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On his 125th birthday, read Harry Haywood on Black power and the fight for socialism

Analysis by staff |
February 4, 2023
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Harry Haywood.
Harry Haywood.

One of the most important communists in U.S. history, Harry Haywood, was born 125 years ago today, on February 4, 1898.

Haywood was a member of the Communist Party (CPUSA), serving on the Central Committee from 1927 to 1938 and on the Politburo from 1931 until 1938. After the CPUSA’s turn towards revisionism Haywood helped to found the New Communist Movement.

He is best known as the main theorist of the African American National Question. Specifically, Haywood developed the theory that African Americans make up an oppressed nation in the Black Belt region of the South where they have the right to self-determination, up to and including the right to independence. Harry Haywood led the CPUSA’s work in the African American national movement for some time, both as the Chair of the CPUSA’s Negro Commission and as the General Secretary of the League of Struggle for Negro Rights, where he was instrumental in organizing the Sharecroppers Union and the Scottsboro defense. He lived for four and half years in the Soviet Union where he helped to author the 1928 and 1930 Comintern Resolutions on the African American National Question. During the Spanish Civil War he served with the international brigades.

Following the CPUSA’s turn toward revisionism in the late 1950s, Harry Haywood turned to the Chinese Revolution led by Mao Zedong for inspiration and guidance. He became a leader of the anti-revisionist New Communist Movement of the 1960s and ’70s, first as a founder of the Provisional Organizing Committee, and then as a leader of the October League / Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist).

His major writings are Negro Liberation (1948), For a Revolutionary Position on the Negro Question (1958), and Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro American Communist (1978). Importantly, Harry Haywood’s analysis laid the foundation for later Marxist-Leninist theoretical work not only on the African American Nation in the Black Belt, but also on the Chicano Nation in the Southwest.

On his 125th birthday, here are excerpts of a speech Haywood gave at Howard University in Washington D.C. in 1978 on the topic of Black power and the fight for socialism.


Black power and the fight for socialism

By Harry Haywood

I’m very happy to be here today and thank Jim Early and others for inviting me. I’ve had many friends in Washington and am familiar with the fine tradition of struggle that the Black movement has here.

I personally have marched on Washington with the unemployed, veterans and Scottsboro marches in the 1930s. I was here in 1963 for the big civil rights march and, most recently, last February when the National Fight Back Organization led a jobs march here.

A number of old faculty members at Howard have been acquaintances of mine. Franklin Fraser, Alpheus Hunton, Alain Locke and Abraham Harris, to name a few.

The topic I’ve been asked to speak on today is a weighty one and I hope you’ll bear with me. I tend to get a little long-winded sometimes.

In looking at the Black liberation struggle today, we must see it as a reflection of the upsurge in the third world movement worldwide. Our starting point here is to understand that imperialism bases itself on exploiting workers and oppressing whole nations. In the U.S., Blacks are an oppressed nation, virtually a subject nation in the heartland of an imperialist superpower.

This means that the Black struggle for equality and democratic rights is revolutionary in itself. It threatens the foundations of U.S. imperialism, as the Black Revolt of the 1960s showed. This means that Blacks are, objectively, allies of the working class and of other minorities. They share a common enemy and have a common struggle to overthrow U.S. imperialism and establish the higher order of socialism.

I’ve been studying and working in the Black freedom movement for most of my life, and, through the years, have come to understand certain things about it. I would like now to explain the historical development of my thinking, and some of what I see in the future for our movement. In the main, this analysis is contained in my autobiography, Black Bolshevik.

I didn’t really begin to learn the facts of Black life until I moved to Chicago, when I was about 15. At that time, Chicago had an expanding ghetto, faced with hostile, difficult conditions. If we worked outside the ghetto, we would rush home after work to safety. This was the situation during the bloody “red” summer of 1919, which saw riots in 26 major cities across the country.

Chicago’s situation was one of the worst, as bands of racist white youths invaded the Black community and armed warfare was waged in the streets of the Black ghetto.

Nowadays, I think it’s hard for you young people who have never seen such blatant racism to imagine what it was like. When I was a disillusioned young World War I veteran in the early 1920s, there was a tremendous wave of anti-Black terror.

It was one of the most virulent racist campaigns in American history. The number of lynchings mushroomed and the Klan spread to 27 states–North and South.

This was accompanied by an ideological and cultural assault. D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, which is still periodically dredged up as a “film classic,” was part of this assault.

I was very frustrated because I didn’t have the tools to disprove these racist theories. Sol began to study with a group of friends from the Post Office, where I was working at the time. Later, I joined the African Blood Brotherhood, an early Black revolutionary nationalist organization. It was founded by Cyril Briggs, former editor of the Amsterdam News and a leader of the New Negro Movement.

We studied many different anthropologists and social scientists, such as Boas. Of course, unlike you today, we didn’t have DuBois’ tour de force, Black Reconstruction, which was completed about a decade later. Nor did we have any of Carter Woodson’s writings to study.

GARVEY MOVEMENT ATTRACTED BLACKS

In particular, we studied the Garvey movement, the most important mass movement of its time.

