Critique of the organisation 'Revolutionary Workers Headquarters' on the Black Liberation Movement: Wrong Again!
This third pamphlet in a series of Marxist-Leninist debate publications by the League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L) features an essay by Amiri Baraka, "The RWH on the BLM: Wrong Again." Comrade Baraka's essay was written in rebuttal to the position published by the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters on the Afro-American national question, Build the Black Liberation Movement (Pole Publications, 1981, Box 5597, Chicago, IL 60680). It presents the League's analysis of the deep chauvinism pervading in the RWH 's line on the Afro-American national question.
Comrade Baraka also puts forth some further developments of the League's line on the Afro-American national question. The questions he addresses are of broad theoretical importance as well as contemporary interest, such as the national-democratic character of the Black liberation movement and its relationship to socialist revolution, questions concerning a class analysis of the Afro-American people and a communist policy towards different sectors of the Black bourgeoisie, programmatic and tactical problems. This recent essay is the latest contribution to a series of theoretical writings by the League on the Afro-American national question, published over the past two years. Included in this pamphlet is a list of these theoretical essays and articles which present a sampling of views of the League on the Afro-American national question for the current Marxist-Leninist debates.
Jim Woods offers a review of Comrade Baraka's essay, "Notes on Baraka's 'RWH on the BLM: Wrong Again' From a White Communist," also included in this publication. His review urges the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters to seriously consider the points in Comrade Baraka's essay. In the current atmosphere of heightened racism, conservatism and racial polarization in the U.S. society, Jim Woods' comments are especially timely in cautioning against the dangers of a Bakke-type reaction inside sectors of the communist movement to criticisms of chauvinism.
What concrete stand communists will take on the national question lies at the heart of the struggle for Marxist-Leninist unity. It is one of the most pressing and central questions of the revolutionary struggle in the United States. We hope these articles in laying out the League's critique of the RWH's chauvinism will help to bring about a greater understanding of the RWH and of the communist movement of the national question. By bringing into sharper focus the outstanding political issues and our own views, we hope they will help open a clearer and wider path to unity.
- League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L)
Readings by the LRS on the Afro-American national question:
1. Forward No.3 - on the merger of the LRS and RCL.
2. Commentary - Black human rights begins with Self-Determination. UNITY, November 2, 1979.
3. Baraka commentary on the relationship of the Marxist-Leninist party to the Black Liberation Movement and the Black united front. UNITY, March 14, 1980.
4. Revolution and Black Liberation in the 80's. UNITY, April 25, 1979.
5. Martin Luther King and the struggle for democracy, UNITY, March 20, 1981.
RWH on the Black Liberation Movement: Wrong Again!
What is overwhelmingly apparent from reading Revolutionary Workers Headquarter's (RWH) recent publication on the BLM, Build The Black Liberation Movement (Pole Publications, Box 5597, Chicago, IL 60680) is that they are trying, with something approaching a comically uncoordinated frenzy, to correct and clean up the lines they once held when they were part of the old RU / RCP.(1) And certainly this is a noble undertaking on the face of it. RU / RCP was, and remains, one of the most outrageously white chauvinist and wrong-headed organizations extant, especially with regards to its "line" on the Afro-American National Question. (Though, in truth, the RU / RCP has generally got bizarre anti-Marxist lines on just about anything you'd care to investigate.)
But what is also overwhelming is RWH's consistent upholding of these RU / RCP lines, in spire of themselves. Sometimes it is like an old junkie one has known a long time who now tells you he is going to "clean up" and bores a hole in your head with this Christmas tree fantasy, but at the same time still speaks so lovingly and hungrily about "scag" that one is certain he is never going to kick. In fact, while he is talking to you, you can still see a trace of spittle in the corners of the mouth, the eyes begin to sag just a bit, and the telltale hand starts to scratch ubiquitously at the dried skin the drug has made.
However, we must not just wave our hands and dismiss the RWH, we must try to wage some genuine struggle with them, pointing out the telltale signs that they have indeed not cleaned up, that they are definitely using the same old RU / RCP heroin of subjectivism, white chauvinism which now deprived of its old' 'left" cover reveals not a little straight out social democratic gobbledeegook. RWH's pamphlet begins by calling RU / RCP lines "ultra left"(p. 1) though they are clear they were "chauvinist." But what is incorrect is that they call those lines simply ultra left, as if that was their essence as well. The "ultra left" character of RU / RCP was, and remains, to a large extent, a cover. And most of the time, there was not even much cover.
The infamous support of white racists under the call of "Smash Busing" (2) in Boston is probably the most well known instance of a blatantly right wing, even racist, line of RU's which could be called by some people "ultra left!" But RU's lines that the "main danger in the Marxist movement was narrow nationalism," (3) their thinly veiled attempts to destroy black and other oppressed nationality organizations, including their antics within the National Liaison Committee", stamped them as right wing and white chauvinist among many black activists long ago.
What RWH has done is simply dismiss RU / RCP as "ultra left," but in too many instances repeat the same line or close variants of that line, ditching the "left" rhetoric for the crooning "sincerity" of beleaguered social democrats. But as they profess their sincere desire to be rid of the old RU / RCP lines, they are coming out with them under a new cover.
One of the most obvious and onerous of the old RU / RCP lines is RWH's deafening repetition of the fallacy that the Afro-American Nation has dispersed,' This, of course, was RU / RCP's justification for their completely anti-Marxist "formulation" that blacks were a "nation of a new type" and that, essentially, the black nation is "everywhere" blacks are. This formulation was a thin cover for the real RU / RCP thrust that the nation was no where, that it had ceased to exist. So it followed from their feverish illogic that blacks then had lost their right to self-determination.
The "left" cover was that blacks were now a "proletarian" nation, so that their struggle was for proletarian revolution, and to talk of self-determination and struggles for democracy was essentially reformist. But the reality of their line was that it was a simple ploy, a device, to couch the white chauvinism and petty-bourgeois subjectivism of the RU / RCP. They ended up exactly in tune with the bourgeoisie. Of the black nation - "there ain't no suchha thing."
