Workers Vanguard No. 908
15 February 2008
Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!
For a Workers America!
For Revolutionary Integration!
We print below a presentation, edited for publication, given by Spartacist League Central Committee member Don Alexander at a recent gathering of the SL/U.S. Central Committee.
I want to put this discussion in the context of the racist bourgeois rulers’ all-out campaign to kill Mumia Abu-Jamal, a victim of a deliberate racist and political frame-up. A ruling from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on his case is imminent. We have insisted upon united-front, labor-centered protest internationally to free this courageous fighter for black freedom and the oppressed, and we need to view the fight for his freedom within the broader context of our overall revolutionary program for black liberation. The FBI, as we know, had Mumia in their cross hairs since he was a 15-year-old member of the Black Panther Party. Against black militants in the 1960-70s, the Feds issued a directive telling their agents: “The purpose
is to disrupt
it is immaterial whether facts exist to substantiate the charge” (Brian Glick, War at Home ). In 1968, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover vowed, “The Negro youth and moderate[s] must be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teachings, they will be dead revolutionaries.”
The former slave and revolutionary abolitionist Frederick Douglass once said: “Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival” (Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass ). This is from his speech, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” at Rochester, New York, delivered on 5 July 1852. It would take a Civil War to smash black chattel slavery.
As revolutionary Marxists, we also want to pay special tribute to Richard Fraser, who died 20 years ago this year. The best way to honor his contributions is to fight for the program of revolutionary integrationism, which is a class-struggle program that must be viewed in internationalist terms—in terms of understanding the implications of the struggle for black liberation not only for shattering bourgeois rule here, but for electrifying the entire international proletariat. As part of our struggle to build a revolutionary workers party, we are fighting to instill in the most conscious workers, youth and the oppressed the necessity to eradicate the material basis of black oppression by taking power out of the hands of the capitalists. This requires a struggle to seize the means of production through a socialist revolution that eliminates the system of capitalist private property.
This program of revolutionary integrationism is a fight to assimilate black people into an egalitarian socialist order, which is the only way to achieve real equality. While we fight against all aspects of racial oppression, we point out that there is no solution to that oppression short of a social revolution. This program is in sharp counterposition to the program of liberal integrationism—what American Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon once derided and denounced as “inch-at-a-time” gradualism—which is based upon the deception that black freedom can be achieved within the confines of the racist capitalist system. It is also in sharp contradiction to the petty-bourgeois utopian program of black nationalism and separatism, which rejects and despairs of united multiracial class struggle to abolish this racist capitalist system. Instead, black nationalism seeks to make a virtue of the racial segregation and ghettoization of black people that is seen as unchangeable.
I want to pick on one of our fake-left opponents, the so-called Revolutionary Communist Party, which recently issued a statement headlined “Attention White People! What Is Your Problem?!?” and concluded, “Wake the F--- Up!” (Revolution, 9 December 2007). This is the kind of unadulterated liberalism pushed by this group, whose aim right now is to get a Democrat in the White House and to impeach Bush. Against this liberal muck, we point out that it is precisely the class foundations of black oppression that were illuminated so well in Fraser’s historical research on the black question and that we have to assimilate. Fraser emphasized the importance of studying black writers who write extensively on the question of race, understanding both their confusions and their contributions. He noted in “Revolutionary Integration: The Dialectics of Black Liberation” (Revolutionary Age, 1968) the following: “The Negro Question is a unique racial (not national) question, with a movement marked by Integration (not Self-Determination) as its logical and historical motive force and goal, thereby producing a struggle that is necessarily transitional to socialism and a revolutionary vanguard for the entire working class.”
Today the struggle for integration, though still critical, has been derailed by the liberals and the reformists, who seek to pressure the racist federal government and especially the capitalist Democratic Party to serve the interests of the oppressed and the exploited. A key turning point in the derailing of that struggle was the smashing of the busing program for school integration in Boston in 1974-75. Uniquely, we fought for labor/black defense and called to mobilize the independent power of the working class to fight to extend busing to the suburbs.
