the Black petty bourgeoisie to them.

Assimilationist tendencies in the Black bourgeoisie are combined with a political approach that says that national oppression can be overcome within the structure of monopoly capitalism. These views are represented by forces like the Urban League and Johnson Publications (Ebony, Jet, and other radio and TV media).

Some even argue (despite the overwhelming contrary evidence provided by the real world) that Black capitalism is the road to liberation. Among such lines have been CORE's (Congress of Racial Equality) "Green Power" push and the Nation of Islam's ill-fated attempt to set up an entirely separate Black economy with industrial, agricultural, commercial, and financial sectors.

These reformist tendencies are not, however, the only characteristics of the Black bourgeoisie.

More important is the fact that they cannot escape national oppression and are in large part excluded from the social and political mainstream. The limits national oppression puts on their economic growth is only one aspect. The others are shared with all Blacks-discrimination, disenfranchisement, the threat of police terror. As the street wisdom goes, "Even a million bucks won't buy you a white skin." The situation has often pushed the Black bourgeoisie into struggle on the side of the people, as in the Stop Rizzo campaign in Philadelphia.


About 10% of Blacks are considered to be petty bourgeoisie, using the classical definition. This is composed of an upper strata including managers, administrators, farmers and small capitalists comprising about 2%. The remaining 8% is made up of self-employed professionals, salaried teachers, nurses, etc., and intellectuals. We can see that in numbers the petty bourgeoisie is a significant part of the Black nation.

However, in comparison to the overall population, a much smaller percentage of Blacks are in the petty bourgeoisie. A quick look at the comparative statistics reveals how Blacks have been hindered from becoming professionals. While the physician/population ration for the U.S. is 1/700, the Black physician/population ratio is 1/3,800. In fact, despite the gains of the '60s and early '70s, this ratio of Black physicians/population has remained around 1/4,000 since the 1930s. In California only 1% of lawyers are minorities compared to an overall minority population of 25%.

Although still far smaller than the average for society, this class grew rapidly in size and importance over the last two decades. It is not an exaggeration to say that today's Black petty bourgeoisie was created in response to the Civil Rights struggle and Black liberation Movement. In the main it was a response by the system to the demands of the people and "the crisis in race relations."

A classic example is Detroit. After the 1967 rebellion and the birth of militant Black rank and me formations like DRUM (Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement) in 1968, the auto companies and the UAW fell all over themselves getting Blacks into low- and middle-level management jobs.

One effect of all this was to create a promise of mobility and a buffer class of more privileged Blacks which cushioned the system from the poor and working class masses. To some extent the government consciously tried to create this effect with Minority Business programs and the development of huge poverty program bureaucrats.

Two forms played a key role in this expansion of the Black petty bourgeoisie. One was the development of open and special admission programs at colleges and universities which enabled more minorities-and women-to get credentials and training. The other was affirmative action programs, especially in hiring and promotion.

The motor for these programs were court orders, laws, and federal mandates. Many "voluntary" programs adopted by corporations came from fear of exposure, struggle and government action. Affirmative action has also played an important role in starting to open up better industrial and craft jobs from which minorities and women are excluded.

Such programs have not ended discrimination, only alleviated it. Those who have benefited to the extent of say, getting a college education, find they have not escaped discrimination. Black college graduates attain salary levels only 70% those of the overall population with equivalent training. Finally, these programs, which were seriously eroded during the 1970s by cutbacks, the Bakke decision and similar attacks, are now facing a full frontal assault. Reactionary rhetoric about "reverse discrimination" has been made a part of the administration's plans for an end to "strangulation by regulation" and President Reagan's pronouncement that it is not the federal government's role to promote social progress.

And, even more than the Black bourgeoisie, the Black middle classes are subject to the same daily racism any Afro-American in the U.S. learns to expect.

Charles Hamilton, a professor at Columbia University conducted a three year study of Black social classes in Harlem. In assessing voting patterns of Black workers and the Black "middle class" he found that on matters internal to the Black community, different classes voted differently. But on issues external to the Black community (affecting Blacks as a whole) the tendency was to vote similarly.

A tradition amongst Blacks is for those who have gotten advanced education to "bring the skills back home" to "serve the people." This began in the period of Booker T. Washington and continued with W.E. B. Dubois' theory of the "talented tenth." The rising struggle of the '60s opened higher education to many more Blacks while heightening consciousness of national identity and sense of duty to the Black masses.

Black intellectuals are caught in the contradiction that to work as mental workers they must operate as part of the system (its superstructure). This system has built into it all kinds of mechanisms, including stereotypes and racist mythology, which are designed to keep Blacks down. To retain any integrity towards their profession, and to serve the people, they must fight the system.

As mentioned earlier, national oppression has resulted in a deformed Black bourgeoisie; small in numbers dispersed throughout the oppressor nation, with very little economic clout. Because of this there is room for a disproportionately larger leadership role for the Black petty bourgeoisie in the Afro-American nation.

The majority of Black elected officials came from this group. Their numbers are small - even in the South with its large areas of Black majority they comprise only 2% of the total. A majority sit on school boards and even those with higher positions complain there is little they can do to really benefit their people. Nonetheless, since the days of U.S. Representative Adam Clayton Powell, electoral office has been an important platform for Black leaders.

The Black middle class also provides the leadership for an even more influential institution - the Black church, which became the central organization in the Black community under slavery and remains so to the present day.

The Afro-American churches speak with authority not only on morals but on politics and all questions of importance to the community. When ministers mobilize their flocks as in the Civil Rights movement, or more recently in support of Southern struggle in Tupelo and in the Philly anti-Rizzo struggle during the mid-'70s, the power of the church is unmistakable.

There is a close connection between electoral politics and poverty programs. These programs, developed after the urban rebellions of the late '60s, represent the most conscious effort by the ruling class to develop and use a Black petty bourgeois stratum to keep the masses, the vocal majority, from exploding.

They have also absorbed large numbers of social science graduates and other minority professionals. Large bureaucracies and large budgets have led to the development of multi-program poverty empires with considerable patronage and political clout to affect the lives of the people in their "impact areas." The heads of some of these empires are bitterly hated by the people for their corruption and collaboration with the power structure.

On the other hand, recent and upcoming government efforts to dismantle poverty programs have shaken those involved in them, creating the potential for more struggle. Partly, this is because the clients of the poverty programs will surely fight to defend them as well. Inadequate as the services they provide are, they represent reforms won in struggle and some amelioration of the misery of ghetto life.

Playing a leadership role in an oppressed nation, the Black petty bourgeoisie has also played the leading role in the struggles which are an essential part of the nation's existence. Many of the most far-sighted and uncompromising leaders have come from the intelligentsia, the clergy and even the politicians.

In the present period of regrowth of Black resistance, spontaneous and organized, new leaders are coming forward. An example is the struggle to preserve Harlem's Sydenham Hospital during 1980 when a crucial role was played by Black ministers, both those who had already been instrumental in forming the Black United Front and those who freely admitted that they had been radicalized by the experience. Also in the leadership were officers of the National Association of Black Workers and radical professionals. (The petty bourgeoisie was not the only force represented at Sydenham. The Black president of a large AFSCME local and Marxist activists also played critical roles.)


According to U.S. Bureau of Census statistics for 1978, there were 25,467 million Black people of all ages in this country, 11.7% of the total population. In 1977, 8.31 million were employed. This can be broken down into categories as follows:


No. (millions)


% of employed


White Collar (petty bourgeoisie) professionals, technical, managers, administrators





White Collar (working class) clerical, etc.






Blue Collar


















Dual Role of Black Workers

Black workers are the overwhelming majority of Blacks. Blacks work in almost every industry in great numbers, with heavy concentrations in basic production, service and government work. Black concentration in unionized industries is also relatively high.

Black workers are not a homogeneous group. There are significant differences between higher-paid and lower-paid, unionized and non-unionized, stable and seasonal workers, which are reflected in their outlook and actions. The bottom end of the Black section of the working class itself is actually a transitional section of a spectrum which extends down into a large underclass. We are not in a position to make a thorough and all-sided analysis of Black workers, but there are some important points we have summed up from our limited practice.

1. While Black workers are frequently more militant unionists than their white counterparts, they are far more likely to identify themselves primarily as members of the Black nation rather than of the working class and relate to the national struggle more than to the trade union struggle.

There is a great variation in the participation of Blacks in trade union struggles. Factors influencing this include the percentage of Blacks in a particular shop and whether the union is seen as a "white" union, either because of white leadership or a history of not fighting discrimination.

Often the key question is simply the attitude and practice of the white workers in the shops.

2. Black workers actively fight national oppression as it manifests itself in the workplace.

Affirmative action has been demanded in numerous shops and industries. Committees which have come together around anti-discrimination suits are one of the most common forms of rank and file organization in the working class.

Discrimination is very often expressed as "prejudice" or "favoritism" around specific incidents like shift changes, harder jobs, minor promotions and who gets written up. Many of these become sharp battles which expose even more systematic, unfair practices.

3. Black workers frequently move first as workers around national issues which do not arise on the shop floor. One of the best examples is the decade-old battle to make the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a national holiday.

4. Black city workers often play a key role in linking up union struggles and larger political issues. City crises have become a way of life nationwide. Layoffs and cutbacks in services and "recycling" Black communities are now the standard bourgeois response to budget and other problems.

Both layoffs and cutbacks in city services hit hardest in the Black community. 58% of Black people live in urban ghettos and cutbacks hit these communities the hardest. And, a high percentage of city workers are Black, who face layoffs and a future of welfare.

Black city workers are in a position to mobilize the city workers and their unions to join with the community to resist these attacks and beat back efforts to create a community-workers conflict, as often happens in transit, school and other municipal service strikes.

In closing, let us state the obvious. Black workers as a whole have a crucial dual role: as a key section of the Black nation, and as a key section of the multinational working class. As such, Black workers can and will function as a bridge between the two movements.


Unemployment is one of the biggest crimes this system has visited upon the Afro-American people. Since the Census Bureau started keeping separate statistics in 1948, Black unemployment has never fallen below a rate twice that for whites! Official statistics currently report a Black unemployment rate over 12%, with over 1 million people who need a job and are without one at any given time.

Numerous studies indicate that actual Black unemployment is at least double the official figure. In part, this is because hundreds of thousands of Blacks are "discouraged jobseekers," who have finally given up trying to find work and who are therefore no considered a part of the workforce and, hence, no longer unemployed.

Capitalist economists generally consider an unemployment rate of over 6% to be a crisis condition. Black unemployment is at least over 20%. By these bourgeois standards, Blacks have been living under crisis conditions at least since 1948, and more likely passed from the end of slavery directly into constant crisis.

