The Development of the Afro-American Nation

Amilcar Cabral/Paul Robeson Collective

The Afro-American national question has its origins in the period of U.S. history during which the slave/plantation economy prevailed in the Southern states. The slave trade which made this economic system possible provided the foundation for capitalist accumulation in England. This trade, along with cotton, supported the growth of mercantile capitalism and the so-called industrial revolution in England. In New England as well, the sale of slaves and liquor provided capital that would later be transferred into more respectable business enterprises such as banking and textiles.

The thousands of Africans who were kidnapped and sold into bondage, along with their millions of descendants, underwent a somewhat unique but explainable historical process. Separated from their families and homeland, robbed of their freedom and cultures, their control of their labor power denied them, the African people began the transition from Africans to Africans in America, or Afro-Americans.

From the moment the Africans were captured and placed in slave ships, but especially when they arrived on plantations, the unplanned but objective process of national formation began. The first acts in this direction forbade the Africans to use their own language. They spoke the various languages of West and Central Africa Mande, Fulani, Ashanti, Yoruba and many others, as well as Arabic. Some understood the language of the neighboring people or tribes, others understood the lingua franca or language of trade of their region. Therefore, it was essential for the slave trader first and then the slave owner to prevent discussion from being carried on in languages they did not understand. Conspiratorial conversation about escape and attack had to be stopped. For the same reason, members of families and tribes were separated as much as possible beyond the natural sale process.

Consequently, all communication was conducted in the language of the new oppressor. There was no formal training, and the process was at first difficult for adults. Children, of course, learned the language in the way any child learns a language. The English that the slaves came to speak was colored by the grammar and syntax of their own languages. This is true because the Africans continued to think in their own languages, many for the rest of their lives, and they spoke the languages in secret, sometimes passing them on to their children.

Today, the Afro-American people speak and write the English of the Anglo-American population. This has developed through common experience with non-Afro-Americans and formal education. On the other hand, common experience and historical interaction has created a form of "Black English" widely understood by Afro-American people across the country with regional variations. Some progressive and farsighted educators have recognized this and adopted an approach that teaches American English from the framework of "Black English."

The shocking and terrifying experience of being kidnapped, the "middle passage" across the ocean and the demeaning auction block served as initial factors that created a similar psychological make-up. As life on the plantation evolved, the slaves developed a common outlook about their conditions of oppression.

Prior to this form of slavery in the U.S., Black and white indentured servants shared the same perspective and ideological framework, that is, in opposition to the masters and planters. With the shift to African slavery, this was changed. The slave began to develop a consciousness that was opposed to the white slaveowners and any other whites who were associated with or supportive of the system. At the same time, a sense of national consciousness was developing among whites and this excluded the slave as inferior and gave the whites a privileged status because they were free. This was promoted by the planter ruling class and their preachers and teachers. The idea was to keep Blacks and whites apart, thereby preventing common struggle. The vehicle was white supremacy. Thus, two different forms of national consciousness were being shaped at the same time. This is important to note as far as understanding that as the American nation developed and at the founding of the U.S., Blacks were not a part of it in more than the legal or constitutional ways.

Life on the plantation gave rise to the beginnings of an Afro-American culture. This was seen in the music (spirituals), child rearing (protection and preparation) and other social practices. Today, this culture is manifested in a rich literature, primarily dealing with the Afro-American experience although not limited to it. The music of Blues, Jazz and R & B are the artistic expressions of the Afro-American people in this country during their various stages of oppression.

Strictly speaking, Afro-American people in their majority have always occupied the same area of the country. Although isolated from other slaves with the exception of those on the same plantation, the slaves almost universally developed a relationship to the land in the southern region of the country because of the agricultural mode of production used in that area. Cotton and later tobacco and sugar cane kept them there.

Civil War

The separate colonies with ties to England developed their own local and centralized parliamentary forms. More importantly, because of climate and soil variations, different economic structures were established. The North was diversified with small farmers, artisans, and small scale manufacturing. The South was overwhelmingly based on large plantations with trades developed to support the plantation economy.

