Saturday, July 20, 2013

From The Marxist Archives- The Capitalist State and Proletarian Revolution

Workers Vanguard No. 892  
11 May 2007



The Capitalist State and Proletarian Revolution

(Quote of the Week)

Echoing the notion that the state embodies the interests of society as a whole, a pillar of bourgeois ideology, the reformist left puts forward the proposition that the institutions of the capitalist state can be pressured into serving the interests of the working class and the oppressed. Combatting such illusions, the 1938 founding document of the then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party upheld the Marxist understanding that the emancipation of the proletariat requires a socialist revolution that smashes the capitalist state and replaces it with a workers state.

In any society, the real power is held by those who own and control the means whereby that society lives, the instruments of production, distribution, and communication. In capitalist society, such ownership and control is held and exercised by the big bourgeoisie, by the bankers and industrialists. Through its hold on the major natural resources, the factories, mines, banks, railroads, ships, airplanes, telegraph, radio, and press, the big bourgeoisie effectively dominates capitalist society, runs society in such a manner as to secure and maintain its own interest and privilege, and upholds the system of the exploitation of the great majority. The state or government, far from representing the general interests of society as a whole, is in the last analysis simply the political instrument through which the owning class exercises and maintains its power, enforces the property relations which guarantee its privileges, and suppresses the working class. In these essential functions all of the organs and institutions of the state power cooperate—the bureaucracy, the courts, police, prisons, and the armed forces. The particular political forms of capitalist society (monarchy, democracy, military dictatorship, fascism) in no way affect the basic social dictatorship of the controlling minority, and are only the different means through which that dictatorship expresses itself. The belief that in such a country as the United States we live in a free, democratic society, in which fundamental economic change can be effected by persuasion, by education, by legal and purely parliamentary methods, is an illusion....

Since the capitalist state is the political instrument of capitalist dictatorship, and since the workers can carry out socialization only through the conquest and maintenance of political power, the workers must, as the necessary political phase of the change of ownership and control of the productive mechanism, take control of state power through the overthrow of the capitalist state and the transfer of sovereignty from it to their own workers’ state—the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Opportunities for the workers to take power have come and will come in the course of the disintegration of material life and of culture under capitalist dictatorship. The masses find themselves faced with growing hunger, impoverishment, curtailment of social services, and the threat or actuality of fascism and war. When the profound social discontent generated by the crisis of capitalism extends to a decisive majority of the working class and of the productive sections of the population generally, and when these have been won to the perspective of revolutionary change, the workers will be in a position to take power and to put an end to the destructive course of capitalist dictatorship.

—“Declaration of Principles” (1938),
reprinted in The Founding of the Socialist Workers Party (1982)


New International, February 1938

James P. Cannon

The New Party Is Founded

(February 1938)

Source: New International, Vol.4 No.2, February 1938, pp.41-42.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan.

