Revolutionary Political Organization/Marxist-Leninist
The significance of a correct Marxist-Leninist line on the nature of the national struggles and a correct scientific guide to action on these questions cannot be underestimated. In the period of imperialism, the national struggles have become a significant part of the international proletarian revolution. The struggle for socialism and the defeat of imperialism cannot succeed if the national revolutionary struggles are not allied with the international proletarian revolution.
The true test of a communist party's stand on the national question, in general, is the stand it takes toward those nations oppressed by the bourgeoisie of its "own" nation. This was one of the tests that divided the Second International revisionists from the true revolutionaries of the Third International. According to Lenin:
Any party wishing to join the Third International must ruthlessly expose the colonial machinations of the imperialists of its 'own' country, must support in deed, not merely in word every colonial liberation movement, demand the expulsion of its compatriot imperialists from the colonies, inculcate in the hearts of the workers of its own country an attitude of true brotherhood with the working population of the colonies and oppressed nations, and conduct systematic agitation among the armed forces against all oppression of the colonial peoples. [LCW, Vol. 31, p. 209]
A communist party cannot hope to succeed in winning masses away from the bourgeoisie and to the cause of revolution if it pursues a policy of national chauvinism and fails to break with its "own" bourgeoisie. This applies to revolutionaries in the United States no less than in all other imperialist countries. Therefore, by the very nature of the battle between the international proletariat and the bourgeoisie, we must take a firm and correct stand against the oppression of nations in the United States.
The general revisionism and failure of the communist movement in the United States to build an enduring revolutionary vanguard party is due, in no small part, to the sorry history of revisionism on the Afro-American national question. The main revisionist deviation on this question is that of great nation chauvinism the revisionists of the oppressor nation refuse to defend the right to political secession for Afro-Americans, or do so in such a manner as to gut it of all revolutionary content. This revisionist stand allows the bourgeois ideology of great nation chauvinism to influence the Anglo-American workers and encourages the development of bourgeois nationalism among the oppressed Afro-Americans. This revisionism tends to unite the workers of the oppressor and oppressed nations with their "own" bourgeoisie, instead of building proletarian internationalism.
The proliferation of revisionist theories on the Afro-American national question stems from several sources. There is a social stratum and class base for the growth of revisionism in general. This base is the creation of a bribed stratum among the workers, the higher paid section, or the labor aristocracy. Out of the super-profits derived from the exploitation of other nations, the imperialist bourgeoisie is able to create a higher paid, privileged section of workers which capitulates and takes the stand of class collaboration. Sections of the petty bourgeoisie and intelligentsia are also bribed by the imperialists and supply a constant stream of apologists for the policy of national oppression. These privileged strata are fertile ground for the growth of bourgeois ideology in the working class movement.
The ideas of white supremacy and great nation chauvinism have been highly developed by the bourgeoisie. Elaborate pseudo-scientific theories have been developed to promote the myth that the "Caucasian" race is genetically superior and the "Negro" race inferior. These theories represented the mainstream of bourgeois science until the liberation struggles of the 1950's and 1960's forced a change. However, many bourgeois scientists still promote ideas of white supremacy.
The influence of the labor aristocracy encourages the growth of philistinism and cowardice; revisionists infected with these views have no faith in the masses or in the ability of the working class to achieve socialist revolution in the U.S. Consequently, these "leaders" fear to openly confront white supremacy and national chauvinism. They have no faith that the Anglo-American working class can be won to the side of internationalism.
In addition, the reactionary strata allow the flowering of social chauvinism of the Second International type that glorifies the U.S. bourgeoisie as somehow unique in the history of the world, i.e. not exploiters of the working class and oppressed nations. This social chauvinism says the U.S. bourgeoisie will allow socialism to be built without revolutionary struggle. It fears the break up of the U.S. imperialist state because it believes the bourgeois concoction that the imperialist U.S. is the "greatest country on earth." This social chauvinism covers over the bloody truth that U.S. imperialism is built upon a foundation of robbery, kidnapping and genocidal murder, the systematic plunder of nations, and the ruthless exploitation of the working class.
In reviewing the history of revisionism on the Afro-American national question, most of our attention will be focused on the Communist Party USA. Firstly, because its adoption and implementation of a revolutionary position in the 1930's was a clear break with revisionism and, secondly, because its early deviations and subsequent decline into the most disgusting revisionism previewed the multitude of revisionist formulations seen today. Despite the CPUSA's extreme decline, in numbers and influence it still exerts a strong negative influence over sections of the working class and intelligentsia in the U.S. Therefore, exposure of its revisionism is of more than historical importance. It must be defeated in order to carry out a successful struggle for Afro-American liberation and socialist revolution.
The Socialist Party Forerunner Of Lovestoneite Revisionism
The stand of the Socialist Party (SP) in its early years was that of rank, undisguised chauvinism against the Afro-American people. The official position of the SP was that the extreme oppression and exploitation of Afro-Americans was not any different than that of the working class as a whole and that it would be resolved by the triumph of socialism and not before. Eugene Debs stated, "We have nothing special to offer the Negro and we cannot make separate appeals to all races. The Socialist Party is the Party of the whole working class, regardless of color." [Quoted in Foster, The Negro People in American History, p. 403].
The Industrial Workers of the World is for the Negroes. The attitude of the Socialist Party is 'not quite unanimous.' A single manifesto on behalf of the Negroes, in 1901. Only one!!!... (I)n the state of Mississippi, the Socialists organize the Negroes 'in separate local groups!!' [LCW, Vol. 39, pp. 590-91].
Indeed, the manifesto of 1901 was the only statement on the special conditions of the Afro-Americans that a national body of the SP adopted for at least 12 years. In fact, some of the right-wing leaders adopted the openly chauvinist stand of the white supremacists: "Thus, Victor Berger... [Socialist] Party leader, said in his paper, the Social Democratic Herald, in May, 1902: 'There can be no doubt that the Negroes and mulattoes constitute a lower race.'" [Foster, op. cit., p. 406]
Individuals in the SP raised criticisms of this line, but without a split with the right-wing leaders no real change could be effected. In 1919, the split between the rightists and the revolutionary section of the SP came out in the open and eventually resulted in the formation of the CPUSA.
Lovestone's Revisionism and the CPUSA's Liquidationist Stand on the Afro-American National Question, 1919-1921
The CPUSA was formed out of the left wing of the Socialist Party and revolutionary elements of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Many of the Socialist Party's revisionist views were carried over into the CPUSA. Jay Lovestone, the Party's chairman, put forward a theory of "American exceptionalism," claiming the peculiar conditions of the U.S. were such that class struggle would fade away and socialism could be brought about without a revolution. When applied to the Afro-Americans' struggle, Lovestone's view was that
the 'industrial revolution' will sweep away the remnants of slavery in the agricultural South, and will proletarianize the Negro peasantry, so that the Negro question, as a special national question, would thereby be presumably solved, or could be put off until the time of the socialist revolution in America. [1930 Comintern Resolution, p. 22].
Lovestone viewed the "Negro peasantry" as a reserve of reaction with no revolutionary potential. There is nothing in Marxist-Leninist theory to support these views. Firstly, while the national question at that time was closely linked with the peasant question, the two are not synonymous. The peasant question became especially bound up with the national question during the colonial period, when the great masses of oppressed peoples were peasants. It continues to be bound up with the peasant question today because in many oppressed nations the bulk of the population remains peasants. But even in his polemics for recognition of this fact, Stalin points out that the two questions are not identical:
It is quite true that the national question must not be identified with the peasant question, for in addition to peasant questions, the national question includes such questions as national culture, national statehood, etc. [Stalin, Marxism and the National Colonial Question, p. 297].
While the national question is bound up with the situation of the peasants, the transformation of the peasants of an oppressed nation into proletarians, and semi-proletarians in no way resolves the question of "national statehood."
For example, Puerto Rico, a colony of the U.S., formerly had a large and sharply exploited peasant class. The development of industry under conditions of imperialist exploitation has virtually eliminated this peasant class, with the majority of the Puerto Ricans now laboring as proletarians, or semi-proletarians. However, Puerto Rico is still an oppressed nation and, if anything, the revolutionary national movement is increasing in strength. Therefore, the elimination of the Afro-American peasantry through industrialization would not eliminate the special national demands of the Afro-American people.
Secondly, the notion that communists can wait passively for the development of industrial capitalism to "solve" the peasant question also goes against all Marxist-Leninist teachings, and ignores one of the main allies of the proletarian revolution. In his Draft Thesis on the National and Colonial Questions of 1920, Lenin stated:
With regard to the more backward states and nations, in which feudal or patriarchal and patriarchal-peasant relations predominate, it is particularly important... to give special support to the peasant movement against the landowners, against landed proprietorship and against all manifestations or survivals of feudalism, and to strive to lend the peasant movement the most revolutionary character by establishing the closest possible alliance between the West-European communist proletariat and the revolutionary peasant movement... [LCW, Vol. 31, p. 149].
Thus, Lovestone's idea of waiting for the industrial revolution to "sweep away" the remnants of slavery runs contrary to the teachings of Lenin, and the claim that the sharecroppers were a reserve of reaction ignores the revolutionary aspects of the struggle against the landowners and against the feudal remnants in the South.
