The following important polemical 1958 pamphlet on the African American National Question by Harry Haywood is now available online thanks to the Encyclopedia of Antirevisionism Online (for context see Harry Haywood’s “The Degeneration of the CPUSA in the 1950s” which sums up the political struggles that this document was a part of):
The attention of the entire world is focused upon the brutal, barbaric oppression of the Negro people in the South, and the heroic struggle of the Negro masses for full freedom and human dignity there.
The promise of the Supreme Court Decision to end school segregation is proving illusory. The economic and political gains made by the Negro people during the extended boom period are menaced by the economic recession, and by unbridled reaction in the South.
The Negro masses are taking a “New Look” at the slogans of “Free by ’63” and “Integration Is Just Around the Corner” so assiduously propagandized by Wall Street apologists, and fervently supported by Negro bourgeois-reformist leaders at the height of the Cold War. As Carl Rowan, prominent Negro journalist says, the Negro people are “asking themselves whether they were naive in assuming they could win freedom through the legislative and judicial machinery of the nation.” (Scientific American, October, 1957.)
The Negro masses are looking with increased alarm upon the growth of racist terror in the South, spreading its evil influences throughout the country. Inspired by the successes of the world anti-colonialist movement in Asia and Africa, they are seeking new, militant leadership which is internationalist in outlook, free from ties of white ruling class patronage.
Our Communist Party, with its proud history of militant, uncompromising struggle for Negro rights which alone has projected a consistently revolutionary solution to the Negro question, has an indispensable role to play in the period ahead. But our Party can play its proper role only if we have a “liberation” of our own: a liberation from the paralyzing effects of revisionism – the slightly warmed over liberal gradualism which seeks to destroy our revolutionary position on the Negro question.
In this period of great upsurge of the world anti-colonialist movement against imperialist domination, which in the U.S. is reflected in the burgeoning of the militant, mass movements of the Negro people in the South, our Party, instead of playing its proper, vanguard role in this struggle, has trailed miserably behind the bourgeois-assimilationist line of the top leadership of the NAACP. Our Negro comrades who fought for a line of militant struggle were unmercifully persecuted by the dominant bureaucratic revisionist leadership of the Party, resulting in the demoralization of many of our Negro working class cadres, a sharp deterioration of our Negro work, the liquidation of ALL left centers in the Negro field – even of our press (“Freedom”), a sharp drop in Negro membership, and the virtual liquidation of the Party in the South.
As an essential part of the attack against left leadership and initiative in the struggle for Negro rights, a simultaneous campaign was launched against the Marxist-Leninist position on the Negro question, denying the right of self-determination to the oppressed Negro nation in the Deep South.
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 from the Southern “liberal” gradualists to the assimilationist line of the NAACP, the most recent variant 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 special character of the Negro question, regarding the fight for special demands of the Negro people as divisive and tending to distract the 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 imbedded 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.
Comrade Dennis takes a “New Look” at the Negro Question
The opening gun for this revisionist assault upon our revolutionary position on the Negro question was fired by Eugene Dennis, then General Secretary of the CP, in his report to the National Committee, adopted unanimously in April, 1956, which declared:
“In this connection (ending dogmatism) it is incumbent on us to reappraise our whole position on self-determination in the Black Belt. For instance, a very important section of the Party’s program adopted in 1954 is that dealing with the oppression of the Negro people and the struggle for equality.
“Yet note should be taken of the fact that in the 1954 Program, the previous position of the Party has been modified – in fact dropped. I happen to agree with this, just as I concur with a similar handling of this question in the New Program for the South and in Foster’s recent article in Political Affairs. (May, 1955)
“It seems to me, however, that it is necessary to do more than reverse our position by shelving it. I believe we should state frankly to the Party the reasons and developments which prompt us to alter our position on the slogan of self-determination.” (Emphasis mine –H.H. ‒Eugene Dennis, ”The Communists Take a New Look”, p. 44)
In line with Dennis’ proposals, a committee was set up which produced three documents published in the No. 2 National Discussion Bulletin in the Fall of 1956, written by ex-Comrade Doxey Wilkerson, Comrade James Allen and Comrade James Jackson. A careful study of these lengthy documents, as well as other material from the pre-Convention discussion (e.g., Comrade Ben Davis’ report, “The Negro People on the March”, the Norman Shrank report, etc.) reveal a remarkable degree of unity of all trends in leadership for fundamentally revising our position on the Negro question, withdrawing the principle of self-determination, and considering left-sectarianism and dogmatism as the main cause of our isolation from the Negro masses, justifying the liquidation of all left centers in the Negro field.
Therefore, a careful study of the voluminous material is essential if the Party membership is to understand the ”reasons and developments” that Comrade Dennis and the National Committee had in mind ”which prompts us to alter our position on the slogan of self-determination”, particularly since the dumping of our revolutionary position on the Negro question was carried out without the knowledge or consent of the rank and file.
A study of this material brings to light the startling and devastating fact that the ENTIRE Party leadership embraced the bourgeois-assimilationist swindle of “direct integration” of the Negro people, rejecting even the possibility of a national revolutionary movement in the Deep South directed towards some form of national autonomy. They maintained, furthermore, that this direct integrationist solution was based upon “long range economic trends” with the forces of capitalist expansion industrializing and bringing progress to the South, eliminating the semi-feudal plantation system (the historic source of Negro oppression) and, along with it, the Negro population concentration in the Black Belt.
The reader will not fail to note the close kinship of this theory to Browder’s progressive capitalism. In claiming that the Negro question is being solved under imperialism as a result of “long range economic trends”, the proponents of “direct integration” ascribe to U.S. imperialism a progressive role. Indeed, at bottom, they believe that the main driving force in freeing the Negro people is not anti-imperialist struggle but, on the contrary, the expansion of capitalism. They thereby embrace the hackneyed liberal-reformist remedy, doctored up with pseudo-Marxist phrases.
“New Look”, Old Arguments
Perhaps the crassest expression of the revisionist position on the Negro question was presented by ex-Comrade Doxey Wilkerson. In his article in Discussion Bulletin No. 2 (“Time to Reappraise CP. Position on Negro Question”) he carries the bourgeois-assimilationist argument of imminent, peaceful, democratic, direct integration to its logical and most absurd extreme. He paints a glowing picture of the socioeconomic gains of the Negro people during the war and post-war years. Indeed, he goes far beyond sober bourgeois analysts in his optimistic portrayal of these gains.
In the midst of the Dixiecrat counter-offensive of racist provocation, intimidation, and terror, he says:
“The extent of mob violence against Negroes in the South has waned considerably.” (Ibid)
He tells us:
“What is ’new’ and important about recent progressive trends is that the Once Relative and Stable Patterns of Negro Oppression are Now in Flux (emphasis D.W.) Racial barriers have been breached at many points; the whole Jim-Crow edifice is threatened with destruction. There is now a realistic perspective for the Negro people to win truly decisive victories in the fight for democratic rights in the period immediately ahead; and this happy outlook – for an early qualitative leap forward – is quite different from that which prevailed when our Party’s theoretical position on the Negro question was formulated in 1930.” (Ibid)
On what does he base this unbounded optimism, this idyllic picture? He assures us that his “happy outlook” is based upon deep going and irreversible economic trends. To buttress his argument, he cites vast population shifts of the past three decades, and refers to the “changing pattern of Negro population distribution from predominantly Southern rural farm to increasingly nationwide and urban”–the impact of which has been “progressively to shrink and dissipate the Black Belt areas of Negro majority population.” Wilkerson further noted the continued decline of the plantation sharecropping system, pointing out that cotton production (the South’s major crop) is shifting increasingly to the West.
He continues, “Future setbacks in the economic and political life of the country may halt or even reverse these trends temporarily. But the long-range prospect is for continuation of the historic tendency toward the dissipation of the Black Belt areas of Negro population majorities” and with it, we are supposed to conclude, the plantation sharecropping system, which is the historic base of Negro oppression.
From the above, he concludes that our position was always wrong, and is today manifestly “untenable” in the light of the new objective situation and the subjective trends of the Negro people’s movement. Our position, he adds, is “demonstrably undermined by the whole course of development of the Negro people during the last quarter century.”
“Where we erred (he continues) was in the tacit assumption that the development of Marxist theory on the national question had been completed and the answers safely written down where we can find them in the classics; and that the application of this theory to the Negro question in our country consisted largely in adopting forms and slogans that proved successful in the Soviet Union.” (Ibid)
Comrade Ben Davis, in his report, “The Negro People on the March” joined the “direct integration” chorus with his contention that:
“A realistic perspective has opened up for a peaceful and democratic achievement of the full social, political, and economic equality of the Negro people within the framework of our specific American system and tradition.” (p. 5)
Comrade Davis made the above statement in the Spring of 1956, months after the unpunished murder of Emmett Till, which was obviously the opening gun of the White Citizen’s Councils campaign of racist violence to sabotage the Supreme Court Decision. He quite logically concludes:
“It seems that the slogan of self-determination should be abandoned and our position otherwise modified and brought up to date ” since we “have long given the wide impression that we were seeking to import a foreign formula and apply it dogmatically as the solution.”
“We should review the rigid and mechanical application of these principles to our country, especially to the Negro people in the deep South.” (Ibid p. 32)
How the “New Look” Was Carried Over Into the Realm of Tactics
Comrade James Jackson, proceeding from the same basic assumption of fundamental change in the status of the Negro people as a result of long range economic trends, concludes:
“To retain our previous position (right of self-determination in the Black Belt) would be a presumptuous judgment and unwarranted interference in the actual course the Negro people’s movement is taking (toward direct integration).” (Communist Relations to the Negro People’s Movement, James Jackson, National Discussion Bulletin, No. 2)
Jackson’s tactical conclusion with regard to this “direct integration” manifestly derives from both an overestimation of the striking power of the Negro people’s movement as presently organized under reformist leadership and an underestimation of the task before it. He claims that the existing reformist-led movement:
“… organizes the maximum political, economic and moral strength of the Negro masses and their white allies to bear upon the monopolist ruling circles, the government, and upon public opinion to bring about basic improvements in the condition of life of the Negro people in the U.S.; to secure equality and freedom from oppression, racist abuse, and super exploitation.” (Our emphasis, H.H. Ibid)
Implicit in Jackson’s position is an acceptance of the idea of spontaneity, and a rejection of the fight for the leading role of the Negro working class in the Negro liberation movement, a constituent part of which is the vanguard role of the CP. Clearly, Jackson regards the Communist left not as a constituent part of the Negro liberation movement, but as outside “supporters” who have no right to “interfere”.
It is not accidental, therefore, that these crass, right opportunist concepts regarding our Negro work were carried over and incorporated into the main resolution of the 16th National Convention of our Party, the Resolution on Negro work, which was drafted and edited by Comrade Jackson, Carl Winters, and our “integrated” friend Doxey Wilkerson. (See Proceedings of the 16th National Convention, Jackson’s Summary speech, p. 115). The guiding thesis of this resolution is that the Communist left can advance no:
“… tactics, forms or methods of struggle” that do not arise spontaneously from the Negro masses. To do so, we are warned, would be to “impose upon the Negro people new forms of struggle alien to their historic development as a people. Rather, it is the task of all supporters of the Negro liberation movement, including the Communists (?!?) to lend their unreserved support to, and to take an active part in those programs and techniques of struggle which now embrace and propel into action the great majority of the Negro people.” (ibid, p. 302)
This Resolution evaded discussion of the fundamental question of the Negro nation and self-determination, carrying the revisionist line of imminent, direct integration into the realm of tactics. U.S. imperialism and its role in the oppression of the Negro people was “overlooked”. Trailing behind the Negro bourgeois reformists of the top NAACP leadership was raised to the level of an all-guiding principle. Bowing to spontaneity and accepting bourgeois ideology – that is the line concealed under the flowery verbiage of the Resolution on the Negro Question.
The Pioneer of the ”New Look”
Comrade James S. Allen, referring to a memorandum he submitted to the National Committee in 1954, claims to be the first to call into question our revolutionary position on the Negro question on the basis of “changes in the Black Belt and the South.”
In his article, he gives the most elaborate theoretical rationale for the “direct integration” solution, claiming that “long range economic trends” have prevented the Negro people from developing in the direction of “full nationhood” and from taking the “classic road of the formation of a nation in the area of Negro majority.’’
Instead, he claims:
“With respect to long range trends, the most important is the movement of the Negro people towards full equality on the basis of integration into all aspects of American life.
This is sustained by material, objective factors, which are expressed primarily in the greatly expanded base for Negro-white working class solidarity and in the integrationist programs put forth by the Negro freedom movement itself.” (ibid)
Changes of the War and Post-War Period
We submit that these comrades who espouse the “direct integration” position have manifestly departed from a dialectical materialist analysis of the position of Negroes in the U.S. They have been all too eager to seize upon the “facts” (supplied by the liberal apologists for Negro oppression) and “irreversible long range trends” to prove that the Negro question is being automatically solved within the framework of imperialism – without revolutionary change. Clearly, such a one-sided analysis can throw no light on the true picture of the condition of the Negro masses and their prospects for achieving full economic, social and political equality.
When these comrades (and ex-comrades) speak of “direct integration”, they can only mean that the perspective is for a gradual continuous improvement in the relative and absolute economic, social and political status of the Negro people. Certainly, if this were the dominant “economic trend”, we would see during this period of protracted boom (under the most favorable conditions) an improvement in the relative status of the Negro masses; a closing of the historic differential between Negro and white.
But an all-sided examination of the changes of the war and post-war period shows no such trend. Quite the contrary, the past 18 years show a widening of the gap, and a SHARP deterioration of the economic and social position of Negroes as compared to whites.
Certainly, all segments of the working population have benefited in some degree from the long period of war and post-war boom, and relatively full employment. Negro wage and salary income has risen sharply since 1940. There has been a breakthrough into skilled, semi-skilled and white collar occupations in the North and especially in Civil Service. But that is only one side of the picture. According to U.S. Department of Commerce figures, the annual median wage or salary income of white workers exceeded that of non-whites by $592 in 1939, by $1,113 in 1948 and by $1,552 in 1955. Thus the wage differential is presently three times larger than in 1939!
This startling increase in the wage differential is explained by Lloyd H. Bailer, Labor Consultant, as follows:
“The movement into semi-skilled positions has meant that the Negro is at the bottom of the ladder, income and seniority wise, in these occupations, while white workers have moved further up the occupational scale. Moreover, the Negro labor force is over-represented in occupations which benefit least, in earning, during a full-employment period. Just as the reservoir of the Negro unemployed is the last to be tapped during an era of rising employment, Negro employment is primarily in positions for which it is most difficult to continue recruiting white labor. These are the lowest wage establishments, occupations, and industries. Thus, the Negro work force is moving up the income scale precisely because white labor is also rising, and rising to a greater degree.” (The Integration of the Negro Into American Society, Howard Univ. Press 1951)
This means that the Negro workers have benefited least from prosperity; they have received merely the crumbs of prosperity, while suffering to a greater extent from inflation, slum conditions and exorbitant rents, and job insecurity. The growth of this economic gap has brought tremendous social pressure upon the Negro family, increasing the number of workers holding down two jobs, and families with two or more wage earners. The burden is particularly heavy on Negro women. In 1955, 44% of all Negro women, as compared to 34% of white women were in the work force. The median income for Negro women was $1,465, compared with $2,856 for white women. (U.S. Census Bureau, ”Employment of White and Nonwhite Persons, 1955”)
The Census Bureau reports that only 12% of Negro workers hold professional, managerial, or clerical jobs, as against 42% of the whites. In the service and unskilled labor categories, the ratios were reversed, with 47%of the Negroes represented, and only 14% of the whites.
