ECCI POLITICAL SECRETARIAT
October 26, 1930
ON THE NEGRO QUESTION IN THE UNITED STATES
Communist International, 15 January 1931, p. 65
[ COMMENT OF DEGRAS :Early in July 1930 an international conference of Negro workers was held in Hamburg, with Ford (USA) presiding. There were Negroes from Nigeria, South Africa, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Gambia, Trinidad, and the United States. The idea of such a conference had been suggested at the second LAI conference held in Frankfurt in July 1929 (presumably on the initiative of the Negro bureau of the ECCI set up after the sixth Comintern congress), where it was said that there were too few links between the Negroes of different countries, that they were being misled, to the advantage of imperialism, by Garveyism, Pan-Africanism, national reformism; Negroes should be organized internationally on a class basis. A committee was chosen to organize the 1930 conference, which came to the conclusion that race and colour played a subordinate part in the Negro question; this had to be tackled on a class basis. (The thesis that Negroes could be freed only as part of the wider class struggle was embodied in the 'trade union action programme for Negroes' drawn up by the RILU committee for Negro workers in the spring of 1929.)]
The CP of the United States has always acted openly and energetically against Negro oppression, and has thereby won increasing sympathy among the Negro population. In its own ranks, too, the Party has relentlessly fought the slightest evidence of white chauvinism, and has purged itself of the gross opportunism of the Lovestoneites. . . .
But the Party has not yet succeeded in overcoming in its own ranks all under-estimation of the struggle for the slogan of the right of selfdetermination, and still less succeeded in doing away with all lack of clarity on the Negro question. In the Party discussion the question was often wrongly put and much erroneous counter-posing of phases of the question occurred, thus, for instance, should the slogan of social equality or the slogan of the right of selfdetermination of the Negroes be emphasised. Should only propaganda for the Negroes' right to self-determination be carried on, or should this slogan be considered as a slogan of action; should separatist tendencies among the Negroes be supported or opposed; is the Southern region, thickly populated by Negroes, to be looked upon as a colony, or as an 'integral part of the national economy of the United States', where presumably a revolutionary situation cannot arise independent of the general revolutionary development in the United States?
In the interest of the utmost clarity of ideas on this question the Negro question in the United States must be viewed from the standpoint of its peculiarity, namely as the question of an oppressed nation, which is in a peculiar and extraordinarily distressing situation of national oppression not only in view of the prominent racial distinctions (marked difference in the colour of skin, etc.), but above all because of considerable social antagonism (remnants of slavery). This introduces into the American Negro question an important, peculiar trait which is absent from the national question of other oppressed peoples. Furthermore, it is necessary to face clearly the inevitable distinction between the position of the Negro in the South and in the North, owing to the fact that at least three-fourths of the entire Negro population of the United States (12 million) live in compact masses in the South, most of them being peasants and agricultural labourers in a state of semi-serfdom, settled in the 'Black Belt' and constituting the majority of the population, whereas the Negroes in the Northern States are for the most part industrial workers of the lowest categories who have recently come to the various industrial centres from the South (having often even fled from there).
The struggle of the Communists for the equal rights of the Negro applies to all Negroes, in the North as well as in the South. The struggle for this slogan embraces all or almost all of the important special interests of the Negroes in the North, but not in the South, where the main communist slogan must be: The right of selfdetermination of the Negroes in the Black Belt. These two slogans, however, are most closely connected. The Negroes in the North are very much interested in winning the right of self-determination for the Negro population of the Black Belt and can thereby hope for strong support for the establishment of true equality of the Negroes in the North. In the South the Negroes are suffering no less but still more than in the North from the glaring lack of all equality; for the most part the struggle for their most urgent partial demands in the Black Belt is nothing more than the struggle for their equal rights, and only the fulfilment of their main slogan, the right of self-determination in the Black Belt, can assure them of true equality.
I. THE STRUGGLE FOR THE EQUAL RIGHTS OF THE NEGROES
The basis for the demand of equality of the Negroes is provided by the special yoke to which the Negroes in the United States are subjected by the ruling classes.
In comparison with the situation of the other various nationalities and races oppressed by American imperialism, the yoke of the Negroes in the United States is of a peculiar nature and particularly oppressive. This is partly due to the historical past of the American Negroes as imported slaves, but is much more due to the still existing slavery of the American Negro which is immediately apparent, for example, in comparing their situation even with the situation of the Chinese and Japanese workers in the West of the United States, or with the lot of the Philippinos (Malay race) who are under colonial repression.