RWH now has seen the light, they say. They understand the" ultra-left and chauvinist" character of the RU / RCP and so they now agree that there is an Afro-American Nation in the Black-belt South, and it is obvious that it has been the struggle of communists and the black masses, the opposition to such obvious white chauvinism, that has made the RWH reconsider its position. So now they must smuggle in the RU / RCP lines, while maintaining furiously that they support the existence of the Afro-American Nation and the right of that nation to Self-Determination!
So we hear over and over with discouraging ubiquity that the black nation has been dispersed. On page 3, "Black people today are largely dispersed in urban ghettos all over the country." Most of these urban ghettos, however, are in the Black-belt South.
On pages 24, 29, 30, 31, 34 and 50, this sincere croon that they uphold the black nation and its right to self-determination is consistently undermined by telling us, however, that nation is dispersed. On page 24 they say that black people formed a stable community of people (one scientific requirement for the existence of a nation) "throughout the period" up until World War II. As if, somehow, after that period the situation has changed. Even in the period of the highest numbers of outward migration from the South, the core population was stable, and even after that high migration there were still more African Americans in the South than outside it!
Page 30, "This dispersal from the Black Belt ... "; on page 31, "The dispersed and urbanized Black people ... As a result of dispersal most Blacks are workers." Page 34 comes right out with it: "The dispersal already described has led to a situation where the majority of Blacks now live outside the homeland area." A statement which is a simple lie or made by people ignorant of simple statistics. As of 1981, 60% of the African American people live in the South.
And again, on page 50, "The Afro-American nation ... is dispersed from its territorial base." The repetition, over and over, of something that is first of all simply untrue, but one wonders why? This is the classic RU / RCP lie, but why should our well-meaning ex-junkie friends keep maintaining this lie? Nations can be dispersed, both Lenin and Stalin have pointed this out. (Though RWH says it has trouble with Comrade Stalin (p. 32) and his formulations around the National Question, which is another trait of the RU / RCP and a rising tendency among latent social democrats who think they see an opening to spread revisionism because of what they think is happening in the People's Republic of China.) If, as RWH says, the Nation has been dispersed, then why support its existence and right to self-determination in the black belt? That would be metaphysics!! Or is it that our social democrat friends think that black people deserve a gift, that they are being kind to black people, as a demonstration of their heartrending sincerity! What rot!!
The RU / RCP line is maintained with an alarming consistency, despite the protests to the contrary. Whether we see it maintained head on, as in the case of the "dispersal," or through a variety of slivers and splinters from the parent line, it is clear.
For instance, some supposed Marxists are attacking Stalin like this, "We have found this formulation insufficient and potentially misleading," with regard to the criteria for a Nation. Well, what formulation has RWH come up with except RU / RCP's?
They smuggle in another of the really dopey RU / RCP lines that "the Black Nation is everywhere" black people are. (including a phone booth in Sioux City?) This was the additional metaphysics of the RU / RCP's dispersal nonsense that RWH still maintains. On page 34, after saying that "the majority of Blacks now live outside the homeland area," they go on to say, contradictorily, that "the Black Belt South remains the area of the highest concentration of Blacks," but then they try to slip in the famous RU / RCP chestnut that "all Blacks constitute the Black nation," but they couch it kittenishly thusly, "One question that has been raised since the first draft of this paper is what are the practical and theoretical implications of asserting that all Blacks constitute the Black nation as opposed to the more common formulation of a nation in the Black Belt / national minority elsewhere?" They go on to say that "it avoids artificial differentiation and the downplaying of the national character of struggles outside the Black Belt." They even say that "in the event of a plebiscite on secession, all Blacks, not just those in the Black Belt area, would have the right to participate."
But all this is so much face scratching and heroin-caused nodding and twitching. The old junk is taking its toll and it is embarrassing! They set it up by quoting partially, in the true RU / RCP style, Stalin: "The persons constituting a nation do not always live in one compact mass; they are frequently divided into groups, and in that form are interspersed among alien national organisms. It is capitalism which drives them into various regions and cities in search of a livelihood."
This partial formulation suits their purpose, i.e., "The nation is everywhere," thus it is nowhere. But wouldn't you just know they had left off the other half of the quotation which disputes their fabulous non-formulation? Stalin went on to say, "But when they enter foreign national territories and there form minorities (our emphasis), these groups are made to suffer by the local national majorities in the way of restrictions on their language, schools, etc." (p. 334-5 Stalin, Selected Works, Vol. 2).
A nation must have a specific territory in which it exists. A person leaving that territory does not lose his or her nationality automatically, but they do not and cannot carry that national territory with them! RWH says they are not certain that the "Nation in the Black Belt/Oppressed Nationality" formulation is correct either; they say, "We are less concerned about the form the evaluation takes than the content - is the essentially common character of the Black struggle throughout the U.S. recognized."
This last is a little sop thrown in our direction, since the formulation "Nation in the Black Belt/Oppressed Nationality everywhere else in the U.S." is a gloss on our formulation. But we explained in our writings that we used the term Oppressed Nationality rather than National Minority outside the Black Belt because we didn't want to play into the hands of the CPUSA and other liquidators of the Afro-American national question (including RU / RCP), who spoke of the African American people as a national minority everywhere in the U.S.
The Oppressed Nationality for us is synonymous with Oppressed National Minority, we are just adjusting to the level of opportunism and chauvinism that exists around the question and trying to counter it even in our basic terminology!
Interestingly enough, RWH's and RU / RCP's line on "the nation is everywhere" is very much like that of the cultural nationalist, Ron Karenga, (6) whom they quote quite often throughout their pamphlet. Perhaps this is why they quote him so much. Perhaps this is also why they confuse the nature of the Black Liberation Movement, which is a National Democratic struggle for Self-Determination, with nationalism.
But this is also part of the still existing legacy of RU / RCP which RWH maintains despite the horrifying smell.