Indeed, its emphasis on militancy and race pride attracted the Black masses by tens of thousands to Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. There was a spirit of internationalism to the movement, and even for a time, a certain amount of solidarity with the Bolshevik revolution.

But I was puzzled by Garvey’s movement too. It seemed to me to be diversionary and defeatist to preach a mass exodus to Africa. Certainly this wasn’t possible, nor was it desirable. It was right here in the U.S. that we Blacks needed to take up the fight.

Inevitably, my critical study of Garveyism and my search for answers led me to become a communist. I had been studying the writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin. In addition, I had been quite impressed with the great Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the upsurge in the colonial world which it inspired.

And then too, my brother Otto had a tremendous influence on me, and he had already joined the CP. So in 1923, I joined the Young Communist League. I thought my fellow comrades, most of whom were white, were a fine and dedicated group of people.

But I still wasn’t satisfied with the communist program for Black liberation. Later, I came to understand that this was because the Party had an incorrect line. It was the line of the renegade Jay Lovestone, who was eventually expelled from the CPUSA.

Outrageous as it may sound to us today, Lovestone contended that the Black peasantry in the South was a reserve of capitalist reaction. Blacks, he claimed, only became part of the revolutionary struggle when they came into the industrial workplace. He contended further that our struggle had no independent character and was a distraction from the so-called pure proletarian class struggle. The more I understood about what was wrong with this line, the more I understood why there were so few Blacks in the Party at this time.

Fortunately, this line was eventually overthrown. I am proud to say that I had a hand in getting rid of it.

STUDIES IN MOSCOW

It was around this time, 1926-1930, that I was privileged to study in Moscow. This gave me the chance to learn Marxist-Leninist principles on the national question and see firsthand the new Soviet experience in liberating oppressed nations of the old czarist empire.

As you may know, Russia under the czars used to be called the prisonhouse of nations. But with the new socialist power, the Bolsheviks demonstrated the successful solution of the national question on the basis of complete national freedom and equality.

Through study and discussion with some of my Russian friends, and in struggles in the Negro Subcommission of the Sixth World Congress of the Communist International in 1928, I became convinced that Blacks are a nation in the Deep South, and, furthermore, that Blacks constitute a national minority outside the South. Thus, the proper communist slogan should be full equality for Blacks throughout the country, and the right of self-determination for the Deep South. The struggle for Black liberation, for complete equality, is part and parcel of the struggle to smash U.S. imperialism.

Now I understood why the Garvey movement had such attractive powers. The grassroots nationalism which Garvey had unfortunately been so successful in diverting into his back to Africa movement, was indeed a legitimate striving of the Black masses. Future upsurges would take a nationalist direction and could be diverted by new Garveys, if we communists didn’t get in on the ground floor and give revolutionary leadership.

The revolutionary position was adopted by the Communist International, or Comintern, at its Sixth Congress in 1928 and has been upheld by genuine communists ever since. Its adoption marked a turning point. For the first time, the Black question was seen as a revolutionary question.

Once I understood that Blacks are an oppressed nation, the whole of Black history fell logically into place. The thesis that called for the right of self-determination is supported by a serious economic and historical analysis of U.S. Blacks. Here is the full analysis as I came to understand it.

The evolution of American Blacks as an oppressed nation was begun in slavery. In the final analysis, however, it was the result of the unfinished bourgeois democratic revolution of the Civil War and the betrayal of Reconstruction through the Hayes-Tilden or Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1877.

This betrayal was followed by withdrawal of federal troops and the unleashing of counter-revolutionary terror. Thousands of Blacks were massacred and Reconstruction governments overthrown.

Deserted by their former Republican allies, the Black freedmen were left without land. Their newly won rights were destroyed, and they were thrust back on the plantations, in a position little removed from chattel bondage. The alliance between Blacks and poor whites was smashed.

NO SOLUTION TO LAND QUESTION

The revolution had stopped short of a solution to the crucial land question. There was neither confiscation of the big plantations of the slaveholding class, nor distribution of the land among Negro freedmen and poor whites. It was on this issue of land that the revolutionary wave of radical reconstruction beat in vain and finally broke.

The advent of imperialism with its oppression of many small countries by a few big ones froze Blacks in their post-reconstruction position: landless, semi-slaves in the South. It blocked the road to fusion of Blacks and whites into one nation on the basis of equality and put the final seal on the special oppression of Blacks. The path towards equality and freedom via assimilation was foreclosed by these events, and the struggle for Black equality thenceforth was ultimately bound to take a national revolutionary direction.

Blacks in the South acquired all the attributes of a subject nation.

They are a people set apart by a common ethnic origin, economically interrelated in various classes, united by a common historical experience, reflected in a special culture and psychological makeup. The territory of this subject nation is the Black Belt, an area encompassing major areas of Black concentration in the Deep South.

Thus imperialist oppression created the conditions for the rise of a national liberation movement, with its base in the South. The content of this movement would be the completion of the agrarian democratic revolution in the South; that is, the right of self-determination as the guarantee of complete equality throughout the country.