Back in 1939, cadre from the then-revolutionary Socialist Workers Party (SWP) had discussions with Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky, who projected the potential vanguard role of the black working class in the struggle for socialist revolution in the U.S. He acknowledged that he lacked sufficient knowledge of the question of black oppression. But he was quite concerned that the party should have a correct orientation toward the most dynamic and militant section of the proletariat, and not to accommodate to the backward elements of the class. Trotsky said, “We must say to the conscious elements of the Negroes that they are convoked by the historical development to become a vanguard of the working class” (Leon Trotsky on Black Nationalism and Self-Determination).
Our forebears, the Revolutionary Tendency, the left oppositional tendency in the SWP, waged, in collaboration with Fraser, the fight for the program of revolutionary integrationism at the SWP convention in 1963, when that party was already in rapid rightward motion away from Trotskyism. We fought against the SWP’s abstention from the civil rights movement and its tailing of both black nationalist forces, like the Nation of Islam, and liberal pacifists, like Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
The Fight for Black Liberation in the Post-Soviet World
We’ve had many discussions about the retrogression of consciousness in the post-Soviet world. Our small revolutionary Marxist group is under multiple pressures from various fronts. We fight against the backward flow, the lowering of the ideological level by constant bourgeois-liberal pressures that preach the lie that we live in a “colorblind” society, a democracy where freedom reigns and where equality has basically been achieved. Or, as the black Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said, “90 percent of the way.” Yeah, whose 90 percent?
In light of the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92, the bourgeoisie proclaims the lie of the “death of communism.” This has its reflection in the myth of the “end of racism” and the burial of the struggle for racial integration as a failed experiment. As on all the fundamental questions—the Russian question, the immigrant question, the prospects for class struggle against the capitalist exploiters—so, too, on the black question the political pressure is to tone down and curtail our powerful Marxist program in order to not alienate the bourgeois liberals and in particular the other party of war and racism and terror, the Democrats.
We have to face reality squarely. There isn’t much multiracial class struggle against the capitalist rulers today. But there will be. The contradictions of capitalism necessarily generate class struggle, and the fight for black liberation in the U.S. can be a powerful motor force for sparking class struggle against the capitalist rulers. Some of us here remember that the mass-based civil rights movement, though misled and derailed by liberal reformism, played a powerful role in shattering the anti-Communist consensus of the McCarthyite witchhunt of the 1950s.
Our strategic perspective is to forge black Trotskyist cadre, leaders of a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party rooted in the entire working class and waging a fight on behalf of all of the oppressed to win conscious workers to the fight for abortion rights for women, democratic rights for gays (including the right to marriage), and full citizenship rights for all immigrants, which is an integral part of the fight for socialist revolution. There’s been a ratcheting up of the anti-sex witchhunt against “crimes without victims,” against prostitution, pornography. The racist “war on drugs” heavily impacts upon black women, who are having their kids snatched away from them and are a rapidly growing proportion of those behind bars.
Our struggle for black freedom is not confined to the national terrain. The link between the U.S. imperialist wars abroad in Iraq and Afghanistan and the rising racist reaction at home should be quite clear. We have pointed out in our press that Charles Graner, one of the guards involved in torture at Abu Ghraib, was also a guard at the prison where Mumia is housed, accused, among other things, of slipping a razor blade into an inmate’s food. We have something special to say to the majority of the oppressed black masses, who in larger numbers historically oppose U.S. imperialist adventures against dark-skinned peoples: the violent and bloody and corrupt and hypocritical ruling class that slaughters Iraqis and Afghanis is the same ruling class whose cops gun down black youth and Latinos on a daily basis. This occurs in a country in which there’s a proliferation of nooses as a means of inciting racist terror, including even in workplaces and working-class areas.
Our literature must address the anti-China imperialist “human rights” campaign in relationship to Darfur, Sudan, especially now with the upcoming Olympics in Beijing. A lot of black liberals have joined with Zionists and other reactionaries in pushing for “humanitarian” imperialist intervention into Darfur under the umbrella of the United Nations and other imperialist forces. They’re appealing for humanitarianism from the same U.S. imperialist ruling class that during the apartheid era had a policy of “constructive engagement” with the apartheid butchers in South Africa.
