Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Michael Simmons

Accommodation to racism in the communist movement: Is Communism the Property of White Petit Bourgeois Intellectuals?

First Published: The Organizer, Vol. 7, No. 8, August 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Black people are too busy “doing their thing” to be into communism. After all, aren’t they anti-communist anyway? How else do we explain that on the one hand the most advanced political fighters have come from the movements of the oppressed nationalities, particularly the Black Liberation Movement, yet, on the other hand, the communist movement remains overwhelmingly white and petty bourgeois? Even the CPUSA at the height of its influence in the Black Liberation Movement was never any more than 10% Black.


Historically the burden for the racial composition of the communist movement has consistently been put on national minorities. The major assumption being that communist theory was written for white petty bourgeois intellectuals and a few “exceptional” national minorities. The charge, often expressed as sympathetic anti-racist concern, is that national minorities are so involved with “survival” issues that they won’t take up Marxism-Leninism. National minorities have historically united with this view. Statements putting down theory as a waste of time or viewing Marxism-Leninism as a “white” thing have given credence to these racist views.

These and similar views have served to obscure racism and accomodation to it in the communist movement. If we look at the literature of this movement we find many writings on racism, but except for the CPUSA there are virtually no writings on racism internal to the movement. Moreover no significant attempt has been made to explain why the composition of the communist movement does not reflect the reality of the most advanced in this society. Even the CPUSA’s history of taking up racism internal to its ranks seldom went beyond criticizing racist errors and failed to focus on the ideological roots of these errors.

It is in this context that the current campaign against white and petty bourgeois chauvinism has developed. The primary advance of the campaign has been the recognition that white chauvinism in the communist movement, like white chauvinism in society as a whole, is a consciously held ideology. Viewed abstractly this seems obvious, but in the context of the communist movement seeking to sidestep the question of racism within its ranks denial of the obvious becomes essential.

The recognition of the consciousness of white chauvinism has gone through several stages. Prior to the campaign racist errors were largely summed up as “objective” racism, that is they had a racist impact but this was accidental and unrelated to racist ideas. In the view of white communists such ideas were the exclusive property of the masses of white workers. In order for the campaign to develop at all it was necessary to break with this absurdity and confront the ideological roots of racist behavior. As this process developed the consciousness of white chauvinism has come to be better understood. Racist behavior, far from being unconscious and thus beyond the responsibility of the perpetrator involves conscious decisions which then are dressed up and rationalized.

The denial of the consciousness of white chauvinism by white communists creates the context for a liquidation of any serious struggle against racism within the ranks of the communist movement, enabling whites to treat racist errors as random, unconscious acts or isolated personal lapses. The historic failure of national minority communists to sharply and consistently criticize white chauvinism has fed this practice. Moreover those national minorities who do challenge racist behavior and views are summed up as subjective, narrow nationalist, anti-white and anti-communist (some comrades view the latter two as synonomous.). The result has been to seek out the most accomodationist minded national minorities to recruit to the communist movement on the one hand and to avoid the most advanced – those who are most critical of the racism of white communists – on the other.

The other side of this impact has been for national minorities who are attracted to communist to judge it based on the racism of white communists or the accomodation to racism by national minority communists. For national minority revolutionaries the tendency has been to write off Marxism-Leninism as “a white thing” rather than take up the struggle against opportunism in the communist movement.


Recognizing that it is impossible to go forward without deepening this preliminary analysis, the Organizing committee for an Ideological Center (OCIC) is planning a conference on accomodation to racism. This conference marks the first time that the issue has been taken up in such a fashion in the history of the communist movement. It will, in the context of exposing white chauvinism in the movement, challenge national minorities to look at the theoretical advances made by the campaign against white chauvinism. While documents discussing the lessons from the campaign are being prepared for the conference, we should briefly mention some of the ways which racism and accomodation occur in the communist movement. It should be noted that this process occurs in all multi-national movement situations and is not peculiar to the communist movement.

The first stage of the process is recruitment of the most accomodationist minded national minorities to the party building movement. In work in the trade unions the Black worker who immediately strikes up a relationship with a given white communist is sought out if there is an absence of criticism about that particular white communist’s racism. If the Black person seems to “appreciate” the attention by the white communist and makes no demands on the white communist’s practice in relation to the struggle against racism, he or she is viewed as advanced. On the other hand a national minority who does not show interest in developing a personal relationship with the white communist or is not particularly flattered by their attention is immediately viewed as hostile. If the worker takes a “wait and see” attitude about the white communist’s committment to the struggle against racism they get summed up as nationalist.

The weaknesses of the former Black worker are virtually ignored and they are judged solely on their strengths, even if they are manufactured. The latter worker is summed up based on their weaknesses and often have their strengths labelled as manifestations of opportunism! In both situations a political accessment is never actually made based on politics. Indeed politics are used to cover over the real criterion – “Do you like white people?” This practice has served to cut the communist movement off from many advanced forces in the trade unions and the mass movements.

Essential to this practice is the culturing of accomodation to racism. The purpose is to build a non-struggle, paternal relationship with national minorities by convincing them that “we are not like other white people.” A consistent form of this is the immediate involvement of the white person in the personal life of the national minority. Exaggerated concern is expressed over domestic, financial and any personal problem. Every political statement of the national minority is treated as if it were profound, regardless of whether or not it is correct or common knowledge. In some communist organizations national minority comrades were made cell chairs when they did not even agree with party building. The national minority in this situation views this non-struggle relationship sugar coated with “concern” for their personal problems as political respect rather than recognize that it represents anything but that.

The use of national minorities as overseers is another component of white communists defending themselves against correct criticisms of racism. This metaphor is drawn from the slave experience of Afro-Americans where a passive slave was used to keep down unruly slaves. The national minority contact or comrade is sent to beat back or minimize criticisms of racism by other national minorities. They join the white person in accessing these criticisms as opportunist, exaggerated and coming from narrow nationalism. They are used not only to provide a “legitimate” basis to keep less accomodationist national minorities out of the party building movement, but also to drive out those who criticize racism within the movement.

Historically inter-racial relationships have played a major role in facilitating this process within the communist movement. The white person benefits in these relationships by having a built in, personal overseer to virtually immunize them from criticism for racism. Overall they represent the consolidation of racism and accomodation to it and serve to intensify the process described above.

All of these components of white chauvinism and accomodation to it will be fully delineated in documents being prepared for the conference. The conference represents an historic step for the communist movement and challenges national minorities to stake their claim to the science of Marxism-Leninism. It is only by accepting this challenge that we will be able to forge a truly vanguard communist Party.