By this analysis, the unassimilable Black national minority in the North cannot escape oppression by fleeing the South. The shadow of the plantation falls upon them throughout the country.

The submerged Afro-American nation has certain singular features which I’d like to mention. We are, after all, a captive nation, suffering a colonial-type oppression while trapped within the confines of one of the world’s most powerful imperialist countries.

Blacks were forced into the stream of U.S. history in a peculiar manner, as chattel slaves, and are victims of an excruciatingly destructive system of oppression and persecution, due not only to the economic and social survivals of slavery, but also to its ideological heritage–racism.

The Afro-American nation is also unique in that it is a new nation, evolved from a people forcibly transplanted from their African homeland. A people originating from various tribal and linguistic groups, they are a product not of Africa, but of the conditions of their transplantation.

The race factor, the doctrine of inherent Black inferiority, which is perpetrated by the ruling class, has sunk deep into American thinking, permeating the entire structure of U.S. life. Given this, Blacks have never been absorbed into the so-called melting pot.

The race factor has also left its stigma on the consciousness of the Black nation. The powerful mystification of Blacks has served to obscure our objective status as an oppressed nation.

This is particularly true of the strength of assimilationist and bourgeois integrationist theories.

BOURGEOIS DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION

The period of bourgeois democratic revolutions in the United States ended with the defeat of Reconstruction. The issue of Black freedom was carried over into the epoch of imperialism and its full solution postponed to the next stage of human progress, socialism. The question has remained the most vulnerable area on the domestic front of U.S. capitalism, its “Achilles heel.”

The national and racist oppression of Blacks has laid the basis for the development of the national liberation movement, which in recent years has moved boldly to the forefront of struggle against U.S. capitalism.

But this movement’s demands for equality are empty phrases unless there is political power to enforce equality. That’s why we called for self-determination.

We defined self-determination as the struggle of Blacks and their revolutionary allies for political power in the Deep South.

This means their unlimited right to exercise governmental, legislative, judicial and police authority in their area of major concentration–the Black Belt. Clearly, this could only be achieved in the framework of a socialist state.

In place of the old government, there would be an egalitarian multinational state. The old state boundaries would be changed and the Deep South area would be organized as a distinct region, with its own government and the degree of power and autonomy necessary to guarantee genuine equality. Other areas of Black concentration would also have sufficient local autonomy to ensure Black rights.

This program was designed to promote unity of Black and white workers in all phases of the struggle, the kind of unity Reconstruction had shown was possible. Today this means unity from the immediate fight for reforms, through the socialist revolution and through the reorganization of society under the new socialist government. By giving its full support to Black self-determination, the multinational working class can build the most powerful unity–voluntary unity.

So this was the line that the Party adopted in 1928, and it was somewhat improved with a new resolution in 1930. I came back to the United States in 1930 and immediately plunged into the mass work, eager to put our new line into practice. I started working in the Trade Union Unity League and soon became head of the Party’s Afro-American Commission. In this capacity, I paid special attention to our work in the Deep South. My brother Otto worked there as an organizer in the Gastonia, North Carolina, cotton mill strike and later in Atlanta in the Unemployed Councils.

For the first time since Reconstruction, the Party broke the solid South. The opening wedge was the case of the Scottsboro Boys. At its height, the Party led a movement which saw hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. and around the world fight for the freedom of nine Black youth.

In the Black Belt, south of Birmingham, we used the Scottsboro campaign to build the Sharecroppers Union. This organization grew to 12,000 Black members: tenants, sharecroppers, farm laborers and independent farmers, all oppressed by the semi-slave conditions of the rural South. And the Alabama Sharecroppers Union practiced armed self-defense against Klan terror.

ORGANIZING AGAINST THE DEPRESSION

Just at this time the economic crisis hit bottom. We responded on March 6, 1930, with demonstrations of one and a quarter million Black and white workers all over the U.S. This led to the formation of the national Unemployed Councils, which won relief and unemployment insurance. In Atlanta, the Unemployed Councils led a demonstration of 5,000 Black and white workers–the largest of its kind in Southern history. It also initiated the nationwide fight to free Angelo Herndon.

In 1936, the Party initiated and led the National Negro Congress, a broad-based united front organization. It was also at this time that the Party took the lead in building the CIO, the pioneer in integrated, militant, industrial unionism.

Under the guidance of the correct line, the Communist Party carried out its best work. Those years of the Great Depression were a time of tremendous mass upheaval and the Party held unquestioned leadership of every major struggle. Under the slogan of “Negro-Labor Alliance,” we were able to merge the Black movement and the general workers’ movement. Because of our line, we held leadership of the Black united front as well.

Of course, in order to carry out this line, we had to wage a fierce battle in our own ranks. Because of the two-line struggle that we did wage, our cadres were firmly consolidated and, thus, more easily able to go out and win over the masses.

Outside the Party too, we had to contend with the assimilationists and reformists representing the upper crust of the Black bourgeoisie. Backed and promoted by the “liberal” imperialists, this strata had long laid claim to the leadership of the Black movement.

Let me digress a minute here and present my analysis of this class.