The transformation of the vast majority of the Afro-American people into proletarians and semi-proletarians has merely altered some of the forms of exploitation, but the severe denial of political rights, the social inequities, the insults and restrictions, as well as the terror and murder at the hands of the KKK, the sheriffs, the police and other terrorist gangs have not lessened in the Afro-American Nation. In many instances they are on the increase. Any improvement in the lot of the Afro-American people is a direct result of the decades of revolutionary struggle against national oppression.
Lovestone's view that the struggle against national persecution of the Afro-Americans should be postponed until after the socialist revolution in the U.S. is objectively chauvinist and it makes the U.S. proletariat an accomplice of the U.S. bourgeoisie in oppressing the Afro-American Nation. Lovestone disregarded the revolutionary energy of the struggle against national oppression. But Lovestone's views were especially revolting in the face of the particularly barbaric conditions of "lynch law" and the Jim Crow system to which the Afro-Americans were subjected at the time he championed those views.
Despite Lovestone's revisionist leadership, the CPUSA did make a break with the total chauvinism of the Socialist Party. Under the increasing influence of Lenin, Stalin, and the Third International, the Communist Party began to take up work among the Afro-Americans. While limited by the theory that the problem was solely one of "racism," the CPUSA began organizing the Negro proletariat into unions and formulating demands against the oppression of the Afro-American people. In 1925, the CPUSA formed the American Negro Labor Congress, with a program directed to
lead the struggles of the Negro workers and farmers against terrorism, lynching, mob violence, police brutality, segregation and all forms of race hatred; for equal pay for equal work; for better working conditions; for the organization of Negro workers into trade unions on the basis of complete equality. [Ford, The Negro and the Democratic Front, p. 81].
The ANLC led a number of strikes and worked to bring Afro-Americans into unions which were not restricted on the basis of nationality.
William Z. Foster states that the CPUSA in its early period fought against the oppression of Negroes and against white chauvinism in the Party:
First, the communists understood the key significance to the Negro people of a place in industry and in unions and they fought relentlessly to break down every barrier in this respect. Second, there was the special stress that the Communists laid upon the vital issue of social equality. Third, from the outset the Communists also realized the basic need to fight against white chauvinism. Fourth, the Communists made clear the enormous political significance to white workers of the fight for Negro rights. Fifth, the Communists, realizing the tremendous importance of the Negro question, placed it high on their program and gave it all possible support and emphasis. [Foster, History of the Communist Party USA, p. 233].
While this was no doubt true for the revolutionary elements in the Party, the revisionist leadership of Lovestone and his clique undermined these efforts. As the Comintern pointed out, Lovestone's revisionism allowed the rankest white supremacy and denial of rights of Afro-Americans to go on even within the ranks of the Party.
In Gary, white members of the Workers' Party protested against Negroes eating in the restaurant controlled by the Party. In Detroit, party members yielding to pressure, drove out Negro comrades from a social given in aid of the miners on strike. [1928 Comintern Resolution on the Negro Question in the United States, p. 17].
Clearly, these are not the actions of a party whose leaders realized from the outset the need to fight ruthlessly against white chauvinism. The real breakthroughs in the struggle against white chauvinism within the Party would only come about after a break with the rightist revisionist leadership.
The Defeat of Lovestone Revisionism
Under the leadership of the Comintern, a struggle against Lovestone's revisionist line was carried out. In 1928, after receiving a report from cadre of the CPUSA, the Comintern adopted a resolution on the "Negro Question." The 1928 resolution marked a sharp break with the Lovestone position. The resolution noted that "(t)he various forms of oppression of the Negro masses, who are concentrated mainly in the so-called 'Black Belt' provide the necessary conditions for a national revolutionary movement among the Negroes." [1928 Comintern Resolution, p. 14]. It came out firmly against Lovestone's view that the sharecroppers were "reserves of capitalist reaction." The resolution noted the double role of the Negro proletariat as a part of the American proletariat against American imperialism, and as the leader of the movement of the oppressed masses of the Negro population. Further, it called upon the Party to take up systematic work in the South and to rally the white workers to active participation in the struggle.
The resolution was not consistent. It varies on the question of race versus nation, using the formulation "Black Belt" in one section and the less precise "southern states" in another, referring to the national revolutionary movement in one section and then calling for the "right of the Negro race for full emancipation." But, while maintaining that the central slogan must remain the demand for "full social and political equality for the Negroes" the resolution is "openly and unreservedly for the right of the Negroes to national self-determination in the southern states, where the Negroes form a majority of the population." Regardless of its inconsistencies, the 1928 resolution contains the elements of a revolutionary position on the Afro-American national question in the demands of the right to self-determination attached to a given territory, the leading role of the Afro-American proletariat in the liberation struggle, and the directive to the Party to carry on systematic work for these revolutionary goals and immediate reforms, organized on the basis of internationalism.
In addition to adopting this resolution, the Comintern set up a committee to further examine the question of the oppression of Negroes in America and Africa.
In 1929, as part of the struggle against the rightist deviation in the Party, Jay Lovestone and other revisionist leaders were expelled from the Party. This marked a temporary victory for the consistent revolutionary forces.
The Seventh National Convention of the CPUSA, March 31-April 14, 1930, reflected the gains made in this struggle against rightist deviations. A thesis and series of resolutions were adopted which brought the Party program much more in line with the Comintern on all questions. The section dealing with the work of the CPUSA in the South was clearly modeled on the 1928 Comintern Resolution on the Negro Question in the United States.
While raising the slogan of full social, economic and political equality for Negroes as the Party's "central demand," Point 16 raises the slogan of self-determination, including the right of secession with the qualification that it must not supersede the preceding slogan, nor degenerate into a call for segregation. [Thesis and Resolutions for the Seventh National Convention of the Communist Party of the U.S.A., p. 61].
The resolution contained criticisms of the Party's failure to develop work in the South, its failure to carry out a resolute and persistent struggle against white chauvinism and contained a plan for setting the work on a sound footing. The resolution also raised demands to disarm the fascist bands (i.e., KKK) and for the right of workers to form armed self-defense groups.
In October, 1930, the Comintern adopted another resolution on the Negro question in the United States. This resolution recognized that the stand of the CPUSA was still one of confusion, which downplayed the demand for self-determination to merely an educational slogan, not to be raised above the demand for equality, etc. The CPUSA still vacillated on the central question of whether the Negroes in the United States in the Black Belt South indeed constituted an oppressed nation with the right to political secession.
The Comintern's resolution stated unequivocally that the Negroes in the U.S. do constitute a nation with the right to political secession. Further, the resolution summarized the general features of the "Negro Nation" centered in the Black Belt territory, and suffering under the burden of both economic and social remnants of slavery. While retaining the slogan of equality of rights, the resolution points out that: "The slogan of the right to self-determination occupies the central place in the liberation struggle of the Negro population in the Black Belt against the yoke of American imperialism." The resolution then goes on to raise the demands "Confiscation of the landed property of the white landowners and capitalists for the benefit of the Negro farmers" and "Establishment of the state unity of the Black Belt." The resolution clearly lays out the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist line on how this struggle should be carried out, including the necessity for white communists to play a leading role in the struggle against white chauvinism; for the leading role of the Negro proletariat in the struggle for national liberation; the necessity for Negroes and whites to be organized into the same organizations, especially the trade unions; the necessity to carry out correct tactics in gaining proletarian hegemony over the national liberation movement. The resolution emphasizes the necessity for the Negro communists to criticize the half-heartedness of the national revolutionaries and to combat the "nationalist mood" among the masses. The resolution clearly states that the recognition of the right to self-determination is not the same as a call for separation, but the very struggle for the right to freely decide the question is a real slogan of national rebellion against the power of the American imperialists. Quoting Lenin, the Comintern states:
We demand freedom of separation, real right to self-determination... certainly not in order to 'recommend' separation, but on the contrary, in order to facilitate and accelerate the democratic rapprochement and unification of nations. [1930 Comintern Resolution, p. 35].
Before proceeding to a discussion of how the CPUSA implemented this resolution, we would like to speak briefly to the revisionists and anti-Stalinists who try to portray the 1930 Resolution as a deviation by Stalin and the Comintern from Lenin's view on the status of Negroes in the U.S. In Lenin's 1916 work on the capitalist development of agriculture, he gives an analysis of the peculiar conditions of the Negroes in the southern U.S. and develops the concept that the Negroes are subjected to semi-feudal or semi-slave conditions: " the economic survivals of slavery are not in any way distinguishable from those of feudalism..." [LCW, Vol. 22, p. 24].
Further, he states that the economic basis for the American bourgeoisie's most shameless and despicable oppression of the Negroes is the "...labour-service system, which is known as share-cropping...They are chiefly semi-feudal, or what is the same in economic terms semi-slave share-croppers." [LCW, Vol. 22, p. 25].
In another article of 1917, Lenin states:
In the United States, the Negroes (and also the Mulattos and Indians) account for only 11.1%. They should be classified as an oppressed nation, for the equality won in the Civil War of 1861-65 and guaranteed by the constitution of the republic was in many respects increasingly curtailed in the chief Negro areas (the South) in connection with the transition from the progressive, pre-monopoly capitalism to the reactionary monopoly capitalism (imperialism) of the new era... [LCW, Vol. 23, pp. 275-76; emphasis added].