Meanwhile, by their own numbers the bourgeois press, which likes to laud U.S. imperialism today about its “aid to Africa” on the question of AIDS, can’t hide the truth about how the AIDS epidemic here in the U.S. is taking a heavy, disproportionate toll upon black people. There was a recent report that in the U.S. in 2005 alone some 17,000 people died from AIDS. There’s no decent health care in this country for millions, and the capitalist exploiters put nothing before their profits. They never have and they never will. The struggle for black liberation is explosive not simply because of the weight that black workers still have as a highly unionized layer of the working class, but because it threatens to destabilize imperialist rule at home and has internationalist implications.
The “End of Racism” Myth
During the period of the bipartisan anti-Soviet war drive, we used to run articles such as “Blacks Don’t Cry for Solidarność” (WV No. 297, 22 January 1982), in reference to the CIA- and Vatican-backed clerical-nationalist “union” that spearheaded capitalist counterrevolution in the Polish deformed workers state. You had black press running headlines like, “Democracy in Poland—by Reagan?” We ran headlines like “The KKK Doesn’t Ride in Moscow” (WV No. 389, 18 October 1985) as part of our fight to win American workers to the defense of the Soviet degenerated workers state.
In the U.S., our labor/black mobilizations that have swept the Klan and Nazi fascists off the streets over the past decades were built in political confrontation with the black Democrats and their reformist tails. Our press must educate our youth and our working-class readership about our history on these questions, about what strategy and program is necessary to smash the roots of black oppression, which lie and are lodged in the very structure of racist American capitalism.
As I said earlier, the flipside of the bourgeoisie’s “death of communism” triumphalism is the myth of the “end of racism.” This is particularly embodied in the Obama campaign. But as you go to any big city, you will see the shuttered factories, the huge population of the hungry and the homeless and the nearly 50 million people in this country without health care. In Detroit, unemployment stands at 70 percent among black youth, forcing many to survive on the streets by any means necessary. When a comrade and I made a trip to Detroit a couple years ago, there was an article in the local press about a funeral home that had closed on the very economically devastated west side of Detroit. For some reason the cops opened up this funeral home, and coffins were still in there with two black males. To the racist capitalist rulers, black life is increasingly expendable. And not only black life—just look at the war being waged against the Latino and immigrant populations. It’s an all-sided class war against the oppressed. The crumbling anarchic capitalist economy also deeply impacts the white working class and the middle class. People are victimized by parasitic capitalists. You can see it with the home foreclosures.
The upcoming presidential election is significant in the sense that for the first time ever, the Democratic nomination will likely either go to a woman, Hillary Clinton, or a black man, Barack Obama. Obama says this is a post-racial America. He can say that, but a lot of his black supporters are rightfully worried about some racist nut taking him out. Sections of the ruling class, whose interests and “democratic” image have been damaged by the last eight years of the Bush regime, now seek to put into office the historically preferred instrument for carrying out future imperialist wars, the “friends of labor” Democratic Party.
You might wonder why a black bourgeois politician such as Obama can deny the deep-seated racism at the heart of U.S. capitalism. Well, he’s one of those middle-class beneficiaries of the civil rights movement; he’s a reflection of the utter bankruptcy of the so-called black leadership, many of whom were mayors in the ’80s and administered capitalist austerity programs and racist cutbacks. Many of these black capitalist politicians—Coleman Young in Detroit and Tom Bradley in L.A. come to mind—were supported by the fake left. The Republicans are pretty up-front about their program. They want to do away with unions, black rights, immigrant rights, women’s rights. But while the Democrats smile in your face, they keep their dagger hidden. Obama denies that the Jena Six case had anything to do with race. This is not just a program of colorblindness. It’s in fact a program for subordinating the interests of the working masses to the capitalist rulers in the name of “national unity” patriotism.