A.H. Raskin, writing in the New York Times, April 26, 1956, speaking of the status of Negroes in industry, says:
“It would be idyllic to pretend that more than token advances have been made. Even in factories in which 15% to 50% of the workers are Negroes, it has been rare for them to reach the top-skilled categories, and even rarer for them to become foremen. They are still to be found in largest numbers in foundries, coke ovens, and other heavy, dirty jobs.
“Without enlarged training opportunities, the Negro may actually find himself moving backward instead of forward in the job parade. Automation and other manifestations of improved technology are reducing industry’s need for unskilled and semi-skilled workers.”
Even before the current downturn in the economy, the national unemployment rate for Negroes of 8.5% was more than double that of whites (4%). With the onset of mass unemployment, we can expect greater proportions of unemployed Negro workers due to the inroads of automation on the categories in which Negro workers are most heavily concentrated. The maxim: “Last hired, first fired” remains in full force.
In the South, even the slight breakthrough into semi-skilled, skilled and white collar categories which has taken place in the North is not in evidence. The greatest part of the wartime gains in factory employment of Negroes, and especially Negro women, have been wiped out. The “New Industrial Revolution” in the South has been largely a Jim Crow affair, confining the Negro workers to menial and other low paying jobs.
The growth of Negro white collar workers has been registered almost entirely in the North. As Dr. Ira Reid says:
“If trends are continued, we may conclude that the absolute gains in white collar employment of Negroes in the South are at an end, unless and until there is a revolutionary change in the racial-political-economic pattern under which the South lives.” (The Integration of the Negro into American Society, Howard Univ. Press, 1951)
On the vital question of housing, the picture is particularly bleak. From 1940-1950, the rent of the average Negro family rose 150%, while rent of the average white family rose 60%. With the removal of rent control in most areas since 1950, the trend toward increased rent for inferior housing has spurted forward. (See: “Trends in the Economic Status of the Negro People”, Victor Perlo, Science & Society, Spring, 1952) Says Carl Rowan:
“The larger evidence is not that of integration or intra-community gains. It is in the direction of more uncompromising segregation and larger Negro slums.” (Scientific American, October, 1957)
Underscoring Rowan’s gloomy forecast, Madison S. Jones, Jr., NAACP’s special consultant for housing, reports:
“Through urban renewal and redevelopment programs, federal funds are being used in certain Southern communities to put an end to such housing integration as already exists.”
In his report to the 49th Annual Meeting of the NAACP, Mr. Jones further charged that the federally aided program “is being used as a device to set up new areas of racial containment.” (Reported in the Baltimore Afro-American, 1/18/58)
A salient feature of the changes of the war and post-war boom period is this relative decline in the economic position of the Negro workers WHICH IS LAYING THE GROUNDWORK FOR A DEVASTATING ABSOLUTE DECLINE IN THEIR ECONOMIC STATUS IN THE RAPIDLY APPROACHING ECONOMIC CRISIS.
Here is an “economic trend” which the “direct integrationists” overlooked.
The “Integration” of the Negro into Southern Agriculture
When we examine this “long range trend toward direct integration” in agriculture, we find even more startling contrasts between the status of Negro and white toilers.
The rapid upsurge of industrialization in the South and the mechanization of agriculture, the shift of cotton production to the West, the increased yield per acre due to technological advances, crop diversification and the spread of dairy, poultry, and beef production – all of these developments in Southern agriculture, accompanied by the government program of acreage cutbacks and lowering price supports have accentuated the chronic Southern agrarian problem and the accompanying ruin of the Negro farmer. The Negro farmer has been particularly hard hit by the chronic crisis which has plagued the South’s agriculture since the end of World War I, and which has sharpened in the recent period.
The present administration has zealously carried forth Wall Street’s plan for a “solution” of this crisis. In 1945, the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a report entitled “Variations in Farm Incomes and their Relation to Agricultural Policy” calling upon the Government to direct its policy toward (encouraging production “on those farms which are capable of providing the largest average return per unit of labor and capital expended” and the eventual elimination of two-thirds of the farm families (4 million families).
In the South, the continuation of this policy by the present administration (acreage cutback, etc.) has resulted in the wholesale displacement of basic soil tillers and the further impoverishment of those who remain on the farm. The main victim, of course, is the Negro farmer.
The 1954 Census of Agriculture showed a rapid acceleration of land concentration and monopoly, reporting that all Census farms of 1,000 acres or over, though comprising only 2.7% of all Census farms, marketed over one fourth of all the cotton sold in the U.S.
From 1935-1954, the displacement of all farm operators has been heavier for the South (32.3%) than for the country as a whole (29.8%). This displacement, however, has been much heavier for the Negroes (43%) than for white farm operators in the South (29%). The median annual income of Southern rural farm families shows a marked racial differential: $742 for Negroes as compared with $1,516 for whites. (Farm operators, as defined by the U.S. Census, are all-inclusive, ranging from owners in part or full through renters of ail farms, including sharecroppers, managers, but excluding agricultural workers).
In the same period (1935-1954) the displacement of Negro farm owners has been more rapid than of whites – nearly twice as great.
At the other end of the tenure ladder, the rate of displacement of white sharecroppers has been significantly higher than the rate of displacement of Negro sharecroppers. (The Census defines “sharecroppers” as “Crop-share tenants whose landlords furnish all work power.”) Thus, we find an increase in the percentage of sharecroppers who are Negroes. While in 1935, 51% of the sharecroppers in the Census South were Negroes; by 1954 the percentage had increased to 60%. Similarly, in Mississippi, while in 1935 77% of the sharecroppers were Negroes; in 1954 the percentage had increased to 83%. (The Census South includes 16 states and the District of Columbia.)
It is obvious that increased employment opportunities for white workers in industry attracted white sharecroppers out of agriculture and into the cities in the South. Since fewer opportunities existed for Negroes, they remained concentrated at the lowest rungs of the agricultural ladder as seasonal agricultural workers and sharecroppers. The plight of the displaced Negro farmer is particularly hard because mechanization of agriculture has also reduced the demand for hired workers in the South, from over one and one-quarter million in 1942 to 850,000 in 1957, a 31% drop, which was higher than the national average decline of agricultural workers for the same period (28%).
Thus, we find that mechanization of agriculture, far from being a boon to the Negro soil tiller, has resulted in widespread unemployment and displacement of Negro sharecroppers and tenants from the land, pushing their status down to the misery and insecurity of seasonal agricultural workers, or out of agriculture entirely. The extension of the ”overpopulation” in Southern agriculture due to mechanization, technological advances, shift of cotton production to the West, diversification of crops, etc., has sharpened the contradictions in Southern agriculture, creating a highly explosive situation.
Up to now, the general prosperity and relatively full employment in the U.S. has acted as an exhaust valve, allowing for mass migration from rural to urban areas. But with the onset of the economic crisis, the out-migration will run into mass unemployment in the cities, and at the same time, many unemployed urban workers will tend to move back to the farms. Thus, we will see tens of thousands of workers trying to “reintegrate” themselves into agriculture, at the same time that the displaced farmers are trying to “integrate” themselves into urban life, where mass unemployment and Jim Crow bars provide no place for their absorption. They can, therefore, only swell the ranks of the unemployed. To remain on the farm means starvation and sinking to a squatter’s misery. In either case, it means masses of people thrown out of the productive process. It is precisely this prospect of sharp struggle in the period immediately ahead that our “New Look” gradualists overlook.
How Comrade Jackson Eliminated the Remnants of Slavery in Southern Agriculture
Along with their general thesis that the changes of the war and postwar period have eased the contradictions involved in the Negro question, our “direct integrationists” have seized upon the changes in Southern agriculture to “prove” that the semi-feudal plantation system, the historic economic base of Negro national oppression, has withered away. Their argument is a simple parroting of the traditional line of Southern “liberal” gradualists, a recent example of which is the book, “An Epitaph For Dixie” by Harry S. Ashmore, editor of the Arkansas Gazette. Ashmore, prominent for his opposition to Gov. Faubus in the Little Rock school crisis, claims that industrialization and farm mechanization in the South are automatically solving the major problems of that region and wiping out the effects of the “peculiar institution” (slavery). These trends, he contends, are eliminating the plantation system, wiping out the effects of peonage, reducing the margin of Negro Majority in the Black Belt, and thereby achieving eventual integration.
It appears that Comrade James Jackson and the National Executive Committee agree with this liberal view. In estimating changes in the South “featured by the rapid tempo of urbanization and industrial growth” Jackson concludes the “economic essence of the oppression of the Negro people in the country as a whole and in the Southern states (is now) manifested in the discrimination against, and economic exploitation of Negro working men and women by industrial capital and monopoly”. (Our emphasis H.H. – National Discussion Bulletin No. 2.)
This statement, it seems to us, is a denial of the pivotal role of the semi-feudal agrarian element in the national oppression of the Negro people generally, and particularly in the South. By a stroke of the pen, Jackson downgrades the struggle of the Negro people for national liberation in the South to a mere labor question, reducing the national element in this struggle to the fight against “discrimination” which he evidently considers a superstructural hangover from a nearly extinct system whose economic base is being rapidly and automatically destroyed by the “rapid tempo of urbanization and industrial growth.”
As if aware of exposing his flank to such charges, he attempts to smokescreen his attack, hedging it about with a maze of verbiage, which, if considered apart from his conclusions, would seem to deny our contention. In other words, he employs a type of “doubletalk” prevalent in conciliationist circles. For example, he prefaces his conclusion by:
“Although the plantation economy diminishes in area and holds in its immediate grip only a relatively small portion of the toiling masses of the South, it still wields a dominating influence over the laws and customs of the South.” And:
“Such improvements in the material and cultural conditions of life which the Negro people have secured, have in no way modified their status as the most exploited and all-sidedly oppressed part of the American people.” (Ibid)
In those statements, Comrade Jackson appears to be arguing against underestimation of the role and extent of the sharecropping system, but in reality, he himself minimizes the role and the extent of this system in the agriculture of the Deep South, its general effects on the life of the Negro people and their freedom struggle.
All doubt as to Jackson’s real position on the question is removed however, by his subsequent report on the South, adopted unanimously by the National Executive Committee, and published in the December 1957 issue of Political Affairs under the title of “The South’s New Challenge”. In this report, he bluntly states: “The sharecropping system, which was the distinguishing feature of the 30’s, is no longer a major characteristic of production relations in agriculture in the South today.”
This statement is incorrect with regard to the South in general, and is especially invalid with respect to the Deep South, the main area of concentration of the Negro people and the plantation system. Any serious examination of the situation in Southern agriculture today as it affects the Negro people will clearly contradict Jackson’s contention.
Certainly, there is a sharp decline in sharecropping in the Census South (which includes 16 states and the District of Columbia). This trend has been apparent for the past quarter century. From 1935-1954, there was a 63% decline in the number of sharecroppers in the Census South.
But these figures of the decline in sharecropping must be considered against the background of the GENERAL decline in Southern agriculture, and technological changes which reduces the need for ALL types of farm labor, including agricultural wage laborers.
Clearly, Jackson’s implication that the semi-feudal sharecropping system has been in effect replaced by agriculture wage labor is incorrect. As Jackson himself points out, only 19% of the agricultural wage workers in the Census South are employed 150 days or more per year; or, based upon the total figure of 850,000 agricultural wage workers in this area, there are approximately 160,000 who are employed 150 days or more per year. Whereas, there are 270,000 sharecropping families in the Census South.
There is marked variation in the rate of decline in sharecropping among the Deep South states. For example, in North Carolina, Negro sharecroppers actually INCREASED from 30,001 in 1935 to 30,518 in 1950. Thereafter there was about a 10% decline, to 27,102 in 1954. (This is probably due to the low level of mechanization of tobacco production.)
In South Carolina, where the terrain is least favorable for the mechanical cotton picker, Negro sharecroppers dropped 42% from 1935-1954. In contrast, Negro sharecroppers in Alabama dropped 75% (the highest rate of decline for any state).
In Mississippi, where, according to Jackson, mechanization of cotton production is nearly complete, we can clearly see the effects of mechanization and crop diversification on the plantation system.
Mississippi, the banner cotton state of the Old South, has the most favorable terrain for the mechanical cotton picker, and the highest yield per acre of any Southern state. However, in 1954, we find that there were approximately 50,000 Negro sharecropper families in Mississippi. On the basis of five members to a family, that means that approximately 250,000 Negro people in Mississippi–one fourth of the Negro population of the state – were directly engaged in sharecropping. It is a known fact that the burden of sharecropping to a large degree is carried by the wageless labor of women and children. This family system is prevalent both in the cotton and tobacco areas of the South. The landlord prefers large families to meet labor demands at peak seasons.
Modern Technology and Semi-Feudal Production Relations
A clue to what has happened to the mechanized, diversified plantations in Mississippi is given in an article in U.S. News and World Report (Jan. 27, 1956). Speaking of the Delta & Pine Land Company of Scott, Miss., the biggest row crop operation in the U.S., which holds 38,000 acres, of which 24,000 are under cultivation, it says:
“Once the company had 16,000 acres in cotton, employed 1,000 tenant families, averaging five members each, and used 1200 mules. Now only 7,899 acres are in cotton. The rest of the land is planted to corn, rice, alfalfa, hay sorghum, oats and barley and to grass for pasturage. The company has 15 mules and 200 tractors. It is producing 1500 fed-out steers for market this year (it now uses) about 425 families.”
It is pertinent to note here that the drop in number of families on the above plantation corresponds approximately to the average drop in number of sharecroppers in Mississippi. Pertinent here, however, is that this mechanized, diversified operation still relies basically upon 425 tenant families, and not upon agricultural laborers.
It is clear that in spite of the employment of seasonal agricultural workers, and in spite of the mechanization of cotton picking and the diversification of crops, the basic labor force on the MECHANIZED, DIVERSIFIED plantations is STILL the Negro sharecropper.
The above facts from the 1954 Census of Agriculture and other current data clearly refute Jackson’s contention that “Share-cropping is no longer an important feature of production relations in Southern agriculture.”
Of course, one must not fail to note that while the sharecropper status represents the purest survival of the old slave relationships, all categories of Negroes in Southern agriculture are, either directly or indirectly, decisively conditioned by these social relics of slavery which have long since been adapted to the needs of monopoly capitalism. The shadow of the plantation proscribes strict limits for the development of the neighboring Negro tenant and owner, keeping him ever at the disadvantage in relation to the white competitor. As renter or as owner he is restricted to inferior land, denied equal commercial and banking services. The Negro workers no less find conditions for the most part predetermined by the status of the Negro in agriculture. He is often still tied to the land, either directly as an agricultural wage laborer, or indirectly as a worker in the primary agricultural, processing industries (ginning, logging, saw milling, cane mills, etc.). Even where he may move one step away into industry proper, he is generally restricted as a production worker to the heaviest, most dangerous and dirty work such as in the extractive industries (mining, smelting, fishing). The shadow of the plantation does not allow him as a producer (let alone higher categories) into the factory in Dixie, a few scattered and tentative exceptions to the contrary notwithstanding. Beyond the South, wherever the Negro worker may go, coast to coast and to the Canadian border, there he will find “his people”, whatever their class, living in the shadow of the plantation.
Thus, the historical condition of the development of Deep South agriculture, in which the plantation has been and remains a key form, has been the super-exploitation of Negro labor. The consequences of racist, national oppression fall upon the Negro, whatever his social status, in town or country. A change in the number of Negro sharecroppers cannot change this fact of Negro life.
Finally, as is well known, the consequences of this national oppression of the Negro affects not only the Negro, but the mass of poor whites as well, in the South and elsewhere, pulling down his wages and reinforcing the subjection of white labor to monopoly capital. This fact is the objective reality upon which the CP. established its basic principle of labor organization, Negro-white unity for equality and better conditions for all workers.