* * *
RWH's failure to understand the BLM at base is the root of most of its problems. The subjectivism and chauvinism and free-floating social democracy trap them again and again. They say they repudiate RU / RCP's attacks on the BLM as reformist if it was not outright for socialism. But on page 43, here is an exemplary bit of sophistry. They begin by saying, “National liberation is not the same as socialism." And we say, wow, maybe there’s hope for them. But then they start the same old nodding with this incredible round the corner repetition of their old errors. "It is, in fact, a struggle for liberation. This makes it a component part of the overall struggle against imperialism and therefore overall for socialism." (our emphasis)
The Black Liberation Movement is not a struggle for socialism. It is a struggle, a National Democratic Liberation struggle. It is the struggle of an oppressed nation for liberation: for land, political power, self-determination and democracy. It has to be fought against the white racist monopoly capitalist ruling class which is the same class that the multinational struggle for socialism is fought. But the BLM is not a struggle for socialism!
It would be good if RWH would occasionally read Lenin and Mao (before or after reading Karenga, perhaps). If the BLM is led by the working class, the struggle can go uninterruptedly to the struggle for socialism, but the BLM is at this time, first and foremost a struggle against U.S. imperialism and the white racist monopoly capitalist class in control of it.
We must give full play to the BLM as to the struggle of all of the oppressed nationalities because their struggle is against the same enemies as the multinational working class. This is why the strategic alliance is between the Multinational working class and the Oppressed Nationalities. But we must not confuse, with a left or a right cast, the essence and character of these liberation movements.
It was the RU / RCP and countless other "left" posturing pseudo-Marxists that confused the BLM and the struggle for socialism. This was the old RWL, WVO and PRRWO's problem (the so-called "Revolutionary Wing"). This is why a genuine Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary Party is so desperately needed because it would give guidance to all the liberation movements as well as the multinational workers movement for socialism. It would lead by its stance and views and actions and transform objective allies (all the movements fighting against the U.S. monopoly capitalist class) into conscious allies!!
Again and again, RWH seems to think that the essence of the BLM is Nationalism, so like good social democrats, they are ready to turn the other cheek to this "eclectic political philosophy" (p. 21), since it is "an unchallenged assumption among the leading forces of the BLM" (p. 49).
The great majority of the Black masses are not nationalists per se, in the sense that they possess this specific "eclectic political philosophy" RWH refers to, though for sure, within the BLM there is a great deal of bourgeois nationalism. But the Black masses' struggle historically has been a struggle for democracy, equality. It is a national democratic struggle because it is a whole nation oppressed. It is a national struggle for democracy. A struggle that is national in character against white supremacy, racism, national robbery and denial of rights.
Even bourgeois nationalism, to paraphrase Lenin, has progressive aspects in the struggle against imperialism. But for RWH to make a case for the majority of the Black masses being Nationalists seems only a ploy to legitimatize RWH tailing bourgeois nationalists, such as Karenga, etc., or inside the NBUF.
Formal nationalists form a very small part of the BLM and its objective united front. There is a national consciousness that exists among most sectors of the Black masses and the focused part of their national movement which we refer to as the BLM. But too often bourgeois nationalism is a reason that these forces miss connection with the Black masses, since the masses are not nationalists!
In fact, part of the struggle within the BLM is to continue to build the legitimate National Consciousness of the masses (not a sense of national exclusiveness which they reject)! The "raw ghetto nationalism" (as opposed to the well-cooked white nationalism against which the Black masses struggle) (7) RWH speaks of, is not nationalism at all, per se, but a revolutionary National Democratic spirit of resistance and struggle that has characterized the African American people historically. The insistence on equality, the insistence that Black people refuse to stay oppressed forever, the rejection of "the inferiority" everywhere put upon them by the white racist monopoly capitalist power structure and its apologists (even pseudo-Marxist ones), is what RWH wants to call nationalism. And they cannot even think to cover it by calling it Revolutionary Nationalism, which is acceptable but in our mind not precise, in the same sense as National Revolutionary or Revolutionary Democratic is. There is nothing exclusive or narrow nationalist in the Black masses, in the main, theirs is a historical yearning for democracy!
Stalin pointed out that "the national struggle under the conditions of rising capitalism is a struggle of the bourgeois classes among themselves" (p. 34, Marxism & the National Question, Stalin). But under imperialism the struggle of the colonial, semicolonial, dependent, subject and oppressed nations against imperialism is part and parcel of the proletariat's struggle against imperialism. It was for this reason that Lenin spoke in Lenin on the National And Colonial Questions about referring to these movements not as Bourgeois-Democratic, but as National Revolutionary!
For the African American people, the slave trade, slavery, the destruction of the reconstruction under rising imperialism which completed the conditions for the emergence of the Afro-American Nation, are all the basis for the historical resistance and struggle of black people in the U.S. It has not been a contention over markets that has seen to the rising of "national sentiment," i.e., national consciousness among black people, but their historic oppression!
Obviously, there is a black bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie and there are nationalist elements within the BLM, but we look at these elements dialectically, separating out what is positive and revolutionary from what is negative and reactionary. But as for nationalism itself, Lenin said, "Marxism cannot be reconciled with nationalism, be it even of the 'most just,' 'purest,' most refined and civilized brand. In place of all forms of nationalism, Marxism advances internationalism, the amalgamation of all nations in the higher unity .... " (Lenin, Critical Remarks on the National Question, Progressive Publishers, Moscow, p. 22) But it is voluntary unity based on the right of self-determination that will bring about this "higher unity," not chauvinism and tailing after nationalists!
