Intro to Afro-American Studies


Marxism and Black Liberation

Toward a Paradigm of Unity in Afro-American Studies

LOGIC OF CHANGE Social Cohesion Traditional Africa - Slavery - Rural Life - Urban Life
Social Disruption - Slave Trade - Emancipation - Migrations -
UNITS OF ANALYSIS Ideology A1 B1 C1 D1 E1 F1 G1
Nationality A2 B2 C2 D2 E2 F2 G2
Class A3 B3 C3 D3 E3 F3 G3
Race A4 B4 C4 D4 E4 F4 G4


Good morning, Revolution :
      You're the very best friend 
      I ever had. We gonna pal around together from now on. 
Say, listen, Revolution: 
You know, the boss where I used to work, 
The guy that gimrae the air to cut down expenses, 
He wrote a long letter to the papers about you: 
Said you was a trouble maker, a alien-enemy, 
In other words a son-of-a-bitch. 
He called up the police 
And told 'em to watch out for a guy 
Named Revolution.

       You see, 
The boss knows you're my friend. 
He sees us hangin' out together. 
He knows we're hungry, and ragged, 
And ain't got a damn thing in this world - 
And are gonna do something about it.

Langston Hughes, "Good Morning Revolution;' 1932 

     Marxism is a social theory and a social movement based on an analysis of the contradictions of the capitalist system. It is the science of the working class. It also serves as the ideological basis for its revolutionary struggle to destroy capitalism and replace it with socialism. Marxism as a theory of history provides a theoretical explanation of how a society develops. Further, as a science, Marxism guides research into the particular details of how a specific society operates. This is crucial because while Marxism has developed as an inclusive theory encompassing all available research, it is always based on and revitalized by the use of what is known in order to pursue and come to terms with what is unknown.


     Two errors are made frequently by those who claim to be Marxists, but are not. Dogmatism refers to the error of holding a general theory and refusing to take into account particular details and historical conditions. The opposite error is empiricism. Empiricism holds onto specific concrete details and ignores previous knowledge that has been summed up in general theory. In general, Marxism stresses the unity of theory and practice, study and struggle. Practice is the primary aspect of the contradiction. Any study of Marxism thus must combine a study of the theory with the social practice of Marxist movements.

     The application of Marxism to Black liberation is both a theoretical and practical task. As with any theory of social change, its usefulness can only be fully proven with a successful revolution, led by a workers' party guided by the ideology of Marxism. However, this does not free us from the responsibility of taking up an analysis of how Marxism as theory treats the problems faced by Black people; how Marxist movements in the U.S.A. have handled these practical problems, especially building unity between Black and white workers; and where the situation stands today.

     The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has reported that the author whose books are read by more people in the world than any other is V. I. Lenin, the leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Moreover, the majority of people in the world are living in societies who at, least  "claim" to use Marxism. These are some of the reasons we must study this question of Marxism in a very serious way.


What is Marxism? It is the collective body of theory developed by Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Frederick Engels (1820-1895) in the period of revolutionary upheavals of the industrial working classes in Europe. They continued and developed the work of classical political economy from England (especially the work of Adam Smith and David Ricardo), classical German philosophy (especially George Wilhelm Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach), and the utopian socialists from France (Saint-Simon and Franois Charles Fourier). The fundamental concepts of this body of thought include dialectical and historical materialism (which is a method for studying the dynamic change and development in nature and society); the labor theory of value and class struggle (which explains how labor's exploitation is the source of profits); and the dictatorship of the proletariat (which solves a society's basic problems by putting the masses of working people in power) In 1852, Marx commented on the particular contribution that he made through his studies:


What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production; (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; (3) that the dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.... 

The major works of Marx and Engels include The Communist Manifesto, Civil War in France, Capital, German Ideology, and Anti-Duhring.

    The further development of the science of the working class was carried out by Marxist theoreticians connected to the successful revolutionary struggle waged in Russia in 1917. Led by V. I. Lenin (1870-1924), this revolution, more than any other historical event, brought Marxism out of the realm of theory and speculation into the realm of accomplished historical fact. Lenin made decisive contributions to the science of Marxism. Lenin applied Marxism to understanding the laws of capitalist development in the historical epoch of imperialism. He also summed up the main objective laws that govern, the process of waging class warfare, especially regarding the role of a revolutionary party. His three essential works are Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, The State and Revolution, and What Is to Be Done? As a result of the October Revolution in 1917, Marxism spread rapidly throughout the world. This was directed by the formation of the Communist International (Comintern), an international organization of communist, parties from all over the world. While the Comintern was very instrumental in educating revolutionaries and popularizing the lessons of the October Revolution, it made mistakes in dogmatically applying the lessons of the Soviet Union to other parts of the world, without paying sufficient attention to the concrete details of each particular country.


