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Hugo Oehler

A National Revolution in the South?

Discussion Article on the Negro Question

(October 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 43, 22 October 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Every important revolutionary question that Stalinism has attempted to solve and explain, to the party and to the class, has resulted in, greater confusion and further revision of Marxism. Since the 1923 revolution in Germany, Stalinism has grown to a full size menace to the Bolshevik-Leninist position of the proletarian revolution. In every part of the world, where revolutionary situations have developed favorable to the extension of the October revolution, Stalinism has stayed the hand of the Communist vanguard, sowed confusion, by a combination of zig-zags, from opportunism to adventurism.

In the United States we have not yet had a revolutionary situation favorable for the proletarian seizure of power, notwithstanding the fact that the VII National Convention of the Communist Party of the United States adopted a thesis which said we were faced with a revolutionary upsurge in 1930 – that is, in the first year of the present crisis. Because our “test” is still ahead Stalinism has not been able to repeat its criminal action in America.

The absence of a revolutionary situation in the United States up to the present has prevented the Stalinists from presenting us with their directives in action. However, there is sufficient material on hand to determine what road to power the Stalinists have charted out for the American workers.

The Stalinist “Chart for the U.S.”

In the present decay stage of capitalism we are confronted with an era of proletarian revolutions which will be supported in the backward and underdeveloped capitalist countries by colonial uprisings and bourgeois-democratic revolutions, which have as their driving force, not the bourgeoisie, but the proletariat, with the support of the peasantry. In the developed capitalist countries, particularly in the United States, we are heading for a proletarian revolution.

The Centrists present their position in the Resolution of the Communist International on the Negro Question in the United States, of October 1930. The C.I. resolution says, “The various forms of oppression of the Negro masses, who are concentrated mainly in the so-called ‘Black Belt’ provide the necessary conditions for a national revolutionary movement among the Negroes.” We are thus informed by Stalinism that the road to power in parts of the United States leads through the ‘’national revolution.” Stalinism says the “national revolution” will come first or that an agrarian revolution in the South will lay the basis for self-determination for the Negro masses. Let us see what the C.I. resolution says,

“Therefore, the overthrow of this class rule in the Black Belt is unconditionally necessary in the struggle for the Negroes’ right to self-determination. This, however, means at the same time the overthrow of the yoke of American imperialism in the Black Belt on which the forces of the local white bourgeoisie depend. Only in this way, only if the Negro population of the Black Belt wins its freedom from American imperialism even to the point of deciding itself the relations between its country and other governments, especially the United States, will it win real and complete self-determination. One should demand from the beginning that no armed forces of the American imperialists should remain on the territory of the Black Belt.”

The Farce of the “Democratic Dictatorship” in the South

According to this quotation, Stalinism does not only believe in a national revolution in PART of the United States but considers this national revolution to be the prelude to the proletarian revolution. Or, that first we will have a national revolution in the South – which will overthrow American Imperialism – and then, sometime later, the proletariat will have its revolution. There are plenty of quotations in the history of the American Communist movement to prove that the party is aiming at a proletarian revolution – but the present Stalinist position on the Negro question, which speaks of an agrarian revolution, of a “national revolution”, shows that they are badly confused. They are now aiming not only at a proletarian revolution but are also aiming to establish a power in the South by a national revolution. Stalinism will not be able to wipe this out of the Communist movement until it corrects its position on the Negro question.

The resolution says, “Moreover, the party cannot make its stand for this slogan depend upon any condition, even the condition that the proletariat has the hegemony in the national revolutionary Negro movement or that the majority of the Negro population in the Black Belt adopt the Soviet form (as Pepper demanded) etc.” This is not an abstract sentence speaking of colonial movements where we will support revolutions against imperialism even though we do not have hegemony. It is a concrete statement for the southern part of the United States. In other words, they leave the door open for a revolution, a national revolution, in the southern part of the UNITED STATES which will not have a proletarian hegemony and will establish a power – other than a Soviet. What kind of a revolution have the Stalinists in store for us? What is their perspective? They can speak of a proletarian revolution all they want to but if they at the same time speak of a “national revolution” in the South, which will be the first or coming revolution – this in itself discounts what they say about the revolution to follow. To aim, first at a national revolution and then at a proletarian revolution in the United States is worse than the path of Stalinism in China, where they first aimed at the “democratic dictatorship” through the four class party – and then (?) later (?) at the dictatorship of the proletariat.

This false base in the United States is no accident – it flows from the false premise of the theory of socialism in one country. On this revisionist base no Marxian theory for revolution for developed or backward capitalist countries can be developed.