And again in 1920, when he was preparing the Preliminary Draft Thesis on the National and Colonial Question for the Second Congress of the Comintern, Lenin calls for, among other things, additional information and amendments on the Negroes in America, and in the body of the thesis refers to the Negroes in the United States as a dependent and underprivileged nation. [LCW, Vol. 31, p. 148]. Clearly then, the theoretical view that the Negro people in the U.S., in fact, constituted an oppressed nation preceded the formation of the CPUSA and was in no way a departure from Lenin's views on the question.
Obviously, the grip of revisionism on the early CPUSA was very strong for it took nearly a decade of struggle to defeat the chauvinist Lovestone view of Negro oppression.
1930-35: A Period of Revolutionary Activity
The combination of the economic crisis and its accompanying social upheaval, and the guidance of a revolutionary line on the Afro-American question, made a qualitative difference in the work of the Party. Although there were shortcomings, the overall character of the CPUSA's activity in this period was that of a revolutionary party. The revisionist views and tendencies of leaders such as Browder were temporarily outweighed by the pressure from the Comintern and the international proletariat.
In 1930, the League of Struggle for Negro Rights (LSNR) was founded and in 1931, the Sharecroppers Union was formed in Alabama. Also in 1931, the CPUSA began the campaign to free the Scottsboro defendants, nine Afro-American youths who had been framed and sentenced to death in the northern Alabama town of Scottsboro. The Party energetically took up the defense, combining mass mobilization and political exposure with an energetic courtroom defense.
The Party was able to mobilize large numbers of workers, both Afro-American and white, in defense of these young men. The death sentences were overturned, but the struggle for the freedom of all of the defendants continued for nearly 20 years. While not totally successful in the immediate demand for freedom of the frame-up victims, the campaign rallied people to the cause of Afro-American liberation.
In an article, The Scottsboro Struggle, appearing in the Communist, May, 1933, James Allen reports on the Party's work on the case. According to Allen's report, the Party was following a basically correct line in the defense, using the case to expose the oppressive nature of the courts, the sham quality of American democracy and the terrible oppression suffered by Afro-Americans. The Party raised the case as part of the overall struggle against the "entire system of national oppression," exposed the half-heartedness of reformist leaders such as the NAACP and strove for proletarian leadership of the movement against these "legal lynchings." Demands for Afro-Americans on the jury and enforcement of the constitutional rights of Afro-Americans were also main points of the agitation.
Allen's report does not indicate that the demand for the right to self-determination, including the right of political secession, was raised as the central slogan for Afro-American liberation. However, in 1933, the program of the League of Struggle for Negro Rights, entitled Equality, Land and Freedom, proudly proclaimed:
The League of Struggle for Negro Rights stands for the complete right of self-determination for the Negro people in the Black Belt with full rights for the toiling white minority... the right of self-determination means that the Negro people in the Black Belt have the right to choose freely for or against complete separation from the Federal government, no matter what its form, in existence at that time in the United States.
In districts such as Harlem, where the organizing around the Scottsboro case was closely tied to building the LSNR, the slogan for self-determination was vigorously raised.
The Party also carried out a campaign against white chauvinism within the Party. The most well-known example of this was the public "trial" of a Party member who had objected to the integration of a Party club. The "trial" was held in Harlem, white chauvinism was condemned and the comrade in question was expelled.
Much of the work in the rural South was centered around the Sharecroppers Union, which launched a militant campaign against the brutal exploitation of the sharecroppers. In the struggle at Camp Hill, Alabama in 1932, the sharecroppers were attacked by the landowners and defended their meeting. Several people were killed. Several Union members were charged. The campaign around the sharecroppers' defense also attracted many workers to the Party.
During this Period, thousands of Afro-Americans joined the Party. Tens of thousands more followed its leadership. The Party's activities gained it the reputation for being the "Party of the Negro People."
The Party produced propaganda and agitation around the slogan of "Self-Determination for the Negro Nation." Among these are the articles, books and pamphlets by James Allen and Harry Haywood. In their writings, such as Allen's Negro Liberation and Haywood's pamphlet against lynching, they elaborated the Party's position on the "Negro National Question" in a readable and popular style. In Negro Liberation, Allen explains in a popular manner how the Negro Nation developed and how it fulfills each of Stalin's criteria for a nation. Allen also notes Stalin's definition of a nation and says that all the characteristics must be present.
A nation is an historically developed community of people; this community of people cannot be temporary, but must be lasting; the people in this common territory must have a common language, they must live together on a common territory and have a common economic life. The conditions of their life and work in common create more or less uniform ideas, customs, and institutions which are manifested in a common culture. [Allen, Negro Liberation, p. 4].
He points out that the common language, English, the common territory in the Black Belt region of the South, and the common culture existed in more or less developed form even before the Civil War and the end of slavery. He describes briefly the further development of the Negro people into a nation during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War. In regard to the development of a common economic life, Allen describes both the development of class differentiation among the Negro people, and the semi-slave sharecropping system which tied the Afro-American peasant to the land. But the presentation on common economic life is not clear or consistent.
Allen also outlines a generally correct tactical line on the question of how to achieve Afro-American liberation.
One theoretical error in the Communist Party presentation of the national question appears in James Allen's 1936 book, The Negro Question in the United States. In dealing with the impact and implications of the migration of Afro-Americans out of the Black Belt and into the industrial areas of the North, Allen takes a one-sided, undialectical view. In attempting to refute critics who saw the migration as the solution to the national oppression, or as marking the "end" of the nation, Allen stated, "The factors giving rise to the mass migration were only transitory and not a permanent feature of capitalism in the United States." [Allen, The Negro Question in the United States, p. 137].
This statement disregards the dual effect that capitalism has on nations. According to Lenin:
Developing capitalism knows two historical tendencies in the national question. First: the awakening of national life and national movements, struggle against all national oppression, creation of national states. Second: development and acceleration of all kinds of intercourse between nations, breakdown of national barriers, creation of the international unity of capital, of economic life in general, of politics, science, etc.
Both tendencies are a world-wide law of capitalism. [LCW, Vol. 17, pp. 139-40].
Allen's statements gave encouragement to later revisionists when he concluded:
It is apparent that the factors which tended to deplete the Negro population of the Black Belt were effective only temporarily... if this were the actual tendency [the rapid disintegration of the area of Negro majority] it would amount to nothing more nor less than that capitalism could solve within its own confines and in a gradual manner, without the discomforts of an agrarian mass upheaval on the plantations, those very problems which the Civil War of 1861-65 had left unsettled. For the persistence of the Negro majority means the persistence of the plantation economy, of which it is a result. The area of continuous Negro majority has only been slightly altered, indicating that those factors which have in the past confined a large portion of the Negro people to the territorial limits set by the slave regime still persist. [Allen, Negro Question in the U.S., pp. 30-31].
There are several incorrect conclusions implied by this statement: that an area of continuous majority of Afro-Americans and the continued existence of the "plantation economy" are necessary conditions for the existence of the Afro-American Nation; and that Afro-Americans remain in the Black Belt and its border areas primarily because of force or coercion.
Contrary to Allen's view, of course, the migration of Afro-Americans out of the Black Belt area continued and reached even higher levels during World War II. Consequently, the area of Afro-American majority has been reduced and a large percentage of Afro-Americans live outside the South. The system of "semi-slave" sharecropping has largely been replaced by "modern" capitalist agriculture, and the majority of Afro-Americans are now proletarians or semi-proletarians rather than sharecroppers.
Following Allen's reasoning, various revisionists have pounced on these facts and concluded that there is no longer an Afro-American Nation. But as we have already pointed out, the transformation of the oppressed people from peasants to proletarians and semi-proletarians does not mean that the nation ceases to exist. Nor, in this case, does it mean that the "peasant" question has been completely resolved, since a large portion of the Afro-American semi-proletarians and agricultural laborers still yearn for the land which has forcibly been taken from them. Neither does the forced migration of a large section of the population out of its homeland mean that the nation has disappeared. For example, both Ireland and Puerto Rico have lost nearly a third of their populations due to forced emigration. But both nations still persist and continue to fight against imperialist domination.
In regard to the question of a majority, Stalin did not speak of a majority population in a given territory as a condition for the existence of a nation, but rather of a stable community of people sharing a common territory, and of a people residing in "compact masses." In its 1928 Thesis on the Revolutionary Movement in the Colonies and Semi-colonies, the Comintern stated, "In those regions of the South in which compact Negro masses are living, it is essential to put forward the slogan of the 'Right of Self-Determination for Negroes!'" [Comintern and National Colonial Questions, p. 117].
This description, of a stable community of people with a common territory and living in compact masses, certainly applies to the Black Belt and its bordering areas today. Based on bourgeois statistics which tend to undercount Afro-Americans, there still remains a substantial area of Afro-American majority in the Black Belt. The areas occupied by Afro-Americans tend to be compact and stable since the 1800's, shifting slightly toward the urban centers which border the Black Belt. While the percentage of Afro-Americans has dropped, the actual number in the Black Belt and its border areas has increased to approximately 9 ½ million, according to the 1980 Census, as compared with 7 million in 1930. [See the article in this issue, Has the Afro-American Nation Disappeared?].