Living under crisis conditions has had damaging effects on the Black nation, eroding both personal and family stability. The most shocking example is unemployment among youth aged 16 to 24. In 1977, the official rate for this group was 47%. During the years when, in this society, the pattern an individual's life will take is crystallized-first job, higher education, marriage, and family-young Black men and women are condemned by the system to a desperate and marginal existence.


One of the concrete results of national oppression is the existence of a relatively large lower stratum. How to analyze this is not just a sterile theoretical debate.

Because the Afro-American nation is oppressed by U.S. imperialism two things happen. First of all, the class structure is distorted, And secondly, the role that different classes and strata play is changed.

National oppression forces great numbers of Black people out of work-onto unemployment, partial employment, welfare. If can also keep them there, sometimes for several generations.

The majority of this underclass is not a lumpen stratum. (In Marxism, the lumpen proletariat refers to broken people from working class and other strata who coalesce into a criminal element.) The basic hustles of this large stratum are mainly survival-oriented and not dangerous anti-people actions. At the same time their conditions of existence create an outlook that is markedly different from that of stable, employed Black workers.

'Imperialist America also creates an actual lumpen stratum of criminals, with other Blacks as their principal victims. Big time Black gangsters are inevitably seen by some as ghetto "success stories," a view promoted &y the ruling class through cultural forms like "Black exploitation" films,

The lower section of the Black urban poor is the most oppressed by the system. They are often the most volatile and in the 1960s one view hailed them as the leading force in the American revolution. This line of lumpen class leadership (which was defined to include the underclass as well) was supported by citations from Algerian theoretician Frantz Fanon and promoted by the Black Panther Party.

At the end of the '60s the leading role of the lumpen was rejected based on the scientific analysis of Marx and Engels. This was connected to developing a correct orientation to the working class. But along with the move away from the "lumpen lead" line, some organizations, including the RU/RCP, wrote off the underclass Black masses.

The mass of the lower working class and underclass strata are a very militant force around many issues involving discrimination and services and are quick to move towards radical solutions. The RU/RCP wrote off the Black masses forced onto welfare and directed the organization to look exclusively for stable proletarians to organize. This was both subjectivism and liquidationism.


How can we discuss the unity between the two great movements in this country, the working class movement and the national movement? First of all, the unity that can and will be built between them has a firm materialist basis. They are, as Mao said, "bound to merge."

The fundamental point is that the system of imperialist rule and the monopoly capitalist class is the obstacle that stands in the way of both movements. The goal of the class struggle is overthrowing the rule of the bourgeoisie and establishing socialism. The goal of the national movement is liberation, freedom, which requires overthrowing the rule of the bourgeoisie.

National liberation is not the same thing as socialism. And on that basis there are many on the left who liquidate the national struggle, or try to portray it as really a class struggle for socialism. It is, in fact, a struggle for liberation. This makes it a component part of the overall struggle against imperialism and therefore overall for socialism.

This epoch is the epoch of proletarian revolution. It is also the epoch of national liberation. They are goals that exist side by side, two thrusts of the struggle against imperialism. This is true internationally and in the U.S.

Marxists see that this historical period reflects the replacement of imperialism with socialism on a world scale. This is where the struggle is going on. National liberation is a component part of it.

Amongst the oppressed nationalities in the U.S. the most advanced will also be for socialism as the resolution of the problems that they see. But not socialism instead of liberation, but rather liberation on the road to socialism. This is not just a theoretical prediction, but the actual experience of the movement - there exists a socialist trend within it.

Black communists will carry the fight for liberation through to the end, to socialism, with the understanding that it is the way to advance the overall struggle: on the basis of the fullest struggle against imperialism and on the basis of the fullest equality between different nationalities.

The working class movement and the Black liberation movement require the alliance for their final success. The working class movement cannot succeed without allying with the national liberation movement. It is necessary both to unify the working class, which is of many nationalities, and to marshal all forces against the common enemy, a basic principle of strategy.

Unity of the working class cannot be built without addressing and struggling against the oppression and superexploitation of Black workers. This question is key to pulling together an advanced, left wing of the labor movement as well as being overall key to uniting the masses of workers.

At the same time, the Black liberation movement cannot achieve its goal of freedom without allies. This is the material reality of the situation of Black people in the United States, a reality which more often than not has been recognized by both leaders and masses throughout the history of the Black struggle. The bourgeoisie recognizes it as well, seeking on the one hand to 'present figures from its own ranks or the federal government itself in the role of ally and on the other hand to break up peoples' alliances as they form.

This is all very well, but all it says is that the material basis exists for deep unity between the Black liberation movement and the working class movement in the long term. However, such a full and conscious common front is unlikely to be constructed until conditions in the U.S. develop qualitatively toward a revolutionary situation and contradictions between the rulers and ruled become sharper.

How can we move things in the direction of stronger links between the two movements and at the same time avoid objectively blurring their separate identities and characteristics? We must start from the links which already exist and the practical alliances which can be built. The material basis for final unity manifests itself in a material basis for present-day, partial unity.

While Blacks and whites do not face exactly the same situation, there are some similarities. The general decay of the society and the attacks from the bourgeoisie affect all poor and working people. This is true across the board, although not equally.

As the basic masses face increasing attacks, a resistance is developing. Whites see Blacks as having bad conditions and see their own condition getting worse, getting more and more like the conditions Blacks face. Some perceive this as Blacks spreading bad conditions. Others, in taking up the fight, see that Blacks are a militant force in fighting against bad conditions and see the need for unity.

The real differences in conditions faced by Blacks and whites have been called by some Marxists "white skin privilege." Often this analysis is accompanied by a call to persuade whites to forfeit their material advantages. While it remains to be determined how useful this concept is and how it should be applied, there are certainly times when whites are fighting to maintain a privileged position.

Because this is often also a fight against being ground down by the bourgeoisie, a basis exists for its being transformed into a fight where Black and white unite to fight for better conditions for all. Where this is not possible, Marxists must take a stand against privilege. This will be difficult to unite white workers and others around. It will only be possible on any scale if previous struggles have united Black and white around common concerns.

Attacks on both national minorities and the trade unions over the past few years and the obvious deepening of such attacks forthcoming under the new administration have made for a perception that alliance is needed. This was evident at the powerful demonstration in Washington, D.C., demanding Martin Luther King's birthday be declared a national holiday.

Addressing the largest Black mobilization in a decade, several speakers, including trade union leaders, declared that "coalition politics" have to be the order of the day. Despite this thrust toward common action, Black people, especially among the masses, are very wary of being left in the lurch or stabbed in the back by white allies as has happened repeatedly in the past.

In the face of emboldened employers and a trade union movement crippled by decades of class collaborationism, some top union officials are trying to re-establish a tradition of being on the side of equality and justice. UAW President Doug Fraser's failed attempt to construct a Progressive Alliance at the end of the '70s envisioned Black organizations as a key element in a New Deal revival united front.

A good example of material conditions creating the basis for unity is urban crisis. There is a natural link between city workers who want to maintain jobs, pay and working conditions and minority communities hardest hit by service cuts. White working class areas are also suffering under these cuts. More and more people see this, but the bourgeoisie still manages to set people against each other.

The popularity currently enjoyed by New York City's Mayor Koch in the white ethnic communities he is shafting shows the continuing success of divide-and-rule along racial lines. In Philadelphia, on the other hand, whites in large numbers eventually saw through this kind of policy, although a cruder form of it, and joined a successful mass, Black-led movement to dump Mayor Rizzo. Only linking particular struggles and carrying on general agitation can generate the unity needed to resist the city crisis onslaught and win.

Another arena where the situation calls for unity, and provides a basis for it, is electoral politics. Both the Black movement and the labor movement are looking for ways to take independent political action, outside the Democratic and Republican parties. This is a tall order and while each will take certain initiatives without the other, some degree of joint effort is unmistakably on the agenda.

A united working class is the strategic element for overcoming disunity for a number of reasons. Not least is the fact that the working class is a multi-national class. Black and white workers labor next to each other in workplaces of all types, facing fundamentally common exploitation and conditions at the hands of their employers. At such close quarters, racial stereotypes tend to be worn away and the high price of racism and division is easier to see than in the more complex arena of society as a whole.

Our experience has shown that the very idea of Black-white unity has a great appeal to many workers, older Black workers perhaps most of all, This is true because unity is obviously required for the defense of the immediate interests of the workers. More, it is true because working people’s existence generally favors social progress and transformation. This comes out when workers of different nationalities take up the fight against national oppression in society as a whole. A recent example of this response is of union members and locals to Klan-style violence in the San Francisco Bay Area at the end of 1980.

In various fights against national oppression and racism, workers may find themselves aligned with anti-racist whites from other strata of society. Students, clergy and religious-minded people, consistent liberals and academics, among others, have all been fighters on this front. While these forces cannot play the strategic role that workers can, and their views are often moralistic, they often serve as a motor in struggles. Not only should they be allied with, but work should be earned on in their ranks.

There is more to be said about the basis for building unity now and more positive examples to be pointed to. To focus on this, however, would be to risk repeating an error made by the RU/RPC and other forces-letting subjective desires blind us to reality. Racism and divisions along national lines are an extremely powerful factor in the working class.

The basis for achieving unity exists, although it will not occur spontaneously. The bourgeoisie is working to promote and manipulate divisions with all the vast resources at its control and they have a basis, too, in the history and organization of U.S. society. Change will require the concerted, consistent, and conscious efforts of Marxists and all progressives.

This returns us to the starting point of this section. No unity in the working class, no unity between the working class and oppressed nationalities. No unity of the key forces in society, no revolution and no socialism. The struggles are bound to merge, but it will only happen if it is made to happen in a realistic, patient fashion.



In "Foundations of Leninism," Stalin talked about the period of "peaceful development" of the Russian Revolution when the "task was confined to utilizing all paths of legal development for the purpose of forming and training the proletarian armies, to utilizing parliamentarianism in conformity with the conditions under which the status of the proletariat was (and as it seemed then, had to remain) that of an Opposition."

He observes,

It need hardly be proved that in such a period and with such a conception of the tasks of the proletariat there could be neither an integral strategy nor any elaborated tactics. There were fragmentary and detached ideas about tactics and strategy, but no tactics or strategy as such .... Only in the subsequent period, in the period of direct action by the proletariat, in the period of proletarian revolution, when the question of overthrowing the bourgeoisie became a question of immediate action; when the question of the reserves of the proletariat (strategy) became one of the most burning questions; when all forms of struggle and/or organization, parliamentary and extra-parliamentary (tactics), had fully manifested themselves and become well-de fined-only in this period could an integral strategy and elaborated tactics for the struggle of the proletariat be drawn up. 44

This is a very important point to grasp. Our observations on strategy and tactics in the Black liberation movement are certainly limited by our relatively small base of experience and conscious practice. The Marxist-Leninist movement as a whole has by no means approached the limits of what can be done.

