Monday, 08 March 2021

WHAT DISTINGUISHES OUR PARTY: The political continuity which goes from Marx to Lenin, to the foundation of the Communist Party of Italy (Livorno, 1921); the struggle of the Communist Left against the degeneration of the Communist International, against the theory of „socialism in one country“, against the Stalinist counter-revolution; the rejection of the Popular Fronts and the Resistance Blocs; the difficult task of restoring the revolutionary doctrine and organization in close interrelationship with the working class, against all personal and electoral politics.


USA: Racism, Class Struggle and the Need for the Revolutionary Party

We do not know if, when this article appears, the big, U.S. election circus will still be on, and whether the puppet of Capital will still be the same or whether another will be pulled out of the demo-electoral magician’s hat.  It matters little.  The real questions remain on the table in a country in deep crisis, like the whole universe of Capital but with an intensity and visibility in proportion to its specific (economic, social, political, military) weight as the strongest imperialism.  Once the umpteenth electoral intoxication is over, it is useful to return to some of these real questions, since they actually regard the world proletariat and not only that of the USA.

 

Does a “black issue” really exist?

In the limelight over the past few months, well before, and far more emblematically than the endless squalor of the election campaign, have been the repeated, widespread flare-ups of protest following the series of cold-blooded murders of Afro-Americans (but not only) by uniformed cops.  Let us just say that this constant, bloody repression of the most exploited sectors of the U.S. proletariat has accompanied the history of the United States throughout the whole of the 19th and 20th centuries and has become even harsher in the first twenty years of the 21st: independently of who is occupying the White House – yet another demonstration that it is not a matter of “goodies” and “baddies” alternating at the Presidency or in the Government, but of dynamics within the management of bourgeois power and, in particular, of the developments of the structural economic crisis in which we have been immersed since the mid-1970s. The really significant aspect has been the entity of the, at least initially, spontaneous response: not local, not pacific, not obsequious to suffocating and paralyzing democratic rituals and not limited to the Afro-American community only.

Demonstrators of all colours have met on the streets and in the squares giving practical proof – above and beyond any socio-statistical evaluation – of the entity of the country’s ripening social crisis, which is affecting different elements transversally along lines that, to those who have eyes to see, prove to be class divides.  The unending economic-social inequality characterizing U.S. society (inequality we have demonstrated more than once over the years) is pursuing a growing sector of the “half classes”, the free-falling petit-bourgeoisie, and in particular young people. The conditions of the so-called “poor whites” – whether they live in the depressed areas of the Appalachian mountains or in the “problem” neighbourhoods of what were once the pillars of industry (automobile, steel, etc.), in other, equally “difficult” suburban areas or adrift on the road with the hoboes or the transients with no end in sight, or with the seasonal workers or the homeless – are approaching the conditions in which the Afro-American, Mexican-American, Puerto Rican and Asian proletarians have been living and (not) working for some time; and ethnic background (which all too often has played a central role in the divide et impera practised by bourgeois power) is tending to disappear under the blows of daily oppression and of a crisis that the politicians may, as everywhere, deny in words (or attribute to the enemy-candidate of the moment) but which savages and corrodes, tears apart and disorientates day after day.

***

It is undeniable that the Afro-American proletariat suffers the worst living and (non) working conditions:  statistics once again prove this [1].  But it is sufficient to re-read the history of the class conflict on American soil to realize that these conditions have gradually come to characterize all the immigrant proletarian communities (and what can the American proletariat be if not, largely, immigrant or forcefully “imported” from outside?!), something that has been going on since the beginnings of the rapid and tumultuous development of the capitalist mode of production in the country.  Over the span of two centuries now, economic, political, social, ideological and military oppression has affected German, Irish, Scottish, East-European, Asian, Italian, Spanish, Puerto Rican, Latin-American and Afro-American proletarians… all of them flung into the hell cauldron of ruthless exploitation that allowed the United States to emerge at the dawn of the 1900s as the strongest and most powerful imperialism and to maintain this position for the whole of the century and beyond.  In these widespread anti-proletarian politics, racism, as the crassest expression of the mainstream ideology, certainly did play a central role, fuelled also by the century-long history of slavery and post-slavery – just as the same racism that permeated English society did for the whole of the 1800s and beyond, working so effectively to separate the British and Irish proletariat or those immigrating from the colonies.