After the colonies severed their relationship with England through declaring independence and waging armed struggle, this growth and development along the above-mentioned lines was accelerated. The War of Independence was the first phase in the U.S. bourgeois democratic revolution. Americans were no longer subject to the British king, a republic was formed and a wider form of suffrage, although not universal, was established.

The two sections of the country were united in the same parliament, but pursued their separate courses of economic and social development. Conflicts continued to emerge over the direction of the expanding nation. The Northern bourgeoisie wanted to complete the bourgeois revolution, that is, to consolidate its control of the national economy. It could not expand industry in the South with the maintenance of the system of chattel slavery and the restriction of capitalism in that realm. Market possibilities in the South were restricted and the opportunities for capitalist exploitation of the West were being thwarted. Each time a state was to come into the Union, the conflict intensified.

When the South could no longer win its struggle through the Congress, it seceded from the Union. The Northern bourgeoisie decided to wage armed struggle to keep its republic intact and to give it access to the much sought after Southern market and capital.

Slave insurrections were the beginning of the long struggle of the Afro-American people for liberation.

This struggle was fundamentally to free the slaves, not because of the subjective desires of Lincoln, the Union leadership and industrial capitalists, but because the objective development of history demanded it. Lincoln stated that his aim was to maintain the Union and that it was immaterial to him whether or not slavery continued to exist. To break the back of the Confederacy and to open up the entire country to the expansion of industrial and finance capital, the slaves had to be freed. For those who had been concentrating on the emancipation of the slaves, this was the moment they had waited for. The view that said that moral suasion would liberate the slaves was defeated. History had vindicated Henry Highland Garnett, David Walker and all the others who knew that only military action through rebellions or full scale war would clear the path to freedom.

While Congress and Lincoln wavered on the issue, Henry Garnett and other progressive Afro-Americans urged that Afro-Americans be able to take up arms in the -struggle for freedom. Marx and Engels, in Europe, agitated for this in letters and articles. They pointed out that this in itself was a profoundly important revolutionary act. Around 186,000 Afro-American troops served in Northern armies. They came from working class and petty bourgeois circles in the North and from free and fugitive slave elements in the South. Others took up arms against their masters and Confederate troops as the Union armies approached.


With the victory of the Union troops, the first stage of the second phase of the bourgeois democratic revolution had been decided in favor of the bourgeoisie. They were now in a position to consolidate their rule in the country, penetrate the Southern economy and develop the rest of the country to the advantage of finance and industrial capital. This addressed one of the elements absent from the victory of the Revolutionary War, the first phase of the bourgeois revolution in the U.S.

The Reconstruction period from 1866 to 1877 was, as Marx called it, the truly revolutionary period of the struggle. In effect, it was the second stage of the second phase of the bourgeois revolution. Here the other missing element was addressed, the extension of democracy to everyone within the boundaries of the state.

With the defeat of the planters, the conditions were created for bringing Afro-Americans into the Anglo-American nation on the basis of democracy and full equality. This would require the extension of full political rights and access to economic freedom such as it could be under capitalism. This economic freedom essentially meant that Afro-Americans would be free to sell their labor on the open market like the other wage laborers and that they could own land and farm for subsistence or commodity production. To be sure, such conditions would have led to the integration of Afro-Americans into U.S. society and eventually amalgamation into the American or Anglo-American nation. This could only be done, of course, on the basis of democracy and full equality.

It was at this time that the Afro-American Nation emerged. Although it had long been in formation, the Union victory in the Civil War broke the fetters on its development and engendered two other characteristics of the nation.

At this time, a common economic life among the freedmen began to manifest itself. Class formation and stratification became more pronounced. Added to the free artisans and skilled laborers were four million former slaves who were agricultural workers. The shackles of slavery and the stifled social climate were removed allowing for the development of teachers, more clergy, some doctors and lawyers, and a variety of small entrepreneurs. In spite of the fact that many of those elements who now had slightly more freedom to use their capital in pursuit of more were in the North, class differentiation clearly existed in the South among the freedmen. The defeat of slavery allowed for greater movement giving rise to social and political discourse. The possibility for contact with people in surrounding areas and in the region was made a reality.

Moreover, communication was increased, first, of course, by virtue of the movement but also the circulation of literature and the media. Newspapers from the North and publications in the South brought the Afro-American people closer together.