In a broader sense, however, Stalin's point is crucial. The experience of the Black liberation movement itself and the objective development of contradictions are not sufficient to permit the drawing of an integral strategy and elaborated tactics. What follows are "detached ideas about tactics and strategy" drawn from our analysis of objective conditions and summation of the BLM experience so far.


Strategy identifies the main and secondary enemies, the main forces and reserves, and the plan for disposition of forces to overcome the main enemy. Our overall strategy calls for the building of a strong Black liberation movement which functions as an integral part of the United Front Against Imperialism.

In developing strategy for the BLM, however, the main priority in the present stage must be placed on its internal development rather than its alliances, which are still primitive and tenuous links. The basis for building the BLM is the creation of a united front of all classes within the Black nation to fight the U.S. bourgeoisie for complete equality and freedom.

The Black United Front strategy flows from the concrete conditions of Black people as a nation oppressed by the (white) U.S. bourgeoisie. This enemy oppresses all classes within the nation, hence all classes can be drawn into the struggle against them to a greater or lesser extent.

The united front includes not only Black workers and petty bourgeoisie. but the Black bourgeoisie. The Afro-American bourgeoisie has two aspects - on the one hand, it suffers national oppression by the American bourgeoisie; on the other it is a bourgeoisie that exploits the Black masses to a limited extent (limited by the big bourgeoisie).

Like any bourgeoisie Black capitalists are driven to expand, but their growth is distorted by their condition as the bourgeoisie of an oppressed nation. In prosperous times they are driven toward assimilation as opportunities arise. In times of a crisis, on the other hand, they are driven toward spontaneous ghetto nationalism to guarantee a captive market.

The Afro-American bourgeoisie is a vacillating force, but again and again national oppression forces them into opposition to the U.S. ruling class. They have no fundamental way forward except through the overthrow of imperialism. Their interest lies with the Black national united front. Contradictions with the Black bourgeoisie are contradictions among the people and should be resolved by the method of democratic struggle and persuasion.

This is not to deny there are enemies within the united front. This is something the forces inside BLM say themselves. It is insufficient to make an internal analysis and identify the Black bourgeoisie as the enemy.

Blacks are an oppressed and captive nation and the analysis of enemies is derived from that fact: the enemies inside the united front are agents of the big bourgeoisie that have to be identified, exposed and rooted out. They are drawn from all classes. They must be identified by a particular analysis of the role they play in a particular situation, not by a priori formulations such as "the Black bourgeoisie is the enemy" that deny the character of Blacks as an oppressed nation.

We should be clear that this line represents a radical departure from most of the Marxist-Leninist forces who have worked in the BLM. It is based on the concrete experience of the movement and is, in fact, the summation of its most conscious leading forces.


In building the Black struggle and the Black liberation movement, there are several points of strategic orientation that Marxists and all conscious revolutionaries would do well to pay attention to: promote the national movement as a national movement (although not totally uncritically); uphold and build unity within the Black national united front; and within every battle raise the issues of power and liberation and fight to advance the overall struggle.


We have already discussed the necessity of building the Black liberation movement alongside and distinct from the workers movement. To do that requires that we shed a lot of a priori baggage about that movement, especially our attitude towards nationalism. Earlier sections of this paper have developed the general point that all nationalism is not the same, and that nationalism is not inherently in contradiction to internationalism. But there is a good deal more to be said about the particularities of Black nationalism.

First and foremost is that nationalism is an unchallenged assumption among the leading forces of the BLM. This means a number of different things to different people but includes several common perceptions: that Black people are the victims of systematic national oppression; that the source of this oppression and the target of the struggle is the (white) U.S. bourgeoisie; that a component of any solution to this problem is some form of political power for the Black nation, of Black people's control over their own destiny; and that the struggle must take the form of a Black national movement against this oppression with maximum unity of Black forces.

This nationalism reflects that fact that Black people are an oppressed nation and nations develop national consciousness. The nationalism that guides the BLM is not so much a conscious ideological system as a set of perceptions drawn from the Black experience. It is rooted in the raw ghetto nationalism of the Black masses, a nationalism that unleashes vast and powerful waves of struggle again and again in answer to the system of national oppression. Such struggle is for the most part unschooled in the various organized systems of Black nationalist thought, but nationalist nonetheless in its struggle for Black control over Black destiny and its rejection of relying on white allies.

These waves of national struggle have thrown up a number of organized forms which both reflected that struggle and sought to organize it around one or another set of nationalist premises. Each of them has had its impact on Black nationalist thinking.

The "Back to Africa" movement of Marcus Garvey in the early 1920s is a respected part of nationalist history for its fierce upholding of Black pride. Garvey's approach of concentrating on a solution in Africa has for the most part been rejected. The "Harlem Renaissance" in the 19208 and other Black cultural movements that merged culture with national struggle are part of this history. The "Double V" movement in World War II, Victory Over Fascism Abroad and Victory Over Racial Discrimination At Home, is likewise part of this legacy.

Black national consciousness which had smoldered through the late '40sand '50s burst into flames in the '60s with the Black Power Movement and its hundreds of manifestations, in the "Black Is Beautiful" cultural movement and in the urban insurrections to drive whites out of the ghetto and secure them for Black rule.

More than anyone else, today's nationalists find their roots in Malcolm X with his message of unity in the Black community and Black nationalism as a guiding philosophy; his rejection of integration as a solution to Black national oppression; his refusal to accept the limits this oppression supposedly placed on the Black struggle (non-violence, etc.); his angry denunciations of the effects of the white media and Black assimilation on Black culture and self-awareness; and his internationalism.

Another powerful influence from this period is the international situation and Africa in particular. The rise of small nations throwing off their colonial chains and exercising control over their own destiny in the '50s and early '60s is cited as an inspiration by writers from Malcolm to H. Rap Brown. The Vietnamese War with its lesson that a small nation can defeat a big nation and the writings of Frantz Fanon on throwing off the colonial mentality in the Algerian conflict were also major influences. The African proof that Black people are capable of self-rule and the lesson of South Africa-that the same imperialism that oppresses Black people here oppresses Black people in Africa-care continuing factors. All these served to strengthen the most progressive aspects of Black national consciousness in the U.S. and aim it at imperialism.

Overwhelmingly, the nationalism of the Black liberation movement in the U.S. is progressive, aimed at the bourgeoisie, securely part of the international proletarian movement against imperialism. This is true even though most of the movement doesn't really see this alliance as a real thing and much of it rejects unity with any whites, workers or otherwise.

In practical, political terms nationalism has not been able to solve the problem of disunity and fragmentation that strikes the BLM again and again. For this reason, we must uphold and apply the science of Marxism and over time build a conscious party that can answer the questions of strategy and tactics confronting the DLM.

On the one hand Black people are a nation with a common oppression and a common history which is reflected in a national consciousness. These are powerful forces pushing things towards unity.

On the other hand, there are powerful forces that tend to tear that unity apart. The Afro-American nation is an oppressed and captive nation. Its class structure is distorted. It is dispersed from its territorial base. Being part of the working class' and seeing the need for multinational unity often becomes a contradiction with standing for unity of Black people. And, national consciousness is continually subjected to ideological attacks by the bourgeoisie. The Black nation faces many contradictions that have to be dealt with during the current period and sorted out.

But nationalism is not up to this task. The philosophy of Black nationalism is an eclectic philosophy. It is a mixture of religion, Marxism, communalism, Pan-Africanism and a host of other contradictory "isms." Essentially, nationalism is the term Black people give for the compilation of Black history.

There is as yet no commonly agreed on summation of what Black nationalism is but rather an unsorted combination of perceptions, truths, and understandings drawn out of the struggle. What is essential has never been sifted out from what is not. What moves the struggle forward has never been sorted out from what holds it back. So, despite some basic agreement on the overriding need for unity and ~or ongoing, independent, all-Black organization, it has not been able to build and develop a sustained national movement. And without a conscious party, able to apply the science of Marxism to the Black struggle, it will not be able to.


At this point, our experience is very limited. Nonetheless there are a few things we can say about the task: of building unity in the BLM. First, everyone in the BLM stands for unity in general. When it comes to particulars there are one hundred excuses for breaking the united front. It is broken from the right by forces pushing things toward uniting with and relying on the white bourgeoisie. It is broken from the left by forces hunting out enemies within the united front and drawing premature and sectarian lines of demarcation.

It is important for Marxist-Leninists within the movement to strengthen the pole around unity, to stand with those who correctly treat contradictions among the people. This is especially true since the left, in general, has been a major factor leading to disunity in the past. In the '60s, in particular, it was the left (both Marxists and cultural nationalists) who broke the united front in the Black community and so played a major role in the ebb of the struggle.

Marxists like the BWC and RWL (Revolutionary Workers League) insisted that the Black bourgeoisie was as much the enemy as the' white bourgeoisie and tried to read them out of the movement. The Black Panther Party broke the united front by setting "revolutionary nationalism" against "reactionary nationalism" with the latter as the proven enemy. A revolutionary nationalist was "of necessity a socialist," jacking up the level of unity far beyond what was necessary and possible. "Revolutionary nationalists" saw the need to unite with progressive whites while "reactionary nationalists" wouldn't unite with whites. This position was mirrored by cultural nationalists like Ron Karenga's US, who saw the enemy as those who did unite with whites.

Without negating the vanguard role played by the Black Panther Party in the '60s, we see that all these positions contain errors. All break the united front and in doing so, weaken one of the two movements at the heart of the revolutionary united front against imperialism.

It is no accident that breaks in the united front frequently occur over the question of allies of the national struggle. The objective situation is that Blacks are a relatively small, (I 7%) minority in this country. Overall, the defeat of U.S. imperialism necessary for Black liberation almost certainly requires unity with other forces.

There are the parallel but distinct and independent movements of other oppressed nationalities. There is the U.S. working class. There are other multinational and predominantly white strata, forces and organized groups in society. And, of course, everyone in combat with the U.S. ruling class is in an objective alliance with the people of third world countries combating U.S. imperialism.

The conditions which make alliance necessary are reflected in most of the day to day struggles. Consequently, after an initial burst of struggle, the question of allies is often raised to the fore. And this question can be highly divisive. A task: of the BLM is to consolidate a strategic view of its allies.

As Marxists we actively place ourselves among those putting forward the position that the BLM has to move, toward unity with whites in a common united front. In the future revolutionary situation, failure to do this will be objectively reactionary .But unity with whites in not at this time a dividing line question within the BLM.

