Click on title to link to 1929 Leon Trotsky article on China and the tasks of the Bolshevik-Leninist opposition. For those of us who believe that China is still a workers state, albeit a deformed one (bureaucratically run and misruled) the tasks seem very familiar for revolutionaries today.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Click on title to link to early Leon Trotsky speech on the then unfolding second Chinese Revolution and the tasks of the Russian Left Opposition. As we approach the 60th anniversary of the 1949 revolution it is worthwhile to go back and see where that revolution first went off the skids.
PROBLEMS OF THE CHINESE REVOLUTION, LEON TROTSKY, PATHFINDER PRESS, 1967
Recently I reviewed in this space Andre Malraux’s Man’s Fate, a novelistic treatment of the Chinese Revolution of 1925-27, that emphasized the problems at the base of Chinese society in its late phase after the popular front alliance with General Chiang Kai-Shek’s bourgeois nationalist Kuomintang broke down and Chiang began his extermination drive against the Chinese Communists. In Leon Trotsky’s book, under review here, we get a real time, real life analysis of the political questions that led to that catastrophe and what revolutionaries could learn from it.
I have noted elsewhere that the Communist International (hereafter Comintern) evolved in the mid-1920’s , under the impact of Stalinization, from a revolutionary organization that made political mistakes, sometimes grossly so, in pursuit of revolution to an organization that pursued anti-revolutionary aims as it turned primarily into an adjunct of Soviet foreign policy. Prima facie evidence for such a conclusion is the Soviet Communist Party /Commintern policy and its implementation toward the budding Chinese Revolution.
As much as policy toward the Chinese Revolution became a political football in the internal Russian Communist party fights between Stalin’s bloc and Trotsky’s bloc it is impossible to understand the strategy for the Chinese Revolution without an understanding of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. No Marxist, at least not openly and honestly, put forth any claim that in the West the national bourgeoisie could be a progressive force in any modern upheaval. Russia, in the early 20th century was, however, still a battleground over this question. This is where Trotsky formulated the advanced Marxist notion that in Russia the national bourgeoisie was too weak, too beholding to foreign capitalist interests and too dependent on the Czarist state and its hangers-on to fulfill the tasks associated with the classic bourgeois revolutions in the West. Thus, for Russia alone at that time Trotsky postulated that the working class had become the heirs of the revolutions in the West. The Revolution of 1905 gave a glimmer of understanding to that proposition and the Revolution of October 1917 cannot be understood except under that premise.
In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution the question of who would lead the revolutions of the countries even less developed that Russia, mainly colonial and semi-colonial regimes, formed one of the new political battlegrounds. And China was the first dramatic test that Trotsky’s originally Russia-only premise applied to underdeveloped ‘third world’ capitalist regimes, as well. However,unlike in Russia, this time Trotsky lost. The necessary independent organization of the working class and the political separation of the communist vanguard were not carried out and, to our regret, the Chinese Revolution was beheaded. As mentioned above this was a conscious Stalinist policy of kowtowing to Chiang by unequivocably ordering the Communist Party to make itself politically and militarily subservient to the Kuomintang as well as providing Comintern military advisers to Chiang.
Today, even a cursory look at countries of belated and uneven development emphasizes the fact that the various tasks associated with the Russian and Chinese Revolutions still need to be carried out. Thus, the political fights that wracked the international communist movement in the 1920’s which under ordinary circumstances would only be of historical interest today take on a more life and death meaning for many of the peoples of the world. That makes this book well worth the read.
I might add that there is a very interesting appendix at the end of this work detailing reports from the field filed by those Communist agents that carried out Comintern policy in China and who as a result of disillusionment with that policy had become oppositionists. These reports give added ammunition to Trotsky’s more theoretical arguments. They also give flesh and bones to the some of the points that Malraux was trying to bring out in Man’s Fate. Read on.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Click on title to link to a 1932 article by Leon Trotsky about his early thoughts on the Labor Party question in the United States. He also had a more extensive discussion in 1938 down in Mexico with American Socialist Workers Party leaders about the question which can be found on the other blog entry for this date or by Googling the Leon Trotsky Internet Archives for 1938.
Click on title to link to a Leon Trotsky 1938 article on a discussion with leaders of the American Socialist Workers Party on the Labor Party question as it pertained to America.
BUILD A WORKERS PARTY THAT FIGHTS FOR SOCIALISM
I have spent a good deal of my political life waging a propaganda campaign here in America in favor of an independent workers party with a program that fights for a workers government, socialism. I have no regrets about that work although I have had more than my share of disappointments over the small inroads made toward that goal. But whining is not what I want to do here. I have received various communications over the past period asking about the whys and wherefores of the workers party question in America and elsewhere and about militant work in the trade unions. Here I make some historical comments and general observations about the work. I will deal with tactical questions at another time.
Let us be clear on this from the outset, calls for formation of a generic workers party are part of the tactics that revolutionaries in America, and elsewhere where such parties do not exist, are appropriate in order to anchor their program and gain a hearing from the more class conscious workers. In the best of all possible left-wing political worlds where working people have developed a level of political class consciousness sufficient to begin flocking to revolutionary parties we would not have to raise the question of a workers party. And there is the rub. Raising the workers party question is a reflection of the apparently undying weakness that the American trade union bureaucracies have for the capitalist Democratic Party (and on occasion a scattering of support for its sister capitalist party, the Republicans) and the weakness of left-wing forces in trying to break that allegiance.
Simply put, unless one assumes some kind of stagist theory of working class organizational development, which this writer does not subscribe to, there is nothing to preclude mass recruitment to a revolutionary organization under proper conditions, like a successful mass trade union organizing drive at Walmart or in the South. To put this point in perspective can one imagine the Bolsheviks in 1917 calling for a mass workers party? Christ, they were the mass workers party (and the class struggle was so 'hot' at the time that there were working class elements to their left who thought the Bolsheviks were unnecessarily dragging their feet on the subject of the seizure of power and wanted to form a ‘real’ mass revolutionary workers party to do so).
To bring this point closer to home there were periods in the 1930’s in America when the workers party question was shelved by revolutionaries because it was possible to recruit the best militants straight to revolutionary organizations. Thus, when we raise the workers party question in the year 2007 it reflects an understanding that we live in tough times for the labor movement. But, as the old Wobbly labor agitator Joe Hill is alleged to have said before he was executed for his labor activities out in Utah in the early 1900’s- “Don’t Mourn, Organize”.
It may be informative to contrast the political tasks that confront American militants with those in, let’s say, Britain where there is a ‘worker's party’, the British Labor Party, that as of this date administers the British imperial state. Despite the changes in that party brought about by one Anthony Blair, in an attempt to make it conform more to a trans –class party like the Democratic Party in the United States, at its core today the British Labor Party is still a working class party, although a clearly reformist one. The British Labor Party has a long and checkered history but mainly it serves as an example of what militants do not want to build. Sure, sure, every British militant today should be a member of the Labor Party in order to get any kind of hearing from the best trade union militants there but their main task is to split the Labor Party and create a ‘new’ workers party that will fight for a workers government. Obviously, that is no simple task given the extreme loyalty of the average British worker to that party. In that sense the tasks in America and Britain, as well as elsewhere are essentially the same.
Someone once told me this little nugget of political wisdom and I hope I have learned it well. Tell me the programmatic basis of your party and I will tell you what kind of party you have. He then proceeded to rattle off various party programs and bowled me over with how close his characterizations came to the type of party he was describing. Sure, innocent political mistakes will be made, and sometimes even conscious ones. Sometimes the whims of personal predilection will twist about the program. Sometimes when confronted with the reality of the class struggle it will fly away in the winds. But, note this well, in the end that damn program is decisive.
If one looks at the latest program of the British Labor Party one will note that even if the greatest amount of class struggle since the Russian Revolution swept through the British Isles that party would stand foursquare in defense of Her Majesty’s capitalist imperial system. Yes, Ma’m. The point is this- if the program of your workers party does not lead to a workers government then you will wind up like the British Labor Party-tied as it is to the monarch, nobility and the state church. Hell, even Cromwell, that consummate bourgeois revolutionary, knew you had to get rid of those things if you wanted to push society forward-and that was over three hundred and fifty years ago!
Those even slightly familiar with American labor history know that the 1930’s represented the last widespread and successful organization of the working class. It was also the time of Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s reign. Some labor bureaucrats, knowing that many militants would refuse to support Roosevelt under the Democratic banner, organized an organization called the American Labor Party, which was essentially a vehicle for steering militant and socialist votes to Roosevelt. Needless to say our conception of a workers party has nothing in common with that electoral scheme. You can be sure, however, that some bright labor bureaucrat (and there are a few), if there is a labor upsurge will drag out a 21st century model of that moribund organization.
The obvious place to propagandize for a workers party is in the trade unions. I would like to round out my thoughts by observing that the only real way to make an impact on the unions and to break them from their reformist (at best) leadership is to form a caucus within the union based on a program. In that sense the union caucus is the workers party in embryo. Here again all experience has showed that if one does not base oneself on a program one is kind of doomed to failure. A million guys and gals have started out as militants only to burn out, be co-opted by the bureaucracy, or fall silent without such an anchor. If the goal is to bring political consciousness to the working class then it is necessary to have a political program. Yes, yes by all means every militant is the best defending of the day-to-day needs of their fellow workers and defender of democratic rights but one must go beyond that to educate about the need to take power.
Elsewhere in this space I have presented some talking points for the program of a workers party (see the archives under A Modest Proposal for a Workers Party). Here are a few for a trade union caucus. Today, the central question is the war in Iraq and therefore it is necessary to take a position on that in the unions. Sure, plenty of unions these days have ‘paper’ resolutions against the war. However it is necessary to move to action, and fast. I have presented elsewhere my point about building anti-war soldier and sailor committees and that could be fought for here. Moreover, a critical point for the independence of the trade unions is to vote against support to capitalist party candidates. Today, also, in some recent cases this is a desperate necessity, for a fight in support of immigrant rights and organizing the unorganized. More latter.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for black activist Angela Davis.
The following is an article from the Winter 1982-83 issue of "Women and Revolution" that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.