Every day in this sick, barbaric, capitalist society, black people are confronted with the legacy of slavery and the enduring reality of the color line, which obscures the fundamental division of society into antagonistic social classes with irreconcilably opposed class interests. While Obama was celebrating his victory in South Carolina, Confederate flags—the flag of slavery—were flying around him. This, 143 years after the defeat of the slavocracy in the Civil War! That’s why we have a lot of unfinished business.
Today the racism is increasingly blatant. The liberal New York Times now romanticizes the days when white performers performed in blackface, the minstrel shows. They had an article a few months ago about Al Jolson and what a wonderful guy he was. Black women are called “nappy-headed hos,” while that racist, sexist pig Don Imus predictably gets a mere slap on the wrist, and is now back on the air. There are increased racist provocations and attacks, which the multiracial labor movement must fight tooth and nail. All this must be part of the fight to build a class-struggle workers party that will fight for a workers government.
For the Unity and Integrity of the Working Class!
Increasingly today, petty-bourgeois black “leaders” are playing the anti-immigrant card, and they’re getting slicker about it, trying to maintain their slice of the dwindling pie. One of those who was once a friend of Dick Fraser’s, and used to be my friend too when he was some kind of radical, is Earl Ofari Hutchinson. He is especially important in L.A. He has written extensively on blacks and the left. In his better days he wrote a manuscript called “Blacks and the Early American Left: A Study in History Reconstructed,” which is a very useful analysis about the role of the Communist Party in winning over a layer of blacks in its early decades. But today, he’s a straight-out bourgeois liberal. He recently wrote a book called The Latino Challenge to Black America (2007) where he argued that there’s a layer of Latino capitalist politicians who recognize the numerical superiority of Latinos today and the black politicians have to work with them, because these black politicians can’t have as many posts and positions as before. Ofari argued in this book that black people shouldn’t just rely on the Democrats but should look to other bourgeois politicians as well.
The reason why I mention Ofari is not because he represents any kind of organization, although there are people who listen to him and read his columns in black newspapers, but to point to the different manifestations of bourgeois-liberal ideology out there. Ofari cites black Democratic mayor Ron Dellums in Oakland. He says black leaders need to learn from Dellums, figure out a way to work with Latino politicians, like Dellums does, and build a multiethnic coalition. It all amounts to different ways of slicing up an ever-shrinking piece of the capitalist pie. We vigorously fight against anti-immigrant and anti-Latino chauvinism while challenging the deeply entrenched anti-black racism that forms the cornerstone of U.S. capitalism. We just published our new Black History and the Class Struggle pamphlet, which has a number of important articles on this question.
I want to refer to a piece by Richard Fraser called “On the Negro Question,” an SWP internal document dated 7 June 1952. In his opening paragraph, Fraser states: “The existence of discrimination against and segregation of Negroes in the U.S. is an historically unique form of oppression and exploitation in that it is a special form which can be identified neither with class nor national oppression. The problem of its elimination from American life is a great challenge to American Marxism. I would hazard that of all the theoretical problems of American Marxism the Negro question is the only one which is especially unique, truly American.”
Now, in this fine document Fraser also stated that the SWP had pronounced theoretical weaknesses on the black question, but that “Our party does have an enviable record in practical struggle. We have never neglected an opportunity to enter into a struggle against Jim Crow and its various manifestations when it was physically possible for us to do so. When it was impossible for us to engage organizationally in a struggle, our press was tireless in its defense of the Negro struggle and exposed every faker who sought to subordinate it to other considerations.” Now, he wrote this during the period of the McCarthyite witchhunt; today we face the political pressures of the post-Soviet world. But we, too, have an enviable record.
The Material Roots of Black Oppression
As an oppressed race-color caste, black people are integrated into the capitalist economy but forcibly segregated at the bottom of society. The recent Supreme Court decision scrapping school integration plans in a couple of cities was a declaration of intent of segregation forever. This goes along with the more outspoken pseudo-scientific racism that’s beginning to deepen, even in the mouths of scientists like James Watson—who, by the way, gave little to no credit to Rosalind Franklin, disparaging her critical role in the discovery of DNA.