The question of whether or not there is an Afro-American majority in the areas of state unity is important, though not in determining if there is a nation or not. It becomes important in guaranteeing self-rule for the Afro-American people. Since any democratic government would guarantee political rights to all but the former oppressors and their flunkeys, a majority of southern Anglo-Americans would mean the continued rule of the Afro-Americans by a state apparatus controlled by another nation. The precise boundaries will be for the local populations to determine in reorganizing the state apparatus. However, it is not complicated to shift the boundaries to include the urban centers bordering the Black Belt where Afro-Americans are a majority or near majority.
Furthermore, many Afro-Americans living in other regions of the U.S. view the South, and in particular the Black Belt area, as their homeland. If the political and economic conditions which forced their emigration were changed, many Afro-Americans would return to the South. The common culture, national identity, and recognition of the South as home is a strong force tying many Afro-Americans to the Black Belt, not just a continuation of the "plantation economy" noted by James Allen.
There have been extreme cases when the numbers of the population of an oppressed people are so reduced that they no longer constitute a nation, but even these oppressed peoples are guaranteed some form of political autonomy under a genuine socialist state. But the millions of Afro-Americans occupying the Black Belt and its bordering areas are a far cry from this decimated state.
1935-1944: Reemergence of Revisionism and the Liquidation of a Revolutionary Line on the Afro-American National Question
The revisionist clique within the CPUSA leadership, led by Earl Browder, had been somewhat dormant. But they seized upon the Comintern's new line, developed at the Seventh Congress in 1935, as a pretext to reassert their rightist views. The Communist International's correct position on the development of a united front against war and fascism was used by Browder to promote total class collaboration and unity with the U.S. imperialist bourgeoisie. During this period, Browder raised his rotten slogan, "Communism is Twentieth Century Americanism." His "leadership" led to the actual liquidation of the CPUSA in 1944.
On the Afro-American national question, the Party dropped agitation around the slogan of self-determination. Browder argued that the Negroes had exercised their right to self-determination by not seceding after the Civil War. This totally ignored one major fact: the Negro people of the Black Belt were prevented from developing their own independent state power or deciding their relation to the U.S. government by a violent counterrevolution which restored the political power of the former slaveowners in alliance with U.S. monopoly capital.
The dropping of the demand for the right to self-determination was part of an overall rightist attack. This is amply illustrated in the collection of articles and speeches, The Negro and the Democratic Front, by James Ford. It spans the period 1935-1938. Ford was a member of the National Committee of the CPUSA and various other leading bodies. He was the CP's vice-presidential candidate in 1932 and 1936. In these articles, he criticized earlier Party organizations for raising the correct demands of the Comintern Resolutions. Regarding the League of Struggle for Negro Rights, Ford stated:
The program called for the destruction of the plantation system in the South, for confiscation without compensation of the land of the big landlords, and declared for the complete right of self-determination for the Negro people in the Black Belt of the South. Such a program prevented the development of a broad movement. [Ford, The Negro and the Democratic Front, p. 82].
In 1935, Ford "redefined" self-determination: "The right of self-determination, national equality that is, to hold public offices, to advance national culture and integrate it with American culture as a whole, and also complete uprooting of economic hindrances can be realized by the Negro people in the Black Belt. [Ibid., p. 28].
In contrast to the Party's aim of exposing the treachery of the NAACP and similar national reformist groups and leaders, Ford praised them to the skies and cited them as genuine voices of the Negro people. Instead of a correct Marxist-Leninist stand of struggle against nationalist ideology, he stated, "We have to stop using the word nationalist too loosely and in a derogatory manner." [Ibid., p. 34].
In regard to Garveyism, Haywood had said in 1933, "Under phrases of Negro liberation, freedom of Africa, the inevitable trend of these movements is to an active alliance with the most reactionary imperialist groups against the national liberation movement of the Negro people, both in Africa and in America." In contrast, Ford said, "...we should approach... the Garveyites in a friendly manner," making no distinctions between the leadership and the masses, taking no note of ideological differences.
In the Party's revolutionary period, Haywood commented on a liberal "anti-lynching bill" proposed by the NAACP:
...the sinister and reactionary purposes of this bill... is most clearly revealed in its definition of a 'mob.' A 'mob' is defined as 'three or more people acting in concert without authority of the law for the purpose of depriving any person of his life or doing him physical injury.'... The law would legalize the shooting down of Negro, white toilers, as at Camptown... [Haywood, The Road to Negro Liberation, p. 9-10].
Ford, on the other hand, gave full and uncritical support to the NAACP anti-lynching bill.
Examples of heroic leadership of the struggle for democratic rights, etc. are replaced in Ford's presentations with disgusting glorifications of such vacillators, pacifists, and reactionary "heroes" of philistinism as Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and W.E.B. DuBois. There have been revolutionary bourgeois democrats (Thaddeus Stevens, John Brown, Henry Garnet, etc.) who could have been named if one did not want to solely promote proletarian leaders, but the CPUSA now chose to promote only reformists (old and new) at the head of the Afro-American people's movement.
The revolutionary positions of the Party were being throttled at the hands of Earl Browder, James Ford, and others. Browder's all-round rightist views were carried to their logical conclusion when, in 1944, the National Committee voted to liquidate the CPUSA as a communist party.
Leaders of the Communist Party USA betrayed the revolutionary principles of Marxism-Leninism and renounced the party's stand on the right of the Afro-American nation to political secession.
Party leadership, 1948.
Reconstruction of the Party on a Revisionist Foundation, 1945
In 1945, the CPUSA was reconstituted under the leadership of William Z. Foster, but it was never again a genuinely revolutionary party. The reconstituted Party recognized the right to self-determination for the Negro Nation, but this was nothing but an empty shell. The revisionist nature of this position can be seen from several angles.
In the resolution On the Question of Negro Rights and Self-Determination, adopted at the plenary meeting of the National Committee of the CPUSA, December 3-5, 1946, the revolutionary content has been carefully removed, leaving only a trace of its outlines. This resolution characterizes the situation thusly: "[The Negroes'] fight for liberation from oppression in the Black Belt is a struggle for full nationhood, for their rightful position of full equality as nation." [The Communist Position on the Negro Question, 1947].
That doesn't sound too bad. But what of the fundamental demands for state unity, confiscation of the landed estates, the right to secede and the right of self-rule? The CP said, "...the struggle for Negro liberation is concerned with gaining equal rights... in the South the struggle for attaining representative government and land reform." [Ibid., p. 11].
And what of the Leninist meaning of the slogan of self-determination, that is, the right to secession, the right to form a separate state? The CPUSA now said that this is the
right to realize self-government in the Negro majority area in the South [with no mention of a revolution]. Only on this basis will the relation of the Negro people to the State and Federal governments be determined on the basis of freedom. [Ibid., p. 12].
But what does this rather vague formulation mean what form would this self-government take? "The Communist Party does not attempt to impose any specific solution in advance of the form in which the right of self-determination will be exercised." [Ibid.]. This little gem does away with the Comintern's call for state unity and the right to secession. The "self-government" of the CPUSA could mean as little as a few Afro-American city councilmen, or perhaps an Afro-American mayor in an all-Afro-American town.
And how would this "self-determination" be brought about? How will this vague self-government and land reform be attained? Apparently, a "firm alliance of labor and the progressive forces... will wrest concessions from... Congress Such a democratic coalition can rally all progressives and independent political forces in the country to defeat reaction in 1948." [Ibid., p. 10].
So there we have it. The Communist International's program for a national rebellion against the oppressing powers and for an agrarian revolution to give land to the toilers had been transformed into a mealy-mouthed piece of trash which reduced the struggle for self-determination to begging for parliamentary reforms.
In the 1950's the CPUSA held a series of theoretical discussions on the Negro national question. The result of these discussions was not a rectification of the line on the question, but rather a theoretical justification for further revisionism on the road to complete liquidation. In his 1954 book, Negro People in American History, William Z. Foster, then National Chairman of the CPUSA, used the formulation "a nation within a nation," which was a prelude to the dissolution of the idea of the Afro-American Nation altogether. In this presentation, Foster still gives lip service to self-determination and even to the "possibility of secession," but his qualifications and his continual stress on difficulties make his argument an echo of the old "practicality" argument which Lenin so vehemently attacked. Foster said: "Theoretically, it is possible for the Negro people to win national liberation including the right of self-determination and secession, within the framework of the American capitalist system. [Foster, Negro People in American History, p. 555].
But Foster also raised certain "peculiarities" of the Negro nation:
...the Negro people are situated in the midst of the oppressor nation, not thousands of miles away, as is often the case...
...this oppressor nation, which has extensive democratic traditions, is the most powerful capitalist state in the world...
The American Negro people are faced by very powerful oppressors. They have to fight stubbornly and with all possible aid to win even the most elementary human rights. Hence, it requires but little imagination to conceive the stubborn resistance they will encounter, and their urgent need for allies... [Ibid.].
The rest of the chapter stressed the desperate need of the Negro people for white allies. This type of obstacle mongering is thinly veiled counterrevolutionary junk.