The facts show the stubborn persistence of the semi-slave sharecropping system as the main form of exploitation of the Negro soil tiller in the cotton and tobacco regions of the South. They show that the absolute decline in Negro sharecropping has taken place against the background of the decline in farm employment generally, which is the most drastic change since the end of World War II. They show a shrinkage in Negro farm ownership, which is proceeding at a rate twice as fast as that of whites. And, at the other end of the pile, they reveal a greater concentration of Negro farmers at the lowest rungs of the agricultural ladder. They reveal a great acceleration of the growth of absentee ownership. While, on the other hand, the mechanization hailed by the “liberal” gradualists and the CP. “New Lookers” alike as a cure-all for the South’s problems is not accessible to the poor farmers, and blocks access to the land by the masses of tenants and sharecroppers. At the same time, the displacement of basic soil tillers has been accelerated by the administration’s crop reduction program, the sharp edge of which has been directed against the poor farmer. While the big planters are continuing to expand their production, the small, family-sized farms bear the main part, if not the full cost, of acreage cutbacks. Truly, the prophets of “direct integration” can get small comfort from these sobering facts. This situation has operated to increase the traditional disadvantage of the Negro soil tiller in every respect. Undoubtedly, it was the consideration of these facts which blasted the false optimism of the integrationists that led Dr. Eli Ginsburg in The Negro Potential to conclude, “By no stretch of the imagination can anyone claim that the Negro farmers of the South have improved their status.”
A preliminary study of the 1954 Census of Agriculture confirms the conclusion drawn by Victor Perlo in his excellent book, The Negro in Southern Agriculture published in 1953:
“The plantation system is declining, but is not likely to die of its own weight. It is declining not through any reform, not through the victory of family-size farming, not through the acquisition of land by the Negro rural population, but through the decay of Southern agriculture, through the substitution of impoverished, terribly exploited, semi-captive migratory Mexican labor in California for impoverished, terribly exploited, semi-captive Negro cropper labor in Georgia, through the conversion of some croppers into homeless farm labor ” and the driving of the resulting surplus off the land to the cities where they cannot get good jobs and face the prospect of mass unemployment and hunger in the next depression.”
Industrialization in the South
A main prop of the “direct integration based upon long range trends” argument is that we failed to take into account the possibility of continued capitalist expansion, and of industrialization of the South in formulating our position on the Negro question.
In their enthusiasm to prove their argument, they not only distort our position, but even deal lightly with obvious facts. For example, Allen and Wilkerson both claim that our position on the Negro question “was established and developed during the great economic crisis of the 1930’s and, therefore, was influenced by the view that “capitalism would never again go through a significant period of expansion”. (See: Allen article in Discussion Bulletin No. 2) Contrary to their contention, our position was adopted in 1928 at the Sixth World Congress: that is, the year before the 1929 crash, and at the HEIGHT of the boom period. It was established in the battle against Lovestone revisionism, which based itself upon the prospect of uninterrupted prosperity and the effects of the “industrial revolution” in democratizing the South.
The 1930 Resolution on the Negro Question was an elaboration of the thesis already adopted in 1928, to sweep out of the Party the then prevailing “direct integration” and “uninterrupted prosperity” illusions in order to clear the deck for our Party’s leadership of mass struggles during the Great Depression.
The 1930 Resolution on the Negro Question never denied the possibility of continued capitalist expansion or further industrialization of the South, but said:
“Industrialization in the Black Belt is not, as is generally the case in colonies properly speaking, in contradiction with the ruling interests of the imperialist bourgeoisie, which has in its hands the monopoly of all industry; but insofar as industry is developed here, it will in no way bring a solution to the question of living conditions of the oppressed Negro majority, nor to the agrarian question, which lies at the basis of the national question. On the contrary, this question is still further aggravated as a result of the increase of the contradictions arising from the pre-capitalist forms of exploitation of the Negro peasantry and of a considerable portion of the Negro proletariat (miners, forestry workers, etc.) in the Black Belt, and, at the same time, owing to the industrial development here, the growth of the most important driving force of the national revolution, the Black working class, is especially strengthened.
“Thus, the prospect for the future is not an inevitable dying away of the national revolutionary Negro movement in the South, as Lovestone prophesied, but on the contrary, a great advance of this movement, and the rapid approach of a revolutionary crisis in the Black Belt.” (The Communist, Jan. 1931)
We cannot know what Comrade Allen had in his mind, but this was the official position of the Party on the Negro Question.
Certainly, the South has experienced a rapid upsurge of industrialization in the recent period. Indeed, the pace of industrialization over the period from 1940-1950 has been swift, as the following demonstrates: between 1940-1956, the number of factories in the South more than tripled, from 11,000 to over 33,000 and during the year 1957, according to the Southern Association of Science and Industry, another 1,314 new plants, hiring 25 or more workers, opened their doors in the South, nearly twice as many as in 1956 – the highest annual total in the last 10 years. Between 1935 and 1955, the number of employees in manufacturing increased 86% for the U.S. as a whole, but in the South, the increase was 127%, from 1.5 to 3.4 million workers. Even though the South has not caught up with the rest of the nation industrially, it has closed about two-thirds of the gap. (See: Facts for Farmers, Feb., 1958).
These figures taken by themselves would seem to bolster the contention of the liberal gradualists that the “old problems” which led Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 to characterize the South as the “Nation’s No. 1 Economic Problem” are solving themselves automatically as a result of the operation of “long range economic trends.;” But the harsh facts are that the kind of industrialization taking place in the South–an industrialization based upon war economy and runaway shops – is not leading to the all-around industrialization of that region, nor to the destruction of the semi-feudal remnants in its agriculture. It should be perfectly clear that the Wall Street overlords are determined, as far as possible, to maintain the South as an economic hinterland of the nation’s industrial establishment, and to use the oppressed Negro people as a fulcrum for holding down the living standards of the whole South and the nation. The exclusion of Negroes from the new factories is irrefutable proof that this is the guiding policy of the Wall Street rulers.
It is this key strategy of finance capital, not to speak of the limitations inherent in the present monopolist stage of capitalism engulfed in a general crisis that the liberal theorists and our own revisionists fail to reckon with in building their air-castles of an industrialized South as the solution to the Negro question.
As we stated in Negro Liberation, the result of the guiding strategy of Wall Street is that industrial development of the South is distorted and lopsided, “geared as it is to the expediency of the absentee owners, rather than to the necessities of the region and its people”. Industrialization is geared toward the extraction of raw materials and natural resources, and primary processing of agricultural products. The industrialization promoted by Wall Street is kept strictly within the limits of maintaining monopoly advantages, control and superprofits, assuring the four billion dollars a year superprofits extracted from the special exploitation of the Negro people.
In sum, the current upswing of industrialization in the South has in no way involved such basic reshaping of the area as to exclude the semi-feudal relations and slave survivals characteristic of the agriculture of the Deep South. It cannot involve any such change because U.S. economy, North and South, is dominated by monopoly capitalism, and monopoly capital is not pursuing, nor can it pursue, a policy of social and political progress in the South. Any fundamental change in social relations in the South can come about only as a result of revolutionary struggle of the Negro and white toilers of that region.
How the Revisionists Achieve Respectability
From the above, it is clear that Comrade Jackson and the National Executive Committee underestimate the specific gravity of slave survivals in Southern agriculture with respect to the Negro question generally, and particularly in the Deep South. They thereby underplay and minimize the profound, revolutionary, anti-imperialist potential of the Negro liberation movement in that area, in which the struggle of the land-starved agricultural population for land and freedom and for the abolition of all vestiges of slavery remains of pivotal importance.
This downgrading of the Negro question is explicit in Jackson’s contention that “sharecropping is no longer an important feature of production relations in Southern agriculture” and that the “economic essence” of Negro oppression (as the result of vast changes of recent years) is now “manifested in the discrimination against and exploitation of Negro working men and women by industrial capital and monopoly”.
Here is the inevitable logic of the revisionist position: the Negro freedom struggle has now become in the main a fight against the superstructural element of ”racial discrimination”, the hangover of a nearly extinct system whose socio-economic base is being rapidly and automatically dissolved by the forces of capitalist expansion!
Presumably, all that is needed now is a mopping up of the remaining relics of plantation slavery which can be carried through by “progressive land reforms”. Since they deny the right of self-determination, that is, political power in the hands of the Negro masses and their white allies, we can only assume that he means gradual reforms within the framework of the imperialist-dominated system, rejecting the perspective of agrarian revolution.
Certainly, we can fight for progressive agrarian reforms. But we understand that even a minimal program must flow from, and be based upon, a revolutionary perspective. This is precisely the difference between us and the reformists.
Why does Comrade Jackson exert such effort to “eliminate” the importance of the semi-slave survivals in Southern agriculture? Because his line is part and parcel of the “Back to Reformism” movement in the leadership of the Party.
As Lenin said in polemisizing against “LUCH”, a liquidationist paper:
“Reformism in general, means that people confine themselves to agitation for changes which do not require the removal of the main foundations of the old ruling class, changes that are compatible with the preservation of these foundations.”
Lenin was here referring to workers’ demands (e.g., the eight-hour day) which are compatible with the preservation of the power of capital. He continued:
“On the other hand, those demands for which “LUCH” does not want to “agitate” are incompatible with the preservation of the foundations of the pre-capitalist period, the period of serfdom.
“ ’Luch’ curtails the Marxian slogans, tries to fit them into the narrow, reformist, liberal measure, and thus carries bourgeois ideas into the ranks of the workers.” (Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. IV, p. 145)
As Lenin observed, the partial demands of the feudally-oppressed peasantry are more revolutionary that the partial demands of the city industrial workers because they represent the belated and unfinished struggle against serfdom and feudalism. Herein lies the basic cause of the revisionists’ frantic efforts to “eliminate” the agrarian question.
It is clear that the revisionist position downgrades the Negro question, eviscerates its revolutionary content (agrarian and democratic revolution in the Deep South), reduces it to a fight against racial discrimination, and places it in TERMS ACCEPTABLE TO THE NEGRO BOURGEOIS REFORMISTS AND THEIR ALLIES AMONG THE LABOR BUREAUCRATS AND WHITE “LIBERALS.”
This downgrading of the Negro question by the CP. can only gladden the hearts of the Wall-Street Dixiecrat enemy, who is very apprehensive about the potentialities of the struggle for Negro rights in the South.
Is this not what is behind Jackson’s “new” characterization of the Negro question as “a racially-distinct nationality”?
It is clear that such a restricted program can be left to the incumbent bourgeois-reformist top leadership clique of the NAACP, which, according to Jackson, “organizes the maximum political, economic and moral strength of the Negro masses and their white allies to bring about basic improvement”, etc., etc. Under these happy circumstances, there is no role for a revolutionary Party to play.
The careful avoidance of revolutionary placing of the Negro question runs like a red thread throughout the arguments of the revisionists.
They adopt a one-sided, economic determinist approach, which bases itself upon long range, evolutionary changes presumably dissolving the economic base of Negro national oppression without the nasty, political upheavals – without the transfer of political power to the submerged masses which is the pre-condition for solution of the Negro national question.
True, there is a long range trend towards gradual dissolution of the Negro population concentration in the Deep South. True, the semi-slave plantation system is being undermined by changes in Southern agriculture. But these are INDEED long range. In fact, they are so gradual that long before they can have a decisive effect on the Negro question, the ever-sharpening contradictions of imperialism will lead to a revolutionary crisis in that area.
Their emphasis upon “long range economic changes” is intended to divert us from the REAL situation which exists presently in the Deep South, and the SHARPENING OF ALL CONTRADICTIONS there.
For surely, if we emphasize the revolutionary content of the struggle for Negro rights, the Negro right-reformist assimilationists and their “enlightened” imperialist friends will not like us. Indeed, any departure from a reformist approach to the Negro question would be “alien” to the historical development of the Negro people. Shades of Frederick Douglas, Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman! (See 16th National Convention Resolution on Negro Question).
The revisionists are in very respectable company here with regard to their emphasis on long range trends. They will get plenty of support for their thesis from the ruling class. From President Eisenhower to Sen. Lyndon Johnson they all see the solution through long range economic trends.
We can hear much the same arguments over the Voice of America which seeks to throw dust in the eyes of the peoples of the world, shocked by the barbarous racist system of oppression in the U.S. Their position was essentially contained in the speech of George Meany, President of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. when he appeared as chief apologist of the State Department to “explain” the Little Rock situation before the U.N.
We must note here that the great and venerable Negro scholar and leader, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois eloquently challenged Meany when he said:
“It is false to assert that the color problem in the United States is being progressively and satisfactorily settled.
“The nation has continually advanced and retreated, progressed and fallen back toward barbarism in its treatment of colored people.” (DuBois’ letter to the U.N. General Assembly on the Little Rock crisis.)
It is true that U.S. imperialism in crisis has been forced to maneuver – to assume a benevolent posture in deference to the new world relationship of forces in the interests of the Cold War and its expansionist aims abroad. But these real concessions were blown up far beyond their true worth by a massive propaganda campaign in the bourgeois press, over the Voice of America, through so-called “good will tours” of leading U.S. Negroes, all to give the impression that the Negro question was being progressively and satisfactorily solved in the U.S. This essentially pro-imperialist propaganda was fervently taken up by the top right-reformist leaders of the NAACP proceeding under the slogans of “Integration Is Just Around the Corner”, “Free by ’63”, “The Tide of Integration Is Sweeping In”, and was supposed to be final proof of the vitality of U.S. democracy.
With the outlawing of the segregation of schools by the Supreme Court in May of 1954, the right-revisionist trend in our Party unreservedly embraced the pro-imperialist swindle of imminent, peaceful, democratic “integration” of the Negro people into all aspects of American life. They threw all caution to the winds, claiming that the Jim Crow system was threatened with imminent destruction, that the Supreme Court Decision was the triumph of the NAACP policy of strictly courtroom opposition, denying the factor of international pressure, claiming that the tactics of the right-reformists had been all correct, and our tactics all wrong, ad nauseum.
The benevolent pose of the U.S. ruling circles was accepted at face value by the right revisionists. It was upon this shaky foundation that a whole policy of retreat and liquidation of the Party’s revolutionary position and militant, leading role in the Negro field was based.
Political Gains Ahead
The war and post-war years saw a great political resurgence of the Negro people expressed in increased political gains. There was the rapid growth of the Negro vote to key positions in several Northern states, and a big advance in Negro registration and voting in the South. There was some breakthrough in Negro representation North and South. The Supreme Court Decision was the high point of the political advance of the Negro people in the post-war period. It gave the Negro people, particularly in the South, new confidence, militancy, and determination to win full freedom NOW.
But the struggle to implement the Supreme Court Decision is meeting growing, effective opposition by the Dixiecrat henchmen of Wall Street; and the rate of increase of Negro registration in the South has been sharply reduced. Negro registration increased from 595,000 in 1947 to 1,008, 614 in 1952, or nearly 100%. However, from 1952 to 1956, Negro registration increased to 1,238,038, or only about 20%. There has been an absolute DECLINE in Negro registration in Mississippi between 1952 and 1956.
In the Black Belt counties of Negro majority (with the exception of the French Catholic parishes of Louisiana) there has been little progress made toward Negro registration and voting. For example, in 13 Mississippi Counties listed as having a population of more than 50% Negro, a total of 14 Negro votes were cast in the three elections on which information was available in 1954. Five of the counties had no Negroes qualified and three had one registered who never voted. In the seven counties having more than 60% Negro population, two votes were cast by negroes in 1954. (All of the above information from The Negro Voter in the South Sept. 1957, by Margaret Price, published by The Southern Regional Council.)
The author of the above-mentioned study observes:
”Armed with statistics on education, urbanization, farm tenancy, income, and racial composition, it is possible to guess with a fair degree of accuracy whether the percentage of eligible Negroes registered will be above or below average.
