C.L.R. James on Negroes and Bolshevism
Revolutionary History is grateful to Scott McLemee for permission to use his transcription of this and other CLR James texts. Standard american spellings have been retained here, on the assumption they were used in the original publication
The following article by C.L.R. James appeared under a pseudonym in the 7 April 1947 issue of LABOR ACTION, newspaper of the Workers Party of the United States.
Negroes and Bolshevism
The American government is today building up its campaign against the Communist Party, “the Reds.” Readers of LABOR ACTION know that the Workers Party has been the unswerving foe of the Communist Party. But we oppose the Communist Party because it betrays the revolutionary struggle. We attack it because, in its slavish subservience to the Moscow bureaucracy, it uses Negroes and the American labor movement purely to advance the projects and policies of Russia. Many Negroes know this. And they are filled with a deep skepticism of political movements which are in any way radical. At this time it will be useful to recall exactly what Bolshevism was and will always be. There are many lessons for Negroes, not only in judging political parties in general but in judging and forming organizations of their own.
First of all, Bolshevism represents revolution and the revolutionary struggle. All other political parties depend on parliamentary means, on petitions, telegrams to Senators, mass meetings at which “important” and “distinguished” politicians speak. Bolshevism does not disdain parliamentary means. But fundamentally it relies upon mass action – mass demonstrations of workers, strikes, picketing, mobilizing workers in order to bring the pressure of organized labor and its allies upon the capitalist states. Let us illustrate the difference by an example. In the years before World War I, the Bolsheviks elected about half a dozen members to the Duma – the Russian Parliament. These elected representatives at once became very active about bills, the budget, parliamentary procedure, etc. They went for advice to Lenin, who was living in exile. Lenin laughed heartily and told them what amounted to this:
Something at once becomes clear. The Bolshvik deputies were not begging the capitalist politicians and the capitalist state for anything. They were not even speaking to the parliamentarians. They were speaking to the workers outside. They were using the Parliament as a forum to make revolutionary propaganda, to force the attention of the more backward workers, to make the middle classes listen, to expose the fraud of parliamentarism. Naturally the revolutionary party holds its own meetings, etc.
But its main interest in the capitalist Parliament was to use it for mobilizing the workers against capitalism and all its works.
Policy for Negroes
The Negroes of the United States would do wonderfully if they could impose upon any Congress or municipal candidate exactly some such policy. “You want to go to Congress by our vote. What do you propose to do there? Are you going to maneuver with the Democratic Party and the Republican Party? Are you going to waste your time and our votes by arguing with Bilbo and Pappy O’Daniel and Taft and Pepper, that liberal from Florida who gets into Congress by preaching white supremacy? You are of no use to us. Go there not to convince and bargain with them, but to say loudly what we want and say it so that the nationa and all the world will hear. Then you will get our vote. Otherwise we have no use for you.” Bolshevism carried to an extraordinary pitch of skill this use of parliaments for revolutionary purposes. For example, the federal government every years passes financial bills for the salaries of a system ridden by Jim Crow. Would a Bolshevik vote for this? No, he would denounce the system and refuse to give his vote for this iniquitous measure. But if during the discussion of details of the bill, there was a division over whether the lowest ranks of government employees should have an increase of ten percent or not, a Bolshevik would speak in favor and vote in favor.
If parliamentary procedure allowed he would move for the reduction of all cabinet members’ salaries, just in order to expose the injustices of the system. If it were possible to get such motion passed, he would vote for it. But then, when it came to the final vote, he would vote a loud and resounding “No,” indicating thereby his repudiation of the whole system. That is the Bolshevik method. There is absolutely no reason why a Congressman elected by Negroes should not carry it out. The appropriations for war? No. And not a mere vote but a detailed exposure of the whole system. And having made these speeches and carried out these actions in Congress, the Congressman who acted in this way on behalf of the Negro people would do more good for Negroes than the whole Democratic Party.
Don’t Need “Friends”
Exactly the same policy is the Bolshevik policy for a labor Congressman. “Friends of labor” in Congress are no good to thw working class movement. “Friends of Negroes” are no good in Congress to the Negro people. They are no good on City Councils. All they do is to confuse and corrupt the people’s political thinking. Now we ask the Negroes: has this or anything like this been the policy of Ben Davis, for example, the Communist Party member on the New York City Council? One year he is supporting Leham and Mead. Then comes an upheaval in the Communist Party. Browder is thrown out. Foster comes in, a new policy is announced and – Ben Davis supports Mead and Lehman! A genuine Bolshevik is distinguished by the consistency of his opposition to all aspects of the capitalist system. He votes for or supports only those specific things which benefit the workers and the oppressed and he opposes everything else. Now it seems to us that a Negro community like Harlem would create a stir that would be felt in all parts of the country if it demanded of its candidate that his main task in and out of Congress or municipality was to denounce the system and use parliamentary forms and practices as a tribune for the education of the people. The great crime of the Communist Party is that it has prostituted the very name of Bolshevism in the service of Moscow, The American capitalist class is out to break these Stalinists. Negroes cannot stand aside and see this happen without protest. It is an invasion [sic] of democratic rights. But our way of defeating these corrupting rats is to put forward labor and Negro candidates who, by a genuinely revolutionary policy, will educate the people both as to the crimes of American imperialism and the betrayals of the Moscow stooges.
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Updated by ETOL: 14.2.2005