Angela Davis Peddles Liberal Myths
Women, Blacks and Class Struggle
Women, Race and Class
by Angela Y. Davis Random House, Inc., New York 1981
The most striking thing about Angela Davis' book, Women, Race and Class, is what's not in it. Davis, a philosophy professor and member of the central committee of the reformist Communist Party (CP), achieved an international reputation as a black radical associated with the Black Panther Party. Framed up in 1970 as part of the massive cop/FBI vendetta against the Panthers, Davis spent over a year in prison before being acquitted. Her relationship with Panther martyr George Jackson was even featured in a slick Hollywood movie. To those not blinded by the celluloid, Davis remains a living symbol of the reconciliation of the militant, eclectic Panthers with the mainstream Stalinist reformism of the CP. Yet in this set of liberal-oriented essays, Davis doesn't even mention the Black Panther Party. The explosive '60s of militant black nationalism, the New Left women's movement, etc. is sunk without a trace.
Of course the Communist Party, then, was generally written off by the New Left and the best of the black radicals as rotten old reformist hacks irrevelant to the struggle. But the New Left's rejection of CP-style "coalitionism" with the Democrats was falsely equated with a rejection of working-class politics in general. The New Left's "answer" to CP sellouts was not revolutionary Marxist program, but eclectic Maoist/Third World-ist ideology and mindless militancy: "direct action," often physical confrontation with the state, passive enthusing over ghetto outbursts, "Off the Pig" rhetoric. When the inevitable capitalist reaction hit, the New Left either splintered or made its peace with the reformist status quo—and there was the CP, waiting with awful inertia to sell young militants its shopworn "strategy" of maneuvering within the capitalist system.
A watershed in the degeneration of the Panthers' militant impulse was the 1969 "United Front Against Fascism" conference in Oakland. Explicitly embracing the class-collaborationist formula of popular-front "theoretician" Dimitrov, the Panthers made a sharp right turn towards alliance with the liberal bourgeoisie, brokered by the CP. The CP had money and lawyers, which the Panthers, facing massive repression, desperately needed. The price was returning to the fold of Democratic Party "reform" politics (indeed Huey Newton became a Democratic politician a few years later). Groups to the left of the CP were kicked out of the conference, particularly Progressive Labor and the Spartacist League. The SL argued that the road to black liberation must lie through revolutionary alliance with the working class, through building an integretated vanguard party with black leadership to fight for socialist revolution. Women at the conference who objected to the Panthers' gross male chauvinism were also harassed.
Angela Davis, in the CP's orbit at least since her high school days, should have been delighted with the "rectification" of Panther politics in the direction of mainstream Stalinist reformism. But Women, Race and Class does not deal at all with the Panthers.
In fact it makes no real attempt to come to grips with the searing reality of black America today—the explosive contradiction of ghetto misery and potential proletarian power. Nor can Davis suggest a solution to women's oppression, which is rooted in the institution of the monogamous family, linked inextricably to private property and thus insoluble without a revolution overthrowing capitalist property relations. Then what is Women, Race and Class about? It is basically an attempt to find historical antecedents for the CP's eternal search for the "anti-monopoly coalition": an alliance of workers, women, blacks, youth, etc. with right-thinking imperialists, Democrats of good will, progressive Republicans, anti-racist bankers and so on.
In the CP's view, the only obstacle to unity is... divisiveness. Never mind the brutal, racist, imperialist system that sets black against white, employed against jobless, skilled against unskilled, everywhere you look. For Davis, all that's needed is for the various sectors to be more receptive to each other. Thus, central to the book is the appeal to middle-class feminists to be more sensitive to race and class. "Today's feminists are repeating the failures of the women's movement of a hundred years ago.... Clearly, race and class can no longer be ignored [I] if the women's movement is to be resurrected" as the book's dust-jacket puts it. The solution? In the classic words of Alva Buxenbaum, reviewing Davis' book in the CP's own Political Affairs (March 1982), we must develop a "deeper understanding of and commitment to alliances based on unity." As opposed to disunity, we guess. Of course this inane language serves a purpose; it's CPese for support to the Democrats.
Davis also leaves out of Women, Race and Class all mention of international communism and the Bolshevik Revolution, which on the woman question and especially the black question in America had a decisive impact on radicals. This would certainly offend those bourgeois liberals the CP chases after today, as all wings of the bourgeoisie are united in hostility to the USSR and the gains of the October Revolution which remain despite Stalinist bureaucratic deformation. The history of American Marxism, its early counterposition to late 19th century feminism, even the aggressive work of the CP itself in the late '20s and '30s in winning blacks to a proletarian perspective, is all buried—and necessarily; it would expose too starkly the total bankruptcy and betrayals of the Communist Party today.
The Myth of the "Progressive Black Family"
So what is in the book? Davis opens with a discussion of black women under slavery. She points out that black women were full-time workers in the fields and other heavy labor, thus excluded from the 19th century ideology of "femininity" which relegated "many white women," as she puts it, to positions of useless, sentimentalized inferiority inside the home. Davis neglects to mention in this section that early Northern industrialization relied heavily on the intense exploita¬tion of "free" female labor, especially in textiles. Moreover, the large majority of white women in pre-Civil War America were the hard-working wives and daughters of farmers.
Her main point, however, is that the bitter experience of slavery created strong black women who "passed on to their nominally free female descendents a legacy of hard work...resistance and insistence on sexual equality—in short, a legacy spelling out stand¬ards for a new womanhood." Arguing against Daniel P. Moynihan's notorious 1965 "black matriarchy" thesis that the problem with blacks is that black women are running things too much, creating a "tangle of pathology," Davis contends that slavery, rather than destroying black families, actually promoted sexual equality within black family and community life, which has come down essentially unchanged to this day: "Black people—transformed that negative equality which emanated from the equal oppression they suffered as slaves into a positive quality: the equalitari-anism characterizing their social relations." This cheery Stalinist vision of some progressive black family emerging from slavery is absolutely grotesque!
In 1975 we pointed out that Moynihan's "The Negro Family: The Case for National Actions' a U.S. labor department study, sought to "shift the blame for the social problems of blacks from the capitalist system to blacks themselves, particuparly black women.... The so-called 'black matriarch' is, in fact, the most oppressed of all. She is paid the least and relegated to the lowest-paying jobs with no opportunity for advancement" ("Black Women Against Triple Oppres¬sion," W&R No. 9, Summer 1975). Where she even has a job, that is. "Equalitarian" black families? No way. Michelle Wallace, in her overall pretty despicable trashing of the "Black Power" era, the steamy Cosmopolitan-style confessional Black Macho and the Myth of the Super-Female, at least had the guts to cast a very cold eye on such liberal mythologizing:
"I remember once I was watching a news show with a black male friend of mine who had a Ph.D. in psychology We were looking at some footage of a black woman who seemed barely able to speak English, though at least six generations of her family before her had certainly claimed it as their first language. She was in bed wrapped in blankets, her numerous small, poorly clothed children huddled around her. Her apartment looked rat-infested, cramped, and dirty. She had not, she said, had heat and hot water for days. My friend, a solid member of the middle class now but surely no stranger to poverty in his childhood, felt obliged to comment—in order to assuage his guilt, I can think of no other reason— 'That's a strong sister as he bowed his head in reverence."
You literally would not know from reading Davis' book that such a thing as the miserable, rotting big city black ghetto even exists, with its poisonous, violent currents of humiliation and despair and hatred.
The Ghetto and the Factory: Disintegration and Power
The huge migrations of blacks to industrial centers out of the rural South—peaking during World Wars I and II, periods of capitalist boom, as well as after the Second World War when mechanization of Southern agriculture forced more blacks into the cities of the North and South—resulted in the integration of blacks into the American capitalist economy, albeit at the bottom. That fact has been the key shaping factor in black experience in contemporary America—and that integration into the industrial proletariat is the key to black liberation today. At the same time, this wrenching integration into urban life took place under conditions of growing racist segregation socially. Blacks formed the central native component of that huge "surplus population" necessary to the capitalist "free labor" system. Thus the resulting crowded, desperately poor black ghettos with their inevitable "social disintegration"—a fancy phrase for broken homes, abandoned women and children, a permanent welfare population, illiteracy, crime and violence, drugs and squalor. Richard Wright's Black Boy, pioneering urban studies like St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton's Black Metropolis, Malcolm X, James Baldwin—they spoke of this bitter reality. Today the statistics are overwhelming on the hideous condition of the black ghetto popula¬tion, and especially of black women. Three-quarters of all poor black families are headed by women alone, while 47 percent of all black families with children under 18 are headed by women, according to 1980 statistics (Department of Health and Human Services' National Center for Health' Statistics). Almost 55 percent of births to black women are "illegitimate." The fashionable phrase "feminization of poverty" expresses a terrible reality.
But Davis doesn't even mention it exists, because she can't. A world so crushing is not going to be touched by electing a few more "progressive" black Democrats, the CP's line. It's going to take a massive social upheaval—revolution—to break out of the black ghettos. Davis, however, confines herself to a series of hollow, eclectic essays on various "social uplift" causes. One whole chapter on the black clubwomen's movement, for example! Does Davis really believe that the personal rivalries between Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell in this cultured and ladylike milieu have anything significant to do with black or woman's liberation? As for black labor, there is but one chapter: on black women's long history of work as domestic servants. It's easy for liberals to weep over this humiliating labor, but it's hardly a source of black proletarian power. Blacks.integrated into the industrial working class at the point of production are the key to black leadership. And precisely because black workers may typically have a mother on welfare or a younger brother in prison, and are confronted in a thousand ways with evidence that the racist, capitalist "American dream" doesn't include blacks, they will be the most militant fighters for the entire working class, least tied to illusions that anything short of a fundamental social restructuring of this country through socialist revolution will liberate blacks.
Abolition and Suffrage:The Limits of Bourgeois Radical Idealism
Almost half of Women, Race and Class is devoted to the relationships between the abolitionist movement of the 1830s and '40s, the fight for women's rights and the post-Civil War suffragette movement, which developed in often explicitly hostile counterposition to continued demands for black political and civil rights. These chapters are the most interesting in the book, although here too Davis' reformist CP ideology deforms the past.