Lenin also says in the same piece, "the Marxist fully recognizes the historical legitimacy of national movements. But to prevent this recognition from becoming an apologia of nationalism, it must be strictly limited to what is progressive in such movements, in order that this recognition may not lead to bourgeois ideology obscuring proletarian consciousness." (ibid p. 22)
The Black Liberation Movement must be analyzed and criticized according to dialectics, just like everything else. RWH says that the BLM is "nationalist nonetheless in its struggle for Black control over Black destiny and its rejection of relying on white allies." (p. 49). But the struggle of a people to control their own destiny is a National Liberation Struggle, a National Democratic struggle, and the instrument of that struggle is a United Front of all the classes, etc., committed to that struggle. Within that front there are varying ideologies, according to the class one focuses on. It is the reason that Stalin (RWH 's antagonist) says, "Whether the proletariat rallies to the banner of bourgeois nationalism depends on the degree of development of class antagonisms, on the class consciousness and degree of organization of the proletariat" (p. 32, Marxism & the National Question), and further, "But the workers are interested in the complete amalgamation of all their fellow-workers into a single international army, in their speedy and final emancipation from intellectual bondage to the bourgeoisie, and in the full and free development of the intellectual forces of their brothers, whatever nation they may belong to." (op. cit., p. 35)
Is the Afro-American Nation a nation without a proletariat? True, there is the need for the development of "National Sentiment," i.e., National Consciousness as opposition to the line of imperialist amalgamation, the fake "citizenship" that comes without rights the monopoly capitalist bourgeoisie tries to fake black people (and the other oppressed nationalities) out with. But this is agitation for democratic struggle, not nationalism!
RWH's tailing of cultural nationalism becomes even more embarrassing. On page 71, they actually say this, when commenting on Ron Karenga's self-serving statement that Nationalism, Pan' Africanism and Marxism are three trends within the BLM, but "that Marxism and Pan Africanism are isolated on the basis that they don't have a thoroughgoing critique of racism. We think this is true to a certain extent. Not that Marxism can't answer questions, but it hasn't." (Our emphasis.) Such groveling in the face of, or under the behind of, Cultural Nationalism, is sickening in the extreme.
First of all, all of the great teachers of Marxism, Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, have made thoroughgoing studies of national chauvinism. Is racism something outside this? Is it innate to white people, the way cultural nationalists say it is? Is that the "thoroughgoing critique" RWH desires??
What RWH means is that white chauvinists such as RU / RCP and now RWH have not. They mean that all the white chauvinists who have historically smelled up the U.S. Marxist-Leninist movement have not. People who say "smash busing" or "the main danger in the M-L movement is narrow nationalism" have not. That's true.
Or perhaps they are just confessing so that when we read, for instance, the blatant white chauvinism of RWH's stupid racist statements like "(black) culture has contributed to and shaped all of American culture, more in music (our emphasis) than anyplace else." (p. 33)
What about "Blacks are a relatively small (17%) minority in this country."?
Or this? "The right of self-determination is not a conscious demand of the Black masses." (p. 52)
What about this, as the height of subjectivism and chauvinism? (p. 71) "The BLM is somewhat fragile (our emphasis) and its very existence comes into question during periods of ebb." Fragile related to what? Certainly not the Marxist-Leninist movement in the U.S. dominated as it has been by the white chauvinist petty bourgeoisie? Whew, the stuff is unbelievable, the nodding and twitching and scratching. And they want us to believe they have kicked their bad habits??
Another continuing bad habit RWH maintains is its lack of understanding (probably borne of lack of analysis) of the Afro-American nation, the African American people, both in the Black-belt and as an oppressed nationality wherever else in the U.S. they exist.
The section on Classes in the Afro-American Nation shows this lack of analysis and understanding very clearly. For instance, RWH thinks that the NAACP is a creation of the Black bourgeoisie and that the NAACP represents the Black bourgeoisie. They also think that the views of the Black bourgeoisie are "represented by forces like the Urban League and Johnson Publications." (p. 37)
The Urban League and NAACP are creations of the white monopoly capitalist class. And though some of the views that this class has imposed on the black bourgeoisie and some of the black bourgeoisie's own views do come through, in the main, these organizations, at the national level, represent and put forth the views of the white racist monopoly capitalist class.
To join together, as if they were the same, the Urban League and Johnson Publications, is not to understand that the former is a creation of the white corporate class and the latter is an organ of the Black bourgeoisie. It is not to understand that the Black bourgeoisie has at least two sectors, a national sector whose market is Black people, and a comprador-like sector who are simply agents of the white corporate class.
RWH thinks also (p. 38) that "today's Black petty bourgeoisie was created in response to the Civil Rights struggle and the BLM." Certainly there is one sector of this class that was created in that fashion, but the black petty bourgeoisie began to come into existence, among freed blacks even during slavery.
Also, RWH tends to think more of "the leading role" played by the black petty bourgeoisie, which has been considerable, than the role played by the black working masses, which would probably account for its quoting of Karenga far more times than Malcolm X and not understanding that the largest movements of blacks in this country for self-determination have been Garvey's UNIA, composed in the main of urban workers (as a newly transformed peasantry) and Elijah Muhammad's NOI which was overwhelmingly working class in its origins and at its high point. The fact that the leadership was not working class is important in analyzing the development of both these movements. But if RWH also thinks that there was "no conscious demand for self-determination" in these movements, they are inhabiting a cave of chauvinism even deeper than the one we suspected. This would also account for them not understanding that the historically formed movement for self-determination extends back at least to the black convention movement of the early part of the 19th century. That it was black demands for land which were reflected in the radical Republicans' call for "40 acres and a mule" and that the Garvey movement, African Blood Brotherhood, Nation of Islam, US organization, the Black Panthers, African Peoples Party, Congress of African People, League of Revolutionary Black Workers, DRUM, etc., have all made the demand for self-determination."
The most glaring example of RWH's failure to analyze and understand the BLM and its class organization is their characterization of unemployed and displaced black workers as an "underclass;" demonstrating the Marxist analysis of Time magazine and bourgeois sociologists (p. 41-2).
Why "underclass"? The reason for RWH's terminology is even more terrifying once one comes to understand (p. 42-3) that what they really want to do is identify great numbers of unemployed and displaced black workers as lumpen, the class broken by capitalism, the pimps and prostitutes, the junkies and alcoholics who prey on the working class as parasites! Dig this: "The lower section of the Black urban poor is the most oppressed by the system. They are often the most volatile and in the 1960's one view hailed them as the leading force in the American revolution." (Watch the cute stutter step now!) "This line of lumpen class leadership (which was defined to include the underclass as well) was supported by citations from Algerian theoretician Frantz Fanon and promoted by the Black Panther Party."