     The next major advance was in China. The Marxist party was formed in 1921, and twenty-eight years later the workers and peasants seized state (political) power under the leadership of the revolutionary party and Mao Tse-Tung (1893-1976). Mao made significant contributions to the application of Marxism to China and to post-war developments within the international Marxist movement. Mao developed and successfully applied the strategic concept of the United Front in conjunction with the Peoples War. He also was a major fighter for Marxist principles. He fought the errors of dogmatism and empiricism (see his book Five Essays on Philosophy) and made a major contribution in fighting revisionism during the Cultural Revolution. More than any other event since the October Revolution in Russia, the Chinese Revolution of 1949 brought dramatic focus on how Marxism treats the national colonial question and the process of national liberation struggles by oppressed nations - particularly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

     There are two basic theoretical ideas that identify the future Marxists are fighting for. Each is based on an exchange between people, and the society as a whole. In other words, the key issue for each person is: What am I supposed to do and what do I get for it in return?

Communism - This is the theory of "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need." This is the ultimate view of human society in which people are not pitted against each other in dog-eat-dog type competition, but rather are organized for maximum cooperation. Each person would be educated, cultured, and employed for their maximum contribution to society. Further, each person would get what they need, based on the overall level of production and wealth in society.

Socialism - This is the theory of "from each according to their ability to each according to their deed." This theory focuses on an equitable exchange - a fair day's pay, for a fair day's work. This theory holds that the people in a society must be in control, and not a small group of capitalists. But we have to make a distinction between utopian socialists and scientific socialists. The utopian socialists believe in the idea, but they have no analysis of society that demonstrates who is going to produce the new society, and on what specific principles it will be constructed. The scientific socialists are Marxists who analyze the contradictions within capitalist society and focus on the working class as the historical force destined to produce the new society. Further, rooted in political economy, specific laws of social development are studied to design a plan to transform society into one based on cooperation rather than competition.


     This distinction is critical. But the complexity of Marxism intensifies when the issues of class and class struggle are joined with race and nationality. This is called the national question.

The major Marxist definition of a nation was formulated by Joseph Stalin in his 1913 work on "Marxism and the National Question":

A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.

A nation is not merely a historical category but a historical category belonging to a definite epoch, the epoch of rising capitalism. The process of elimination of feudalism and development of capitalism is at the same time a process of the constitution of people into nations. 

     However, this cannot be applied dogmatically, since there are four different types of historical experiences in the development of nations: (1) the nation-states of western Europe, (2) the multi- national states of eastern Europe, (3) the multi-national states of Asia, and (4) the colonial nations created under imperialist domination in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

     Further, the political significance of national movements differs, depending on the historical context in which it develops. The formation of nation-states in western Europe was a progressive political accomplishment led by the bourgeoisie. The bourgeois classes advanced their societies by overthrowing feudalism. However, these same bourgeois classes developed and became the oppressors of colonized peoples in the Third World. Therefore, the political character of the nation-states of western Europe was transformed into its opposite from being positive to being negative. Each western bourgeoisie helped create opposites in the Third World. The western bourgeois classes created the colonial nations, out of which developed progressive national liberation movements.

     Lenin was the major Marxist theoretician who analyzed this and developed a revolutionary solution for colonized nations. His position was summarized by Stalin in 1924:



(a) The world is divided into two camps: the camp of a handful of civilized nations, which possess finance capital and exploit the vast majority of the population of the globe; and the camp of the oppressed and exploited peoples in the colonies and dependent countries, who comprise that majority,.

(b) The colonies and the dependent countries, oppressed and exploited by finance capital, constitute a very large reserve and a very important source of strength for imperialism;

(c) The revolutionary struggle of the oppressed peoples in the dependent and colonial countries against imperialism is the only road that leads to their emancipation from oppression and exploitation;

(d) The most important colonial and dependent countries have already taken the path of the national liberation movement, which cannot but lead to the crisis of world capitalism;

(e) The interests of the proletarian movement in the developed countries and of the national liberation movement in the colonies call for the amalgamation of these two forms of the revolutionary movement into a common front against the common enemy, against imperialism;

(f) The victory of the working class in the developed countries and the liberation of the oppressed peoples from the yoke of imperialism are impossible without the formation and the consolidation of -a common revolutionary front;

(g) The formation of a common revolutionary front is impossible unless the proletariat of the oppressor nations renders direct and determined support to the liberation movement of the oppressed peoples against the imperialism of its "own country," for "no nation can be free if it oppresses other nations" (Marx);

(h) This support implies the advocacy, defence and carrying out of the slogan of the right of nations to secession, to independent existence as states;

(i) Unless this slogan is carried out, the union and collaboration of nations within a single world economic system, which is the material basis for the victory of socialism, cannot be brought about;

(j) This union can only be voluntary, and can arise only on the basis of mutual confidence and fraternal relations among nations.  


 How does this general summation of Marxist theory in the world context relate to Black people and the struggle for Black liberation in the United States? The  historical experience of the Marxist movement in the U.S.A. concerning the question of Black people is filled with errors of all kinds, but it is also filled with shining examples of revolutionary leadership. The United States is quite obviously an imperialist country in which the imperialists control most publishing companies, the mass media, and schools. It is usually only the negative side of the Marxist movement that is reported. Therefore it is necessary to present both sides to clear up this confusion and enable students of Afro-American Studies to have an objective scientific grasp of these questions. This is the only way in which we can see both the positive and negative lessons to learn from the historical involvement of the Marxist movement in the Afro-American national question. (The "Afro- American national question" refers to the relationship between the struggle against exploitation of all workers and the struggle against the oppression of Black people.)