ALL THE EXPERIENCE of the class struggle on a world scale, and especially the experience of the past twenty years, teaches one lesson above all others, a lesson summed up in a single proposition: The most important problem of the working class is the problem of the party. Success or failure in this domain spells the difference between victory or defeat every time. The struggle for the party, the unceasing effort to construct the new political organization of the vanguard on the ruins of the old one, concentrates within itself the most vital and progressive elements of the class struggle as a whole. From this point of view every concrete step in the direction of a reconstructed party has outstanding importance. The convention of the left-wing branches of the disintegrated Socialist Party at Chicago over the New Year’s week-end, which resulted in the formal launching of a new organization the Socialist Workers Party, section of the Fourth International thus claims first attention from the revolutionary internationalists throughout the world. For them – and their judgment is better than any other because they foresee and prepare the future – it marks a new milestone on the historic road of workers’ liberation.
The reconstruction of the revolutionary labor movement in the form of a political party is not a simple process. In the midst of unprecedented difficulties, complications and contradictions the work goes ahead, like all social movements, in zig-zag fashion. The new movement takes shape through a series of splits and fusions which must appear like a Chinese puzzle to the superficial observer. But how could it be otherwise? The frightful disintegration of the old movements, on a background of world-wide social upheaval, disoriented and scattered the revolutionary militants in all directions. They could not find their way together, and draw the same basic conclusions, in a day. The new movement is fraught with catastrophic reverses, forward leaps and deadening periods of seeming stagnation. But for all that it is a movement, with an invincible historic motor force, and it moves along. The Chicago convention, which brought all the preceding work of the Fourth Internationalists in the US to a fruitful culmination, is a forceful reminder of this fact.
The Chicago convention itself was a striking illustration of this contradictory process of fusion and split – and a step forward. It crossed the last t and dotted the last i on the split of the moribund Socialist Party. At the same time, it recorded the complete fusion of the left-wing socialists with the former members of the Workers Party, just as the Workers Party earlier came into existence through a fusion of the Communist Left Opposition and revolutionary militants of independent origin. The invincible program of the Fourth International is the magnet which attracts to itself all the vital revolutionary elements from all camps. It is the basis, and the only basis, on which the dispersed militants can come together and forge the new movement.
This was demonstrated once again at the Chicago convention when the resolution for the Fourth International was carried without a single dissenting vote. The two currents; former Workers Party and “native” socialists, which were about equally represented; showed complete unity on this decisive question. The 76 regular and 36 fraternal delegates from 35 cities in 17 states, who constituted the convention, came to this unanimous decision after due consideration of the question and ample pre-convention discussion. Although the great bulk of time and discussion at the convention were devoted to American affairs, and properly so, the great matters of principle embodied in the international question inspired and guided everything.
This significant victory of the Fourth International in America cannot be without far-reaching influence on the international arena. The brief period of struggle as a faction within the Socialist Party comes to a definite end, and the American section of the Fourth International takes the field again as an independent party, with forces more than doubled, without any losses or splits, and with a firmer unity than ever before. Principled politics in this case also has proved to be the best and most effective kind of practical politics.
Those too-clever politicians of the centrist school have sought to avoid clear-cut answers to the international question in the hope of keeping divergent forces together. They have nothing to show for it but disintegration and splits, and the creeping paralysis of blind-alley pessimism in their ranks. The “Trotskyists,” on the other hand, have held their own ranks firm, and have united with other serious revolutionary forces in an expanding movement inspired by enthusiasm and confidence in its future. That is, first of all, because they put the main question of internationalism squarely. Experience showed that the left-wing socialists who mean business, and they are the only ones worth counting, preferred this kind of politics.
When our plenum-conference last July decided to take up the impudent challenge of the gag-law bureaucrats of the SP and fight the issue out without compromise, some comrades questioned the wisdom of this strategy, fearing disintegration in our ranks. The convention removed all ground for argument on this score. In the five-months campaign from July to New Year’s we not only held our own, but gained. Numerous branches not affiliated to the organized left wing in July, were represented by delegates at the convention. Denver; Salt Lake City; Kansas City, Joplin and St. Louis in Missouri; Rochester; Quakertown, Sellerville and a third branch in Pennsylvania – these were among the new branches enlisted under the banner of the new party at the convention. As for the remnants of the Socialist Party, it did not claim the attention of the convention in any way. Nobody felt the necessity for discussion on this dead issue of the past. All attention was directed to the future – to the problem of penetrating the mass movement of the workers and the struggle against Stalinism.
The outstanding point on the agenda, and the one allotted the most time in the discussion, was the trade union question. And even this discussion was pretty much limited to the narrower question of practical work and tactics in the trade unions and the exchange of experience in this field. The principles and strategy of Bolshevism in regard to the trade unions were regarded as clearly established and taken for granted.
The predominance of the trade union question in its practical and tactical aspects corresponded to the most pressing needs of the hour, and to the composition and temper of the convention. The slogan “to the masses” dominated the convention from beginning to end. The conception of the Fourth Internationalists as primarily a circle of isolated theorists and hairsplitters, a conception industriously circulated by the centrists who manoeuvre all the time with non-existent “mass movements” in a vacuum, could find little to sustain it at Chicago. The great bulk of the delegates consisted of practical and qualified trade unionists who have done serious Bolshevik work in the labor movement and have modest results to show for it.
The discussion and reports from the various districts clearly showed that we already have a good foundation of trade union activity to build upon. Our positions and influence in various unions – such as they are – have not been gained by appointment or sufferance from the top, but by systematic work from below, in the ranks. That is all to the good. What is ours is ours; nobody gave it to us and nobody can take it away.
It must be admitted that the preoccupation of our national movement with problems of theoretical education carried with it a certain neglect and even a minimizing of trade union work. A serious weakness and a danger which should not be concealed. The Chicago convention was one continuous warning and demand to correct this fault and to do it by drastic measures. But if systematic national organization and direction of our trade union work have been lacking, our comrades in various localities and unions, guided by a sure instinct and a firm grasp of their theory, have gone to work in the unions with a will and have achieved good results. In some cases the fruits of their work stand out conspicuously. The convention heard matter-of-fact reports from all sections of the country. In sum total this work and its results, considering the size of our movement and its freedom from “big” pretensions, impressed the convention as fairly imposing.
This discussion, and the concrete program which issued from it, gave the convention its tone and its buoyant spirit of proletarian optimism. Revolutionary activists in the class struggle, in general, have no time for skeptical speculation and pessimistic brooding. Our proletarian convention reflected no trace of these diseases, so fashionable now on the intellectual fringes of the movement. The trade union discussion was a striking revelation that the revolutionary health of a party, and of its individual members, requires intimate contact with the living mass movement, with its struggle and action, its hopes and aspirations.
The whole course of our convention was turned in this direction. It was decided to “trade unionize” the party, to devote 90 percent of the party work to this field, to coordinate and direct this work on a national scale, and to establish the necessary apparatus to facilitate this design.
Our trade union work in the days ahead is concerned, of course, not as an end in itself – that is mere opportunism – but as a practical means to a revolutionary end. In order to aim seriously at the struggle for power a party must be entrenched in the sources of power – the workers’ mass movement and especially the trade unions. Our convention could devote itself so extensively to the practical side of this question only thanks to the fact that the theoretical ground had been cleared and firm positions on the important principle questions consciously worked out.
The party arrived at these positions by the method of party democracy. Six months of intensive discussion preceded the convention. Three months of more or less informal discussion on the Spanish, Russian and international questions after the July plenum, were followed by another three-month period of formal discussion. This discussion was organized by the National Committee. Internal discussion bulletins were published, membership meetings were held, etc. All points of view were fairly presented. The bulk of the space in the bulletins and approximately equal time in the membership meetings were given over to minorities which turned out in the end to be tiny minorities.
In a live and free party, where members do their own thinking and that is the only kind of a party worth a fig – everybody does not come to the same conclusion at the same moment. Common acceptance of basic principles does not insure uniform answers to the concrete questions of the day. The party position can be worked out only in a process of collective thought and exchange of opinion. That is possible only in a free, that is, a democratic party.
The method of party democracy entails certain “overhead charges”. It takes time and energy. It often interferes with other work. On occasions it taxes patience. But it works. It educates the party and safeguards its unity. And in the long run the overhead expenses of the democratic method are the cheapest. The quick and easy solutions of bureaucratic violence usually claim drawn-out installment payments in the form of discontent in the ranks, impaired morale and devastating splits.
Discussions among the Bolsheviks, sometimes taking the form of factional struggle, are carried on in dead earnest, corresponding to the seriousness of the questions and of the people involved. A philistine reading one of our pre-convention discussion bulletins, or listening by chance at a membership meeting, might well imagine our party to be a mad-house of dissension, recrimination, revolts against the leadership and, in general, “fights among themselves”. But, to get a clear picture, one must judge the democratic process at the end, not in the middle. True, Bolsheviks are in earnest and they readily dispense with polite amenities. They put questions sharply, because as a rule, they feel them deeply. And nobody ever thinks of sparing the sensibilities of leaders; they are assumed to be pupils of Engels who warned his opponents that he had a tough hide.
But it is precisely through this free democratic process, and not otherwise, that a genuine party arrives at conclusions which represent its own consciously won convictions. The discussion is not aimless and endless. It leads straight to a convention and a conclusion – in our case a conclusion so close to unanimous, that its authority is unshakeable. Then the discussion can and must come to an end. The emphasis in party life shifts from democracy to centralism. The party goes to work on the basis of the convention decisions.
The resolutions submitted to the convention by the National Committee on all the important questions, formulating the standpoint which has been advocated in our press, were all accepted by the convention without significant amendments. Much pre-convention discussion had been devoted to the Russian question, as a result of the unspeakable Moscow Trials and the subsequent blood purges. Some comrades challenged the designation of the Soviet Union as a workers’ state, although frightfully degenerated, which can yet be restored to health by a political revolution without a social overturn. This minority opinion, however, found little echo in the ranks.
The resolution of the National Committee, which calls for the unconditional defense of the Soviet Union against imperialist attack – a position which necessarily presupposes an uncompromising struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy in war or peace was adopted by a vote of 66 against 3 for one minority position and 2 for another. This virtual unanimity is the best assurance for the future theoretical stability of the party. A false position on the question of the Russian revolution, now as always since 1917, spells fatal consequences for any political organization. The revolutionary Marxists have always said they would be at their posts and be the best fighters for the Soviet Union in the hour of danger. As this crucial hour draws near the American soldiers of the Fourth International have renewed this declaration and pledge.
With a firm theoretical position and a decisive orientation to mass work the new party of the Fourth International has every right to face the future with confidence. This confidence is also fortified by the objective political situation and by the present state of affairs in the radical labor movement All signs point to a mighty acceleration of the class struggle as the country slides into another devastating crisis and the inevitable war draws ever nearer to the point of explosion. Meanwhile the situation among the radical labor groupings and tendencies is clearing up. Stalinism is self-disclosed as the movement of jingo-traitors. The Socialist Party of Altman, Thomas & Co. – having expelled its vitalizing left wing – presents only the pathetically futile spectacle of an opportunist sect, lacking the merit of consistent principle on the one side or of mass support on the other. The Lovestoneites, the one-time unacknowledged attorneys of Stalinism are now merely the attorneys and finger-men of pseudo-progressive labor bureaucrats in a couple of important unions. The various groups and cliques which challenged the bona fide movement of the Fourth International and attempted to fight it from the “left” have all, without exception, fallen into pitiful disintegration and demoralization.
The Socialist Workers Party, unfurling the banner of the Fourth International from the hour of its birth, has no rival in the field. It is the only revolutionary party, the heir of the rich traditions of the past and the herald of the future.