The resolution is a bundle of confusion. A couple of examples can be presented. The resolution says the Black Belt cannot be “called a special colony of the United States”, but at the same time the resolution says,

“In the interest of the utmost clarity of ideas on this question, the Negro question in the United States must be reviewed from the standpoint of its peculiarity, namely, as a question of an oppressed nation, which in a peculiar and extraordinary distressing situation of national oppression not only in view of the prominent radical distinction (marked difference of color of skin, etc.), but above all, because of considerable social antagonism (remnants of slavery).”

After we are informed that remnants of slavery are a fact, the same resolution tells us that slavery is a fact. “It is only a Yankee bourgeois lie to say that the yoke of Negro slavery has been lifted in the United States. Formally it has been abolished but in practise the great majority of the Negro masses in the South are living in slavery in the literal sense of the word.” Economic analysis has been replaced by “moral determinism.” After we are told of remnants of slavery and then of slavery, the resolution continues, “More than three-fourths of all the Negro farmers have been bound in actual serfdom to farms and plantations of white exploiters by the feudal system of ‘share cropping’.” The national question as well as the kind of labor: slaves, serfs or workers and farmer’s under capitalism depends, not upon moral conclusions of double exploitation, but upon economic relations.

One cannot come to a correct conclusion by approaching the problem of the coming revolution in the United States from the standpoint of the parts (south). Only by considering the part, the South, in relation to the whole, to the United States and world capitalism, can we find the Marxian road to power. The unsolved carry-overs in the South, the economic needs and democratic demands that capitalism thrives on can not be fulfilled by a national revolution. They can only be eliminated in the United States by the overthrow of American imperialism.

The only force capable of this task is the proletarian revolution under the leadership of the Communist Party led by Marxists and not muddle-headed Stalinists.

The C.I. resolution informs us that the agrarian problem is the basis of the national question. This is a return to an economic base. But this correct abstraction is used for false conclusions. The agrarian problem of the Russian, Chinese or Mexican peasants is not the same agrarian problem of the American Negroes. From the standpoint of exploitation or from the standpoint of moral consideration we can say the Negroes of the South are as bad off, if not worse off, than the others, but this does not solve the problem. The approach to the problem must be the ECONOMIC RELATIONSHIPS. Carryovers in developed America and feudal remnants of backward countries are two different problems. We do not conclude after we have analyzed the relation of the sharecroppers to the landowners and local bankers. This must be extended to the WHOLE, which is within the framework of the capitalist mode of production of developed American imperialism. The question of the state and the ruling class cannot be ignored in the problem.

The condition of the Negro farmers is a remnant, a carryover which no one can deny, but the uneven development within countries as well as between countries which express the law of uneven development, not only skips stages but also bundles into knots different problems, which can only be untangled if the key is found. The keys for colonial countries and for the United States are different. For colonial countries, the solution of the agrarian problem, under the dictatorship of the proletariat expresses itself through giving land to the peasants, as a transition measure, essential, because a machine base for proper collectivization is lacking.

The solution of the agrarian problem in the United States, and this includes the Negro farmers, is not through TRANSITION STEPS (national revolution, agrarian revolution, etc.) but through the transformation of these antiquated methods of agricultural production into modern machine production. The collectivization of the farms, upon a machine base, and the transformation of oppressed farmers, black and white, not into free farmers with a plot of land, but into agrarian wage workers of the collectivized projects. This will be the product of the proletarian revolution.

We ask you readers to read the C.I. resolution yourself. It is printed by the party as, The Communist Position on the Negro Question. The sections of the book by Browder and others present the case in an even more confused manner.

A Loophole for a Retreat

In the same resolution, they quote the Colonial Theses of the Sixth World Congress. “But it is also clear that only a victorious proletarian revolution will finally decide the agrarian question and the national question in the South of the United States, in the interest of the predominating mass of Negro population of the country.” The sentence says, “finally decide”, meaning that the first revolution will be a “national revolution” and later we will have a proletarian revolution.

The socialists tell us they are aiming at a socialist mode of production. But what road do they follow to get it? The Stalinists tell us that hey are aiming at the proletarian revolution too. But what road do they follow in the United States to get it? They tell us – first, a national revolution in the South, and then a proletarian revolution. The road to power cannot be separated from power itself, nor can the road to power be corrected if we tack on for the distant future the goal of the proletarian revolution, or the socialist mode of production. So many good words and intentions, and that’s all.

The rejection of the Marxian theory of the permanent revolution by Stalinism and the adoption of the non-Marxian theory of socialism in one country is the base of these blunders, not only in America but wherever the Stalinists participated in a revolution or where they present directives for the coming revolution. The coming revolution in America will be a proletarian revolution. It will not only complete the unfinished carryovers but it will primarily solve the problems of the working class.

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