It is as wrong to define those who won't unite with whites as the enemy as to define those who do unite with whites as the enemy. At times the tactics of a particular struggle or situation may even mean that efforts to unite with predominantly white forces weaken the struggle. More to the point, the question of uniting or not uniting with whites is rarely the contradiction that keeps the movement from moving forward at this time.


The demand for Black political power is one that runs through most Black struggles in one form or another. It may appear in struggles around education as the demand for community control; in a fight for decent housing as a can to preserve Black political concentration and not break up the ghetto; and in the demand for elected and appointed Black officials.

The demand for Black political power is a reflection of the fact that Blacks are an oppressed nation, that complete equality is impossible without the guarantee of the right to self-determination. The demand for self-determination does not arise spontaneously or fully developed on the day of the revolution. National consciousness grows out of the day to day struggle. As yet, the right of self-determination is not a conscious demand of the Black masses.

National consciousness does exist, and the demand for self-determination exists in the embryonic form of the demand for independent, Black political power.

This is a revolutionary demand, challenging the whole system of national oppression that keeps Black people in bondage. Supporting this demand heightens the national consciousness, strengthening the revolutionary aspects of the BLM, and orients it toward the overthrow of U.S. imperialism.

Overall, raising the demand of Black political power avoids two frequent pitfalls of Marxists in the BLM: liquidating the national struggle and reducing it to a series of reformist struggles around particulars like housing or police; raising the demand for self-determination in the abstract, instead of proceeding from the actual level of consciousness that exists and the actual struggles being waged.

In doing this we have to be aware that the use of the concept "Black political power" varies with different situations and different forces. We have to make a concrete analysis of each situation. In the main, this question will be located in the arenas of electoral-politics and government functioning. While the struggle for Black political power cannot be isolated from the day to day community struggle" it must also be addressed in the context of political power in the U.S. generally, and how that power is exercised.

A good example of the concrete gains to be won in the sphere of Black political power was the 1978 movement in Philadelphia to prevent the city's racist mayor, Frank Rizzo, from changing the City Charter so he could run for a third term. The campaign, with an extensive Black united front at the core of a broader movement, changed the face of politics in Philly.

The main local enemy, Rizzo, was ousted. The political mobilization of the Black community made it a force to be reckoned with by the local power structure. A recognized leadership capable of mobilizing sections of the masses emerged. More Black officials have been elected, some of them just because they are Black and some because they were fighters and organizers who have continued the struggle and brought the masses into the halls of government.

At the same time the struggle in the electoral arena presents important problems which the Black liberation movement has to address. An obvious problem is that most elected Black officials are a small minority on city councils or in state and federal legislatures where they sit. Their ability to effect change is limited and derives in significant part from opportunities to play a spoiler role.

The heart of the contradiction, however, appears in places like Detroit and Gary where a Black majority has won a significant degree of control in city government. Even assuming relatively honest and progressive officials, there is not much that a city administration can do to deal with the urban crisis, which is sharpest in declining industrial centers. Banks demanding payment on bonds, corporations running away or threatening to, and state and federal governments tightening purse strings all have more real control over the situation.

Within the context of an overall decline in the standard of living, a majority Black local government can act to cushion the masses from part of the attacks. Cutting back on police terror, equalizing social services, and targeting particular problems are all ways to defend the actual interests of the people.

This buffer role works two ways, however, also protecting the system from the masses as well. The contradiction with "The Man" is obscured and people are more likely to feel that all avenues of progress have been exhausted and become cynical.

During the 1960s Detroit and Newark were major centers of Black mass struggle and political thought. At the end of the '70s, struggle and mass organizations tended more to develop in areas like New York, Philadelphia and Northern Mississippi where disenfranchisement still cut Blacks out of any significant degree of power. This contradiction will be impossible to avoid grappling with during the 1 980s.


"Tactics deal with the forms of struggle and the forms of organization of the proletariat, with their changes and combinations-During a given stage of the revolution tactics may change several times, depending on the flow or ebb, the rise or decline, of the revolution." 45 This is an especially sharp question for the Black liberation movement.

The BLM is characterized by quick swings up and down, by sharp upsurges of struggle followed by quick ebbs. There are also quick changes in forces and political line. The source of this quick ups and downs lies in the conditions of Black oppression: distorted class structure, dispersal, etc.

To resolve this instability, Marxists have to strengthen those factors that promote unity and sort out friends from enemies along the strategic lines outlined above. The identification of the forms of struggle and forms of organization that will do this is a question of tactics.


The question of leadership is very important within the Afro-American nation. People involved in the BLM and Blacks in general are constantly asking “who are our leaders?” This question comes from a number of places and reflects a lot of hard experience with the question.

First, Blacks are a nation and nations need leaders. The Black bourgeoisie who would normally strive to fill that role are unable to do so because of their weak and deformed nature.

Second, Black national oppression gives rise to a yearning for leaders who will stand up to the imperialists, speak to the people's aspirations and unite them in struggle. When a group like the United League of Mississippi consciously set out to promote Skip Robinson and others as leaders they were speaking to a real desire people felt.

One of the most conscious summations of the lessons of the '60s is the need for consistent, ongoing organization rooted among the Black masses. For a people who have almost nothing in the way of money or power, organization represents their one real weapon. The search for leaders is closely interwoven with the struggle to build organization.

At this time there is no single leader or group of leaders who speak for Black people on any kind of nationwide level. There is no one comparable to Martin Luther King or Malcolm X who can be pointed to as an authoritative spokesperson for the Afro-American people. In dealing with the present state of the movement, leadership exists mainly on a local level.

To a large extent today's leadership is not a new wave of leaders but people who come out of the upsurge of nationalism in the '60s, out of SNCC; the struggles in the South; the insurrections in northern cities; the Black Muslims; the BWC and the Black Panther Party; ALSC (African Liberation Support Committee), and out of the hundreds of local forms that developed to organize the national liberation movement.

For the most part it is not the dominant figures of that period who lead today. Their ranks have been decimated by police repression, by dropping out, by being bought" off. It is the secondary leadership of the '60s who lead today. They bring with them a wealth of experience, organizing skills and knowledge of Black people and their history. They have good ties with the people (although this is not necessarily the same as being able to apply the mass line method in developing analysis and policy). Even where they are not the top leaders, they act as an advanced core of cadre with a big influence in the BLM. This is a good thing.

In the RU/RCP we opposed the concept of leaders ideologically on the grounds that developing leaders meant promoting geniuses while negating the principle that the masses make history. We assumed that all Black leaders were opportunists (except Malcolm X who was safely dead.) In our view, every leader who wasn't a communist (and any communist who wasn't in the RU/RCP) was an opportunist and had to be opposed, exposed or isolated. We would run "heroes don't make history" to bypass existing leadership where we didn't attack it openly. This was wrong.

The Black struggle does need leaders. It needs a leader on every street corner. It needs thousands of leaders, and Marxists must help to develop them. The questions are: What kind of leadership has to be developed? How do we identify genuine leaders?

The tasks of Marxists is to help sum up the diverse experience of the BLM on the issue of leadership. The Black community has seen lots of leaders. The ones that have stood the test are those who have stood with the aspirations of the people and led them in struggle. We have to resist the tendency of some forces to pit Black people's desire for organization and leadership against the need to struggle-putting out metaphysical calls to build organization for its own sake and turning the call to "stop tearing down our leaders" into "follow our leaders blindly."

Genuine leaders fight the bourgeoisie. Leaders who do this should be supported whether they are workers or lawyers or ministers or politicians. Although in the long run the BLM needs working class leadership, it is wrong to be a priori about what the class origin of a particular leader is, as in the slogan "Black workers take the lead."

Negative experience with existing leaders is the third source of curiosity surrounding future leadership of the BLM. There is lingering bitterness over state harassment and elimination of the movement's past heroes. Cynicism grows with the contemporary leaders; the compromising leaders; the opportunists; and those failing to produce on promises made. And there are always hot air merchants whose demagoguery contributes next to nothing to the struggle. These feelings are counterweights to the desire for direction and organization.

Black people have been faced time and again with frequently successful attempts by the bourgeoisie to decide who leads the Black community. In the 1960s they promoted the NAACP and Urban League in opposition to King, and King in opposition to the Black Power Movement, and finally various Black capitalists in opposition to the revolutionary nationalists.

For over 50 years Black businessmen and professionals who represented assimilation were put forward as "legitimate" leaders of Black people and "models" by white money and media hype. The response of the BLM that "Black people will decide our own leaders" is part of the struggle for Black self-determination.

Any attack or disrespect to genuine Black leaders by the ruling class will arouse fury. This is even true where there is opposition to their leadership from within the Black community. It is one thing for Blacks to expose Michigan Congressman Diggs as a crook or Pennsylvania Secretary of State Dolores Tucker as a slumlord. It is quite another thing for the bourgeoisie to attack them, applying standards which are not applied to white politicians. However ambivalent the Black masses may feel about these politicians who have "made it" and sold out, they consider them part of the united front of Black people insofar as they are victims of national oppression. This often comes out as ''we can say what we want about them, and we may ice them, but you can't mess with them."

Because of the great awareness of the history of sell-out leadership, suspicion is directed toward particular leaders who arise. This divides into two. One the one hand, it is a roadblock in the path of opportunists who would trade on their position for personal gain and sell out the struggle. And it has increased people's sense of the need to rely on the masses and not to rely on individual leaders. On the other hand, there is the experience that whenever leaders do arise, they are immediately attacked not just by the bourgeoisie, but from within the Black community as well.. "We've got to stop tearing down our leaders" is a commonly heard sentiment.


This is closely related to the question of leadership, as that's what enemy agents try to become. The main thing to understand about isolating enemy agents is that there isn't very much we can do at this time. There are certain Blacks who have been exposed and isolated, both currently and historically. These are mainly assimilationists who pose "becoming like whites" and tying the struggle to the white bourgeoisie as the solution to Black people's problems.

Over time, Black people have seen that proponents of this line sell out the struggle and it is a position without much base in the Black community. This is one of the things that has contributed to the strength of nationalism. It also accounts for much of the suspicion that greets Blacks advocating unity with whites, even when it is done from a class perspective and not an assimilationist one.

In general these agents have to be identified by an analysis of the role they play in a particular situation. Even then the most we can do is expose their role on that question. It is common for someone who has been isolated on one struggle to back off their position or duck out of sight for a while and pop up later as part of the united front in another struggle. This happens again and again.

It seems that there is almost no final straw that can cast someone out of the movement forever. It is almost impossible at this time to distinguish between agents and those who have a totally wrong position on one issue or another but are honest parts of the united front.

There is a material basis for this. By and large, the only things these agents have to sell is their capital within the Black movement. If they lose their credibility they cease to be of value to the bourgeoisie. So, for the most part, they will lose a particular fight if they have to, even change their position, to maintain their legitimacy.

