CLR James and black nationalism

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Thu Jan 27 00:27:19 MST 2000


    As I think you point out in a subsequent post, we've been around all
these arguments publicly & privately for a while. It wasn't my intention to
set off another go around as I think our positions and differences are
probably clear. I think clarity, that's all we can realistically aspire to
in this discussion. Agreement is beyond our reach. The main things I would
say you already know, or have been admirably summarized already by other
contributors. Of course, if you think there are specific points,
contradictions, etc. in things I've said that haven't been adequately
explored, then by all means lets thrash those specific points out.

    The one thing I DID want to go further on is the Cuba/U.S. analogy on
Blacks. I think, actually, one can make a very strong case, not for American
"exceptionalism" but for saying that the Black question presents itself in a
very unique way in the U.S.

    I do not think it can be argued, at least not easily, that the
experience of slavery was qualitatively different in the different
countries, that the plantation system in Cuba was "easier" on the slaves
than the picking cotton in the U.S. But past slavery, the histories are so
distinct and different as to make the Cuba-US analogy useful only in the
most general, theoretical sort of way.

    I think we can both agree that Blacks in the U.S. view themselves as a
separate, distinct group, that shares common problems and should seek common
solutions. I'm not saying that we agree this is a "national" or some other
type of consciousness, just that we've both observed the phenomenon to be

    I'd say that is the big difference with Cuba. I think Blacks before the
revolution in Cuba did, obviously, view themselves as victims of
discrimination but there simply wasn't the generalized feeling among people
recognizably of at least part African descent that they were all part of a
single, distinct group within Cuban society. I believe in the U.S. many
class and economic issues presented themselves to Blacks in such a way as
they came to be seen as at least to a large degree "race" issues. I don't
believe things worked that way in Cuba. It is definitely NOT true that
Blacks in Cuba in the 1950s viewed themselves like Blacks in the U.S. do
today, or even did then. And there are very good reasons for this.

    The Cuban revolutionary movement has always had at its core Black
liberation (or as Silvio Rodríguez put it in one song, the struggle for
independence was waged by "Blacks with Machetes, and without chains"). The
war of 1868 (the ten years' war) was initiated precisely by landowners who
freed their slaves and invited them to join as free men in a fight for a
free Cuba. Although independence wasn't won in that fight, Spain was forced
to abolish slavery. In the War for Independence (1895-1898) Blacks played a
prominent role in the patriotic forces. It was the U.S. intervention and
American influence that reinforced racism after it had been greatly weakened
during 30 years of pro-independence struggle.

    But even with the reinforcement of racism and discrimination under the
neocolonial republic, racism in Cuba never had the virulence it had in the
U.S. I think that's because, at the root of U.S. segregation, was the
counter-revolution in the South that reversed many of the former slaves had
made under radical reconstruction. A key weapon in this counterrevolution
was racist terror. In the U.S. there were scores of lynchings (as well as
"legal" executions) of young Blacks year after year, for decades. The point
of that terror was to enforce segregation under the legal fig-leaf of
"separate but equal." There is simply no parallel of the segregation nor of
the terror in Cuban history. There also was not the creation by the dominant
society of one homogeneous (for legal and political purposes) category of
"Black" in Cuba, I think that's a distinctly and perhaps uniquely American
social product.

    The essence of it is to define anyone who was part Black as Black. There
were all sorts of laws and terms to define who was a member of the inferior
caste, like one in Louisiana that talked about "Octoroons," i.e., a person
who, out of eight great grandparents, had one who was (at least
recognizably) part Black. That person by law was on the Black side of the
color line. Of course many light-skinned "blacks" escaped, so to speak, from
the south, and made new lives as "white" farmers or farmhands in the west.
(This is what happened to a whole wing of the descendants of the children
Thomas Jefferson had with his slave mistress Sally Hennings, who was herself
the half-sister of Jefferson's first (all-white) wife).  As you can sort of
tell from the Jefferson case BEFORE the civil war, Black and white society
in the south had been inextricably intertwined at every level, and this
continued in the period immediately afterwards. With the rebels
disenfranchised, in many places plebeian, revolutionary-minded
administrations came to power at the local level. This is the origin of
free, universal, compulsory public education as a universal rule in the
states, by the way.

    So the segregation of "Blacks" into a lower "untouchable" caste was a
long, bloody and thorough going counterrevolution that wasn't completed, if
I remember right, until the 1890s. And that's the objective basis or
background to Blacks viewing themselves as a separate and distinct people.

    Discrimination and especially economic factors kept Afro-Cubans out of
the best schools, the fancy Yacht clubs, top political posts. But "Blacks"
as the social category that exists in the U.S. did not really exist in Cuba
and therefore neither did the rigid color line in all aspects of Cuban
society. In the U.S., everyone who is recognizably partly of African
ancestry is considered as Black. It is clear from just glancing at a crowd
of people considered "Black" in the U.S. that there's been a tremendous
amount of mixing of the genetic pool. This took place under slavery, for
since then, mixed-race couples, until the 1960s, were very rare.

