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Hugo Oehler

The Negro and the Class Struggle

(May 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 20 (Whole No. 116), 14 May 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Continued from last issue)

But the solution cannot be brought closer by artificial slogans, such as the slogan of Self Determination. We must minimize the desires of the Negro Petty-Bourgeoisie and enlarge the form of the proletarian interest of the Negro who is, like the white worker, choked with bourgeois ideology. National minorities must be won as allies to the proletariat, if they are oppressed minorities. But in winning them as allies we do not approach the workers of this nationality or race as such. This would be national opportunism. We approach these workers as workers. We know the bourgeois element of the national minorities under Czarism were no better and often worse than the dominating bourgeoisie against the workers. Likewise the Negro bourgeois elements have already proven they can outstrip their white masters. We want allies, but not on the basis of concessions and compromises on principles. But the Negro proletarian is no Negro ally – he is a worker. The cropper and dirt farmer are allies and must be won as such. But in this relation the Negro industrial and agriculture worker is decisive.

A compromise on principle means that the “allies” have captured the proletariat. The program of the Communists (Marxists) is the only one possible for the American Negro for social, political and economic equality and freedom. The road is the road of class struggle, not that of “preparation stages” – self determination, democratic dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry, four class party, workers and peasant parties, peoples revolution, etc. – which give the petty-bourgeois Negroes organizational and political control. Preparation stages in struggles are necessary, but not compromises on principle, passed off as preparation stages.

We must consider slogans and tactics for the race form of the class struggle. This is essential in order to defeat the bosses’ policy of divide and rule. Slogans and tactics against the legal and extra-legal discrimination and lynch laws are the order of the day. A will to fight the battles of the Negro masses, as the party has already demonstrated, is a big step forward. Let us not step backward into the swamp of national reformism.

The Negro of America was not snatched from a State or Nation in Africa with national aspirations and ideologies. Neither has America given the Negro as a Negro the material base for nationalism as such. The class struggle of the Negro is not cloaked in a national form (complicated with the national bourgeois influence) that calls for the slogan of self determination at special stages and under special conditions in the struggle. It is cloaked in the race form. The American Negro bourgeoisie elements are no ally of ours. The problem is complicated enough without adding the national complex to it, which in this case can only result in national reformism.

The racial form of social conflicts has taken the national form where the racial group obtained an economic unit. This has been the case in the past. Blood ties, gens and clans in the process of development from primitive Communism through the stages to an exploiter’s society, naturally crystallized as such. But the American Negro presents no such picture. His is a different and far more difficult problem.

The Socialist tells us in substance, that the workers must not seize power in backward countries. We must let the bourgeois revolution take its course develop its industries (nationalism), and then we will win it over. Stalinism tells us that we must move the American Negro into the feeling of national consciousness through the slogan of Self Determination. Of course Stalinism will say, “No, not national consciousness”. But we will answer: The slogan of Self Determination for a racial group that does not have a material base for such has even less logic than the socialist position. At least, these non-Marxists speak of a material base for bourgeois power, in one form or the other, in backward sections.

When the proletariat takes power, the Negro worker will take his place as an equal with the white worker. Where the Negroes are the majority (parts of South, etc.), this majority will dominate the Soviets.

The Negro worker and farmer, being even more suppressed and exploited than his white brother requires special consideration from the revolutionary party, even though, economically, he is a worker or dirt farmer. This double exploitation and class suppression is carried out through the race form of the class struggle, which does not include the national form in the political sense. Stalinism says, because the Negro constitutes a doubly exploited racial minority, and regardless of the argument on nationalism, it is proper to present the slogan of Self Determination for oppressed racial minorities as well as national minorities.

Let us consider it in this light for a moment, in spite of the arguments already presented. Adding to what has been said about the slogan of self determination, we must say that it can only be realized, so far as the American Negro is concerned, after the overthrow of capitalism in the South, which means the overthrow of American imperialism as such. Is this transition step needed then? The victory of the proletariat includes within it the solution of the double exploitation of the Negro masses. As for the Negro bourgeoisie, the Negro and white workers will take care of them just as they will take care of the white exploiters. The Soviets of the South will solve this problem, even though special efforts will have to be leveled against reactionary ideological carryovers. But the main struggle against the reactionary ideology is not a problem of the Negroes, but of the whites.

But how about the slogan as a means of winning the Negro masses today for the proletarian revolution? Yes, the slogan will win over many petty-bourgeois elements on the basis of national reformism. But we don’t want the Negro petty-bourgeoisie as allies on that basis. The Negro worker, industrial and agricultural, is not even in this problem, because we do not use a slogan of self determination for workers. We win them as workers, even though different racial and sectional (youth and women, etc.) tactics are necessary.

The above is a discussion article. The views expressed are those of the author. Others will follow on the same subject. – Ed.

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