The Latest From The United National Anti-War Coalition (UNAC) Website- Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal Of All U.S./Allied Troops, Mercenaries, Contractors, Etc. From Afghanistan! Hands Off Iran! -Hands Off Syria!

Click on the headline to link to the United National Anti-War Coalition (UNAC) website for more information about various anti-war, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist actions around the country.

Every once in a while it is necessary, if for no other reason than to proclaim from the public square that we are alive, and fighting, to show “the colors,” our anti-war colors. While, as I have mentioned many times in this space, endless marches are not going to end any war the street opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as protests against other imperialist adventures has been under the radar of late. It is time for anti-warriors to get back where we belong in the struggle against Obama’s wars. The UNAC appears to be the umbrella clearing house these days for many anti-war, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist actions. Not all the demands of this coalition are ones that I would raise but the key one is enough to take to the streets. Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal Of All U.S./Allied Troops, Mercenaries, Contractors, Etc. From Afghanistan and Iraq! Hands Off Iran And Syria!  | 781-285-8622 | BostonUNAC(S)

The Latest From The Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox Blog

Click on the headline to link to Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox blog for the latest from her site.

Markin comment:

I find Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox rather a mishmash of eclectic politics and basic old time left-liberal/radical thinking. Not enough, not nearly enough, in our troubled times but enough to take the time to read about and get a sense of the pulse (if any) of that segment of the left to which she is appealing. One though should always remember, despite our political differences, her heroic action in going down to hell-hole Texas to confront one President George W. Bush in the dog days of 2005 when he was riding high and when many others were resigned to accepting the lies of that administration or who had “folded” their tents when the expected end to the Iraq War did not materialize in 2003. Hats off on that one, Cindy Sheehan.   

Markin comment:

I place some material in this space which may be of interest to the radical public that I do not necessarily agree with or support. Off hand, as I have mentioned before, I think it would be easier, infinitely easier, to fight for the socialist revolution straight up than some of the “remedies” provided by the commentators in these entries. But part of that struggle for the socialist revolution is to sort out the “real” stuff from the fluff as we struggle for that more just world that animates our efforts.




The Latest From “The Rag Blog”

Markin comment:I find this The Rag Blog very useful to monitor for the latest in what is happening with past tense radical activists and activities. Anybody, with some kind of name, who is still around from the 1960s has found a home here. So the remembrances and recollections are helpful for today’s activists. Strangely the politics are almost non-existent, as least ones that would help today, except to kind of retroactively “bless” those old-time left politics that did nothing (well, almost nothing) but get us on the losing end of the class (and cultural) wars of the last forty plus years. Still this is a must read blog for today’s left militants.


17 July 2013

Lamar W. Hankins : Voter Suppression is Republican Hallmark

Political cartoon by John Darkow / Columbia Daily Tribune. Image from FireIntheBelly.
Voter suppression is a hallmark
of today’s Republicans
If it took nearly 100 years to assure racial fairness in voting under law, then it might take longer than 48 years to remedy that problem in actual practice.
By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / July 17, 2013

I have never seen a modern definition of democracy that was not based on near-universal suffrage. It seems that the five Republicans on the Supreme Court prefer a political system that allows states to pass voting laws that suppress the vote, denying voting to many U.S. citizens.

They found section 4(B) of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) unconstitutional because it was not based on current data about voting rights violations in the nine states identified by Congress that have historically engaged in race discrimination in voting. As a result, those nine states, including Texas, no longer are required to get pre-clearance of changes to their voting laws from the attorney general or a three-judge court (section 5) until, or unless, the old data are updated.

Because section 2 of the act was unchanged, state and local governments continue to be prohibited from engaging in election practices that discriminate against and disenfranchise minority voters. However, without pre-clearance, costly and time-consuming lawsuits must be brought against discriminatory voting practices to enforce Section 2.

Congress decided in 1965, and most recently in 2006, that section 2 was not a sufficient remedy for voting discrimination. That’s why it established the pre-clearance requirement.

The U.S. began as a political system that distrusted universal suffrage, limiting the right to vote to those who owned property, were male, were not slaves, and were 21 years of age or older. One of our most revered founders and later president, John Adams, explained in a letter written in May 1776, why women, those under 21, and those who do not own property should be excluded from the voting franchise:

But why exclude women? You will say, because their delicacy renders them unfit for practice and experience, in the great business of life, and the hardy enterprises of war, as well as the arduous cares of state. Besides, their attention is so much engaged with the necessary nurture of their children, that nature has made them fittest for domestic cares. And children have not judgment or will of their own.

True. But will not these reasons apply to others? Is it not equally true, that men in general in every society, who are wholly destitute of property, are also too little acquainted with public affairs to form a right judgment, and too dependent upon other men to have a will of their own? If this is a fact, if you give to every man, who has no property, a vote, will you not make a fine encouraging provision for corruption by your fundamental law?

Such is the frailty of the human heart, that very few men, who have no property, have any judgment of their own. They talk and vote as they are directed by some man of property, who has attached their minds to his interest...”
In 1969, an acquaintance who rented an apartment and wanted to vote in a bond election in the City of Georgetown went to City Hall and rendered his wrist watch for taxation and paid the taxes so that he could vote in the election. At that time, only those who paid property taxes were allowed to vote in bond elections in that town. That same year, the Supreme Court found such voting restrictions violated the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and thereafter bond elections were open to voting by all citizens.

The Voting Rights Act was renewed by Congress in 2006 by overwhelming margins (Senate -- 98-0; House -- 390-33). The data used in 2006, when the act was reauthorized were data from 1975. However, extensive hearings conducted before the 2006 vote yielded 15,000 pages of new testimony showing that persistent voting discrimination based on race continued to exist in the nine targeted states after the 1975 data were compiled.

And the VRA prevented more than 700 discriminatory laws from taking effect in the last 30 years -- over 100 of them occurred in Shelby County, Alabama, since 1982. Shelby County was the plaintiff in the case just decided. Now, many recently-passed laws that suppress the vote (such as the Texas voter ID law) or unfairly discriminate against minorities (such as redistricting that dilutes minority voting) are being implemented.