In his major work, Capital (1867), Marx summed up his view of the Afro-American question in the U.S.A.:

In the United States of North America, every independent movement of the workers was paralyzed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic. Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded. 

     However, not all socialists agreed with this. The utopian socialists who followed Robert Owen (1771-1858) and Charles Fourier (1772- 1837) set up experimental model communities before the Civil War and they all segregated Black people. Moreover, they incorrectly pushed the abolition of slavery to the background in order to take up the struggle against the wage slavery of workers in the North. On the other hand, the Marxists, led by Joseph Weydemeyer (1818-1866) a close associate of Marx, set up Communist Clubs with a constitution recognizing the complete equality of all people regardless of sex or color. Many members of these clubs fought actively in the Civil War.

     After the Civil War, however, the Marxist movement lost sight of Black people in the U.S.A. In 1864, Marx led the formation of the first international workers' organization, the International Working-Men's Association (IWA). At its founding convention, the Colored National Labor Union (CNLU) voted to send a delegate to the IWA. While all other labor organizations were invited to the 1870 congress of the IWA, the CNLU was not invited. The IWA had nothing to say about the problems of Blacks in the United States, although the U.S.A. was one of their main subjects of discussion. The IWA moved to the United States in 1872 where it remained until 1876 when it was dissolved. The main IWA leader in the United States, Friedrich Sorge, was noticeably silent on the question of Black people. In his book Socialism and the Worker, written in 1876 as Reconstruction was being wiped out with a wave of racist reaction, there is not one mention of Black people.

     On the other hand, it was also during this period that the first Black socialists emerged. Peter H. Clark, born in 1829, was a socialist speaker of the Workingmen's Party at a 1877 rally to support the national railroad workers strike. Clearly articulating his socialist views, he declared: 


The top-ready consent of the state and national governments to lend themselves to the demand of these wealthy corporations cannot be too severely condemned. Has it come to this, that the President of a private corporation can, by the click of a telegraphic instrument, bring state and national troops into the field to shoot down American citizens guilty of no act of violence?'. . .

  The miserable condition into which society has fallen has but one remedy, and that is to be found in Socialism.... 
  Future accumulations of capital should be held sacredly for the benefit of the whole community... 
   Machinery too, which ought to be a blessing but is proving to be a curse to the people should be taken in hand by the government and its advantages distributed to all.... 
   Machinery controlled in the interests of labor would afford that leisure for thought, for self-culture, for giving and receiving refining influences, which are so essential to the full development of character. "The ministry of wealth" would not be confined to a few, but would be a benefit to all.
    Every railroad in the land should be owned or controlled by the government. The title of private owners should be extinguished, and the ownership vested in the people. 

     As the principal of the Black high school in Cincinnati, he was threatened with the loss of his job if he didn't reject socialism. Nonetheless, he continued his political work. When the Workingmen's Party was transformed into the Socialist Labor Party, Clark remained within the party. Eventually, in 1879, he left the party, not because he had lost faith in socialism, but because he was dissatisfied with the party's treatment of the problems facing Black people.

     After the turn of the century, especially after the October Revolution in 1917, part of the socialist movement began moving into the transition to a Communist party. In 1919, two parties were formed and when they merged in 1921, the Communist movement was born. The initial organizations did not have a correct analysis and program for Black people, and thus did not recruit very many Blacks.

     Cyril Briggs (1888-1966) was one of the first Black people to join the Communist Party. Briggs was from the West Indies and had been involved in the left wing of the Garvey movement. Briggs believed that the liberation of Black people had to involve the formation of an independent Black, state, and his idealism led him to various pan-Africanist, back-to-Africa schemes. Inspired by the October Revolution and the position Lenin developed on the national-colonial question, Briggs in 1917 had formed a revolutionary Black nationalist, pan-Africanist organization, the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB).


The ABB had sought the following:

To bring about co-operation between colored and white workers on the basis of their identity of interests as workers;

To educate the Negro in the benefits of unionism and to gain admission for him on terms of full equality to the unions;

To bring home to the Negro worker his class interests as a worker and to show him the real source of his exploitation and oppression;

To organize the Negro's labor power into labor and farm organizations;

To foster the principles of consumers' co-operatives as an aid against the high cost of living;

To oppose with counter propaganda the vicious capitalist propaganda against the Negro as a race, which is aimed to keep the workers of both races apart and thus facilitate their exploitation;

To realize a United front of Negro workers and organizations as the first step in an effective fight against oppression and exploitation,

To acquaint the civilized world with the facts about lynchings, peonage, jim-crowism, disfranchisement and other manifestations of race prejudice and mob rule.

 It specifically had called for armed resistance to lynching and self-determination in states where Blacks were a majority. At its height, it had about 2,500 members in fifty-six chapters. During the 1920s, most of the leaders of the ABB (including Briggs, Richard Moore, Otto Hall, and Harry Haywood) joined the Communist Party, U.S.A. (CP-USA). They helped formulate what became known as the Black Belt Nation thesis.

     The Communist Party faced a difficult situation in the United States during the 1920s. Black people were being mobilized under the banner of Black nationalism into the Garvey movement, and the class-struggle line that was mechanically applied by the CP- USA did not speak to the special problems that Black people faced. In fact, many communists negated the importance of racism and other forms of the special oppression of Black people. They dealt with the problems as if they were no different from the problems of whites. They assumed that the solutions to these problems required no special program.           .