As I see it, the Black bourgeoisie has wavered throughout its history between nationalism and assimilationism. In times of relative peace and prosperity, assimilationist illusions grow. This is the line promoted by the NAACP, the Urban League and other similar organizations. They insist that Blacks aren’t an oppressed nation, just victims of “racial intolerance.” With enough legislation and litigation, they say, we can be integrated into the system.

But in times of war and crisis, when the oppression of Blacks is stepped up, the nationalist trend grows. As I already mentioned, the new nationalist movement first found nationwide expression and leadership in the Garvey movement. Furthermore, in all nationalist upsurges there are two main tendencies also. On the one hand, there is the drive of small business and professional elements for a Black-controlled economy in the ghetto. On the other hand, there is the grassroots nationalism of the masses, the uprooted and dispossessed. It was this potentially revolutionary nationalism that Garvey and other Utopian visionaries had diverted with slogans like back to Africa.

But now let me sum up our work in the 1930s.

We pushed back the racist AFL bureaucrats and opened the way for Black-white unity in the industrial unions. In the Black community, communists and the Black working class became the dominant force. Our successes provoked a crisis in the old reformist leadership, leading to DuBois’s resignation from the NAACP board in 1933. We incorporated the revolutionary elements of the nationalists’ program, forcing them to follow the masses into a united front under working class leadership.

These successes in uniting the Black community under our leadership, and in uniting Blacks with white labor showed the correctness of our line. Contrary to what the CPUSA and others have to say now, the line on the Black nation doesn’t divide the people. It was responsible for the highest level of Black-white unity yet achieved.

Of course, in any communist party, there is always a struggle between Marxism and revisionism. When I say revisionism, I mean a right or “left” opportunist revising of Marxist principles which promotes collaboration with the ruling class. In the late 1930s, the revisionist right opportunist line started coming to the fore more and more inside our Party.

It began with Browder’s distortions of the Comintern’s line on building anti-fascist fronts. Developed in 1935, this line called for uniting the broadest forces possible against war and fascism. At the same time, it stressed that communist parties had to maintain their independence and fight for leadership of the front.

But Browder and his gang called for what he termed the “democratic front,” for unity at all costs with the New Dealers and their reformist agents, even at the cost of the Party’s independent and leading role.

SHARECROPPERS UNION LIQUIDATED

The first inkling I had that something was wrong was when I heard the Sharecroppers Union had been liquidated in 1936. Browder feared that an independent and mainly Black union with the explosive potential of rural Blacks behind it would frighten his New Deal and CIO friends.

In 1939, the Party’s system of trade union fractions, factory cells and shop papers was dismantled. By 1944, the Party had dropped the right of self-determination and the Party itself was liquidated. Browder thought that Blacks could and, in fact, had chosen to be integrated into capitalist America.

After the war, Browder was thrown out of the Party. An important part of the struggle against his line was the fight to restore a correct line on Black liberation and working class unity. My book, Negro Liberation, published in 1948, was a product of this struggle. We won some successes and temporarily restored the line. In the early 1950s, the Civil Rights Congress was active in the struggle against lynching and produced its now-famous petition to the United Nations, We Charge Genocide.

The African Affairs Council, headed by DuBois, Robeson and Doctor Alpheus Hunton, was founded at this time. And, under the influence of the CPUSA, the Progressive Party campaigned actively against segregation in the South.

But Browder’s line had not been successfully exposed and rejected 100%. Objective conditions more and more favored development of this revisionist line. Soon McCarthyite repression hit the Party. Instead of fighting back, the leadership called for a disorderly retreat, turning away from the masses.

They used the repression of this period as a cover for their ideological retreat as well. It was at this time that the line of peaceful transition to socialism was developed. Party writings were full of calls to get “into the mainstream.” Presumably, any demands or programs not approved by the AFL-CIO bureaucracy or the reformists of the NAACP were “out of the mainstream” and “left sectarian.” The late James Matles of the UE put it quite well when he pointed out that the “mainstream” was really a “sewer.”

NEGRO LABOR COUNCILS

A very good example was what happened to the Negro Labor Councils in the mid-1950s. Under the initiative of Party cadres and Black militant trade unionists, these councils were founded to take up the demands of Blacks who were rapidly being thrown out of industrial jobs. The post-war labor bureaucrats, of course, would have nothing to do with Black demands against layoffs. But by the mid-1950s, the councils were liquidated, supposedly because of governmental suppression and lack of funds. In fact, the councils had thousands of members and controlled important locals, like the River Rouge Ford local in Detroit. Still, opportunist party leaders like Ben Davis called the councils “left sectarian.”

Applied to Blacks, this line led the opportunist leadership in the CP to declare that the 1954 Supreme Court decision on Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education had opened up “a realistic perspective ... for the peaceful and democratic achievement of the full social, political and economic equality of the Negro people, within the framework of our specific American system and tradition.”

Bourgeois reformists were declared the “natural” leaders of Blacks. The Party proceeded to dissolve all the left-led mass organizations in existence. This included the Civil Rights Congress, the Negro Labor Councils, the African Affairs Council, and Paul Robeson’s newspaper, Freedom. Hundreds of Black cadres were lost at this time.