More than 140 billboards, playing on the myth of "voter fraud," were placed in black and Latino neighborhoods in Ohio and Wisconsin in 2012. Image from Colorlines.
While the VRA eliminated explicit legal barriers to minority voting registration (such as poll taxes and discriminatory literacy tests), the dissent recognized newer forms of discrimination, such as racial gerrymandering to dilute minority votes; at-large voting in cities with large minority populations, which prevent representative elections; and racially-discriminatory annexation by cities to dilute minority votes.

And more recently, we have experienced voter identification laws that require obtaining expensive documents (which may be impossible for poor people to pay for, even if the documents are available), purges of voting rolls aimed at minorities (which often erroneously delete eligible voters from the voting rolls), voter intimidation at the polls, and practices that have yet to be addressed in most jurisdictions, such as tricking voters to vote on non-election days or at the wrong locations, all of which have the effect of reducing minority voting.

Since the voting rights decision, some states are making plans to eliminate early voting, same-day registration, and Sunday voting hours. But the voter ID laws, which are now being rushed into place (including in Texas) are the least justified because there is almost no in-person voter fraud in the U.S. according to a national investigative reporting project funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which called such fraud “infinitesimal.”

It found that the “photo ID laws disproportionately affect minorities, students, the disabled and the elderly,” which is just what today’s Republicans want.

Of course, it was Chief Justice John Roberts’ predecessor, Republican William Rehnquist, who was accused by four witnesses, during his 1986 confirmation hearings as Chief Justice, of voter intimidation and harassment at polling locations in Phoenix in the early 1960s. So it is not surprising that the Republican members of the Supreme Court are insensitive to, or look favorably on, minority voting discrimination.

Another insensitive Republican and Arizona member of the Supreme Court famously ridiculed voters in Florida during the 2000 presidential election case decided by the court in favor of George W. Bush. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor thought that any voters who could not follow voting instructions were too stupid to have their votes counted, even if their intent could be determined by a close examination of the ballots. Evidently, she thought confusing ballot presentations should be blamed on the voters, not the election officials who created the confusion.

But not all Republicans seem to agree with the Supreme Court about the Voting Rights Act. House Speaker John Boehner, commenting on the act’s renewal in 2006, said that it is "an effective tool in protecting a right that is fundamental to our democracy." It is gratifying to see that a majority of Americans seem to agree with Boehner’s assessment. An ABC/Washington Post poll released near the end of June showed that one-third of those polled approve of the Supreme Court’s decision, but just over half (51%) disapprove.

Paul Krugman had this to say in a recent column about voting rights:
America today... (is) a place where everyone celebrates the right to vote, yet many politicians work hard to disenfranchise the poor and nonwhite... But that very hypocrisy is, in a way, a good sign. The wealthy may defend their privileges, but given the temper of America, they have to pretend that they’re doing no such thing. The block-the-vote people know what they’re doing, but they also know that they mustn’t say it in so many words. In effect, both groups know that the nation will view them as un-American unless they pay at least lip service to democratic ideals -- and in that fact lies the hope of redemption.
I wish I shared Krugman’s optimism. But I view the likelihood that America will be redeemed from its sins of hypocrisy about discrimination about as much as I believe that most Republicans will embrace the Affordable Care Act. The Americans who work to deny voting rights and disenfranchise minorities without admitting that this is what they are doing are like those who will not utter racially and ethnically derogatory names in polite company, but who are under their skin vicious racists. I know these people because some of them are my relatives and acquaintances.

A few years ago, these people who would deny fundamental rights if they have sufficient cover to do so included both Democrats and Republicans. But now, most of these hypocrites have moved over to the Republican Party or are members of fringe groups. This movement is as true of Supreme Court Justices as it is of politicians. The Republicans on today’s court torture logic and routinely ignore precedent in their efforts to justify their political conclusions. They often seek indirect ways to achieve the results they favor, as they have done in the VRA case.

Justice Ginsburg’s dissent to the VRA ruling raised the point that it took nearly 100 years after passage of the Fourteenth Amendment (adopted in 1866 to guarantee equal protection of the laws for African-Americans) and the Fifteenth Amendment (adopted in 1870 to guarantee the right to vote for African-American men), to pass the Voting Rights Act to end the discrimination those amendments were intended to address.

If it took nearly 100 years to assure racial fairness in voting under law, then it might take longer than 48 years to remedy that problem in actual practice. Fixing society is not a mechanical process like fixing a car that has broken down. Human beings and societies are more difficult to fix than engines.

Republicans want to suppress the vote of people who may vote for Democrats. That is the clear purpose of unneeded and unjustified laws that impact the voter turnout for elections. And gerrymandering is almost always used to reduce the election of members of the opposite party. The evidence supports these facts, even if most Republicans are too disingenuous to admit it.

[Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, city attorney, is also a columnist for the San Marcos Mercury. This article © Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins. Read more articles by Lamar W. Hankins on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

Free Bradley Manning Now!

Update 7/18/13: Amnesty International calls Judge’s decision a ‘travesty of justice’

Original Watercolor Portrait of Private Bradley Manning by Court Artist Debra Van Poolen.  Medium:  Watercolor
Original Watercolor Portrait of Private Bradley Manning by Court Artist Debra Van Poolen. Medium: Watercolor
Amnesty International expressed its disappointment with today’s ruling, calling out the government on the charge of ‘aiding the enemy’. Judge Lind’s refusal to drop the charge is a ‘travesty of justice’, they said.
“The charge of ‘aiding the enemy’ is ludicrous. What’s surprising is that the prosecutors in this case, who have a duty to act in the interest of justice, have pushed a theory that making information available on the internet – whether through Wikileaks, in a personal blog posting, or on the website of The New York Times – can amount to ‘aiding the enemy’,” said Widney Brown, Senior Director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International.
Out In The 1950s Hollywood Night-Jack Palance’s The Big Knife

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

DVD Review

The Big Knife, starring Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Rod Steiger, from a play by Clifford Odets, 1955

Hollywood has apparently always subscribed to the notion that there is no such thing as bad publicity and the film under review, The Big Knife, which derides the old time pre-1950s studio system and pokes into the seamy, steamy side of the business is a case in point. That studio system, essentially a form of indentured servitude, meant that a actor signed to a studio was committed to that studio for the duration whatever other offers from other sources and offer to do non-studio material might come along. Needless to say the actors, especially the rising star actors, got short shrift under that arrangement and eventually that system was scraped but at the time period in the film it was in full sway.