    So deeply ingrained in the American psyche has this distinction become
that, for example, in doing genetic typing for criminal cases, separate data
bases are kept for "Blacks"  and "whites." But of course the U.S. Black
population as a whole probably has much more of a shared, common gene pool
with long established families of English descent than with Italians or
Eastern European Jews. But this "racial" pseudo-scientific division of the
population for the purpose of calculating the probabilities of certain
genetic "markers" appearing together (on the basis of a few hundred or a
couple thousand samples, itself a goofy proposition counter to statistical
science and common sense) is simply accepted as part of the natural order of

    In Cuba people with some African ancestry were not viewed as "Blacks"
but as mulattos, and that wasn't exactly a distinct category, but really a
range. An exclusive club wouldn't have any Afro-Cuban members, but might
have some mulatto members, especially lighter-skinned wives of white men.
And it was part of the macho mythology engrained into Cuban boys (at least
in the ruling class) that such women were the best and most desirable
mistresses. My impression is that, in the U.S. white men especially recoil
at the idea of having a "Black" companion or lover.

   In another post you decry the idea of "American exceptionalism" on the
Black question. But there is, I think, a distinctiveness or uniqueness. My
impression is that pre-revolution Cuban social attitudes and racial
classification, so to speak, are fairly typical of the Caribbean basin, and
I'm not familiar with another country in the Americas that adopted the
ultra-rigid caste and apartheid system of the American South (which then set
social attitudes for the country as a whole). But a key part of "Black"
consciousness (and white, too) in the U.S. is that all "Blacks" --all people
recognizable as being at least partly of African descent-- are Black. This,
as I've been  trying to suggest (and I apologize for the rambling nature of
these notes) is a downright odd, peculiar, counter-intuitive, counter
common-sensical system of "racial" classification. It was the product of a
prolonged, violent, bitter class struggle as the old landed oligarchy and
new capitalist elements reasserted their class rule in the South. Because
the war had turned out so ruinous for the Southern ruling class, and because
of the influence of the "radical Republicans" in the national government, it
took a while for that

    When the revolution triumphed in 1959, among its fighters were many
Blacks. The revolution uprooted race discrimination wherever it existed but
also, the Black population benefitted disproportionately from the agrarian
reform and other measures adopted by the revolution. Among the fighters in
the Sierra Maestra were many Blacks, and they went on to hold many
responsible positions in the new government and army.

    There was, in Cuba, no "Black" movement. There were no exclusively Black
churches, no
exclusively Black universities or schools, no NAACP, no Black publications,
no Black radio stations or  programs,  no manifestations at all that I know
of to show a deep-rooted consciousness
among Blacks of being a separate and distinct people. The Santería religion
was  identified with  Black traditions but it also had white adherents.
Intermarriage was frowned on  in ruling class circles but was common among
working people.

    The ONLY such manifestation I'm aware of was around 1912 or so, the
creation of a Black ex-independence fighters movement that staged a couple
of "insurrections,"  really more like armed protests.

    From the beginning the revolution affirmed Cuba's character as an
afro-Caribbean nation. The "color" was restored to Cuba's independence
struggle, which had been almost "bleached white" in the textbooks. One of
the things the revolutionary leaders did in the late 60s, strange as it may
sound, was to study and resurrect Cuba's real history. There are many
speeches from that epoch, pegged on one or another historical event (often
centennial commemorations), stressing the role of Blacks in the independence
struggle, that the basis for unity had been freeing the slaves, etc. In the
1970s, with the military struggle against imperialism and the apartheid
regime in Southern Africa, this consciousness deepened and acquired
additional political dimensions. And the mistaken idea that somehow there
was a contradiction between Black pride, identification with African
symbols, santería, afro hairstyles, etc., and Cuban patriotism, which had
found some expression in the mid and late 1960s in the actions of some parts
of the government apparatus, was decisively rejected by the revolution. I
believe that, and the tremendous gains registered by Blacks with the
revolution, has now definitively settled the "Black question" in Cuba.  (I
should make clear that not just Blacks, but gays, young people influenced by
the youth radicalization and youth culture ["hippies"] and others "had
problems" as they say in Cuba with a layer of relatively backward officials
in the 60s. This "extremist" --although in reality anything but-- period is
now a fading memory in Cuba.)

    So I think there are very definite historical reasons for the U.S. Black
population to be quite distinctive. Nevertheless, I would not use this to
argue that a Black consciousness and movement could not or should not arise
in some other countries, especially in the Caribbean basin. One reason is
that, even though in the 1950s, the idea that all people of African descent
were "Black", part of the same group, sharing a common oppression, wasn't
something you'd find in Cuba or elsewhere, I think TODAY the situation could
well be different. Obviously one big reason for this is precisely the
emergence of Black nationalism in the U.S. This gets re-enforced because it
is simply true that all people of recognizably African descent are subject
to at least some common discrimination in many countries of the Caribbean
basin. I'm not saying such a "Black" movement is likely, just that
revolutionaries need to keep in mind when dealing with issues like racism,
and relating to Black populations, etc., that there are in the situation
perhaps only latently aspects of a national-type question, and that calls
for extreme care, for the socialist movement as a whole has always, and
continues today, to have great difficulty with these sorts of issues.