Incredible! First, make a non-class analysis akin to bourgeois sociology, "underclass," then slide this into a discussion of the lumpen! It is Lenin who said that it is the lower stratum of the working class that is the most militant. These are not the lumpen, those broken parasites created by capitalism. The lower stratum of the working class is just that, the lower stratum of the working class!
RWH thinks Lumpen means only criminal. They are a criminal class most times, but they are broken, destroyed, by capitalism. RWH thinks the "big time Black gangsters" are the lumpen. Big time gangsters of any nationality might be members of the petty bourgeoisie or bourgeoisie, depending on how "big time" they are. Marx's definition of lumpen, "The dangerous class, the social scum, that passively rotten mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society ... " This does not describe the lower stratum of black workers.
RWH stumbles through each section of its attempted analysis of the BLM. Its failure to understand the essence of a liberation movement as a struggle for democracy and the relevance of this kind of struggle to the struggle for socialism means that it errs in almost every category of would be analysis. One wonders, echoing Lenin, how one can be a Marxist if you can not even be a democrat?
Far from not making conscious demands for self-determination, each class within the Black Nation and oppressed nationality sound their call for self-determination in a different way, a way relating to that particular class' needs. In talking about black political power, RWH says "raising the demand for Black political power avoids two frequent pitfalls of Marxists in the BLM: liquidating the national struggle and reducing it to a series of reformist struggles around particulars like housing or police; raising the demand for self-determination in the abstract, instead of proceeding from the actual level of consciousness that exists and the actual struggles being waged."
Here RWH has gone wrong on two major points. The questions of housing, or police, which RWH sees as "reformist" are exactly the kinds of questions that the black masses are involved with. It is just these concrete struggles for democracy which provide the fuel for the journey the masses must make to thoroughly revolutionary positions. The call for Self-Determination itself is a democratic demand as well. Communists must raise it, because without the consistent struggle for democracy, the struggle for socialism is a caricature. But it is a democratic struggle, part of the minimum programme of any genuine U.S. Communist Party.
Again, to characterize these democratic struggles as "a series of reformist struggles" is to echo the infantile "leftism" of RU / RCP, The Wing and others. It is not to understand the relationship between the various struggles for democracy and the struggle for socialism!
But then, RWH, catching itself in full stride seems to contradict itself by opposing the "demand for self-determination in the abstract, instead of proceeding from the actual level of consciousness that exists ... " RWH thinks that "actual level" of consciousness of the black masses is a cultural nationalist consciousness, unconscious of self-determination. And as inaccurate as that is, is it not the Communists' duty to raise the question of thorough-going democracy, equality and even Socialist revolution and Communism?!
Lenin pointed out to Rosa Luxembourg, who also opposed the "impracticability" and "abstraction" of raising the call for Self-Determination: "For the proletariat, however, the important thing is to strengthen its class against the bourgeoisie and to educate the masses in the spirit of consistent democracy and socialism.
"This may not be 'practical' as far as the opportunists are concerned, but it is the only real guarantee, the guarantee of the greater national equality and peace, despite the feudal landlords and the nationalist bourgeoisie.
"The whole task of the proletarians in the national question is 'unpractical' from the standpoint of the nationalist bourgeoisie of every nation, because the proletarians, opposed as they are to nationalism of every kind, demand 'abstract' equality; they demand, as a matter of principle, that there should be no privileges, however slight." (The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, Lenin, p. 54, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1971).
RWH then lets the big drugged cat out of the bag. In talking about "Black political power," they say, "In the main this question will be located in the arenas of electoral politics and government functioning." Yipes!!! This is the "practicality" RWH was edging toward. Is this the "practical" demand for Self-Determination that RWH meant? In the piece just quoted by Lenin, he says, "On the plea that its demands are 'practical,' the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations will call upon the proletariat to support its aspirations unconditionally." (op. cit., p. 55)
Of course we must "locate" the just cry of self-determination in the calls of all of the classes in the Black Nation and oppressed nationality for democracy and equality (in whatever sphere), political power and land, but it is certainly the role of communists to point out that the freest and fullest expression of Self-Determination will come with the overthrow of the white racist monopoly capitalist ruling class! This is the practicality we seek, though if we understand mass democratic struggle we will seize on every instance of concrete struggle to propagandize and agitate for the liberation of the Black Nation which cannot come except with the final smashing of monopoly capitalism. The bourgeoisie (black or white) does not think this is practical!
So RWH locates the really practical call for black political power as electoral politics. Which means they identify with the black petty bourgeoisie in the main. Ironically, when activists in the BLM were actually working over ten years ago in the arena of electoral politics and making real gains (though flawed by errors of nationalism, over reliance on electoral politics, lack of thoroughgoing class analysis), RU / RCP bellowed how opportunist this was, like models for Lenin's Infantile Leftists. Now ten years later, RWH finally sees that electoral politics is a valuable weapon in the struggle for democracy that characterizes the BLM, but now they want to make this the sole area in which black political power can be obtained.
The whole of the BLM thrust for Self-Determination is based on the struggle for political power! In every one of those day-to-day concrete struggles around democracy in the black community, it is the question of political power, or its lack, which is at issue. The question of Black Power must be raised inside of every issue, making clear the demand for Self-Determination! And that struggle must be consistently shown to be a revolutionary struggle, a struggle that cannot be won without fighting and defeating the white racist monopoly capitalist class that oppresses the African American people!
RWH goes on to say about its new found method of obtaining black political power, electoral politics, "At the same time the struggle in the electoral arena presents important problems which the BLM has to address. An obvious problem is that most elected black officials are a small minority on city councils or in state and federal legislatures where they sit. Their ability to effect change is limited and derives in significant part from opportunities to playa spoiler role."