By the late 1950s, most of us who fought this treacherous line had been expelled or left the Party in disgust. I personally was expelled in 1959, after 36 years in the Party. Supposedly, nothing was to disturb the peaceful dissolution of the Black liberation struggle into the famous American “melting pot.”

And then the melting pot exploded in the 1960s Black Revolt.

The abdication of the Party’s revolutionary role left it totally unprepared for the Black Revolt. This revolutionary upsurge burst out from under the wraps of the old-guard reformist leadership of the Black movement. First developing as a civil rights struggle against Jim Crow, it increasingly took on a nationalist character, culminating in the Black power movement of the late 1960s. The Revolt confirmed our revolutionary position that the Party had so recently abandoned.

As I stated in the epilogue of my book, “This new awakening of the Afro-American people evoked the greatest domestic crisis since the 1930s, and it became the focal point for the major contradictions in U.S. society, the most urgent, immediate and pressing questions confronting U.S. corporate rulers and the revolutionary forces.”

In my estimation, the emergence of Black Power as a mass slogan signaled a fundamental turning point in the modern Afro-American liberation struggle, carrying it to the threshold of a new phase. It marked a basic shift in content and direction of the movement, from civil rights to national liberation.

BLACK REVOLT AND DIRECT CONFRONTATION

It indicated that the Black Revolt had crashed beyond the limited goals the assimilationists had set, beyond the strictures of the advocates of non-violence, into channels leading to direct confrontations with the main enemy–the white power oligarchy of the imperialists. Inevitably, this struggle moved toward juncture with the anti-imperialist revolutions of the third world and with the working class movement for socialism.

The fueling sources of the Revolt lay domestically in the combined influences of the failure of legal integration and the deterioration of the economic position of the Black masses. In the 1950s, the further monopolization and mechanization of agriculture precipitated a deep agrarian crisis, throwing tens of thousands of rural Blacks off the land in the South. At the same time, automation and rationalization of industry created an entire generation of unemployed ghetto youth in the urban areas, a “lost generation”–both North and South–with no work or prospects for work within the existing economic system.

The Revolt was further fueled and inspired by the successes of the anti-imperialist movements of the third world, especially in the newly independent nations of Africa. This worldwide revolution of color broke the age-old feeling of Black isolation.

The Black Revolt of the 1960s and today’s mounting upsurge of Blacks are direct counterparts of the upsurge in third world countries around the world. In the 1960s, the Black movement came to the fore of the revolutionary struggle in this country. It mobilized a massive Black united front and generated a whole new renaissance in Black thought and culture. It also acted as a catalyst, stimulating the development of movements in broad sectors of the population. Students, youth, women, anti-war activists, and to a certain extent, labor, were all influenced by the Black Power Revolt.

So you had a very explosive situation then. Just at the time when the U.S. imperialists were waging war against the Vietnamese people, they were faced with armed insurrections in many of our major cities. The rebellions created panic in the power structure. As Ford foundation spokesman McGeorge Bundy warned: “If cities burn, business pays.”

NEO-COLONIALIST-TYPE STRATEGY

In their panic, the ruling class chose a neo-colonialist-type strategy, extending the middle class buffer in the Black community, building up an elite and co-opting some of the leadership of the movement. And when they couldn’t buy them off, they killed and imprisoned them. This was the case with Malcolm X, some of the Black Panther Party leaders, and many others. It was this policy, widely agreed upon in corporate and government circles, that eventually aborted the Revolt.

The establishment sophisticates played on the split in the Black power movement, which produced a thoroughly reformist right wing, feeding on “Black Power” conferences sponsored by Clairol, Ford and others. The new Black elite moved systematically to take over the Black power movement, sap its revolutionary potential and restrict it to goals which U.S. imperialism was willing to concede.

This mainly meant jobs for themselves in so-called anti-poverty programs–serving as information gatherers and fire extinguishers in Black communities.

Elaborate theories of right wing nationalism were developed by those like Harold Cruse, Floyd McKissick, Roy Innis and others. They contended that Blacks must give up militant mass struggle for peaceful competition with white business and compromise with the system. These were in line with the “Black capitalism” and “green power” schemes promoted by the Nixon administration.

For the ruling class, it was a clever tactical maneuver. Because the Revolt had so discredited their assimilationist friends in the NAACP and other groups, it was necessary for them to find more nationalistically oriented brokers, brokers who could speak the language of the Black masses, while still carrying out the bidding of the master. This did not mean, however, that they totally gave up on the assimilationists. Rather, they were supported and kept in the wings, awaiting the moment when their brand of integrationism would once again have greater following among Blacks. In the final analysis, the powers-that-be successfully employed this strategy to abort the revolt. I believe that if we had had a revolutionary communist party in the 1960s, much of the spontaneity and reactionary nationalism of the period could have been combated.

Undoubtedly the ruling class would still have tried to split the Black movement. But the left wing would not have been nearly wiped out as an organized force in the Black community. If the CPUSA had not liquidated communist work in the South and in the factories, the 1960s would have seen a consolidated proletarian force emerge in the Black Belt and in the ghettos. The communist forces could have come out of the revolt with developed cadres rooted in the factories and communities, with credibility among the masses.

