The“N”Word in Racist America

For Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

Reprinted from Young Spartacus pages of Workers Vanguard No. 807, 1 August 2003.

The word originated amid the horrors of the Middle Passage, the bartering in human flesh, the crack of the overseer’s whip—the systematic enslavement and dehumanization of black Africans and their descendants on North American soil. Later, it was carved by lynch mobs, savagely intent on enforcing Jim Crow racial segregation, into the hideously mutilated bodies of their black victims. It was and remains the white-supremacist rallying cry heralding cross-burnings outside black homes, firebombings of black churches and assaults on black people on city streets. Cops bark it as they rampage through the ghettos, beating down black youth and dragging them off to jail.

Yet in recent years the word “n-----” has come to be casually thrown around by youth of all ethnic backgrounds as a sign of contemporary “hipness” and a “term of endearment.” It is blasted through the airwaves in songs listened to by millions across the world and in the routines of popular black comedians. It screams from the shelves of bookstores and newsstands, the title of a best-selling book by black Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy last year. It has even been heard from the platforms of leftist antiwar demonstrations. In a cruel twist, the increasingly promiscuous use of this racist epithet has been driven by the hip-hop music originating in ghettos like the South Bronx and South Central Los Angeles.

For such youth, hip-hop lyrics often are an expression of defiance in the face of the raw racist reality of American society and a ruling class that could not care less whether the besieged and impoverished ghetto masses live or die. But far from being a protest against racial oppression, as some leftist black intellectuals would have it, the pervasive use of the “N” word is a result of the racist rulers’ denigration of black people. This is a form of “defiance” born of demoralization and despair, a product of the ever-worsening conditions of black life and the absence of any significant social struggle in the decades since the collapse of the civil rights movement.

It is no coincidence that the only other music today that commonly includes the word in its lyrics is that of the fascists, such as the filth put out by the neo-Nazi Resistance Records. For racist reactionaries, the one redeeming feature of hip-hop is the regular use of the “N” word. In the early years of “gangsta” rap, Newsweek (19 March 1990) featured a “Rap Rage” cover, which did its part to encourage state repression and racist victimization of the hip-hop music scene by whipping up white fear and hatred. But the editors of Newsweek did hail “the disinterment of the word ‘n-----’” as the “most visible contribution” to rap music’s “Culture of Attitude.”

We revolutionary Marxists in the Spartacus Youth Clubs have no particular attitude toward hip-hop music. What one listens to, watches or reads is a private affair. But the word “n-----” is a program for racist reactionaries, and we oppose its use by whites and blacks alike. In his powerful 1829 Appeal against slavery, black abolitionist David Walker wrote: “The white Americans have applied this term to Africans, by way of reproach for our colour, to aggravate and heighten our miseries, because they have their feet on our throats.”

No less today than in the past, it means not only race-terror and the lynch rope but also that the victims “deserve it.” In Meridian, Mississippi earlier this month, a deranged white racist gunned down five people, including four blacks, at an aircraft parts plant, after having repeatedly terrorized black co-workers with how “he was going to come in one day and kill up a bunch of n-----s” (New York Times, 9 July). In this violent, racist society, the “N” word is a fighting word, as both black and white people are aware. Recalling the intense struggles of the civil rights movement, a black SL comrade explained:

“Its use by whites was an assertion of white supremacy and the inferiority of the black race.... My home instructions were to defend the race at all cost—the ‘N’ word was a fighting word. You fought, period. To walk away was cowardice. My mother, a Southern-born woman, wouldn’t allow cowardice in her house—not on this issue. But the shame would not have ended there. In the neighborhood I lived in, the scorn would have been just as intense. A white insulted your people, and you did nothing! This was the highest shame.”