At the same time, the struggles that emerged from this condition over the same period often reached peaks approaching civil war, with strikes lasting month upon month, clashes, often armed, with uniformed and un-uniformed police, and the direct involvement of very young proletarians, men and women, with episodes of great importance taking place even in the midst of the second world war: such as the 1943 Harlem uprising, in the black ghetto par excellence of New York.

Moreover, during the 1960s, the aggravation of social contradictions (which had been growing ever since the end of the second inter-imperialist bloodbath) was more than once at the origin of violent outbreaks – what the media define ghetto riots. And they added to the (also social) backlash  caused by decades of war in south-east Asia:  it should not be forgotten that in order to pursue this war, the U.S. military machine could count on an obligatory military service that mainly affected the weakest and most “disadvantaged” sectors of the population (Afro-American and Puerto Rican in primis); neither should we forget the numerous examples of insubordination, resistance and authentic boycotting of the war effort that took place at the time, both in the theatres of war themselves and on U.S. soil.  We must not forget that these were the years when so-called Black Power emerged and the Black Panther Party established itself on the scene in many U.S. cities, a first generous but politically fragile and highly contradictory attempt to give organized form to the discontent in the ghettos.  But the ferment went well beyond the black ghettos and this, too, is important to state: the latino proletarians – particularly the Mexican-Americans or chicanos – were in the front line of the powerful strike action, in which clear class instances mixed with persistent nationalist tendencies [2].

***

In an article of ours dating from 1965 (which we reissue below), we applauded one of the most significant rebellions by the black proletarian population of the United States: in mid-August that year, in the ghetto of Watts in Los Angeles, there was an outbreak of riots against police brutality and arrogance and intolerable living conditions, which lasted almost a week with the intervention of the National Guard and a final count of 34 deaths, over a thousand wounded and 3400 arrests [3].  The anger that had accumulated over decades of exploitation and repression, marginalization and open racism, and the elimination of leaders with big differences but nonetheless emblematic, such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, as well as disappointment for prospects of peace, reform and democracy, could materially not fail to explode and violently shake the pillars of U.S. capitalist society.  And so, two years after the Watts riots, in Detroit and Newark (amongst the most important lymph nodes of industry) and elsewhere, more riots broke out, which we greeted with the same enthusiasm, particularly because they were accompanied by repeated episodes of open solidarity (reported with serious concern by the bourgeois press) from non-black proletarians (see the other two articles we republish below).

It is quite clear to those who take a revolutionary perspective, that there is no “black issue” in the United States (or anywhere else!): instead there is a social and class issue.  Not an ethnic issue or one of nationality, then, even though it appears to take that form, thanks mainly to a fundamental contribution from mainstream ideology in all its forms and manifestations, which acts skilfully by means of politics and the media, as well as  the most sophisticated tools of military repression.  Like all the “ethnic” or “national” communities that make up bourgeois society in the United States, in old Europe and the rest of the American continent, Asia or Africa, class fault lines run through the Afro-American community: within it there exist a high bourgeoisie, a middle- and petite-bourgeoisie, a proletariat and a sub-proletariat; and we have no news of any black person being shot in the back seven times while getting into his/her limousine or entering TV studios or dining out with political buddies…

Since those events and our articles, fifty years have gone by punctuated by constant uprisings during the course of which pacifist, reformist, “progressive” illusions have been wrecked against the reality of class rule: yet only to be reborn again, time after time, increasingly empty of content and overflowing, instead, with embarrassing rhetoric, thanks to the work of political opportunism in all its forms, the unfailing slave of a bourgeois power that knows no boundaries, either geographical or of colour, but which acts indifferently against all the world’s proletarians. It is in this light that the events of these last few months must be evaluated and, above all, the positions that have emerged from them.

***

In some ways and with due distinctions, the path taken by the spontaneous wave of rebellion set off by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25 May 2020 by a handful of uniformed cops may recall the one that followed the so-called “Arab springs” in the years after 2010: a powerful movement of rebellion against living and working conditions, stemming from the Tunisian proletariat, rapidly inflamed the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, only to be intercepted, channelled and castrated by the more or less organized intervention and blurred objectives of “half classes” that had also been in difficulty for some time and intended to make their voice heard – but still in the safe haven of “society as it is”, i.e. without posing in the least the problem of seizing power and changing to a superior mode of production [4].  Like the authentic parasites they are, historically and politically, the “half classes” exploited the original drive of a popular uprising to advance their own ultra-democratic and ultra–reformist claims, gradually extinguishing the flame of class struggle: and here the lack, worldwide, of organized revolutionary guidance (the class party, the communist party) meant that petit-bourgeois ideology and practice had a free hand, suffocating  that movement (momentarily, it is to be hoped!) .