    So I, too, while I believe the history of Black people in the U.S. is
very distinctive if not unique, would caution against Afro-American
"exceptionalism" but coming at it from precisely the opposite angle that
Phillip does.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Philip L Ferguson" <PLF13 at>
To: <marxism at>
Sent: Sunday, January 23, 2000 10:24 PM
Subject: Re: CLR James and black nationalism

> Jose writes:
> >Phillip,
> >
> >Cleaning out various folders, I found this reply to you on the national
> >question. I remember not being fully satsified with it, and wanting to do
> >complete rewrite, but it's pretty clear I'm just too swamped, between the
> >kids, the Elian campaign and work.
> >
> >One thing in particular you should note is a difference in our
> >You reject using the "national" label, if I read you right, for the
> >consciousness" of a particular people that as a people they face common
> >problems; you seek to restrict it strictly and solely to those who seek a
> >"national" solution, i.e., those groups that propose as the solution the
> >setting up of a separate nation state (I hope I'm not mis-remembering in
> >attributing these views to you!).
> Right so far.  Being *specific* and *concrete*, rather than throwing terms
> about loosely, is important in Marxism.  It is typical of the kind of
> shoddiness we find in universities, where 'intellectuals' use the term
> imperialism to apply to ancient Romeand  Soviet Russia, to adopt
> definitions of terms which are so elastic that they are made meaningless.
> >IF you nevertheless support the right of such racial/ethnic (what I'd
> >national) groups a) to organize themselves b) to equal treatment and c)
> >control their own institutions, etc., in such cases where they have them
> >I agree, usually because historically they had no choice, no access to
> >equivalent "mainstream" institution), the our actual immediate
> >"programmatic" differences may not be that great.
> >
> >But still, it seems to me, there would be a great difference in the
> >and tone you and I would take towards, say, a Malcolm X, the rise of the
> >Panthers, etc.
> If you have been reading my posts on this list, you will know that I am a
> great admirer of Malcolm X and that he was the first major influence on my
> political thinking.  Similarly I would see the formation of the Panthers
> a very positive light - the Panthers by the way did not characterise
> themselves as nationalists, quite the contrary.  In any case, the BPP
> scared the living daylights out of legalistic groups like the US SWP.
> Me, earlier:
> >>  But if there was a strong
> >>Marxist left which was a real social force and which made fighting
> >>segregation and the oppression of blacks central and non-negotiable to
> >>politics, I think you may find that black attitudes would change and
> >>separate institutions and organising become less attractive.<<
> >I agree with you completely, if reality were different, things wouldn't
> >this way. Thus, for example, in a place like Cuba the "Black question"
> >doesn't present itself in the same way as it does in the U.S. despite
> >also having had a history of slavery and so on. And, yes, if somehow the
> >rise of the CIO had led to a revolutionary situation and the seizure of
> >power by the working class, THEN things might be different here in the
> >also. Or if there had been no Jim Crow counterrevolution following the
> >War, again, things might be different.
> >
> >But things are as they are.
> You are mixing up two things.  Are 'things are as they are' because there
> was and is no possibility of them being any different, or because the Left
> fucked up, in which case there is a possibility that a new kind of left
> COULD CHANGE THINGS?  I would argue the latter.
> The Cuba example is a very good one.  It shows that black nationalism is
> not the inevitable expression of anti-racism by blacks.  It is only one
> possible form of resistance.  And it is not even the most effective for
> organising blacks, let alone challenging capitalism.
> If you are seriously going to argue that blacks are a separate nation in
> the USA today, then, logically, you would have to argue they were a
> separate nation in Cuba in 1959 and before.  Where would leave Marti,
> and Castro, who clearly saw blacks as part of the Cuban nation and not a
> separate nation or nation-in-the making?  I'm with M, M and C on this one!
> Still if Cuban revolutionaries had your views, they would have been
> Antonio Maceo he should take black Cubans off on their own to
> self-determine themselves out of the Cuban nation.
> >I believe what you're doing in this line of
> >discussion is leaving totally out of it the subjective factor of how
> >people have, in the real world, over time, reacted to their situation.
> >have developed a consciousness that they are a distinct people, that as a
> >people they face common problems and should seek common solutions. This
is a
> >national consciousness; it's what makes the struggle of Black people for
> >liberation a "national" struggle, a struggle waged by a people, a
> >nationality.
> Well, over and over I have pointed out that it is you, and those who share
> your views, who are guilty of this.  If you picked ten black Americans at
> random and asked them which nation/nationality they were, I would bet
> they would tell you that they are American, or Afro-American; they would
> not tell you that they belong to a separate black nation.
> Your position is an invention of white radicals and a tiny layer of middle
> class blacks.
> >
> >But in addition to this "national" consciousness of being a people, Many
> >Blacks over the past century have expressed what I'd call also a
> >"nationalist" consciousness, i.e., that, as a people, Blacks should
> >their own destiny.
> Grief.  Just about everyone thinks they should 'control their own
> This proves nothing.
> >
> >In an excellent historical post, Louis traces the manifestations of this
> >consciousness all the way back to the Garvey movement, and I'm sure you
> >could trace it back further without difficulty. This consciousness is NOW
> >totally pervasive in the Black community in the U.S., you see it
> >in everyday speech, how Blacks relate to each other, in their religious
> >cultural observations, the rhetoric of politicians and political figures.
> >This especially makes the existence of a Black nationality, of a Black
> >people, a FACT that cannot be ignored.
> Obviously not true.  The Garvey movement was, of course, historically