She has a hard time explaining the early and active participation of many prominent upper- and middle-class women in the abolitionist movement. "In 1833 many of these middle-class women had probably begun to realize that something had gone terribly awry in their lives. As 'housewives' in the new era of industrial capitalism, they had lost their economic importance in the home," Davis guesses. She contends that these women's identification with the slaves was essentially the result of "unfulfilling domestic lives." This projection of a Betty Friedanesque "feminine mystique" back into history not only fails to explain the fact that far more Northern men (e.g., William Lloyd Garrison, founder of the fiery abolitionist journal The Liberator; Thaddeus Stevens, head of the radical Republicans in Congress) took up the abolitionist cause, but actually is rather insulting to such powerful orators and theoreticians as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Utopian socialists like Frances Wright, or the transcendentalist Margaret Fuller, who went to Italy to participate in the revolutionary upsurge of 1848.
In fact, rather than the "alliance of oppressed housewives and slaves" Davis evokes, the abolitionist movement in America was ideologically influenced bythe radical petty-bourgeois currents sweeping Europe,which reached their highest expression (and defeat) in the revolutions of 1848. As Kenneth B. Stampp pointed out in The Era of Reconstruction 1865-1877, the abolitionists, women as well as men, represented the:
"...heirs of the Enlightenment.... As nineteenth- century liberals, they believed in the autonomous individual—his right to control his own destiny—and therefore regarded slavery as the ultimate abomination In fact, radical reconstruction ought to be
viewed in part as the last great crusade of the nineteenth-century romantic reformers."
Both demands for the abolition of slavery and for women's rights were seen by their advocates as inseparable parts of the same progressive bourgeois struggle for "liberty, equality, fraternity." At the founding conference of the Women's Loyal League in 1861, organized by Stanton and Anthony to draw women into support for the North in the Civil War and press for the immediate enfranchisement of the slaves, Angela Grimke's "Address to the Soldiers of Our Second Revolution" expressed this radical spirit:
"The war is not, as the South falsely pretends, a war of races, nor of sections, nor of political parties, but a war of Principles, a war upon the working classes, whether white or black.... In this war, the black man was the first victim, the workingman of whatever color the next; and now all who contend for the rights of labor, for free speech, free schools, free suffrage, and a free government... are driven to do battle in defense of these or to fall with them.... The nation is in a death-struggle. It must become either one vast slaveocracy of petty tyrants, or wholly the land of the free."
Grimke undoubtedly represented the high point of this radical equalitarianism. Davis' ahistorical refusal to admit that this movement represented the limits of bourgeois radicalism is no accident. The CP today pretends that the American bourgeoisie from Reagan to Kennedy is potentially capable of fulfilling the same progressive role that the bourgeoisie of Abraham Lincoln, William Lloyd Garrison and Thaddeus Stevens • played. But in pre-Civil War America, the industrial proletariat was not a class-conscious and decisive factor. Certainly the workers of the North were in no sense prepared to begin to wage a struggle for power in their owh name: given this, and the fundamental block to the expansion of modern, industrial capitalism represented by the agrarian slave society of the South, it was left to the liberal Northern bourgeoisie, in alliance with the "free soil" petty-bourgeois farmers of the West, to fulfill one of the unfinished tasks of the American bourgeois revolution: the abolition of slavery.
Even so it took a bloody four-year Civil War to crush the slaveocracy, while the following attempt at "radical Reconstruction" in the South was sold out, revealing the ultimate incapacity of bourgeois radicalism to finally "liberate" any sector of the oppressed. Instead of the "land of the free," America became the land of the robber barons, unleashed capitalist expansion and exploitation, while Ku Klux Klan terror, lynchings and Jim Crow segregation became the blacks' lot in the South. By the end of the nineteenth century the U.S. emerged as a rapacious imperialist power. As happened after 1848 in Europe, following the Civil War in America "the component elements of early nineteenth century radicalism (liberal democracy and socialism, trade unionism, women's equality and national libera¬tion) separated and began to compete and conflict with one another... it seemed that bourgeois society would continue for some time and that the interests of the oppressed, be they workers, women or nations [or the black population in the U.S.], would have to be realized within its framework It was Marx who cut the Gordian knot and provided a coherent, realistic analysis of the social basis for the socialist movement within bourgeois society" ("Feminism vs. Marxism: Origins of the Conflict," W&R No. 5, Spring 1974).
Revolutionary Marxism insisted on the need for working-class revolution to open the way to further human progress. In America, the main historic obstacle to the creation of a revolutionary workers party has been the divided ethnic consciousness of the working class, built upon waves of immigration, with black-white polarization underlying that. The ability of the Democratic Party in the 20th century, expressed in Roosevelt's "New Deal" coalition of labor, liberals and ethnic minorities, to successfully manipulate these divisions and absorb petty-bourgeois movements reflects the political backwardness of American labor— and the bitter fruit of decades of betrayal by so-called "socialists" like the CPand social-democrats. The New Left, too, with its sectoralist belief that every oppressed sector must "liberate itself" also accepted as unchangeable the racist, divided status quo. For the Communist Party, the Democrats are the only possible "coalition of the oppressed" within capitalist society. Thus in 1964 they greeted the election of Lyndon B. Johnson—mad bomber of Vietnam—as a "People's Victory"!
Feminism and Racism
The remainder of Davis' historical chapters are choppy and chock-full of "unfortunately"s—the telltale reformist throat-clearing device employed preparatory to leaping over some gross betrayal or crushing defeat. Accepting the grim capitalist frame¬work as immutable, Davis' detailing of the split between the suffragettes and black civil rights fighters is full of passive hand-wringing. She quotes Stanton's racist cry of alarm in 1865 when it appeared black men, but not women, would get the vote:
"The representative women of the nation have done their uttermost for the last thirty years to secure freedom for the negro...but now, as the celestial gate to civil rights is slowly moving on its hinges, it becomes a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see 'Sambo' walk into the kingdom first Are we sure that
he, once entrenched in all his inalienable rights, may not be an added power to hold us at bay?... In fact, it is better to be the slave of an educated white man, than of a degraded, ignorant black one."
—New York Standard, 26 December 1865 letter.
Davis nails the women's suffrage leaders for their racism and support to American imperialism. She quotes Susan B. Anthony's admission, when preparing a Suffrage Association meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, that "knowing the feeling of the South with regard to Negro participation on equality with whites, I myself asked Mr. Douglass [Frederick Douglass, black abolitionist leader and early supporter of women's suffrage] not to come. I did not want to subject him to humiliation, and I did not want anything to get in the way of bringing the southern white women into our suffrage association." Anthony and Stanton allied with notorious racist Southern Democrats who argued for the enfranchisement of white women on the grounds that it would maintain white supremacy in the South after blacks got the vote. Davis gives a thorough account of rising racism in the women's suffrage movement, of the segregation of organizations and actions such as the 1913 suffrage parade, where an official attempt was made to exclude black activist Ida B. Wells from the Illinois contingent in favor of a segregated bloc. She quotes Stanton's insistence that "the worst enemies of Woman Suffrage will ever be the laboring classes of men" and records that Anthony urged women printers to scab on male printers' strikes.
Any serious reader must conclude that the pioneer feminist movement, preaching "unity of all women," essentially sought to advance the interests of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois white women, as against those of blacks and the working class. The icons of today's feminist movement are shown to be more than a little tarnished. Of course the opportunist Davis never challenges the ideology of "sisterhood," necessarily a screen for the subordination of working-class interests to bourgeois interests. Feminism, which seeks the reactionary splitting of the working class along sex lines and the collaboration of women of all classes, is a barrier to women's liberation, which can be won only through the revolutionary struggle of the working class—women and men, black and white—against their common exploiter, the capitalist class. The suffragettes' "unfortunate" racism and "capitulation to imperialism" flowed from their conscious identification with the interests of their own class.
Davis' only chapter on the Communist Party, consisting solely of potted biographies of prominent CP women, opens with a gross omission. Davis asserts that when "Weydemeyer founded the Proletarian League jn 1852, no women appear to have been associated with the group. If indeed there were any women involved, they have long since faded into historical anonymity... to all intents and purposes, they appear to have been absent from the ranks of the Marxist socialist movement." Sliding over the Working-men's National Association and Communist Club as "utterly dominated by men," she manages neatly to avoid the major faction fight that took place in the American section of the First International over the question^of feminism. That flamboyant and notorious "free love" advocate, presidential candidate and early feminist Victoria Woodhull must be spinning in her grave. She was undoubtedly the most famous American to join the First International, organizing her own section (Section 12), which was a radical liberal faction, counterposing women's rights, "free love," and an electoralist strategy to proletarian socialism. Marx himself personally intervened to suspend Section 12, asserting the communist principle that the end to all kinds of oppression must run through the victory of the working class over capitalism.
Davis' omission of the tremendously important work of the early Communist Party among blacks is even more egregious. Her sole comment on that work as such is one bland statement, following a rather mysterious quote from William Z. Foster that the CP neglected Negro women factory workers in the 1920s, that "Over the next decade, however, Communists came to recognize the centrality of racism in U.S. society. They developed a serious theory of Black liberation and forged a consistent activist record—
Obviously it's impossible to go into detail in a review of this scope, but a few fundamental points are vital. First, there was the decisive impact of international Communism. As James P. Cannon, an early CP leader and founder of American Trotskyism, put it:
"The influence of Lenin and the Russian Revolution, even debased and distorted as it later was by Stalin, and then filtered through the activities of the Communist Party in the United States, contributed more than any other influence from any other source to the recogni¬tion, and more or less general acceptance, of the Negro question as a spec/a/ problem of American society—a problem which cannot be simply subsumed under the general heading of the conflict between capital and labor, as it was in the pre-communist radical movement." —The First Ten Years of American Communism The Russian Revolution also affected blacks' attitude toward the Communist Party well through the 1930s, as Drake and Cayton's Black Metropolis makes clear: "...widespread approval of 'the Reds' was not only associated with the fight of American Communists; it was also grounded upon admiration for the Soviet Union which, to thousands of Negroes, was the one 'white' nation that 'treated darker folks right'."