     With the direct involvement of Blacks from the CP-USA, the Comintern developed a revolutionary position on solving the problem of the oppression of Black people, Its position was summed up in two resolutions passed during 1928 and 1930. The essence of the new position was to recognize Black people as an oppressed nation.


    The definition of Black people as a nation was the ideological basis on which the Communist Party developed a program for Black liberation. This program included three components for the South, where the masses of Black people were concentrated in rural areas. First, it advocated confiscating the land from white landowners and capitalists and redistributing it for the use of dispossessed Black farmers. It justified this on the following grounds:

The landed property in the hands of the white American exploiters constitutes the most important material basis of the entire system of national oppression and serfdom of the Negroes in the Black Belt. More than three-quarters of all Negro farmers here are bound in actual serfdom to the farms and plantations of the white exploiters by the feudal system of "share cropping." Only on paper and not in practice are they freed from the yoke of their former slavery. The same holds completely true for the great mass of black contract laborers.... These are the main forms of present Negro slavery in the Black Belt, and no breaking of the chains of this slavery is possible without confiscating all the landed property of the white masters. 

     Second, it proposed establishing a single political entity - a state and a government - to encompass those areas where Black people were in the majority (which in 1930 included 190 countries in 12 states and 50% of the U.S. Black population). The Comintern reported:

If the right of self-determination of the Negroes is to be put into force, it is necessary wherever possible to bring together into one governmental unit all districts of the South where the majority of the settled population consists of Negroes. Within the limits of this state there will of course remain a fairly significant white minority which must submit to the right of self- determination of the Negro majority. There is no other possible way of carrying out in a democratic manner the right of self-determination of the Negroes. Every plan regarding the establishment of the Negro state with an exclusively Negro population in America land of course, still more exporting it to Africa) is nothing but an unreal and reactionary caricature of the fulfillment of the right of self-determination of the Negroes, and every attempt to isolate and transport the Negroes would have the most damaging farmers in the Black Belt not only to their present residences land, but also to the land owned by the white landlords and cull Negro labor. 

     Third, the Comintern upheld the right of self-determination,  the "right of the Negro majority to exercise governmental authority in the entire territory of the Black Belt. . . " According to it's analysis, "the right of self-determination of the Negroes as the main slogan of the- Communist Party in the Black Belt is appropriate!' From the Comintern's perspective, "The slogan of the right of self-determination occupies the central place in the liberation struggle of the Negro population in the Black Belt against the yoke of American imperialism"



The Comintern also made clear the nature of its commitment to Blacks outside the rural Black Belt South:

The struggle for equal rights for the Negroes is, in fact, one of the most important parts of the proletarian class struggle of the United States....

     The increasing unity of the various working class elements provokes constant attempts on the part of' the American bourgeoisie to play one group against another, particularly the white workers against the black, and the black workers against the immigrant workers, and vice versa, and thus to promote the divisions within the working class, which contribute to the bolstering up of American capitalist rule. The Party must carry on a ruthless struggle against all these attempts of the bourgeoisie and do everything to strengthen the bonds of class solidarity of the working class on a lasting basis. 

More pointedly, it declared that "it is essential for the Communist Party to make an energetic beginning now - at the present moment - with the organization of joint mass struggles of white and Black workers against Negro oppression." ,

     It was on the basis of this program that the CP-USA actively sought to carry out Lenin's 1920 instruction to the Comintern that revolutionaries should "render direct aid to the revolutionary movements among the dependent and subject nations (for ex- ample, in Ireland, among the Negroes of America, etc.)." As a result, the work of the Party was more effective and many Black people joined. From 200 members in March 1929, Black membership increased to over 1,300 by March 1930.  This reflected the appeal of the Party's revolutionary political line on the struggle for Black liberation, the impact of the economic crisis of the Great Depression on Black people, and the militant revolutionary actions that the Party carried out among the masses, including Black people.

     A major battle field for the Party's work was in the South where 73% of Black people lived in 1930, mostly in rural areas. This work centered on sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and general racist terror, like the Ku Klux Klan and lynching. In 1931, the Sharecroppers Union was organized in Alabama under Communist Party leadership. By 1936, membership had reached 12,000 with branches in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and North Carolina. In Arkansas, the Party led Black and white sharecroppers to force local planters and merchants to give them food. They fought for an emergency program calling for a 50% reduction in rents and taxes, a five-year moratorium on all debts and mortgages, and a cash advance from the government for all small farmers. 



     The greatest struggle that the Communist Party carried out in the South was the fight to save the Scottsboro boys. Nine Black youths were charged with raping two white women, a charge that one of the women later admitted she was forced to make. All were quickly tried, convicted, and eight were sentenced to die in the electric chair. For four years, the Party joined with the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others in waging an international battle which saved them from the death penalty and later resulted in their release.