“Relatively few Negroes are likely to be registered in counties where they make up a large proportion of the population, in counties where education and income medians are low, and in counties that are predominantly agricultural and have a high rate of farm tenancy.”
In the Mississippi Delta parishes of Louisiana, where no Negroes are registered, the field observer reports:
“The prospects are bleak for registration in the immediate future. In these parishes, subterfuge is unnecessary to discourage Negro registration. Negroes know they should not and cannot register and, therefore, rarely attempt to do so.” (Ibid)
And in Calhoun County, South Carolina (a Black Belt county) the field observer reports:
“Any Negro who tries to get a registration certificate is called a smart Negro and sooner or later leaves the community.” (Ibid)
And in McCormick County, South Carolina:
“All Negroes who had registration certificates in 1948 had their names purged from the voting list. The majority of Negroes in the county are sharecroppers. Reportedly, they could not sell their produce until their names were removed.” (Ibid)
The above study was based upon surveys made in ten states (Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia).
Illusion and Reality
If only revisionism could create the world to conform with its flights of fancy! But alas, ugly reality will assert itself. And the historically developed national oppression of the Negro people is not disappearing with the wave of a magic wand.
Day by day, events are cutting the ground from under the rosy picture of imminent victory painted by the revisionists. The counteroffensive following the Supreme Court Decision – the wave of reaction in the South beginning in earnest with the Till Case, precipitated the mushrooming of the White Citizens’ Councils, the KKK, and other anti-Negro terrorist organizations throughout the South.
There has been a whole spate of new racist laws in Southern states. Terrorism and bombings of Negroes who attempt to escape from the ghettoes has spread throughout the South, and moved into Northern cities (Trumbull Park, Chicago and Levittown, Pa.) The highly organized official lawbreakers of the South have succeeded in slowing down the process of school integration to a virtual halt.
What the revisionists miss is that the changes of the war and post-war period by no means blunt the contradictions between the aspirations of the Negro people and U.S. imperialism. On the contrary, the urbanization of the Negro people, and the vast extension of the Negro working class, the growth of Negro trade union membership, the new relationship of world forces, have brought into the arena of struggle new and fresh forces, and have sharpened the crisis of Wall Street-Dixiecrat rule in the South.
This conflict has been stepped up by the whole new world situation; i.e., the anti-colonialist upsurge in Asia and Africa, and the important world role played by the Asian-African bloc of nations as a result of the Bandung and Cairo Conferences. To our mind, these changes have greatly stimulated and accelerated the shift of the struggle for Negro rights to the South, its historical center of gravity.
In spite of Allen’s contention that the contradictions within the Black Belt are easing, events are refuting his rejection of the perspective of a revolutionary crisis in that area. Witness the vast upsurge of the Negro masses in the Deep South. Witness the unyielding attitude of the hard core of Dixiecrats of the Deep South states, who refuse to make even the slightest token concessions to the Negro masses and who are prepared to provoke major national and international crises rather than carry out the Supreme Court Decision. Witness the quandary of the Eisenhower administration, which attempts to pose as leader of the “free world” and meets no cooperation from its Dixiecrat pro-consuls in covering up the scandalous treatment of 16 million Negro citizens in the U.S.
Here we have the elements of an ever-sharpening crisis in regard to the Negro question. In this picture, the Eisenhower federal government is caught between two fires. It is forced to make tactical concessions on the Negro question in order to save face in the world in view of its stance as “leader of world democracy”. And, at the same time, these very concessions further aggravate the crisis with regard to the Negro question.
On the one hand, the Negro people, impatiently straining at their chains of second class citizenship, are urgently pressing for payment on the promissory note of full equality which was the Supreme Court Decision. On the other hand, there is the massive resistance campaign unleashed by the hard-core Dixiecrat henchmen of Wall Street in the Deep South, who see in the least token concession to the Negro masses, a direct threat to the rotten Jim Crow system. These are the elements of sharpening contradictions in the Deep South which Allen denies.
The scandal of Little Rock, which is only the prologue of things to come, points up clearly the explosive nature of the Negro question in the U.S. The spectacle of 1,000 Federal paratroopers called out to integrate nine Negro children into one high school in a border state is not one to arouse sanguine hopes for “imminent, peaceful, democratic integration” in the Deep South.
And so far, only the question of token integration in a border state school has been raised. What of the Deep South, the main concentration of the Negro people, where even a plan for token school integration is not proposed? In the Deep South, Gov. Faubus is considered a wavering element! Here is the attitude of Gov. Griffin of Georgia:
“Of course we’ll close the schools, the laws are already set up. And if anyone started to federalize the National Guard, I could discharge it, then form a state militia under the Second Amendment of the Constitution, the right to bear arms. No Georgia boy can be made to turn his bayonet against a fellow Georgian. These people just won’t do it. I know these people. Georgia will never be integrated. The people won’t stand for it.”
Or more of the same from a Georgia businessman:
“The nation can thank God it happened in Little Rock and not in Atlanta. If it had been here now, the sewers would have run red with blood.”
And from Roy Harris, political confidant of Gov. Griffin:
“It’s the best thing that could have happened to us, this Little Rock situation. It caused two things – people are talking out loud now and they are more determined than ever to fight integration. I can tell you what would happen in Georgia. I know four counties that have few niggers where they would just run ’em out. And down in South Georgia, where there’s more niggers than white people, why there’ll just be some beatings at night and then they’ll get the idea. And the kids themselves will throw them out of school. They’ll have to do it one school at a time. They’ll have to have troops at every school in Georgia.” (All the above quoted in Look Magazine, Nov. 12, 1957)
The Little Rock incidents were a declaration on the part of the Dixiecrats that the show was over – it had gone far enough – it was time to bring down the curtain. And that is precisely what has happened.
Even the most conservative forces in Negro life are beginning to sound the alarm. For instance, an editorial in the Pittsburgh Courier, Jan. 11, 1958, entitled “Hardening Opposition” states:
“All the whistling in the dark of civil rights champions cannot alter the fact that the opposition to integration and desegregation hardened during the past year and is continuing to harden, with very few significant gains being made.
“In the South, a technique of legal opposition has been developed progressively ever since it was shocked into stunned silence after the 1954 Supreme Court Decision, and that technique is being perfected daily, with elected public officials taking the lead in working out strategy and tactics for flouting the law.
“At the time of the ’fight’ over the Civil Rights Law and the final ’victory’, we dubbed this ’contest’ sham battle for the mutual benefit of the two rival political groups and designed to give the shadow of change without the substance.
̶Subsequent events have supported this analysis, with Federal Courts granting more and more time for compliance with the law, politicians shying away from the civil rights hot potato and extra-legal groups emboldened by the lack of any Federal punitive policy.”
And the Annual Race Relations Report by L.U. Foster, President of Tuskegee Institute, says:
“Race relations have worsened in the South in the last year, and realistic action is imperative if serious difficulties are to be avoided in the near future.” (As quoted by the New York Times, January, 1958)
So much for Comrade Ben Davis’ “realistic perspective for peaceful and democratic achievement of full social, political, and economic equality of the Negro people within the framework of our specific American system and tradition”!
So much for the easing of contradictions within the Black Belt due to Comrade Allen’s “forces of capitalist development of great expansionist power”!
Yes, Comrade Allen and the rest speak about “basic social changes in the South” which will lead to the completion of the agrarian-democratic revolution and of the “elimination of plantation-cropping as a semi-feudal leftover from slavery” which is “the basis for planter-Dixiecrat power”. But at the same time, they deny the right of self-determination for the Negro people of that area!
Is it not clear that these radical changes cannot be carried out except on the basis of revolutionary transfer of state power? The only solution to the Negro question lies in a fundamental, revolutionary change, which in this case means breaking the usurped political power of the Wall Street-Bourbon rulers and supplanting it by the political power of the Negro masses and their democratic white allies AS A PRECONDITION for destroying the semi-feudal plantation system and carrying out basic agrarian reforms; this movement to be supported by the entire working class in the United States in the interest of cementing Negro-white unity and dealing a devastating blow against the common enemy – U.S. imperialism.
And that is the crux of the matter. Without the perspective of POLITICAL POWER, the Negro people’s movement is reduced to an impotent appeal to the conscience of humanitarian instincts of the country and the world; indeed, a moral question, which some of the right-revisionists in their franker moments have called it.
The semi-feudal, national oppression of the Negro people in the Deep South will not die by itself. It can only be destroyed through mass, revolutionary struggle led by a Marxist-Leninist vanguard Party.
The Right of Self-Determination
The Negro people are among the oldest Americans. Their history dates back 330 years to the landing of the first slaves in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. For the first 250 years of their history they were chattel slaves, bought and sold, worked to death in the fields of the Southland.
The Negro people never shared the benefits of U.S. democracy. The American Revolution, the Bill of Rights, meant little to them but a mockery of their own status.
The Civil War, which destroyed chattel slavery, did not bring real freedom to the Negro freedman. Left without the land – cheated out of his chief means of livelihood, he was forced back upon the plantations into a position of semi-slave servitude but slightly removed from that of his former chattel bondage.
The rise of a financial oligarchy in the U.S. at the turn of the century riveted the yoke of white ruling class tyranny still tighter. For now, the capitalist class, fearful of the rising democratic movements of the working class and poor farmers, and the high level of Negro white unity achieved during Reconstruction and in the Populist movement, formed an unbreachable alliance with the former slaveholding class in the South.
The advent of imperialism precluded the possibility of peaceful, democratic fusion of the Negro people into a single American nation along with whites. The Negro people, who were deprived of their democratic rights during the years of the greatest vitality of U.S. democracy, have lost the possibility of direct integration into the American nation under imperialism, even in the North, not to speak of in the Deep South. Now, the question of Negro equality can be solved only through alliance with the U.S. working class, and the international movement for socialism and national liberation, against the common enemy – U.S. imperialism. The Negro, question can only be solved by giving the land to the Negro soil tiller, whose labor has paid for it a thousand times over. The Negro question can only be solved on the basis of full development of the Negro nation in the Deep South under socialism.
The territory of the Deep South belongs to the Negro people. They have earned it, as no other people have earned a homeland.
This is the meaning of self-determination: that the Negro people, in full possession of their homeland, have the right to decide the political future of that area.
The problem we face is how to bring about unity of Negro and white toilers in the common struggle against U.S. imperialism in the present period, and beyond that, how to fundamentally solve the Negro question under socialism. Socialism can only be built on the basis of the complete democracy for the masses. Socialism must tap all the resources of the population, and develop all human potential.
Even with the elimination of legal discrimination, and the abolition of exploitation, the historically-formed inequality – the economic and cultural disparity between Negro and white, will not disappear with one blow; the age-old rancor of the oppressed Negro people will not disappear; nor will the deeply-ingrained white chauvinism among the white masses. The Negro masses in the Deep South must have guarantees in the concrete form of political power to protect their equality. The white working class in a socialist U.S. must have concrete aid in overcoming the economic and cultural differential between Negro and white. Similarly, the Negro question is the central question in the South. The economic and cultural lag of the Southern region and its entire population can only be overcome by solving the Negro question.
It is true that at the present there is no mass movement for self-determination or regional autonomy. But what kind of a Marxist bases himself upon what exists at present without taking into account what is developing and approaching? We reckon not only with the present, but also with the future. Self-determination is not an immediate, but an ultimate demand. Under conditions of sharpening crisis in the South, it is possible that the right of self-determination may become an urgent question. Indeed, all signs point to a sharpening of the situation. The Negro question cannot be considered in abstraction from the international picture.
It is impermissible for the white working class of the U.S. to deny support to the right of self-determination for the Negro people in the Deep South. We have already seen the corroding effect upon Negro-white unity within the Party since the proposition to withdraw the right of self-determination was promulgated from above. This opportunist sacrifice of the struggle for Negro rights, which is at bottom a capitulation to U.S. imperialism, has opened up the floodgates to white chauvinism within our ranks; and, at the same time, it has encouraged nationalist moods among our Negro comrades, who question whether the white comrades will carry on a struggle for Negro rights. Our understanding of the Negro question as basically a revolutionary question is the heart and core of the struggle against white chauvinism and Negro nationalism. Because the white masses can be effectively rallied to the struggle for Negro rights based PRECISELY on the understanding that the Negro question is a revolutionary question; and only on the basis of rallying the white masses to struggle for Negro rights can nationalist moods be overcome among the Negro masses. Thus, the struggle against white chauvinism cannot be abstracted from fighting for a revolutionary position on the Negro question, and from the task of mobilization of the white masses to struggle for Negro rights. The so-called struggle against white chauvinism led by Pettis Perry was an aberration of this struggle – an attempt to cover up the abandonment of the struggle for Negro rights behind a barrage of words – an arbitrary separation of the ideological struggle against white chauvinism from the task of mobilizing the white masses in struggle for Negro rights.
It is impossible for the working class in the U.S. to organize an effective revolutionary movement and advance to socialism without fighting for full freedom to the Negro nation in the Deep South; that is, to determine their own fate. This, of course, does not mean that the Negro people will inevitably secede from the U.S. and set up a separate state. This solution is only one form in which self-determination could be exercised. They may decide upon an autonomous regional set-up. But the point is, they will have both the right and the means (the state apparatus) to determine their future relations with the U.S. nation.
The recognition of the principle of self-determination implies an uncompromising fight for the conditions of its realization; that means the fight for equality in all fields, and against all forms of racial oppression, in short, complete democracy in the country. The exercise of the right of self-determination is the crowning point of this struggle and symbolizes that the equality of the given nation has been fully achieved. Self-determination is merely the logical expression of the struggle against national oppression in every form, for complete equality in the South. It is an irrefutable demand of consistent democracy in the sphere of the national problem.
“We demand the freedom of self-determination,” says Lenin, “not because we dream of an economically atomized world, nor because we cherish the ideal of small states, but on the contrary, because we are for large states and for a coming closer, even a fusion of nations, but on a truly democratic, truly internationalist basis, which is unthinkable without the freedom of separation.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. XVIII, p. 373)
It is clear from the material already cited that the Wall Street-Dixiecrat rulers of the Deep South are abundantly aware of the revolutionary potential of the Negro movement in that area. The low level of Negro registration and voting in the Black Belt counties is ample testimonial to this fact. Inevitably, the simple demand for the right to vote in Negro majority counties will move in the direction of the demand for some form of self-government. The movement may proceed under such an intermediate slogan as, for example, proportional representation. However, any real challenge to Wall Street-Dixiecrat domination in the South must inevitably lead in the direction of some form of regional autonomy for the Negro people of that area.
The significance of the national-colonial question for the working class movement is the question of revolutionary allies for the proletariat. Of course, he who is not interested in revolution cannot be interested in revolutionary allies.
How the Revisionists Redefine the Right of Self-Determination
But let us not accuse these comrades of being against self-determination for the Negro people IN GENERAL. Why, Comrade Allen himself says:
”The basic weakness does not lie in the general idea of self-determination, a right which the Negro people are constantly in the process of trying to exercise. The basic weakness was in the programmatic conclusions as summed up in the slogan of ’the right of self-determination for the Negro people in the Black Belt’.
“The real problem we face in this respect is whether the circumstances are such in this country as to warrant the perspective of a Negro nation in the Black Belt seeking to exercise this right politically (since) the main long range historic tendency has been and is towards a direct process of integration.” (My emphasis, H.H. – Discussion Bulletin No. 2)
Truly it is difficult to follow Allen’s reasoning. One would gather that he is for self-determination of the Negro people in general; in Detroit, in Chicago, in Harlem, or perhaps in their souls. This point is not very clear.
But on one point, however, Allen et al are crystal clear; NO SELF-DETERMINATION IN THE BLACK BELT. Not in the Deep South homeland of the Negro people.