This was seen in New York where Haskel Ward walked away from his job of selling hospital closings to the people of Harlem and in Philadelphia where Charles Bowser "retired" rather than defend his endorsement of Bill Green for mayor.

Dealing with these forces is mainly a task for the future.


We have to distinguish clearly between agents and people whose mistaken views revolve around their own selfish class interests. The Black bourgeoisie, for example, advocates Black capitalism as the solution to existing discrimination, while the Nation of Islam is a proponent of an interlocking system of co-operatives.

On the one hand, we must recognize the "co-operative" or "Black capitalism" routes are totally flawed. Not only do these schemes misdirect things away from struggle against the enemy, but calls to "Buy Black' divide the Black community by targeting and criticizing the poor who cannot afford the higher prices of the relatively small, inefficient Black businesses.

On the other hand. the call to "Buy Black" is a legitimate attempt of self-promotion by the .Afro-American bourgeoisie a: the expense of the white, ruling bourgeoisie. This is not something we should target for attack, although it may be appropriate to criticize its divisiveness in particular cases or its substitution for a program of struggle. In general, the initiatives of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie around their narrow class interests should not be opposed (and can even be mildly supported) except where they come into contradiction with the overall struggle or the interests of the Black people. In those cases they should be treated as contradictions among the people.

Some bourgeois lines and ideological positions are not, of course, as closely related to immediate economic or political ("Vote for me and I’ll set you free") concerns. A fairly poisonous example is an openly male supremacist position which has been adopted by some culturally oriented nationalists. African traditions are cited to condemn women to public invisibility and domestic subservience. Far from upholding the Black family, as it is sometimes argued, this adds an additional layer of oppression upon Black women and lessens their potential contributions to the Black liberation movement.


The tactics of participating in elections are perhaps the most difficult to figure out and the area in which we have the most to learn. Elections are clearly a major arena of struggle for the BLM in this period.

The fight to elect Black officials is a legitimate response to the political bondage of the Afro-American nation. It is part of the fight for Black political power that must be taken up and supported. It arises continually in response to centuries of discrimination and exclusion from political power.

Elections are a common thread arising in numerous Black struggles. It comes up in the form of a general call to elect or appoint Blacks to various positions when individuals from a particular struggle run for office.

The RU/RCP line that elections are nothing but a capitalist trap to be avoided was yet another example of simple subjectivism. The RU/RCP total abstentionist view was an attempt to will the masses to a particular level of understanding that the majority of people aren't ready for (the need for revolution and armed struggle). It posed reform against revolution in an a priori and formalistic way. It was callous to the democratic sentiments of the masses. Particularly, it was ignorant of the relationship between elections and the struggle for Black political power and also negated the oppression that Black people face in the sphere of elections.

Elections are an important tactic. The criteria for judging them should not be limited to whether or not the particular candidate is elected or referendum voted up or down. There are other goals to be pursued and summed up. To what extent are the masses mobilized? Do they view elections as a tactic or the road to progress? Are crucial issues spotlighted? Is the ability of the Black community to influence government decisions enhanced? Will the election victors just be Black faces in office or act as tribunes for their people's interests and agitate for the continuation of the struggle. In short, does the electoral fight advance or set back the overall struggle?

To be sure, electoral struggle can weaken the BLM to the extent that electing or having Black officials appointed is used as a substitute for a struggle or put out as the solution to national oppression. But the solution to the problems presented is not to oppose elections and leave the bourgeoisie in undisputed possession of the field, or to ignore elections among Blacks because that leaves us outside the BLM at this time. Marxists must promote elections as one tactic (and not as the whole solution) and at the same time unequivocally stand with the right of Black people to vote, hold office and choose Black representatives. A particular difficulty here is the ties of Black people to the Democratic Party. On the one hand, the Democratic Party is a party of bourgeois rule. The future, in all probability, will demand a genuine mass party, based on an alliance between Blacks and the labor movement, and we should be alert to promote this kind of thing where conditions permit.

On the other hand, to make everything at this point depend on whether a particular Black candidate is running on one of the two bourgeois tickets or an independent ticket reeks of ultra-leftism. In Chicago, for example, Democratic U.S. Congressmen Gus Savage and Harold Washington are both self-described socialists who have used their offices to strengthen the Black people's struggle.

Where, for example, a candidate put forward by the BLM wins a primary and runs as a Democrat, the main aspect is his or her ties to the BLM and the secondary aspect is struggling against the negative consequences of ties to a bourgeois party, if there are any ties.


The absence of a commonly agreed on program is one of the sources of the quick ups and downs of the Black liberation movement. Struggle develops around a particularly immediate attack and then, as that struggle tails off and the question of sustaining a movement comes to the fore, struggle develops as different forces put forward competing agendas. Over time, Marxists must help the BLM arrive at a commonly agreed on agenda.


We want a revolutionary BLM, not a reformist one. That goes without saying. Yet this formulation has more often than not led Marxist-Leninists not to build a revolutionary movement but rather to splinter and disintegrate the one that exists. In the name of promoting "revolution" we have seen the line drawn that whoever won't take up armed struggle is a reformist, whoever won't unite with whites or won't attack the Black bourgeoisie is a reformist, and so on.

There are both revolutionary and reformist lines within the BLM although these positions are not yet fully developed. As noted above, the demarcation of views will not surface until a more revolutionary period pushes certain questions onto the front burner. The most we have now are certain fragmentary and detached ideas about strategy and tactics.

The fact is that struggles in the Black community tend to get taken up under two kinds of general slogans: "Justice and Equality" and "Power and Liberation." It is important to grasp that these two categories do not represent reformism and revolution respectively. Certainly "Power and Liberation" is a more consciously revolutionary slogan. On the other hand, raising the demand for "Justice and Equality" against a ruling class so thoroughly dependent on injustice and inequality is not inherently reformist.

Furthermore, struggles carried out under this banner often give rise to an understanding of the need for power and liberation. This is particularly true if conscious revolutionaries are working to develop such a thrust within the struggle. The compatibility of the slogans can be seen by the fact that only the extreme right or left elements generally try to break the united front over the raising of one or the other kind of slogan in a particular struggle or campaign.

In general, the revolution and reform debate emerges today in particular struggles as competing summations on what's going on and what has to be done. The debate may take the form of relying on struggle versus elected officials. It may come down over violence versus non-violence. But there is really no political line which cannot be either revolutionary or reformist depending on conditions.

In general, we want to aim the struggle at the bourgeoisie; yet there are times when we must take on the white chauvinism of some white workers. In general, we want to uphold Black political power, but there will be times when what is called for is unity with whites.

While there is struggle between revolution and reform in the BLM, upholding revolution is not so simple as upholding some simple political formulation.

How then do we identify one from the other?

Revolution is that which brings out the antagonistic nature of the contradiction between the Afro-American nation and the American (white) ruling class; which challenge the boundaries the bourgeoisie erects to the Black struggle and its goals; which promotes struggle rather than compromise as the main way to go; and which raise a vision of a society not based on the oppression of minority nationalities but where they can determine their own destiny.

What we have to grasp is that the Black struggle for complete equality and political freedom is a revolutionary struggle in its own right! It doesn't have to be linked to the workers movement or anything else.

What is revolutionary is what build" the Black liberation movement and keeps it rolling towards its goal. What is reformist is that which disintegrates the movement. In an electoral struggle, for example, do our tactics lead to a situation where the BLM will emerge from the battle with greater ability and will to struggle? Or do they lead to a situation in which people will feel their job is done, the candidate will do the job for them, and the movement is disbanded? The question of revolutionary versus reformist tactics today is, in other words, one which must be determined by a concrete analysis of the situation, on the basis of what will build the militancy, muscle and fighting capacity of the BLM.

This will not always be true. There will come a time when revolution is an immediate question. The movement will be divided, with our help, between those who opt for revolution (with the various strategic and tactical policies this implies) and those who opt for reaction. What we have to do in the present period is to fight for things that are attainable now and that at the same time will put us in a better position when revolution is an immediate question.

There are not two different movements-a revolutionary BLM and a reformist one. It is one movement that goes through rapid swings between revolution and reform. Marxists cannot participate in what is revolutionary and draw back from what is reformist. We have to participate in the BLM through all its swings in order to, as part of the movement, to help lead it forward.


At this time there is no overall program for the BLM. That's one reason for the quick swings up and down. Struggles develop around a particular abuse. There is a big upsurge, then as that subsides, people try to channel the gains into ongoing organization. It is at the juncture of an ebb in the struggle that directions tor new battles pose stumbling block questions. Different forces advocate competing agendas. This generally goes unresolved, with the movement fragmenting again until the next big battle.

There is consciousness inside of the BLM of the need for a common program. But this is not easy. For one thing the process of summing up the Black experience still has far to go. For another, different issues affect different classes and sections of the community differently, call different forces into motion, and so on. One of our big tasks as Marxists is to help along the process of summing things up and moving, over a period of time, toward a common program.

Undoubtedly, the achievement of a common program will be facilitated by the election of Ronald Reagan. Reagan barely bothers to conceal his view that Blacks have no place in the political realignment he is seeking to create.

Administration policies target Blacks on numerous fronts. The crippling effects welfare and social service cuts will have on the poor and working poor are undeniable. Attacks on education and affirmative action will hit nearly all sections of the Black community. Although the media has not focused on it, the effect may be as devastating on the Black petty bourgeois and intelligentsia. By some estimates as much as 80% of this group is closely tied to government and government-funded jobs.

An overwhelming and clearly defined set of attacks tends to make a unified response more feasible and thus set the terms for a minimum program. This kind of unified response is beginning to appear as the broad scope and determined tone of the activists around Martin Luther King's birthday and the Atlanta murders shows.

Any program must be based on the immediate needs of the people and their actual struggles. A strategic overview is necessary to evaluate these issues, their importance and inter-relationship so that a program can be drawn up. We are not presently in a position to elaborate on such a program. We will instead say a few things about particular issues and struggles. In this approach, it is important to bear in mind that all are shaped by the nationhood and oppression of Afro-Americans.

That the democratic demand for equal rights with whites plays a big part in all these struggles is not something to be scorned as "reformist" as we did in the RCP, but to be upheld and fought for. At the same time the only guarantee of equal treatment is the right of self-determination (up to and including secession). This is reflected in the demand for Black political power, running through most struggles in one form or another. Again this is something we should up hold and build, as it aims the struggle beyond the immediate gains to the whole question of Black freedom.



While unemployment affects the multinational working class there are particular demands around the problem of Black unemployment that are being struggled around. Unemployment in the Black community is twice as high as the "official" rate. And the situation among Black youth is even worse. In Black communities the rate among Black youth seldom falls below 50%.