Despite the CP's sectarian "Third Period" excesses in the 1930s and its erroneous "Black Belt" theory (for Negro "self-determination" in the impoverished, segregated South, which was never actually raised agitationally), the CP's early work among blacks combined a proletarian orientation with the recogni¬tion that it was strategically necessary to fight racial oppression throughout America, especially addressing the problems of poor and unemployed blacks.
The CP made the first serious efforts to organize black workers and to attack the American Federation of Labor's conservative Jim Crow trade unions since the days of the Wobblies (IWW). In the South, there were heroic CP attempts to organize poor black share¬croppers, including a series of hard-fought strikes for better wages. Their most famous Depression-era work was their defense of the "Scottsboro boys," nine black youth framed up on charges of raping two white girls they were travelling with and sentenced to life imprisonment (this Davis does mention, but only in the context of appealing to the feminist "anti-rape" anti-porn movement—which she sees as essentially progressive—to avoid vigilante-type frameups of blacks). The CP won thousands of black members in this period, though few ultimately stayed.
By the mid-'30s the Communist Party had broken from the radicalism of the "Third Period" and was firmly wedded to the "Popular Front" line of open class collaboration in support of FDR. By 1941 the CP became Roosevelt's most slavish sycophant, instituting the no-strike pledge on behalf of U.S. capitalism's war to preserve and expand its empire. The CP made an open bloc with racism. When the "progressive" Earl Warren, acting on FDR's orders, interned the Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, stealing their property, the Stalinists not only refused to protest this racist atrocity, but told their own Japanese-American members to get lost. In 1945 the CP hailed the A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki! While the Jim Crow U.S. was fighting its "war for democracy" with a segregated army and navy, the CP opposed every struggle for black rights on the grounds that it would "disrupt the war effort."
The Trotskyists in the then-revolutionary Socialist Workers Party opposed the bosses' imperialist war, while defending the Soviet Union and fighting to continue the class struggle, including militant support to black rights. While black soldiers and sailors were segregated and assigned the most humiliating, dirty and dangerous tasks, their wives and sisters were among those who suffered at home from the pro-imperialist betrayals of the labor tops and Communist Party. Brought into heavy industry in large numbers during the war, at war's end they were unceremoniously dumped back into low-paying service jobs or unemployment. Needless to say, the labor bureaucracy and the CP—which called for making the no-strike pledge permanent—took no effective action to save their jobs. The CP's "reward" for its class collaboration was the 1950s Cold War witchhunt, which shattered what was left of its mass influence.
It'll Take a Socialist Revolution to Finish the Civil War
Today the Spartacist League continues the fight for an American workers party, in opposition to those like the CP who tell workers and blacks to be passive and rely on "good" capitalist politicians. The CP cynically uses the history of the Civil War to cover its alliance with the liberal imperialist bourgeoisie today. We say it's going to take a socialist revolution to finish what the Civil War started! For the CP, women, blacks and the working class are simply three "constituencies" within capital¬ism, whom they tell to petition the racist, bourgeois state to ameliorate their oppressed condition. But exploitation of the working class is the motor force of capitalism. And capitalist society can never replace the family unit, the main social institution oppressing women. For blacks, the deeply embedded racism of American society, their forced segregation into miserable, rotting ghettos cannot be overcome short of ripping up this institutionalized oppression in socialist revolution. Our strategy is to build a women's section of a revolutionary vanguard party, to link the fight against the particular oppression of women to the power of the working class. A vital component of black leadership will be key to the second American revolution; we have fought since our inception for black Trotskyist cadre and leadership of an integrated mass workers party, like Lenin's Bolsheviks, that can lead all the oppressed against their common enemy, the capitalist class, in battle for the American socialist revolution."
Click on title to link to a Crane Brinton site that summarizes his "Anatomy of A Revolution". Go out and get and read the whole book thought it is a very interesting take on the comparative stages of revolution.
THE ANATOMY OF REVOLUTION, Revised and Expanded, CRANE BRINTON, VINTAGE BOOKS, NEW YORK, 1965
I have always been an avid student of the great modern revolutions both as a matter of practical politics and in order to glean some insights into how they have affected human history. In short, how the ideas and practice of those revolutions have acted as nodal points on the further progress of humankind. Crane Brinton’s little book was probably the first book I read that tried to put that idea into some kind of order. While some of the material in the book is dated and some has been superseded by events and further research every serious student of comparative revolutions depends in some way or another on his pioneering methodology.
Brinton took the four great revolutions of his time (the Chinese Revolution had not occurred when he originally wrote the book)-the English of the 17th century, the French and American of the 18th century and the Russian of the 20th century and drew some common conclusions from them. Here the American Revolution acted as a kind of control for viewing the others. While no one would deny that each great revolution had its own perculiarities some lessons, so to speak, can be drawn from the various experiences.
Brinton traced the role of ideas, all kinds of ideas, some fanciful some serious that accompanied the dawn of every pre-revolutionary period as those who want to make a revolution or at least change things got a hearing from layers of society that they would not have gotten in more stable times. He also noted that the old regimes had run out of steam both in ideas and personnel, as exemplified by those who ruled at the time of revolutionary upheaval.
While the spark that ignited each revolution had different causes the revolutionary process itself started out as a broad coalition of forces opposed, for various reasons, to the old regime. Then a process of differentiation occured where various more moderate or modest revolutionary types fell by the wayside or were pushed aside under pressure from the more plebian masses and those committed to see the revolution through to the end, the Cromwells, the Robsepierres and the Lenins. During the course of these changes the counter-revolution, usually aided by foreign powers, reared its head.
I want to give particular attention to the question of Thermidor- that is the point where the revolution itself loses steam. The term stems from that point in the French Revolution in 1794 where the extreme left under Robespierre was defeated by more moderate forces within his own party (the Jacobins) and while not returning back to the old regime most definitely marked the end of progressive social experimentation. This has always been a thorny question on the political left. The Bolsheviks, particularly Trotsky, in the period of decline of the Russian Revolution poured out reams of polemics on its meaning (and even its applicability to their revolution). There are various causes for Thermidor; the leadership cadre gets tired, complacent or dies defending the revolution against counter-revolution; the people who previously supported the more extreme measures act likewise; and, those who want to stop the revolution in its tracks find a voice for their frustrations.
That much is clear from Brinton. What may need some revising is the question of whether in light of the destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92 and the return to capitalism there and the reverses in the Chinese Revolution which place it on the road back to capitalism that the previous premise about not going back to the old regime still holds true. The only way out of that dilemma is to argue that in neither case has the situation returned to the semi-feudal state before those revolutions. In any case, while you will need to read other books on comparative revolutions this is the place to start.
Labels: american revolution, CHINESE REVOLUTION 1949, communism, comparative revolutions, english revolution, french revolution, karl marx, leon trotsky, SOCIOLOGY OF REVOLUTIONS, the russian revolution
Friday, February 23, 2007
Click on title to link to a labor article by John Reed on the famous 1913 strike in the Paterson, New Jersey textile mills. This will give the reader a better idea than the movie, "Reds",reviewed in this space on this date about Reed's credentials as a radical.
Click on title to link to YouTube's film clip of a trailer on "Reds"
REDS, THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION (ORIGINALLY RELEASED IN 1981)
The important contribution of John Reed to the revolutionary movement here in America before World War I and later during the Russian revolution and its aftermath has never been fully appreciated. Thus, Warren Beatty, whatever his personal motives, has done a great service in filming the life of this “traitor to his class” (and his Harvard Class of 1910) and partisan of the international working class.
As usual with such commercial enterprises the order of things gets switched in the wrong direction. The love affair between Reed (played by Beatty) and budding writer and early feminist Louise Bryant (played by Diane Keaton)(and a little third party intervention by playwright Eugene O’Neill, played by Jack Nicholson) is set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution not the other way around, but such is cinematic license. More than most film depictions this one mainly gets the story straight; Reed's early free-lance journalism tied to the Mexican Revolution; the bohemian life of pre-World War I Greenwich Village in New York City including it patronage by socialites like Mabel Dodge; the socialist fight against American participation in World War I; the fight among socialists (and anarchists) over support to the Russian Revolution; and, an interesting segment on the seemingly bewildering in-fighting in the early communist movement between the foreign-language federations and the Reed-led “Natives” (which included James P. Cannon,later a founder of American Trotskyism)that that ultimately had to be 'resolved' at Communist International headquarters in Moscow.
Those ‘natives’, the likes of Earl Browder, James Cannon and William Z. Foster, in the course of events would form the leadership of the party through most of the twenties when the cadre still wanted to make a revolution here and not just cheer on the Russian Revolution from afar. A nice touch in the film is the interweaving of commentaries by those, friend and foe, who knew or knew of Reed or were around during this time. See this movie.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Click on title to link to information about the author of "Negroes With Guns" and black liberation fighter Robert F. Williams.
Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for Mumia Abu Jamal. This source was selected merely for informational purposes about his early life and other germane points. For details of his legal case over the years Google an organization that I support, the Partisan Defense Committee, that has done a lot of work and provided funds to his defense over many years (as have other organizations).
WE WANT FREEDOM: A LIFE IN THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY, MUMIA ABU-JAMAL, NEW YORK, 2005
BLACK LIBERATION THROUGH SOCIALIST REVOLUTION
FEBRUARY IS BLACK HISTORY MONTH
Readers of this space may have noticed in my profile that I am a supporter of the Partisan Defense Committee, an organization committed to the defense of and freedom for class war prisoners. The author of the book under review death row inmate, former Black Panther and a ‘voice for the voiceless’ Mumia Abu Jamal is currently the most publicized case of that organization as he faces continued threats to his life by the American justice system. Here he has written a lively and informative account of his ‘original sin’, joining the Black Panthers as a teenager, that has since then put him in the crosshairs of the government and its courts. While one can honestly disagree, as this writer does, about the politics of the Panthers (see the February 2007 archives for other Panther-related reviews) and about Mumia’s current political perspective this book demonstrates why there is an extremely good reason why he is called "the voice of the voiceless".