The film based on a play by Clifford Odets (more on him later) portrays a very successful Hollywood actor Charlie Castle (Jack Palance) who is pushed this way and that by the powers that be in Hollywood under the old studio system. The powers that be, or rather the power that be, is one Sam Hoff (Rod Steiger) based on maybe seven different real Hollywood tyrannical bosses in the old days and who come hell or high water was intent on keeping the system intact. Charlie nevertheless tried to push back goaded by his wife, Marion (Ida Lupino), who longs for Charlie to go back to his old idealistic self and stop making ugly films that only benefit the bottom line, Hoff’s bottom line. The tension between Charlie and Hoff, between Charlie (a sometime philander as well as semi-idealist) and Marion, and between Charlie and his old time sense of himself that he still was a creative artist and not a hack drive the major action of the film. Of course as such uneven struggles go, the struggle between a weak semi-idealist artist and a profit- driven corporation who hold a career-threatening secret about the man can only end one way. Charlie in the end, Charlie Castle the man of clay, must take the fall, and he does.

So much for the rough plot-line of this melodrama, and whatever its pretensions that is the way the film plays out. What is more interesting is are the characters around the main characters. Apparently in putting this one together every possible stereotype was thrown in the pot from the pampered but proud leading actor to the loyal if distraught Hollywood wife and everything else in between. That in between includes that aforementioned raging studio boss, the yes-man flak man who will spin anything the boss tells him to spin, a groveling agent (Charlie’s). a loyal friend, a disloyal friend’s wife who is out strictly for kicks, kicks with whomever she eyes, a starlet who will do anything for success and a gentile writer who has had it with Hollywood and wants to go back to New York to write the great American novel ( a tip to Odets himself). That obvious mix along with plenty of over the top melodramatic moments at the end make this gentle-hard look at Hollywood’s insides less than it could have been.

A special word on Clifford Odets. There is plenty of talk in the film about lost idealists and idealism, about selling out the values of lost and hungry youth to the monster Hollywood. Odets when he wrote this thing could have used own checkered past as a guide-stone. Odets had no problem naming names of Communists that he knew before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) when they called him up. A snitch, no question. Others, remember the Hollywood Ten, told that committee to go to hell. So, yes, there is a certain sense in which this storyline is the storyline of Odets shabby little later life. Take warning.

Free Bradley Manning Now!

Military struggles to support claim of Manning’s ‘disloyalty’; Govt tries to change charge sheet: trial report, day 20

By Nathan Fuller, Bradley Manning Support Network. July 19, 2013.
Specialist Jihrleah Showman, drawn by Debra Van Poolen.
Specialist Jihrleah Showman, drawn by Debra Van Poolen.
Bradley Manning’s former supervisor at Ft. Drum and then in Iraq, Specialist Jihrleah Showman, testified this morning that in a counseling session, Manning said that the American flag “meant nothing to him” and that he felt no “allegiance to this country or any people,” but that she never even wrote the statement down.
The government elicited that allegation in very brief rebuttal questioning, after which defense lawyer David Coombs spent nearly two hours drawing out her support for that statement, why she failed to document it at the time, and why she didn’t report it when first questioned for this investigation, implying throughout that Showman fabricated the allegation after Manning’s arrest. Coombs asked if Manning actually said that one shouldn’t have “blind allegiance” to a flag and shouldn’t be a blind “automaton,” which Showman denied.
Showman said that in an August 2009 counseling session in which Manning’s body language implied he was merely “putting up” with the conversation, she asked him why he joined the military. When he gave a boilerplate reason about wanting to broaden his knowledge and experience, she said she tapped the flag pin on her shoulder and asked what it meant to him, and that’s when she alleges Manning said he felt no allegiance to the U.S.
But she never wrote the statement down. Despite summarizing several other counseling sessions, in which she documented lesser details such as Manning’s “excessive caffeine consumption,” smoking habits, and tardiness to ‘formulation,’ she didn’t write down his statements of purported disloyalty. Showman said this was because she reported the incident to her direct supervisor, MSGT Paul David Adkins, and that he said he’d take care of it. She also said that he instructed her not to document the statement, because he was handling it from there.
Showman also said that in June 2009, she’d recommended Manning for ‘soldier of the month.’ This calls into question another claim she made, that before deploying to Iraq with him in October 2009, she had a “feeling in [her] gut” that Manning was a “spy.” That feeling apparently didn’t compel Showman to talk to anyone superior to Adkins, as he was directly above her in the chain of command, even though the unit commander had an “open-door policy.”
Showman was interviewed upon Manning’s arrest on May 27, 2010, by Army CID investigators, and she didn’t mention the ‘disloyalty’ statements then. However, in a sworn statement a month later, the comments were included.
Coombs elicited evidence that may suggest Showman had a bias against Manning, which would further undermine the reliability of her claims. She once referred to him as “faggotty,” but while she suspected he was gay, she says the comments were about his inability to do a lot of pushups. She testified that the two got along, despite an incident in which she told him Manning to “fix your shit before you fix mine,” and then he punched her in the face. Showman held him in what she called a UFC move, a “guillotine” chokehold, and pinned him down.
Coombs played video from the documentary ‘We Steal Secrets,’ in which Showman said that she was the “last person he probably should’ve punched,” and an audio interview in which she said someone who gave classified information to a non-American source was “not a whistleblower,” despite having already testified in Manning’s pretrial hearing in December 2011 and suspecting she might testify again. Showman would not have been allowed to discuss the case, and in response to questioning about the audio interview she said she wasn’t referring to Manning specifically but about the issue generally.
Paul David Adkins, drawn by Clark Stoeckley.
Paul David Adkins, drawn by Clark Stoeckley.
Balonek and Adkins can’t confirm Showman’s story
In the afternoon testimony, Chief Warrant Officer 1 Kyle Balonek, who was in Ft. Drum with Manning and Showman’s unit, though not in August 2009, said he never heard about the statement, and if it were made, he’d have expected it to be written down. He also never recalled Manning making any anti-American statements.
In a bizarre and protracted afternoon session, MSGT Adkins was called to testify about whether he recalled such statements being reported up the chain. He first said he didn’t recall Manning ever making any disloyal comments or such comments ever being reported to him, and then said that he had been diagnosed with memory loss, something of which Coombs was not aware. His answers from then on where very slow, and he largely responded that he didn’t remember. He eventually confirmed in prosecution questioning that he did sign a statement in 2011, written by his lawyer, in which he said Showman had testified correctly (it didn’t say when) that Manning had made disloyal comments and that they were reported up the chain. The defense established, however, that that statement was to be sent to an appeal board in response to his reduction in rank.
Responding to defense questioning, Adkins reviewed his three sworn statements from from June 10, July 3, and July 15, 2010, in response to the Army CID investigation into Manning’s disclosures, and confirmed that nowhere in any of them did he reference disloyal or otherwise anti-American comments. He also signed a sworn statement on April 29, 2011, just two months before the reduction appeal statement, which made no reference to any disloyal statements from Manning.
Government moves to change its charge sheet
The government responded to the defense’s argument that it mischarged Manning in saying he stole entire CIDNE-I and –A and USF-I databases instead of documents within them. Following some questioning, prosecutors said they wanted to amend the charge sheet to say Manning stole “portions” of those databases, to change three of the specifications (4, 6 and 16). A minor change is allowed, but a major charge is not – the defense argues this change is major because it misled Manning about what he was charged with and because the defense can’t now go back and re-question government witnesses about the value of that property.
Coombs said that if the judge doesn’t find the change to be major and doesn’t acquit Manning of the greater “stealing government property” charges, the defense would move for a mistrial on those charges.
Joshua Ehersman on Iraqi Federal Police incident
Chief Ehersman was recalled briefly to the stand to confirm that the IED incident the defense recounted in opening arguments happened in December, which he did, but he could not confirm that fellow soldiers were celebrating about it.
Recess until closing arguments on Thursday, July 25
The judge will rule on the theft charges on the morning of Thursday, July 25, and then the parties will make closing arguments. Then the judge will go into deliberations, which could take days. Sentencing is scheduled to begin July 31, but will be pushed back if she needs more time to deliberate.