When one calls for a national rebellion to wrest state power from the hands of one class and put it firmly in the hands of another class, it is obvious that there will be "stubborn" resistance. But the potential of the Afro-American liberation movement is not some feeble thing that must rely solely on outside help or on the sympathies and "democratic traditions" of the oppressor nation. Rather, it is a mighty force in its own right for weakening the power of the U.S. imperialists. It has an ally in the international proletarian revolution and other national revolutionary movements against imperialism.
In his next section on self-determination, Foster sank to the lowest reformism and raised the possibility that "...political proportional representation for the Negroes... may develop into forms of self-determination." [Ibid., p. 559]. The revolutionary heart of the slogan has been removed and nothing of any value is left. In Foster's view, the Negro people are left to joining the "...powerful democratic coalition movement..." and "vigorously insisting" upon proportional representation. Here is the current CPUSA reformist, anti-monopoly line, sketched out in 1954. It was no accident that the same year this book appeared in print, the CPUSA shelved what was left of its revolutionary line on the Negro national question.
In 1956, the Party once again adopted an openly liquidationist line:
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... the slogan of self-determination should be abandoned... [as quoted by Haywood, For a Revolutionary Position on the Negro Question, p. 3].
This was based on the old Lovestone theory concerning the mechanization of Southern agriculture and the out-migration of Afro-Americans. Lovestoneite and Browderite revisionism had once again been resurrected.
Today, the CPUSA holds to the 1956 position but with a few opportunist concessions to the Afro-American bourgeois national reformists. This "new" position has a few embellishments, but amounts to a liquidation of the national revolutionary struggle. According to the New Program of the Communist Party USA, May 1970,
The call for 'Black Liberation' reaffirms the historical goal of full and unconditional economic, political and social equality for Afro-Americans. More, it calls for recognition by white allies that full freedom can be established only on such terms as seem proper to the Black people themselves. The Black liberation movement is at the very heart of the struggle against U.S. imperialism, for the full freedom of all working people. [New Program of the CPUSA, p. 54].
The addition of the clause, "only on such terms, etc." in practice means that the CPUSA does not criticize the leadership of the national reformists, nor do they make clear the ideological incompatibility of nationalism and internationalism. The call for unity of all classes of Black people [Ibid., p. 59] again means subordination to bourgeois reform ism.
This program speaks of "political power" meaning only "proportional representation," within the confines of the U.S. imperialist state:
...what is needed is to unite communities, to guarantee that Black people will be represented at least in proportion to their numbers. It can provide an effective way for Black people to determine who represents them and to exercise some control over their elected representatives.
...Black political control (in the South) assumes special importance... it could lead to the completion of the attainment of the bourgeois-democratic rights in the South, which had been cut short by the betrayal of Reconstruction in 1876. [Ibid.].
There is no revolutionary content to this program. What the CPUSA advocates and organizes is a reform movement, tailing behind the bourgeois national reformists.
Furthermore, it panders to and encourages nationalism among the oppressed people by encouraging separate organizations among the workers based on nationality, and it capitulates to cultural nationalists with its calls for "community control." In particular, the CPUSA advocates separate, all-Black organizations within the trade unions just the opposite of the internationalist position on this question.
Effects of CPUSAS Revisionism on the Afro-American National Question
The objective effect of the degeneration of the CPUSA on the movement for liberation of the Afro-American people was to strengthen bourgeois nationalism among the workers of the oppressed and oppressor nations. The Anglo-American workers, deprived of firm revolutionary, internationalist leadership more easily fell prey to the white supremacist ideas which are constantly promoted by the imperialist bourgeoisie. For the workers and petty bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation, the only leadership which opposed their continued oppression was bourgeois nationalism. The CPUSA, insofar as it continued to work in the sphere of the Afro-American liberation struggle, threw all of its weight behind the national reformists, and joined the liberal chorus in upholding the state privileges of the Anglo-American nation and denouncing the national revolutionary and proletarian positions on the Afro-American national question. Had there been a revolutionary proletarian party based in the South after World War II, the whole course of the national revolutionary movement and the proletarian revolution would have been altered.
A revival in the study of Marxism-Leninism, the national rebellions of the 1960's, and the anti-war movement were all factors in building a new revolutionary current in the U.S. One of the most significant developments was the formation of the Continuations Committee in 1974. As part of the general rejection of the revisionism of the CPUSA, the Continuations Committee was one of the first groups to reprint, popularize and adopt the Comintern line on a number of questions. Among them was the Comintern resolution on the Negro national question. The Continuations Committee gave rise to the Communist Labor Party (CLP), which for a while upheld the Afro-American thesis, but soon departed from the slogan of the right to political secession for the Afro-American Nation. This coincided with the CLP's desertion of Marxism-Leninism on a whole series of questions, even adopting the thesis that the USSR was in 1974 a socialist country, not a revisionist state. Today, the CLP upholds the same program as the CPUSA did in 1970, agitating for political reforms in the Black Belt as a substitute for a national rebellion that would bring to power an Afro-American government of a revolutionary democratic and/or proletarian character. The CLP is pushing for the election of Afro-Americans to local offices with U.S. imperialist rule intact, and is trying to pawn this off as self-determination and independence.
We want to examine briefly the deviations of several other groups which have developed positions on the Afro-American national question: the October League/Communist Party Marxist-Leninist; the Workers' Viewpoint/Communist Workers' Party; the Revolutionary Union/Revolutionary Communist Party; the Marxist-Leninist Organizing Committee/Communist Party USA (Marxist-Leninist); and The Guardian/Line of March. We have chosen these four because they illustrate different deviations on the question which are typical of other revisionists today. All of these have their prototypes in the deviations of the CPUSA, and all of them capitulate to the chauvinism and ideology of the U.S. imperialist bourgeoisie.
In its 1976 Resolution of the Third Congress, the October League formally recognized the right to self-determination, including the right to political secession. It then proceeded to hedge this recognition round with qualifications a la William Z. Foster, to the point that it was stripped of any meaning.
The Comintern resolution clearly states:
As long as capitalism rules in the United States the Communists cannot come out against governmental separation of the Negro zone from the United States. They recognise that this separation from the Imperialist United States would be preferable from the standpoint of the national interests of the Negro population, to their present oppressed state, and therefore, the Communists are ready at any time to offer all their support if only the working masses of the Negro population are ready to take up the struggle for governmental independence of the Black Belt. [1930 Comintern Resolution on the Negro Question in the U.S., p. 33].
Despite its claim to uphold the Comintern resolution, the OL came out against secession "at this time" and by implication, at any other time. It reduced the question to
[t]he fact that the majority of Black people are working side by side with their brothers and sisters, whites and other oppressed minorities, lays the basis for a united assault on the imperialists. Our strategic outlook calls for a socialist revolution, based on proletarian internationalism, which will accomplish in one sweep the basic conditions for the emancipation of the working class and the liberation of Black people. [Resolution of the Third Congress of the October League, p. 37].
The OL then "warned" that the struggle for the right to self-determination should not be put off until socialism; rather, it equated the struggle for immediate reforms with the struggle for self-determination. The OL reduced self-determination to the cumulative effect of small reforms: "Self-determination is the highest form of democratic rights and every victory in the democratic struggle is a step towards the realization of self-determination for the Afro-American nation." [Ibid., p. 38]. Again, the OL chose to ignore the meaning of the slogans raised by the Comintern slogans of national rebellion against the ruling class, while the OL's slogans were mere reformism. These same deviations carried over to the CPML and were obvious in its practice. The CPML followed the same chauvinist attitudes of the modern day CPUSA, seeing the main task as "leading the Afro-American masses" in the struggle for reforms, while tailing behind the worst reformists, like the SCLC.
The deviation of the Communist Workers Party U.S.A. is quite similar to the now defunct Communist Party Marxist-Leninist. In its 1979 presentation, On the Origin of the Afro-American Nation, the CWP defends the existence of the Afro-American Nation. It expounds on the armed struggle for national liberation during Reconstruction and the crushing reactionary terror which followed the defeat of Reconstruction. In conclusion, the CWP states, "The Post-Reconstruction era left only one alternative for the Afro-American people to continue their heroic revolutionary struggle for equal rights and the right of self-determination." [On the Origin of the Afro-American Nation, p. 9]. But then the CWP counterposes the national liberation struggle with the socialist revolution, and thereby liquidates altogether the revolutionary struggle for the right to secession in the Black Belt. According to the CWP, "Workers rule is the only basis to begin to thoroughly resolve national oppression in the United States" [Ibid.]. And with this pronouncement, it calmly tables the demand for the right of secession of the Afro-American Nation and thereby instructs the oppressed Afro-American people to bear the outrageous yoke of national oppression until the socialist revolution. This bit of chauvinist advice was given to the Algerian people by the revisionist French Communist Party during the Algerians' struggle against French imperialism, from the 1950's through to liberation. Waiting for the socialist revolution to liberate the oppressed peoples is in sharp contradiction with Marxism-Leninism in the present era of world revolution. As Lenin and Stalin taught, it is impossible to tell beforehand what the relationship will be between the anti-imperialist national liberation struggles and the socialist revolutionary struggles in the oppressor nation. Whether the former will precede the latter or vice versa, or whether the national liberation movement and the socialist revolution will proceed simultaneously is impossible to tell beforehand. What is important is that the oppressed people must not wait they must fight for their freedom now, regardless of the degree to which the socialist revolution has matured in the oppressor nation.
