CLR James (1901-1989), wrote extensively on the African-American national question in the United States during the period between the late 1930s and the 1970s.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
The problem of the party therefore divides itself into two parts: (1) the struggle of the American proletariat for socialism and its relation to the Negro struggle for democratic rights; and (2) the independent struggles of the Negroes for democratic rights and its relation to the proletarian struggle for socialism. Under no circumstances are these separate elements to be confused or treated as one.
The Workers Party and Negro Work in the Organized Labor Movement
The Workers Party approaches Negro work in the organized labor movement from the basis of the approaching social crisis, and the preparation of the proletariat for the socialist revolution. Today one of the greatest subjective weaknesses of the American proletariat is the absence of consciousness that labor is opposed to capital for leadership of the nation.
This being so, it follows that the other oppressed and discontented classes, elements, and groups have not yet learned to look to labor for a partial or even a “reformist” solution to their problem. Classes learn such lessons only by massive experiences on a national scale; only in the very last stages of the revolution did the Russian peasantry learn that the proletariat was its leader.
Already independent action by the Negro masses in the North is at last awakening organized labor to the fact that it must approach the Negro problem not merely as a trade union, but a social and national problem. This new development helps to clarify and defines the tasks of the party.
The party continues, as it has done in the past, to agitate for equal rights and abolition of Jim Crow in all aspects of industrial and union life. The party views with great satisfaction the remarkable progress made by the CIO in its appreciation of the Negro problem as a union problem.
The party fights against the Klan and other Negro-baiting elements in the unions but does not allow the outbreaks against Negroes which have taken place in Detroit, Mobile, and elsewhere to obscure the steady progress in this field.
The party, however, goes beyond mere progressive trade-unionism. It places before the union movement the grave danger that the very existence of a Negro question in the country posses for the union movement and the country as a whole.
The party warns the labor movement that the fascists and pro-fascist elements in their efforts to batter down organized labor, will not fail to use the growing racial tension in the country as the Nazis used anti-semitism in Germany.
The party warns the labor movement that the coming unemployment will create grave dangers for the labor movement, particularly in developing antagonisms between white and Negro labor. The party points out the dangerous situation in the South and the continuous reactionary and anti-labor activity of the Southern Democrats and its basis in the social degradation of the Negroes.
The party, therefore, proposes to the labor movement the adoption of its transitional program for a Labor Party as the chief means in the present stage of checking this threat to its very existence. The party boldly poses to the labor movement the necessity of showing the Negroes that labor recognizes its responsibility for solving their problems by radical measure. Labor will thus draw to itself the militant power of the vast majority of oppressed Negroes and will enormously increase its social and political power in the country.
Such sponsoring of the Negro cause will draw the attention of all the other oppressed groups in society to labor's role. It will give enormous confidence and pride to labor itself. It will create a powerful sentiment of good will and respect for the American proletariat among the great masses in Europe, Africa, and Asia.
The propaganda of the party in this respect must be bold, comprehensive, and powerful in its insistence on the dangers to society and the continuing shame of the Negro problem, the necessity of proletarian solution, and the gains, direct and indirect, which will follow even the first decisive steps taken by labor.
The party in its daily agitation draws attention of the union movement to the concrete danger represented by the outbreaks which have occurred in recent months and which sooner or later will recur with probably greater violence. The party emphatically urges the union movement to place the responsibility unequivocally upon the enemies of the Negro people.
It urges the unions to recognize that the aggressive spirit of the Negro people is the result of their unending oppression. Organized labor must not discourage, but must stimulate this militancy as one of the surest defenses of democracy not only for Negroes but for organized labor itself and all the oppressed classes.
The party urges the labor movement to take the lead in organizing this militancy and linking it to the struggle for the reconstruction of society. To white workers complaining of Negro “excesses” the party points out, with restraint yet inflexibly, the great importance of the Negro mass struggle and relegates these complaints to their proper subordinate sphere.