A former member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), H. Rap Brown [Jamil Al-Amin], put it very well:
“Color is the first thing Black people in america become aware of. You are born into a world that has given color meaning and color becomes the single most determining factor of your existence. Color determines where you live, how you live and, under certain circumstances, if you will live. Color determines your friends, your education, your mother’s and father’s jobs, where you play, what you play and, more importantly, what you think of yourself.
“In and of itself, color has no meaning. But the white world has given it meaning—political, social, economic, historical, physiological and philosophical. Once color has been given meaning, an order is thereby established” (Die N----r Die!, 1969).
In the same book, he also stated, “Being Black in this country is like somebody asking you to play white Russian roulette and giving you a gun with bullets in all the chambers. Anyway you go, jim, that’s your ass.”
Along with others—many with his courage—H. Rap Brown was a nationalist. He had a classless view of society, a view that led many black radicals of the era of the civil rights movement, like the Panthers, to reject the only road to black liberation—i.e., the program of revolutionary integrationism, the mobilization of the multiracial labor movement in the struggle for black freedom.
I mentioned the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision against school integration because it strikes deep; it strikes home. It potentially jeopardizes almost a thousand other such desegregation plans. We know that for many years the attacks on integration have been full steam ahead. But this takes us back to 1896, in which the “separate but equal” doctrine was codified in the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision. Homer Plessy, a man of mixed-race ancestry, sued in Louisiana when he was refused seating in the so-called “white section” of a train. The court decision said that if black people regard this as racial discrimination, it’s because they choose to put such an interpretation on it.
The era after Reconstruction, the most radical period in American history, was contradictory. It was punctuated, as we know, with the revolt of the white farmers in the 1880s alongside black farmers and the rise of the Populist Party led by Tom Watson, who eventually became a virulent white supremacist. By the end of the 19th century, white supremacy prevailed South and North, backed up by the state and federal governments.
The period at the end of the 19th century, which culminated with the formal disenfranchisement and entrenchment of legal segregation of black people as an oppressed race-color caste, also saw the entry of U.S. imperialism on the world scene. This was manifested in the imperialist subjugation of dark-skinned peoples in Cuba, the Philippines and Hawaii, and carried out under the racist watchword of the “white man’s burden.” This is the context in which conservative black leader Booker T. Washington arose. He was a product of the defeat of Reconstruction. The U.S. capitalist rulers were driving to keep black people in their “place” in order to divide the working class and also to keep white workers down.
Booker T. Washington assured the white racist rulers: “The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremist folly.” He advocated an alliance with the white capitalists and said that these are the greatest friends of black people, regarding white workers as lower-class trash. There’s a revival of Booker T. Washingtonism, if you will, in this post-Soviet period. Ex-radical black writers—many of whom were years ago calling him what he was, an Uncle Tom accommodationist to racist segregation—are now claiming that he was about uplift, about giving black people some skills, self-esteem, self-respect. There’s a book called Crisis of the Black Intellectual by a Southern Connecticut State University professor, W.D. Wright. In the book, Wright has some criticisms of Cornel West and of the feminists and of black “leaders” like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. But then he points to Booker T. Washington and says that this is what we need today. We need someone like that, Wright says, because the fight for racial integration is old hat.
During our subscription drive last year, we ran into several black students who thought that the Civil War was unimportant because it didn’t end racism, while dismissing organizations like the Panthers that fought for armed self-defense against racist terror as a thing of the past. Where does such an outlook come from? It comes from defeats, from despair of the possibility of mobilizing the multiracial working class to fight against black oppression and on behalf of the poor and exploited. We oppose those who say that separate can be equal, that there’s a separate road for black liberation independent of the rest of American society. Our revolutionary program underlines that the fight for black liberation cannot be achieved through liberal integrationism or petty-bourgeois black nationalism and separatism, but rather through the struggle for revolutionary integrationism, the struggle for black liberation through socialist revolution.
