Reflections on the 2008 Presidential Election and the African American National Question

Here are some interesting maps that show a fascinating correlation between the historically constituted territory that makes up the African American Nation and the 2008 election of Barack Obama, the first Black president of the United States. I would like to look at these maps, and based on this data, and on a dialectical and historical materialist look at the U.S. in general and the African American people in particular, try to draw some conclusions about the African American national question.


The maps above are from Strange Maps, which comments,

The bottom map dates from 1860 (i.e. the eve of the Civil War), and indicates where cotton was produced at that time, each dot representing 2,000 bales of the stuff. Cotton was King back then, and mainly so in the densely cultivated border area between Louisiana and Mississippi, and in an equally dense band of cotton cultivation starting west of the Mississippi-Alabama line, tapering out across Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. Other cotton centres are the areas around Memphis and what appears to be Lawrenceburg in southern Tennessee.

The top map dates from 2008, and shows the results of the recent presidential election, on county level. Blue counties voted for Obama, red ones for McCain (darker hues representing larger majorities). In spite of Obama’s national victory, and barring Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, all Southern states (i.e. all states formerly belonging to the Confederacy) went for McCain. The pattern of pro-Obama counties in those southern states corresponds strikingly with the cotton-picking areas of the 1860s, especially along the Louisiana-Mississippi and Mississippi-Alabama borders (the pattern corresponds less strikingly and deviates significantly elsewhere).

Strange Maps also included the following overlay of the two maps:


This shows the correlation between the history of cotton production by slave labor and the 2008 presidental election, geographically. We can make things even simpler by looking at this map showing slave distribution from 1861:


Now lets look at the following census maps showing African American population density in the years 1990 and 1890, respectively, to get a sense of continuity over the span of a century:

1990 census data

1990 census data

Data from 1890

Data from 1890

Note that that all of these maps line up almost perfectly with the Black Belt agricultural region, the core counties of which have been counties of Black majority throughout almost all of U.S. history.

from James Allen's pamphlet, "Negro Liberation" (1938)

From James Allen's 1938 pamphlet, Negro Liberation

According to the Marxist-Leninist understanding of the national question in the United States, African Americans make up an oppressed nation in the Black Belt South, a historically constituted, stable community of people with a common territory, language, economic life, and culture. This African American Nation has the right to full equality and self-determination, up to and including the right to independence, that is, the right to form their own state within their historical territory, the Black Belt. These maps help to illustrate this.

According to Karl Marx,

Direct slavery is just as much the pivot of bourgeois industry as machinery, credits, etc. Without slavery you have no cotton; without cotton you have no modern industry. It is slavery that has given the colonies their value; it is the colonies that have created world trade, and it is world trade that is the pre-condition of large-scale industry. 

The vast wealth of modern capitalism, and the rapid advance of U.S. capitalism, was built by the blood and sweat of African slaves. The slave trade brought together various African tribes in the southern U.S. and through the common experience of toil and struggle in the South, an African American oppressed nation was forged. 

Harry-HaywoodThe rise of monopoly capitalism and the betrayal of Reconstruction locked the African American nation into a state of national oppression and set the conditions by which the national liberation struggle of African Americans and other oppressed nationalities are inextricably linked to the question of proletarian-socialist revolution. This theory was pioneered by the Comintern, particularly by the great African American communist leader, Harry Haywood. This was further developed by the New Communist Movement.

From this understanding, the recent election of the first Black president of the United States is particularly interesting. Because of the uneven development cemented into place by imperialism, the African American national question in the United States has a dual character with a democratic aspect embodied in the demand for full equality, and a revolutionary socialist aspect embodied in the demand for national self-determination. Of course these maps provide little more than raw data, and a narrow empericist view doesn’t do justice to the tremendous struggles and organizing that the data actually results from. There were other factors that played a role in things turning out the way did, including the significant differences between the political positions of the candidates. That said, what this data seems to confirm is that the election of Barack Obama is an expression of the national democratic aspect of the struggle and is seen by the African American Nation generally as a progressive advance. The electoral map indicates very clearly that there there is a strong national consciousness in the Black Belt that was expressed in the election of the first Black president. While it would appear that the national democratic aspect is principal in terms of national consciousness, the revolutionary land question, the question of territorial self-determination, remains the determining aspect in the final analysis. The maps clearly show that the Black Belt, rife as it is with acute poverty, inadequate infrastructure, anti-union “right to work” laws, Third World-like rural decline, woefully inadequate education, substandard health care, dilapidated housing, and high rates of crime and unemployment, conditions that Harry Haywood called the “shadow of the plantation,” is contained firmly within the still solidly reactionary states that make up the former confederacy – the white supremacist land of Dixie – which, with a couple of exceptions, voted for the ultra-right McCain ticket.

Mao Zedong with Black Liberation leader W.E.B. Du Bois

Mao Zedong with Black Liberation leader W.E.B. Du Bois

Full equality and self-determination for African American and other oppressed nationalities should be supported by all workers. As Comrade Mao Zedong says, “In the final analysis, national struggle is a matter of class struggle.” Under the conditions of imperialism, ultimately full equality and self-determination are only possible if the Black Liberation struggle is led by the working class and is fused with the multinational, proletarian-socialist revolution. These dual aspects of the African American national question must be understood dialectically and in an all-sided way. This means both that the election of the first Black president should be seen as a leap forward and as a major blow against white supremacy, and that the objective, systemic aspects of racist, national oppression, and the subjective aspects (racism and white chauvinism), remain firmly in place. In other words, we are quite simply not entering a “post-racial era” as so many pundits and heralds of the “american dream” would have us believe. Only the socialist revolution will begin to resolve these contradictions in a thoroughgoing, all-round way. 


For more please read the following documents from Freedom Road Socialist Organization concerning the task of building the strategic alliance of the national movements and the multinational working class as the core of the united front against monopoly capitalism, led by the proletariat:


2 responses to “Reflections on the 2008 Presidential Election and the African American National Question

  1. Thanks for posting this. The maps are great and are very illuminating!

  2. Good post; I’m gonna incorporate a few quotes into my upcoming post on the meaning of the Obama victory.

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