Truly the imperialist oppressors should welcome such a concept. They would love to apply self-determination in general, as opposed to political self-determination of a particular oppressed nation on a particular territory. This would indeed be a great weapon in the ideological arsenal of imperialism, if only it were not too absurd to fool the masses!
How virtuous! How respectable! Allen can get plenty of support for this “self-determination in general” – in the abstract. Being for this type of self-determination is meaningless, so long as it is not “political self-determination” – so long as it does not apply to “one’s own” colonies.
Senators Kennedy, Knowland and Fulbright pay some lip service to self-determination for Algeria. We U.S. Communists are deeply concerned over the national liberation struggle of the Algerian people. But the acid test of internationalism for U.S. Communists is first of all, how do we stand on self-determination for peoples directly oppressed by U.S. imperialism – for example, the Negro people in the Deep South, and the peoples of Latin America, including Puerto Rico.
Allen’s “self-determination in general” for the Negro people brings to mind what Lenin said about ”Socialists” who are for self-determination of nations oppressed by other imperialist nations, but not for those nations oppressed by “their own” imperialists.
How Comrade Allen Corrects Our “Dogmatic, Unhistoric” Approach To the Theory of Nations and National Movements
When it comes to the Negro question, Comrade Allen takes special pains to be absolutely certain that all the elements of nationhood as defined by Stalin are not only present but are MATURING. He insists that the Negro people in the Deep South must take the “classic road to the formation of a nation” as a precondition for advancing the principle of self-determination in that area.
Allen contends that the Negro movement in the Deep South will not take an autonomous direction because the Negroes there lack the most essential elements of nationhood: e.g., common territory and economic life. These, he contends, are in the process of disintegration as the result of the “… forces of capitalist development of great expansive power, which has lasted well into the era of monopoly and imperialism.” (Ibid)
As a result, “the struggle for equal rights” has not taken the “classic road of the formation of a nation in the Black Belt area” as supposedly envisioned by the CP. when it first put forth the principle of the right of self-determination. The Negro movement, he contends, has developed along other lines, “predominantly in the direction of integration.” In failing to fully appreciate these “specific characteristics of the development of the Negro people in the U.S. the Party got fixed into immutable positions not in accordance with reality.”
Specifically, he charges that the Party’s program with respect to the Negro nation and the right of self-determination was the result of a “mechanical, inflexible, unhistoric approach both to the theory of nation and to the national program.”
First of all, where, we must ask, does Comrade Allen expect to find an oppressed nation in the epoch of imperialism taking the “classic road” of the formation of a nation? His repeated reference to the “classic road” to formation of nations in respect to the Negro nation, it seems to us, simply reveals his own unclarity concerning the national question in the epoch of imperialism.
“Imperialism”, says Lenin, “is the progressive oppression of the nations of the world by a handful of great powers. It is the epoch of war among them for the widening and strengthening of national oppression.” (The Proletarian Revolution and the Right of Nations To Self-Determination, Lenin)
We are dealing here with the specific, Negro nation in the context of the extreme crisis of world imperialism, a main feature of which is the collapse of the system of national-colonial oppression, when hundreds of millions of colonial and dependent peoples – the majority of the population of the world – are rising to their feet, inspired by the goal of freedom and human dignity, and have become mighty allies in the common struggle of the working class against capitalism and imperialism, and for the victory of socialism. Specifically, we are dealing with a submerged nation in the heartland of U.S. imperialism, the main bulwark of the collapsing colonial system.
Allen’s dogmatic strictures would make the development of a national-revolutionary movement for self-determination contingent upon the “maturing” of all elements of nationhood of this oppressed nation. It is, however, an elementary truth…that universally, imperialist policy with regard to the national question is designed forcibly to arrest and distort the free development of nations, to maintain their economic and cultural backwardness as an essential condition for the extraction of superprofits. Is it not clear that the application of this policy operates to obstruct, warp, and distort the development of the elements of nationhood among oppressed peoples? That is, common territory, economic life, language, and culture.
Now then, can any serious student of the contemporary national question make our support of the right of self-determination for the Negro people, or any other oppressed people, for that matter, contingent upon the maturing of “all elements of nationhood among them”? Clearly, the logic of such a position, were we to apply it to the question of oppressed nations generally, would be to deny the right of self-determination to a whole number of peoples suffering under the yoke of imperialist oppression as, by virtue of this oppression, the maturing of all the elements of nationhood among them has been prevented. Indeed, Allen’s logic, if applied to the national-colonial question generally, would deny the right of self-determination to a number of the emerging nations in Negro Africa and elsewhere, among whom the requisites of nationhood exist only in extremely rudimentary form.
Is this position objectively not dangerously close to an apology for continued imperialist political domination of so-called “backward peoples”?
The dialectical fact, which Allen and others seem to miss, is that imperialist oppression, in stifling the development of nations, creates the conditions for the rise of national revolutionary movements which, in this epoch, are a special phase of the struggle for socialism. This creates the basis for the revolutionary alliance of the oppressed peoples with the international working class in the struggle against the common enemy, imperialism.
Comrade Allen is indeed on shaky ground when he lectures us on our ”unhistoric approach to the theory of nations” when he himself confuses the classic period with the imperialist epoch!
In insisting upon the “classic road” with respect to the Negro national liberation movement, Allen clearly violates an elementary requirement of Marxist-Leninist theory: that is, the necessity of distinguishing between two radically different epochs of capitalism with respect to nations and national movements.
I. The classic period – the victory of capitalism over feudalism – the epoch of bourgeois revolution, which witnessed the formation of big capitalist national states in Europe and the U.S.
II. The imperialist epoch, when these nations, having long completed their bourgeois-democratic transformation, have become powerful imperialist states op- pressing those left behind – the over- whelming majority of mankind, who can achieve national liberation only via the path of revolutionary struggle in alliance with the working class against imperialism.
In correcting our “unhistoric approach”, it appears that Allen blurs over this vital distinction. He fails to take into consideration Lenin’s injunction:
“The categorical demand of Marxian theory in examining any social question is that it be placed with definite historical limits, and if it refers to one country (e.g., the national program of a given country) that the concrete peculiarities that distinguish that country from others within the same political epoch be taken into account.” (Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. IV, p. 225)
While Allen makes a bold attempt to discuss the ”concrete peculiarities” of the Negro national question in the U.S., he fails to take into account the “historical epoch”. Allen’s dogmatic, unhistorical approach explains his confusion with respect to the elements of nationhood. Concerning this question, Stalin said:
“… the elements of nationhood – language, territory, culture, etc.,– did not fall from the skies, but were evolved gradually in the pre-capitalist period. But these elements were in a rudimentary state and, at best, were only a potentiality, that is, they constituted the possibility of the formation of a nation in the future given certain favorable conditions. The potentiality became a reality only in the period of rising capitalism with its national market and its economic, cultural centers.” (The National Question and Leninism, pamphlet by Stalin)
In the classic epoch, the epoch of transition to capitalism, the favorable circumstances for the conversion of this potentiality into a reality was the bourgeois-democratic revolution – the overthrow of feudalism. In the present, imperialist epoch, the epoch of transition to socialism, the essential condition for the full development of oppressed nations is the overthrow of imperialist oppression and domination of weaker nations.
Only socialism offers the most favorable conditions for consolidation and full development of oppressed nations and peoples. This is demonstrably proved by the experiences of the Soviet Union in the solution of the national question. These experiences show that:
“The Soviet state system was a powerful factor in the national consolidation of those nationalities which at the time of the revolution had not yet managed to take shape as a nation. Thus, one of the specific features of the development and existence of the Soviet Republics in the East was that the peoples of these Republics developed and became consolidated as nations, not under the aegis of the bourgeois system, but under the aegis of the Soviet state. The socialist industry and the kolkhoz (collective farm) system that were created in the non-Russian regions became the economic basis of this consolidation. On this basis, the remnants of tribal isolation, of tribal customs were abolished: a national culture that is socialistic in content developed, and a national intelligentsia grew up. On the basis of the Soviet system, the nations that had been backward in their development acquired a common territorial, economic, language, and cultural interest. This was the path indicated by Lenin of non-capitalist development of nations toward Socialism, with the aid of the working class of the advanced countries, in a stubborn struggle against the exploiting classes. Peoples like Turkmenians, Kirghiz, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Azerbaijanians, and others, became regenerated and developed into independent nations only under Soviet conditions.
“Socialism created the most favorable conditions for the establishment and development of all that was valuable and best in the traditions of each people. The Soviet state ensured an unprecedentedly rapid tempo of consolidation of nations such as is inconceivable under the conditions of capitalism.” (The Collaboration of Nations in the USSR, pamphlet by E.A. Dunayeva)
Here is proof of the correctness of the Leninist thesis that abolition of national-colonial oppression in the imperialist epoch is organically bound up with the transfer of political power to the working class, and which defines the place of the national problem in the context of the proletariat’s general struggle for power. It discloses the connection between the solution of the national question and the general struggle of the masses of people under the leadership of the working class for the abolition of capitalist-imperialist exploitation. For, it is evident that imperialism cannot exist without oppressing and exploiting the peoples of colonial and dependent nations. These peoples cannot be liberated without the overthrow of imperialism. And, on the other hand, the proletarian revolution is impossible without the support of the oppressed and exploited peoples of the colonies and dependent nations.
This is the basis for the alliance of the working class with the revolutionary national liberation movements. The contemporary Negro question in the U.S. is a product of the unfinished bourgeois-democratic revolution of the Civil War and Reconstruction – the failure to carry through democratic land redivision as the only solid economic basis for political freedom.
Clearly, in the present, imperialist epoch, the question of Negro freedom is bound up with the struggle for the emancipation of the WHOLE U.S. working class. It is the historic task of American labor, as it advances on the road towards socialism, to forge an alliance with the Negro national liberation movement against the common enemy, U.S. imperialism, and to solve the problem of land and freedom which the bourgeois-democratic revolution of the Civil War and Reconstruction left unfinished.
The Elements of Nationhood – Common Territory and Economic Life
A concrete examination of the elements of nation with respect to the Negro people in the Deep South will show that these elements – territory, economic life, etc., exist,– albeit in immature form. They exist as a potentiality which, under favorable conditions, can become a reality.
For example, with regard to common economic life, there exists class differentiation. There is an industrial proletariat, a class of farmers. There is an intelligentsia, or educated stratum of the middle class. There are Negro professionals, and a Negro upper stratum, or bourgeoisie. In other words, all classes essential to modern social development exist in the Black Belt area. The development of all these classes is artificially retarded by American monopoly capitalism and its Bourbon cohorts. All classes suffer from ferocious racist-national oppression, and the people as a whole find their interests running counter to this stifling Jim Crow.
The Negro workers want modern conditions of labor; the sharecroppers, tenants, poor farmers, and plantation hands want land and freedom from the yoke of peonage. The town middle classes and intelligentsia want equal opportunity in business and professions.
These economic and social elements of a potential nation exist. But favorable conditions for the conversion of this potentiality into a reality is the overthrow of Wall Street-Bourbon rule in the Black Belt. In this epoch, the Negro freedom movement must be linked up with the struggle of the American working class for socialism – a special phase of this struggle. Because only socialism and national liberation can finally solve the questions of land and freedom for the Negro people in the South, and create the conditions for their consolidation and full development as a nation.
Now, let us see how Allen treats the question of the elements of nationhood. On the question of common territory, he points out that the forces of capitalist expansion and industrialization in the South have tended to shrink the Black Belt area of historic Negro majority. This is, of course, true. However, we reject his conclusion that this trend has developed to a point where there is no longer a basis for Negro nationhood, and therefore that:
“The Black Belt will not serve as a base for national self-determination in the sense that our previous (sic!) program envisioned.” (Ibid)
Allen introduces a series of facts and statistics to demonstrate the shrinkage of the Black Belt territory and the decline of majority counties in that area over the past 50 years. To all this, we enter the plea “no contest”. Certainly, as we have noted many times in the past, there is a long range trend towards reduction of majority counties. Negro majority counties declined from 180 in 1940 to 156 to date. But as Allen himself points out, five million Negroes still live in the old Black Belt majority area, and constitute 45% of the population there.
The Black Belt is historically the homeland of the U.S. Negro. Here he has lived from generation to generation. It was upon its Atlantic seaboard that his forefathers landed 330 years ago. As a chattel slave, he followed the trek of King Cotton and the plantation across the face of the South. His unrequited labor as a slave formed an essential part of the primary accumulation of wealth upon which the towering edifice of U.S. industrial civilization was founded.
But Allen would write off this heritage of 330 years because, according to Census statistics, the Negro population in 24 counties has fallen below the 50% mark since 1940! And Allen talks about dogmatism!
How mechanical! How pedantic! To reduce the Negro national question in the South to mere nose counting! This approach blurs over the main essence of the question. Even with the outmigrations of the war and post-war period, the old majority Black Belt area contains the greatest concentration of the Negro people in the U.S. Approximately five million Negroes, nearly a third of the entire Negro population in the country (17 million) and nearly one-half of the Negroes in the South are still concentrated in the old Black Belt majority area. The fact is that the Negro population in the Black Belt is larger than the total population of 34 countries who are members of the U.N.!
To set the record straight, it is necessary to point out that the Party never considered the Black Belt area limited to majority counties. Such counties constitute only the core of the community. Obviously, population concentration does not stop short at county boundaries, which are arbitrarily established and gerrymandered in the interests of the Bourbon rulers.
There is the recent case of Macon County, Alabama, which was divided among three neighboring counties in order to eliminate a Negro majority county. According to Allen’s reasoning, there is one less county of Negro majority. But this does not mean that there is one less Negro in that area!
The Black Belt is the area in which the plantation economy is most firmly rooted. It is the center of the American Negro problem, the core of its greatest concentration. Here is the seat of the infection from which the virus of Negro racist persecution spreads throughout the country, contaminating all phases of U.S. life.
It is the cradle of the Southern cultural and economic lag – the backwardness and poverty of the poor whites in the South. The shadow of the plantation falls on Negroes throughout the country, in the growing urban Black Belts in hundreds of cities in the North and West; the twin evils of color bar and poverty dogs his heels, setting the pattern for Jim-Crowed existence throughout the country.
Jim Crow national oppression, which in the agricultural regions freezes the Negroes at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder operates in industry to achieve the same ends. Semi-slave relations in the Black Belt are the generator continually reproducing Negro inequality in all walks of life, and condemning the Negro to second class citizenship throughout the country.
Let us not forget that outmigrations from the Deep South area of historic Negro concentration have been a result of the sharpest forms of oppression which dominate this area. The great outmigrations coincide with periods of industrial boom, and register the “flight” of those elements of the population who are able to break away from a backward, depressed agricultural area in response to the needs of capitalist-industrialist expansion, and were drawn into urban centers of industry. When the boom of war and postwar prosperity gave way to the Great Crisis and Depression of 1930-1940, there occurred an absolute growth of the total Negro population in this region, and a marked slowing up of the rate of decline of the counties of Negro majority.
It is obvious, therefore, that the movements of decline and growth of the Negro population and its concentration in the Black Belt have been conditioned by the economic fluctuations accompanying the development of monopoly capitalism in the U.S. The complete integration of this concentrated Negro community would therefore depend entirely upon a continuous and uninterrupted process of industrial expansion and prosperity in the country as a whole. But that is not in the cards! The absurdity of such a prospect is more than obvious today, with steel production at 50% of capacity, and unemployment growing at an unprecedented rate.
Certainly, we cannot accept the dispossession of the Negro farmer from the land, and the flight of the population from racist terror and oppression in the region as a legitimate reason for withdrawing the right of self-determination for the Negro people of that area. This kind of “integration” does not in itself solve the Negro question, although, as we have pointed out, the main progressive significance of these changes is the vast extension of the Negro industrial working class, the most advanced, best organized, most consistently revolutionary class.