CETA jobs, the only program that made any attempt to alleviate unemployment in Black communities, are slated to be phased out entirely. The fight for jobs has been waged in various parts of the country in opposition to CET A cuts and for more CETA jobs.

Furthermore, many jobs remain closed to Blacks In the construction industry, skilled crafts and the unions in these trades are predominately white and not interested in organizing Black workers. Around this, groups of Black workers are organized to go out to job sites which exclude Black workers and demand jobs by disrupting the work. There are lawsuits pending against these virtually all-white unions demanding they open up to Blacks.


Blacks are the last hired and first fired. They face discrimination on the job, both in upgrading and advancement and in everyday ways such as favoritism to whites or racist insults by foremen.

In the 1960s job discrimination gave rise to huge struggles and ongoing in-plant caucuses, like DRUM and UBW (United Black Workers). They took up affirmative action, favoritism, racist foremen and struggles against discrimination in the unions. These struggles had a big effect on the working class struggle overall.

Struggle against discrimination continues today at a lower level. Black workers also fight discrimination by filing charges with the union, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the NLRB, and the NAACP. Job discrimination could become a big rallying cry among Black workers again. Many Black workers who won't get into economic struggles will take up struggles against on-the-job discrimination.

Previously, we discussed how workers' perceptions of the racial character of their unions colored their participation in trade union activities. The struggle to get Blacks into union office has had broad appeal in the past. Where these campaigns have been successful, new conditions and contradictions have been created. We have learned the importance of taking this into account in our approach to Black trade union officials where attacking them would be seen as a racist attack.


Capitalism has forced millions of people, a disproportionate part of them Black, into the permanent army of the unemployed. There are millions the system is in cable of providing with any jobs, let alone decent ones. Welfare was born as an important means of helping people survive. Even so, Black people don't want to be on welfare-they have aspirations to have a job, a better life, to be in the mainstream of society.

Furthermore, welfare and related programs like food stamps have also been turned into a means of controlling the jobless, the poor, the oppressed; those whose misery and anger are a potential knife at the throat of the system's stability. The technique is degradation.

The welfare system is characterized by red tape, harassment and brutality. Its fundamental policies openly target the family-children can lose their benefits if evidence of a man is found in their unmarried mother's house. Daycare, which would help welfare mothers work and make their own way, is no priority. Finally, its benefits consign recipients to grinding poverty. Their day-to-day survival is at the whim of the state and its bureaucracy.

Nor is dampening the revolutionary potential of the poor the only advantage the bourgeoisie squeezes out of welfare. Although a majority of recipients are white, the media and politicians have made welfare a “Black thing" in the public mind. It is used to spread the old racist stereotype that Black people are lazy, immoral, parasitic and a burden on society.

For over a decade, welfare recipients have fought to defend themselves and their families. and to win improvements in their day-to-day lives. In the process they have build some relatively stable and frequently multinational organizations. The main force in these groups is Black women, many with strong national sentiments and a militant stand. Unbroken by heavy oppression, and defiant, they are a source of great strength to the Black liberation movement.

The Reagan administration is calling for a 20% cut in the welfare rolls. Up until now many states haven't bothered to cut benefits, they let inflation do it for them. In New York, for instance, the state legislature passed the last grant increase in 1974. Clearly more struggle is on the agenda.

In our work in this area we have found that the strongest and most influential groups are those which demand a better quality of life and union jobs at union wages (along with childcare) while addressing national oppression and the political character of ruling class attacks.



The importance of the land question in the Black Belt was driven home to us in the work we did to support the struggle in Tupelo. Year in and year out the amount of Southern land in Black hands shrinks. In part, this is due to small farms being unable to compete with larger spreads or agribusiness. In part, the dispersal of a large section of the nation breaks normal inheritance claims. In part, white-run government and courts have redesigned tax and land tenure policies to make seizure easier. We have only enough practice and summation around this question to say that it is a significant factor in the majority of Black struggles which develop in the South.


Fascist terror and the working of the capitalist system drove millions of Blacks from the South. The same forces, in the form of segregation and discrimination, ghettoized Blacks into the oldest and most rundown sections of the urban North. Residential segregation remains perhaps the most powerful and pervasive form of overt discrimination faced by Afro-Americans,

At the same time, concentrations in these ghettos has been a tremendous source of strength for the Black nation. Over generations communities have grown 'up which have traditions, stable institutions (churches, clubs, political organizations, etc.) and internal cohesion. They serve as collective organs of survival and struggle in the face of a hostile and oppressive system. In ordinary times, there are constant skirmishes on any number of fronts to defend the community against decay and overt attack.

Black people use the strength of concentration and its social ties to fight for control over their own destiny, to go for power. Communities are the focal point in the struggle for some degree of power in the electoral arena and over political institutions which affect the daily lives of Black people. In times of rebellion, whether in the '60's or in Miami and Chattanooga in the 1980’s, an important character of the struggle is the masses claim to their community, forbidding penetration even by the armed forces of the state.


Housing is a fundamental human need, yet a system where profit rules is totally unable to provide decent, affordable housing for all. Even Blacks the government calls "middle income" are forced into the ghetto and substandard housing. There, Black professionals, merchants, and higher-paid workers face bank and insurance company policies of disinvestment and redlining. They are cut off from affordable loans and coverage, smashing hopes of home improvement to stem deterioration. In the slums, capitalism has provided real incentives for landlords to bum down their own buildings, destroying scarce housing stock for an easy profit.

In the face of segregation and ghettoization, generations of Blacks have fought for decent housing on many fronts: tenant associations and rent strikes, squatting, rehabbing, tenant courts and pro-tenant laws. There has also been the struggle to force the government to build, subsidize and maintain low-income public housing. Many stable, long-lasting tenant organizations have grown up over the years and at times been a component in a broader Black political movement.


All these terms refer to an increasingly important phenomenon in central city areas: the removal of Blacks and the rehabilitation of their neighborhoods for the white middle class. In part, this is the result of the blind operation of the capitalist system. Speculators make fortunes on the turnover as tenements become $120,000 townhouses; cities become the center for white collar firms in the service, financial, commercial and government sectors while industry flees to low tax, non-union havens In the suburbs or other states and countries; rising energy prices cause young affluent professional and management types to shift out of the suburbs. It also results from a conscious policy decision by the bourgeoisie. City "master plans" call for "upgrading" target areas for the transition by depriving them of service and forcing people out, block busting in reverse. They provide a legal cover for real estate and banking interests to first withhold and then extend financing to effect those profitable changes. One study says that Washington, D.C., over 90% Black in 1979, could be 50% white by 1985! Blacks are being forced into new, dispersed ghettos, many in older working class suburbs or decaying small cities.

The result of this strangulation and displacement is the weakening and eventual destruction of the Black community and its institutions. This, as the bourgeoisie is fully aware, will break down the base for Black political power in the cities and promote feelings of helplessness and helplessness among sections of the Afro-American people. The struggle to defend the community against such recycling plans has been waged very consciously by groups like Save Our Land in Philadelphia, which ruse, the question of political power and its base in the community in their organizing.


Another key battlefront in the community is social services. With the economic problems of U.S. imperialism in the early '70s and the birth of the "crisis of the cities," the quality of life in poor, working class and many middle class neighborhoods has been slashed. This has hit the communities of the oppressed nationalities the hardest.

In health care, for example, during the past few years, the only public hospitals in Philadelphia and St. Louis have been closed and Chicago's Cook County kept alive only by years of grueling struggle on the part of the community and staff. Planned attacks on Medicare will leave tens of thousands with no access to medical care.

Transit is another example. Birmingham, Alabama, under its first Black mayor, had to shut down its whole system, stranding 30,000 daily riders for three months. Systems around the country have already been cut and the menace of collapse looms.

The unequal distribution of services as basic as sanitation between minority and white areas is a constant slap in the face to Black people. The Afro-American community is also frequently shorted on commercial institutions taken for granted in other urban neighborhoods. Banks, supermarkets, and department stores have their functions filled by smaller, less well-stocked and more expensive currency exchanges, Mom and Pop operations, and so on.


Leaders of the Black movement have for years raised education along with jobs and residential desegregation as the three biggest needs of the nation. The fight for education goes back to slave times when teaching Blacks to read and write was a criminal offense. Today the fight has many aspects, many of which are focused on the handicaps imposed by ghetto life and inferior education. This ranges from Head Start type pre-school programs and free school lunches right up to the college level.

The national character of Black oppression often presents contradictions. On the one hand, the formal integration of colleges and universities is insufficient. Special admissions and funding programs must be fought for and defended. At the same time it is also correct and necessary to fight to maintain largely Black educational institutions in the South from being closed or downgraded by racist state governments in the name of "fighting segregation." The point is that both forms are of value to the Black nation in getting the youth educated.

Nowhere is this contradiction sharper than around school busing. Busing programs are a response to the fact that, as pointed out. by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, separate education has been inherently unequal. This is an issue of great concern to us in the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters. Our experience in the RU/RCP with its racist opposition to the Boston busing struggle has led us to understand the need to unite with and support the rights and struggles of Black people to attend the schools of their choice.

Busing is seen by many Blacks as the only guarantee that their children will receive an education equal to that of white kids. Many programs have also promoted a progressive stance on racial issues among students. Black parents also defend busing programs when they meet racist white resistance in order to uphold their children's right to an equal opportunity and an equal place in society. It is true that the Black community has opposed some busing plans which were inadequate, a ploy to avoid improving the educational system, or threatened to harm the children by stripping away good school facilities in the community while transporting them to a hostile situation.

In looking at individual busing plans, it is important to study the particulars and carry out careful investigation on the views of Black people. Investigation should be carried out also in the event of white resistance, which may include elements of legitimate concern for children and their well-being. We cannot, however, unite with this at the expense of the oppressed nationalities.


The rise of the Black liberation movement in the 1960s triggered a massive renaissance of Black culture which remained strong through the subsequent lull in the mass struggle. Black arts became even more forthright in celebrating survival and struggle, in proclaiming unity and national identity, in denouncing discrimination and oppression. A greater awareness of a pride in national style has developed in humor, dance, dress, athletic technique, hairstyle, cooking and practically every aspect of daily life.

A central aspect has been the reclaiming of Afro-American history and traditions after generations of being obscured by white disdain and "happy darky" myths promoted by the popular media and scholars alike. The cultural assertion is clearly that of a nation. There is a national flag, the Green, Black and Red, and a national anthem. There are national holidays such as June 10th, celebrated in different areas of the South and northern cities like Milwaukee, Black History Month and African Liberation Day. There is also the battle to make Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday, a focal point of the movement today.


Blacks in America are deeply aware of their African origins, the more so because they were ripped by force from their native continent. Affirmation of this tie takes many forms, including the growing prevalence of African names given to many children and adopted by numerous adults.