     Another major organization during that period was the Southern Negro Youth Congress, organized in 1937 at a conference in Richmond, Virginia. The first conference was broad-based. It included representatives from nearly every Black college in the country, young steelworkers from Birmingham, sharecroppers, boy and girl scouts, churches, and even the YMCA. It was formed in an era of the fascist menace. This concern for a united front against fascism is reflected in an address by Dr. Mordecai Johnson, who served over thirty years as the first Black president of Howard University. He stated: "The greatest danger to democracy is not 'Communism or Socialism but first of all Fascism. A danger not only to black but to white men." The conference endorsed a "Proclamation of Southern Negro Youth" that spoke to the national, democratic character of the movement:

We, Negro youth of the South, know that ours is the duty to keep alive the traditions of freedom and democracy. We know that ours must be a ceaseless task, to win the status of citizenship for the Negro people. 


     In the North, the struggle for democratic rights centered on organizing employed and unemployed workers, especially during the Depression. Black workers were very prominent in cities throughout the United States. Over 1.3 million workers turned out for a massive national unemployment demonstration in 1930. The National Unemployed Councils were organized by the Communist Party in 1930 with local chapters in many U.S. cities. The councils fought for unemployment insurance, public work at union wages, and food for school children. They also fought against home eviction and racial discrimination. Over 400,000 people were mobilized on National Unemployment Insurance Day in 1932, and several thousands marched in hunger marches organized by the councils. The U.S. ruling class was forced to establish programs like unemployment insurance as a result of these mass struggles.

For those workers who had jobs, the formation of the Committee for Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1935 was significant. This union was a break with the policies of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) which excluded unskilled, Black, and women workers (see Chapter 7). The CIO had a decisive impact on the unionization of Black workers in such industries as auto, steel, and meatpacking. In 1930, there were an estimated 100,000 Black union members. By 1950, this had increased to 1.5 million, half in the CIO and half in the AFL, which did not accept Black workers until the CIO was organized. The Communist Party played a prominent role in the formation and growth of the CIO, as William Z. Foster points out in his study of trade unionism:

To the Communists and other left-wingers belongs a great deal of the credit for the winning of the workers in the basic industries to the trade unions during 1936-1945, and especially for the successful unionization of the Negro workers. For many years, the Communists were ardent fighters for industrial unionism, when most of the later-to-be C.I.O. conservative leaders were altogether cold to the matter. The Communists prepared the ground for the big drive. The Communists, too, were the most militant of all in supporting the organization of the Negro workers, and at every stage of the great campaign they were on hand to see that proper attention was paid to this hitherto crassly neglected body of workers. And most valuable to the campaign, the Communist Party had long carried on work among the unemployed and other groups throughout the trustified industries, and it had its branches in hundreds of major plants. When the great campaign began, the Communists Party put all these forces at work with its well- known militancy and devotion....

The generally progressive position taken by the C.I.O. during these years was very largely due to the influence of Communists and other left-wing forces in its ranks. 

     In addition, the Communist Party assumed a leading role in establishing other organizations which fought for Black liberation. For example, the National Negro Congress, organized in 1936, was a broad, united-front organization mainly but not exclusively comprised of Blacks from many different sectors of the society. The Congress condemned racist discrimination, demanded full rights for Black people, spoke out against fascism and,. war, and played an active role in organizing Black workers into unions like the CIO. (See Chapter 7 for additional discussion of the CIO and the National Negro Congress.)



     However, the revolutionary line and practice of the CP-USA turned into its opposite. Black people were betrayed by the CP- USA in several ways. The high points of building broad unity in mass organizations were marred by the Party cadre's dominating leadership roles. For example, out of 86 leadership positions in the League of Struggle for Negro Rights formed in 1930, the Party accounted for 62 (72%).

     There was also considerable racism among the Party rank-and- file membership. The extent to which the Party was concerned about this can be seen in the case of August Yokinen. Yokinen, a Finnish immigrant and a member of the Party, was publicly tried in 1931 in Harlem by a 14-person jury (7 Blacks and 7 whites) selected by delegates from working-class organizations. He was found guilty and expelled from the Party for having failed to come to the rescue of several Black workers, who had gone to a dance at Finnish Hall and had been threatened, and for having made racist remarks about Black people. Though the trial revealed the Party's desire to deal with its members' racism, it also exposed the interracial problems that existed. From its inception in 1919 to 1935, the CP used such disciplinary measures to deal with members who exhibited racist attitudes or did not adhere to the, Party's position regarding race, but it became increasingly lax during and after the war years.

     The worst betrayal of Black people took place in the late 1930s when Earl Browder, the General Secretary of the CP-USA, led the Party down the path of revisionism. In 1944, he actually disbanded the Communist Party and formed the Communist Political Association, claiming that the goals of the CP-USA had been reached because of "American exceptionalism".  Browderism represented the incorrect view that the United States was a special place (unlike any other) in which capitalism was enlightened and electoral politics was a sufficient process for the working class to achieve its aims. The Communist Political Association, as Wilson Record put it in his study of the Communist Party,


took the position that capitalism in the United States was a progressive force. Class antagonisms, which were usually inherent in a profit system, had not developed in the United States. Workers enjoyed political rights and a standard of living that could not be equalled elsewhere in the world. Liberalism in the United States had a long and successful tradition that would serve to steer social change in the right direction. Capitalists had evidenced a willingness to compromise and share power. Consequently, there was no need for class struggle or revolution, but only the continual assertion of the inherent progressive bent of the masses.

