February Is Black History Month-From The Black Liberation Archives- The Russian Revolution and the Black Freedom Struggle
"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 working 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 bot-tom 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 Militancy 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 workforce. 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 entertained 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 steam-boat?" (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 interactionism 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 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 chair-man 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 nothing 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 "sneering] 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 History, 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 Gold-stein, 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 Gravy 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 November 1925; reprinted in American Communism and Black Americans: A Documentary 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 pro-claimed 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 Allen are necessarily hostile to the perspective of black liberation through proletarian revolution which animated the American Communist movement under the 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 sub-sequent 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 multiracial proletariat to power requires breaking working people and the black masses from the grip of the racist capitalist Dem-critic 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!