Apparently, when the government gets you in its sights you are there forever, especially if you are black. Mumia is not the only former Black Panther still in prison, only the most prominent (see Partisan Defense Committee website for others supported by this organization). Although his politics have changed their focus since his Panther youth one of the most inflammatory statements made by the prosecution in his Pennsylvania murder trial in 1982- supposedly to support a so-called ‘motive’ for his crime was his youthful membership in the Panthers. Accordingly, that made him some kind of 'kill-crazy' cop hater for life.
No, this characterization will not do. Like many black youth at the time the Panthers brought Mumia to political life at a time when thoughtful black militants were looking for a way forward in the black liberation struggle. That the Panthers could not succeed for various reasons described in the book does not negate their political, not criminal influence. One has to look to the government’s reaction to the Panthers if one wants to find serious life-threatening criminal activity.
Along with several other books I have been reading lately this book has made me think back to the days when we of the white left were head over heels in love with the Black Panthers as the epitome of revolutionary manhood (and it was mainly men although Mumia highlights some of the women influencial in the organization) and of revolutionary struggle. Well, as we are all painfully aware, those days are long gone although the goals fought for in those days are still desperately in need of completion. Thus, some thoughts about the ups and downs of the Black Panther experience, the most militant and subjectively revolutionary part of the black liberation movement of the 1960’s, and its role in the history of black liberation is in order. Mumia provides much anecdotal information, particularly about the rank and file and the effect that the Panther experience had on turning around some very tough lifestyle situations.
As any photograph taken of the Panthers from the period would demonstrate the Panthers and particularly the central leadership, Huey Newton, Bobby Searle, Eldridge Cleaver among others were not adverse to little provocative demonstrations or shock-value publicity. The FBI, however, early on had other plans for them and they were not pretty. If J. Edgar Hoover saw the placid Martin Luther King-led branch of the civil rights movement as some kind of communist conspiracy then he turned apoplectic at the thought of armed black men asserting their right to bear arms.
Since early slavery times that possibility of an armed uprising had always been the fear of whites and the response was no different this time. Over a very short period the Hoover-orchestrated federal and state drive against the Panthers left most of the key leaders and cadre dead, in jail, on bail or in hiding, This was not the first time a perceived leftist threat had been deal with this in this way. One can think of the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) in the World War I period, the Communist and Anarchist ‘red scare’ raids and deportations after that war and more recently the anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950’s. With this difference, however, in the case of the Panthers there was a concerted effort to kill off every one the government could get their hands on. Read here if you want to learn more about what that did to the organization, particularly as it, in self-defense, had to turn into a de facto legal defense organization. Read and re-read this book.
HONOR THE MEMORY OF CONRAD LYNN- SOCIALIST BLACK LIBERATION FIGHTER WHO JUST HAPPENED TO BE A LAWYER
Click on title to link to a 1956 "American Socialist" article by Conrad Lynn entitled "The Southern Negro Stirs" in order to get a flavor of his politics. I note that there is no entry, at least I could not find it, for Conrad Lynn on Wikipedia. Somebody get to it.
HONOR THE MEMORY OF CONRAD LYNN- A SOCIALIST BLACK LIBERATION FIGHTER WHO JUST HAPPENED TO BE A LAWYER
FOR BLACK LIBERATION THROUGH THE FIGHT FOR SOCIALISM
In this space I have attempted to introduce the new generation of militants and others to some of the historic events and people who have rendered service to the international working class and their allies. Obviously, such figures as John Brown, Leon Trotsky, Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Malcolm X and others need no special introduction to most thoughtful militants. However, there are lesser historical figures, many half-forgotten, whose lives and struggles cry out for recognition and study. I have recently done a tribute to Robert F. Williams who falls into that category and now I am honored to do a tribute for the late socialist, civil rights lawyer and black liberation fighter Conrad Lynn. As fate would have it the lives of these two fighters were intertwined, and not by accident, in the early civil rights struggles of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, especially the struggle for militant black self-defense in Monroe, North Carolina while Williams was the head of the NAACP there.
The Monroe, North Carolina fight, the Harlem Six Defense fight, the Bill Epton-led Harlem Defense Council fight, the fight against the ‘red scare’ epitomized by the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, the defense of Puerto Rican nationalists Campos and later Lebron, and an assortment of other important labor and minority struggles highlight the career of Conrad Lynn. The details of these fights can be found in his autobiography THERE IS A FOUNTAIN, Lawrence Hill& Co, 1979. I do not know about you but I see a pattern here. Unlike most lawyers who run away in terror from unpopular fights, especially when it is not a celebrity case and, more importantly, there is no money Lynn spent his active professional and political life ‘running to the danger’. I guess he skipped that class in law school about taking the easy road. To our benefit.
Conrad Lynn, however, was more than a ‘people’s lawyer he was also a very political man. No, not the kind of political lawyer who funds the bourgeois parties or runs for office but one whose politics and professional career reinforced each other in the progressive cause. His early unpleasant experiences in and around the early American Communist Party, like that of many other blacks especially black intellectuals like Richard Wright and Langston Hughes, left him as something of an isolated individual radical gadfly. The American political landscape is full of, or at least it used to be, such types.
Unfortunately, history has shown us no way to create a socialist party that struggles for political power based on the isolated efforts of even such outstanding individual fighters as Lynn. As noted in the Robert F. Williams tribute in his prime, and this is also the case here with Lynn, there was nothing in the American left political landscape forcing him toward a more sustained organizational commitment. That said, Lynn’s individual efforts nevertheless are worthy of honor from today’s militants as a socialist and black liberation fighter. Forward.
Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for black liberation fighter Robert F. Williams. This is a classic case of a liberation fighter getting in the cross-hairs of the ruling class and paying the price. We will remember that hard lesson as we struggle for liberation. Thanks, Brother Williams.
FOR BLACK LIBERATION THROUGH THE FIGHT FOR SOCIALISM
In this space I have attempted to introduce the new generation of militants and others to some of the historic events and people who have rendered service to the international working class and their allies. Obviously, such figures as John Brown, Leon Trotsky, Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Malcolm X and others need no introduction to most thoughtful militants. However, there are lesser historical figures, many half-forgotten, whose lives and struggles cry out for recognition and study. The late civil rights activist and black liberation militant Robert F. Williams is just such a figure.
For those who have either forgotten or are too young to remember Robert F. William was the leader of the Monroe, North Carolina NAACP in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, with this different. Unlike the mainly professional blacks (and their white supporters) who formed the core of NAACP membership the Monroe chapter through Williams’ recruitment drive was composed mainly of working class militants. More importantly, when the Klu Klux Klan rained hell down in Monroe, unlike in other Southern civil rights encounters, they were confronted with blacks armed and prepared to defend themselves.
The fear of a modern day Nat Turner or John Brown has always driven whites, and not only in the South, to wake up screaming in the middle of the night. Yes, that is a very different kind of civil rights story from most of the confrontations in the South, led by preachers and at, least tactically, committed to non-violent resistance. In the end Williams had to pay for his militancy by fleeing first to Cuba and then to China when the inevitable frame-up by the government came. In this case it was trumped up charges of kidnapping a white couple he tried to shelter in his home during a Klan/militant confrontation that he eventually beat.
The life story of Robert F. Williams is however more than that of a militant black ready to defend his home and kin. Military service in both World War II and Korea probably made him less afraid than others to advocate self-defense. I do not believe that it is an accident that many of the most militant blacks in the early civil rights movement and later those around the revolutionary black nationalist Black Panther Party were veterans of military service. A whole separate story could be written about such activists. Williams’ leadership capacities, moreover, extended beyond formal organizational leadership in Monroe. His now classic book Negroes With Guns (well worth reading)is an important contribution to black liberation literature. In exile in Cuba he edited a newspaper and ran a radio station called Radio Free Dixie directed at civil rights militants in the struggle in America.
Robert F. Williams life story also demonstrates the limitations of a blacks-only struggle for liberation. He proclaimed himself, on more than one occasion, a revolutionary black nationalist, and I believe he was sincere in that belief. Williams firmly believed that his natural allies, white workers, had been bought off by the ‘system’. On the face of it, at that time, that was probably not a far-fetched practical way to view the political world of the United States. Unfortunately, it was also a political dead end.
Nevertheless, within those self-imposed political limitations militants today can honor Robert F. Williams as a courageous black liberation fighter. Let me put it another way; Robert F. Williams is the kind of cadre necessary if there is ever to be socialism in this country. I would argue further that no revolution will occur here without such black militants leading the way. I will put it even more bluntly; I will take one fighter like Robert F. Williams for a hundred Jesse Jacksons, Al Sharptons and Obama the “Charma's” who today claim to lead the struggle for black rights. They can step back, way back.
Click on title to link to YouTube's film clip of a speech by James P. Cannon relating to part of the theme of this entry.
BLACK LIBERATION THROUGH THE FIGHT FOR SOCIALISM
This article is a reprint, with slight editing for the blog, from the journal "BLACK HISTORY AND THE CLASS STRUGGLE" first published in 2001 in "Workers Vanguard". The historic points in the article speak for themselves. Some of the books cited in the article are worth reading and I will will review some of them in this space later. Anything by James P. Cannon is definitely must reading and I have already reviewed several of his writings in this space. (Check archives). Markin.
"Everything new on the Negro question came from Moscow—after the Russian Revolution began to thunder its demand throughout the world for freedom and equality for all national minorities, all subject peoples and all races—for all the despised and rejected of the earth." —James P. Cannon, "The Russian Revolution and the American Negro Movement" (International Socialist Review, Summer 1959; reprinted in The First Ten Years of American Communism )
These words, describing the revolutionary ideas which inspired a generation of radicals in the early 1920s, were written by American Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon as the historic struggle for black freedom and equality in the U.S. entered a new chapter with the civil rights movement. The October Revolution of 1917 was a beacon to the exploited and oppressed throughout the world, the greatest victory ever achieved by the working people. As the multinational working class, led by the Bolshevik Party of V. I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky, smashed the bloody rule of the capitalist masters and erected its own state power, it opened the portals of liberation to all the many oppressed peoples of Russia.
