Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Pili Michael L. Humphrey, Chairman of the Afro-American Commission Central Committee of the League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L)

Commentary: Revolution and Black Liberation in the 1980’s

First Published: Unity, Vol. 3, No. 9, April 25-May 8, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The following is the slightly edited text of a speech delivered by Pili Michael L. Humphrey, Chairman of the Afro-American Commission of the Central Committee of the League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L), at recent programs on the merger of the Revolutionary Communist League (M-L-M) and the League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L).

* * *

There’s an old saying that when you’re close to death, your life flashes in front of your eyes. But as I watched the life of Black people in struggle flash before my eyes tonight, I felt much closer to life than to death.

What it testifies to is the strength of the people and their perseverance against oppression. It testifies to the fact that the Black Liberation Movement today is potentially as powerful and revolutionary as it was in the 3960’s. What it testifies to is that there’s an unending search in the Black Liberation Movement for truth – revolutionary truth – to guide our struggle and lead us on to victory.

Why self-determination?

The history of Black people in this country, I would suppose, is well-known by most of you in this room. It is the history of the African slaves who were brought in slave ships and chains to this country, whose cultures and ways were systematically destroyed by slavery. It is the history of various African peoples who were forged into one people in the South under slavery and Reconstruction; it is a history also of their resistance.

We know of the resistance of the slaves through the rebellions of people like Nat Turner. We know of the underground railroad of Harriet Tubman, and we also know that thousands upon thousands of Blacks fought in the Civil War to destroy slavery, knowing and understanding that war was the only way that slavery would be ended and Black people would be free from chains – despite the fact that there was at that time, as today, a pacifist line on how to end slavery.

. . . Reconstruction was the mechanism to ensure Black freedom in this country. But Reconstruction was smashed, overthrown. What was re-enslaved was a whole people, a separation forced through the destruction of Reconstruction, the imposition of segregationist laws, and the violence and terror of the state and Klan. That separation forced a separation of Afro-American people from the rest of U.S. society, and that separation helped forge a nation in the Black-belt South. A forced separation that cannot be healed through integration or other such means. Reconstruction was the only time in American history where there could have been integration, where there could have been equality under capitalism.

But the fact that Reconstruction was overthrown and destroyed eliminated any possibility of Black freedom, of democracy and equality within the United States of America.

That’s key to understand. Because when we talk about Black liberation today, we are talking about a struggle essentially for self-determination of the Black nation in the South, and we are also talking about the struggle for democracy everywhere – the democracy that was denied when Reconstruction was overthrown.

So, for instance, today when people call for community control of the police or the schools, what they are demanding is what was denied when Reconstruction was overthrown. What they are demanding is the power that they were supposed to have during Reconstruction, that was smashed with the ending of Reconstruction. And so, the main demand of the Black Liberation Movement today is still for land and power. Land and power.

The Black Liberation Movement in the 1960’s

. . . In looking at the 1960’s, there was a rise of the Black Liberation Movement unprecedented in the history of this country. It marked a turning point. It marked a significant change in the direction of the movement.

This change was brought about in part, and to a great degree, by the leadership of Malcolm X. When Malcolm rose in the leadership of the Black Liberation Movement he represented the far-reaching aspirations of the Black masses, the Black working class.

Malcolm’s line centered around three key issues: 1) Self-determination. Self-determination: land and power. 2) Self-respect. Black pride, national consciousness, national identity as Black people, as Afro-Americans, as a nation in this country, and 3) Self-defense. That Black people will struggle for their rights by any means necessary, including the use of force.

There were other people who were leading the movement at that time, like Dr. King, who represented a significant advance from what was happening before the Civil Rights Movement and direct confrontations. But at the same time, Malcolm’s line is much more far-reaching than Dr. King’s line. King was stopped short because he was restricted by pacifism, because he was restricted by reformism.

But Malcolm was a revolutionary. Malcolm said that Blacks could not be free under capitalism. Malcolm said that revolution is what? You all heard Malcolm. Revolution means what? It means bloodshed. Malcolm said that you cannot talk about revolution without talking about overthrowing the system.

And so, his line had a much more far-reaching effect upon the Black Liberation movement and turned the movement around. So by 1964, before Malcolm was even assassinated, his line was beginning to take root among broader and broader sectors of the Black Liberation Movement, so that Harlem rose up in 1964, Watts in 1965, Cleveland in 1966, Detroit and Newark in 1967, and then when Dr. King was killed in 1968, over 100 cities went up in flames – because Malcolm said that revolution means violence.

Malcolm called for armed self-defense against reactionaries, whether they come from the state or whether they come from the people, like the Ku Klux Klan. If you listen to his East speech that’s recorded, called the Last Message, he talks about a demonstration that Dr. King and them was getting ready to have, and Malcolm sent a telegram to Rockwell, who was the head fascist, the head of the Nazis, and he said that if Dr. King or anybody marching in that demonstration is harmed, then you will be met with the maximum physical retaliation. Now, understanding that in 1965, how can we then let somebody tell us in 1980 that the way to fight the Klan is to turn the other cheek?