Friday, July 19, 2013

From The Marxist Archives- The Russian Revolution and the Fight for Black Freedom

Workers Vanguard No. 891
 27 April 2007



The Russian Revolution and the Fight for Black Freedom

(Quote of the Week)

As Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon explained in a 1959 essay, Lenin and Trotsky’s Communist International won American Communists to the understanding that the fight against the special oppression of black people was of central importance to the proletarian revolutionary struggle.

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….

It is customary to attribute the progress of the Negro movement, and the shift of public opinion in favor of its claims, to the changes brought about by the First World War. But the biggest thing that came out of the First World War, the event that changed everything, including the prospects of the American Negro, was the Russian Revolution. 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 source to the recognition, and more or less general acceptance, of the Negro question as a special 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….

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,” The First Ten Years of American Communism (1962)

The Russian Revolution and the Black Struggle in the United States

James P. Cannon

Written: Summer 1959
Source: Fighting for Socialism in the “American Century”; First published in the Summer 1959 issue of International Socialist Review, under the title “The Russian Revolution and the American Negro Movement”. © Resistance Books 2001 Published by Resistance Books 23 Abercrombie St, Chippendale NSW 2008, Permission for on-line publication provided by Resistance Books for use by the James P. Cannon Internet Archive in 2003.
Transcription\HTML Markup:David Walters