> eclipsed, as Louis noted by the CIO.  Even if I accepted your view that
> black consciousness today is nationalist, it says absolutely nothing about
> what black consciousness will be tomorrow.  If the separate consciousness
> evident in the Garvey movement collapsed virtually overnight, and blacks
> flocked into the CIO, there is clearly no *fixed* dominant consciousness.
> Your position is really extraordinary.  It just tags along behind all the
> time.  By this logic, if blacks tomorrow abandoned the consciousness you
> claim they have today, and embraced a new version of the CIO, presumably
> you'd just tag along behind that as well.  But, of course, if socialists
> and other miitant workers and organisers hadn't have gone and organised
> CIO, blacks might still have been bound up with Garvey.  In other words,
> what Marxists and other radicals do *actually counts* and changes things.
> Instead of just tagging behind any old consciousness that exists at any
> time, as if this is some fixed objective force, our job is to *work to
> change consciousness*.  You would never say, well workers' existing
> consciousness is just to fight for wages and conditions, and we should
> accept that and not try to move it to a different consciousness.  Yet when
> it comes to blacks, you suddenly adopt an entirely different position,
> which is completely passive and is just economism transferred to black
> oppression.
> >Given the existence of an oppressed nationality, the question then
> >what is the attitude of the working class towards movements of this
> >oppressed nationality against its oppression?
> This counterposes the working class and blacks as two separate categories.
> It is a methodology of the kind found among liberal academics.  In fact
> since blacks are overwhelmingly working class, it makes no sense.  The two
> categories are completely bound up together.  Why should a black worker
> unite with Colin Powell rather than with an Hispanic worker or a white
> worker?  And why on earth would Marxists suggest that they should?  let
> alone that this is the only *legitimate* poltics for blacks.
> >My position is that the
> >working class MUST adopt the position of unconditionally supporting the
> >struggle of Black people against their oppression, and even to the point
> >defending a decision by Black people to separate from the United States
> >create a separate state (whether or not we believed this was the most
> >advantageous course).
> Well, I would go a lot further.  It is not good enough for white workers
> unconditionally support the struggle by blacks against oppression.  That
> actually doesn't require them to do anything.  Just sit on their asses and
> say, 'Well done' to blacks isolated in a separate sphere of politics.
> White workers must be involved in the struggle against racism and see it
> their struggle as much as blacks.  If they don't there won't be a
> revolution in the US.
> I also note that you are still talking in terms of two distinct categories
> - the working class on the one hand and blacks on the other.  These two
> distinct categories do not exist in the the real world in the USA.  A
> chunk of the working class is black, and most blacks are working class.
> >Some people on this list say, that's now impossible,
> >the black belt's gone and so on. But in reality, should the Black
> >take the route of separation, the location, borders and so on of an
> >independent Black nation would be decided in struggle, not by a study of
> >census tracts and districts. I can't think of a more sterile approach to
> >Black question than the "Black belt" theory, which was a very artificial
> >attempt to squeeze American reality into schemas drawn from the rise of
> >capitalism in Europe.
> Well, here's an equally sterile and artificial approach - trying to fit
> black oppression and American reality into schemas derived from the
> national question in Czarist Russia.
> Moreover, we already know from decades and decades of black struggle, that
> blacks have NOT fought for a separate state anywhere in the US.  So the
> experience of struggle would suggest that a black state is unlikely to be
> fought for at all.
> It's you and a handful of others who think blacks should fight for this.
> There's no evidence that this is what most blacks want.
> >You say the Bolsheviks did not say "whatever you want" to the oppressed
> >nations within the Czarist empire, but that is not true. The Bolsheviks
> >recognized the *right* of all oppressed nations within the czarist empire
> >self-determination and independence. They also *urged* those peoples not
> >separate, explaining to the people of these former czarist colonies that
> >they would be better off as equal members of the multinational soviet
> >But the choice whether to join in the USSR or separate was made by the
> >oppressed nations themselves.
> The point I was making was that the Bolsheviks included Georgian
> and Azerbaijani Bolsheviks etc etc.  These Bolsheviks did not advocate
> separate nation states for Georgia and Azerbaijan etc.
> Your position acts like a mass revolutionary party in the US - like what
> you cvall 'the working class' - is entirely separate from blacks.  Like
> there would be no members of the party who would be black and who would
> fight for a particular persepctive amongst blacks.
> Tell me, Jose, what do you think black members of a mass revolutionary
> party in the US should do.  If a black worker says to a black member of
> mass revolutionary party, 'Do you think we should fight for separation?',
> what should the black Marxist reply?  'Well, I don't know; we need to wait
> until everyone has self-detyermined and until then I have no opinion.'
> That would be offering revolutionary leadership wouldn't it?
> In Cuba and South Africa, black revolutionaries fighting oppression did
> advocate what you do here.  Nor did they say, 'well let's wait and see
> until all blacks have self-determined'.  They came up with a position that
> Cuba was *one nation* and that South Africa was *one nation* and they
> effective, mass struiggles against discrimination.  Their struggles were
> all the more effective because they were NOT black nationalists but
> revolutionary integrationists.  So I can point to a massive victory for
> revolutionary politics where the anti-racists were revolutionarty
> integrationists (eg Cuba) - now please show me where in the US any
> comparable victory has been won on the basis of black nationalist
> >In the sense I'm using the words, "national" or "nationalism" is not a