Above all, it points out that in conflicts between Negroes and whites in the Negro community, the labor movement must avoid appearing in any light which may be interpreted as a “guardian of the peace,” merely anxious to restore the status quo. Only by assisting the Negro movement to express its militancy in effective channels and by militantly advocating both an immediate and a general program for the Negroes as a whole, will the labor movement be able to act effectively in times of crisis and yet avoid the multiple dangers of merely acting as a peace-maker.
In all Negro manifestations of resistance the organized labor movement must play a leading and active part. The party must unceasingly teach labor that the way to ensure that the resistance of Negroes is directed against capital and its allies is for labor to encourage, organize, and support them to its fullest capacity.
The party will remember that propaganda and agitation of this scope is of special importance for it is being carried out by no other political groups. In the present critical period when many are being more and more impelled to think beyond their immediate interests, the Negro question forms a particularly valuable means of educating the advanced workers in the general principles of socialism and mass revolutionary struggle.
The party will point out that because the Negroes have insisted on struggle, and owing to the sympathetic attitude of labor due to the large number of Negroes in its ranks, the Negro struggle in Detroit has developed a logic of its own. This has resulted in a political alliance at the recent elections between organized labor and the Negro community as a whole.
Despite the loss of the election, this combination is one of the most significant stages yet reached in the struggle of labor and the Negro masses for emancipation from the ills and injustices of capitalist society. It is along these lines with militant effort on both sides complementing each other that the party must seek, according to its strength, to direct the developing struggle.
Organized labor must learn to turn to its own advantage the increasing radical consciousness and organization which accompanies the integration of the Negro into the social functions of capitalist society.
The Workers Party and Negro Work Among Negroes: the Struggle for Democratic Rights and Socialism
The party makes powerful and insistent propaganda to the Negroes that the leadership of organized labor is necessary and indispensable to their successful struggle for democratic rights.
Particularly in this time of crisis, it poses to them socialism as the only solution of their problem. It analyzes the economic roots of racial oppression. It emphasizes, above all, the role of competition between members of the working class in destroying white and Negro solidarity. It stresses the national leadership of labor without which the achievement of democratic rights is impossible. It emphasizes the fundamentally class nature of racial oppression and the objective unity of the oppressed in the struggle for socialism.
At the same time the party, with the fullest consciousness of the significance of the mass independent struggles of the Negroes, considers that its main agitational work among Negroes is the stimulation and encouragement of these mass struggles.
Basing itself upon one of the most fundamental principles of Marxism, the party recognizes that it is only on the basis of the continual deepening and broadening of their independent mass struggles that the Negro people will ultimately be bought to recognize that organized labor is their only genuine ally in their struggle and that their struggle is part of the struggle for socialism.
The party, in stimulating the independent struggles of the Negro people, teaches Marxism to them in the only terms in which they will learn it, the terms of their own desires and experiences. Thus as the present stage of capitalist development in America, the party seeks wherever possible and feasible to concentrate the attention of the Negro masses upon the responsibility of the government for their oppressed condition.
It therefore teaches to the Negroes continuously that the state is the executive committee of the ruling class and on this basis seeks to mobilize them in their own way and according to their own instinctive desires, against the capitalist state and its dominating role in contemporary society.
The party brings Marxism to the Negroes by emphasizing to them that the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself. It emphasizes to the Negroes that Negro emancipation cannot take place without the vigorous and self- sacrificing struggle of the Negroes themselves. It sharply condemns that distortion of Marxist truth which states or implies that the Negroes by their independent struggles cannot get to first base without the leadership of organized labor.
The party is on the alert to stimulate and encourage every instinctive tendency to independent organization and militant struggle of the Negro masses objectively directed against American capitalism. The history of the Negro people has shown them fertile in the creation and organization of such struggles, and it is on the basis of analysis and criticism of these creative efforts that the party seeks to exercise its special guiding and correcting influence.
It is only by this means that it can help direct the efforts of the Negro masses into channels most powerful and fruitful for their own aims and for this very reason most valuable in developing the general struggle for socialism.
The party encourages the masses of the Negro people to seek the assistance of the organized labor movement in the organization of their own defense and in all the stages of their battle for democratic rights. But in its agitation it encourages them to do so for the specific purpose, first of all, of gaining their own democratic demands.
