[Marxism] Re: Did Cannon have a "liquidationist" position on theBlackquestion in the U.S.?

dwalters at marxists.org dwalters at marxists.org
Sat Mar 4 11:23:41 MST 2006

I think Joaquín is wrong, or partly wrong. Let me state some generalities first:
Overall the Communist Party, warts, blemishes and all, had a better position or
record, a more consistent *orientation* toward the Black struggle than the
Trotskyist movement did. It had better internal relations, generally did not
adapt to white workers, etc. There were notable exceptions: failure by the CP
to condemn the Comintern's position  of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia; the
sabotage of the March on Washington during WWII; the fight between Italian and
Black members in Harlem, etc. These are basically big marquee 'betrayals' of
the CP on the Black question. There are more but overall, the CP *still* took
the question more seriously than the SWP did until the 1960s.

When the CP organized for the CIO, *generally* they opposed segregation. They
were famous for demanding that CIO locals IGNORE Jim-Crow laws. They defended
Blacks from racist attacks, they formed anti-racist anti-Jim Crow committees,
they generally *oriented* toward this question and they have a dammed good
record on it.

The SWP did not, as a rule, have this orientation. In fact, the crux of Richard
Frasers opposition to the American Thesis in 1946 that Joaquín noted was
actually over this question, and how the SWP's maritime fraction on the West
Coast basically dismissed the issue of the all-White nature of the Sailors
Union of the Pacific. There were other noted instances of this sort of thing
generally summed up as the SWP's militant unionism tended to *ignore* the
question of racism until it reared it's more overt ugly head. Having said that,
White members of the SWP would NOT walk out in 1942 and 1943 from defense plants
when racist white members of the Steelworkers or Auto workers walked to protest
the hiring of Blacks in the work place [there are funny stories by old timers
in Ohio and Michigan that the SWP and CP were able to see who was whom and
gauge each others strength because they were often the ONLY whites workers left
at their work stations during these walk-outs!] . So one has this rather
"mixed-review" of the SWP's anti-racism and how it manifested itself
or didn't
as the case may have been. I think it is important to be upfront about this.

Until the 1960s, a Joaquín pointed out, they had a 'economist' approach to
fighting racism, not unlike the CP did after the Browder years: "Negro and
White, Unite to Fight". All well and good but ignoring the national question as
Joaquín makes an effort to prove.

Where I think Joaquín is wrong, or at least I don't think he proves his point,
is in his trying to make the case for Self-determination based on Blacks
national consciousness. I think his case falls flat. He is arguing *because*
there was racist repression, that Blacks desire to end this oppression was a
nationalist response. I think he is projecting with this intellectual argument.
What were Blacks actually fighting *for*?? They were fighting to  *end * the
racist oppression. Self-determination may have been  *a* solution to those that
escaped the South but it was a very small reaction by even most activist blacks.
I think Joaquín argument is lacking of real evidence for real consciousness
around this question.

Does this mean that Cannon was right, that racism while morally wrong and all
that was true but the problem is that it cut across working class unity (a la
CP of the later years?)? No. Trotsky was right in my opinion (and for those
that haven't read his position, I urge you to read it since it's basically a
sophisticated adaptation of orthodox Comintern policy as Trotsky and Lenin
helped write it in the early 1920s.). He recognized the *national* character of
this struggle objectively, as opposed to relying on assumed consciousness of the
Black masses which is what I think Joaquín is doing. The key to recongizing this
is *not* the way Black responded, but how they were *oppressed*. And, they were
oppressed as a nationality, albeit one defined in *racial* terms, not

The SWP basically failed to analyze correctly the nature of Black oppression in
the US. They were wrong, IMO. Part of this, however, goes back again to WWII.
The SWP recruited more Blacks, as a percentage, than the CP did during this
period. They did this by ignoring the "Negro nation" question and even being at
best reactive to racism at the work place or in the unions. How? Because Cannon
saw that during the War, at least, the Black Belt had lost it's "majority"
status (Joaquín gets this wrong, BTW
 it is not now the place where a majority
of Blacks live, it is 'only' the region in the US that is majority black: most
blacks today still live way outside the Black belt, even with the middle-class
reverse migration during the last 2 decades). In doing so, the SWP realized
that the old 3rd Period position of the CP was now permanently invalid as the
working class in the North and West became increasingly integrated at the level
of the shop floor and in the unions. They fought the no-strike pledge and were
about the only tendency in the working class that fought gov't interence in the
unions and fought the speed-up, for union democracy, etc. As *workers* Blacks
appreciated this and supported the SWP. All this reinforced this incorrect
analysis that Cannon held during his discussions with Trotsky.

Cannon was still wrong in this, but it is the material basis for the belief that
there was no 'national' question to the 'Negro question'
it was only one of
racism in the North and Jim Crow segregation in the South. No national solution
need be put forward.

One of the problems is that there really is very little written, it seems, on
why the 'Negro question' was NOT a national question by Cannon, Dobbs, et al.
At least I haven't seen it yet. Some of this, reflected in the mid-1960s by
some of the old-timers can be found in the discussion bulletins, but not a lot,
and certainly not particularly sophisticated. Where it plays out, ironically, is
by the same Richard Fraser and the Spartacist supporters who opposed Black
nationalism and probably articulated what was the 'old' orthodox-Cannonist
position on "Nationalism".


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