That black oppression is at the foundation of American capitalism is a direct legacy of black chattel slavery. The chains of slavery were shattered by the American Civil War, the last great bourgeois revolution and one which ushered in the most democratic period in American history, Radical Reconstruction. But the promise of Reconstruction was betrayed by the property interests of the Northern capitalists. Until almost a century later with the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, built on the courage of thousands of activists, white supremacy and Jim Crow police-state control of black people reigned in the South. Blacks who fled North were integrated into the workforce at the bottom and forcibly segregated into inner-city ghettos. The subjugation of the black masses at the bottom of this society continues to this day—but black workers also remain integrated into strategic sectors of the industrial proletariat, which alone has the social power to shatter this racist capitalist system. For the capitalists, the color line is a key weapon in enforcing class exploitation by keeping the working class divided and weakened.

The frequent use of the “N” word in hip-hop music precipitated a wide-ranging discussion within the Spartacus Youth Clubs on race in America and how it is reflected through youth culture, culminating in an educational presentation at the Youth Commission of the Eleventh National Conference of the Spartacist League/U.S. last summer. As vanguard fighters against black oppression, we struggle against every manifestation of racism and bigotry in this profoundly racist society. Against liberals like the NAACP, who appeal to the government or school authorities to censor “politically incorrect” language, we reject the illusion that racism can be legislated away. Such censorship only accords the capitalist government additional powers of repression, which are invariably used against working people and the oppressed. As one SL comrade observed in a pre-conference discussion contribution:

“We are materialists which, with respect to the issue at hand, means our interest is in changing material reality, that is, in forever destroying the social basis for racist oppression in this country by welding labor/black power and effecting a proletarian socialist revolution. We do not hold that this can occur by sanitizing social reality à la...the advocates of ‘politically correct’ discourse. The mirror opposite of such efforts is attempts to make the ‘N’ word hip and thus, according to the proponents of this ‘strategy,’ to erase its racist impact. Either of these idealist pursuits shares the assumption that it is what people think that is responsible for racism and not that racist oppression is the bedrock on which the American capitalist order is maintained.”

Black workers are potentially the most combative section of the proletariat; and mobilizing the labor movement in the fight for black liberation is not just one more case of championing democratic rights, but is the key to the American socialist revolution. Likewise, the “N” word is not just one more racial or ethnic slur, but is the watchword of hardened reactionaries who would spearhead a counterrevolutionary offensive rather than accept a socialist society in which black people are truly free. Any adaptation to this word can only redound to the benefit of those who view black oppression as a virtue of the existing social order. Its use can only retard the development of communist, i.e., liberating, consciousness.

Black Apologists for White Racism

The ideological campaign to “reclaim” the “N” word as a “term of endearment” was given national attention last year with the publication of Randall Kennedy’s N-----: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word (a grotesque parody of the title of C. Vann Woodward’s insightful history, The Strange Career of Jim Crow [1955]). In his viciously satisfying riposte titled “The N-Word as Therapy for Racists: Randall Kennedy’s Idiotic Assault on Black People’s Honor” (Black Commentator, 27 June 2002), Martin Kilson, the first black professor to receive full tenure at Harvard in 1968, denounced as “idiotic” the “notion that the more White Americans mouth the ‘N’ word the greater will be the purge of Negrophobia in their souls, as if by comparison the more today’s Germans mouth the K-word the greater will be the eventual purging of Jewish-phobia in German society.”

Kennedy’s book “was tantamount to tossing a match at a gasoline-soaked building,” wrote Kilson, pointing to a series of racist provocations unleashed by the book at Harvard Law School last spring, including a Web posting using the slur “n-g” and an e-mail by a white student crowing, “I have actually begun using the ‘n-----’ word more often than before.” In a reply to Kilson, Kennedy confessed, “It so happens that the students involved were my students” (Black Commentator, 22 August 2002).

Kennedy’s service on behalf of the forces of racist reaction was widely hailed by the American bourgeois media. Typical was the review in Newsweek (14 January 2002): “He’s made his case: that this ‘troublesome’ word is only a word. And that words—like people—can always change.” What purpose can a “changed” definition of the “N” word serve in capitalist America? None other than to legitimize the continuing degradation of black people.