Contemporary ties exist, especially in the form of Black support for African liberation.

This is a general sentiment throughout the Black community, although broad activity has for the most part been concentrated on the campuses, where the main demand is divestment and severance of other ties with South Africa.


Perhaps more than any other single thing, police murders of Black people have righteously provoked rage and resistance. For one thing, the stakes are so high (people's lives) and so clearly tied to genocide. For another, it is an attack that comes down on all classes and sections of the community. This means that the aspect of national oppression stands out in sharpest relief and so the broadest front can be built around it.

Perhaps for this reason the forms of resistance to police attacks are very diverse: from huge demonstrations to legislative demands for civilian review boards and "police accountability," from armed self-defense (now mainly in the South) to lobbying politicians. In recent years movements triggered by cases of police murder have led to ongoing organization in the Black community that has taken on a whole range of issues around national oppression, a drawing together of the Black community in growing numbers despite a lot of differences (MOVE in Philly, Arthur Miller in Brooklyn), the latter leading to national organizing by the Black United Front.

Marxists have to unite with and build these struggles. Obviously, the Black liberation movement can continue to make big gains in battle on this front. Yet the course these struggles should be led in is a complex question.

When police terror triggers rebellions like Miami they must be supported. Justice in particular instances can be won (though not easily nor often) and the freedom of cops to attack can be limited. In terms of program, however, reform demands can't just parallel those in other battles. Calls for more Black cops on mainly white forces (equality) and for more community control (Black political power) can have correct aspects but tend to cover over the nature of the state.

On the other hand, "left" demands like "Pigs out of the Black community" ignore a critical contradiction. The Black people are sharply aware that they don't get the same degree of protection from violent crime that other sections of the population do and this is a major issue for them. The left generally tended to ignore the horrifying effects of violent crime on the Black community and, in general, proclaimed glibly that nothing can be done about it before socialism. Some leftists even made excuses for or glorified as rebels those who resorted to violent crime. These approaches are incapable of winning wide support from among the people for obvious reasons.

While we have few answers, we wish to point out one direction which has to be pursued, although it is no panacea and can easily be exaggerated for subjective reasons. This is the direction toward armed self-defense, organization on blocks that takes up the functions of both protection from criminals and from the police, organizations pitting our military (and premilitary) organization against theirs.

An embryonic form of this is the role of the Save Our Land group in Philly. They are security at demonstrations of the Black community, went into a white neighborhood where Black kids were getting stoned by whites on their way to school, and they have provided security for squatters who took over houses in a project. Community patrols and armed committees have surfaced in Atlanta and Miami in response to violent crime and police brutality, respectively.


In addition to police terror, Black people face "unofficial" terror from racist and fascist groups like the various KKK and Nazi sects. There has been a substantial growth in these groups, fueled partly by lavish media attention, along with an escalation of group and individual terror against Blacks.

1980 and 1981 saw savage murders and attempted murders in Buffalo, New York City, Salt lake City and several other cities and an actual lynching in Mobile, Alabama. When the Nazi/Klan federal agent assassins of the CWP 5 in Greensboro, N.C., were found innocent, it had the character of declaring open season on Blacks, especially activists.

Black people have armed themselves and defied these racist scum, as in the Tommy Lee Hines march in Decatur, Alabama, where a KKK attack faltered when met by gunfire. Other responses included political organizing and exposures, demonstrations and the effort to form a national network of anti-Klan forces.


Since World War II, the charge of genocide has been raised against the white rulers of America by Black activists and has become a real concern among the masses. And with excellent reason! The original inhabitants of what is now the U.S., the native American people, were nearly wiped out by white America and its rulers.

The reign of police and other racist terror touched on above are but one tip of a large iceberg. Major government policies fall under this heading as well. The welfare system specifically tried to cripple the Black family and maintain recipients in helpless dependency. Inadequate nutrition programs undermine health and the physical, mental and emotional development of children. Sterilization programs target the poor of the oppressed nationalities and welfare recipients in general. Community dispersal, like the dispersal from the South, tears the social fabric of the Black community.

Ghetto life itself is a major component of genocide. Higher infant mortality rates and low life expectancy plague Black communities nationally. The very paint peeling from a tenement wall can destroy a child's future. Murder is the number one cause of death among young Black men. Alcohol and illegal drugs, which the cops somehow never manage to stem the flow of, take their toll leaving both corpses and living dead on the streets and in the tenements. These go hand in hand with the destruction of pride and hope that life in the slums produces.

Finally, there is the mythology of Black racial inferiority which permeates American society and blames the effect of racial oppression on its victims. So deep, so powerful, so ingrained in American institutions is this racist outlook that it must inevitably affect even many Black. This is reinforced by constant efforts to denigrate and destroy Black culture.

Genocide is a real issue. It can be misused rhetorically, but it is not leftist rhetoric. It is a prolonged, multi-faceted, qualitative, degenerative process that affects generation after generation. Certainly it would be ridiculous to use the fact that Black people resist genocide with determination, courage and imagination to negate its existence as a phenomenon.

As one brother put it, "Because we face genocide, Blacks stand for life." The green ribbon campaign that spread largely spontaneously in answer to the killings of the Black children in Atlanta, shows graphically what he meant.

The championing of life and hatred for genocide has led some religious and nationalist-minded Blacks to line up with the anti-abortion movement and its demands. General sentiment in the Black community, however, is for women's right to choose and to have control of their own reproductive processes. This right is, in fact, a part of the anti-genocide struggle. Dave Richardson, a community leader in Philadelphia, says, "We must break the cycle of babies having babies in our communities," (referring to the growing number of teenage mothers who are poorly prepared to raise their children).



The prospect for battles on the front of the American political system in the early 1980s looks to be largely defensive. The ground was laid in the last decade with the official government endorsement of the myth of "reverse discrimination." By 1977 some polls reported that well over 50% of whites actually believed that Afro-Americans had achieved full equality.

Also important was the ideological attack on "welfare," actually meaning a whole range of social programs. Cheaters and able-bodied male recipients were spotlighted. They were blamed for government budget deficits and inflation. Although much of this was untrue, there is a basis for it in reality. Medicaid, for example, would pay full costs for poor patients when low and middle income workers with identical problems faced devastating medical bills. In New York some private hospitals have developed a regular policy of recommending to patients who can't afford care that they quit their jobs for awhile and go on welfare so they can get Medicaid.

Building on this foundation, the ruling class and the Reagan administration in particular have launched an assault on most of the gains Black people have won in the battles of the last two decades. Cutbacks in services to the poor are coupled with declarations that nobody is "entitled" to anything. Slashing federal funding for busing and open and special admissions programs goes along with noisy attacks on "quotas" by NY's Mayor Koch and other politicians. Senator Jesse Helms wants to repeal the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The end of these programs means the end of services vitally needed in the Black community and the end of useful tools to compensate for the effects of national oppression. Organized resistance and unity with other forces hit by the Reagan cuts are the order of the day.

A particular challenge posed by the 1980s is the defense of affirmative action and related programs. The situation may well call for new forms. Long-term layoffs in industry could erase many employment gains of women and minorities unless some form of super seniority is instituted. Yet such programs are the rallying point around which the ruling class and racists are organizing anti-Black sentiment and activity among white workers and other whites. For the Black liberation movement, the situation demands a common front with others around the attacks overall to prevent political isolation. Marxists and other progressives will have to organize and educate to undercut "white backlash" and draw some advanced white workers and others into particular united fronts around these issues.


[Note from scanner: in the following three paragraphs a few words were cut off on my original paper version. I have left them as is rather that guess what the missing words or word segments should be]

Disenfranchisement is a major obstacle to carrying on successful resistance to poli which attack Black peoples' basic interests and to advancing the fight for power in the cours elections. This obstacle has recurred in various forms since Blacks first won the right to vote.

In the South legal restrictions and terrorism by KKK and the state has kept Black people away from the polls. Another form of disenfranchisement is the invalid elimination of Black people from the voting lists. In the last two major elections in Philadelphia, thousands of Black votes went uncounted due to systematic machine breakdowns. Resistance to this system disenfranchisement has been carried out in huge voter registration drives, block by block and organizing poll watchers to make sure the Black vote does count. The fight against disenfranchisement also occurs within voting districts with a Black majority that are run by white The fight to stop gerrymandering Blacks out of office by changing the legislative districts been another form of resistance to the dilution of the Black vote. Another method utilized to fight disenfranchisement has been mass demonstrations on election night.

Natural feelings of powerlessness, cynicism, and antagonism to the government have produced what might be called self-disenfranchisement. The rate of registration and participation in elections is generally lower in the Black community than among the population as a whole. The most effective answer to self-disenfranchisement we have seen is the presence of strong progressive or nationalist-minded candidates and the mobilization of organizations based in Black community to build support for their campaign.


Throughout this paper we have tried to delineate and analyze the main features of the Black liberation movement. Previous sections have identified or implied a number of tasks for Marxists. In closing, we want to review some of these points and expand on some others we have found helpful in our thinking and work. As the Black liberation movement goes forward, as we develop our work and as cooperation and unity are built with other Marxist forces more deeply rooted in the Afro-American struggle, more tasks will present themselves and it will be possible to formulate most points/tasks more clearly.


A. Safeguard the entire movement. The first task of Marxists must be to defend the entire Black liberation movement. This is a particular task because the BIM is somewhat fragile and its very existence comes into question during periods of ebb. As Marxists we see the BIM as a mighty force against imperialism and stand for developing and nurturing it. Moreover, it is only through the general development of the Black liberation movement that our principle goal, the development of a broad united front that strikes at the capitalist enemy, can be pushed forward.

It is also very important that Black Marxists not stand for sectarian interests within the overall battle.

In general, Marxists should be the ones who consistently stand for unity in the united front of Black people and promote the policy of unity and the scientific basis for this policy. This means to unite all who can be united. Through this policy, Marxists can best stand for the interests of the basic masses while not targeting the leaders. In the past, we used "standing with the basic masses" as an excuse to break the united front.

B. Marxism as a trend in the BLM. One nationalist leader, Ron Karenga, has made the analysis that there are three trends in the BLM: Nationalism, Marxism and Pan-Africanism. He then goes on to say that Marxism and Pan-Africanism are isolated on the basis that they don't have a thoroughgoing critique of racism. We think this is true to a certain extent. Not that Marxism can't answer the questions, but it hasn't. Along with this many diehard narrow nationalists have gone to considerable length to develop venomous anti-communist critiques of the effect of Marxism on the Black movement.