Under no circumstances does it submerge the specific purpose of this alliance in the minds of the Negro people under any general terms of the fight for socialism. The recognition by the masses of the Negro people that organized labor is their ally in their struggle for their democratic rights can prove a far more powerful step toward socialism than the acceptance by a few Negroes of the theoretic principles of Marxism.
It is from the general recognition by the masses of the alliance between the Negro struggle for democratic rights and organized labor that the possibility arises of winning not one or two but dozens of Negro militants for the revolutionary party.
The Negro Proletariat
The role of the Negro proletariat belongs mainly to the general development of the union and organized labor movement as a whole. The party must be on its guard to scrutinize all policies which may deflect the Negro proletariat in the labor movement from considering itself first and foremost as an integral part of the struggle of organized labor for the rights of labor and for socialism. The oppression of the Negroes as a national minority specifically prepares the Negro proletariat in the organized labor movement for a place in the very vanguard of the struggle for socialism.
The Negro proletariat, however, has a special role to play in the struggle of the Negro community for its democratic rights. The party will stimulate the Negro proletariat within the Negro communities to take the lead in the struggle for Negro democratic rights in accordance with the role of labor in modern society.
The Negro community and Negro organizations must be stimulated to use the Negro proletariat as its representative to the organized labor movement in its demand for assistance and organization of the struggle for Negro democratic rights. The link in the struggle for Negro democratic rights is between the Negro community as a whole and organized labor and not between the Negro proletariat alone and the white proletariat.
In the present stage the party must conduct, to the extent of its resources, a vigorous and unfailing propaganda and agitation along the above lines. The present situation offers a fertile field for such work among the Negro masses. The experience of the party with its agitation on the Harlem demonstration has already shown how receptive the Negro masses and Negro proletarian elements would be to agitation of this kind.
The party is certain to reap concrete results because there is not at the present time a single labor or radical organization which looks upon the militant Negro demonstration as anything else except at best justifiable because of unfortunate necessities. This means the party will be listened to eagerly by the Negro masses.
The party needs to analyze carefully and draw the lessons of such outbreaks as that in Harlem. Only thus will it be able to offer guidance to the Negroes and to the proletariat, jointly with them to prepare for future outbreaks, and jointly study the revolutionary development of the American masses. Every “minor” crisis in a capitalist state, says Lenin, discloses to us in miniature the elements and germs of the battles which must inevitably take place on a large scale during a big crisis.
The Harlem demonstration was no “minor” strike. It was, as has been shown, an organized demonstration, a Negro nationalist protest, on a stage far higher than Garveyism, involving actively or sympathetically ten of thousands of people. On the day of the demonstration could be seen on one side the masses of the people and on the other, “keeping order,” the local municipality (La Guardia), the Social-Democracy (Crosswaithe), the Stalinists (Max Yergan and Hope Stevens), the Negro petty bourgeoisie (Walter White and Lester Granger). Dewey announced that he held in reserve the armed forces of the state. These formed one united group while the masses in the streets booed at them.
The party must resolutely take its place with the protesting masses and expose continuously the unity of those arrayed against them. The party will not adopt merely the attitude of explaining why the masses take such steps. It corrects the exaggerations and mistakes of the masses, but as one of them, taking part in the struggle with them, and seeing to increase and to direct their justified anger into more constructive channels.
In the Marxist tradition it subordinates all to the fact that the masses have refused passively to endure injustices and have violently expressed their hatred. The party propagates these ideas and condemns the judicial or explanatory or social-work attitude. It is only on this basis that the party, which is then more certain to get the ear of the masses, can help them to realize their mistakes, and help them to organize greater, more powerful, and more effective demonstrations which can in turn become nation-wide militant movements.
The Party and the Negro Nationalist Movements
The party wages a merciless war against the Negro nationalist movements such as the Garveyites, the pro-Japanese organization, etc. It demonstrates their fantastic and reactionary proposals for Negro emancipation. It explains in detail the utter impossibility of their realization and, furthermore, takes the trouble to explain that even if these were realized, it would not in any way benefit the great masses of the Negro people.