Kennedy’s vile little tract is a slap in the face to every black person. But attempts to legitimize the growing use of the “N” word in public discourse extend to more left-wing black intellectuals like Robin D. G. Kelley and Michael Eric Dyson. Commenting on the controversy surrounding Jennifer Lopez’s use of “n---a” in her “I’m Real” remix single with rapper Ja Rule, self-described “hip-hop intellectual” Dyson wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times (31 July 2001):

“One of the few privileges blacks may derive from their oppression is the ability to linguistically subvert its corrosive meanings....

“And it is one of the consequences of black freedom that white folk—and other nonblacks—must not pretend not to understand the difference between blacks calling each other ‘n---a’ and whites and others calling us ‘n---er.’ Only a heady moral insolence could feign such innocence. So J-Lo, here’s the deal: Puffy can say ‘n---a’; you can’t. Now that’s real.”

Responding to the likes of Dyson, Ron Scott wrote in the Amsterdam News (9 August 2001):

“Well, if you really want to keep it real, try reading ‘100 Years of Lynchings’ by Ralph Ginzburg and ‘Without Sanctuary, Lynching Photography in America,’ by James Allen and Hilton Als, which graphically depict the hideous lynchings of African-Americans in America. The latter has some photographs that show the N word, which was carved on their chests.”

As for the supposed distinction between the term of affection and the slur in ending the word with an “-er” rather than an “-a,” this is, as Scott observed, a distinction without a difference: “Remember, many white people weren’t that educated, just racist as hell, so in many cases, it was spelled the latter.”

As Scott remarked, “When a word is placed in the public domain the way the hip-hop community has somewhat recklessly dropped the N word, it’s evident that one can no longer define who uses it.” Witness the case of white Cincinnati cop Thomas Haas, who gunned down 21-year-old Rickey Moore only months after the cop killing of another black youth, Timothy Thomas, touched off a long-simmering explosion of outrage in April 2001. Five years earlier, a complaint was filed against this same cop for calling a black prisoner “n---a” while beating him into submission. According to the police report of the incident, quoted in the Cincinnati Enquirer (5 August 2001):

“Officer Haas claims he used the term in a friendly manner and that he was not attempting to be disrespectful.... He also claims this is an acceptable term used by persons on the street, primarily drug dealers. He states that he is trying to be a good community police officer by ‘acting the role’ and by presenting himself in a manner close to the persons he serves.”

The Politics of Despair

In an essay titled “Kickin’ Reality, Kickin’ Ballistics: ‘Gangsta Rap’ and Postindustrial Los Angeles” (reprinted in Race Rebels [1994]), Robin Kelley notes, “The generation that came of age in the 1980s was the product of devastating structural changes in the urban economy that date back at least to the late 1960s.” As the rubber and steel factories that had formerly provided jobs for black youth disappeared, South Central L.A. experienced a 50 percent rise in unemployment and an almost one-third drop in median income. The ghettos “were turned into war zones,” housing projects “were renovated along the lines of minimum security prisons” and “police helicopters, complex electronic surveillance, even small tanks armed with battering rams became part of this increasingly militarized urban landscape.” It was these conditions that gave rise to the massive 1992 upheaval provoked by the acquittal of four white cops who had beaten and tormented black motorist Rodney King.

South Central was emblematic of every ghetto in America. From the time of the first mass migration of Southern blacks to the Northern cities in the early decades of the twentieth century, the ghetto population was used by the capitalist rulers as a “last hired, first fired” reserve army of labor, brought in when their labor was needed and cast aside in economic downturns. Witness current unemployment figures, which for black teenagers today hover at 40 percent. As the capitalists took the wrecking ball to the steel works, shut down the auto factories and cut millions of manufacturing jobs beginning in the 1970s, the population of the inner cities came to be seen as a surplus population not “worth” providing with even the most basic needs of subsistence. The “war on poverty” of the 1960s was replaced by the “war on drugs,” a concerted onslaught on the ghetto masses leading to the imprisonment of up to a million young black men and women at any given time. While the 13th Amendment abolished chattel slavery, it excluded prisoners from protection against enslavement. The mainstream use of the “N” word, a symbol of slavery, recurs at a time when blacks are disproportionately imprisoned.