It is only a Yankee bourgeois lie to say that the yoke of Negro slavery has been lifted in the United States. Formally it has been abolished, but in practice the great majority of the Negro masses in the South are living in slavery in the literal sense of the word. Formally, they are 'free' as 'tenant farmers' or 'contract labourers' on the big plantations of the white landowners, but actually, they are completely in the power of their exploiters; they are not permitted, or else it is made impossible for them to leave their exploiters; if they do leave the plantations, they are brought back and in many cases whipped; many of them are simply taken prisoner under various pretexts and, bound together with long chains, they have to do compulsory labour on the roads. All through the South, the Negroes are not only deprived of all rights, and subjected to the arbitary will of the white exploiters, but they are also socially ostracised, that is, they are treated in general not as human beings, but as cattle. . . .
... As wage-earners, the Negroes are forced to perform the lowest and most difficult work; they generally receive lower wages than the white workers and don't always get the same wages as white workers doing similar work, and their treatment is the very worst. Many AF of L trade unions do not admit Negro workers in their ranks, and a number have organized special trade unions for Negroes so that they will not have to let them into their 'good white society'.
This whole system of 'segregation' and 'Jim Crowism' is a special form of national and social oppression under which the American Negroes have much to suffer. The origin of all this is not difficult to find: this Yankee arrogance towards the Negroes stinks of the disgusting atmosphere of the old slave market. This is downright robbery and slave-whipping barbarism at the peak of capitalist 'culture'.
The demand for equal rights in our sense of the word, means not only demanding the same rights for the Negroes as the whites have in the United States at the present time, but also demanding that the Negroes should be granted all rights and other advantages which we demand for the corresponding oppressed classes of whites (workers and other toilers). Thus in our sense of the word, the demand for equal rights means a continuous work of abolishment of all forms of economic and political oppression of the Negroes, as well as their social exclusion, the insults perpetrated against them and their segregation. This is to be obtained by constant struggle by the white and black workers for effective legal protection for the Negroes in all fields, as well as actual enforcement of their equality and combating of every expression of Negrophobia. One of the first communist slogans is: Death for Negro lynching!
The struggle for the equal rights of the Negroes does not in any way exclude recognition and support for the Negroes' rights to their own special schools, government organs, etc., wherever the Negro masses put forward such national demands of their own accord. This will, however, in all probability occur to any great extent only in the Black Belt. In other parts of the country, the Negroes suffer above all from being shut out from the general social institutions and not from being prohibited to set up their own national institutions. With the development of the Negro intellectuals (principally in the 'free' professions) and of a thin layer of small capitalist business people, there have appeared lately, not only definite efforts for developing a purely national Negro culture, but also outspoken bourgeois tendencies towards Negro nationalism. The broad masses of the Negro population in the big industrial centres of the North are, however, making no efforts whatsoever to maintain and cultivate a national aloofness, they are, on the contrary, working for assimilation.
This effort of the Negro masses can do much in the future to facilitate the progressive process of amalgamating the whites and Negroes into one nation, and it is under no circumstances the task of the communists to give support to bourgeois nationalism in its fight with the progressive assimilation tendencies of the Negro working masses.
The slogan of equal rights of the Negroes without a relentless struggle in practice against all manifestations of Negrophobia on the part of the American bourgeosie can be nothing but a deceptive liberal gesture of a sly slaveowner or his agent. This slogan is in fact repeated by 'socialist' and many other bourgeois politicians and philanthropists who want to get publicity for themselves by appealing to the 'sense of justice' of the American bourgeoisie in the individual treatment of the Negroes, and thereby sidetrack attention from the one effective struggle against the shameful system of 'white superiority': from the class struggle against the American bourgeoisie. The struggle for equal rights for the Negroes is in fact, one of the most important parts of the proletarian class struggle of the United States.
The struggle for the equal rights for the Negroes must certainly take the form of common struggle by the white and black workers.
The increasing unity of the various working-class elements provokes constant attempts on the part of the American bourgeoisie to play one group against another, particularly the white workers against the black and the black workers against the immigrant workers and vice versa, and thus to promote divisions within the working class, which contributes to the bolstering up of American capitalist rule. The party must carry on a ruthless struggle against all these attempts of the bourgeoisie and do everything to strengthen the bonds of class solidarity of the working class upon a lasting basis.
In the struggle for equal rights for the Negroes, however, it is the duty of the white workers to march at the head of this struggle. They must everywhere make a breach in the walls of segregation and 'Jim Crowism' which have been set up by bourgeois slave-market morality. They must most ruthlessly unmask and condemn the hypocritical reformists and bourgeois 'friends of Negroes' who, in reality, are only interested in strengthening the power of the enemies of the Negroes. They, the white workers, must boldly jump at the throat of the 100 per cent bandits who strike a Negro in the face. This struggle will be the test of the real international solidarity of the American white workers.