At the same time that we build the BLM overall, building and defending Marxism as an accepted tendency within the movement must be a component part of our work. A big part of this is "paying our dues." That is, an arrogant stand, posturing and rhetorical speeches will definitely not do. The main progress in creating a Marxist tendency will flow from the actual advance made in the application of Marxism and from the results. However, propaganda and Marxist education are essential to this task. The situation is improving both amongst the people and the conscious forces for many people to come forward and take up Marxism.

At some point, for this to become a mass phenomenon, conscious forces must be able to make a Marxist (scientific) analysis based on and rooted in the Black experience. The experience of Blacks in the struggle against the U.S. bourgeoisie is rich and varied and most of the essential points needed to chart a revolutionary path can be drawn directly from that experience. Only as this begins to be accomplished; that is, as the advanced section begins to establish a Marxism that is grounded in the concretes of Black life and Black history will there be a large growth of Marxism as a tendency in the BLM. Recruitment and developing Afro-American Marxist leaders is part of building the Marxist tendency in the BLM.

C. Revolutionary Mata Forms. The bulk of efforts must be towards organizing amongst the people, towards building the struggle against the enemy. Throughout the Black community there are hundreds of small mass organizations based in certain communities or on particular issues. Concentrating on a few of these and building them around a revolutionary orientation of fighting for power and liberation will further the struggle. They can serve as motors that advance the whole movement, continually bringing forward new forces and training new leaders.

The vitality of these basic organizations will bring the viewpoint and needs of the common people to center stage. In one sense they will be the left within the movement. Successes in this kind of work, particularly in releasing the initiative of the advanced.will be a positive influence. This kind of work will go along way toward giving Marxists a right to speak.

In the last couple of years the movement has seen the flowering of an extremely important new form, the Black United Fronts, the most prominent being based in New York City. These are militant nationalist organizations, revolutionary in approach, which link up various grassroots forces and activists. They have united a surprisingly broad range from the churches to Pan-Africanists. They have built important struggles and in doing so mobilized even broader sections of the Black community. They have propelled new leaders forward and won a lot of respect from the people.

A few words of caution. The BUF's are new and relatively tender organizations and are not immune from the contradictions that have affected the overall Black liberation movement. They are not united fronts of classes and forces in the Black community, but function more as an active left wing. Because they are united fronts in the sense of being coalitions of different groups and sections of the community, they are subject to sharp internal struggles and compromises.

Progressive organizations and media have understandably been delighted by the development of the Black United Fronts and seek to develop ties and influence in them. Such attention - from the well-meaning, not just opportunists - can have a distorting effect on the growth of a new organization. It is with these points in mind that Marxists can arid must work with and within the Black United Fronts whenever and wherever possible. We can help these groups make a big contribution to the Black liberation movement and gain a great deal of experience in the process.

D. Black Marxist Forms. It is natural that Black revolutionaries and even Marxist-Leninists feel reluctant to join organizations which are predominantly white. (There are literally hundreds who tried over the last decade and decided it was not worth the effort because of white chauvinist lines and practices, especially when compounded by ultra-leftism, dogmatism and general sectarian idiocy.) Our minority comrades have summed up that this is a particular problem in consolidating the advanced. True, a thoroughgoing Marxist puts aside a\l narrow nationalist feelings, but getting people to that stage can be very difficult.

One spontaneous result has been the formation of small Marxist groups among the minority nationalities, which have in some instances later united with larger Marxist groups. It is important to unite with such groups whenever possible and avoid a patronizing attitude or jamming them to be part of multi-national organizations without respecting their own development and dynamics. From our experience, observation, and analysis, we conclude that there will be a need in the future for specifically Black Marxist forms. Although our practice is fairly limited, we can see potential value in a range of forms from local work teams and study groups to national conferences. In the past, for example, Marxist or Marxist-led Black student groups have played an important role. Only in the course of struggle can we really learn what is needed and what difficulties such forms will present.


The RCP's attack on bundism has had an extremely backwards effect on our cadre policy. To them communists were all the embodiment of rational line, so a white communist was the same as a Black communist. This led to a policy where it was seen as unnecessary, and in fact backwards, to have organizational forms inside the RCP which were made up of minority comrades. After a national minorities meeting held by D.H. Wright, a national spokesman for the RU, became a particular target in the struggle against Bundism all such forms were looked at with special suspicion.

This was wrong on two accounts. First off, it broke the chain of knowledge and said that inside a Marxist-Leninist organization experience is no longer a question. Secondly, it didn't deal with the reality that for Black Marxists to fully release their initiative, to give full play to their experience, revolutionary drive, and will to lead the people, all traces of the ideology and practice of white supremacy must be combated. There must be an atmosphere created in which Black Marxists can be confident in leading the Black people, that their directions and goals are truly in the interest of Black people and that this is not another case of whites telling Blacks what to do.

Being a Black Marxist representing what is seen as a mostly white organization inside the BLM is a rough spot to be in. We must create the room to work out this contradiction.

At the same time .the overall line of the organization on a\l questions including the national question must be collectively decided by the standing bodies and membership as a whole. On the other hand commissions for nationality work must have the freedom and authority to make particular line and policy decisions regarding the work. The opinions and experience of the cadre in the work are in the final analysis the only solid foundation for aiming at and deepening the correct line.

In the RCP a line existed that the main form of opportunism on the national question in the old CPUSA was favoritism towards Black cadre. The impression was that liberalism towards Black cadre was the main danger to watch for. If Black cadre raised struggle against white chauvinism in the RU/RCP it was seen as a jack-up. But the "Bundism" of minority cadre was often pointed out.

Without saying what was wrong or right in the CPUSA we can look back on our own experience and see that overwhelmingly it has not been the case that Black cadre try to get special privileges. Rather, when Black cadre developed personal, family or financial problems, they were not helped sufficiently. This all had to be rectified. Black cadre cannot be severed from their mass ties which include family responsibilities. The material conditions of national oppression throw up many other questions which must be solved.


In our rectification of RU/RCP liquidation ism on the national question, we emphasized as we did at the beginning of this paper the distinct identity and character of the working class and Black movements. In some cases this point originally gave rise to a new kind of liquidation. Some white comrades took it to mean that the minority cadre do work around the national question and the white cadre do not. This is dead wrong.

White Marxists have a duty to stand visibly with the movements of the oppressed nationalities and actively support them. This is not to say, of course, that this means to support every line, policy, leader or group uncritically.

White Marxists also have the particular and crucial responsibility of combatting white chauvinism among the people. This means promoting both the idea of multinational unity and support for the Black liberation movement in its own right.

Finally, while work around Black liberation can best be done by Black cadre, this does not excuse white comrades or the RWH as a predominantly white organization from taking some initiative. It is metaphysical to always wait for some Black forces to take up an issue, the more so if you then say only Black Marxists should get into it. Consciously combatting this view has laid the groundwork for some successes. An example is a couple of 1981 Martin Luther King memorial programs the RWH built with other forces in the Chicago/Gary area among students, workers and other Black forces, despite the fact that no Black comrades were involved.

This paper makes many changes in our former views and sets out many tasks which are both delicate and arduous. Only by getting our thinking straight, struggling things out, and pooling our experience and ideas can we create the best basis to move forward and solve problems. We feel it is important for the whole organization to take up the six-part study, have a thorough discussion of this paper, work out differences, and unite to take up our tasks.


The history of the Marxist-Leninist movement in this country in the last 10 years shows that the national question has been a major stumbling block in the formation of a new unified communist party. To build a communist party which can unite within its ranks the most advanced sections of the national movements we must create conditions which allow for the development of real unity.

In the past, the two main concerns of minority Marxists have been: will being in a multinational communist party hurt their ability to lead amongst their people? Will they be "swallowed up" in a mostly white organization, their opinions and experience not fully listened to, and wind up with whites leading the national movements? Both of these are genuine concerns which we must solve.

The past 10 years have chewed up many Marxist-Leninist organizations. Minority, in particular Black organizations have been hard hit. For this reason, it is essential to find a way to involve individual Black Marxists as a force in unity efforts.

We feel that the role of the RU in the National Liaison Committee did damage which continues to be felt to this day. We repudiate this chauvinist past.

We are determined to pursue unity with all Marxist-Leninists toward the goal of uniting our trend into a single organization. We can then proceed with the process of building a party capable of taking responsibility for providing leadership to the struggles of the American people, foremost among them the struggles of the multi-national working class and the oppressed nationalities.


1. J. Stalin, Works, Vol. 7, Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1954, pp. 70-71
2. Stalin, Works, Vol. 2, pp. 316-318
3. Ibid., pp. 319-320
4. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 20, Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1964,
5. Ibid., p. 412
6. Ibid., p. 410
7. Ibid., p. 412
8. Revolutionary Union, Red Papers 5: National Liberation and Proletarian Revolution in the
U.S., Chicago, 1972, p. 36, emphasis in original
9. Ibid., p. 37
10. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 20, p. 410 II. Ibid., emphasis in original
12. Ibid., p.4ll
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid., pp. 413-414
15. Stalin, Works, Vol. 2, p. 321 16.Ibid., p. 374
16. Stalin, Works, Vol. 5, p. 270, emphasis ours
17. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 22, p. 146, emphasis ours.
18. Ibid., p. 143, emphasis ours
19. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 20, p. 441, emphasis in original
20. Stalin, Works, Vol. II , p. 365, emphasis ours
21. See Revolutionary Union, Red Papers 5, p. 43 and Red Papers 6, pp. 36-38 especially
22. Stalin, Works, Vol. 6, p. 143, emphasis ours
23. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 22, p. 357
24. Ibid., p. 153
25. Stalin, Works, Vol. 7, p. 224, emphasis ours
26. Ibid., p. 226
27. Ibid., p. 225, emphasis ours
28. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 23, p. 74, emphasis in original, except where noted
29. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 19,P. 526
30. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 23, p. 71, emphasis in original
31. Ibid., p. 70, emphasis in original
33, Revolutionary Union, Red Papers 6, Build the Leadership of the Proletariat and its Party, Chicago, 1974, p. 37, emphasis in original
34. Ibid., p. 40, emphasis ours
35. Revolutionary Union, Red Papers 5, p. 19, emphasis ours
36. Revolutionary Union, Red Papers 6, p. 11, emphasis ours
37. Ibid., p. 50, italics ours, upper case in original
38. as quoted in BWC, Reply to National Bulletin 13, Red Papers 6, p. 27
39. Stalin, Works, Vol. 2, p. 307
40. as quoted in William Z. Foster, The Negro People in American History, New York, International Publishers, 1954, p. 455
41. H. Haywood, "Black Power and the Fight for Socialism," Class Struggle, No. 11, p. 14
42. Ibid., p. 12
43. Stalin, Works, Vol. 2, pp. 334•335
44. Stalin, Works, Vol. 6, p. 156
45. Ibid., p. 161

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