Incarceration, Unemployment and Black Oppression
We cannot deny the minimal gains won through massive social struggle during the civil rights movement, gains that have increased the growth of a black middle class up until today, with more black elected officials in government and more corporate officials, as well as more black judges and cops, enforcers for the racist capitalist state. The black middle-class elements are growing and there are sharper class divisions within the black population. But the American bourgeoisie remains overwhelmingly white. At the same time, the ruling class has a new layer of younger, black capitalist politicians like Cory Booker in Newark, New Jersey, and Obama, who are being pushed forward to repackage the “end of racism” lies.
While the bourgeois black politicians regard themselves as the “natural leaders of the black masses,” black workers are still a strategic component of the proletariat, forming an organic link to the downtrodden ghetto masses. The black proletariat has borne the brunt of racist cutbacks and layoffs. But one can also see the potential for integrated class struggle, like during the 2005 New York transit strike and the 2007 Pascagoula, Mississippi, shipyard strike of white and black workers against the largest naval shipbuilder in the world. At the same time, in relationship to the Latino proletariat, the weight of the black proletariat has shrunk, and I think that the statistics are indicative.
From 1983 to 2002, there were 2.3 million more craft and skilled manufacturing jobs, with the percentage of blacks increasing from 6.8 percent to 7.4 percent. However, Latinos increased from 8.5 percent of craft jobs to 17.1 percent, a huge increase. The number of unskilled manufacturing jobs in that period decreased by 1.3 million, with blacks remaining steady at 14 to 15 percent, while the percentage of Latinos increased from 9.4 percent to 20.9 percent. This represents a significant decline in the number of black manufacturing workers. There’s been an increase of Latino workers in non-farm laboring jobs—helpers, handlers, textile, etc. It’s important to look at the numbers.
Also you have to look at the question since the 1960s. In a book called For Jobs and Freedom: Race and Labor in America Since 1865, Robert H. Zieger noted that the greatest relative gains in earnings for black Americans occurred in the South in the 1960s. By the late ’70s, the economists and statisticians had concluded that the rise of black employment in Southern industry accounted for the bulk of the recent income gains. Clearly that was affected very greatly over the following decade with deindustrialization and the shift toward high-tech and service sector jobs. And black workers took a very big hit. The deindustrialization of the American heartland hit young black men with particular force. I earlier mentioned the unemployment rate of young blacks in Detroit as an example—the average in most cities is around 50 percent. It understates the number of people unemployed who don’t even bother to look for work because there aren’t any jobs.
And then there’s the question of incarceration. In that regard, the statistics and figures—when you think about the incarceration of blacks in this country—are quite staggering. This is not Jim Crow; but it’s certainly an intensification of the caste oppression of black people.
Nationally, 2 percent of the population cannot vote as a result of felony convictions. Some 13 percent of black males are disenfranchised, with one in four permanently barred from voting in seven states. In Florida, nearly one-third of all black men are permanently disenfranchised. With only 12 percent of the U.S. population, blacks comprise over 40 percent of prison inmates, six times the rate of imprisonment for whites. The soaring rate of black imprisonment has been a subject of public discussion and political debate for two decades, with the rise of “three strikes” laws, the intensification of the “war on drugs” and the introduction of mandatory sentencing imposing harsher terms for those found in possession of crack cocaine. And we know the role of black Democrats like Jackson and Sharpton in supporting and pursuing the racist “war on drugs,” a key linchpin of increasing incarceration.
In the Transitional Program (1938), Trotsky noted that under decaying capitalism, unemployment was taking on not only a conjunctural but structural character. He wrote:
“Under the menace of its own disintegration, the proletariat cannot permit the transformation of an increasing section of the workers into chronically unemployed paupers, living off the slops of a crumbling society. The right to employment is the only serious right left to the worker in a society based upon exploitation. This right today is being shorn from him at every step. Against unemployment, ‘structural’ as well as ‘conjunctural,’ the time is right to advance, along with slogans of public works, the slogans of a sliding scale of working hours. Trade unions and other organizations should bind the workers and the unemployed together in solidarity of mutual responsibility.”