GAINS AND CONCESSIONS WON

Of course, in talking about the Revolt, we cannot underestimate the gains and concessions wrung from the imperialists during this time. The Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, the elimination of legal Jim Crow, affirmative action and Black studies programs–all were a product of this tremendous mass upsurge.

But in the end, the position of the broad masses remains the same. Political and economic equality and the lack of political power are still at the center of the Black struggle. Racism is as much a part of the system as ever. And the neo-Nazi segregationist movements are again on the rise.

Yet many today still question our revolutionary position. They say that discrimination is a product of racist ideas, mostly in the minds of white workers. Racism is a “psychological presence” which can be peacefully gotten rid of.

They cite the many changes that have occurred in the South, particularly the tremendous outmigrations, as proof that an oppressed nation no longer exists there. Therefore, the right of self-determination is no longer a valid slogan.

Certainly, I would agree there have been tremendous changes in the Black Belt and major outmigrations. The Black masses are no longer predominantly sharecroppers and agrarian reform is no longer the pivotal question it once was.

The mechanization of agriculture has meant that Blacks are no longer mainly sharecroppers. Today, most Blacks are wage slaves.

All this has only served to sharpen the contradictions between the Black masses and the imperialist system. On the one hand, there is the continuing displacement and impoverishment of Blacks in the rural South. On the other hand, urbanization and proletarianization has extended the best organized, most militant and consistently revolutionary class in the nation, a class which is historically part of the proletarian struggle.

If you look at this recent demographic map, you can see that the main concentration of Blacks is still in the South. In fact, the Black population there has increased from 9 million in 1940 to 12 million in 1970. Of course, outmigrations have meant that proportionally speaking, the percentage of Blacks who live in the South, as compared to the rest of the country, has decreased. At the same time, the Black-white ratio in the South has also decreased to favor whites. Nonetheless, there are still 102 counties in the rural South which are 50% to 80% Black.

In the North and West you hardly see Blacks outside the major cities. But in the non-urban areas of the Black Belt, we are still a majority. Thus the special character of this region persists to this day.

MIGRATION TRENDS

Furthermore, outmigration from the South has decreased, and there is a new trend toward inmigration. The escape valve to the cities is rapidly closing, as Black unemployment skyrockets in the urban areas.

Recent census reports indicate large numbers of Blacks are returning to the South. Between 1970 and 1975 the South grew by 5.1 million persons, thus exceeding the combined growth of the rest of the country for those years. The Northeast, in particular, has lost Black population to the South. A Census Bureau report, “Geographic mobility March ’75 to March ’77,” shows that 147,000 Blacks left the Northeast during those years (net emigration of 50,000), with the South gaining 100,000 of these emigrants. Commenting on this report, Curtis Roseman, professor of geography at the University of Illinois, stated, “So what we see here is the Black population in the North gaining in births, but losing in migration, while the Black population in the South is gaining both in migration and births.”

And finally, for all my doubting friends, let’s examine the question theoretically. Certainly the national question is more than just a matter of nose counting.

Isn’t dispersal, in fact, an accompanying characteristic of oppression? Like many other oppressed peoples, the Black masses have been driven from their homes–thrown off the land, forced to find jobs in the cities (both North and South) and forced to escape terror and lynching.

A story that grew out of the 1968 “Resurrection City” action by SCLC in Washington, D.C., illustrates this point. Told in a book called The Choice, by Sam Yette, it goes like this:

As he drove the first tent stake, symbolizing the beginning of Resurrection City, Dr. Abernathy charged that people in the march were starving while Mississippi Senator James O. Eastland was receiving a $13,000 monthly farm subsidy for not planting cotton on 2,000 acres of his 5,000-acre plantation. It was hard to believe, but Courtney C. Pace, the Senator’s administrative assistant, confirmed the figure, and added that 3,000 acres still under cultivation are picked by machines. Asked whether poor Blacks still picked any of the Senator’s cotton, Pace chuckled: ’Why no–they’re all out in Resurrection City.’

So if somebody asked me where the Black peasantry is, I’d say look in any small Southern town and you can see all the unemployed Black youth, with no place to go, nothing to do. It is potentially a very explosive situation. And regardless, many Blacks are still tied to the land in the South, in semi-feudal relationships.

We should understand further that it is not necessary for all the characteristics of a nation to be developed and fully mature as some would have us believe.

In fact, none of the attributes of nationhood is fully developed among Blacks, nor for that matter among most oppressed or subject nations. The policy of imperialism is precisely to forcibly arrest and distort the economic and cultural development of oppressed peoples as an essential condition for their super-exploitation. Such has been the case with many nations in Africa and throughout the third world.

JUGGLING STATISTICS

The point is that you can pass all the laws you want, juggle statistics any way you want, but economic and cultural inequality of Blacks is historically formed, inherent in capitalism. Only socialism can completely eliminate this gap.