So now they have pulled off the "left" mask, and what we see is that they did not want to get involved with the struggles of electoral politics because they did not think it could change capitalism, but now one is supposed to believe it can? Is this swinging back and forth from one extreme to the other or what? We do not think, no genuine communist thinks, that electoral politics will make the substantive and revolutionary changes the masses need, only mass action (as Lenin pointed out in his "Left Wing Communism ... ") can do that. But we must learn to combine legal and illegal struggle, above ground work and underground work.
We struggle for electoral office within the BLM to support the struggle for political democracy and "black power", but also so that we might address many different sectors of the masses with our propaganda and agitation. We use electoral office, we use bourgeois democracy as a weapon against the bourgeoisie, by utilizing their elections and offices, to the extent that we are able, to propagandize, agitate and organize against the bourgeoisie!
We might be able to make some small changes in electoral office, raise certain concrete issues in such a way that certain things are somewhat modified or changed, but the main focus of any communist candidate must be to point out the essential inequality and racism of the capitalist system and to agitate for its overthrow!
So RWH finally sees the light of using electoral politics, but moans that we cannot make revolution with them. No, RWH, they are simply a tactic the proletariat uses, and in our tactics, as Lenin and Stalin said, we must master the various changing forms of struggle. We do not expect revolution through electoral politics. But certainly the current Marxist-Leninist movement has been very lax and weak about correct utilization of this tactic. Both the revisionists of the CPUSA and the Trotskyite SWP use this tactic with much more skill than the genuine M-L movement at this point in history, which is shameful indeed.
Again, in the case of RWH, there is little understanding of democratic struggle and its relationship to socialist revolution. So that there is also the same misunderstanding of the relationship between reform and revolution.
The BLM is a united front of all the classes in the Afro-American Nation and oppressed nationality. It is the communists' responsibility to look at this movement dialectically, and as Mao Zedong has shown, to understand the role of each of the classes within the front and give guidance to these classes in the struggle against imperialism.
Yet on page 56, RWH begins a section of its non-analysis, "Black Capitalism and Other Wrong Lines." Does this mean that the black bourgeoisie is thrown out of the united front? This is the RU / RCP position and the other ultra-left formulations RWH supposedly criticizes. Yet they take the same line.
Wildly enough they even go further and attack the" Buy Black" campaigns of the black bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie as "divisiveness"! But waitaminute folks, ain't that what the old RU / RCP said about the Afro-American Nation's right of Self-Determination, that it was divisive? Divisive how? Because it means some blacks will not go to Sears and the A&P, that black people, to be revolutionary, must buy at Sears and the A&P?
RWH does not understand that black capitalism is the cry of the black bourgeoisie for self-determination!! And black capitalism can help the Black Nation at this point. We should encourage the black national bourgeoisie to be bigger and better capitalists (at present their whole gross income is about that of General Electric). We must, as Mao said in his classic work on the United Front, "respect the interests" of the black national bourgeoisie as well as all the other classes in the front. But obviously, as communists, we struggle for the leadership of the working class within the black united front. And even though we encourage black capitalists to become bigger and better capitalists, we do so urging that this proposed expansion of black capitalism be done in the interests of the Afro-American Nation.
It was the destruction of the reconstruction that created the final conditions for the emergence of the Afro-American nation, and that helped expand and consolidate the black bourgeoisie in the last part of the 19th century, but at the same time, it was the national oppression that this counterrevolutionary attack on the African American people represented that stunted and deformed the black bourgeoisie as a class within the Afro-American Nation. Part of this absence of democracy was the limiting of the black bourgeoisie, its relegation to be a fringe class, a non-industrial bourgeoisie, economically flabby as well as ideologically schizophrenic. Economically flabby because they could never reach the major part of their market, black people, because they too suffered national oppression. Ideologically schizophrenic because that market existed for them in large part because of segregation, discrimination and national oppression, but they were at the same time attacked socially by these very same factors that created for them an exclusive market!
The black bourgeoisie has not even exploited the Afro-American culture as such a bourgeoisie would normally do, in some part because it did not want to be identified with that culture!! Black Music, Food, Social organization and the other arts were not developed commercially by the black bourgeoisie, not only because the big white bourgeoisie made it difficult, but often times because the black bourgeoisie thought of identification with these aspects as lowering its dignity.
But the black bourgeoisie should be encouraged to expand, and in that expansion to give jobs to black people and create institutions the big white bourgeoisie will not create. Certainly commercial development of black culture is a real area of desired black bourgeois development. Radio, TV, recording, film, publishing, distribution. There should be no doubt that the Motowns, Philadelphia Internationals, Stax (before being vamped on by the state to limit their competition with the big bourgeoisie) and many smaller enterprises are badly needed. Certainly there is obvious contradiction to the black working class cause in what the black bourgeoisie will produce, but it will be qualitatively more progressive than what the big bourgeoisie is prepared to allow.
There are other fields of commerce and small industry, importing and exporting, that the black bourgeoisie should and will expand into, and the most advanced forces in the BLM must consistently urge the black bourgeoisie into this expansion to serve the interests of the black masses. This is an important role for the black bourgeoisie within the black united front. And importantly, these kinds of developments would also fuel the continuing rise of black national consciousness. But this would in no way limit the communist's criticism of monopoly capitalism as the root of black national oppression.
The black petty bourgeoisie has a role in the black united front that must be understood and encouraged. The skills of the professionals, intellectuals, academics and cultural workers must be utilized, again, for the benefit of the Black Nation, just as these skills are now used by the big (white) bourgeoisie. The black petty bourgeoisie could do well to manage some of the expanded projects of the black bourgeoisie in the interests of the Afro-American Nation.
The independence of Africa and the need by the African and West Indian societies for the kind of skills, connections and capital of the black bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie offer still more opportunities for economic expansion under capitalism of black 'capitalism that would be useful to the development of the Afro-American Nation and other blacks as well.