> >specific political current, or series of political currents in the Black
> >community. It is the consciousness that reflects the objective reality of
> >the oppression of Blacks AS BLACKS. The Montgomery Bus Boycott most
> >certainly WAS a reflection of this national consciousness. It was a
> >by Blacks as Blacks to do away with one of the myriad aspects of the
> >discrimination they faced. Yes, they looked for --and welcomed-- allies
> >the white population. Down here in the South, they found damn few.
> This is incredible.  Rosa Parks and the others claimed *the right to live
> in the same country as whites on exactly the same terms as whites*.
> Absolutely, clearly NOT a nationlaist consciousness and struggle.  Give me
> an example of a national liberation struggle where the oppressed nation
> wanted to live in the same country on the same terms as the oppressor
> nationality!  Did the Mozambiquans want to be Portuguese with the same
> rights as citizens in Portugal?  Did the Vietnamese want to be citizens of
> France with the same rights as white French?  Did the Ghanaians fight for
> equality with white British within a common state?
> That is the difference between a national question and the oppression of
> blacks in the USA.
> You *want* black oppression to be a *national question* - so you call it
> one.  Well, you can call a car an aeroplane, but it still won't fly.
> In the
> >North they found more substantial forces, like the UAW and its
> >especially as the struggle spread and became a more general assault on
> >Crow (i.e., American apartheid). But even there the experience was not
> >altogether a happy one, as you had people like the Reuthers (UAW leaders)
> >paternalistically trying to tell Black people how to run their struggle.
> >
> >Everybody knows the famous "I have a dream" speech from the 1963 march on
> >Washington, but even at that march, Black speakers were censored by their
> >white allies. John Lewis, chairman of SNCC, had been invited to speak,
> >when the archbishop who was to give the invocation saw his text, he
> >threatened to walk out if Lewis wasn't censored. Walter Reuther, head of
> >UAW, did the same thing.
> >
> >Lewis was planning to commit the "crime" of denouncing both the
> >and republican parties, of demanding a much stronger civil rights bill
> >the one Kennedy was willing to sponsor; He also forecast a new stage in
> >Black struggle:
> >
> >"Listen Mr. Kennedy.  Listen Mr. Congressman.  Listen fellow citizens,
> >Black masses are on the march for jobs and freedom, and we must say to
> >politicians that there won't be a 'cooling off' period....The time will
> >when we will not confine our marching to Washington.  We will  march
> >the South, through the Heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did.  We shall
> >our own 'scorched earth' policy and burn Jim Crow to the  ground -
> >nonviolently." (Lewis did not get to give his speech but the Militant
> >obtained a copy and printed it).
> And what a pity that the white SWP, with its balck nationalist politics,
> banned its few black members from going into the South and being active in
> the SNCC and other such groups, while people like the Seattle branch of
> SWP, which held revolutionary integrationist views, led by Fraser and
> including black members like Waymon Ware and Shirley Stroude, broke
> discipline and went into the South anyway and had excellent relations with
> people in SNCC, Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and other formations.
> Stroude got expleled for breaking the ban, by the way.
> The abstentionists were the SWP leadership; the people who naturally
> gravitated to the black militants in the civil rights movement were the
> revolutionary integrationists in the SWP.
> This is also why the SWP leadership missed the boat entirely on this whole
> generation of radical blacks and the Maoists got them instead.  Which was
> disaster, including a disaster for the SWP.
> >
> >The sort of patronizing racism evidenced in this incident is why SNCC
> >an all-Black organization, why Blacks had no choice but to set up their
> >groups.
> What else would one expect from trade union bureaucrats and Democratic
> Party hacks.  The problem is that the abstentionism of the SWP allowed the
> debate to be polarised along these lines, which in the end were
> unproductive.  All your positon does is ensure a repeat of this disaster.
> >
> >So I agree completely with you when you say Blacks hanging onto and
> >to build up their own institutions and organizations is a case of making
> >virtue out of necessity. Yes, of course it is. That's the whole entire
> >point! It has been white racism that's created the Black nationality, and
> >some Blacks propose separation,
> Phew, at last!  Now you state, and I agree with you, 'some Blacks propose
> separation'.  Yes, *some*.  Some, some, some!  What do Marxists, black and
> white, say to these 'some'?  And what do we say to the rest, the more
> importanmt since they are the vast majority, who do not propose or desire
> spearation?  And who have never, with the possible exception of a couple
> years of Garveyism (three quarters of a century ago, and before mass
> urbanisation and proletarianisation), done so!
> >it is as a form of self-defense against it.
> >That's why we, as representative of the interests of the working class
> >movement as a whole, cannot oppose the RIGHT of Black people to
> >self-determination, including the right to separate if that is what they
> >choose, even if we do not urge Blacks to adopt such a course.
> As I have stated over and over again, it is not a question of opposing any
> right.  Blacks have never shown any interest in forming a separate state
> the USA.  You are the one who wants them them to do this.  They have shown
> little interest in the idea themselves - and, lord knows, they've had
> plenty of opportunity (and plenty of reason) for taking this course.  If
> they haven't so far, there's little reason to believe they'll be any more
> attracted to it in the future.
> >
> >The revolutionary working class should offer to Blacks as a people an
> >alliance in a common struggle to abolish capitalism, eradicate racism and
> >build the communist order. But the only possible basis for such an
> >is that it be a free choice on THEIR part, i.e., that at the SAME time it
> >offers the alliance the revolutionary workers movement pledge itself to
> >respect and defend against the capitalists whatever choice Black people
> >make.