The national-racial composition is not the determinant factor in the national question. As Lenin observed, to insist upon the question of absolute majority is to confine the future nation to backward, agricultural districts.
A great part of the outmigration from the Black Belt was to Southern cities and industrial centers, many of them in the immediate environs of the Black Belt. Birmingham, Atlanta, Montgomery, Baton Rouge, Mobile, Charleston, New Orleans, and other such cities of the Deep South, regardless of their present national-racial composition, must be considered as an integral part of the territory of the future Negro self-governing area in a truly democratic America. Such urban centers within the Negro nation are essential to insure the rapid economic and cultural advance of the Negro people, overcoming the historic lag which is the result of centuries of oppression.
As Lenin said:
“… the national composition is one of the most important factors; however, it is NOT THE ONLY ONE, OR THE MOST IMPORTANT. Cities, for example, play a VERY IMPORTANT economic role in capitalism, but everywhere cities, be they in Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine, Great Russia, etc., are distinguished by the most motley national composition of the population. To separate the cities from the villages and the sections surrounding, which gravitate towards them economically, because of a ’national’ factor is absurd and impossible. That is why Marxists cannot hold exclusively and completely to the point of view of the ’national-territorial’ principle.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. XVII, Russian Edition)
We note further that the General Program of the People’s Republic of China for the Implementation of Regional Autonomy for Nationalities, Article V, states:
“According to the economic, political and other requirements of the locality and with due consideration of the historical background, each national autonomous region may include districts, towns or cities inhabited by Hans ” (the largest of the nationalities in China, otherwise known as Chinese – translator).
Nowhere in this document is the question of majority placed as a condition for autonomy.
The consistent application of the democratic principle of self-government has provided the most favorable conditions for the voluntary union of the peoples of China. It is a type of solution which conforms to that already demonstrated with great success in the treatment of the national question within the multi-national Soviet Union.
We, of course, cannot foretell in what way the Negro people will choose to exercise their right of self-determination. But, contrary to the contention of Wilkerson and others, we believe that the Marxist-Leninist principles on the national question, which have been so successfully applied in the Soviet Union and China, have vital significance for the solution of the Negro question in the U.S.
It has become abundantly clear from the population shifts that have taken place that we cannot restrict the territorial base of the Negro nation to the agrarian Black Belt region. We cannot now determine the question of national boundaries. This will be determined at the appropriate time, and on the basis of the interests of the formerly-oppressed people. In our estimation, it will include the whole lower South. But this question must remain open.
The main thing is that the objective basis for a national revolutionary movement directed towards some form of territorial autonomy DOES EXIST in the Deep South.
Two Tendencies in the Contemporary Nation Question
As we have already stated, there is a long range trend leading objectively towards integration, that is, the amalgamation of the Negro people into the American nation as a whole. But this trend is not peculiar to the Negro national question in the U.S. It operates in all national questions.
In the case of the colonies, the imperialist powers are forced in the interest of super-exploitation, to carry through some industrialization. But this is one side of the question. Lenin pointed to two tendencies in the national question, both universal laws of imperialism. There is the tendency toward integration and amalgamation of nations due to the formation of a world market – to internationalize modes of production and exchange – to bring nations economically together, and to gradually unite vast territories into one integral whole. But imperialism can achieve this “unity” only by means of violence and oppression, and, as a result the other tendency arises, which finds its expression in the struggle of the oppressed peoples of colonial and dependent nations to liberate themselves from imperialist oppression. This is precisely the main contradiction of the imperialist system.
These two tendencies are utterly irreconcilable under imperialism, because imperialism can only “unite” nations by force and colonial conquest. For Communism, on the contrary, these tendencies are but two sides of the single cause – the cause of emancipation of oppressed peoples from the yoke of imperialism, because Communism knows that the union of nations into a single world economic system is possible only on the basis of mutual confidence and voluntary agreement, and that the road to the formation of a voluntary union of nations lies through national freedom and the right of self-determination.
In basing themselves upon the “long range trend” towards amalgamation under the aegis of imperialism, the “forces of capitalist development of great expansionist power which has lasted well into the era of monopoly and imperialism” the proponents of the “direct integration” solution to the Negro question NEGATE THE COUNTER TREND which is the REVOLUTIONARY TREND TOWARDS NATIONAL FREEDOM.
Inevitably,in denying the national revolutionary content of the Negro question, the revisionists slide back into a liberal reformist placing of the question.
Thus, the factor of racial discrimination (which we conceive as a particularly aggravated form and device of national oppression) now becomes, according to Allen, the main factor of Negro oppression. He says:
“The race factor sharpened the oppressive discrimination against the Negro people, and prolonged it even as the objective factors giving rise to it have weakened.” (My emphasis, H.H. – Ibid)
Now the cat is out of the bag. After all these gyrations – these frantic efforts designed to cover an essentially liberal position behind a smokescreen of Marxist-Leninist terminology, it turns out that the “New Look”, the “Creative Application of Marxism-Leninism to the America Scene” has led to a startling new discovery: THE NEGRO QUESTION IS ESSENTIALLY A RACE QUESTION! They thus reduce the struggle for Negro rights to a struggle against the superstructural remnant of “race prejudice”, the economic base of which is rapidly disintegrating as a result of “long range economic trends.”
This, then, is the meaning behind the “new” Jackson-Allen formula that the Negro question is the question of a ”racially distinct nationality or national minority.”
Revisionist Distortion of All-Class Unity
As we have pointed out, the revisionist distortion of Marxist-Leninist theory on the national question boils down to a repudiation of a revolutionary perspective and the liquidation of the Party’s Negro work. Without a revolutionary perspective, there is no need for a Marxist-Leninist vanguard Party. Liquidation of the Party–abdication of its vanguard role, and the repudiation of the fight for proletarian hegemony – this is the central theme running through the revisionist position on all questions. But on the Negro question, because of its explosive nature, this theme stands out like a sore thumb.
It is not accidental that the heaviest guns of the revisionist leadership have been leveled at our Party’s advanced, revolutionary position on the Negro question. Because revisionism is the theory and practice of accommodation to the ruling class – because the unsolved Negro question is the most sensitive sector of the home front of U.S. imperialism – because of the explosive nature of the contradictions involved, the revisionists seek to gloss over and conceal the profound, revolutionary nature of the struggle for Negro rights in the U.S.
Revisionism begins from the Social-Democratic assumption of peaceful, evolutionary transition to socialism, eliminating the class struggle and the need for the working class to attain and defend its political power (the dictatorship of the proletariat). It denies the need for a Marxist-Leninist vanguard Party of the working class. It abandons proletarian internationalism in favor of great nation chauvinism, the most startling example of which was the support of the entire CP. leadership (with the exception of Foster) for the U.S. imperialist provoked counter-revolution in Hungary. This abandonment of proletarian internationalism was further demonstrated by the 16th National Convention, which refused to fix responsibility upon Wall Street for its brutal exploitation of the nations of Latin America, the main stamping-ground of U.S. imperialism; and in this context ignoring the problem of the direct colony of the U.S., Puerto Rico. This ideological capitulation to U.S. imperialism was implicit in the general political resolution which in essence asserted independence from Moscow as a means of making ourselves respectable.
This chauvinistic Social-Democratic pattern has been carried over into the field of Negro work with particularly disastrous results. Fundamentally, while the sharpening contradictions and social antagonism involved in the Negro question are demonstrated in life, the right underplays these contradictions and denies the basic anti-imperialist national revolutionary character of the Negro question in the U.S., thereby capitulating to the Wall Street rulers.
In theory, the revisionist position belittles the role of the most conscious element in the Negro liberation movement – the Negro proletariat. In practice, it converts the Party into a feeble appendage of Negro bourgeois reformism, their “enlightened” imperialist sponsors among the white liberals, and the Social-Democratic trade union bureaucrats, with their perspective of imminent, peaceful, democratic “integration” of the Negro people within the framework of the existing social order, dominated by the Wall Street oligarchy. In some, it means tailism, or more specifically, confining the struggle for Negro rights to that level and within those limits acceptable to the Negro bourgeois-assimilationist leaders.
The right revisionist line of trailing behind the top NAACP leadership caught the Party unaware at the sudden outburst of mass struggle under new, militant, petty-bourgeois leadership in the South. This line of easing of contradictions – of smooth and easy solution to the Negro question – also caught the Party unaware at the unleashing of the vicious, determined Dixiecrat counter-offensive of intimidation and terror following the Supreme Court decision, beginning in earnest with the Till case and the organization of the White Citizens Councils, and reaching a new high with the Little Rock school crisis.
The Liquidation of Left Centers in the Negro Field
Now it becomes clear that the liquidation of the Party in the South, of all left centers in the Negro field, and of the left Negro newspaper “FREEDOM” was an initial stage in the liquidationist assault upon the entire Party. It is in this light that we understand the rightist line that demanded the liquidation of ALL left centers in the struggle for Negro rights as impediments to our policy of major concentration in the reformist led mass organizations.
Those of us who were against this indiscriminate liquidation of ALL left centers did not question the line of major concentration in Negro mass organization. On the contrary, we felt that the organized left had a key role to play in sharpening the issues, prodding, stimulating and initiating united front activities in the struggle for Negro rights. Our line was not a blanket endorsement of all left centers, but that each one should be examined concretely on the basis of the role it could play in the struggle for Negro rights under existing conditions. But we were against the indiscriminate liquidation of ALL such centers, most Of which, particularly in the Negro field, had a vital role to play as important vehicles in the fight for the implementation of a mass united front policy.
Now it has become clear that the debate on left centers which raged in the movement in 1953-1954 was not just a matter of tactics, this was simply an early manifestation of the right liquidationism which later blossomed into a fully rounded theory. It was a sneak attack upon the vanguard role of the Party – an initial stage in the war on left leadership and initiative. It was a diversionist move. The attack focused on left centers, a main vehicle for left initiative, counter-posing the existence of left centers to work in reformist-led organizations. The result was the liquidation of both left centers and organized work in the “mainstream.”
As a result of this policy, such organizations as for example the Civil Rights Congress (which was a continuation of the International Labor Defense, led by William L. Patterson) which filled a vital need for militant, mass campaigns in behalf of victims of Dixiecrat lynch terror, and as late as the early ’50’s, led mass struggles around the Willie McGee, Martinsville Seven and Ingram cases, and exposed to the world the savage oppression of the Negro people in the U.S. in the historic appeal to the U.N. embodied in “WE CHARGE GENOCIDE.”
There was the Negro Labor Councils, which became a leading and directing center of the spontaneous Negro caucus movement which sprung up throughout the country, as a necessary, special instrument to wage a consistent battle for the rights of Negro trade unionists. This spontaneous movement expressed the lack of faith of Negro workers in the trade union bureaucracy to carry on a consistent struggle for Negro rights.
How can we justify the liquidation of the Council on African Affairs (led by Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, Dr. Alpheus Hunton, and Paul Robeson) immediately following the world-shaking Bandung Conference? Did this organization not have a vital role to play in furthering the solidarity of the Negro people’s movement with the world-wide anti-colonialist upsurge?
Can it be denied that the liquidation of these centers left a vacuum in the struggle for Negro rights? These liquidationist moves resulted in the dispersal of an important core of Party and non-Party cadres of these organizations, cutting the ground from under them, destroying their base of operations from which they felt they could make their best contributions, resulting in the dispersal and demoralization of many of them.
The fact is that the Negro people miss our presenc – and recognize that a vacuum is created by our desertion of the field. Even such a conservative figure as Earl Brown, Negro City Councilman and oftimes redbaiter, writing in The Amsterdam News of April 9th, 1955, queried: “Where are the Yappers?”
“Yapping,” he explained, “is a method of talking constantly and sometimes even fighting for equality and the obliteration of Jim Crow and discrimination.” Clearly, Brown felt keenly the lack of left and Communist initiative outside of the right-led organizations; he even waxes nostalgic about the old times of the 30’s and 40’s “when the Communists showed the Negro and labor how to squawk and to bring pressure to bear in high and low places.”
“… What is needed now as much as in the 30’s and 40’s is somebody to keep currently in the mind of the U.S. people the fact that, in spite of Supreme Court school decision and in spite of token gains here and there, the Negro is still getting a swift boot economically, politically, socially and otherwise.”
The thinking behind the policy of liquidating ALL left centers in the Negro field was the idea that the NAACP adequately covered the whole field of Negro freedom struggle – that any other movement would be a splitting movement, comparable to “dual unionism.” (Mann and Hastings, “For a Mass Policy in the Negro Field” – February, 1955, Political Affairs.) The fundamental idea behind this line was that the Communist left was not a constituent part of the Negro struggle, and must, therefore, retire from the field. This line, which was implicit in the liquidation of left centers, became explicit in the resolution on Negro work of the 16th National Convention.
How All Class Unity Was Transformed Into Class Collaboration
The line of liquidation of all left centers had its theoretical rationale in a crass, opportunist distortion of the correct principle of all-class unity to mean the unchallenged leadership of the Negro bourgeoisie in the Negro liberation struggle.
In the hands of the revisionist leadership, this correct principle of all-class unity, emphasizing the leading role of the Negro workers, was transformed into its opposite to become an instrument for class collaboration. To this revisionist leadership all-class unity meant the leading role of the Negro bourgeoisie in building all-class unity.
For example, the following estimate was made in a report to the New York State Committee of the Communist Party in reference to the NAACP:
“This is not just a petty-bourgeois organization as some believe. It is, in fact, the principal coordinator of the Negro people’s movement. It is an all-class instrumentality for the expression of the demands of this movement, but this in no way diminishes its growing role in economic struggles.” (“The Negro People and the National Crisis” by Ben Carver – Party Voice Supplement, July-August, 1954).
With the Supreme Court decision of May 17, 1954, the Party leadership threw all caution to the winds and went into panegyrics of praise for the top reformist leadership of the NAACP. The most crass example was Doxey Wilkerson’s article in POLITICAL AFFAIRS on the political significance of the Supreme Court decision, claiming that it was the result of the outstanding leadership of Thurgood Marshall ’ ’the hero of the Supreme Court battle”, ignoring the role of the international situation. In this article Wilkerson concluded that the idea of proletarian hegemony was a purely theoretical question, having no significance to the present day.
The Party’s leadership estimate of the Supreme Court decision was not shared by Dr. Mordecai Johnson, President of Howard University, who said:
“There is no question that the Supreme Court Decision against segregation was dictated by international considerations. Before the American people even knew it, it had been translated into forty languages. One would conclude from this that the power of world socialism wrested this concession from American ruling circles.” (Quoted in Daily Worker, Jan. 11, 1955)
Is the Negro Movement Mainly a Bourgeois Effort?
We find that the theory behind this revisionist distortion of all-class unity within the Negro movement was elaborated by Charles T. Mann in his pamphlet “Stalin’s Thought Illuminates Problems of Negro Freedom,” published in 1953. This pamphlet, which is an outstanding example of a dogmatic, unhistoric approach to the Negro question, was widely circulated in the Party, and served as the opening gun in the attack upon the Party’s Negro working class cadres, especially its trade-unionists, who, according to Mann’s position, were left-sectarian in that they did not accept bourgeois leadership. Mann’s arguments closely approximate those of Comrade Jackson. This pamphlet served as the main rationale for the opportunist distortion of the correct slogan of all-class unity, interpreting it to mean the uncritical acceptance of the Negro right reformist leadership at the present time and for the foreseeable future – a rejection of our main strategic aim, which is to build and consolidate the leading role of the Negro working class and the vanguard role of the Party in the Negro freedom struggle.