But the working class must lead the united front and it is the communists' duty to see that this happens so that the national liberation movement will not only proceed all the way to the smashing of monopoly capitalism but so that the BLM will become consciously part of the overall United Front Against Imperialism and consciously join with the multinational working class for the victory of socialism! Without the leadership of the black working class, even the problems of the black petty bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie cannot be solved, and the united front will bog down with reformism.
There are both reformist and revolutionary elements within the black united front, which exists objectively as a correlation of all the classes within the BLM and black oppressed nationality. It is the communist's duty to see that each class within the front has its interests served insofar as these interests are beneficial or relate to the black working class and the multinational proletariat generally. It is also the communist's duty to analyze dialectically the various elements in the front and criticize backwardness and reaction and support the positive and the revolutionary in order to build a higher and higher level of unity, a revolutionary unity, not opportunist "unity" gained by tailing backward elements of the front.
To say as RWH says, "We want a revolutionary BLM, not a reformist one" is more chauvinism, more misunderstanding. Tailing black nationalists or electoral politicians will not contribute to the revolutionary quality of the front. Support of the working class within the front will help emphasize the revolutionary character of the black united front. Support for reactionary leadership will not. Also, the BUF, as it objectively exists is not an either I or proposition, simplified for manipulation by the tailing pseudo left. All the classes see self-determination differently, 'it is our role to support the positive and criticize the negative, but above all to lead, as communists, by our stand, view and example. The classic petty bourgeois chauvinist approach to the BUF is to be so overjoyed at merely being around aspects of the national movement that they become yes man tails and invisible non-ideological functionaries (content to "do favors" for the movement, etc.)
On the other hand, there is the classic WVO / RCP approach to the front which is to wait until the BUF has mobilized some thousands of people (as in the Luis Baez protest march in Brooklyn two years ago), then mount counter demonstrations denouncing the leadership as reformist.(8) Like some avant garde of white (and other nationality) racists, completely hostilizing the masses toward "communists."
RWH seems to say that it is wrong to struggle in the united front, and blames the splits in the front in the 70's solely on "the left." Obviously there was some ultra leftism (some of it caused by activists under the influence of Marxist formations making left errors), but to characterize the splits as being simply left-caused is oversimplification and in opposition to struggle within the front.
RWH even claims that the slogan "Black Workers Take The Lead" was some "a priori" attack on specific leaders. Is it an a priori attack on some specific leaders for communists to work for the leadership of the multinational working class in the struggle for socialism? It is just that RWH seems more favorably disposed to petty bourgeois leadership than working class leadership, revealing their own class base to the bone!
RWH's coverage of Africa and its historic relationship to the BLM is weak and without depth or real analysis. They speak of "ties" and "African names" and "support for African liberation," but the U.S. ruling class' commitment to support and protect South African colonialism and what this will mean in a country with over 30 million African Americans, when the U.S. ruling class is forced to help in armed struggle against the black revolutionary forces, is not even approached.
With regards to the historic struggle of the black masses for land, RWH sees this in terms that have to do with losing land blacks have bought. But the historic land hunger, and the correct revolutionary focus of national liberation which sees, as the Comintern stated:
"1. Confiscation of the landed property of the white landowners and capitalists for the benefit of the Negro farmers;
2. Establishment of the State Unity of the Black Belt;
3. Right of Self-Determination."
These are the fundamental land concerns of any really revolutionary call for black Self Determination!
The fight against the stealing of black land by big landowners and corporations is important, but this partial reform cannot be substituted for the real demand of confiscation of the big landowners and corporations' land and general agrarian reform, which is a constant element of most democratic revolutions involving the peasantry.
The social democratic reformist nature of most of RWH's proposals around the Afro American National Question must also be noted and struggled against. Their general stance is akin to the worthies of the Second International both in their chauvinism, petty bourgeois substitutions for a proletarian stand and their subjectivism. This statement about a program for the BLM is so openly social-democratic it reeks of Kautskyism and even leads us to the horrors of the Weimar Republic and the Noskes, etc., who led the German masses to fascism. (9) "Undoubtedly, the achievement of a common program will be facilitated by the election of Ronald Reagan." Wow, with that logic, putting blacks into gas chambers will spur the creation of a genuine communist party! Not only does RWH not understand bourgeois democracy and how it must be used to fight the bourgeoisie, they are even seeing its demise as a help to the masses in fighting for liberation and socialism! If we cannot build a party under the relatively free conditions of bourgeois democracy, what can we do under the infinitely more brutal and limiting circumstances of fascism? It is real opportunism.
RWH says it is difficult to fight white privileges (p. 44), which amount to opportunism in its most finished form white chauvinism. But how does this wash with Lenin who says there should be no privilege? RWH says it will be difficult to organize white workers against their "privilege" (which in reality only ties them closer to the bourgeoisie and enables the bourgeoisie to get them to fight against black workers). Yet RWH says it is difficult to fight against white privilege. Some communists!
Marx, in characterizing the Irish struggle and the relationship between the Irish and English workers over 100 years ago said this, "Every industrial and commercial centre in England now possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker he feels himself a member of the ruling nation and so turns himself into a tool of the aristocrats and capitalists of his country against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself. He cherishes religious, social and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attitude towards him is much the same as that of the "poor whites" to the "niggers" in the former slave states of the USA. The Irishman pays him back with interest in his own money. He sees in the English worker at once the accomplice and the stupid tool of the English rule in Ireland.
"This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organization. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And that class is fully aware of it." ("Marx to Sigrid Meyer and August Vogt," Apr. 9, 1870, Ireland and the Irish Question, Marx & Engels, Int'l. Pub., 1972)
How stunningly relevant to the Afro-American National Question today. Yet RWH says that it will be "difficult to unite white workers and others around" opposing their privilege. Have they tried, or is "Smash Busing" still the stance they want to take before or rather tailing the white working class or the most reactionary elements of it. Yes, it is difficult to be a communist, how much easier to be a petty bourgeois white chauvinist in a land in which one of the most ubiquitous ideologies is white chauvinism!