> The job description of revolutionaries also involves having a political
> position *within the black community* and arguing for it there, just as we
> have a position *within factories* and *within universities* and other
> places and argue for it there.
> If revolutionaries cannot offer a political programme within the black
> community, what business have they offering anything in factories or in
> other place where people are fighting exploitation and oppression?
> >Otherwise what you have is NOT an offer for an alliance but an
> >ULTIMATUM -- join us, or we will join the capitalists in attacking and
> >persecuting you, or we'll simply cross our arms and say, too bad, they
> >should not have refused. It would become just one more imposition and
> >usurpation by the oppressor nation against the oppressed nationality.
> You continually separate out the working class and blacks, the
> revolutionary party and blacks.  You have a very odd conception of the (or
> a) revolutionary party in the US, since you seem to think it will be
> all-white.  The (white) revolutionarty party will offer an alliance to
> blacks, is what you seem to be saying.  My position is that if the party
> white it actually won't be a revolutionary party.
> The party can only be revolutionary if it is multiracial.  It will not
> therefore approach blacks from outside like some do-gooder outfit,
> 'support' and 'alliance' to the poor black victims of Amerikkka.  It will
> be a vibrant part of the black community, just like it will be a vibrant
> part of every nook and cranny of society where people are oppressed and
> exploited.
> >
> >But you will notice that the entire problem resides in this: Black people
> >are universally conscious of their oppression as a people. But the U.S.
> >working class, and especially its relatively privileged white layer,
> >blissfully ignorant of its true station in society. This is so because
> >tremendous wealth of American imperialism (based, in turn, on the
> >super-exploitation of Blacks here and the third world) allows it to treat
> >certain layers --and let's be frank, quite broad layers-- of the working
> >people with kid gloves, to grant them concessions and so on.
> >By and large the typical white American worker is petite-bourgeois in his
> >her
> >outlook and doesn't even have elementary trade union consciousness. And
> >should they? If capitalism could offer people all over the world the
> >standard of living of white working class families in the U.S., and the
> >relative stability this layer of the working class has traditionally
> >in the second half of the past century, then the idea of abolishing
> >capitalism would be a hopeless utopia.
> >
> >And as long as this situation of relative privilege and stability
> >you're not likely to find the U.S. working class becoming a real class,
> >i.e., a conscious political force, that can offer an alliance in fact to
> >Black people as a people.
> Actually, US capitalism has probably offered fewer concessions to white
> workers than most other advanced capitalist counties in the world.
> American bosses have probably killed and bashed up more white workers than
> any other democratic imperialist country as well.  US wealth is also based
> on the exploitation of white workers.  Amerikka could not be rich and
> powerful just by super-exploiting blacks.
> You are in danger of seeing the enire white section of the working class
> a labour aristocracy.  I can sympathise with why you might be tempted to
> this position; trying to win white workers in the US to revolutionary
> politics is undoubtedly extremely hard.  But taking solace in black
> nationalism ain't the answer.
> And, given that a goodly percentage of the working class IS black, it is
> not a question of the working class offering an alliance to blacks.  How
> can people offer an alliance to themselves.  Does the black auto worker,
> who is a member of the American working class, look in the mirror, and,
> quickly changing hats, ask her/himself, now as a member of the black
> community, if he/she would like an alliance with her/himself?
> >
> >Which leaves us Marxists in an embarrassing position. We'd like to strike
> >deal, a bargain, with Black people as a people: don't separate, let's
> >in a common, single struggle against capitalism and racism. But we can't
> >sign that contract because we can't keep our side of the bargain right
> >So what do we tell Black people instead?
> It's odd how you, as a Marxist, cannot envisage there being any black
> Marxists.  It is not for Marxists to 'strike a deal' with blacks as blacks
> any more than we 'strike a deal' with workers as workers or women as
> It is, however, up to us to show that we - whther we are balckm white,
> male, female, straight, gay - to show that we are serious about fighting
> racism, gender and sexual-orientation oppression and that we do this with
> anti-capitlaist politics and win people (whoever they are, whatever their
> skin colour, biological bits and pieces and whoever they sleep with) to
> anti-capitlaist politics.  'Striking a deal' is a cop-out.
> >At the moment the question is rather abstract and theoretical, the Black
> >movement is relatively quiescent. But should another upsurge like that of
> >the 60s arise, what will we tell young Black rebels:
> >"No, wait, put out that match, your brothers, the white workers, are
> >too fat and dumb"? Or are we going to say "right on, burn it down, it's a
> >piece of shit system anyways." (Obviously I'm speaking here
> >not about what tactics are likely to prove effective in such a pass).
> I'd definitely say, 'Burn it down!'  However, I don't think that was what
> the (virtually all-white) black nationalist US SWP said at the time.
> Burning things down is against the law and the SWP was/is not known for
> law-breaking.  The SWP would say, 'Don't burn it down.  Let's have a
> peaceful legal demo, with all the men in suits and short hair and all the
> women in nice dresses, and a politician from the Demnocratic Party on the
> platform.'
> You are also wrong to dogmatically assume that an upsurge in the black
> community can only be nationalist.  The 1930s upsurge was proletarian
> through and through and it involved blacks in joining a radical labour
> movement with whites.  If the whites had've been revolutionary
> integrationists, instead of still influenced by separatism, the outcome
> would have been a massive challenge to US capitalism.
> Hopefully, next time around - especially if Marxists in the US get their