Another of the "anti-revisionist" groups which adopted the Comintern resolutions as the basis of its position on the Afro-American national question was the Marxist-Leninist Organizing Committee (MLOC). The MLOC adopted this correct position and took positive steps toward popularizing the slogan of the right of self-determination and building organizations in the Black Belt South. However, opportunist leadership tried to reduce the slogan to an empty phrase. In fact, this became one of the central issues over which the CPUSA/ML (MLOC) split. The sabotage of this line took many forms. In the agitation and propaganda, the editorial policy was to reject the demand for state unity on the grounds that it was identical with the slogan of secession. The struggle came out into the open over the assessment of Martin Luther King and his contributions the opportunists glorifying him as a revolutionary, while the correct assessment that King was a national reformist who at a certain point openly joined the imperialists and reactionaries against the national liberation movement, was adopted only after a struggle. In general, the clique of revisionist leaders took the position that the SCLC, Jesse Jackson, and other bourgeois reformists represented a revolutionary "national bourgeoisie," which should be united with and be part of the revolutionary united front. These views were formally defeated in the organization, but the opportunist clique continued to promote them. When the Revolutionary Political Organization Marxist-Leninist split with the reformist clique, we successfully broke with these reactionary, revisionist views on Afro-American liberation.
The Revolutionary Communist Party's (RCP) Anglo-American chauvinism was cloaked behind the elaborate concoction of the "nation of a new type." The RCP stated:
...there are still real links that continue to unite Black people into a national union, a nation of a new type, under new conditions a proletarian nation, dispersed throughout the U.S., but at the same time, concentrated within the urban industrial centers. This is reflected in the fact that the national consciousness of Black people their consciousness as a people with a common culture, a common history of oppression and resistance down to today, and a common national origin in the Black Belt is higher than it ever has been. At the same time the overwhelming majority of Black people are wageworkers, and their class consciousness is also higher than it ever has been: [Red Papers 5, p. 33].
The RCP attempted to justify this clearly Bundist position (the existence of a nation devoid of a common territory) with an incredible amount of contradictory anti-Marxist and pseudo-Marxist junk. It basically dismissed Stalin's polemic against the Russian Bundists, who put forward a similar view, by saying that Black people, wherever they are, constitute a "nation of a new type" because of their "national consciousness" and have no need of a "common territory." This is no different from the formulation of the Austrian Social Democrat, O. Bauer, that a nation is "a relative community of character" to which Stalin responded,
Bauer's point of view, which identifies a nation with its national character, divorces the nation from its soil and converts it into an invisible, self-contained force. The result is not a living and active nation, but something mystical, intangible and supernatural. [Stalin, Marxism and the National Colonial Question, pp. 26-27].
But where is the territory of this nation of a new type? How is this nation of no territory to exercise its right to secede? There is no answer since there is no common territory. This explains why the RCP never called for the right of secession of its "nation of a new type."
In practice, the RCP seldom raised demands of any type in defense of the rights of its new-type nation. Indeed, the treatment of the situation of Afro-Americans in the RCP's presentation differs little from that of the CPUSA, i.e., that Afro-American people suffer from racism and superexploitation.
In one of its last public activities in Birmingham, Alabama, for example, the RCP popped up at some of the protests against the police murder of a young Afro-American woman, Bonita Carter. In one of its typically vulgar and "leftist" leaflets, the RCP summed up its view of the nature of the national oppression of Afro-American people: "We face the brutal misery of the capitalist system in common with a double portion allotted to Blacks." In the next paragraph, it calls for "revolution," but makes no distinction between socialist and national revolution and the necessity for both in order to really free the masses of Afro-Americans. So far as anyone could determine, the RCP carried out no activity among Anglo-Americans to build protest against this outrageous police murder.
This type of "organizing," combined with its overall sectarian, "leftist" line, resulted in the RCP's inability to build any lasting organization in the Birmingham area.
Finally, we will address the "New Lovestoneite" position of Line of March. The journal, and the group behind it, have no influence on the working class, but its revisionist material is circulated among some intellectuals who could possibly adopt the proletarian viewpoint if properly trained in real Marxism-Leninism.
The LOM position is loaded with pseudo-scientific phrases which tend to obscure its meaning and give the impression of "rendering more profound." However, we will try and address the main deviations from Marxism-Leninism. The Line of March Critique is presented in two parts: first, its criticism of the "Black Nation Thesis;" second, the presentation of its "racism" line. We will treat each section separately.
Line of March notes two "theoretical errors" of the Black Nation Thesis. LOM alleges that applying Stalin's definition for characteristics or criteria to determine whether or not a given grouping constitutes a nation is a metaphysical method. It says that these characteristics are necessary, but not sufficient. "What is particular to nations is not the four characteristics, but the particular historical practice that produces those features as a unity the formation of distinct capitalist social formations," is the way the LOM puts it. But what does this mean? Is not the development of a common economic life among people with a common language in a given territory, and the consequent development of a common culture the "particular historical practice that produces those features as a unity?" And is not a nation "a distinct capitalist formation?" What, then, have our profound friends added to Stalin's description? Just the proviso that these characteristics are necessary but allegedly not sufficient. But does this agree with Stalin's thinking on the subject? No. After discussing these four characteristics of a nation, Stalin says, "We have now exhausted the characteristic features of a nation." The "metaphysical method" seems to be the province of Line of March.
Line of March charges that
The basic theoretical error of the Black Nation thesis is its transposition of what is really a racial question into a national question. Indeed, the Black Nation line bows to the prevailing racist logic that Black folks and white folks are so inherently different that they could never be a part of the same nation or nationality regardless of the facts of history.
This is totally false. Clearly, every oppressed nation is distinguished from the oppressor nation by one or more significant features. In some cases, the question of religion comes to the forefront. In other cases, the language of the oppressor and the oppressed is different. Stalin spoke directly to this general point when he said,
...when nations are compared, sometimes one characteristic (national character), sometimes another (language), or sometimes a third (territory, economic conditions), stands out in sharper relief. [Stalin, Marxism and the National Colonial Question, p. 26].
In the case of the Afro-American people, one of the main features which distinguishes the members of the oppressor and oppressed nationalities is the physical characteristics based on two distinct racial types. The slaves, who formed the base of the nation, were of African origin. Through, in many cases, the rape of Black women, and in other cases, through intermarriage with Caucasians and Native Americans, there developed a distinctive people who formed the base of the Afro-American Nation. However, what these people have in common is not solely their racial type, but a common experience, a historical development, first under slavery and then the particular conditions of life in the Black Belt characterized by an agrarian economy, sharecropping, Jim Crow segregation and lynch terror. The local whites are not members of the Afro-American Nation; although they live in the Black Belt territory, they have not shared aspects of the common development and therefore lack the common psychology and are thus not a part of the distinct Afro-American nationality. What the bourgeoisie portrays as a racial conflict between Afro-Americans and whites is no more caused by racial differences than the conflict in northern Ireland today is caused by religious differences.
The claim that "membership" in the Afro-American Nation is "assigned" strictly by race is unfounded. Haitians or Jamaicans in the U.S. may be of the same racial type, but they are not part of the Afro-American Nation. They are part of the Haitian and Jamaican national minorities.
Line of March asserts that, while the Black Nation thesis may at one point have been the most revolutionary framework for understanding the nature of Afro-American oppression, there never was a nation, and there never was a "Black national territory or economy." In regard to the question of a common economic life, one of Stalin's criteria, LOM claims that the Afro-American people in the Black Belt region did not have a common economic life. This claim is justified first of all by distorting the meaning of common economic life and substituting the formulation "distinct common economy."
In answer to these professors, let us go back to the basics. It is a bald-faced lie and distortion of the truth to assert that Lenin and Stalin ever meant "distinct national economy" rather than "common economic life" as an essential feature of a nation. For the sake of the Line of March illiterates, let us go back to Stalin's definition of a nation and see what precisely he said.
"A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up, manifested in a common culture." [Stalin, Marxism and the National Colonial Question, p. 22]. Stalin further asserted that the common economic life provides economic cohesion to a particular community of people occupying a certain territory, possessing a common language, etc. What the common economic life expresses is an internal economic bond that "welds the various parts of a nation into a single whole," thus the exchange of commodities, especially at the level of capitalist development where labor power itself becomes a commodity, welds together the community of people of a particular territory, language, etc. into a nation. Then Stalin gave a good example of this process of welding that capitalism performed on the Georgian people of the Czarist Russian Empire.
Georgia came on the scene, as a nation only in the latter half of the nineteenth century, when the fall of serfdom and the growth of the economic life of the country, the development of the means of communication and the rise of capitalism, introduced the division of labor between the various districts of Georgia, completely shattered the economic isolation of the principalities and bound them together into a single whole. [Ibid., p. 21] [Emphasis added].