The party seizes this opportunity to analyze and denounce the imperialism of the Japanese and the oppression of the Japanese masses. Thus in terms of the Negro's own life and interests it builds a sentiment of solidarity of the oppressed on an international scale.
At the same time, however, the party must study these movements carefully, to differentiate between the Negro nationalist leaders and their sincere but misguided followers. It explains to the masses that the desire for the success of Japan is in reality a desire for the destruction of the apparently unbreakable power of their own oppressor, American imperialism, and the humbling of its pride.
The impending defeat of Japan will strike a heavy blow at any hopes of assistance, direct or indirect, to the “colored peoples” from a Japanese victory. The national movements, however, even before the defeat of Japan, used Garveyism and pro-Japanese sentiment merely as an ideological basis for a policy directed towards strengthening Negro nationalism in the United States.
The movements which seek “to drive the Jew out of Harlem or the South Side” have a valid class base. They are the reactions of the resentful Negro seeking economic relief and some salve for his humiliated racial pride. That these sentiments can be exploited by fanatical idiots, Negro anti-Semites, or self-seeking Negro business men, does not alter their fundamentally progressive basis.
This progressiveness is in no way to be confused with the dissatisfaction of the demoralized white petty- bourgeoisie which seeks refuge in fascism. American reaction can and probably will finance or encourage some of these movements (Bilbo and Back to Africa) in order to feed ill will.
But the Negroes are overwhelmingly proletarian, semi-proletarian, and peasant in their class composition. Such is the whole course of American history that any nation-wide Fascist movement (however disguised) will be compelled to attack the Negro struggle for equality. But the struggle for equality is the main driving force of the Negro mass movement.
The party, therefore, while boldly attacking the nationalist movement, does not in any way treat these movements in the same category as it would a fascist movement. It attacks them upon the basis of a program for Negro struggle as outlined above.
It is the absence of a comprehensive program and action for Negro rights and Negro struggle advanced by organized labor; it is the sectarian presentation of the doctrine of the Negro struggle as class struggle which gives strength to the nationalists.
Such is the obvious bankruptcy of the nationalists' magic-carpet programs for salvation in all parts of the world that their chief strength, in Harlem for instance, is due not to their programs but to their active role in protests and demonstrations designed to improve the conditions of the Negroes here in America.
The Party and the Negro Petty Bourgeoisie
An economic examination of the American scene will demonstrate how slight is the economic basis of the Negro petty bourgeoisie. The Negro petty bourgeoisie is for the most part a woefully disproportionate group of intelligentsia, well-paid domestics, stage performers, etc.
Bourgeois society has rigidly excluded them not only from social contact with the whites but also from those positions and opportunities of sharing in the surplus value, and gaining distinction, which binds so many of the white petty bourgeois functionaries to bourgeois society.
They can do harm as in the March on Washington Committee, but their impotence to restrain the masses of the Negroes when these are anxious to move has been demonstrated during the past period. Such influence as, for instance, the Indian nationalist bourgeoisie has exercised over the Indian masses, the Negro petty bourgeoisie can never exercise over the Negroes.
The party observes that the instinct for direct action of the Negro masses ignored the NAACP or the Urban League, as circumstances dictated. But the party is on the alert to enter those newer organizations which the Negroes are forming today in such profusion, if even sometimes for only very limited purposes.
The party keeps up an unceasing attack on the Negro petty-bourgeois leaders, but is careful to do so, not on general grounds, but because they do not carry on a militant struggle for democratic rights and betray the struggle at every opportunity. In this respect the party attacks the petty-bourgeois leaders of the Negroes in a manner approximating its attacks on the labor leadership of the social democracy.
The Negroes and the Labor Party
The party must carry on a militant agitation among the Negroes on behalf of an independent Labor Party. It is a sign of their special role in American society and the maturing social consciousness of the Negro people that as a body they have made within the last few years a rapid change in their attitude toward organized labor.
Should organized labor put forward a militant program for an independent Labor Party the past history of Negroes and present indications show that the movement of the Negroes in its favor will be strong and perhaps overwhelming. The Negroes in all probability will play a role in the left wing OF the organization.