But we can’t just look at economic conditions. The Revolt showed how closely our movement is tied to developments in the international arena. As our Chinese comrades have pointed out, the current situation is characterized by “great disorder under heaven.”

The U.S. imperialists have most certainly been affected by the rise of the third world, as recent defeats in Indochina would indicate.

We must use this situation to our advantage, and strengthen our solidarity with the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

At the same time, we should understand that the U.S. imperialists are still a dangerous enemy, are still reaping tremendous superprofits from the third world. The U.S. maintains troops around the world and is building an ever larger war machine in order to better contend with its arch rival, the Soviet Union.

For all its hypocritical talk of “human rights,” the U.S. is still the biggest backer of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Most recently, they hosted the racist Ian Smith of Rhodesia. For our struggle in this country, this superpower is the main enemy which we must overthrow. Make no mistake about it: the main enemy of the U.S. working class is the U.S. bourgeoisie.

Indeed, all factors indicate sharp struggle ahead. I believe that we are approaching a new upsurge. We can expect ruling class attacks to increase, and we must be clear on our strategy for the Black liberation movement.

Slogans like Black power and self-determination, which come from the legitimate strivings of the Black masses, will play a very important role in this fight. And as before, they will be distorted, so we must get clear on their meaning.

In the wake of the rebellions of the 1960s, the Kerner report recommended “local self-government for Blacks” and subsidizing a section of the Black bourgeoisie to become economic and political administrators of the ghetto, in service to the establishment. This is exactly the so-called Black Power and self-determination achieved by Maynard Jackson in Atlanta, Coleman Young in Detroit and Tom Bradley in L.A. But they are just Black fire extinguishers, as I have mentioned before. They are the local administrators for the corporate elite when the ghetto gets too hot for them.

REAL POLITICAL POWER

The old line imperialists often talked about “home rule” for their subject peoples. But you see, the real question here is not simply home rule, but who rules at home.

This brand of tokenism is the opposite of real Black power, which is political power for and by the majority of the people, for the exploited and oppressed Black masses. Given present conditions, Black power can only mean, fundamentally and in the long run, self-determination and socialism.

As I have already stated, self-determination is the right to self-government for Blacks, the right to determine our own destiny. A number of options are involved: the right to federate, regional autonomy and the right to full separation.

Among these, I have seen regional autonomy in practice in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and, recently, in the People’s Republic of China. Here, the minority nationalities have autonomous rights in internal affairs. Economically the autonomous area receives special preferences. They pay less taxes and receive more economic investments, so that the area can make faster than average progress and thus catch up with the majority Han people. They make their own local laws, with approval of the central government and they get a larger representation for delegates to the National People’s Congress of China.

For U.S. Blacks, regional autonomy would mean not only full equality declared in the constitution of a new socialist state, but full equality in fact.

In the Black Belt, regional autonomy would mean self-government by the Black masses over a large territory, including both rural areas and major cities, industrial centers and seaports. In essence, it would be a special form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, at the center of which would be an alliance of Black workers and peasants. But it would also include other progressive forces mobilized by the Black united front and its revolutionary allies among the white workers.

What about the Black ghettos of the North and West? Here regional or local autonomy would mean that community affairs would be determined by the local masses through revolutionary councils, Black control of Black communities, and removal of all racial barriers to the free movement of minorities in housing, schools and jobs. Special efforts would be made to eliminate the miserable physical and social conditions of the ghetto, upgrading the living standards of Blacks to that of the white masses.

Through these organs of political power, the Black people and their allies among workers of all nationalities would control legislative bodies, the judiciary, the police and people’s militia, thus exercising a dictatorship over the monopoly capitalists and all reactionaries. These will be new forms of political power, established in the course of the destruction of the old, racist, capitalist state apparatus that we have suffered under for so long.

This is the only way that the working class can maintain state power and build socialism in the United States. Contrary to the methods of the bourgeoisie, the workers can’t rule by dividing the people. They can only rule by building the strongest possible unity among the people.

This means that the workers’ state must guarantee equality to all minority nationalities. Instead of gerrymandering the ghettos, inner cities and minority areas, as the capitalists do now, district lines would be redrawn to their actual demographic boundaries, to give minorities the greatest possible control over their present concentrations. Of course, this applies to the Northern ghettos as well as, in the case of Blacks, to the South.

SOLUTIONS UNDER SOCIALISM

This is the solution I favor under present conditions. But we still have to leave open the options of separation or federation, which may become necessary under different conditions. These options could be exercised in the Black Belt South, the base and homeland of the Black nation. And regardless of conditions, we must uphold the right to self-determination, the right of the Black masses to decide their future.

To sum up. Whatever form it takes–regional autonomy, federation or separation–the essence of the right of self-determination remains the same: full equality for Blacks, which can only be guaranteed by Black political power in the hands of the Black masses and their allies, not power in the hands of white capitalists and landlords. Only this right makes regional autonomy or any other form of unity truly voluntary.

Now, a lot of people might think this is somewhat contradictory. How does the right to separate guarantee unity? Well, Lenin used the analogy years ago of the right to divorce. While we don’t advocate divorce in general, calling for women wholesale to go around getting divorced, it is only when women are guaranteed this right that they could enter into marriage on a voluntary basis. This is a basis that helps strengthen the real unity between men and women.