     In the past, the Association declared, the Communist Party had fought for the advancement of the working class and for the national liberation and equal rights of Negroes. Now these goals were a fact, or had the possibility of becoming a fact under a gradual, slow process of economic and political development. 

     Within a year, Browder was expelled for having abandoned the working class and Marxist theory, and the Party was reconstituted. The Party admitted its failure to struggle for the rights of Black people during the war years, but in the meanwhile it had lost much of its credibility among Black people. Moreover, by 1951 the entire work of the Party in the South was terminated. This was a capitulation to the ruling-class terror against Blacks in the Black Belt. 

     Overall, the liquidation of a revolutionary position on the Afro-American national question was part of a general process of degeneration into a non-Marxist or revisionist stand. After Joseph Stalin (1879-1953), Lenin's successor, died, a new group turned socialism around from within the Communist Party. The national question, the focus on the particular problems of Black people as an oppressed nation and Black liberation, was formally liquidated at the 16th convention of the CP-USA in 1957.

     Is important to point out that this decision in 1957 was just three years before the explosion of the sit-ins and a period of militant spontaneous mass struggle. Because of the CP-USA's revisionism, the Civil Rights Movement in the deep South had no revolutionary leadership, and it fell under the leadership of petty-bourgeois (middle-class) reformist leaders. The revisionist CP-USA fell behind this reformist civil rights leadership, which led them into the arms of the liberals in the Democratic Party. At the same time, the major Trotskyist organization (the Socialist Workers Party) was slavishly following Black nationalism and did not contribute to developing revolutionary politics in the Black liberation movement.



     A major revolutionary upsurge spread all over the world in the middle 1960s. France faced nationwide strikes by students and workers; Japan faced an upsurge of student and worker struggle; etc. The major event was the Great Proletarian cultural Revolution started in China in 1966, which stirred up the revolutionary feeling among young people all over the world. The United States was no exception.

     The Cultural Revolution represented the greatest effort yet in history to transform the superstructure of a society under socialism, and to fight attempts to defeat socialism from within and restore capitalism. In sum, the Cultural Revolution in China demonstrated that class struggle (and struggle against national oppression as well) exists under socialism and that either socialism will continue to win victories or it will be defeated.

     The major symbol of the first stage of the Cultural Revolution was the Red Book of the thoughts of Chairman Mao. This book had the weakness of substituting quotes for the full texts of Marxist theory as developed within the Chinese context by the Communist Party and Mao. But it had the strength of giving concrete expression to revolutionary theory. It spread among the masses like no previous publication project in history. In the United States, the Red Book was taken up by militant Black activists, some of whom later formed the Black Panther Party in northern California. In 1968, Mao reiterated his earlier recognition of the importance of the Black liberation movement in the worldwide struggle against imperialism and lent it his support:

The Afro-American struggle is not only a struggle waged by the exploited and oppressed black people for freedom and emancipation, it is also a new clarion call to all the exploited and oppressed people of the United States to fight against the barbarous rule of the monopoly capitalist class. It is a tremendous support and inspiration to the struggle of the people throughout the world against U.S. imperialism and to the struggle of the Vietnamese people against U.S. imperialism. On behalf of the Chinese people, I hereby express resolute support for the just struggle of the black people in the United States. 

     Since the Panthers, there have been two main lines of development of Marxism in the Black liberation movement. Basically, Marxists came from the factory or from the campus, but both grew out of the militant Black nationalist revolt of the 1960s. The major organization connected with Black workers that spread Marxism was the Black Workers' Congress (BWC). In 1970, some former activists of SNCC and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (Detroit) formed the Black Workers Congress. In general, the BWC maintained:

The political task of the Black liberation movement is complete emancipation of Black people through a revolutionary union with the entire U.S. working class, of which it is an important part, to overthrow capitalism and imperialism in the U.S. In a word, Black Liberation today means freedom for 'Black people through proletarian revolution. 

     Moreover, most thought that internationally "the Black masses must line up with the heroic peoples of the world who have struck blow after blow at imperialism. . . ." However, there were internal differences concerning how this was to be accomplished. Thus, the EWC subsequently split into several organizations, and many of the activists were recruited into major multi-national Marxist organizations. While the BWC never distinguished itself in any concrete campaigns of struggle, it represented the greatest effort in recent history of organizing Black people in an explicitly Marxist organization.

     The major organization which spread Marxism among Black youth (especially from 1972 to 1975) was the African Liberation Support Committee. ALSC was a coalition of different organizations. Within the Black liberation movement, it waged the most significant ideological and political struggle over Marxism since the 1930s. The main struggle was against the idealism of the pan-Africanist movement, and for the Consolidation of a strong anti-imperialist stand under Black Marxist leadership. ,

     The overall struggle against the revisionism of the CP-USA has resulted in the formation of several self-declared Marxist parties or national organizations, all claiming to be the vanguard of the working class. However, the working class is still characterized by spontaneity and trade unionism (struggles of reforms); the national movements are still dominated by petty-bourgeois (middle-class) nationalists; and the national liberation support movement is dominated by liberals. Overall, there is still a vacuum on the question of revolutionary Marxist theoretical analysis of the U.S.A. The main errors that are being made are sectarianism (walling oneself from the rest of the movement by proclaiming oneself the most correct) and right opportunism (uncritically uniting with everyone and refusing to fight for revolutionary unity on the basis of revolutionary principles). In sum, the new Marxist movement is young, and decisive events are yet to develop.