RWH is to be commended for putting together this pamphlet and finally showing off its positions and non-positions on the Afro-American National Question. It is to be commended as well for saying that it is trying to "kick" its former addiction to the narcotic of white chauvinism and petty bourgeois subjectivism. But now it seems merely to have "laced" that first drug it took as members of RU / RCP with the drug of social democracy and the mixture remains deadly.
We urge RWH to continue its rectification campaign and "cold turkey" the old RU / RCP dope and get rid of the new opiate of social democracy.
1. The Revolutionary Union was originally formed in 1969 in the San Francisco Bay Area. It upheld Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought and defended socialist China, but always had serious weaknesses in its political line and orientation. Unable to unite with any other Marxist-Leninist organizations, the RU declared itself the Revolutionary Communist Party in 1974. The Marxist-Leninist movement sharply criticized the RCP for its incorrect lines on the national question, trade union and party building questions, among others. In 1978, the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters split off from the RCP, mainly over differences on the international situation and youth work. The RCP has degenerated into complete sectarianism and opportunism.
2. In 1974-5, under the guise of standing on the side of white workers, the RCP opposed the busing of Black and Puerto Rican students in Boston for school integration. In their propaganda, they used the same symbol as the organized white racist groups, a stop sign with the words "stop busing" superimposed. The RCP marched together with racist groups in anti-busing demonstrations. These stands were not "ultraleft", but thoroughly rightist. Some Marxist-Leninist groups, such as the Revolutionary Communist League and I Wor Kuen, opposed forced busing - but always upheld the right of minorities to equal and quality education and organized demonstrations against racist violence.
3. In 1975 the RCP further revealed their racism with the claim that narrow nationalism was the main danger within the Marxist-Leninist movement. The RCP directed their attack against a number of communist organizations made up primarily of the oppressed nationalities: I Wor Kuen, August 29th Movement (ML), Revolutionary Communist League (MLM), Black Workers Congress, Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization, Revolutionary Workers League and others. While each of these groups had their strengths and weaknesses, in 1975 they organized against national oppression, stood for socialism and multinational unity. The RCP slandered these organizations and considered them illegitimate and narrow nationalist unless they merged with the RCP. They used the charge of narrow nationalism to cover up their own chauvinism, including their refusal to uphold the right of self-determination of the Black nation in the South and for their wrecking activities in the oppressed nationality movements. No other Marxist-Leninist organization believed that narrow nationalism was the main danger, and this position of the RCP further isolated them.
4. The National Liaison Committee was formed in 1972 as an attempt to build Marxist-Leninist unity. The NLC consisted of the RU, Black Workers Congress, Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization and I Wor Kuen. It quickly fell apart, however, when it became clear that the RU was not willing to seriously struggle over political line differences, particularly the national question, and did not treat the oppressed nationality organizations as equals.
5. The RU / RCP considered their theory of "a nation of a new type" their major position on the Black national question. They claimed Blacks were no longer concentrated in the South, that Blacks had been transformed from small farmers into workers and that therefore the question of land was no longer important. Because of migration out of the South, Blacks now constitute a "new type" of nation, a nation located wherever Blacks live. The RU I RCP called for "self-determination" for Blacks wherever they lived in the U.S. This stand was chauvinist, rightist and anti-Marxist.
In practice they liquidated the national question by tailing reformists, denying the legitimacy of national in form-caucuses, and never actually raised the right of self-determination.
6. Ron Karenga was a leader of the Black nationalist movement in the 1960's. His US organization urged a return to African values and culture; he stressed the development of Black culture in the U.S. - hence the term "cultural nationalism." However, the much publicized shootouts between US and the Black Panther Party, Karenga's reformism and refusal to participate in mass struggle isolated him from the Black movement. Today, he teaches college in southern California, continuing to uphold the correctness of his cultural nationalist philosophy. (For more information, see LRS's FORWARD, No.3, January 1980)
7. Many Black groups have historically, and today, advocated self-determination for Black people. After the Civil War, the radical Republicans demanded the break-up of the old plantations and redistribution of land to the freed slaves (40 acres and a mule). Marcus Garvey founded the United Negro Improvement Association in the U.S. in 1914. Garvey promoted Black identity and pride, calling for the establishment of a Black republic in Africa. Millions of poor and working class Blacks flocked 10 the Garvey movement, making it the largest Black mass movement in this century. The African Blood Brotherhood was a radical Black organization formed in 1919, which supported a Black nation within the U.S. At one time, its newspaper, the Crusader, had a circulation of 33,000. The Nation of Islam grew in strength in the 1950's and 1960's, rejecting the intregrationism of the moderate civil rights organizations. Under the leadership of Elijah Muhammed, the NOI was one of the largest Black organizations in the U.S. and openly advocated the establishment of an independent Black nation in five southern states. The African People's Party is a revolutionary Black nationalist organization currently active in the Black Liberation Movement. They uphold the right to self-determination for the Black Nation in (he South. Founded in 1970, (he Congress of Afrikan People, led by Amiri Baraka, was a revolutionary Black nationalist organization which advocated Black self-determination. It later became the Revolutionary Communist League (MLM), which merged with the LRS (ML) in 1978.
8. The Workers Viewpoint Organization, now the Communist Workers Party, is famous for selling itself in opposition to the mass movements. When police killed Puerto Rican Luis Baez in New York, the Black United Front organized mass and militant demonstrations. Having taken no part in organizing for the events, both the RCP and WVO denounced the demonstration leaders as reformist and held counter marches. Both organizations were denounced by the BUF.
9. Karl Kautsky (1854-1938) was a German Social Democratic Party leader. A one-time communist, he became an open reformist with his support of imperial Germany during World War I. Gustav Noske (1868-1946) was another German social democrat who, as minister of defense, suppressed the German revolutionary uprising of 1919. Despite their claims to be socialists, these social democrats aided in the suppression and murder of communists. The Weimar Republic was the government established in Germany after World War I. Led by social democrats, its errors contributed to the fascist takeover by Hitler in 1933.