Finally, commerce was enhanced, in that a previously non-existent market was created. Heretofore, slaves could not and did not purchase commodities of any type. Now Afro-American businessmen could enter business, somewhat free of the pressure and "squeeze out" of the white capitalist who would not let him make a cent if he did not have to. On the other hand, Afro-Americans would have access to services not provided by whites, for example morticians, barbers, insurance salesmen, etc.

As Stalin observed, some pre-capitalist forms of production had to be removed. Slavery, a clearly pre-capitalist mode, was swept away. Like classical feudalism, slavery made for great isolation. The plantation and feudal manor were entities unto themselves and precluded communication and exchange among those within the self-contained structures.

The succeeding mode of production, the plantation sharecropping system, while a pre-capitalist mode of production, was less restrictive, particularly as it relates to movement and the purchase of commodities.

Among the various forces that have examined the question of common economic life, there have been two erroneous tendencies. On one hand, almost anything that resembles economic activity is accepted as common economic life. The other demands sophisticated economic factors to meet the requirements for a common economy. The view that generally requires "no bottom line" sees slavery, sharecropping, and wage slavery as different but common economies because the overwhelming majority of Afro-American people were engaged in these modes of production at one time. James Forman, former executive secretary of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, leader of the Black Workers Congress and part of the more militant wing of the reformist movement, goes so far as to say that "during slavery, Blacks helped to develop their own economy although they did not control its distribution and profits." This is absurd because slaves and their labor power were owned. As was noted earlier, a common economy requires a division of labor, exchange and a market.

These must be minimum requirements. Stalin said that there must be economic cohesion. This means a division of labor between people, communities and regions; that no area be economically isolated and there be a rise of capitalism. Basic economic cohesion means a division of labor in parts of the nation, the development of urban commerce and agriculture, communications and transportation systems, and a national class structure. It has been said by others that "what concerns us here is whether or not a people share in the same economic life, engage in mutual production and exchange." The Afro-American people in the South do these things.

The configuration of an advanced nation has also been spelled out. It includes a monetary system, banks and taxes. Thus, "there are degrees of economic integrity of the nations depending upon imperialist interference and control." Understanding this question of integrity, its limits and boundaries, is key to evaluating the common economy among a people.

As one would expect, the Line of March (LOM), journal of a group of bourgeois intellectuals vying for hegemony in the communist movement, use the highest standards possible in evaluating a national economy. They look for a highly developed class structure with one class exploiting another. Since they did not see Black slave masters exploiting Black slaves, or Afro-American landowners exploiting Afro-American sharecroppers, or Afro-American capitalists exploiting Afro-American workers, then they do not see a common economy and they call this the "dialectics of relations." In a vile attempt to liquidate the national question the LOM specifies these conditions for a common economy: "There must be macro-economic phenomena like 1) an emerging monetary system and credit system; 2) a suppressed but distinctive average rate of interest; 3) a germinal but separate equity market." They go on to say: "...these are phenomena which even colonized nations (i.e., real nations which are colonized) stubbornly exhibit despite colonial edicts designed to snuff them out."

What trash is this! They fail to mention that if these "macro" phenomena do exist, they are the product of imperialist penetration and organization of the national economy. The monetary system, rate of interest, etc. are the same as in the metropole or even if they are varied, are based on the same standard. To top it off, LOM offers no examples of these phenomena. We know for sure that if these so-called criteria were used to evaluate a number of contemporary liberation movements, they would have to be denied self-determination. The Polisario in the old Spanish Sahara, which is "near and dear" to LOM forces, would certainly be eliminated. South Africa, with no developed Black bourgeoisie or separate Black economy would be destined forever for imperialist/apartheid oppression, at least until the socialist revolution. The same applies to Namibia. What we have here is a double standard.

In regard to a separate economy, nowhere in the Marxist literature does it specify that a national economy must be distinct or separate. This is an invention of the LOM. In fact, Stalin points out in the example of the Georgian region of Czarist Russia how imperialist interference even prevents this separate development. This is especially so for those nations that evolved after the period of rising capitalism, that is during the current imperialist epoch, when the shackles on national development were firmly in place. All of the colonies, semi-colonies or dependencies are living proof of this. Although Stalin in the National-Colonial Question did not address this directly or make what one might call allowances for this, his later work and that of the Comintern go into this in considerable depth.