But here also the Negroes situation as specially oppressed minority, though not necessarily obtruded, must be taken into consideration. An independent Labor Party in the United States as in many European countries will probably consist of a federation of various groups, with the union movement providing the base, the driving force, and the leadership.
The independent labor party will not tolerate any distinction of color within its ranks. Local non-union organizations of all types will seek affiliation. Negroes should be encouraged to join such local affiliations. But the party must carry on a vigorous agitation among militant Negro organizations struggling for Negro democratic rights not only to join the agitation for an independent labor party but also to take an active part in its formation.
At the present stage of capitalist crisis in the U.S. this particular work by the party offers exceptional means of forming a bridge between the independent struggle of the Negro masses and the general problem of the reconstruction of society.
The Negro organizations should be encouraged themselves to formulate demands for their own democratic rights. The party must insist that neither the Democratic nor the Republican Party is the type of organization which will be able to give the Negroes an opportunity to struggle for these rights within a broader framework.
At the same time, even to the most nationalistic of the Negro organizations, the party should pose the question of themselves forming a program not only for Negro democratic rights but for the country as a whole. They must look, not to European imperialism in Africa nor to Japanese imperialism, but to potential allies in this country and make their own contribution to the elaboration of that type of social order in which the Negroes will at last find equality.
This must be presented to the Negro organizations as an imperative duty for Negro organizations to perform. It is by this means that the Negroes, on the basis of their own nationalistic preoccupations, are brought to consider their own problems in relation to the fundamental problem of the whole social order.
The party will seize this opportunity to present its own transitional program to Negroes, for them to consider in the light of their intense desire for some solution, not only immediate but general, to the degradation from which they have suffered to so many centuries.
Such is the proletarian composition of the Negro people, so hostile are they to existing social order because of the special degradation to which it subjects them, that the political organization which knows how to utilize their preoccupation with their democratic right can find ample ways and means for carrying on that socialistic propaganda which must always be the climax of revolutionary effort, particularly in this period.
Starting from and never ignoring the basis of the independent struggles for democratic rights, the party will find in the increasing contradictions in the social order the possibility of uniting in ever higher stages of development of the objective movement of the American proletariat toward leadership of the nation and the movement of the masses of Negro people toward the American proletariat.
The history of the Negro in the U.S. is a history of his increasing race consciousness, a constantly increasing desire to vindicate his past and the achievements and qualifications of the Negro race as a race. This is an inevitable result of his position in American society, of the development of this society itself, and is not only a powerful but a familiar concomitant everywhere of the struggles of nationally oppressed groups.
It does not grow less with the social development of the oppressed and the oppressing groups. On the contrary, it increases in direct ratio with the development of capitalism and the possibilities of liberation. This was recognized by the Socialist Workers Party in its 1939 convention when it adopted a resolution which stated in part:
“... the awakening political consciousness of the Negro not unnaturally takes the form of a desire for independent action uncontrolled by whites. The Negroes have long felt and more than ever feel today the urge to create their own organizations under their own leaders and thus assert, not only in theory but in action, their claim to complete equality with other American citizens. Such a desire is legitimate and even when it takes the form of a rather aggressive chauvinism is to be welcomed. Black chauvinism in American today is merely the natural excess of the desire for equality while white American chauvinism, the expression of racial domination, is essentially reactionary.”
So clear is this development that today even the bourgeoisie is recognizing it. In An American Dilemma by Gunnar Myrdle, despite its petty- bourgeois humanitarian attitude, there has at last appeared a serious, comprehensive, and, in many respects, authoritative study of the Negro question.
One of its final conclusions is that: “Negroes are beginning to form a self-conscious 'nation within a nation,' defining ever more clearly their fundamental grievances against white America.” Such a movement with such deep historical roots must inevitably bring exaggerations, excesses and ideological trends for which the only possible name is chauvinism.
This trend undoubtedly has dangers. Marxism both in theory and in practice has demonstrated that the only way to overcome them is to recognize its fundamentally progressive tendency and to distinguish sharply between the chauvinism of the oppressed and the chauvinism of the oppressor. The duty of the party is not only to lead the legitimate aspirations of the Negro masses but also to educate organized labor as a whole as to the legitimacy of the feelings of the great masses of the Negro people and the great contributions which this can become to the struggle for socialism.
