[Marxism] US Blacks: caste, race, or nation?

Marvin Gandall marvgandall at videotron.ca
Tue Mar 7 08:11:15 MST 2006

Patrick Scott wrote:

> The question of black self determination within the
> USA is not quite as abstract as some people on the
> last might think. I'm sure we are all aware of the
> recent uprisings in the North African ghettos in Paris
> and elsewhere in response to racism and racist
> provocation. In my opinion it's only a matter of time
> before the black ghettoes in the USA erupt and this
> could well dwarf anything that happened in France.
> What may well be posed given such a situation is
> should the US government have the right to enforce its
> racist rule over the ghettoes. Would we support or
> oppose US troops or the National Guard being sent into
> Harlem or Watts? We would oppose it but by opposing
> the right of the government to rule over the black
> ghettoes poses the formation of another government or
> state. This is a possible scenario through which the
> question of black self determination within the USA
> may be posed.
I don't think you would find anyone on this list who supports the use of
troops or police to quell ghetto uprisings. I think most everyone
counterposes the principle of community control over policing and sees
uprisings as a matter of joblessness and poverty rather than of law and

But that isn't what is meant by "self-determination", unless you are using
the term very loosely. Self-determination refers to the right of a national
group to secede from the existing state or empire which governs it and to
set up its own state independent of it. I'm inclined towards the view that
American blacks constitute a distinct nation in the same way that
Yiddish-speaking Jews in East Europe constituted a distinct nation within
the Russian empire, so if a black nationalist mass movement for statehood
arose -  even for a form of limited sovereignty over their own
neighbourhoods - I would support it. I don't know that if you choose to
describe the blacks as a "caste" or even as a "doubly oppressed" part of the
working class that it would make much difference - I think most wouldn't
reject that movement on those grounds - which is why I thought the debate
around these concepts was a bit abstract.

I have to respect the experience and understanding others have on the list
with to the black struggle, but it would still surprise me if a serious
trend in the direction of self-determination were to develop. That hasn't
been the history to date, including during periods of militancy. My
impression is that the stronger sentiment in the black community has been
that any advance requires the support of allies in the broader community and
demands on the US state rather than separation from it. The CP had a strong
influence in the community in the 30s, and in the 60s, the whole thrust was
towards "integration" - the use of US state power to secure fundamental
rights - rather than towards black statehood, either in the Black Belt or
through a return to Africa. Notably, at the end of their lives, the
ideological development, based on struggle, of the two outstanding leaders
of the movement, MLK and Malcolm X, was towards internationalism, rather
than the other way round.

Internationalism rather than statehood is a practical response to oppression
by national groups which are dispersed geographically and intertwined in the
larger population. It was the same with the East European Jews who were
disproportionately represented in the Bolshevik party and other
internationalist currents within the socialist movement. Even the Bund, so
far as I can recall, never went so far as calling for a "Jewish state"
within the Empire, although the Bolsheviks did later form an "autonomous"
republic within the USSR for those Jews who wanted to preserve and develop
their Yiddish culture.

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