Again, in regard to integrity (here meaning "sophistication" and separateness), comrades in the once revolutionary CPUSA during the debate in 1937 made these observations. Haywood said: "It is therefore absurd, in the epoch of imperialism, i.e. in the period of world market relations to speak about economic ties among an oppressed people as 'distinct' in the sense of separate from those of the oppressing nation." And in particular reference to the Afro-American people, Foster indicates that Afro-Americans developed under circumstances far more difficult than many other national groups. The chain and whip, the revolutionary fight of the Civil War and Reconstruction and Klan terror and white supremacist reaction are some of the prominent conditions of extreme difficulty they faced.

Finally, Patterson said, "...the Negro people became a separate nation in the process of an abortive struggle to be included as an integral part of the oppressing nation."

Yet, the LOM can say no common economy exists because Afro-Americans are tied to the white economy through the credit system, production, distribution, articulation and consumption. Then, in a distorted assault on the "Black Nation thesis" and the common economy, they say that those who uphold the thesis claim that the sharecropping system was the common economy, which is not true. In any case, they go on to say that it was not separate because it had whites participating in it. What else can be said?

Today, the economy in the Black Belt reflects the hand of the imperialists; Afro-American capital has been stifled. This is more pronounced in the South, where U.S. imperialism has restricted its markets, not allowing movement of the Afro American bourgeoisie into heavy or medium industry. They are restricted to the traditional areas of service: cleaning, maintenance, beauty care, funerals and insurance. In banking, Afro-Americans are restricted to small local or regional banking institutions which have little capital and cannot provide loans for manufacturing, etc.

The total number of Afro-American-owned firms within the 12 Southern states is 97,665. This includes the entire states of Texas and Maryland. 82% of these firms do not have paid employees. Those that do only account for 62,866 workers in these states. The majority of selected services and retail firms (health, legal and business services as well as food stores, miscellaneous retail, automotive dealers and service stations) are small and employ few, if any, workers.

Is there a bourgeoisie? What is its character? Because of the above-mentioned distortions and deformation of national development, there is no real national bourgeoisie of the classical type that has emerged and pursued an independent existence. A case may be made for some firms that are not in need of large sums of financial capital from imperialist bankers who are not producing for other larger monopoly-controlled firms, such as auto parts or transistor manufacturers.

The Afro-American owners or controllers of wealth, i.e. capital, are deeply connected to white imperialists through numerous financial and political arrangements. As such, they do not stand on their own; we are not speaking of a separate economy here, but the fact that the Afro-American bourgeoisie is not relatively independent. It is more comprador in nature. Fundamentally, the comprador bourgeoisie are "native merchants engaged in trade with imperialist centers, whose interests are in the continuation of imperialist exploitation. They act as agents for exploiting the masses in the colonial countries." Webster defines comprador as a "Chinese agent engaged by a foreign establishment in China to have charge of its Chinese employees and to act as intermediaries in business affairs." What Webster draws out is the representative or agent nature of the comprador.

However, the essential point here is not to find the compact categories that fit, or to create new ones. The main issue is that Afro-American managers or owners of capital do so on behalf of or in conjunction with the white capitalists of the imperialist nation. The white ruling class helped give them life but will not let them grow and has the power to crush them at will. Therefore, the Afro-American bourgeoisie's class interest lies in maintaining the status quo, that is, a close economic and political relationship with monopoly capital. It has not in the past or is it likely in the future to call for national independence. In fact, the comprador bourgeoisie opposes independence tooth and nail. It is not outside the realm of possibility that some of these elements will be won over to the struggle for national emancipation but the strategy for the national liberation movement cannot rely on them.

Examples of would be compradors of the Afro-American people with connections inside and outside the national territory are the Urban League, Leon Sullivan's Opportunities Industrial Centers (OIC), and Jesse Jackson's Operation PUSH, all of whom receive millions of dollars from numerous corporate sources, although packaged differently. Car dealers and liquor distributors are other examples, as are the many Afro-American franchise owners.