     The further development of Marxist theory and the concrete activity of the Marxist movement regarding the question of Black liberation are central to the overall process of revolutionary struggle in the U.S.A. There are several key issues:

Building the United Front as the strategy for making revolutionary changes - The United Front is a concept that is based on the unity of action (fighting against the same enemy) of as many different groups (classes, nationalities, etc.) as possible in the struggle against imperialism and national oppression. Bill Epton in discussing the Black liberation movement (BLM) further defines the United Front:

.. the BLM will be a united front comprised of workers, farmers, students, and sections of the petty-bourgeoisie.... 

Black women comprise half of the black population and are in a strategic position to push the revolution forward. There can be no proletarian revolution in the U.S. unless the power and strength of black women is brought into full play...

In many respects, other oppressed minorities such as Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans, Asian American and other Hispanic people have also suffered at the hands of U.S. imperialism to the same degree and in much the same way that black people have.

Therefore, it is in the fundamental interests of the liberation of the entire working class that there be unity of all oppressed minorities. Only when the oppressed minorities can unite with the white workers can the entire working class unite and achieve its liberation. 

     Overall what is needed is more class analysis that uncovers the material basis for different classes, and the political and ideological actions of the different classes - both Black and white. Who is against U.S. imperialism and who is with it? What evidence is there that proves it one way or the other?

     Building the Black-white unity as the condition for a strong United Front, particularly the unity of the working class - While the history of the U.S.A. stinks with the vicious odor of racism and national oppression, the most revolutionary movements have been created by the unity of the Black and white masses in struggle, particularly in the 1930s. The ruling class tries to hold this back in many ways, and each of their schemes needs to be exposed. The backward character of white racism and narrow Black nationalism needs to be exposed. Progressive examples of unity need to be popularized. Concrete historical and contemporary bases for this unity need to be fully explained.



     The Black Belt and the issue of self-determination - The historical periodization of the Black experience requires both empirical and theoretical analysis, particularly on the question of the national character of Black people: Are Black people a nation? Is the fight for Black liberation still rooted in the Black Belt South? If not, what is the main demand of the Black liberation struggle? No slavish adherence to the Comintern resolutions and no bowing to the spontaneity of the Black struggle at any time can replace the application of Marxism to the objective content of Black history to come up with a correct and revolutionary line. This is a project of utmost importance.

     The relationship between the Black liberation struggle against U.S. imperialism and the African revolution - The current developments in southern Africa against white settler colonialism are fairly easy to understand and unite people against. However, most of Africa is at a stage where the situation is not so obvious. Blacks are running countries, though many are still dominated by foreign powers. It is necessary to continue studying Africa in the context of the entire international situation. Black people in the United States give particular attention to Africa. If there is no clarity on the situation, this will have a negative effect on the Black liberation movement.

     In sum, Marxism is a theory and practice for revolutionary change. The past contributions of Black people to the revolutionary struggle in the U.S.A. are generally agreed upon. The potential in the future is even greater. But our understanding of it needs to be deepened in order to have the kind of united movement required for the current demands of the struggle for Black liberation and social change.



The theory of class struggle holds that the motivating force of history is the class struggle. Classes are large groups of people united by common interests based upon having the same relationship to the means of production - land and technology. Some folks own the land and technology (capitalists) while others must work for them in order to get wages to live (workers). The class struggle is based on the irreconcilable conflict between the capitalists efforts to maintain the highest level of exploitation of the workers to reap profits, and the workers' struggle to increase Wages and get better working conditions. Indeed, this class struggle is the basis of all struggles in this type of society, because the capitalists control all the institutions- (government, education, the church, mass media, etc.), and these same institutions oppress, mistreat, and brutalize the workers.



     The capitalist mode of production has developed from its early stage of competitive capitalism to its mature stage of monopoly capitalism. This is the transition from many small capitalist firms to a few large firms dominating each industry. Monopoly capitalism is the dominant character of economic life in the U.S.A.

     Black people are organized into classes, as are all people in a capitalist society. The small minority of Black businesspeople constitute the capitalist class, while the vast majority of Black people are wage-salaried workers. The Black capitalist is usually a competitive capitalist, and made to appear insignificant due to the gigantic size of the monopoly corporations. However, the objective condition is that some Black people have large enough businesses to hire and exploit five to seven hundred workers. These workers create more wealth than they receive as wages. The difference is then realized as profit. Being a little Black capitalist does not alter the situation. The profit motive is still the driving force of any capitalist, especially since increasing the exploitation of labor is the basis for increasing profits.

     There is the critical issue of how the capitalists, specifically the monopoly capitalists, reap super-profits by compounding the exploitation of Black workers with racism. Racism does two things: (1) it pits the white masses against Black people because of a perceived threat to their economic security (and, due to white supremacist propaganda, because of a perceived threat to their person, children, home, etc.); and (2) it pits the Black masses against all white people because racism took an almost "apartheid" form until the 1960s and lingers today for the Black working class. Black people have less work, less pay for harder work, and poorer living conditions (education, health, housing, and food). Racism thus pits the two broad masses of working people against each other. in the process, the ruling class profits even more by this and gets away without answering to any charges.