Note carefully Stalin's observation, "...the growth of the economic life... the rise of capitalism... completely shattered the economic isolation...and bound them together into a single whole." Stalin was making reference to the effect of capitalism upon a particular community of people. Nowhere did he say that this "common economic life" in and of itself introduces the distinction between one nation and another, that the distinction between nations is expressed in their "distinct national economies."
No, the distinction that exists between nations arises from the combination and interaction of all the factors going into the development of a nation language, territory, common economic life and psychological makeup. When Marxist-Leninists speak of the forging of the Afro-American Nation after Reconstruction in the Black Belt South, we are asserting that the features of common language, territory and psychological make-up have already appeared in the development of the Afro-American people and that the growth of capitalism after the Civil War (which was still retarded by remnants of slavery) welded together and continues to weld the Afro-Americans of the Black Belt into a nation.
From the "distinct national economy," Line of March passes over to the totally absurd claim that the Afro-American Nation must possess an independent economy from the Anglo-American Nation in order to satisfy the condition of common economic life.
The surest sign of a distinct economy is the emergence of such 'macroeconomic' phenomena as a distinct monetary and credit system (even if the names of the currency may be the same as that of another nation), a distinct general rate of profit and interest, a developing equity market etc. All nations, even colonized nations, consist of distinct capitalist social formations which exhibit these macroeconomic phenomena. [Line of March, Vol. 1, July/Aug., 1981, p. 5]
Again, the authors' attempt to "render more profound" makes it almost impossible to determine what they are trying to say. We feel sorry for them because, as this statement indicates, the tongue of certain intellectuals has lost its "distinct connection" with the brain. Again note that Lenin and Stalin never put forward that a nation must have a "distinct national economy" in order for it to exist as a nation.
In fact, the level of development of capitalism which provides the common economic life of a developing nation is of no real importance or consequence for the existence of the nation since even the lowest stage of capitalism is more than sufficient to "weld peoples into nations." This is seen in the example given by Stalin as regards the region of Georgia. The level of capitalist development in the Georgian territory was very low. Various remnants of feudalism were still present in the economy (serfdom was still dominant in the countryside until the turn of the century). Yet, as Stalin pointed out, the development of the means of communication and the rise of capitalism led to the fusion of the Georgian peoples into a nation. By the rise of capitalism, Lenin and Stalin are only asserting that fundamentally there is commodity production, exchange and the market. Whether or not this market has evolved to its highest stage, state monopoly capitalism, is completely irrelevant.
In fact, LOM's claims regarding the distinct general rate of profit and interest and a developing market as a condition for common economic life is complete nonsense. Marxist political economy recognizes that for capitalist countries within the world capitalist system, capital will draw different rates of profit and interest as a consequence of the differing composition of capital, and that as capitalism develops there is a tendency for an average rate to establish itself for all countries. Similarly, certain capitalist countries and states have evolved to a level such that a certain specialization in trade takes place where a small number of individuals engage in the trading of money, i.e., an equity market. But what has all this got to do with capitalism's role in fusing nations? Nowhere have Marxist-Leninists made these particular features of capitalist economy conditions for the existence of a nation. For example, the Zairian nation of the 1960's could not have become politically independent since it did not possess these "distinct macroeconomic phenomena." At the time of independence, its economy was completely dominated by Belgium and there were only sixteen Zairian college graduates in the entire country to administer the "distinct monetary and. credit system, equity market, etc." Did the Georgian nation which Stalin described have a monetary system that was distinct from that of Czarist Russia? Which of the oppressed nations in the Austrian Empire had a distinct monetary and credit system?
The common economic life of the Afro-Americans could not develop under slavery because, with very few exceptions, Afro-Americans were not allowed to travel freely, communicate freely with each other, engage in trade, or work for wages. After the Civil War, Afro-Americans moved into areas of trade, became farmers, tradesmen, wage workers, etc. The war itself had brought about improved railroad concessions and other communications. Afro-Americans moved into the cities in large numbers; in some cases, all-Afro-American towns were founded, etc. Many of the Afro-Americans learned quickly to read and write and a written culture, newspapers, schools, books, and an intelligentsia developed. The defeat of Reconstruction and the imposition of the segregationist "Jim Crow" laws stopped any tendency toward assimilation into the Anglo-American Nation as a whole, or the possibility of any independent national development among the Afro-Americans. But it did not eliminate this common economic life.
The semi-feudal tenancy and sharecropping system were part of the peculiar "conditions of existence" which served to weld the Afro-Americans into a nation. Again, the argument that white southerners were subjected to the same conditions of life and the same common economy, ignores the fact that they had not been slaves, were not subject to the "Black Codes" and did not share the common psychology manifested in a "common culture."
In regard to the question of the development of class differentiation and a social division of labor among the Afro-Americans, LOM again applies its special criteria of "distinct from all others" rather than common to the Afro-Americans. LOM admits that there is class differentiation among the Afro-American people, but draws the erroneous conclusion that since an alleged 49.7% of the Black Belt population is made up of "white planters, yeoman farmers, and tenants..." there is no common economic life for the Afro-Americans. LOM's reasoning is that since Afro-American proletarians are exploited by the "white" bourgeoisie, and Afro-American sharecroppers and tenants are exploited mainly by "white" landowners, there is no distinct national economy.
Further, it contends that classes must be defined by their specific relation to one another in the production process. This is another prop to LOM's argument that Afro-Americans have no "distinct" common economy. However, there are many oppressed nations where the majority of the proletariat is exploited by the bourgeoisie of the oppressor nation. In Azania (South Africa), there is no Black bourgeoisie. In Puerto Rico, the majority of the proletarians work for U.S.-owned corporations. On the other hand, LOM ignores the development of the Afro-American petty bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie, whose scope is restricted almost exclusively to the Afro-American market. Although these classes are miniscule relative to the U.S. imperialist bourgeoisie, their existence demonstrates the development of capitalism and "common economy sufficient to fuse the Afro-American people into a nation."
The Line of March argument against the common territory of the Afro-American Nation breaks down into two points. One, allegedly defining the Afro-American Nation on the basis of Black people, the Comintern and the CPUSA were using a racial rather than a national definition, and therefore, the process of picking out that area where the racial grouping constitutes a majority is a totally arbitrary process, not defined by objective criteria. Two, Line of March disputes the idea of a "historic homeland" because
first, much of the territory of the Black Belt was not settled until decades after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 made it part of U.S. territory, whereas Blacks were held in slavery in the five Southern east coast colonies since 1619. In fact, the Black Belt contained the majority of Blacks in the U.S. only from about 1860 until 1900, and this majority never exceeded 55.4% of the Black population. Second, Blacks were a 'stable majority' within the Black Belt only from about 1860 to 1930, the decline beginning as early as 1880. [LOM, Critique of the Black Nation Thesis, p. 47].
The rest of the questions presented by the Line of March in regard to the existence or non-existence of a common territory for the Afro-American people depart from Stalin's definition, which is "a historically constituted stable community of people with a common territory," etc. Stalin makes no mention of relative majorities and minorities but rather the stability and commonality of the community and the territory. In the development of multinational states in the latter period of capitalism, all manner of complex intermingling of nationalities and nations occurs.
Further, Lenin noted that in the period of imperialism, besides those forces which tend to consolidate people into nations, there is the tendency by which workers from the oppressed nations are drawn by the demands of capital to the metropolitan nation and industrialized areas.
Capitalism has given rise to a special form of migration of nations. The rapidly developing industrial countries, introducing machinery on a large scale... raise wages at home above the average rate and thus attract workers from the backward countries.
Hundreds of thousands of workers thus wander hundreds and thousands of versts. Advanced capitalism drags them forcibly into its orbit, tears them out of the backwoods in which they live, makes them participants in the world-historical movement and brings them face to face with the powerful, united, international class of factory owners.
America heads the list of countries which import workers. [LCW, Vol. 20, p. 68].
Therefore, the argument that a substantial portion of the Afro-American population no longer resides in the common national territory does not negate the existence of a nation in that territory or have any bearing on the question at all. The fact that large numbers of Afro-Americans left the Black Belt and its border regions to work in industry in the north and west is completely consistent with Lenin's description of the effects of imperialist domination upon an oppressed nation.
The important point in deciding the question of a common territory in regard to the Afro-American people is that millions of Afro-Americans have inhabited and continue to inhabit a more or less continuous area in which they developed a common economic life and a common culture. And, further that many of the Afro-Americans who were forced, either by economic necessity or political terror, to leave this territory still regard it as their homeland.
Bankruptcy of the "White United Front"
Despite their elaborately-concocted statistical and pseudo-theoretical arguments, their fundamental position is that racism is the basis of the oppression of Afro-Americans. Passing over much of their revisionist exposition, we come to the point of their new Lovestoneite theory, that there exists a "white united front" based on the "white racial group."
In these circumstances, there is no more powerful weapon at the command of monopoly capital than the white united front. The basis for this front is for whites, no matter what their class, to act politically on the basis of their common racial interest. While this racial interest principally serves the bourgeoisie, since for the ruling class there is no contradiction between its interest in the capital relation and the race relation, it is also a factor that impacts whites in the working class. For to the extent that racism serves to protect whites as whites from an equal share in the general emiseration of the working class, there exists a material basis for significant sectors of the white workers to see their racial interest as principal over their class interest. [Line of March, Sept.-Oct. 1981, p. 87].