This analysis is based on a Marxist analysis of the political economy. Reasonable, is it not? No. Not for the LOM scholars. For them, the "comprador capitalists are those engaged in the procurement or realization of (imperialist) industrial capital and branch operations of (imperialist) bank capital." They need to have some state power, an army, a police force and control of financial, cultural and educational organs. LOM says that we overestimate the power and number of the bourgeoisie. This is not true. We act "as if it had a hand in actually running a nation...Real comprador capitalists wield billions of dollars of capital, not to speak of armies and state machines, on behalf of the imperialist system," says LOM.

Of course we do not say the comprador bourgeoisie is running a nation. We know imperialism prevents this. Furthermore, within the imperialist boundaries this is not necessary or desirable. Where are you, Namibian bourgeoisie?

Common Territory

As stated before, the plantation area of the South is the common territory. The Afro-American people occupied it in common by virtue of their role in the slave economy. With the new conditions after the Civil War, with movement not being restricted, the opportunity developed for local and regional relationships to develop. This gave way to what Stalin called lengthy and systematic discourse. This was facilitated by trade, migrations, marriage and education. The isolation of the plantation was gone forever.

Once again, the LOM says that part of what we include in the Black Belt was not settled until 20 to 40 years after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Just because Blacks did not occupy it from the time of their arrival in North America does not negate or diminish its place as a homeland. Slaves did eventually live and work on this land. Afro-American sharecroppers plowed it for years and the Afro-American masses reside there today. No date citation that distorts the overall history can alter this fact.

A secondary question that arises in connection with territory is that of majority/minority. Whether or not the Afro-American people constitute a majority in the entire territory, in individual counties or wherever, are questions that have come to be used as a false criteria. This is a case where a fact, a concrete condition at a particular time, was turned into a principle which has been used to liquidate the very thing around which the question was raised. Lenin, Stalin, the Comintern, Haywood, etc. did not "select" the Black Belt because it had the majority of Afro-Americans or because they were the majority in over 250 counties. The Black Belt was identified as the territory of the Afro-American Nation because that is where the nation objectively developed. The numbers and percentages are only a result of that.

Nowhere in the Marxist-Leninist discussion of the national question does majority get raised as a prerequisite. Were there not several nations in the Soviet Union that did not constitute a majority in their territory but were granted rights of an oppressed nation by the revolutionary socialist government of the early Soviet Union?

This is not to belittle the rights of other peoples in the territory, but they cannot be pitted against the democratic right of a nation to self-determination up to and including secession.

The last point connected to territory is the issue of population size and stability. Much has been made about the continuously sinking percentage of Afro-Americans in the Black Belt. In spite of the various migrations necessitated by several things, the majority of Afro-American people approximately 52% or 15 million still reside in the South. The others are spread over three other geographical regions.

What must be noted here, comrades, is that in absolute numbers, the Afro-American population has increased, but more importantly, the most critical factor is evident, and that is that the population persists on that territory. It was there in 1800 and it is there now. And as will be mentioned elsewhere, a reverse migration, although not political, is in progress.

The common economic life of the nation evolved during the battle for Reconstruction. The territorial and economic issues discussed earlier were intertwined with the massive developments taking place during that period. In the political realm, there were numerous conventions of freedmen that passed various manifestos calling for freedom and democracy, economic and political power. The legislatures with large numbers of Afro-Americans and poor farmers enacted revolutionary reforms. They disenfranchised Confederate leaders and provided free public education. The Union Leagues and local militias took up the task of defending the gains that were being made. Many small farms and small enterprises were opened by the newly freed slaves. The land question was addressed by many, but not resolved. It is ironic that the masses in the state conventions and some of the Radical Republicans themselves in the Congress and the legislatures never called for the same. In the South Carolina convention where it was discussed, the most that the petty bourgeois leadership called for was the sale of the land in order to erode the base of a possible return to power by the planters. The petty bourgeoisie could not attack the "sanctity" of bourgeois property relations. By the end of the Reconstruction, the nation had emerged and matured. It was consolidated by the end of the century (1900).