     The only solution that can cure the ills of this society - this center of capitalist system - is a socialist revolution. Our task is to make a socialist revolution right here in the U.S.A. There can be no solution under capitalism, although, the bourgeois ruling class will make every effort to convince us that it is possible. If that doesn't work, it will encourage correct-sounding socialist ideologies that fall short of scientific socialism or consciously revise its basic tenets. All ideologies have a class character - scientific socialism serves the working class; utopian socialism can easily be used by the ruling class. Romantic dreams are always preferred over concrete battle plans.

     Socialism is a social-economic formation that is designed to overcome the ills of capitalism. It results from the internal development of the laws of capitalist motion. There are three major aspects of the general crisis of capitalism.

1. Concentration of capital. An increasingly smaller bourgeois class appropriates wealth privately - even though wealth is the social product of larger and larger groups of people. This is the class character of the crisis in the economy. More and more people get less and less of a share in the wealth produced. This leads to a degeneration of all aspects of social life - food, housing, health, education, etc.

2. Militarization of the state to rule over the masses and maintain order for the ruling class. This results in foreign wars of aggression (as in Vietnam and Central America) and in domestic programs (like those of Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan) for repression against dissent. Political corruption, surveillance of civilians by the armed forces, police repression, and capital punishment are all indicators of, this rule by the state in the interest of the capitalist class.

3. Intensification of national oppression. The ruling class separates the Black and white sectors of the working class in order to prevent the development of a unified and class-conscious, multi-national proletariat. It does so in part by embracing Black and white race theories that reassert old 19th -century racist arguments. Other forms of national oppression include cut-backs in all government services in the Black community.



The solution of scientific socialism speaks directly to these three aspects of the general crisis:

1. The abolition of private property by which the reduction and distribution of wealth would be a public ownership process, centrally planned to systematically provide for the welfare of all the people. This does not apply to people's personal possessions, but to the decisive forces of production and distribution.

2. Dictatorship of the proletariat by which the government apparatus and all agencies, institutions, and organizations would reflect the interests of the working class- the rule of the entire proletariat.

3. National liberation and the right of nations to self-determination reflects the solution to national oppression possible only under socialism. All forms of national oppression can be stopped as official policy because they serve no material interests as they did under capitalism. A divided proletariat is good for capitalism; a united proletariat is good for socialism. Lenin summed up the only correct policy possible:

For different nations to live together in peace and freedom, or to separate and form different states (if that is more convenient for them), a full democracy upheld by the working class, is essential. No privileges for any one nation or any one language, not the slightest injustice in respect of a national minority - such are the principles of working class democracy. 

     These are the basic aspects of scientific socialism for beginning to correct the ills of capitalism. The struggle for socialism will require a political, social, cultural, intellectual, and physical struggle before and after the seizure of power by the working class. Witness what is occurring today in South Africa and Latin America.

     A minimum program for day-to-day struggle is summed up in the key concepts of defense, democracy, and development. Black workers must be defended from the attacks of monopoly capital. By so doing, the interests of the entire Black community and the entire working class will be protected. There must be democratic participation of rank-and-file Black workers inside the trade union movement. This will raise the banner of democracy for all people in the society who have been denied their rights by the ruling class. There must be tools of struggle - organizations that mold the Black working class into a fighting class-conscious section of the proletariat, and organizations that mold Black youth into a vital revolutionary force capable of giving concrete material support to the struggle of Black workers and the struggle for democratic education.



     All of this focuses on the Black working class, and represents struggle in the, interests of Black workers. If the Black workers' struggle moves to a higher level, there will be an intensification of both working-class struggle, in general, and the Black liberation struggle, in particular. Black, workers will fight simultaneously against class exploitation and national oppression.

     In summary, Marxism as a social theory and a social movement has played a significant role in Afro-American history. This has included positive and negative contributions. However, we believe that on balance it has mainly provided a basis for the masses of Black people - as Blacks and as working people - to define their problems with great clarity. Further, with Marxism Black people have had a greater revolutionary potential, because in Marxism the fight for Black liberation is linked to the fight for socialism. Marxism contributes to progress and should be understood by all students. 


Black Belt Nation thesis Marxism 
Class struggle National question 
Communism Revisionism/American exceptionalism
Communist Party Socialism 
Dogmatism Utopian socialism 



1. What is Marxism? What have been the main theoretical contributions to its development?

2. What was the Black Belt Nation thesis adopted by the Com- intern?

3. What contributions to Black liberation have been made by the Communist Party? Discuss its weaknesses and strengths.

4. What can, Marxism contribute to Black liberation?




1. William Z. Foster, The Negro People in American History. New York: International Publishers, 1973 (first published in 1954).

2. Harry Haywood, Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro- American Communist. Chicago: Liberator Press, 1974.

3, Mark Naison, Communists in Harlem during the Depression. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983.

4. Nell Irvin Painter, The Narrative of Hosea Hudson: His Life as a Negro Communist in the South. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979.

5. Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Radical Tradition. London: Zed Press, 1983.


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