In my unpublished and much maligned and distorted manuscript submitted in 1954, I criticized Mann’s line, which conceived the Negro national movement as mainly a “Bourgeois effort,” placing greatest emphasis on the struggle of the Negro bourgeoisie for markets. In an attempt to bolster this position, he quoted extensively from Stalin’s authoritative work, “Marxism and the National Question” published in 1912; that is, in the pre-October period, in which Stalin, in dealing with bourgeois nationalist movements of that period stated that the national movement “in its essence is always a bourgeois struggle, one that is chiefly favorable to the bourgeoisie.”
Comrade Mann failed to note, however, what Stalin said about the essence of the national question in 1926, in his polemic against Semich, who denied the revolutionary character of the national question in Yugoslavia, evoking Stalin’s 1912 work in an effort to prove his case. Stalin said:
“… in my speech in the Yugoslav Commission, I said that two stages must be distinguished in the presentation of the national question by the Russian Bolsheviks: the pre-October stage, when it was a matter of the bourgeois-democratic revolution and when the national question was regarded as part of the general democratic movement, and the October stage, when it was a matter of the proletarian revolution and when the national question had become a constituent part of the proletarian revolution.”
The national question in the present epoch has changed in that “the essence of the national question lies at present in the struggle of the masses of the people in the colonies and of the dependent nationalities against financial exploitation, against political enslavement, and the cultural effacement of these colonies and these nationalities by the imperialist bourgeoisie of the ruling nationality. What significance can the competitive struggle between the bourgeoisies of the various nationalities have when the national question is presented in this manner. Certainly, not a decisive significance, and in certain cases not even important significance. It is perfectly obvious that we are concerned mainly not with the fact that the bourgeoisie of one nationality is beating or can beat the bourgeoisie of another nationality in the competitive struggle, but with the fact that the imperialist group of the ruling nationality exploits and oppresses the main masses, and above all, peasant-masses of the colonial and dependent nationalities, and exploiting them, it thereby draws them into the struggle against imperialism, makes them the allies of the proletarian revolution.” (Leninism, Vol. 1, p. 245-246)
Clearly, Mann has gotten his epochs mixed up. What he fails to see is that we have entered a new epoch – the epoch of social revolution. Like Allen, he quotes Stalin out of space and time, and thereby violates the most elementary requirement of the dialectics. He fails to take into account that what was correct in one historical situation may turn out to be incorrect in another.
A qualitative change has taken place in the colonial liberation movement which sets it off from the liberation movements of the pre-World War I years. Formerly, these movements proceeded to a large extent under the leadership of the bourgeoisie of the colonial and dependent countries. Today, on the other hand, these movements are marked increasingly by the leadership of the working class and its Communist Parties. Everywhere, these movements reveal the qualitatively greater role of the working class and its leadership of these struggles. The broadest democratic national fronts, drawing in the widest sections of the population, are being built. Within these broad fronts, the alliance of the working class and peasantry is the core, and the working class comes forward increasingly as the leader.
The Split in the National Bourgeoisie
The all-embracing anti-imperialist united front under the leadership of the bourgeoisie which was characteristic of national movements up to the First World War and immediately after no longer exists. The emergence of the proletariat as an independent class force in most of the colonies in the post-war period, the building of Communist Parties in most of the capitalistically developed colonies has led to a split in the national bourgeoisie into a capitulatory, compromising, accommodationist sector which tends to come to agreement with imperialism, and into a revolutionary (petty-bourgeois) section.
Clearly, in this epoch, Mann’s exaggeration of the bourgeois element in the national question is completely inappropriate. And, in relation to the Negro question, the exaggeration of the significance of the struggle over the market is particularly ill-founded because of the puny economic development of the Negro bourgeoisie.
The Negro upper class came too late upon the scene of American economic development to get in on the ground floor of modern industrial enterprise, to share in the so-called benefits of “free enterprise”. The fact that the Negro nation is set down in the midst of the leading imperialist nation, in which there is no physically delimited national-territorial market, has relegated the sphere of activity of this bourgeoisie to non-industrial, marginal pursuits. It never has been in a position to challenge U.S. imperialist economic domination, and looks to other channels and byways for its future development, seeking to accommodate itself to the overwhelmingly dominant imperialist bourgeoisie. This accounts for the fact that the Negro bourgeoisie has never raised fundamental demands for Negro liberation, and for the growing aspirations of a section of the upper stratum to become comprodores (direct economic and political agents of imperialism) not only in relation to the Negro market, but also in regard to the colonial and semi-colonial lands of Africa.
The fact is that American imperialism has great plans for utilization of this section of the Negro bourgeoisie. It finds it essential to its strategy of world domination, to hold Africa “as a reserve continent” for imperialism and prevent its following Asia’s example. As a recent editorial in the New York Times said (Nov. 17, 1957), “From the ranks of our own Negro fellow citizens, we can find men and women who can play useful roles in building bridges between the United States and Africa.”
The fact that the Negro nation is set down in the midst of the leading imperialist nation has affected the various classes among the Negro people in a special way. The economic weakness of the Negro bourgeoisie is one effect on class structure. The existence of a large and growing intelligentsia is in fundamental conflict with imperialism; they represent a powerful potential ally for the working class movement.
In order to maintain the suppression of the Negro people, Wall Street, operating through its enlightened liberal wing, has long adopted a conscious policy of building up a top stratum among the Negro intelligentsia – an intellectual elite as a buffer against the Negro masses. There is the powerful and influential Southern Presidents “crowd” and their close coterie of deans, administrators, fellows, etc., corrupted by an elaborate system of foundations, scholarships, grants and endowments. About this group, the Pittsburgh Courier of Jan. 10, 1953, observed: ”. . . (they) have long and intimate contact with wealthy New York and New England bankers and industrialists.”
The corruption of this group has been enormously stepped up since the initiation of the cold war. Thus, we note that before 1943, only $250,000 a year was received by Negro colleges from philanthropy in the form of gifts and grants (N.Y. Times, Dec. 16, 1951). In 1943, the United Negro College Fund was organized with John D. Rockefeller as Chairman of the National Council. The fund began by raising an annual sum of $1,300,000, which was later increased to $1,500,000.
With the outbreak of the Korean War, a special campaign was launched to raise $25,000,000 for the Fund for expansion of plant and equipment in Negro colleges. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who personally donated $5,000,000, launched this campaign with the support of John D. Rockefeller III, Richard K. Mellon, Winthrop W. Aldrich (of the Chase National Bank) and Harvey S. Firestone. (N.Y. Times, Nov. 21, 1952)
The number of Negroes appointed to high governmental and official posts is constantly growing. Negroes sit on United Nations Commissions, are “integrated” into various areas of State Department services abroad, and in U.S. dominated international agencies such as the International Bank. A new technique of the Cold War period, especially since the outbreak of the Korean War, has been to send Negro so-called “Good Will Ambassadors” throughout the world as apologists for Negro oppression in the United States. (Earl Brown described them as “Ambassadorial Uncle Toms.”)
The top echelons of the NAACP and the Urban League, resident in the North and assimilationist in outlook, are a special “professional leadership” group. These top layers of Negro bourgeois intellectuals were the chief ideologists of the myth of imminent, peaceful, democratic integration of the Negro people within the framework of U.S. imperialism; a bait swallowed hook, line and sinker by the CP. leadership.
The influence of this top assimilationist group within the Negro movement does not derive from its economic strength, but because of its control of the main media of mass influence in the Negro community – the press, educational and cultural institutions, etc. It is the dispenser of white ruling class patronage. It has strings extending into the top leadership of the whole complex of Negro life on all levels; ministerial alliances, professional and fraternal organizations, women’s organizations, etc. They have received heavy support in the columns and editorials of the big capitalist press. This coddling and encouragement by the “enlightened imperialist” group of Wall Street has been a main prop of their influence.
U.S. Imperialism Takes a “New Look” at the Negro Question
World imperialism, in its frantic attempt to prop up its collapsing colonial empires, has adopted a “New Look” in colonial policies, the substance of which is: concessions under threat of revolution – but no fundamental change. Beneath a facade of nominal independence, it seeks to maintain and extend its essential economic domination. These new forms and techniques are intended to meet new conditions, but, as Palme Dutt has stated, “Not in order to commit suicide or liquidate itself, but in order to continue to promote its age-old aim of extracting the superprofits of colonial exploitation.” (R. Palme Dutt, Crisis of Empire, p. 13.) At the same time, wherever possible, and especially in the less economically developed colonial areas, the imperialists maintain and strive to strengthen the classical form of direct colonial exploitation.
This is the sum and substance of the “New Look,” inspired and led by U.S. imperialism, which has developed such policies for more than half a century in the exploitation of the countries of Latin America. In a phrase, their policy is to Latin Americanize the world.
Essential to this role of “world leader” as U.S: imperialism seeks to play it, is the presentation of the USA as an anti-colonialist power, actually and traditionally; as the champion of the liberating ideals of Lincoln and Jefferson.
This policy of tactical concessions has been applied with full force to the Negro question. The Wall Street rulers, as we have pointed out, have enormously stepped up the process of bribery and corruption of limited groups among the well-to-do Negro business and professional people, as well as the top group of Negro intellectuals.
The purpose of these tactical concessions is to strengthen the position of the Negro reformists within the Negro freedom movement, to maintain the isolation of the Communist left within and without this movement, and to solidify the most sensitive sector of its rear, the sixteen million Negro people, in support of its anti-Soviet and anti-colonial liberation policies. These concessions (the Supreme Court Anti-Segregation Decision, the integration of certain top circles into the imperialist Cold War apparatus, and of certain Negro businessmen on the Board of Directors of Wall Street banks: e.g., Channing Tobias, Earl Dickerson) are the result of the pressure of the upsurgent Negro liberation movement with which these bourgeois leaders are tied, and the growing influence of the socialist world on the entire national liberation movements of oppressed peoples, which sharpen the crisis of imperialist rule.
The demagogic promises of the “New Look” as applied to the Negro liberation movement in the U.S. are embodied in the fraudulent theory of imminent, direct integration, which clearly represents the U.S. Negro variant of bourgeois-assimilationism; that is, the subordination of the rights and culture of the Negro people to the interests of the U.S. monopolist drive for world mastery. It is a rejection of all things Negro, a complete acceptance of the values of the white ruling class.
A flagrant example of the assimilationist policy was the late Walter White’s “chemical solution” to the Negro question. Along the same lines was an article by Lester Grainger in the “Crisis” (Feb., 1951) entitled “Does the Negro Want Integration?”. He tells the Negro who wants to get ahead in the world through integration that he must “shed rustic mannerisms… methods of dress… the chip on the shoulder” and all other impediments to integration. ”
The characterization of the Negro bourgeoisie as “exaggerated Americans” by E. Franklin Frazier in the book, Black Bourgeoisie, is an expression of indignation at this assimilationist trend on the part of an honest Negro intellectual. This characterization is certainly accurate in regard to the top “leadership group.”
In speaking of this assimilationist trend, John Pittman said, “(This is not) a striving for physical assimilation through intermarriage, as white chauvinists claim, but rather an effort to assimilate the values and standards of the culture and ideology of the white ruling class, to be like “the rich white folks” in manners, tastes, and, of course, political, economic and social theory and practice. It is a striving on behalf of themselves, rather than for the Negro masses, to be accepted into the favored circles of the white ruling class, to be accounted respectable, loyal, law-abiding citizens, pillars of society.” (Masses & Mainstream, Feb., 1951, “What About Integration?”)
A particularly telling analysis of integrationist illusions was made by William Worthy (“Of Global Bondage,” The Crisis, October, 1954) when he speaks of “… Negroes who entertain illusions about their growing stake of ’equality’ in an economic and social order that is not only doomed but is a menace to mankind. By thinking almost exclusively about the winning of civil rights, Negroes are ’walking backwards into the future envisioned by the sophisticated conservative’; namely, a corporate form of garrison state bristling with external hostility and hated by all the colored peoples of the world. All the Cadillacs and mink coats of all the Negro doctors and realtors will be, in retrospect, an incredible monument to a smug integration of a ’minority of a minority’ into a society that, in the final moments of its disintegration, is now going berserk.”
While the NAACP leadership clique has been forced to carry on an effective struggle for Negro rights because of pressure from below, it has never risen to the possibilities or the necessities of the struggle. On the contrary, their tendency is to put a damper on mass struggle. Theirs is a self-perpetuating leadership with ties directly to the “enlightened liberals” of Wall Street and the social democratic trade union bureaucrats. This tie-in is reflected in their Board of Directors.
This does not mean that the upper stratum and its spokesmen have ceased to offer opposition on domestic issues, not that it has surrendered its claim to speak for the Negro people as a whole. But support of the Wall Street policy of world conquest and colonial aggrandizement determines the boundaries and character of their opposition. This opposition is carefully framed to avoid embarrassing their white liberal and social-democratic friends. It is characterized by sabotage of mass struggle for Negro rights, and red-baiting attacks upon the Communists and the left.
On domestic issues, such as Fair Employment Practices Commission, school integration, etc., they carefully couch their protest in such a way as not to stimulate, but on the contrary, to frustrate mass militancy. Theirs is a “loyal opposition” developing within the framework of class collaboration and compromise. This opposition is essential, however, for maintaining a base among the Negro masses, and thus safeguarding the conditions for bargaining with U.S. imperialism. Thus, even on domestic issues, the top leadership group attempts to keep a tight reign on the local organizations and branches in order to frustrate their militancy.
Even though this opposition has no deep foundations and is, in itself, of little significance, it can assume importance and be turned to the advantage of the mass struggle provided that the Party and the left forces understand how to take advantage of the conflicts arising between this opposition and U.S. imperialism and how to integrate this opposition with the widest agitation among the masses both within and outside the organizations led by bourgeois-reformists. The chief feature, however, of the bourgeois reformist opposition is that it exerts an essentially negative, braking and retarding influence upon the development of the mass struggle insofar as it is able to influence the masses.
The dominant characteristic of this bourgeois-reformist leadership is that even in the process of opposition they not only vacillate, but constantly seek to compromise with the imperialist ruling class, to arrive at new agreements based not on the interests of the Negro masses, but to favor the special interests of their class strata and to enhance their own prestige vis-à-vis the Negro masses. Whatever progressive vigor they do possess can be exploited and brought forth only on the basis of a policy of united front from below based upon the Negro workers and their real allies, the farming masses of the South and the urban petty-bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeois intelligentsia. Here it is important to bear in mind Lenin’s tactical injunction, “The principle of the necessity of the C.P. in each country of making use of every possibility to secure mass allies for the proletariat, even though they may be temporary, vacillating, wavering, unreliable.”
The split of the Negro bourgeoisie into a compromising, vacillating section and a revolutionary (petty-bourgeois) section has long taken place. The first mass breakaway from the assimilationist top group took place with the Garvey movement of the 1920’s. Under the peculiar conditions of U.S. life, the petty-bourgeois nationalist movements have historically taken Utopian, escapist directions.
When the Negro working class emerged as an independent force under the leadership of the Communist Party during the 1930’s, it carried along with it large sections of the petty-bourgeois masses. The all-embracing unity of the Negro people was restored under the Roosevelt New Deal Alliance. In the Post-War period, with the breakup of the New Deal Alliance at the outset of the Cold War, the top, assimilationist group was able to carry the petty-bourgeoisie along with them. Although there were important objective reasons for the reestablishment of the leadership and prestige of the right Negro reformists (the extended boom period, red-baiting repression and intimidation, and the tactical concessions made by the ruling class to bolster the prestige of the right reformists), the main subjective factor was the refusal on the part of the Party leadership to recognize that the broad Roosevelt coalition no longer existed.
The attempt to gloss over the realignment of class forces in the Negro movement when the right-reformist leadership supported the Wall Street policy of world domination was a serious default of our international obligations, and facilitated the efforts of Wall Street imperialism to consolidate its sensitive rear. Thus, the exaggeration of the bourgeois element in the Negro movement, and the policy of trailing behind the top NAACP leadership and glorifying and embellishing their role in the struggle for Negro rights actually facilitated the drive towards war.