Our guiding principle under all conditions is the unity of the working class–unity in the daily fight against oppression, unity in the struggle to overthrow the system, and unity in constructing the socialist system, where self-determination guarantees the free and equal development of the Afro-American people.

Looking beyond the Black community and the Black struggle, there are many allies to be united with. Because of the devastating effects of the crisis, the possibility for unity is greater than ever before.

We must look to the leadership of the multinational working class and a genuine communist party in order to unite all who can be united against the common enemy. Communists must bring forward the leading role of the working class. I don’t say this because I’m a romantic, but because this is the class which historically has led the revolutionary movement to victory. Of all classes in society, it has the most advanced outlook. Because it is socially organized and concentrated at the centers of production, the proletariat is the only class able to mobilize, wage and lead the class struggle against the bourgeoisie.

PRESENT CRISIS DEEPENING

The ever-deepening crisis and the increased threat of war are affecting the democratic rights and living conditions of the broad masses of American people. At the same time, the ability of the imperialists and the labor aristocracy to grant concessions and thus buy off dissent, has been somewhat hampered by the crisis. I know that many of you are very much aware of the effects of the crisis, which finds so many young Blacks forced to take jobs way below those which they are qualified for. And of course, you all know that this will be made worse by the racist Bakke decision.

Attempts by the Carter administration to take back the hard-won gains of the 1960s has unleashed tremendous resistance. Even now the Black movement is surging up in many places like Tupelo, Mississippi, where the United League, nearly 70,000 members strong, is directly confronting the Klan, and not simply with nonviolence, either. In Decatur, Alabama, the site of the Scottsboro frameup, a tremendous mass movement is springing up to oppose the new frameup and legal lynching of young Tommy Lee Hines. And for those who may still have doubts about the Black Belt thesis, I stress that it’s no accident that this new upsurge is once again springing up in its most dynamic form in the Deep South, our historic homeland and the area where the contradictions are sharpest.

I foresee, too, another round of urban rebellions like those of the 1960s. Already there are movements like the Black United Front in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which has mobilized 4,000 people to march against police brutality and to demand Black political power. There is the anti-Rizzo struggle in Philadelphia, and the recent rebellions of Chicanos in Houston and Puerto Ricans in Bridgeport and Chicago. And in this city you have just seen the culmination of the Longest Walk of the Native American peoples.

These are all previews of things to come, and not in the far distant future, either. The real question is not whether people will fight. The people have always resisted their oppressors. The real question is whether there will be revolutionary leadership, whether we can get in on the ground floor and organize the fight in a revolutionary fashion.

I think we can. What is more, Blacks do not stand alone in this battle. The Bakke movement has shown the growing unity of whites, Blacks and many third world nationalities against national oppression, as has the fightback movement in the struggle for jobs.

The crisis has greatly affected white workers as well, pointing to the need for a higher level of unity in the workers’ movement. The 110-day miners’ strike shows the determination of the white workers to fight the effects of the crisis, and to oppose the government, the companies and the sellout policies of the union hacks.

ORGANIZED IN 1931 MINERS STRIKE

I saw a similar situation myself when I went to the Pittsburgh area as an organizer for the Trade Union Unity League in 1931. There, miners were in the midst of a bloody series of strikes, lasting some two years. Black and whites were united in the course of struggle and, because of the initiative of the communists, the white miners took up the special demands of the Black struggle, such as discrimination in the mines and the Scottsboro issue.

I feel confident that we will once again build this kind of unity in the workers movement. New leadership will come forward and reassert its class war tradition, uniting with the liberation struggles of Blacks and other minorities.

There is also a growing and conscious link with third world struggles around the world. No better example of this is the solidarity developing with the liberation movements of Southern Africa, a focus of some of the most advanced struggles in the world. There is a showdown coming soon in Southern Africa and we must make even greater efforts to get behind it. The demonstrations on many campuses this spring will be multiplied many times in the coming year, disproving those who thought they saw a new conservative breed of students on our campuses.

Under such conditions, there is a strong possibility of building a movement based on the alliance between Blacks and other nationalities and the general workers movement. Chairman Mao summed this up forcefully in 1968 in his statement of support to the Black Revolt, “The struggle of the Black people in the United States is bound to merge with the American workers’ movement, and this will eventually end the criminal rule of the U.S. monopoly capitalist class.”

This is what I see lies ahead. For this reason, I hope that my book will be read by the younger generation, who have heard so many distorted accounts of our rich history. The book will raise some questions in their minds. This is a good thing. I have described my search for answers and solutions and I hope the book will inspire others to continue with me in this search.

But it was not only to pass on the great traditions of the working class and Afro-American struggle that I wrote this book. It was also to help begin a dialogue about the strengths and weaknesses, the triumphs and defeats of both the Black liberation and communist movements. I hope that today’s young people can learn what to emulate and what to avoid. There are sharp struggles which lie ahead and we must all get prepared. I hope Black Bolshevik can make some contribution to that end.

Thank you.

inspector