Harry Haywood: “For a Revolutionary Position on the Negro Question” (selections)

Harry Haywood wrote the pamphlet, “For a Revolutionary Position on the Negro Question” in 1957 to fight back against the revisionist assault on the CPUSA. It deals mainly with attacks on Harry Haywood’s revolutionary line which come from James Allen, Eugene Dennis, and James Jackson. It was intended for a discussion at a meeting, following the 16th National Convention, which was to adopt on position on the African American national question. That meeting was never held, the paper in question was suppressed, and Harry Haywood, who first developed the theory that African American constituted an oppressed nation while working in the Comintern, was expelled, along with many other revolutionaries. This left the CPUSA as the hopelessly reformist organization that it is today.

This pamphlet was republished by Liberator Press in 1975, the publishing house of the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist), which was one of the important parties and organizations that made up the New Communist Movement. Harry Haywood, after his expulsion form the CPUSA, went on to be a leader of the Mao Zedong-oriented CPML. His main theoretical work on the African American national question, Negro Liberation, is available online as a PDF file, and can be found relatively cheaply used. His autobiography, Black Bolshevik, is also obtainable. This pamphlet is difficult to find these days, but since its contents are significant in their application of Marxism-Leninism to the revolutionary movement in the United States I wanted to post a few short excerpts here in the hopes that interested persons would try to find the pamphlet and learn more about Harry Haywood and the revolutionary line he has come to represent.

Here are some selections from the pamphlet.

‘The key question involved in projecting a solution for the Negro question is the universal problem of reform or revolution. The reformist position on the Negro question claims that it is being solved on the basis of gradual, progressive gains within the framework of the existing monopoly dominated system. There are variations on this theme, ranging form the Southern “liberal” gradualists to the assimilationist line of the NAACP, the most recent variation of which is solution of the Negro question through “full integration into every aspect of American life.”
‘While we Communists fight for every possible democratic demand of the Negro people, and welcome all advances made, we have pointed out that the Negro question is at bottom the question of an oppressed nation in the South and a national minority in the North. Therefore, the Negro question can only be solved on the basis of a revolutionary change in the Deep South. This difference is fundamental.
‘When our Party adopted the position that the Negro question is in essence the question of an oppressed nation, it made a great leap forward from the bourgeois liberal view, which regarded it solely as a question of race that had to be resolved through education and humanitarian uplift. Characteristically, this bourgeois liberal view placed the main onus of racial prejudice not on the ruling class oppressors but on ignorance of the white masses.
‘The Party’s position was also a sharp break with the Social-Democratic viewpoint, in which racist oppression was considered of no relevance in defining the position of the Negro people in the United States. According to this view, the plight of the Negro people was regarded as purely a question of class, the same as that of the working class in general. Thus, in the name of the general class struggle it denied the specific character of the Negro question, regarding the fight for special demands of the Negro people as divisive and tending to distract workers from the struggle for socialism.
‘Both views are not only scientifically incorrect but conceal the profound revolutionary and anti-imperialist character of the struggle for Negro rights which could only be finally resolved through the land revolution and the right of self-determination in the Black Belt, the historic area of Negro majority, and through winning equal rights in the North.
‘The formulation of the Negro question by the Party as in essence a question of an oppressed nation correctly related the struggle of the Negro people to the class struggle of the American working class against capitalism, imperialism, and for socialism.
‘Our revolutionary position on the Negro question has been challenged only during the three periods of major crisis in the Communist Party, all three of which were caused by the deeply embedded right-revisionist liquidationist trend in our Party, which has its roots in the corruptive influence of the leading imperialist bourgeoisie, to which the U.S. working class is directly subjected. It also has its roots in the overwhelmingly predominant petty-bourgeois and highly skilled worker composition of our Party and its leadership, and the low level of theoretical development of both the leadership and the rank and file’ (pp 1-2).

(…)

‘The right-revisionists are hard put to explain the fact it was on the basis of our revolutionary position on the Negro question that we led these great mass struggles, and won the respect of the Negro masses as the most militant, consistent fighters for Negro rights: the accolade of “The Party of the Negro People.” They try to explain this phenomenon in terms of “our militancy” or “the mass upsurge of the crisis years.”
‘What they refuse to see is that our militancy, our orientation in the South as the fountainhead of Negro oppression, and our ability to rally the white workers in defense of Negro rights was based upon our placing of the Negro question as a revolutionary question, vital to the interests of the entire working class.
‘In sum, our militant and effective struggle flowed from our understanding that the Negro question was a question of national revolution in the Deep South. It was only on the basis of this line that we were able to lead the masses in struggle for Negro rights during the 1930’s’ (p 35).
(…)

‘This is the programmatic significance of our position that the Negro question is a question of national revolution in the Deep South. The correctness of our approach to the Negro question was proved during the struggles of the 1930’s.
‘The line of the C.P. brought the issue of Negro equality out of the realm of bourgeois humanitarianism, where it had been the special property of the bourgeois philanthropists and professional uplifters who sought to strip the Negro struggle of its revolutionary implications and to make it a feeble adjunct of safe and sane reforms – all obtainable presumably within the existing imperialist-dominated system. It grounded the issue of Negro liberation firmly in the fight of the American people for full democracy and in the struggle of the working class people against capitalism’ (p 36).

(…)

‘We, Negro Communists, do not accept the status of “aliens” to which the [revisionist] Negro Resolution relegates us. We are an integral part of the Negro movement, embodying the great revolutionary traditions of Nat Turner, Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, etc. We do not become “foreigners” when we become Communists.
‘It is therefore, not only the right, but the duty of Negro Communists to project forms and methods of struggle consistent with the great revolutionary traditions of the Negro people. As true patriots, we call for a consistent fight against U.S. imperialism as the main enemy of the Negro people. We call for an alliance with the white working class based upon common revolutionary aims. We call for international solidarity with the heroic struggles for national liberation, peace and Socialism which embrace the vast majority of mankind’ (p 38).

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