> act together - the poltics will be better and the outcome wil be
> >
> >Now some people (not you) like to say, but the Black nationality is too
> >small, too weak, too much of a minority to win its freedom. But if
> >and Nicaragua weren't too small and weak to try to storm the heavens,
> >neither are Blacks in the U.S. And they will not be alone. Almost
> >the masses of oppressed Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and other
> >Hispanics would ally with the Black movement and assert their own
> >aspirations, and also with the Blacks would be the sentiments and
> >of working people the world over, especially in the third world. And,
> >the impact of the kind of social crisis this would generate, layers of
> >working people would ALSO begin to radicalize, as happened in the 1960s.
> In that case, white revolutionaries in the US better start getting their
> asses into the black community and also doing more sustained anti-racist
> work amongst whites.  Even if your scenario comes about, it is NOT an
> argument for black nationalism here and now, or tomorrow.
> >
> >Even under conditions of an acute economic crisis, I submit this is as
> >likely or more likely a model for how social forces would mobilize than
> >model of a radicalization primarily and explicitly along class lines as
> >such. For one thing, the American bourgeoisie is not stupid and is going
> >try to organize and channel the crisis and its response to it along
> >lines, seeking to protect as broad a layer of relatively privileged
> >as possible because, given the lack of a significant petite bourgeoisie,
> >needs the labor aristocracy as a base of support among the population.
> If the crisis is deep enough, there won't be enough surplus-value sloshing
> around for the ruling class to buy off the white section of the working
> class.
> Crises in the imperilaist epoch are rarely exclusiovely one thing or the
> other - they are not *class* alone or *oppressed group* alone.  They are
> combinations of all kinds of struggles.  The fact that the struggles are
> muiltifacted yet integrated (in the sense they are integrally connected)
> also siuggests that a revolutionary integrationist approach, precsiley
> becaus eit is multiracial and multifacted, is more suitable to the kind of
> crises that break out in our era.
> >But even if the next radicalization presents itself as a corrected and
> >augmented version of the 30s, the revolutionary workers movement would
> >make a great mistake in viewing Blacks simply as workers and not as an
> >oppressed nationality.
> You have this habit, my dear Jose, of always having to follow oppressed
> with 'nationality'.  Women are oppressed but they ain't a nation (although
> lesbian separatists would argue they were in a sense), gays are oppressed
> but they ain't a nation (although certain gay activists cliam they are, as
> in the concept Queer Nation); and blacks are oppressed, but they ain't a
> nation.  Oppression does not 'nation' attached to it.
> >Even if the choice of Black people is to merge their
> >own distinct identity with the class movement that is emerging (which
> >requires that the workers movement view itself as a Black movement, that
> >Blackness becomes part of the common heritage of the American workers
> >generally) it is still necessary to instill in the class as a whole
> >for the RIGHT of oppressed nations and nationalities to self
> But if the first part happened, talking of the right to self-determination
> owuld actually be meaningless.  It just wouldn't be an issue.
> >THAT is the ultimate and real guarantee to Black people that they're not
> >going to be sent to the back of the bus after they help wrest control of
> >transit system away from the capitalists. The guarantee is that they can
> >off this bus and get their own bus any time they want.
> Nope.  The guarantee is that the revolution has only been made possible
> because the vast majoirty of the oppressed and epxloited made the
> revolution and continue to take it forward.  The relative equality of
> blacks in Cuba today, for instance, is *not in any way, shape or form*
> dependent on Fidel Castro saying they have the right to
> For someone who is an ardent supporter of the Cuban revolution, your
> inability to connect up the experience there, on balck oppression, with
> US is extraordinary.
> >
> >In other words, even for the achievement of "revolutionary
> >(which, I agree, in an IDEAL world, i.e., one where it were possible, is
> >what Blacks would opt for in a minute) it is necessary for the working
> >movement to support the RIGHT of Black people as a people to make that
> >choice, and obviously the "right" to make that choice is no right at all
> >UNLESS Blacks are ALSO guaranteed the RIGHT to make the opposite choice.
> Actually, the main thing which makes the *ideal* of revolutionary
> integration possible, is that *people fight for it*.  You want it, "in an
> IDEAL world", you just don't want to fight for it here and now.
> >
> >And even if a correct interpretation of the entire history of Black
> >in the U.S. were to show them ALL to be struggles for "integration," it
> >would STILL be necessary for the working class to defend the right of
> >people --having been made by white society pariahs in this land-- to
> >for themselves whether or not to integrate into this society. For true
> >"integration" presupposes a free choice to integrate.
> This is a kind of odd argument as well.  Workers never had any choice in
> becoming workers.  We do not therefore run around making a song and dance
> that American (or New Zealand) workers should have the choice to be serfs
> if they want to.  This is not because we don't support the rights of
> workers, but because history has taken serfs and, in the most brutal way
> possible, turned them into workers.  We cannot change that - we can only
> fight for the emancipation of workers as workers from wage-slavery.  The
> US, for better or worse, and certainly with a great deal of brutality,
> people from Africa into Americans.  There is no evidence that the majoirty
> of blacks want to be anything other than Americans, even if they use terms
> like black American or Afro-American, they are still identifying as some
> kind of American, and not as a separate nation.
> >
> >It seems to me in your post you systematically confuse two or three
> >different things. You confuse supporting the *right* of oppressed nations
> >and
> >nationalities to self determination, which Marxists should support
> >unconditionally, with whether or not under certain specific circumstances