Youth in the Black Belt homeland of the Afro-American people, 1982

Development of Afro-American National Minority

A sizeable and significant national minority developed outside the Black Belt in numerous Northern cities, especially the large industrial, commercial and cultural centers. It was a long-term process that was almost exclusively related to the migration of the Southern Afro-American population.

It was constituted initially by freedmen who were released from indenture in the North and sometimes in the South prior to the early 1700's. In addition, there were slaves who escaped from the plantation. In the North, they developed a certain degree of economic strength through small businesses and farming. For this reason, they assumed the intellectual and political leadership of the Black freedom movement.

Racist terror during and after the Reconstruction forced many Blacks north. The Ku Klux Klan forced thousands off the land.

Another wave of migrations took place just prior to World War I when war industry created great demands for labor. Many jobs opened up temporarily. This development began to converge with the crisis in cotton caused by the boll weevil in successive planting seasons in the 1920's.

Again, in the 1920's, the re-emergence of the organized Klan caused greater migrations.

Apart from the concentrated waves caused by acute social and economic contradictions, there is always an ongoing migration. After high school, Afro-American youth head north for economic opportunity and to escape the stench of national oppression and racism. The deep Southern states lose their sons and daughters to Chicago, Detroit and points west. Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia sent theirs to New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia primarily.

Because of less direct terror and repression, the national minority areas produced and still produce much of the leadership of the Afro-American movement. Culture, education, etc. developed more freely in these areas.

Origin of U.S. Multinational State

The American nation is basically Anglo in its origins. This stems primarily from the fact that the original colonists were English and brought with them the culture and institutions of England. Although they have undergone significant change, they remain at base Anglo. This includes religion, music and literary tradition. The ruling class has insured the continuation of this phenomenon.

However, almost from the beginning, the mass of the population was multinational. Anyone who has done the slightest study of the history of the U.S. knows that there were numerous French, Dutch, and Spanish settlements. From the Canadian border to Florida to the Mississippi River, all of these peoples and their cultures became a part of the American amalgam.

Through later immigrations from Western Europe came the Irish, this being triggered by the agricultural crisis in Ireland and oppression of the Irish people by British imperialism. Then came the Swedes, Germans, and later, the Italians. They brought with them not only their languages and customs, but skills acquired in the growing industrial sector of Europe, as well as the political experiences of the bourgeois democratic revolutions in Europe.

Later came immigrants from Eastern Europe. Many came from Russia, Poland, Hungary, etc. They were escaping the pogroms and political repression of the Czar. They came with a history of political organization and the ideas of socialism.

From Asia came the Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos. As California opened up more and more Pacific immigrants came to trade or seek work. The Western section of the national railroad system was built to a large extent by Chinese labor. They worked in Western mines as well.

Just as white supremacy had been aimed against Afro-Americans and Indians, the ruling class used chauvinism against the newest members of the working class. At various times, Congress excluded the immigration of different groups and nationalities. The justification was often different but the intent and effect was the same. Asians have been excluded. Eastern Europeans have been excluded. The acceptance of low wages and propagation of the ideas of socialism have been used as justifications.

Theories of genetic inferiority were developed in connection with exclusionary acts. The "studies" were financed by the Rockefellers and served as the basis for the Nazi theories of the 1930's and the views of Shockley and Jensen today.

Development of U.S. Monopoly Capital After the Civil War To WWI

With the consolidation of capital after the Civil War, U.S. capitalism began the rapid process of development. Victory over the planters meant that the abundant resources and markets of the Black Belt and the entire South were now under its control. Industry grew more rapidly than in other capitalist countries because it did not have the fetters of feudal/aristocratic economic, political and social control with the exception of the South, which had been vanquished. The proletariat grew rapidly, not only as a by-product of rapidly growing industry, but also because of the large scale immigration from Europe.

U.S. capitalism entered the imperialist epoch in an exceptionally strong position but still in need of resources, markets and expansion. This expansion was also rapid. The theft of Indian lands continued as the country extended west. Immediately after the Civil War, the troops were removed from the South (which served to weaken the Reconstruction governments) to fight the rebellious Indian nations and tribes.