In the article “Deadly Symbiosis” (Boston Review, April/May 2002), Loïc Wacquant noted that the massive intensification of state repression in the ghettos came as “the capacity of the ghetto to ensure caste domination was undercut in the 1960s by economic restructuring that made African-American labor expendable.” The result was “to make the ghetto more like a prison” and “the prison more like a ghetto.” The further impoverishment and all-sided degradation of the inner-city masses has been used to intensify the exploitation of the entire working class, axing social programs and branding the black “underclass” as “undeserving,” “indolent” and “criminal.”

A few decades after the mass struggles of the civil rights movement broke the back of legalized Jim Crow segregation and formal equality for black people was decreed in this country, the conditions of life of the ghetto masses have worsened by every material standard: average family income has plunged, schools are more segregated than before civil rights programs were implemented, the unemployment rate among black youth is twice that among white youth, and an astounding 28 percent of all black men are destined to spend some time behind bars. Poverty, chronic joblessness and jail, schools that are no more than holding pens, AIDS, crime and cop terror—these are standard aspects of life for the black population under decaying American capitalism.

Focused as it was on winning legal reforms, the liberal-led civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s was bound to the Democratic Party and thereby the capitalist order. As such, it was incapable of addressing the desperate conditions of the black inner cities, which are materially rooted in the whole system of American capitalism. A series of spontaneous ghetto rebellions broke out beginning in the mid ’60s and was smashed with brute force as heavily armed police and the military occupied entire neighborhoods. At the same time, widespread anger at the Vietnam War fueled the radicalization of youth in the army and at home.

Nationalist groups promoting black capitalism and liberal politicians like black Congressman Adam Clayton Powell responded with efforts to keep the cities safe for racist American capitalism, from installing black front men in the mayor’s office to colluding directly with the cops, as in the case of cultural nationalist leader Ron Karenga in Los Angeles. These betrayals had the backing of major American corporations, which were eager to fund such programs dedicated to containing black unrest and promoting business.

The government set up “war on poverty” programs that successfully co-opted a layer of black activists for the purpose of re-establishing control over the rebellious ghettos. A number of blacks like Coleman Young in Detroit and Maynard Jackson in Atlanta were installed as mayors to fire city workers, close inner-city hospitals, slash funds to social programs and bolster racist “law and order.” Once the turmoil in the black communities was tempered, in the early ’70s the poverty programs were massively cut. Soon after, the deindustrialization of the 1980s ravaged the black working class.

The conscious selling out of the social struggles of the ’50s and ’60s, which potentially could have taken a revolutionary direction given the proper leadership, and the absence of any significant struggle since that period have produced a climate of defeat and reaction in which the “N” word has gained wider “respectable” public currency. The liberal and leftist apologists for its use are both products and promoters of that defeatist mood. They reject any possibility of mass social struggle, much less integrated workers struggle, and instead glorify “cultural empowerment,” which posits that black oppression exists in people’s minds rather than being inherent to American capitalism. Now as in the ’60s, this is a program for capitulation to the racist status quo and is simply another means to blame the oppressed for their oppression. This gains literal expression with the prominent political influence of Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam (NOI) on the hip-hop scene.

Farrakhan: Bad News for Black People

Farrakhan has been the keynote speaker at a number of “hip-hop summit” meetings. Many black youth who disdain the “respectable” inch-at-a-time gradualism of mainstream Democratic Party politicos like Jesse Jackson take as good coin Farrakhan’s occasional rhetorical forays against the racist rulers. In turn, black leftists, looking for an audience that would provide them some access to corridors of influence in this society, seek to peddle their liberal and reformist wares in Farrakhan’s shadow. Thus Dyson extols Farrakhan’s 1995 Million Man March as “a dramatic testament to the magnitude of black male hunger for racial rescue and moral requirement.”