All through the first 10 years of American communism, the party was preoccupied with the Negro question, and gradually arrived at a policy different and superior to that of traditional American radicalism. Yet in my published recollections of this period, the Negro question does not appear anywhere as the subject of internal controversy between the major factions. The reason for this was that none of the American leaders came up with any new ideas on this explosive problem on their own account; and none of the factions, as such, sponsored any of the changes in approach, attitude and policy which were gradually effected by the time the party finished its first decade.
The main discussions on the Negro question took place in Moscow, and the new approach to the problem was elaborated there. As early as the Second Congress of the Comintern in 1920, “The Negroes in America” was a point on the agenda, and a preliminary discussion of the question took place. Historical research will prove conclusively that CP policy on the Negro question got its initial impulse from Moscow, and also that all further elaborations of this policy, up to and including the adoption of the “self-determination” slogan in 1928 came from Moscow.
Under constant prodding and pressure from the Russians in the Comintern, the party made a beginning with Negro work in its first 10 years; but it recruited very few Negroes and its influence in the Negro community didn’t amount to much. From this it is easy to draw the pragmatic conclusion that all the talk and bother about policy in that decade, from New York to Moscow, was much ado about nothing, and that the results of Russian intervention were completely negative.
That is, perhaps, the conventional assessment in these days of the Cold War when aversion to all things Russian is the conventional substitute for considered opinion. But it is not true history—not by a long shot. The first 10 years of American communism are too short a period for definitive judgment of the results of the new approach to the Negro question imposed on the American party by the Comintern.
Historical treatment of Communist Party policy and action on the Negro question, and of Russian influence in shaping it in the first 10 years of the party’s existence, however exhaustive and detailed, cannot be adequate unless the inquiry is projected into the next decade. It took the first 10 years for the young party to get fairly started in this previously unexplored field. The spectacular achievements in the ’30s cannot he understood without reference to this earlier decade of change and reorientation. That’s where the later actions and results came from.
A serious analysis of the whole complex process has to begin with recognition that the American communists in the early ’20s, like all other radical organisations of that and earlier times, had nothing to start with on the Negro question but an inadequate theory, a false or indifferent attitude and the adherence of a few individual Negroes of radical or revolutionary bent.
The earlier socialist movement, out of which the Communist Party was formed, never recognised 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 best of the earlier socialists were represented by Debs, who was friendly to all races and purely free from prejudice. But the limitedness of the great agitator’s view on this far from simple problem was expressed in his statement: “We have nothing special to offer the Negro, and we cannot make separate appeals to all the races. The Socialist Party is the party of the whole working class, regardless of colour—the whole working class of the whole world.” (Ray Ginger: The Bending Cross) That was considered a very advanced position at the time, but it made no provision for active support of the Negro’s special claim for a little equality here and now, or in the foreseeable future, on the road to socialism.
And even Debs, with his general formula that missed the main point—the burning issue of ever-present discrimination against the Negroes every way they turned—was far superior in this regard, as in all others, to Victor Berger, who was an outspoken white supremacist. Here is a summary pronouncement from a Berger editorial in his Milwaukee paper, the Social Democratic Herald: “There can be no doubt that the Negroes and mulattoes constitute a lower race.” That was “Milwaukee socialism” on the Negro question, as expounded by its ignorant and impudent leader-boss. A harried and hounded Negro couldn’t mix that very well with his Milwaukee beer, even if he had a nickel and could find a white man’s saloon where he could drink a glass of beer—at the back end of the bar.
Berger’s undisguised chauvinism was never the official position of the party. There were other socialists, like William English Walling who was an advocate of equal rights for the Negroes, and one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People in 1909. But such individuals were a small minority among the socialists and radicals before the First World War and the Russian Revolution.
The inadequacy of traditional socialist policy on the Negro question is amply documented by the historians of the movement, Ira Kipnis and David Shannon. The general and prevailing attitude of the Socialist Party toward the Negroes is summed up by Shannon as follows:
“They were not important in the party, the party made no special effort to attract Negro members, and the party was generally disinterested in, if not actually hostile to, the effort of Negroes to improve their position in American capitalist society.” And further: “The party held that the sole salvation of the Negro was the same as the sole salvation of the white: 'Socialism’.”
In the meantime, nothing could be done about the Negro question as such, and the less said about it the better. Sweep it under the rug.
Such was the traditional position inherited by the early Communist Party from the preceding socialist movement out of which it had come. The policy and practice of the trade union movement was even worse. The IWW barred nobody from membership because of “race, colour or creed”. But the predominant AFL unions, with only a few exceptions, were lily-white job trusts. They also had nothing special to offer the Negroes; nothing at all, in fact.
The difference—and it was a profound difference—between the Communist Party of the ’20s 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 overall program—and to start doing something about it.
The true importance of this profound change, in all its dimensions, cannot be adequately measured by the results in the ’20s. The first 10 years have to be considered chiefly as the preliminary period of reconsideration and discussion and change of attitude and policy on the Negro question—in preparation for future activity in this field.
The effects of this change and preparation in the ’20s, brought about by the Russian intervention, were to manifest themselves explosively in the next decade. The ripely favourable conditions for radical agitation and organisation among the Negroes, produced by the Great Depression, found the Communist Party ready to move in this field as no other radical organisation in this country had ever done before.
Everything new and progressive on the Negro question came from Moscow, after the revolution of 1917, and as a result of the revolution—not only for the American communists who responded directly, but for all others concerned with the question.
By themselves, the American communists never thought of anything new or different from the traditional position of American radicalism on the Negro question. That, as the above quotations from Kipnis’ and Shannon’s histories show, was pretty weak in theory and still weaker in practice. The simplistic formula that the Negro problem was merely economic, a part of the capital-labour problem, never struck fire among the Negroes—who knew better even if they didn’t say so; they had to live with brutal discrimination every day and every hour.
There was nothing subtle or concealed about this discrimination. Everybody knew that the Negro was getting the worst of it at every turn, but hardly anybody cared about it or wanted to do anything to try to moderate or change it. The 90% white majority of American society, including its working-class sector, North as well as South, was saturated with prejudice against the Negro; and the socialist movement reflected this prejudice to a considerable extent—even though, in deference to the ideal of human brotherhood, the socialist attitude was muted and took the form of evasion. The old theory of American radicalism turned out in practice to be a formula for inaction on the Negro front, and—incidentally—a convenient shield for the dormant racial prejudices of the white radicals themselves.
The Russian intervention changed all that, and changed it drastically, and for the better. Even before the First World War and the Russian Revolution, Lenin and the Bolsheviks were distinguished from all other tendencies in the international socialist and labour movement by their concern with the problems of oppressed nations and national minorities, and affirmative support of their struggles for freedom, independence and the right of self-determination. The Bolsheviks gave this support to all “people without equal rights” sincerely and earnestly, but there was nothing “philanthropic” about it. They also recognised the great revolutionary potential in the situation of oppressed peoples and nations, and saw them as important allies of the international working class in the revolutionary struggle against capitalism.
After November 1917 this new doctrine—with special emphasis on the Negroes—began to be transmitted to the American communist movement with the authority of the Russian Revolution behind it. The Russians in the Comintern started on the American communists with the harsh, insistent demand that they shake off their own unspoken prejudices, pay attention to the special problems and grievances of the American Negroes, go to work among them, and champion their cause in the white community.
It took time for the Americans, raised in a different tradition, to assimilate the new Leninist doctrine. But the Russians followed up year after year, piling up the arguments and increasing the pressure on the American communists until they finally learned and changed, and went to work in earnest. And the change in the attitude of the American communists, gradually effected in the ’20s, was to exert a profound influence in far wider circles in the later years.
The Communist Party’s break with the traditional position of American radicalism on the Negro question coincided with profound changes which had been taking place among the Negroes themselves. The large-scale migration from the agricultural regions of the South to the industrial centres of the North was greatly accelerated during the First World War, and continued in the succeeding years. This brought some improvement in their conditions of life over what they had known in the Deep South, but not enough to compensate for the disappointment of being herded into ghettoes and still subjected to discrimination on every side.
The Negro movement, such as it was at the time, patriotically supported the First World War “to make the world safe for democracy”; and 400,000 Negroes served in the armed forces. They came home looking for a little democratic payoff for themselves, but couldn’t find much anywhere. Their new spirit of self-assertion was answered by a mounting score of lynchings and a string of race riots across the country, North as well as South.
All this taken together—the hopes and the disappointments, the new spirit of self-assertion and the savage reprisals—contributed to the emergence of a new Negro movement in the making. Breaking sharply with the Booker T. Washington tradition of accommodation to a position of inferiority in a white man’s world, a new generation of Negroes began to press their demand for equality.
What the emerging new movement of the American Negroes—a 10% minority—needed most, and lacked almost entirely, was effective support in the white community in general and in the labour movement, its necessary ally, in particular. The Communist Party, aggressively championing the cause of the Negroes and calling for an alliance of the Negro people and the militant labour movement, came into the new situation as a catalytic agent at the right time.