In the U.S., the reverberations of the Russian Revolution coincided with the great migration of Southern black sharecroppers to the cities of the North and the return of some 400,000 black World War I vets. This combination of events gave birth to the rise of a new black militancy. It also gave birth to the far-flung web of repression that a half century later took the form of the FBI's COINTEL-PRO (Counter-Intelligence Program) terror operation. From the time of the slave revolts before the Civil War, the sight of black people armed not only with guns but with "radical" notions of freedom and equality has struck fear into America's racist rulers. In a 1919 Senate report, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, author of the infamous 1920 Palmer Raids, warned that "the Negro is 'seeing red'."
Many black radicals in the early '20s did indeed look to the Russian Revolution, and a few joined the early American Communist Party (CP). Among them were leaders of the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB), mainly composed of West Indian immigrants, which advocated race pride and armed self-defense against racist terror. As black people took up arms in self-defense against a series of racist pogroms and lynchings that swept American cities from Washington to Tulsa, Oklahoma at the end of World War I, the ABB defiantly proclaimed in an article headlined "The Tulsa Outrage" (Crusader, July 1921):
"As at Washington, D.C., so at Tulsa, Okla. The entire power of the State, all of the forces of capitalist 'law and order,' were turned upon the Negro in the process of 'putting down' race riots that were started and most actively prosecuted by white mobs.... That is the kind of justice the Negro gets in capitalist
America! That is the kind of justice the Jew used to get in capitalist-Czarist Russia, until the workers of all races arose in their wrath and overthrew the capitalist-Czarist combination and set up Soviets. Now the workers of all races get equal justice—in Russia. How long will the Negro in America continue to fall for capitalist bunk? How many more Tulsas will it take to line up the Negro where by all race interests he belongs—with the radical forces of the world that are work¬ing for the overthrow of capitalism and the dawn of a new day, a new heaven and a new earth?"
These questions are posed with no less urgency 80 years later. The last great struggle for black equality in the U.S., the civil rights movement, resulted in the formal elimination of entrenched Jim Crow segregation in the South. But it did nothing to ameliorate the de facto segregation of the black masses at the bottom of American society—massive and chronic unemployment, segregated and substandard housing and schools, rampant cop terror in the ghettos—rooted in the very foundations of this capitalist system. Thousands upon thousands of civil rights activists faced down shotgun-wielding cops and Klan lynchers in white robes. But the movement was steered away from a revolutionary challenge to racist American capitalism by Martin Luther King Jr. and other liberal civil rights leaders, aided by the long-since reformist Communist Party, and into the dead end of Democratic Party liberalism.
The Spartacist League was born in good part in a fight for a revolutionary proletarian intervention into the civil rights movement. The SL originated as the Revolutionary Tendency within the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which had been founded and led for many years by Cannon, in struggle against the party's descent from Trotskyism into centrism in 1961-63. Weakened by years of isolation during the McCarthyite witchhunt, the SWP criminally abstained from the struggle to win the thousands of left-wing militants who rebelled against King's liberal pacifism, instead adapting to the liberals and later the black nationalists.
Today, the material conditions of the mass of the black population are by every measure worse than they were in the 1960s, while even the minimal gains achieved then have either been rolled back or are under incessant attack. Meanwhile, King's political heirs—Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, etc.—seek to bind a new generation of black youth to the Democratic Party as a capitalist "lesser evil" and to convince them that "communism is dead." The destruction of the Soviet Union, the final undoing of the October Revolution, was an enormous defeat. But the lessons of the Russian Revolution remain no less vital. It will take nothing short of a new October Revolution that sweeps away the U.S. bourgeoisie to bring about freedom and equality for black people and all working people.
The First COINTELPRO
If the class-struggle road to black freedom was first charted in the immediate aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution, it was in this period as well that the American capitalist state constructed the deadly apparatus of political repression— with its vast army of spies and informers, local police "red squads," wiretaps and mail interceptions—that was later deployed by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI in the '60s. COINTELPRO singled out the Black Panther Party, the best of a layer of radical black militants who spurned the accommodationism of King & Co., for defiantly asserting the right of armed self-defense. The FBI's war of terror left 38 Panthers dead and hundreds more framed up and imprisoned in America's dungeons, ultimately including onetime Philadelphia Panther spokesman Mumia Abu-Jamal, who now fights for his life from a prison cell on Pennsylvania's death row.
Theodore Kornweibel's "Seeing Red": Federal Campaigns Against Black Mili¬tancy 1919-1925 (1998) presents a history of the first edition of COINTELPRO. Kornweibel opens: "Modern America's political intelligence system—surveillance, investigation, and spying on individuals because of fear or dislike of their beliefs, resulting in harassment, intimidation, or persecution—came of age during World War I and the Red Scare of 1919 to 1921." America's entry into World War I, the first interimperialist world war, in 1917 gave impetus to the creation of a far-flung domestic espionage apparatus— including the Bureau of Investigation, the Military Intelligence Division (MID) and the Office of Naval Intelligence—which grew from a handful of agents to a staff of thousands by war's end in November 1918. At its center was the newly formed Bureau of Investigation—to be recast in 1935 as the FBI amid a new wave of working-class radicalization—and its General Intelligence Division (GID), headed by the same J. Edgar Hoover.
Within months of its formation in 1919. the GID had compiled a list of 55,000 names. Initially aimed at antiwar dissidents, left-wing Socialists and IWW members, Hoover's political police went on to pursue the fledgling American Communist movement. As always, black militants were a particular target. The federal agencies were assisted by local red squads and private anti-Communist outfits like the American Defense Initiative. The Palmer Raids in the first week of January 1920 resulted in the arrest of over 6,000 Communists and the deportation of thousands of foreign-born anarchists and other radicals. All of this was carried out under "progressive" Democratic president Woodrow Wilson.
Foreshadowing the "human rights" rhetoric which was later used to justify a host of imperialist military interventions by the Clinton White House, Wilson proclaimed that the imperialist war for re-division of colonies and spheres of exploitation was fought to make the world "safe for democracy"—even as he presided over the brutal subjugation of American colonies like the Philippines and Puerto Rico and Jim Crow terror against black people in the U.S. Wilson's "14 Points," including the right of national self-determination, were cynically crafted to counter Bolshevik influence among working people and colonial slaves around the world. As a staunch supporter of segregation, Wilson was representative of ascending U.S. imperialism, whose racist wars of conquest abroad, beginning with the Spanish-American War of 1898, were accompanied by the intensification of racist repression at home.
Based on previously unavailable government documents, Kornweibel presents a powerful exposition of how the federal government mobilized its resources— from the armed forces to the postal service, from the State Department to the Justice Department—to defend the racist capitalist status quo and to crush the new movements for black emancipation and red revolution. A liberal anti-Communist, Kornweibel argues that the Feds had "reasonable grounds for monitoring" black Communists because they supposedly advocated the' violent overthrow of the American government and acted as spies for Soviet Russia. He condemns the capitalist government only for spying on large numbers of liberals and non-Communist radicals. Kornweibel sneers that "the Bolsheviks failed to convert more than a handful of blacks to communism in the 1920s."
It is true that as late as 1928, the CP had only some 50 black members. The Palmer Raids and the anti-red witchhunt had served their purpose. The decade of the '20s was marked by an ebb tide in labor struggle, as union membership shrank to barely 10 percent of the work¬force. Emboldened by the right-wing climate, the Ku Klux Klan reached a peak of power and popularity, with several million members, including in the urban North. In 1925, the Klan staged a march of 40,000 in Washington, D.C.
But in the immediate aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the bourgeoisie's fears that the black masses might "see red" were not misplaced. The black GIs who had been sent to die in the "great war for democracy" in Europe and were now determined to fight .for some democracy at home were, in Wilson's eyes, the "greatest medium in conveying bolshevism to America." As Kornweibel himself recounts, the Bolshevik Revolution was popular among wide layers of urban blacks and even among moderate black newspapers and organizations. The accomodationism of Booker T. Washington, who preached acceptance of Jim Crow segregation and lectured impoverished blacks to pull themselves up "by the bootstraps," had held sway in the years following the elimination of the last remaining gains of Reconstruction in the 1890s, when the downtrodden masses of black sharecroppers in the South enter¬tained little hope of social struggle. But the end of World War I ushered in a new spirit of militancy, the "New Crowd Negro," in the words of black social democrat A. Philip Randolph.
Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!
The experience of the Bolshevik Party in leading the first victorious proletarian revolution provoked a polarization and regroupment within the workers movement internationally. In the U.S., many left-wing Socialists and members of the revolutionary-syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) joined together to forge an American section of the Communist International (CI). Of particular importance was the profound change inspired by the Russian Bolsheviks in the way American radicals viewed the black question.
Samuel Gompers' American Federation of Labor was largely composed of lily-white craft unions. Even the IWW, which fought heroically to organize black and immigrant workers, had no program to address the special oppression of black people. The Socialist Party ranged from open racists like Victor Berger, who considered black people "a lower race," to "colorblind" socialists like Eugene V. Debs. Debs staunchly opposed racist discrimination and the exclusion of black workers from the unions but denied that black people suffered from any form of oppression other than as workers, going so far as to challenge: "What social distinction is there between a white and a black deckhand on a Mississippi steamboat?" (Jean Y. Tussey, ed., Debs Speaks ). This Debsian outlook was manifested in the 1919 founding program of the Communist Party, while the program of the rival Communist Labor Party (the two groups merged in 1920) simply ignored the black question.
As Cannon, a former Wobbly who became an early leader of the CP and then founder of the American Trotskyist movement, noted in his 1959 article:
"The earlier socialist movement, out of which the Communist Party was, formed, never recognized any need for a special program on the Negro question. It was considered purely and simply as an economic problem, part of the struggle between the workers and the capitalists; nothing could be done about the special problems of discrimination and inequality this side of socialism.... "The difference—and it was a profound difference—between the Communist Party of the Twenties and its socialist and radical ancestors, was signified by its break with this tradition. The American communists in the early days, under the influence and pressure of the Russians in the Comintern, were slowly and painfully learning to change their attitude; to assimilate the new theory of the Negro question as a special question of doubly-exploited second-class citizens, requiring a program of special demands as part of the over-all program—and to start doing something about it."