Despite all apparent difficulties, a bold and confident policy on the part of our party has every possibility of success. The reason for this is simple. Whereas in Europe the national movements have usually aimed as a separation from the oppressing power, in the U.S. the race consciousness and chauvinism of the Negro represents fundamentally a consolidation of his forces for the purposes of integration into American society.
The Negro Question as an International Question
The Negro question, i.e., the question of slavery, in the U.S. during the nineteenth century excited amazing interest and action among the international proletariat. The emancipation of the Negro slaves and the Civil War are indissolubly connected with the foundation of the First International.
The Third International recognized this aspect of the Negro question when in its Resolution on the Negro Question at the Fourth Congress it not only reiterated the support of the Comintern for Revolutionary Negro struggles but devoted a special section to the importance of the role which Negroes in the U.S. could play in the emancipation of Negroes all over the world and particularly in Africa.
Today the process of historical development and capitalist disintegration have carried the Negro question in the U.S. a stage further in its international relations. Not only among the British masses does the Negro question occupy a foremost place as a test of American democracy but all over the world and particularly in the Oriental countries the situation and struggle of the Negro people in the United States has become one of the criteria by which oppressed nationalities test the possibilities of their own emancipation.
Among the American Negroes themselves the role and fate of India, of China, and of Burma in their struggle for emancipation is recognized as being connected with their own struggles. The Negro press has consistently devoted many pages to the struggles of the Oriental peoples, and the Pittsburgh Courier has two regular weekly columns, one by an Indian and one by a Chinese.
Negro organizations, in their common manifesto to both the Republican and Democratic conventions of 1944, made “the equality of China” with all the Allied nations, one of their fundamental demands. It is the function of the Fourth International to develop and to clarify this instinctive striving of the people towards internationalism. With the utmost seriousness the party must recognize and expound the historic roots of this development and direct it toward the education and organization of the international proletariat and its present allies in the struggles for world socialism.
Program of Action
1. The first requisite is the systematic education of the party in the Negro question. In the period which we are entering, the period of world upheaval and social crises in America, the party members must above all on this difficult and complicated question have a clear theoretical orientation. In The New International and in internal bulletins there must be a series of informed studies and discussions on the Marxist interpretation of the development of the Negro in the history of the United States. Such studies do not exist in the U.S. at all except for some beginning by the Stalinists.
It is impossible for the party to make any serious and continued progress in Negro work without some such preparation. For the time being we merely outline a few of the topics which can be immediately considered:
(a) The Negroes in the Civil War. The Civil War is as much the theoretical axis of American analysis as the French Revolution is for modern Europe. And central to the Civil War is slavery, i.e. the Negro question.
(b) The Negroes in the organized labor movement, their historical development in this movement, and the interrelation of the Negro community and these struggles.
(c) Negro organizations in the recent past and in the present, particularly the Garvey movement as the greatest Negro mass movement which U.S. history can show.
(d) The Negro in Southern agriculture.
(e) Negro social development and political struggles in Africa and the West Indies.
(f) The concrete experiences of the WP in Negro work.
These studies, for the most part, are, first of all, matters of fact, but are also matters of interpretation. It is practically a virgin field not only for the party but for all Marxists in the U.S. They are therefore and for a long time must be mainly matters of discussion. It is through attention to these questions that the party will educate its members and enable them to represent Marxism among the Negroes and within the ranks of organized labor.
It is by this means also that the party will be able to influence and to direct the always alert interest of a nationally oppressed people to whatever deals with its national oppression, however unpopular or distasteful the general ideas of a revolutionary group might otherwise be. As a first prerequisite it is necessary to publish the notes and observations of Trotsky on the Negro question.
2. The National Committee must, in accordance with the practice and tradition of the Bolshevik movement, organize a special Negro department to deal with the general work among Negroes. This work must in no way be subordinated to the work among Negroes in the organized labor movement, which is more specifically the work of the trade union department. The work of both departments must be coordinated.
The Negro department should be responsible for a special column in the newspaper on the Negro question and should invite the participation of non- party sympathizers in its theoretical work.