. . . Because Malcolm was assassinated, it stopped that motion short. People never knew what the final motion of Malcolm X was going to be, although we can conjecture because he was on a consistently revolutionary path. Malcolm was assassinated in 1965. And so, in 1965, the movement was in a state of flux. There was no Malcolm X and there was no nationwide revolutionary organization. There was no party to give it leadership. There was no organization of revolutionaries all across this country that could fill the vacuum that was created when Malcolm was killed. This is because the Communist Party had sold people out in the 1950’s.

I know it took myself, and I know it took a lot of other people who were nationalists at one point, a long time to understand that. Because we refused to believe that the Communist Party USA had ever said anything correct. That’s because, when we came on the scene, it was so incorrect that it was hard to believe that it could have ever been correct. I know for some of you all it’s still hard to believe, right?

But at a point in history, the Communist Party USA used to be called the Party of the Negro. That was because they were the organization leading the struggles of the masses of people all around the country, including Black people. The Communist Party raised the demand for self-determination for the Black nation in the South. They made the Scottsboro case an international case through their work, which raised up the whole question of lynching, legal lynching of Black people in the South. The Communist Party USA organized Blacks in the unions, organized Blacks in sharecroppers unions in the South, and led many struggles, many violent struggles even, against Black oppression.

But once this counter-revolution set in, called revisionism, then they sold Black people out. Then they began to put forward the NAACP as the leadership of the Black Liberation Movement. They said that Black people had already exercised self-determination. We had decided we wanted to integrate in America.

By them doing that in the ’50’s, Malcolm being killed in the ’60’s, there was a gap. There was a hole in our soul. There1 was no leadership for the Black Liberation Movement, so it went off in different ways. The alternative institution building, the Black power conferences, the Congress of Afrikan Peoples, the African Liberation Support Committee, the National Black Assembly, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers – all of these represented tendencies in the movement. What was common to all of them was that they were struggling for Black people to be free.

And so, when these united fronts began to form, it was bringing together the fact that the Black Liberation Movement is a united front movement in character. The African Liberation Support Committee was a united front of Black activists. The National Black Assembly was a united front of Black people of various persuasions struggling for Black liberation.

But given the fact that not only Malcolm had been assassinated in 1965, King in ’68, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in ’69, Rap was on the run by the early ’70’s, Huey was out of the country, Eldridge had shown his true colors – that the Black leadership was in a state of attack, which is famous now with the whole revelations of the Cointel program. And so the Black movement in the early ’70’s was being systematically destroyed.

In the midst of this, people were struggling for answers. We tried this and it didn’t work. What about this? What about this person’s experience over here? What about the African Liberation News? What are they saying? What about China? What is Mao saying? And the people were beginning to struggle for answers to the questions posed by the movement. That’s why many of the activists who were leading activists in the Black Liberation Movement in the ’60’s and early ’70’s are now Marxist-Leninists.

Black liberation today

But today the conditions of the masses are constantly deteriorating. The cutbacks in social services, the racist hysteria climate that’s being created in the United States, based upon the whole Iranian thing. And just a side note on that – everybody has to fight that stuff tit for tat.

We have to be very clear that this kind of racist climate that’s being created is the forerunner of not just a climate of racism, but a climate of violence and terror directed against oppressed nationalities and ultimately, all the people struggling in this country. And the Black Liberation Movement continues to be under attack.

And so, with all of this happening in this country today, what is the task of the Black Liberation Movement? What are the demands of the Black Liberation Movement? What kind of issues should the Black Liberation Movement address?

The basic demand of the Black Liberation Movement is the demand for self-determination – for land and power. That is the only – the only – insurance of Black freedom, and it is important that people understand that. What that means then is that the Black Liberation Movement is not a struggle for integration, but is a national liberation struggle that has its own character to it.

I’m saying that because a lot of people want to say that the Black Liberation Movement is a part of another movement. And that’s true to a degree, to the degree that they have common enemies. To the degree that in order for there to be revolution in the United States, there has to be a conscious alliance between the Black Liberation Movement and the other movements of oppressed nationalities with the working class. To that degree, that’s true. But, at the same time, we must recognize, uphold and defend the revolutionary independent character of the Black Liberation Movement, unattached to any other movement. And that this movement, this national liberation struggle, this movement of the Black people in this country, must be for self-determination in the South. It must be to control. To have political and economic control of the land. Self-determination, political power.

What does that mean for you all in Harlem? or Philadelphia, Los Angeles or Chicago? What’s the demand? The demand is what? Power? It’s power. But how does it take form? Does it take the same form as it does in the South? No, it doesn’t. But the demand is for power and democracy. That we demand the rights of Black people everywhere. That we demand power where Black people are centered in areas of heavy concentration. We demand control in those areas.

So the demand for democracy is not only in the South. What we’re saying is that in the North we demand democracy also. We demand democracy in all of the communities where Black people live. We demand equality and equal access to everything that we’re supposed to get. And those two things are the two components of the many demands of the Black liberation struggle. If you look at the various struggles waged in communities, that’s how the demand comes out. For power, for control, for democracy and equality.