We are now entering a new period, when the top right-reformist leaders are unable to deliver the goods – to fulfill their promise to the Negro masses. In the approaching period of economic crisis and disillusionment of the masses both in “perpetual prosperity” and imminent “integration,” the influence of this top reformist leadership, which has been bolstered by the concessions of the ruling class, is being rapidly undermined. The latent split in the ranks of the Negro bourgeoisie during this whole post-war period is now coming to the fore. Indications are already in evidence in the South, with the mass boycott movements and in the North, with the rapid growth of nationalist movements in urban centers (e.g., the Muslims). But these petty-bourgeois movements cannot consistently fight. Their tendency is toward Utopian direction. The conditions are maturing for reasserting the leadership of the Negro working class, and forging the revolutionary alliance of all-class unity based upon the Negro proletariat, peasantry, and petty-bourgeoisie, isolating the capitulatory, reformist leadership, undermining their influence among the masses. The winning of proletarian hegemony in the Negro liberation movement is the main strategic aim of the present period.
Clearly, the rightist line of trailing behind the top, accomodationist leadership of the NAACP, ascribing to them the role of sole organizer and coordinator of the Negro movement has nothing in common with the universally valid concept in regard to the national-colonial question of all-class unity. All-class unity at this stage is not an all-embracing concept, but it is a strategic alliance of all classes whose fundamental interests run counter to imperialist rule. These classes are the proletariat, the peasantry, the urban middle strata (small business people, petty-bourgeois intelligentsia, professionals) and a section of the upper stratum, whose attitude towards imperialism is by no means uniform.
The movement for all-class unity of the Negro people for full equality throughout the country must base itself on the fight for full freedom of the Negro in the Deep South, the source of Negro oppression throughout the country. There, this movement must derive its main strength from, and base itself increasingly upon the most oppressed sections of the Negro masses, the urban proletariat and its most immediate and stable allies, the agrarian masses, especially the poor tenants and sharecroppers. In other words, while all classes must be united on the basis of struggle for their immediate and fundamental demands, the alliances of Negro workers and farming masses of the South must be pivotal in the building of genuine anti-imperialist unity.
Within this freedom front, the main stress must be made on the fight for the advancement of the leading role of the Negro industrial workers as the most powerful, resolute, and consistently revolutionary force, led by the Communist vanguard, in the person of its Negro cadres. The Negro proletariat is the only force that can build the genuine unity of the people against the Wall Street-Dixiecrat oppressors, and inject into their freedom struggle a consistently anti-imperialist content and character, and affect its alliance nationally with their most powerful potential allies, white labor, and with the world camp of peace, national liberation, and socialism.
A very great segment of the Negro population outside the South is industrial workers, forming a basic part of the most exploited workers hostilely disposed towards the collaborationist labor bureaucracy. This situation adds immeasurable strength to the struggle for full freedom in the South, creating a formidable salient for Negro liberation into the leading urban centers of the U.S. These workers, many of whom are recent migrants closely connected with the South, in fighting against Jim Crow restrictions, must at the same time fight against the source of Negro oppression in the Deep South. Their role in relation to the South is to rally effective support to the Negro liberation struggles in that area, both among the Negro masses and among their white fellow workers and all democratic segments of the population.
The fighting abilities and leadership potential of the Negro proletariat has been abundantly demonstrated in modern Negro liberation struggles. Emerging for the first time in the political arena as an independent class force in the crisis-torn years of the early 1930’s, the Negro proletarians, under the leadership of the CP. made their first real bid for leadership of the Negro movement in the Scottsboro Case, unemployed struggles, and the fight for the organization of the unorganized, crowned by the formation of the C.I.O. and the National Negro Congress, effectively challenging the bankrupt, collaborationist and accommodationist policies of the Negro bourgeois reformist leadership centered in the NAACP. The Negro proletariat was an indispensable force in forging the Roosevelt New Deal coalition which was a mainspring for the gains of that period, and which formed the basis for the anti-fascist coalition during World War II.
Negro labor plays a dual role. On the one hand, it is a constituent part of the general labor movement, endowing this movement with its special militancy born of the great tradition of struggle for Negro liberation. This special militancy has been demonstrated in the strike struggles of the post-war period, in the fight for FEPC, and in the Negro caucus movement, in spite of the attempts on the part of the labor bureaucracy to stymie their special militancy.
On the other hand, there is the historic mission of the Negro working class as leaders of the Negro liberation movement.
The presence of such a large, literate, industrial proletariat in common unions with the workers of the oppressor nation is a singular characteristic of the Negro” national question in the U.S. It is a condition which facilitates the fight for Negro proletarian hegemony and the alliance of the Negro movement with the white working class movement generally.
The fight for the leading role of the Negro proletariat, its self-assertion as a class, the need to imbue it with a consciousness of its own strength, its potential power and historic mission, as the leader of the Negro liberation movement, is a prime part of the struggle for the unity of the Negro people in the fight against imperialism.
Strategically, the fight for proletarian leadership involves the recognition of the existence of two distinct, diametrically opposed trends within the Negro movement: the right bourgeois reformist trend, which holds that Negro equality can be attained within the framework of the imperialist-dominated social structure through collaboration with the ruling class enemy, and the proletarian position of consistent anti-imperialist struggle in alliance with white labor. The achievement of proletarian hegemony is a long-range struggle for winning the masses from the ideological influence of the Negro bourgeoisie.
For a Revolutionary Line of Struggle
The right-revisionists are hard put to explain the fact that 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 upon 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 line of 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.
There is a view prevailing in the Party that we need only await a mass upsurge for our Party to again come forward as the leader of the struggles of the working class and Negro people. However, a mass upsurge is not enough. OUR PARTY MUST HAVE A REVOLUTIONARY LINE IN ORDER TO LEAD THE MASSES. Without a revolutionary line, our Party can die even in the midst of a mass upsurge.
A recent example of this phenomenon is what happened to the C.P. in the South during the recent past. In the South, there has been an unprecedented upsurge among the Negro masses. However, in this same period, our Party was virtually liquidated in the South.
The responsibility for this political catastrophe is easily placed. We have only to read the writings of Comrade Jackson to see that he sees no role for the Party to play in the South.
Comrade Jackson’s attitude towards the Party is understandable when we read the rosy picture he paints of the prospects of imminent victory – six million Negro voters by 1958 or 1960, relying on the NAACP and the official trade union bureaucrats to effectively organize and lead the Negro liberation struggle. The role he assigns to the Party is one of quietly associating with and “influencing” leaders of the existing movements. Part of this “influence” would be against the local boycott movements, which he considers a threat to the NAACP. (Jackson’s Report on the South.)
He categorically rejects the perspective of building a mass Communist Party in the South, reducing our role to one of a propaganda sect. He distorts and rejects the history of our Party in the South when he says:
“The distribution on one weekend in April, 1953 of 80,000 copies of this Party Program was the most significant event in the life of our Party in the South.” (Ibid)
The Scottsboro struggle, the Sharecroppers’ Union, the historic battles of Camp Hill and Tallapoosa, and in the post-war period, the Willie McGee Case, the Martinsville Seven, the Ingram Case, it seems, are outweighed by the distribution of 80,000 programs!
Jackson, with his estimate of the NAACP as the sole organizer and coordinator of the Negro movement, looks upon any other movement, and even the historically significant mass boycott movements, as splitting moves. The boycott movement rose against the opposition of the NAACP, and not as Jackson claimed, because the NAACP was outlawed. These militant mass movements should be encouraged by the Party and spread to new areas. They represent and implicit challenge to the assimilationist leadership of the North.
How do we apply a revolutionary line of struggle in the South? A concentration of our forces for work among the Negro working class and farmers in the Deep South? Yes, but what kind of work; work towards what end? What must be the features of this work? Against whom must it be directed? What must it accomplish? Unless these and other related questions are answered in detail, without confusion or ambiguity, our work can go for nought, and actual damage can be done. For there is reformist work and revolutionary work; there is work that aims to unleash a mass movement, and work that quells it; work that leads the oppressed masses and work that tails along behind them; work that succeeds in linking the economic and political issues, and work that separates them; work that builds the Communist Party as a vanguard, leading and indispensable force, and work that liquidates the Party, considering it of insignificant importance.
What are the distinguishing features of a consistently anti-imperialist, national liberation movement?
1) The movement must derive its main strength from and base itself progressively on the masses of the most oppressed classes and strata – the workers and the peasants. Their activity is to be the main characteristic feature of the movement.
2) Organizations consisting of the most militant, most conscious, most self-sacrificing elements from among the fighting masses themselves must be created for conducting the struggle. These organizations must sustain activity among the masses, constantly educating and organizing them and developing mass initiative. Instead of reliance on spontaneity, the movement must be extended into new areas and among new classes in a planned way.
3) Political and economic struggles must be developed simultaneously. In this context, we must recognize the interaction of political and economic struggles in the South, and reject the proposition that the trade union movement can lead the national liberation struggles in the South, while all political activity is relegated to the bourgeois-reformist leadership of the NAACP. Our perspective in this area must be to build the CP. among the Negro workers in the South, form an anti-imperialist national front with the revolutionary petty-bourgeois movements in that area, and move into the countryside to organize the semi-feudally oppressed farming masses. Our experience has been that economic organizations in the countryside (The Sharecroppers’ Union) become immediately transformed into political organizations, since it is impossible to make economic gains and organize the masses without the sharpest political struggles in that area. Thus, the organization of the semi-feudally oppressed agrarian population in the Black Belt is the task of the national liberation front. For truly, we can wait from now until Doomsday for the reformist trade union bureaucrats to organize the Negro agrarian masses of the Black Belt, which would be a direct challenge to the very foundations of monopoly capitalist rule.
The struggle to impart to the movement these specific features is inseparable from the struggle for proletarian hegemony. Thus, the building of a mass Communist Party is an indispensable condition for the growth of a revolutionary movement and its victory. Such a party can be built only by sharp ideological struggle against the Negro reformists, by the inclusion of socialist consciousness in the working class and advanced masses, and by a policy of bold recruitment into the Party of the most conscious and militant elements from the masses.
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 basic approach to the Negro question was proved during the struggles of the 1930’s.
The line of the CP. brought the issue of Negro equality out of the realm of bourgeois humanitarianism, where it has been the special property of 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 against capitalism.
It emphasized the revolutionary essence of the struggle for Negro equality arising from the fact that the special oppression of the Negro people is a main prop of the system of capitalist-imperialist domination over the entire working class and masses of exploited people. The Negro people, therefore, are the indispensable allies of white American labor, and the fight of the Negro people, quite apart from humanitarian considerations, is a special phase of the struggle for the emancipation of the whole American working class.
This line committed the C.P. to an indefatigable and uncompromising fight among its own members and in the ranks of labor generally to burn out the rot of white chauvinism which depicts the Negro as “innately inferior.” The mobilization of the white workers for the struggle for Negro rights is a pre-condition for freeing the Negro workers from the stifling influences of petty-bourgeois Negro nationalism with its ideology of self-isolation. Only thus, the program pointed out, can the historic rift in the ranks of American labor be breached, and a solid front of white and Negro workers be presented to the common enemy–U.S. monopoly capitalism. Thus, the boundary was clearly drawn between the revolutionary and reformist, liberal, social democratic positions–between the line of effective struggle and the line of futile accommodation.
As the fruit of this program, labor and the progressive movement, under the leadership of the Communist Party, were able for the first time since Reconstruction to tap the profoundly revolutionary-democratic potential of the Negro people’s struggles for equal rights. The decks were cleared for the leadership of the left in the great battle of the 1930’s. The Communist Party and left-wing trade union forces began to face toward the South, the center of gravity of the Negro problem, and to build organizations there.
The League of Struggle for Negro Rights, organized in 1930, became a rallying center for advanced Negro and white militants committed to the struggle for Negro national liberation. The International Labor Defense began to center its activities on Negro rights in the South. These efforts met with overwhelming success, establishing the first breach in the citadel of the “Solid South” in which the imperialist rulers and their Bourbon henchmen had sought to contain the Negro people and isolate them from their true allies in the ranks of labor.
The Scottsboro Defense of 1931, which aroused the entire country and the world, was the result. The epic of Scottsboro, the fight for the lives of nine innocent Negro boys, victims of a frame-up, was dramatized by the Communist Party and the International Labor Defense as the expression and symbol of the underlying issues of Negro liberation. In this way was developed the first genuine mass movement against lynching, and for the enforcement of the Constitutional rights of Negroes in the Deep South – equal legal protection, jury rights, an end to peonage, etc. The Scottsboro struggle marked the first real bid of Negro labor for leadership in the Negro liberation movement, and its entrance on to the field of Negro rights as a politically conscious, independent force. The militant working class policy of mass struggle which inspired the Scottsboro defense highlighted the ineffectualness of the reformist-liberal policy of exclusive reliance on legal justice and avoidance of the broader issues at stake. It gave an historic impetus to the initiative of the Negro masses in the struggle for liberation, and reinforced it with a new and decisive element – the Negro-labor alliance. It brought the Negro question out of its isolation and into its proper context – onto the arena of the world struggle for national liberation and socialism.
In the face of the rightist onslaught on the Party, the historic role which we played in the struggle for Negro rights was rejected. The distinction between us and the right-reformist position was blurred over. Our Party sank to an undignified wooing of the Soviet-baiting reformist leadership, a crass example of which is to be found in Comrade Ben Davis’ pamphlet, “The Negro People on the March”:
“In the same vein (left sectarian errors) was our long existing negative attitude toward Randolph, Townsend, Weaver and others, based exclusively upon their wrong attitude toward the Soviet Union and foreign policy. It was correct to be critical but we should have maintained a positive attitude toward Randolph’s role, his long and important fight against Jim Crow in the AFL, a fight weakened by the passivity of our Party and white left trade unionists. We are still paying a heavy price for these errors. Randolph is today not alone Vice President of 16 million trade unionists, but one of the most highly respected leaders of the Negro people –and justly so.”
It seems that we must look to the bourgeois Negro press for the only examples of an appreciation of the role our Party has played in the struggle for Negro rights. To what strange pass we have come, when a bourgeois commentator, Ralph Mathews, writing on the occasion of the death of the veteran Communist leader, James W. Ford, had to remind us of our glorious past:
“Suddenly and almost without warning we became conscious of a new force that was making itself felt in American life. Where they came from, or how long they had been in fermentation, we did not know.
“But with the Scottsboro case, which started as an isolated incident in the backwoods of Alabama and swept like a prairie fire around the world, there suddenly blossomed into full bloom a strange and dynamic force in the racial struggle.
“At mass meetings in Harlem, on the street corners of Chicago, San Francisco, Detroit and other urban centers all over the nation, spellbinders like Ford, Moore and Patterson loomed into prominence under the flying banners of the National Negro Congress and the International Workers Alliance.
“Their eloquence struck terror in the hearts of the oppressors and lured thousands to their cause as they seemed flanked on all sides with a new type of white supporter, both in the North and in the South.
“Converts poured out of the cotton mills and from the tobacco plantation, out of the stock yards and the automobile plants, and out of the garment district to the call of ’workers unite.’
“They raised the famous jury exclusion issue which sounded a new note in Southern jurisprudence.
“Their protests were reflected in the May Day parades in Paris and Moscow and the cause of the Scottsboro boys was shouted from soap boxes in Hyde Park in London and was echoed in anti-American speeches in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bombay.
“James W. Ford was a leading actor in that drama which has almost come to a close. But the malignant forces which created him and his fellow travelers are still simmering in the body politic, and may explode again.” (Afro-American, June 29, 1957.)
We, Negro Communists, do not accept the status of “aliens” to which the Negro Resolution relegates us. We are an integral part of the Negro movement, embodying the great revolutionary traditions of Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, 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.