Despite the just outrage at racist America felt by many in attendance, the Million Man March was a reactionary, woman-hating mobilization for “atonement,” which forgave the oppressors and exploiters for their enormous crimes against black people, working people and the poor, while blaming the oppressed for their oppression. In an article in the Black Scholar (Winter/Spring 1996) titled “Million Man March Appeases Racist Exploiters” (reprinted in WV No. 647, 7 June 1996), Bay Area Spartacist spokesman and Labor Black League member Don Cane wrote:

“In the 1960s, ‘I’m Black and I’m Proud’ race consciousness, influenced by masses in struggle, was defiant of the racist capitalist rulers. Today we witness ‘I’m black and I’m not a criminal’ race consciousness influenced by a desperate black middle class begging for ‘understanding’ from the racist rulers. The black misleaders, branded by race themselves, can barely conceal their contempt for the black masses on whom they call to ‘atone.’ I say black people have nothing to atone for! But the false prophets of the ‘American Dream’ blame the victim for not ‘succeeding’ and degrade the proud history of black working people who have struggled long and hard for freedom from the chains of racist oppression.”

Columbia University professor Manning Marable, a leading figure in the social-democratic Committees of Correspondence, opposed the Million Man March at the time. But in “The Politics of Hip Hop” (Along the Color Line, March 2002), Marable complains of the refusal of “the liberal integrationist, middle class black establishment” to “engage in a constructive political dialogue with the hip hop nation” and enthuses over the NOI:

“The Nation of Islam has understood for decades that black culture is directly related to black politics. To transform an oppressed community’s political behavior, one must first begin with the reconstruction of both cultural and civic imagination.”

It is an indictment of the “black establishment” that they have written off a generation of black youth. But here Marable retails the discredited notions of the ’60s cultural nationalists. “Black art initiates, supports and promotes change,” wrote Ron Karenga in 1967, for whom this was an explicit renunciation of the need for the economic and political liberation of blacks. In a retort applying equally well to Marable today, black scholar Robert Allen exposed the real meaning of this program in Black Awakening in Capitalist America (1969):

“It has allowed a passive retreat into ‘blackness’ on the part of some of those who call themselves revolutionaries. These so-called black revolutionaries measure their militancy by how much ‘black awareness’ they have or how ‘bad’ they can talk. Verbal militance thus replaces action, and the net result is passive nonresistance to oppression.”

Farrakhan’s alternative to the fraud of liberal integrationism is to peddle segregationist bigotry so that he and his coterie of like-minded petty-bourgeois followers can gain the exclusive “right” to exploit the ghetto for themselves. The “self-respect” he offers is the misogyny of a husband forcing his wife to walk ten feet behind him, and his “race pride” comes in the form of vindictive denunciations of Jewish, Arab and Asian shopkeepers as “bloodsuckers.”

The idea of “black capitalism”—predicated on the possibility of consolidating a significant black bourgeoisie in racist America—is both reactionary and utopian. But it expresses the outlook of that small layer of black entrepreneurs like Russell Simmons of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN), who have “made it.” The glorification of criminality not infrequently promoted in Simmons’ productions is but the flip side of Farrakhan’s appeals for “atonement”—both accept the racist stereotype of the ghetto poor as a criminal underclass. “Many people who are racist don’t even know it. Part of our struggle is to take our advantage of that—move that racism around, use it for your business, your objectives,” exhorts Simmons in a 2002 interview with Marable. This attitude parallels what Ishmael Reed observed among some Bay Area rappers who “come across as cynical, amoral capitalists who know what turns on their white suburban audience. This audience seems to need their ‘n-----’ fix” (Los Angeles Times, 3 February 2002).

Black Oppression and the Bankruptcy of Liberalism

Marable’s real perspective is Democratic Party pressure politics. Thus, he applauds “respected rappers” who “emphasized the need to mobilize artists around progressive goals, such as supporting voter education and registration campaigns.” In fact, Marable sits on the board of HSAN, itself nothing other than a vehicle to hustle the “hip-hop generation” vote for the Democratic Party. HSAN works closely with bourgeois politicians like presidential hopeful Al Sharpton, who has sought at every opportunity to channel ghetto anger against cop and fascist terror into the confines of bourgeois electoralism.