In the Southwest, the developing Chicano people in the New Mexico territory were the next victims of expansionism. The South had started before the Civil War by trying to purchase Texas as a slave state. This did not work. Therefore, they sent in settlers who precipitated a war with Mexico that led to the declaration of the Republic of Texas. In. 1848, President Polk dispatched troops to New Mexico where they seized control from the weak comprador government that was run by the central government in Mexico. The Chicano and Indian people mounted resistance which continues right up to today.

Industrial and finance capital had-to expand externally if it was to respond to its internal laws. It concocted the so-called Monroe Doctrine which gave it the "right" to take action anywhere in the hemisphere to protect the interests of American imperialism.

The natural target for this imperialist justification was Spain. It was, in fact, an oppressor nation with a number of colonies. Not that U.S. imperialism was especially concerned with fighting oppression, but Spain was weak and undergoing internal changes that were destroying its ability to maintain an "empire." The U.S. justified a declaration of war against Spain in 1898 by blowing up its own naval ship, the Maine, while it sat in the harbor of Havana, Cuba. After a short war, the U.S. occupied Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam.

Thus, from 1848 to 1898, the U.S. imperialists enlarged their empire and established the system of oppression which engendered the liberation movements of the native peoples, the Chicano Nation, the Afro-American Nation, the Puerto Rican Nation, Cuba, the Philippines and Guam.

The Marxist-Leninist Program on the Afro-American National Question

Any Marxist-Leninist program must include strategy and tactics for dealing with the oppression of nations. The democratic right of peoples to order their own affairs and determine what kinds of relations they will have with other nations is fundamental. This is described in the slogan, "the right to self-determination up to and including secession." The meaning of this slogan has been fully defined during this century, first in struggle with the social chauvinists of the Second International, later with the Trotskyists and other opportunists and today, with various revisionists and liquidators of the national question. During these years of fierce struggle and debate, it became clear that self-determination is meaningless unless the oppressed people have the option of creating their own political entity.

While all nations have the right to self-determination and secession, they are not obliged to secede. In fighting for the right, an oppressed nation must put itself in a position whereby it can exercise the right, that is, without interference, control and coercion from the oppressor nation. The material expression of this comes from the decision of a plebiscite or referendum. When we say they are not obliged, it means that in every situation it may not be necessary for a nation to secede. In other words, the national question does not always get solved in the same way. And, as with everything else, time, place and conditions must be considered.

The ultimate decision is up to the people of the oppressed nation. Communists always agitate in the direction of the proletariat's best interest at that time. Of course, numerous political, economic and social factors have to be considered. If the communist view is at odds with the will of the people, agitation and education must be used. And, if ultimately a nation decides to secede, the communists must support it in its efforts at national construction. This is in contrast to Bob Avakian of the former Revolutionary Union, who once said "with gun in hand, (he) would join the ranks of those opposing secession."

It is clear from Comintern documents that it advocated not simply verbal recognition of the right to self-determination in the Black Belt territory but the fight for self-determination itself. This was illustrated by its consideration of whether socialist revolution would provide the path to Afro-American self-determination, or Afro-American rebellion would open the door to socialist revolution. It obviously viewed self-determination under capitalism as a possibility one that would come through a rebellion.

The CPUSA's practice suggests that it really did not believe or desire this possibility. With some rare exceptions, it never organized people in the Black Belt on a local level around electing Afro-American county and town officials as a form of struggle. It never addressed the question of power and nowhere does it speak to organizing a rebellion. We have not seen or heard of any discussion where the Party called for forming a national revolutionary front that would carry out the political, economic and military tasks of a war of national emancipation. Without doing this, it supported the view that the national question could only begin to be resolved under socialism.

Under today's conditions, two things call for communists, national revolutionaries and democrats to fight for the right to self-determination and for secession now. For one, U.S. imperialism has shown that it will not grant the Afro-American people true freedom and justice. In spite of gains and some reforms, the yoke of national oppression grows heavier and more deadly than before.