> >Marxists (and especially, as these things work in practice, whether the
> >communists of that nationality) *urge* a particular nation or nationality
> >set up a separate state. In general, all other things being equal,
> >do not favor the creation of separate states, and, for example (again:
> >other things being equal), we would favor the creation of a United
> >States of South America as opposed to having a whole collection
> >of individual socialist republics.
> >
> >But it seems to me you also confuse that general preference (which comes
> >from desiring the quickest, most direct route to the abolition of states
> >altogether) with the political stance of the communists who, as our
> >Manifesto says, "everywhere support every revolutionary movement against
> >social and political order of things." The former is subordinate to the
> >latter.
> So why do you have such trouble supporting the movement of blacks when it
> is radically integrationist?
> >
> >To summarize:
> >
> >1. For centuries, Blacks in the U.S. have been subjected to specific
> >of oppression and exploitation separate and distinct from the oppression
> >the working class and working people generally.
> >
> >2. The revolution that abolished the main historical form of this
> >(slavery) did not succeed in wiping out all forms of disadvantage and
> >oppression Black people suffered.
> >
> >3. The main forms of this new stage of Black oppression have been
> >segregation, discrimination, and super-exploitation, all of these
> >through official and extra official repression and terror.
> And blacks have resisted by fighting for integration - for the right to
> live in the same country on the same terms as whites.
> >4. This has resulted in the concentration of Black people in specific
> >schools, churches and other institutions, giving rise to the
> >that all Blacks share common problems and seek common solutions. This is
> >Black national consciousness; it is what makes Blacks "a people."
> A consciousness of being black and oppressed is no more nationalist than a
> consciousness of being a woman and being oppressed.  Why keep trying to
> apply to US reality an analysis that does not fit?
> >
> >5. The struggle against the special oppression of Blacks has not been
> >up by the working class as its struggle; it has been Blacks as Blacks who
> >have waged battle after battle against specific instances of oppression,
> >discrimination, super-exploitation, victimization, etc.
> >
> >6. In these struggles, such broader forces as the Black community has
> >able to attract as allies --including organized labor-- have generally
> >proved to be fair weather friends, unreliable and sometimes even
> >treacherous. While these forces were unwilling to make the cause of Black
> >people their own, in many cases they did not hesitate in trying to
> >to the Black community how it should conduct its struggle, to pass moral
> >political judgment on various tactics, and even to censor what Black
> >leaders of the struggle were allowed to say.
> The dicating takes two forms: the white liberals who demand that blacks
> restrict things to a framework that doesn't challenge the Democrats and
> white Marxists who demand that the black struggle be nationalist.  Blacks
> themselves struggle for equality within the US, not for national
> nor for subordination to the Democratic Party.
> >7. As a result, in the 1960s, Black national consciousness (i..e., the
> >that Blacks are a separate and distinct people; that they face common
> >problems; and they should seek common solutions) evolved into conscious
> >Black nationalism (i.e., the idea that Blacks, as a people, should
> >and decide their own destiny) among the Black vanguard. (But note,
> >Black nationalism had been a current of sentiment in the Black community
> >a long time.)
> They developed a *consciousness of oppression*.  This is not necessarily
> natiopnalist.  Indeed, most of the time, amongst the vast majority of
> blacks, it has not been nationalist.
> >
> >8. In that situation, Marxists supported and allied with the
> >Black nationalists (i.e., those forces in the Black movement that
> >that only by overthrowing "the existing order of things" could Black
> >really gain effective control of their own destiny. The outstanding
> >representative of this current was Malcolm X.)
> >
> >9. Black nationalism is fundamentally incompatible with U.S. capitalism,
> >which has incorporated the special oppression of Blacks into the very
> >foundation of the whole apparatus of capitalist rule in this country. As
> >result, revolutionary Black nationalist leaders and groups were singled
> >for a massive campaign of provocation, terror and extermination.
> >
> >10. Nevertheless, conscious Black nationalism (the idea that Blacks
> >control their own destiny as a people) has become generalized among the
> >entire Black population. (Thus Malcolm X, who at the time of his
> >assassination represented a minority in the Black movement, today is a
> >of virtually the entire Black population.)
> Actually, one of the things that has happened since the Democrats (and
> Republicans) were able to contain the civil rights and black nationalist
> forces is that class divisions amongst blacks have widened.  In this
> situation, black nationalism has become an important bargaining ploy for
> middle class blacks in their dealings with the state.  It has also been
> largely commodified.  While the vast majority of blacks remain at the
> bottom - where class and race are intersected - black nationalism and
> consciousness has become a marketing tool and sales point.
> >14. In the case of Black people in the United States, Marxists urge
> >to organize themselves as Blacks to fight all aspects of their special
> >oppression and to take the lead in organizing all working people in a
> >struggle against capitalist oppression and exploitation with the goal of
> >establishing a workers government.
> Blacks already organise without any 'urging' from white Marxists.  The
> question is what are Marxists - black and white - going to do, and going
> suggest, that is *specifically* Marxist and goes beyond what blacks
> do?  We don't just advoate that workers as a class 'organise themselves as
> a class' and hope for the best; we are actually in there fighting to
> provide leadership and offering a way forward.  WE should be doing exactly
> the same in relation to blacks, women, gays, etc etc etc.
> Cheers,
> Phil

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