Though the early Comintern tended to conflate the black struggle in the U.S. with the colonial struggle in Africa, the manifesto adopted by the First Congress of the CI in 1919, drafted by Trotsky, was a clarion call to the dark-skinned masses throughout the world, proclaiming: "Colonial slaves of Africa and Asia! The hour of proletarian dictatorship in Europe will strike for you as the hour of your own emancipation!" The first full discussion of the black question from a Communist viewpoint took place not in the U.S. but in Moscow, at the Second Comintern Congress in 1920. At Lenin's personal request, American Communist John Reed—author of Ten Days That Shook the World, the first popular account of the Russian Revolution—was designated to report on the "Negro Question." Describing the horrors of lynch law and Jim Crow segregation as well as the effects of proletarianization and imperialist war, Reed said:
"If we consider the Negroes as an en¬slaved and oppressed people, then they pose us with two tasks: on the one hand a strong racial movement and on the other a strong proletarian workers' movement, whose class consciousness is quickly growing. The Negroes do not pose the demand of national independence.... "The Communists must not stand aloof from the Negro movement which demands their social and political equality and at the moment, at a time of the rapid growth of racial consciousness, is spreading rapidly among the Negroes. The Communists must use this movement to expose the lie of bourgeois equality and emphasize the necessity of the social revolution which will not only liberate all workers from servitude but is also the only way to free the enslaved Negro people."
In the years before and during World War I, more than a million blacks fled the rural Jim Crow South to enter Northern industry. In his 1915 pamphlet, New Data on the Laws Governing the Development of Capitalism in Agriculture, Lenin wrote: "To show what the South is like, it is essential to add that its population is fleeing to other capitalist areas and to the towns.... For the 'emancipated' Negroes, the American South is a kind of prison where they are hemmed in, isolated and deprived of fresh air." The black question in the U.S. Was thus transformed from primarily a Southern agrarian question left unresolved in the aftermath of the Civil War and the radical-democratic Reconstruction era to a key question of the proletarian revolution.
Particularly with the formation of the integrated CIO industrial unions in the latter half of the 1930s, black workers became a strategic component of the multiracial proletariat. The special oppression of black people as a race/color caste—segregated at the bottom of this society while integrated into the economy—is the cornerstone of American capitalism. Black workers serve as an industrial reserve army, the last hired and first fired as economic need demands. As well, America's rulers foster racial divisions in order to obscure the fundamental and irreconcilable class division between labor and capital and to head off united working-class struggle.
The Spartacist League's proletarian, revolutionary strategy for black liberation derives from the seminal understanding laid out by Reed in Moscow in 1920 and powerfully developed by the later writings of veteran Trotskyist Richard Fraser. In the late 1940s and early '50s, Fraser pioneered the perspective of revolutionary integrationism upheld today by the SL. We fight to mobilize the multiracial proletariat in struggle against every manifestation of racist oppression, a struggle which can only be victorious through the full social, political and economic integration of black people in an egalitarian socialist society.
Won to a revolutionary program, doubly oppressed black workers will play a leading role in the fight to emancipate the black masses and all working people by sweeping away the entire system of capitalist exploitation. There can be no socialist revolution in this country without united struggle of black and white workers led by a multiracial vanguard party, and there is nothing other than a workers revolution, smashing the capitalist state and expropriating the capitalist class, which can at last realize the historic struggle for black equality and freedom.
Racist Terror and Black Self-Defense
The Red Scare hit full stride in 1919. That year saw the crest of the wave of labor radicalism which swept Europe in response to the great carnage of the war and under the impact of the Russian Revolution. In the U.S., the ranks of the Socialist Party swelled to more than 100,000, mostly foreign-born workers, with two-thirds supporting the pro-Bolshevik left wing. The U.S. was hit by the biggest strike wave up to that time, as four million workers walked off their jobs in response to the mounting cost of living induced by war inflation. Drives to organize unions in meatpacking and steel culminated in a huge steel strike that year which was smashed by federal troops. Shunned by the Jim Crow craft unions of the AFL, many black workers had first been hired by the bosses as scabs and worked in non-union "open shops." Many more had been brought in to replace white workers drafted into the military.
In the South, the sight of armed and uniformed black soldiers drove the racists into a frenzy. In Houston, 13 black soldiers were hanged in September 1917 and 41 imprisoned for life for defending themselves against a racist mob, and the number of lynchings escalated over the next couple of years. Conflicts over housing and jobs set the stage for a series of bloody pogroms and racist massacres, beginning in East St. Louis in July 1917, where over 40 blacks were killed. These conflicts intensified with the end of the war, as white workers demobilized from the army demanded jobs at the expense of black workers and a postwar economic downturn set in.
The Red Summer of 1919, so called for the blood of black victims that flowed through city streets, saw a series of racist rampages that left hundreds dead across the country. In Washington, D.C., the entry of black workers into lower-level civil service jobs during the war provoked a riot by returning soldiers in which six blacks were killed. A five-day riot in Chicago, which broke the back of the meat-packers organizing drive, left 23 blacks and 15 whites dead and over 500 people seriously injured. In Elaine, Arkansas, the formation of the black Progressive Farmers and Householders Union was met with a racist onslaught. Following a mob attack on a union meeting in October, in which some 200 black men, women and children died, federal troops were called in and 12 sharecroppers were sentenced to death and another 80 to prison for "inciting to insurrection." They were finally freed after prolonged efforts by the NAACP.
The worst of these racist atrocities came in Tulsa, Oklahoma in May 1921. As false rumors spread that a young black man had attacked a white female elevator operator, lynch mobs looted and burned black homes and businesses. Black residents, many of them army vets, organized to defend themselves. The police, commandeering private planes, dropped dynamite on the heart of black Tulsa. By the time it was over, the once-thriving black business district, known as "the Negro Wall Street," had been razed. Over 200 black men, women and children (as well as some 50 white attackers) were killed, and over 4,000 more were thrown into concentration camps.
What alarmed the bourgeoisie was not the murderous ferocity of the racist attacks but that they were met by blacks with growing resolve for armed self-defense. The Chicago Whip, one of a number of small black newspapers which typified the "New Crowd Negro," drew the ire of the Feds when it headlined a report on a 1920 racist riot in Jersey City in which three whites were badly beaten in self-defense by besieged blacks: "Started by White Hoodlums, Finished by Tough Negroes." Following the Tulsa pogrom, the paper carried a scathing indictment of racist American "democracy": "Americanism! Is that the thing which lynches, burns and murders the weak? If so, then give us Lords and Kings with guillotines and dungeons" (quoted in the Crusader, July 1921).
Claude McKay gave voice to the new spirit of militancy in his famous poem "If We Must Die" (1919):
"If we must die, let it not be like hogs....
Like men we'll face the murderous cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!"
Though never a member of the CP, McKay was outspoken and eloquent in his support for the Russian Revolution and was invited to attend the CI's 1922 Fourth Congress as a special delegate. When McKay met Trotsky, the Bolshevik leader and Red Army commander talked of his hopes of training a group of American blacks as officers in the Red Army and invited McKay for a three-week tour of Russian military facilities. But, stressed Trotsky, "The training of black propagandists is the most imperative and extremely important revolutionary task of the present time."
Even the cravenly legalistic NAACP ran an editorial in its Crisis in May 1919 in which editor W. E. B. DuBois called for black vets to "battle against the forces of hell in our own land" and declared, "We return from fighting. We return fighting." This was deemed so inflammatory that the New York Postmaster / ordered 100,000 copies of the issue withheld, despite the NAACP's record of loyalty to the racist rulers. During the war, DuBois had urged blacks to "close ranks" behind U.S. imperialism, while NAACP chairman Joel Spingarn served as an officer in military intelligence, briefly heading up subsection M14E, which specialized in "investigations of blacks' loyalties," as Kornweibel reports.
After the war, DuBois appealed to the victors of the imperialist bloodbath to apply the "principles" of their robbers' peace—Wilson's "14 Points" and the Versailles treaty—to Africa and played a leading role in the Second Pan-African Congress in 1921, which demanded noth¬ing more lofty than the "right" of the colonial slaves "to participate in the [colonial] government as fast as their development permits." Writing about this period in 1972, even a scholar sympathetic to Pan-Africanism, Harvard political science professor Azina Nwafor, observed:
"These were, after all, the historical moments when the Bolsheviks had just triumphed in Russia and were exhorting all subject and colonial peoples to rise and overthrow their oppressors, their respective feudal and imperialist regimes, and to 'expropriate all the expropriators.' Such revolutionary principles and appeals were the real radical demands of the epoch—and not a wind of these blew through the civilized halls of the Pan-African Congresses."
—"Critical Introduction" to George Padmore, Pan-Africanism or Communism (1972)
When McKay criticized the Crisis in 1921 for "sneerjmg] at the Russian Revolution, the greatest event in the history of humanity," DuBois replied that "the immediate work for the American Negro lies in America and not in Russia" and pronounced it "foolish for us to give up this practical program...by seeking to join a revolution which we do not at present understand" (Crisis, July 1921; reprinted in Philip S. Foner and James S. Alien, eds., American Communism and Black Americans: A Documentary His¬tory, 1919-1929 ). This the liberal DuBois would never understand, even after joining the by-then thoroughly reformist CP in 1961, shortly before his death.
Hoover's Witchhunt Against Black Militants
As racist mobs rampaged against blacks in 1919, Hoover directed his agents to pay "special attention" to "the Negro agitation which seems to be prevalent throughout the industrial centers of the country and every effort should be made to ascertain whether or not this agitation is due to the influence of the radical elements such as the IWW and Bolsheviks." In a report to Congress that year, Hoover railed that "a certain class of Negro leaders" had shown "an outspoken advocacy of the Bolsheviki or Soviet doctrines," had been "openly, defiantly assertive" of their "own equality or even superiority" and had demanded "social equality" (quoted in Robert Goldstein, Political Repression in Modern America: 1870 to the Present ).