It is the special duty of the revolutionary Negro workers to carry on tireless activity among the Negro working masses to free them of their distrust of the white proletariat and draw them into the common front of the revolutionary class struggle against the bourgeoisie. . . .
Furthermore, the Communist Party must resist all tendencies within its own ranks to ignore the Negro question as a national question in the United States, not only in the South, but also in the North. It is advisable for the Communist Party in the North to abstain from the establishment of any special Negro organizations, and in place of this to bring the black and white workers together in common organizations of struggle and joint action. Effective steps must be taken for the organization of Negro workers in the TUUL and revolutionary trade unions. Under-estimation of this work takes various forms: lack of energy in recruiting Negro workers, in keeping them in our ranks and in drawing them into the full life of the trade unions, in selecting, educating and promoting Negro forces to leading functions in the organization. The party must make itself entirely responsible for the carrying through of this very important work. It is most urgently necessary to publish a popular mass paper dealing with the Negro question, edited by white and black comrades, and to have all active followers of this paper grouped organizationally.
2. THE STRUGGLE FOR THE RIGHT OF SELF-DETERMINATION
OF THE NEGROES IN THE BLACK BELT
It is not correct to consider the Negro zone of the South as a colony of the United States. Such a characterization of the Black Belt could be based in some respects only upon artificially construed analogies, and would create superfluous difficulties for the clarification of ideas. In rejecting this estimation, however, it should not be overlooked that it would be none the less false to try to make a fundamental distinction between the character of national oppression to which the colonial peoples are subjected and the yoke of other oppressed nations. Fundamentally, national oppression in both cases is of the same character, and is in the Black Belt in many respects worse than in a number of actual colonies. On the one hand the Black Belt is not in itself, either economically or politically, such a united whole as to warrant its being called a special colony of the United States, but on the other hand this zone is not, either economically or politically, such an integral part of the whole United States as any other part of the country. Industrialization in the Black Belt is not, as is generally the case in colonies properly speaking, in contradiction with the ruling interests of the imperialist bourgeoisie, which has in its hands the monopoly of the entire industry, but in so far as industry is developed here, it will in no way bring a solution to the question of living conditions of the oppressed Negro majority, or to the agrarian question, which lies at the basis of the national question. On the contrary, this question is still further aggravated as a result of the increase of the contradictions arising from the pre-capitalist forms of exploitation of the Negro peasantry and of a considerable portion of the Negro proletariat (miners, forestry workers, etc.) in the Black Belt, and at the same time owing to the industrial development here, the growth of the most important driving force of the national revolution, the black working class, is especially strengthened. Thus, the prospect for the future is not an inevitable dying away of the national revolutionary Negro movement in the South, as Lovestone prophesied, but on the contrary, a great advance of this movement and the rapid approach of a revolutionary crisis in the Black Belt.
Owing to the peculiar situation in the Black Belt (the fact that the majority of the resident Negro population are farmers and agricultural labourers and that the capitalist economic system as well as political class rule there is not only of a special kind, but to a great extent still has precapitalist and semi-colonial features), the right of self-determination of the Negroes as the main slogan of the Communist Party in the Black Belt is appropriate. This, however, does not in any way mean that the struggle* for equal rights of the Negroes in the Black Belt is less necessary or less well founded than it is in the North. On the contrary, here, owing to the whole situation, this struggle is even better founded, but the form of this slogan does not sufficiently correspond with the concrete requirements of the liberation struggle of the Negro population. . . .
The slogan of the right of self-determination occupies the central place in the liberation struggle of the Negro population in the Black Belt against the yoke of American imperialism, but this slogan, as we see it, must be carried out only in connexion with two other basic demands. Thus, there are three basic demands to be kept in mind in the Black Belt, namely, the following:
1. Confiscation of the landed property of the white landowner and capitalists for the benefit of the Negro farmers. The landed property in the hands of the white American exploiters constitutes the most important material basis of the entire system of national oppression and serfdom of the Negroes in the Black Belt. More than three-quarters of all Negro farmers here are bound in actual serfdom to the farms and plantations of the white exploiters by the feudal system of 'share cropping.' . . .
Without this revolutionary measure, without the agrarian revolution, the right of self-determination of the Negro population would be only a Utopia, or at best would remain only on paper without changing in any way the actual enslavement.