Kelley also partakes of the mood of defeat in promoting the use of the “N” word in hip-hop music, justifying this with the grotesque implication that the use of the word is actually an expression of class consciousness. Kelley argues that the use of the “N” word in hip-hop “speaks to a collective identity shaped by class consciousness, the character of inner-city space, police repression, poverty, and the constant threat of intraracial violence.” He concludes:

“In fact, N---a is frequently employed to distinguish urban black working-class males from the black bourgeoisie and African Americans in positions of institutional authority. Their point is simple: the experiences of young black men in the inner city are not universal to all black people, and, in fact, they recognize that some African Americans play a role in perpetuating their oppression.... By linking their identity to the ‘’hood’ instead of simply skin color, gangsta rappers implicitly acknowledge the limitations of racial politics.”

However, the “N” word does not denote the wage slaves of the working class, but the chattel slaves of the old South. Black working-class males (and females) who identify with the word objectively deny their historic class interests and social power as workers and will never transcend “the limitations of racial politics.” Far from being a sign of a subversive assault on the language of oppression, the pervasive use of the slave masters’ epithet by black youth reflects a profound, if unconscious, demoralization and self-hatred, an internalization of the demeaning view of black people propagated by the capitalist rulers and the mass media. Its use represents a retreat from the fight against racism and within the working class can only offend and divide.

Oppression oppresses—when not combatted, it is internalized and re-directed against others among the oppressed. Motown groups like the Temptations could at least sing about when “there’s plenty of work and the bosses are paying” in 1965’s “Since I Lost My Baby.” Rap can sometimes capture the misery of life in racist America, but all too much of it also glorifies backward lumpen consciousness. Retrograde language and the social attitudes it betrays not only are an expression of the reactionary ideology with which the ruling class justifies the all-sided oppression endemic to capitalist class society, whether of black people, women, gays or immigrants, but also reinforces that oppression. This finds expression not only in the widespread use of the “N” word but also in anti-gay and anti-woman bigotry. Hip-hop albums are littered with songs—from Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’” to Ludacris’s “Move Bitch”—referring to women in the most vilely derogatory and misogynous terms.

Black working-class women are triply oppressed under American capitalism, often relegated to the lowest-paying jobs with little opportunity for advancement and demonized by the racist rulers as “welfare cheats” and “irresponsible” unwed mothers. Perhaps the most extreme form of capitalism’s exploitation and degradation of women is prostitution. So it is symptomatic of his acceptance of the inviolability of the rule of capital that Kelley argues in Yo’ Mama’s Disfunktional! (1997) that a prostitute is “resisting what would otherwise be her fate in an increasingly service-oriented, low-wage economy with shrinking opportunities for working-class ghetto residents.” Only in a planned economy under a workers government can women be freed from the isolation and drudgery of the family as well as its accompaniment—sex as a commodity. Won to the communist program, black women will be in the forefront of the struggle against all aspects of capitalist oppression.

The grotesque notion that “reclamation” of the “N” word ameliorates racial oppression speaks to the political bankruptcy of the liberal program of many of the prominent black intellectuals like Dyson and Kelley. They can offer no way forward, only idealistic moralism, and it comes at the cost of disarming black youth confronted by a vicious, hostile society. Comparing such types to Booker T. Washington, a black apologist for Jim Crow and accommodation to the racist status quo in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one comrade observed in our pre-conference discussion: “These latter-day Booker T.’s have no solution to black oppression so instead they are reduced to seeking their bona fides by defending the ‘flexible’ use of the word, which inflexibly denotes a people relegated to second-class status.” As the comrade stressed, “For us the fight for black liberation is key to proletarian revolution in the U.S. All our comrades are women’s liberationists and all our comrades are black liberationists.”

American Workers Revolution Needs Black Leadership!

The overwhelming feeling of powerlessness that weighs down on ghetto youth stems not mainly from the absence of objective opportunities for social struggle but especially from the betrayal of struggle by self-proclaimed black leaders and the existing trade-union leadership, whose first loyalty is to the capitalist profit system. The refusal of the misleaders of organized labor to wage any struggle on behalf of the ghetto and barrio poor has contributed not only to the increased destitution and despair in the inner cities but also to the devastation of the trade unions.