This "material basis" for a white united front is a pure fiction. Insofar as white workers are workers who produce surplus value which is expropriated by the bourgeoisie, there is no material basis for unity of interests between the workers and the bourgeoisie. Given that the Anglo-American workers constitute an overwhelming majority of the working class in the United States, there cannot be any "general" impoverishment or worsening of conditions for the working class as a whole without it affecting the Anglo-American section of the working class. The Line of March seeks to elevate the entire Anglo-American section of the working class to the level of the bribed labor aristocracy. The labor aristocracy does receive certain material benefits from the imperialist bourgeoisie and consequently sees its interests as coinciding with the ruling class. There is no evidence to show that the rest of the Anglo-American working class is in a comparable position. Indeed, it appears that LOM has manufactured this entire elaborate theoretical fiction in order to justify its fear of the working class and its revolutionary mission. For if the Anglo-American workers have a material interest in uniting with the imperialist bourgeoisie, then the LOM folks are not required to make any serious effort to organize a party of working class revolution.
The Afro-American Nation Today
Returning once again to Stalin's definition we find a stable community of people, occupying essentially the same territory from generation to generation, speaking the same language, having a common economic life and a common psychology, manifested in a common culture.
Beyond a doubt, there are still millions of Afro-American people living in the same places that millions of Afro-American people have lived for nearly 200 years, in a crescent shaped area that extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the western reaches of the Mississippi delta, and on into Texas, from New Orleans in the South up to Memphis, Tennessee.
These Afro-American people share a common economic life which binds them together. The Marxist meaning of a common economic life is an economy based on the exchange of commodities, a common market which promotes the development of communications, and breaks down the old isolation of the subsistence or feudal economy, a social division of labor based on the development of classes and the development of specialization of various branches of industry. In the Black Belt South we find all of these characteristics developed among the Afro-American people. An economy, still based largely on agriculture, has expanded into the processing and transportation of agricultural and forest products. The crops are more diversified: to the cotton, tobacco, sugar cane and rice of the earlier days have been added soy beans and modern capital-intensive poultry raising. The great pine forests are being harvested as an agricultural crop. As to communications, modern roads and highways cut across the Black Belt from north to south and east to west. Huge semis transport goods across the area. Radio, television, telegraph and telephones connect even the most remote areas.
As to the question of class differentiation, even in the Black Belt areas there has been a growth of class division among the Afro-American people, In the cities of the Black Belt the petty bourgeoisie, based on doctors, lawyers, school teachers, etc. has grown. The proletariat is no longer confined to the border areas: Firestone tire plants in Albany, Georgia; Masonite and chicken processing plants in Laurel, Mississippi; chemicals and other industries on the lower Mississippi delta are just a few of the industries that have been developed in the Black Belt in order to exploit the labor of the Afro-Americans who have been driven from the land. This has led to a tremendous growth of the Afro-American proletariat in the Black Belt itself.
It is true that the system of sharecropping and the domination of cotton has been reduced to a tiny fraction of its former scope. Despite the reduced demands for agricultural labor, about one-third of the Afro-Americans in the South live in rural areas. One would have to look hard to see a mule huge tractors have taken their place. The former sharecroppers and their sons and daughters now drive these tractors, often as hired hands, or work as wage laborers in various agriculture related industries. They are still exploited by the same landowners and monopoly capitalists.
The forms of national oppression may have altered. There are only a few sharecroppers left, mainly in the Mississippi Delta and the Carolinas where tobacco still requires much hard labor, but a new type of debt peonage holds many Afro-Americans in its clutches. The same white landlord still owns the agricultural land and the factories involved in processing agricultural products; "the man" still owns the local stores and controls credit at the local bank. Often a landowner will allow a family to live in one of the cropper shacks for "free" if the children will "help out" at harvest and other peak labor times. Jimmy Carter is one of these landlords, with land and a peanut processing operation and strong ties to U.S. imperialist capital. The pulpwood cutters are still in the position of debt peonage to the monopoly capitalist paper companies.
The degree of political oppression in the Black Belt is severe. Political terror, carried out both by the police, sheriffs and "extra-legal" fascist gangs such as the Ku Klux Klan is the rule rather than the exception. In the 1977 case of five young Afro-Americans framed on murder charges in Dawson, Georgia, a former member of the sheriff's department described some of the methods used to terrorize the Afro-American population. He talked about the beatings and mistreatment of Afro-American prisoners, of the police riding through Afro-American neighborhoods poisoning dogs in order to harass the people. He told how the mayor came and got the machine gun from the National Guard armory to "take care of" an Afro-American citizen who had displeased him.
In 1980, in Tupelo, Mississippi, armed Klansmen tried to terrorize the people. In the course of the demonstrations, the Klan revealed what people already knew, that many pf the police were in the Klan, and that the police organize the Klan.
Armed Anglo-American police or sheriffs stand at many polling places in the Black Belt on voting days "encouraging" Afro-Americans not to vote. Sometimes they stand outside the polling places and arrest any Afro-Americans who have outstanding parking tickets, etc. The case in Pickens County, Alabama in which Julia Wilder and Maggie Bozeman were railroaded into jail for registering absentee voters, is instructive. As long as the women kept supporting the candidates of the landowners' choice, they were "ok," but when they supported an Afro-American candidate they were persecuted and jailed.
As a consequence, there are still very few Afro-American elected officials in the Black Belt areas. And the few who are elected in spite of the fact that they are merely liberal reformists, are attacked by the reactionaries, and as in the case of Eddie Carthan in Tchula, Mississippi, they are framed and removed from office.
In one small Alabama town, the Afro-American majority managed to elect Afro-American representatives to the town council. In retaliation, the out-going councilmen returned the ownership of all the roads and rights of way to the private landowners, thereby crippling the town government.
These are only a few examples of the continued denial of political rights which the Afro American people suffer because they are an oppressed nation, subject to the political rule of the U.S. imperialist bourgeoisie.
And still, despite the continued persecution, Afro-Americans view the South as their "homeland." In 1973, at least one-third of the Afro-Americans living in other parts of the U.S. were originally from the South. And as the economic crisis in the industrial areas continues to deepen, the out-migration of Afro-Americans has reversed there are now more returning to the South than leaving it. Many of those returning are settling in Birmingham and Atlanta, cities which border the Black Belt, while others are moving back to areas in the Black Belt.
Even among those Afro-Americans who do not move back to the South, there are definite cultural institutions which reflect and keep alive the "down home" feeling towards the Black Belt. Homecomings and footwashings in the rural areas are gatherings of Afro-American people from the cities such as Birmingham and from other parts of the country where the people come "home" for a few days of good food, good music and good company. Family reunions are a custom in the Black Belt area and bordering region; Afro-American families which have been scattered across the country come back home to renew their ties. These reunions often include hundreds of relatives who charter buses from California, Chicago and Detroit to return home. The "hometown clubs" found in some northern cities are another reflection of this general phenomenon.
One aspect that all of the revisionist theories on the Afro-American national question have in common is that they all objectively unite with the policy of national oppression of the U.S. imperialist bourgeoisie. The revisionists negate the responsibility of the Anglo-American communists to fight white chauvinism, they negate the duty of Anglo-American communists to organize actively among the white proletariat, and they encourage the Anglo-American communists to take a passive role in party building and leading a revolutionary movement for socialism in this country. Whether it is the "Three Worlds Theory," claiming that the oppressed peoples will lead, the Line of March claiming that whites are going against their material interests in fighting racism, or the CPUSA dropping altogether the slogan of self-determination all these theories mean that in practice the Anglo-American communists do not have to go among the Anglo-American proletariat and confront, fight and defeat white supremacist ideology and bourgeois influence. This indicates a total lack of faith in the masses, a lack of faith that the Anglo-American working class is indeed capable of carrying out its historic mission to make revolution. This indicates a fear of revolution itself, and this failure is downright cowardice. Furthermore, tailing behind the rankest national reformists demonstrates a lack of confidence in the Afro-American masses as well.
As the U.S. imperialists move toward fascism and a policy of inciting pogroms and massacres of one nationality by another, the U.S. working class movement must make a break with these policies or the workers movement will, as Stalin said, "be drowned in blood."
In conclusion, we would like to point out that the struggle against revisionism on the question of Afro-American liberation must take place not only in the theoretical and ideological sphere but in the political and economic spheres. We believe that the comrades of the RPO/ML are indeed doing that. The Anglo-American comrades have energetically taken up the struggle against white chauvinism in the Anglo-American working class. They have directly confronted the Klan and liberal chauvinism. They have also carried out the day to day struggle in the trade unions and in the work places against all manifestations of white supremacy. Our comrades, Anglo- and Afro-Americans have been threatened, attacked, and arrested but never have they backed away from the struggle. And this struggle has produced results, more and more Anglo-Americans work and stand alongside their class brothers.
We have full confidence in the ability of the Anglo-American working class to defeat the influence of white chauvinism in its ranks and carry out its historic mission in the international struggle to overthrow the imperialist powers. We have full confidence that proletarian internationalism can overcome bourgeois nationalism in all its forms and the united U.S. working class and oppressed nations can be victorious over U.S. imperialism.
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