It was the Communist Party, and no other, that made the Herndon and Scottsboro cases national and worldwide issues and put the Dixiecrat legal-lynch mobs on the defensive—for the first time since the collapse of Reconstruction. Party activists led the fights and demonstrations to gain fair consideration for unemployed Negroes at the relief offices, and to put the furniture of evicted Negroes back into their empty apartments. It was the Communist Party that demonstratively nominated a Negro for Vice-President in 1932—something no other radical or socialist party had ever thought about doing.
By such and similar actions and agitation in the ’30s, the party shook up all more or less liberal and progressive circles of the white majority, and began to bring about a radical change of attitude on the Negro question. At the same time, the party became a real factor among the Negroes, and the Negroes themselves advanced in status and self-confidence—partly as a result of the Communist Party’s aggressive agitation on the issue.
The facts are not disposed of by saying: The communists had their own axe to grind. All agitation for Negro rights is grist to the mill of the Negro movement; and the agitation of the communists was more energetic and more effective than any other at that time—by far.
These new developments appear to contain a contradictory twist which, as far as I know, has never been confronted or explained. The expansion of communist influence in the Negro movement in the ’30s happened despite the fact that one of the new slogans imposed on the party by the Comintern—the slogan of “self-determination”—about which the most to-do was made and the most theses and resolutions were written, and which was even touted as the main slogan, never seemed to fit the actual situation. The slogan of “self-determination” found little or no acceptance in the Negro community after the collapse of the separatist movement led by Garvey. Their trend was mainly toward integration, with equal rights.
In practice the CP jumped over this contradiction. When the party adopted the slogan of “self-determination”, it did not drop its aggressive agitation for Negro equality and Negro rights on every front. On the contrary, it intensified and extended this agitation. That’s what the Negroes wanted to hear, and that’s what made the difference. It was the CP’s agitation and action under the latter slogan that brought the results, without the help, and probably despite, the unpopular “self-determination” slogan and all the theses written to justify it.
The communists turned Stalinists, in the “Third Period” of ultra-radicalism, carried out their activity in the Negro field with all the crooked demagogy, exaggerations and distortions which are peculiar to them and inseparable from them. But in spite of that the main appeal to equal rights came through and found an echo in the Negro community. For the first time since the abolitionists, the Negroes saw an aggressive, militant dynamic group of white people championing their cause. Not a few philanthropists and pallid liberals this time, but the hard-driving Stalinists of the ’30s, at the head of a big, upsurging radical movement generated by the depression. There was power in their drive in those days, and it was felt in many areas of American life.
The first response of many Negroes was favourable; and the party’s reputation as a revolutionary organisation identified with the Soviet Union, was probably more a help than a hindrance. The Negro upper crust, seeking respectability, tended to shy away from anything radical; but the rank and file, the poorest of the poor who had nothing to lose, were not afraid. The party recruited thousands of Negro members in the ’30s and became, for a time, a real force in the Negro community. The compelling reason was their policy on the issue of equal rights and their general attitude, which they had learned from the Russians, and their activity on the new line.
In the ’30s, Communist Party influence and action were not restricted to the issue of “civil rights” in general. They also operated powerfully to reshape the labour movement and help the Negro workers gain a place in it which had previously been denied. The Negro workers themselves, who had done their share in the great struggles to create the new unions, were pressing their own claims more aggressively than ever before. But they needed help, they needed allies.
The Communist Party militants stepped into this role at the critical point in the formative days of the new unions. The policy and agitation of the Communist Party at that time did more, 10 times over, than any other to help the Negro workers to rise to a new status of at least semi-citizenship in the new labour movement created in the ’30s under the banner of the CIO.
It is customary to attribute the progress of the Negro movement, and the shift of public opinion in favour of its claims, to the changes brought about by the First World War. But the biggest thing that came out of the First World War, the event that changed everything, including the prospects of the American Negro, was the Russian Revolution. 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 source to the recognition, and more or less general acceptance, of the Negro question as a special problem of American society—a problem which cannot be simply subsumed under the general heading of the conflict between capital and labour, as it was in the pre-communist radical movement.
It adds something, but not much, to say that the Socialist Party, the liberals and the more or less progressive labour leaders went along with the new definition, and gave some support to the claims of the Negroes. That’s just what they did; they went along. They had no independent, worked-out theory and policy of their own; where would they get it—out of their own heads? Hardly. They all followed in the wake of the CP on this question in the ’30s.
The Trotskyists, and other dissident radical groups—who also had learned from the Russians—contributed what they could to the fight for Negro rights; but the Stalinists, dominating the radical movement, dominated in the Negro field too.
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. This thunder is still rolling, louder than ever, as the daily headlines testify.
The American communists responded first, and most emphatically, to the new doctrine from Russia. But the Negro people, and substantial sections of American white society, responded indirectly, and are still responding—whether they recognise it or not.
The present official leaders of the “civil rights” movement of the American Negroes, more than a little surprised at its expanding militancy, and the support it is getting in the white population of the country, scarcely suspect how much the upsurging movement owes to the Russian Revolution which they all patriotically disavow.
The Reverend Martin Luther King did remark, at the time of the Montgomery boycott battle, that their movement was part of the worldwide struggle of the coloured peoples for independence and equality. He should have added that the colonial revolutions, which are indeed a powerful ally of the Negro movement in America, got their starting impulse from the Russian Revolution—and are stimulated and strengthened from day to day by the continuing existence of this revolution in the shape of the Soviet Union and the new China, which white imperialism suddenly “lost”.
Indirectly, but all the more convincingly, the most rabid anti-sovieteers, among them the liberal politicians and the official labour leaders, testify to this when they say: The Little Rock scandal and things like that shouldn’t happen because it helps communist propaganda among the dark-skinned colonial people. Their fear of “communist propaganda”, like some other people’s fear of the Lord, makes them virtuous.
It is now conventional for labour leaders and liberals—in the North—to sympathise with the Negro struggle for a few elementary rights as human beings. It is the Right Thing To Do, the mark of civilised intelligence. Even the ex-radicals, turned into anti-communist “liberals” of a sort—a very poor sort—are all now pridefully “correct” in their formal support of “civil rights” and their opposition to Negro segregation and other forms of discrimination. But how did they all get that way?
It never occurs to the present-day liberals to wonder why their counterparts of a previous generation—with a few notable individual exceptions—never thought of this new and more enlightened attitude toward the Negroes before Lenin and the Russian Revolution upset the apple cart of the old, well-established and complacently accepted separate-but-unequal doctrine. The American anti-communist liberals and labour officials don’t know it, but some of the Russian influence they hate and fear so much even rubbed off on them.
Of course, as everybody knows, the American Stalinists eventually fouled up the Negro question, as they fouled up every other question. They sold out the struggle for Negro rights during the Second World War, in the service of Stalin’s foreign policy—as they sold out striking American workers, and rooted for the prosecution in the first Smith Act trial of the Trotskyists at Minneapolis in 1941, for the same basic reason.
Everybody knows that now. The chickens finally came home to roost, and the Stalinists themselves have felt impelled to make public confessions of some of their treachery and some of their shame. But nothing, neither professed repentance for crimes that can’t be concealed, nor boasts of former virtues that others are unwilling to remember, seem to do them any good. The Communist Party, or rather what is left of it, is so discredited and despised that it gets little or no recognition and credit today for its work in the Negro field in those earlier days—when it had far-reaching and, in the main, progressive consequences.
It is not my duty or my purpose to help them out. The sole aim of this condensed review is to set straight a few facts about the early days of American communism—for the benefit of inquiring students of a new generation who want to know the whole truth, however the chips may fall, and to learn something from it.
The new policy on the Negro question, learned from the Russians in the first 10 years of American communism, enabled the Communist Party in the ’30s to advance the cause of the Negro people; and to expand its own influence among them on a scale never approached by any radical movement before that time. These are facts of history; not only of the history of American communism, but of the history of the Negro struggle for emancipation too.
For those who look to the future these facts are important; an anticipation of things to come. By their militant activity in earlier years, the Stalinists gave a great impetus to the new Negro movement. Then, their betrayal of the Negro cause in the Second World War cleared the way for the inch-at-a-time gradualists who have been leading the movement unchallenged ever since.
The policy of gradualism, of promising to free the Negro within the framework of the social system that subordinates and degrades him, is not working out. It does not go to the root of the problem. The aspirations of the Negro people are great and so are the energies and emotions expended in their struggle. But the concrete gains of their struggle up to date are pitifully meagre. They have gained a few inches, but the goal of real equality is miles and miles away.
The right to occupy a vacant seat on a bus; the token integration of a handful of Negro children in a few public schools; a few places open for individual Negroes in public office and some professions; fair employment rights on the books, but not in practice; the formally and legally recognised right to equality which is denied in practice at every turn—that’s the way it is today, 96 years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
There has been a big change in the outlook and demands of the Negroes’ movement since the days of Booker T. Washington, but no fundamental change in their actual situation. This contradiction is building up to another explosion and another change of policy and leadership. 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 recognise this revolutionary potential of the Negro struggle, and call for a fighting alliance of the Negro people and the labour 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 labour, 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 first efforts of the Communist Party along these lines a generation ago will be recognised and appropriated. Not even the experience of the Stalinist betrayal will be wasted. The memory of this betrayal will be one of the reasons why the Stalinists will not be the leaders next time.