It is precisely this point that was underscored by the horrific racist atrocity seen in the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, along with the rapidly crumbling infrastructure that highlights the urgency of binding together unionized workers and the unemployed and unorganized. We have to raise key transitional demands, such as those outlined by Trotsky in the Transitional Program, in the party press to forge this link. Our call for the decriminalization of drugs and our opposition to “crimes without victims”—such as prostitution and pornography—are key, as these “crimes” impact greatly upon women, especially black women. Many families are now being completely destroyed. Our call to decriminalize drugs can effectively counter the calls being made by black and white liberals for more cops in the ghettos.
We must raise the call to restore full citizenship rights to all felons. We categorically oppose every instance of disenfranchisement, which disproportionately impacts blacks and other minorities. But we also have transitional demands that we must be raising, like: jobs for all, organize the unorganized, organize the South.
It is impossible to discuss the black question in the U.S. without simultaneously discussing the role of immigrant workers, who are today a key component of the proletariat. What about the 1994 California Proposition 187, which denied access to social services to undocumented immigrants and was passed with sizeable black support? We have the phenomenon of a few blacks joining the anti-immigrant Minutemen vigilante outfit. This is the kind of anti-immigrant garbage that we have to combat as part of our fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants.
For a Multiracial, Revolutionary Workers Party!
Anti-black racism is truly horrifying. The statistics of black imprisonment are just the tip of the iceberg. In our 1966 document, “Black and Red” (reprinted in Marxist Bulletin No. 9), we posed the burning need for a fight for the retention of black workers as part of the proltariat, recognizing that lumpenization was increasing. It is in the objective interests of the multiracial working class to fight on behalf of black rights, on behalf of women’s liberation, on behalf of the struggles and interests of all of the oppressed.
Karl Marx said that it’s not in the first instance a question of how the proletariat views itself; it’s fundamentally a question of what its objective position is in capitalist society. The workers are propertyless wage slaves; they don’t have any stake in the existing capitalist order. This doesn’t mean that revolutionary communist consciousness is a spontaneous product of class struggle. But it means that we can facilitate the process by consciously standing in the tradition of the Bolshevik Revolution. Richard Fraser rooted himself in the Russian Revolution. The Bolsheviks dealt with special oppression, such as the national question, in the tsarist empire. It was the Bolsheviks who insisted that the American Communist movement address front and center the special oppression of black people and win them to the fight for socialist revolution.
In recent months, we have run into some black youth who doubted our characterization of the Democratic Party as the historic party of slavery in the U.S. Well, it is true. And, by the way, New York City was a hotbed of racist, pro-Democratic Party sentiment, especially during the Civil War. Before then, New York was one of the centers of the slave trade. About a year ago, there was an exhibit about this in New York City, and its subtitle was “Commerce and Conscience.”
What all this reveals is that youth today, including black youth, are not taught about this country’s history and do not understand the material roots of black oppression. It is the task of our party and press to motivate to a new generation why the black question is central to the fight for workers revolution, why it is rooted in the very history of racist American capitalism, and why only socialist revolution can achieve black liberation.
I’ll end with this: our program corresponds to the deeply felt interests and needs of working people in this period of decaying, crumbling capitalist rule. We are determined to make clear—not least because in America black oppression is the envelope for class exploitation—that it is in the interest of white, Latino and other workers to fight for black liberation. We saw it in 2007 in the South, when black and white workers joined together against the shipyard bosses in the Pascagoula strike. We see it in the struggle of black, Latino and white workers to organize at the Smithfield meatpacking plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina. In fact, Mexican workers last year joined in protest with black workers who were denied the Martin Luther King Day holiday. These are small examples, but they show the potential for united class struggle and for educating the most conscious elements of the working class in the understanding that there is no future for humanity unless we build a multiracial, revolutionary workers party as part of a reforged Trotskyist Fourth International that will fight for world socialist revolution.