Death to the Klan

Also, the Black Liberation Movement must take the offensive against the rise of right-wing reaction being spearheaded by the Ku Klux Klan. Our slogan must be “Death to the Klan! Death to the Klan!” And when we say that, we are not calling for people to be undisciplined or unserious or adventuristic or foolish. What we are calling for is for people to wage the struggle around three basic kinds of ingredients.

First, the struggle for power. The Klan cannot be smashed without the struggle for power. Why? Because the Klan was created as an instrument to destroy Black political power, and its main function continues to be as an instrument to destroy and to suppress Black political power. We must struggle for political power. We must struggle for self-determination as a way to destroy the Klan.

Second, there must be built a mass base of broad opposition to the Ku Klux Klan – a united front of all the various people who oppose the Klan, and whenever they raise their head they should be met with mass outrage and mass opposition. The Klan should be allowed to march on no street in America, on no road in America, and in no city in America without mass opposition.

And third, we must uphold – we must be willing, able, and intend to defend the lives and the fights of Black people with arms, when that’s necessary. We must never allow Black people or any other people to be shot down, to be beat, to be lynched, to be whatever by the Ku Klux Klan in this country. We should make it clear to all the forces of reaction in this country that you got to bring some to get some.


The Black Liberation Movement has the responsibility to analyze, to understand and to address the international situation. The focus primarily is on Africa, but we also have a responsibility to support, to struggle for and to defend the liberation of all the peoples of the third world. The Black Liberation Movement must be consistently anti-imperialist in its stand towards the third world. And, in addition to that, in today’s current situation, even though the Black Liberation Movement has historically supported the Cuban revolution, has historically looked to Cuba as an example of revolution in this hemisphere, we must be clear every day on the role of the Soviet Union in the world as a danger, as the most aggressive force in the world that’s bringing forward a new world war, and we must oppose any kind of Soviet action, whether it’s in Africa or anyplace in the third world. The Black Liberation Movement must respond to that.

But at the same time, don’t let anyone in here walk out of here thinking that I’m saying that U.S. imperialism is not our enemy. I just want to make that clear because I don’t want to see no funny quotes. We have a responsibility in this country to destroy U.S. imperialism. To destroy it. To bring it down.

Build the Black United Front

Given the diversity of the Black Liberation Movement, given the diversity of its demands and interests, given the fact that different people are coming from different places and have different views of the Black Liberation Movement – what type of organizational form will bring them together? We think what’s needed is a national Black United Front. There must be built a united front in this country – a national liberation front, including all the forces who are struggling against Black oppression.

Now I know that’s hard to get to. We got serious problems with a lot of people, but at the same time, the success of the Black Liberation Movement in this country is dependent to a large degree on whether we are able to unite the broadest sector of Black folks to struggle for self-determination, against Black oppression, against racism, for equality, against the Klan, and against police brutality. We must organize a national Black United Front to address the demands of the Black masses. To pull together the various aspects of the Black Liberation Movement.

Role of Marxists and revolutionaries

This united front has to be led by revolutionaries. This united front must be led by the revolutionary elements of the Black Liberation Movement, and Marxists have a particular role to play in that struggle. And I’m addressing this specific issue because I know that there is a lot of debate in the Black Liberation Movement on who should be in it.

The Marxists have a particular role to play because the Marxists in the Black United Front represent not just the interests of Black people, but that Marxism is supposed to be the common view of revolutionaries struggling for the working class of all nationalities.

So Marxists in the Black United Front have a responsibility to help build the conscious alliance between the Black Liberation Movement and the struggle of workers in this country; the struggle of Chicanos in this country; the struggle of Asians in this country; the struggle of Puerto Ricans and every other struggling people in this country.

Marxists in that united front have a responsibility to help lead that motion to a conscious unity to make revolution in the USA.

The Marxist-Leninists also have a responsibility to fight for the demands of the working class in that united front, just as Malcolm represented the aspirations of the majority of Blacks in the Black working class. Marxist-Leninists have a responsibility to ensure that the Black United Front is not coopted by the Black bourgeoisie. That it is not taken off by the reformist petty bourgeoisie.

The revolutionary nationalists also have a responsibility in that united front. And they have a responsibility because they, too, represent a leading factor in the Black Liberation Movement. The revolutionary nationalists, as opposed to the integrationists, as opposed to the reformists, as opposed to the sell-your-mama-outists, as opposed to the rest of them – the revolutionary nationalists historically have raised the question of power. Historically they have upheld armed self-defense. Historically they have raised up the struggle against racism and racist ideology that denies Black people their history and identity.

And revolutionary nationalists have a responsibility not only to continue to wage that struggle, but to struggle to unite the Black Liberation Movement and all of the forces in it. We must see if there is more basis for unity than disunity. The people struggling for revolution must unite. The forces of reaction in the state would much rather see the Marxists and the nationalists fight.

That has to be clear, and we must not facilitate them retarding the struggle, because contributions are to be made on both sides.

So this, brothers and sisters, represents in a short summation the League’s view of the Black Liberation Movement today.