Today, the conditions of life for working people are under increasing assault as the result of a contracting economy and the post-9/11 drive for “national unity.” The situation cries out for a class-struggle fight for all workers and the poor—for free, quality, integrated education, for decent medical care and housing, for jobs for all. Despite the hardening of segregation in American society and the erosion of union strength over the last two decades, black workers remain integrated into strategic sectors of the industrial proletariat, including in such basic services as health care, urban transit and longshore. But to mobilize that social power in a struggle to break the material chains of exploitation and oppression requires a political struggle to break the ideological chains that bind labor and minorities to the agencies of the capitalist oppressor, chiefly the Democratic Party. As comrade Cane said in a presentation to the Bay Area Spartacus Youth Club last year:

“If we are to be the best defenders of the ghetto poor, the best fighters against the prevailing conditions grinding down a generation of black youth, we must face reality squarely and combat every aspect of lumpen culture that retards forward movement of the working class. The black question is the decisive question facing the American workers revolution—the black ghetto cannot be separated out from it. Our party must sink deep roots into the working class and develop a communist worker cadre. Through the black component of this worker cadre we seek to organize and lead the ghetto masses in a forward march against the main enemy—the capitalist exploiters. The task of revolutionary activity is to rally the broad mass of society, the widest layers, around the only revolutionary class, the working class. And by doing so isolate the capitalists, expose them as social parasites, challenge their position of power and finally remove them from the same.”

The October Revolution of 1917, led by the Bolshevik Party of V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky, was the greatest act of social liberation in all history. In placing the multinational working class of Russia in power, it opened the door to the emancipation of women, the many oppressed nationalities and the long-suffering Jewish people. In doing so, it served as a beacon to the exploited and oppressed around the world. “Everything new on the Negro question came from Moscow,” wrote American Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon, “after the Russian Revolution began to thunder its demand throughout the world for freedom and equality for all national minorities, all subject peoples and all races—for all the despised and rejected of the earth.”

To lead that revolution to fruition, the Bolsheviks had to forge a party free of any manifestation of the backwardness and bigotry infecting the proletariat. Following the revolution, the workers government could begin to lift the entire population out of the material poverty and corresponding cultural mire brought on by the old order of reaction and oppression. Unlike in the former Russian tsarist empire, a prison house of nations into which non-Russian nationalities were forcibly assimilated, in the U.S. the segregation of black people greases the wheels for the enslavement of the proletariat as a whole. America is a racist nightmare for black people, to which the sordid history of the “N” word is testament.

But the racial barriers erected by the capitalist rulers to keep black people “in their place” and to divide black and white workers can be surmounted—in the course of class struggle. In the mass united-front anti-Klan mobilizations we have built over the years drawing on the social power of the trade unions, we have sought to bring to life the connection between labor’s fight and the fight for black freedom. When some ten thousand trade unionists, youth, black people and other minorities came out to ride the KKK race-terrorists out of New York City in October 1999, it was a powerful display of the social power of the working class standing at the head of all the oppressed.

We seek to build a Bolshevik party in the United States—a multiracial party that fights for the liberation of the proletariat and all the oppressed. Black workers, specially oppressed in racist America and correspondingly harboring fewer illusions in bourgeois “democracy,” will play a central role in this vanguard party and serve to link the anger of the downtrodden ghetto masses to the cause of the proletariat. Only a party of the Bolshevik type can lead the working class to power, smashing the social basis for racial oppression and ushering in a world in which the “N” word and all the other legacies of slavery are consigned to the scrap heap of history. As we wrote in the International Communist League “Declaration of Principles and Some Elements of Program” (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 54, Spring 1998): “The victory of the proletariat on a world scale would place unimagined material abundance at the service of human needs, lay the basis for the elimination of classes and the eradication of social inequality based on sex and the very abolition of the social significance of race, nation and ethnicity.”

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