Workers Vanguard No. 996

17 February 2012


Black Liberation: A Key Task of Proletarian Revolution

(Quote of the Week)

To celebrate Black History Month, we print below an excerpt from a 1933 document by Max Shachtman, then a leader of the U.S. Trotskyist movement. Addressing the central importance of the fight against black oppression, the document was written a few years before the explosive class battles by black and white workers that built industrial unions in this country. What Shachtman stressed at a time of Jim Crow segregation in the South is just as true today: the liberation of black people in the U.S. can be achieved only through the overthrow of capitalism by the revolutionary proletariat.

The Civil War and the Reconstruction Period, so far as the bourgeoisie was concerned, completed the bourgeois democratic revolution commenced in 1776 with the declaration of independence from England. For the Negro masses, this second revolution—to destroy the stranglehold of slavocracy over the unfoldment of industrial capitalism—yielded all that the democratic revolution in this country will ever yield them. It gave them “legal” rights; it freed them from chattel slavery. It ended with their betrayal: the “legal” rights were confined to paper; the emancipation ended with the partial restitution in parts of the South of semi-serfdom instead of with converting the plantation slaves into free landed peasants, as the French bourgeois revolution did. More than this, the bourgeoisie could not give. Since that time, these outdated economic forms have been merged into the general capitalist economy of a decadent, parasitic imperialism.…

There is only one correct way of formulating the problem of the remnants of slavery and serfdom under which hundreds of thousands of southern Negroes live to this day, and it gives the key to the whole problem: the Negro was liberated from chattel slavery as a by-product of the military-political struggle of the progressive northern bourgeoisie to consolidate the nation on a modern capitalist basis, free from the fetters of a reactionary slavocracy. The Negro will not only be liberated from the wage slavery of today but the survivals of feudalism and slavery will be exterminated, as a “by-product” of the military-political struggle of the last progressive class in American society—the class of black and white proletarian—to establish a socialist nation by means of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The historical aims of the imperialist bourgeoisie are not incompatible with the preservation of social and caste inequality for oppressed peoples, or with the preservation of antiquated modes of production and exchange. The historical aims of the socialist proletariat are incompatible with the maintenance of any anti-democratic institutions, of any capitalist or pre-capitalist modes of production. In this fact lies the only guarantee that the victorious working class will truly and completely emancipate the Negro masses by emancipating itself.

—Max Shachtman, “Communism and the Negro” (1933), reprinted as Race and Revolution (Verso, 2003)