Secondly, from the strategic point of view, we need to determine the various contradictions and their motion at this time. Labor versus capital continues to be the fundamental contradiction in the U.S. In fact, in the era of imperialism, it is the underlying contradiction that shapes all the other problems of the world. Yet, in the U.S. today, the contradiction between U.S. imperialism and the Afro-American people is the principal contradiction, the one at the sharpest level of struggle or development. The Afro-American people are under sharp attack by the police and Klan terror; there are massive cutbacks in essential support programs such as welfare and food stamps; depression-like unemployment figures; the end of affirmative action programs; attacks on the Voting Rights Act; anti-busing legislation and its attendant movement. The Afro-American people are responding in different ways. There is a consciousness, an awareness of these attacks on them. They are organizing and they are rebelling, although spontaneously.

The working class as a whole, particularly its white section, has not developed a militant, powerful or organized response to U.S. imperialism. There is, however, a growing fightback developing all over the country. Still, it is not on the same level as the Black national struggle, spontaneous or conscious. The ruling class state is pleased by this rather passive response to the acute crisis of U.S. capitalism. It fears the kind of response that the Thatcher policies have given rise to in England. It has done a good job of repressing resistance through ideology and the help of the trade union bureaucrats. The Reagan wing of the ruling class is worried that it will show up at the polls in the next two years as support for the Democratic Party. Of course, they would prefer to see the response take this form, and so would the labor bureaucrats.

Comrades, if we are looking for the weak link in the imperialist chain in the U.S., it is this contradiction that we must identify. Only by taking hold of it will we be able to launch any serious blows in the direction of national liberation and socialism in the U.S. This struggle for self-determination will help create the conditions for a revolutionary movement of the workers of the U.S. against capitalism and for socialism.

For communists in general, and white communists in particular, the life and death battle against white supremacy must be taken up more vigorously and more intensely than ever before. White supremacy was developed by the southern planters and the colonial ruling class when they established permanent bondage for Africans. The earlier system of indenture for Blacks and whites was dropped. This immediately created privileges for whites in that they were not in bondage. Freedom became the first and chief privilege and a whole body of thinking was created to justify it.

This privilege has been extended to jobs, wages, working conditions, housing, education, health care and other areas. These privileges are not as great as they are in South Africa, where white workers sometimes earn $5.00 more an hour for performing the same job as Black South Africans. In that situation, the white workers have and see a real material interest in maintaining imperialist domination of South Africa with its apartheid system. In the U.S., the privileges are only relative and do not provide a material basis for the maintenance of U.S. imperialism. Still, these privileges are the basis for white supremacy.

The ruling class has historically used white supremacy as one of its chief tools in continuing capitalist exploitation and national oppression. Within the working class, the main purveyor of this ideology is the labor aristocracy, the skilled workers and labor bureaucrats. They have the greatest interest in maintaining privilege and national oppression. They play on and organize white supremacist sentiment that plagues large sections of the working class: Remember, Anglo-American national consciousness is based on white supremacy.

The fight against this poison and ideology that is alien to a class conscious proletariat is of utmost importance. White communists must lead the fight in the class against white chauvinism. This means struggle among white workers in the shops, unions, bars and communities and in the revolutionary organizations. In spite of the fact that the Afro-American people are taking up the main defensive fight against the Klan, the Klan will not ultimately be smashed unless white workers themselves wield the hammer that does it. If this is not done soon, the Klan will have inspired many white workers to participate in the "race war" it has agitated for and waited for, for so long,

White workers must struggle against white chauvinism, white supremacy, racism. The struggle cannot be limited to uniting with Afro-Americans on basic trade union issues, e.g. wages, hours, etc. Do not get us wrong; this is good and, in numerous cases, is extremely difficult if not impossible to do. Yet, it is only the economism so touted by the opportunists. In terms of the workers' struggle in the economic arena, white workers must consciously struggle against the various privileges. This is key to breaking down the mistrust and disunity. Eventually, but not after the whole class fights against privilege (this will never happen anyway), white workers must support the right of the Afro-American people to self-determination in both words and deeds, Class conscious white workers fighting against privilege and white supremacy and for Afro-American self-determination will be striking the real death blows at U.S. imperialism. It is the task of communists to skillfully use Marxism-Leninism, history and objective conditions to create the subjective outlook for this essential segment of class war in the U.S.

Click here to return to the Afro-American Nation contents