2. Establishment of the State unity of the Black Belt. At the present time this Negro zone—precisely for the purpose of facilitating national oppression— is artificially split up and divided into a number of various states which include distant localities having a majority of white population. If the right of self-determination of the Negroes is to be put into force, it is necessary wherever possible to bring together into one governmental unit all districts of the South where the majority of the settled population consists of Negroes. Within the limits of this state there will of course remain a fairly significant white minority which must submit to the right of self-determination of the Negro majority. There is no other possible way of carrying out in a democratic manner the right of self-determination of the Negroes. . . .
3. Right of Self-Determination. This means complete and unlimited right of the Negro majority to exercise governmental authority in the entire territory of the Black Belt, as well as to decide upon the relations between their territory and other nations, particularly the United States. It would not be right of self-determination in our sense of the word if the Negroes in the Black Belt had the right of determination only in cases which concerned exclusively the Negroes and did not affect the whites, because the most important cases arising here are bound to affect the Negroes [whites] as well as the whites [Negroes]. First of all, true right to self-determination means that the Negro majority and not the white minority in the entire territory of the administratively united Black Belt exercises the right of administrating governmental, legislative and judicial authority. At the present time all this power here is concentrated in the hands of the white bourgeoisie and landlords. It is they who appoint all officials, it is they who dispose of public property, it is they who determine the taxes, it is they who govern and make the laws. Therefore, the overthrow of this class rule in the Black Belt is unconditionally necessary in the struggle for the Negroes' right to self-determination. This, however, means at the same time the overthrow of the yoke of American imperialism in the Black Belt on which the forces of the local white bourgeoisie depend. Only in this way, only if the Negro population of the Black Belt wins its freedom from American imperialism even to the point of deciding itself the relations between its country and other governments, especially the United States, will it win real and complete selfdetermination.
One should demand from the beginning that no armed forces of American imperialism should remain on the territory of the Black Belt.
. . .
7. As stated in the letter of the Political Secretariat of the ECCI of 16 March 1930, the communists must 'unreservedly carry on a struggle' for the self-determination of the Negro population in the Black Belt in accordance with what has been set forth above. It is incorrect and harmful to interpret the communist standpoint to mean that the communists stand for the right of self-determination of the Negroes only up to a certain point, but not beyond this, for example, to the right of separation. It is also incorrect to say that the communists are so far only to carry on propaganda or agitation for the right of self-determination, but not to develop any activity to bring this about. No, it is of the utmost importance for the Communist Party to reject any such limitation of its struggle for this slogan. Even if the situation does not yet warrant the raising of the question of uprising, one should not limit oneself at present to propaganda for the demand: 'Right to self-determination', but should organise mass actions, such as demonstrations, strikes, tax-boycott movements, etc.
Moreover, the party cannot make its stand for this slogan dependent upon any conditions, even the condition that the proletariat has the hegemony in the national revolutionary Negro movement or that the majority of the Negroes in the Black Belt adopts the Soviet form (as Pepper demanded), etc. It goes without saying that the communists in the Black Belt will and must try to win over all working elements of the Negroes, that is, the majority of the population, to their side, and to convince them not only that they must win the right of self-determination, but also that they must make use of this right in accordance with the communist programme. But this cannot be made a condition for the stand of the communists in favour of the right of self-determination of the Negro popular tion; if, or so long as the majority of this population wishes to handle the situation in the Black Belt in a different manner from that which we communists would like, its complete right to self-determination must be recognized. This right we must defend as a free democratic right.
8. In general, the CP of the United States has kept to this correct line recently in its struggle for the right of self-determination of the Negroes even though this line— in some cases—has been unclearly or erroneously expressed. In particular some misunderstanding has arisen from the failure to make a clear distinction between the demand for 'right of self-determination' and the demand for governmental separation, simply treating these two demands in the same way. However, these two demands are not identical. Complete right to self-determination includes also the right to governmental separation, but does not necessarily imply that the Negro population should make use of this right under all circumstances, that is, that it must actually separate or attempt to separate the Black Belt from the existing governmental federation with the United States. If it desires to separate it must be free to do so; but if it prefers to remain federated with the United States it must also be free to do that. This is the correct meaning of the idea of self-determination and it must be recognized quite independently of whether the United States are still a capitalist state or if a proletarian dictatorship has already been established there....
9. The general relation of communists to separatist tendencies among the Negroes, described above, cannot mean that communists associate themselves at present, or generally speaking, during capitalism, indiscriminately and without criticism with all the separatist currents of the various bourgeois or petty-bourgeois Negro groups. For there is not only a national-revolutionary, but also a reactionary Negro separatism, for instance, that represented by Garvey; his Utopia of an isolated Negro State (regardless if in Africa or America, if it is supposed to consist of Negroes only) pursues the only political aim of diverting the Negro masses from the real liberation struggle against American imperialism.