In its venomous crusade against anything smacking of black self-assertion, the government even targeted Marcus Garvey's Negro World as "probable Bolshevik propaganda." In fact, Garvey was an early exponent of the reactionary separatism and black capitalism today espoused by Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam. In 1922, Garvey even staged a meeting with the head of the KKK. Garvey's United Negro Improvement Association tried to get blacks to move to Africa and establish themselves as a new colonial elite with himself as their emperor. The only 'black nationalist movement in the U.S. ever to attain a mass base, the Garveyites fed off the disillusionment and demoralization which followed the defeat of the postwar strike wave and the 1919 riots. After a years-long vendetta, the Feds imprisoned Garvey in 1925 on fraud charges, deporting him to Jamaica three years later.
The main targets of government repression, intimidation, infiltration and frame-up were black leftists, especially those like McKay who had traveled to Moscow and were suspected of bringing back instructions from Trotsky to set up a "colored Soviet." The small number of black agents and informants recruited by the Feds were kept busy infiltrating numerous organizations, in some cases simultaneously, and reporting on public meetings and discussion circles. A particular focus of government spying was Martin Luther Campbell's tailor shop in Harlem, where regular discussions were attended by a wide range of black radicals and Communists, including McKay and leading CPer Rose Pastor Stokes.
Among those targeted by the Feds were left social democrats A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen, who published the Messenger. The second issue of the Messenger (May/June 1919) featured headlines like "The March of Soviet Government" and "We Want More Bolshevik Patriotism." It was from the Messenger group and the Harlem branch of the Socialist Party that the Communist Party recruited its first black members, including founding CPer Otto Huiswoud, a union printer from Dutch Guiana (now Surinam). The post office withheld permanent second-class mailing status from the Messenger for two years for the following piece puncturing the racist hypocrisy of American bourgeois society:
"As for social equality, there are about five million mulattoes in the United States. This is the product of semi-social equality. It shows that social equality galore exists after dark, and we warn you that we expect to have social equality in the day as well as after dark."
Though initially an admirer of the Bolshevik Revolution, Randolph sided with the reformist wing of the SP in the 1919 split that led to the formation of the CP. In 1923, he and Owen ran an editorial titled "The Menace of Negro Communists." By the 1950s, Randolph was a Cold War liberal and Democratic Party stalwart.
The African Blood Brotherhood
The CP's real breakthrough in black recruitment came from the African Blood Brotherhood, founded in 1919 by West Indian militant Cyril Briggs, publisher of the Crusader. Announcing the formation of the ABB, the Crusader wrote: "Those only need apply who are willing to go the limit!" Briggs was led by his uncompromising hostility to imperialist capitalism to embrace a revolutionary outlook, and he and other ABB leaders joined the CP. When the CP,- before then underground, set up the Workers Party as a legal party, the ABB sent a fraternal delegation to its founding convention in December 1921 and many ABB members joined the new legal party.
Briggs himself came under surveillance in 1919 when the MID was alerted by a British intelligence report on "Negro Agitation" which described the Crusader as a "very extreme magazine" for its opposition to imperialism, its admiration of Bolshevism and its "abuse of the white man." Garvey's pro-capitalist separatist movement was a chief target of the Crusader's polemical fire. This political struggle soon became muddied as Hoover's provocateurs tried to push it toward a violent confrontation, just as 50 years later FBI provocateurs seized on the antagonism between the Panthers and Ron Karenga's "cultural nationalists" in Los Angeles to foment murderous feuding. DuBois and Randolph were trying to get the Feds to prosecute Garvey. Indefensibly, in 1922 Briggs joined with them in this, according to Kornweibel, alerting the "New York authorities that the Negro World had violated the law by printing advertisements for a cure for venereal disease."
In the wake of the 1921 Tulsa massacre, the ABB was subjected to even closer government scrutiny and a hysterical press witchhunt for supposedly organizing black self-defense efforts there. But the ABB's membership soared as it defiantly affirmed the right of armed self-defense. The CP distributed hundreds of thousands of copies of its own leaflet, "The Tulsa Massacre," which called for blacks "to resist the armed assaults upon their homes, their women and children." Three CPers were convicted and sentenced to five months under Connecticut's sedition law for distributing this leaflet.
While the ABB retained a separate existence and identity through 1924, it was closely associated with and served as a recruiting ground for the Workers Party. In 1925, the CP attempted to launch a black transitional organization, the American Negro Labor Congress (ANLC), in line with the CI's recognition of the need for special organizational forms to draw into the revolutionary movement specially oppressed layers. Today's Labor Black Leagues initiated by the Spartacist League are an example of such transitional organizations, which are linked to the proletarian vanguard party both programmatically and through their most conscious cadres. The ANLC opposed the color bar in the AFL, calling for unionization of black workers, demanded full social and political equality for black people and nailed "the workers' and farmers' government of Soviet Russia." Its founding conference declared, "The white workers cannot free themselves without the aid of us dark-skinned people, and we cannot liberate ourselves unless they join with us in an assault of the world bastions of imperialism" (Daily Worker, 14 Novem¬ber 1925; reprinted in American Communism and Black Americans: A Documen¬tary History, 1919 to 1929).
The CP did not have enough black cadre to get the ANLC off the ground, making little headway overall in this period marked by a sharp decline in union membership and massive growth of the KKK. Moreover, by this time the Bolshevik leadership of Lenin and Trotsky which had sought to guide and educate the American Communists had been replaced by the bureaucratic regime headed by Stalin. Hostile imperialist encirclement and the failure of revolution to spread beyond backward Russia to the advanced capitalist world led to the consolidation of a parasitic, nationalist bureaucracy which usurped power through a political counterrevolution consummated by the smashing of the Trotskyist Left Opposition in January 1924. The Stalinist bureaucracy proclaimed the nationalist dogma of "socialism in one country," transforming the Communist parties in the capitalist world from instruments for socialist revolution into appendages of the Kremlin's diplomatic maneuvers.
The Stalinists' conservative policies found an echo among American CP cadre weighed down by the reactionary pressures of an expanding and self-confident imperialism. The Soviet bureaucracy manipulated the ongoing and politically unclear factional warfare within the American party for its own ends. In 1928, the CI decreed the so-called "black belt theory," insisting against all reality and the opposition of the majority of the CP's black cadre that the black population in the South constituted a nation and that the key task was to fight for black "self-determination." But as Cannon noted in his 1959 essay, "The Russian Revolution and the American Negro Movement," it was the CP's "aggressive agitation for Negro equality and Negro rights on every front...that brought the results, without the help, and probably despite, the unpopular 'self-determination' slogan."
Cannon explained that the profound changes in the attitude of the American Communists to the black question introduced in the early 1920s, "brought about by the Russian intervention, were to manifest themselves explosively in the next decade." As the Great Depression led to a new period of struggle in the early '30s, the CP took the lead in fights against evictions, in struggles of the unemployed and in the Scottsboro and Angelo Herndon defense campaigns. When the tumultuous battles that gave rise to powerful new industrial unions erupted, "the policy and agitation of the Communist Party at that time did more, ten times over, than any other to help the Negro workers to rise to a new status of at least semi-citizenship in the new labor movement."
But, as Cannon put it, "the American Stalinists eventually fouled up the Negro question, as they fouled up every other question." By the mid-1930s, the CI had adopted the overtly class-collaborationist "people's front" line, manifested in the U.S. in a policy of subordination to Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal" Democratic Party, whose Southern wing was the Klan-infested Dixiecrat segregationists. The CP played a key role in subordinating the CIO unions and the fight for black rights to the Democratic Party, opposing labor and black struggles during World War II in order to promote the war effort of racist U.S. imperialism.
Break with the Democrats— Forge a Workers Party!
In their introductory note to American Communism and Black Americans: A Documentary History, 1919 to 1929, Stalinist academics Philip Foner and James Allen seek to justify this history of sellouts by spitting on the heroic and pioneering work of the early CP. They deep-six the central role of the Russian Bolsheviks in reorienting the American Communists on the black question and criticize them for "requiring adherence to their full program" in the ANLC. They attack the early CP's "negative attitude toward the Black middle class"—i.e., its revolutionary proletarian perspective— and counterpose the need for a class-collaborationist "united freedom front." Because they uphold the Stalinist class collaborationism of the later CP, Foner and Alien are necessarily hostile to the perspective of black liberation through proletarian revolution which animated the American Communist movement under he guidance of Lenin and Trotsky.
The Stalinists' sellout of the fight for black rights in the service of FDR's Democrats cast a heavy shadow over the American workers movement. That goes a long way to explaining why, in the subsequent years, many blacks—and white workers as well—turned their backs on the Communist Party and the left in general, leaving the field open to Democratic Party liberals like Martin Luther King Jr. and, today, Jesse Jackson. In concluding "The Russian Revolution and the American Negro Movement," Cannon wrote:
"In the next stage of its development, the American Negro movement will be compelled to turn to a more militant policy than gradualism, and to look for more reliable allies than capitalist politicians in the North who are themselves allied with the Dixiecrats of the South. The Negroes, more than any others in this country, have reason and right to be revolutionary.
"An honest workers' party of the new generation will recognize this revolutionary potential of the Negro struggle, and call for a fighting alliance of the Negro people and the labor movement in a common revolutionary struggle against the present social system.
"Reforms and concessions, far more important and significant than any yet attained, will be by-products of this revolutionary alliance. They will be fought for and attained at every stage of the struggle. But the new movement will not stop with reforms, nor be satisfied with concessions. The movement of the Negro people and the movement of militant labor, united and coordinated by a revolutionary party, will solve the Negro problem in the only way it can be solved—by a social revolution."
The forging of an authentically communist vanguard party to lead the multi¬racial proletariat to power requires breaking working people and the black masses from the grip of the racist capitalist Democratic Party. This is the task of the Spartacist League. As we state in the SL/U.S. programmatic statement "For Socialist Revolution in the Bastion of World Imperialism!": "The shell game through which the Democratic Party—the historic party of the Confederate slavocracy—is portrayed as the 'friend' of blacks and labor has been essential to preserving the rule of racist American capitalism. Our principal task in the U.S. is to break the power of the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy over the labor movement. It is this bureaucracy—itself a component part of the Democratic Party—which politically chains the proletariat to the bourgeoisie and is the major obstacle to revolutionary class consciousness, to the forging of a revolutionary workers party." For black liberation through socialist revolution! •