It would be a mistake to imagine that the right of self-determination slogan is a truly revolutionary slogan only in connection with the demand for complete separation. The question of power is decided not only through the demand of separation, but just as much through the demand of the right to decide the separation question and self-determination in general. A direct question of power is also the demand of confiscation of the land of the white exploiters in the South, as well as the demand of the Negroes that the entire Black Belt be amalgamated into a State unit. . . .
10. The slogan for the self-determination right and the other fundamental slogans of the Negro question in the Black Belt does not exclude but rather pre-supposes an energetic development of the struggle for concrete partial demands linked up with the daily needs and afflictions of wide masses of working Negroes. In order to avoid, in this connection, the danger of opportunist back-slidings, communists must above all remember this:
The direct aims and partial demands around which a partial struggle develops are to be linked up in the course of the struggle with the revolutionary fundamental slogans brought up by the question of power, in a popular manner corresponding to the mood of the masses. . . .
One should not venture to draw up a complete programme of some kind or a system of 'positive' partial demands. Such programmes on the part of pettybourgeois politicians should be exposed as attempts to divert the masses from the necessary hard struggles by fostering reformist and democratic illusions among them. Every positive partial demand which might crop up is to be considered from the viewpoint of whether it is in keeping with our revolutionary fundamental slogans, or whether it is of a reformist or reactionary tendency. Every kind of national oppression which arouses the indignation of the Negro masses can be used as a suitable point of departure for the development of partial struggles. . . .
Everything should be done to bring wide masses of Negroes into these partial struggles—this is important—and not to carry the various partial demands to such an ultra-radical point, that the mass of working Negroes are no longer able to recognize them as their own. Without a real mobilization of the mass movements— in spite of the sabotage of the bourgeois-reformist Negro politicians—even the best communist partial demands get hung up. On the other hand, even some relatively insignificant acts of the Ku-Klux-Klan bandits in the Black Belt can become the occasion of important political movements, provided the communists are able to organize the resistance of the indignant Negro masses.
Communists must fight in the forefront of the national-liberation movement and must do their utmost for the progress of this mass movement and its revolutionization. Negro communists must clearly dissociate themselves from all bourgeois currents in the Negro movement, must indefatigably oppose the spread of the influence of the bourgeois groups on the working Negroes, and in dealing with them must apply the communist tactic laid down by the Sixth CI Congress with regard to the colonial question, in order to guarantee the hegemony of the Negro proletariat in the national liberation movement of the Negro population, and to coordinate wide masses of the Negro peasantry in a steady fighting alliance with the proletariat. . . .
It is particularly incumbent on Negro communists to criticize consistently the half-heartedness and hesitations of the petty-bourgeois national-revolutionary Negro leaders in the liberation struggle of the Black Belt, exposing them before the masses.
All national reformist currents as, for instance, Garveyism, which are an obstacle to the revolu-tionization of the Negro masses, must be fought systematically and with the utmost energy. Simultaneously, Negro communists must carry on among the Negro masses an energetic struggle against nationalist moods directed indiscriminately against all whites, workers as well as capitalists, communists as well as imperialists. Their constant call to the Negro masses must be: revolutionary struggle against the ruling white bourgeoisie through a fighting alliance with the revolutionary white proletariat! Negro communists must indefatigably explain to the mass of the Negro population that even if many white workers in America are still infected with Negrophobia, the American proletariat, as a class, which owing to its struggle against the American bourgeoisie represents the only truly revolutionary class, will be the only real mainstay of Negro liberation. In as far as successes in the national-revolutionary struggle of the Negro population of the South for its right to self-determination are already possible under capitalism, they can be achieved only if this struggle is effectively supported by proletarian mass actions on a large scale in the other parts of the United States. . . .
The struggle regarding the Negro question in the North must be linked up with the liberation struggle in the South, in order to endow the Negro movement throughout the United States with the necessary effective strength. After all, in the North as well as in the South, it is a question of the real emancipation of the American Negroes which has in fact never taken place before. The Communist Party of the United States must bring into play its entire revolutionary energy in order to mobilize the widest possible masses of the white and black proletariat of the United States, not by words, but by deeds, for real effective support of the struggle for the liberation of the Negroes. . . .
This alone will enable us to get rid of the bourgeois white chauvinism which is polluting the ranks of the white workers of America, to overcome the distrust of the Negro masses caused by the inhuman barbarous Negro slave traffic still carried on by the American bourgeoisie—in as far as it is directed even against all white workers—and to win over to our side these millions of Negroes as active fellow fighters in the struggle for the overthrow of bourgeois power throughout America.