In the recent U.S. rebellions, the petit-bourgeois and demo-reformist role of downsizing a potential class movement has been played by organizations like the much-applauded Black Lives Matter (BLM). We are well aware that we sail against the current and risk unpopularity in saying this: but things must be clearly stated.  When an overall battle is suggested for “Freedom, Liberation, and Justice”, when there is clamour for “defunding the police” or even “abolishing the police” (!), when “our contribution to this society” (!) is acclaimed, all that is being done is to advance the umpteenth, demagogic, reformist programme and avoid tackling the real issues full on: where do racism, social inequality, growing poverty and constant oppression originate? what is the capitalist mode of production and how does it work? what is the State, what functions does it perform and how is it organized politically and militarily? and so on… [5]. And so the proletariat (black or any other “colour”) is merely offered a prettily-wrapped packet of illusions from the century-old baggage of petit-bourgeois ideologies: “rights”, “justice”, “freedom”, “happiness”, “well-being”, “independence of your own community” – all, obviously, to be claimed within the limits of this society, this mode of production.  Which is a bit like asking a python not to swallow its prey.

The same is true for the Movement for Black Lives (MBL), a coalition of different groups (including BLM itself), whose platform is based on the following “basic” points:

  • End the war on black people.
  • Reparations for past and continuing harms. (Reparations)
  • Divestment from the institutions that criminalize, cage and harm black people; and investment in the education, health and safety of black people. (Invest-Divest)
  • Economic justice for all and a reconstruction of the economy to ensure our communities have collective ownership, not merely access.(Economic justice)
  • Community control of the laws, institutions and policies that most impact us. (Community control)
  • Independent black political power and black self-determination in all areas of society. (Political power) [6].

Here again, what clearly strikes the eye is its ultra-reformist nature (a profoundly demagogic reformism: what power is supposed to grant all this? what puts an end to the “war against black people”? what brings about “economic justice”, defunds and invests and offers compensation for damage suffered, etc. etc.?!), together with a “separatist” vision (independent black political power and self-determination), in the end creating ghettos. A real dead-end, merely ensuring new massacres for the militant avant-garde that allows itself to be drawn into it.

***

Of course, BLM and MBL are not the only groups to have emerged on the scene during the marches and demonstrations that have spread and continue to spread through the country, from Minneapolis to Portland, from New York to Lafayette and Louisville, together with dozens and dozens of other cities.  But it is not easy to get a sense of orientation in this galaxy, about which we do not always have precise and reliable information.  Nonetheless, we do know that, alongside organizations that are blandly reformist and in response to action by armed white supremacist militia, minority groups of black militants have emerged in favour of the open possession of arms, as regulated by the U.S. Constitution (Second Amendment).  This is the case of the Not Fucking Around Coalition (NFAC), which seems to have links to the New Black Panther Party (that for some time now has been excommunicated by the “old” militants of the original Black Panther Party) and from which both BLM and MBL seem to have distanced themselves. At present we do not possess any more reliable information than that available online [7]. But what we are interested in stressing here, as confirmation of the profound contradictions in the variegated movement that has developed since George Floyd’s death, is that in the NFAC’s programme a claim appears that is worth going into briefly, before taking it up again in the future.  It is not so much a claim to “return to Africa” (or any other country willing to… concede a piece of territory on which to allow “black exiles” to set up their own nation!), the old fixation of the black nationalist movement created by Marcus Gavey in the early decades of the 1900s, but rather a claim to create a “separate black nation” within the United States, in this case located in Texas!...

Initially this may be disconcerting.  The fact remains that this claim has its own, eloquent history.  Preceded by several proposals of the same nature between the 1800s and 1900s, it was adopted and advanced, after the VIth Congress (1928) of a Communist International that was by then an expression of Stalinist triumph, by the U.S. Communist Party, fully aligned with Moscow: the right to “self determination” was thus applied in an utterly extemporary fashion, typical of Stalinism, by means of a distorted appeal to the classical “Theses on the national and colonial question” of the Communist International’s IInd Congress (1920), identifying in the so-called “Black Belt” of the southern States, the “colony” where a “Separate and Independent Black Nation” was to be created! [8].

It should be added that, whilst the original claim of 1928 was at least made in a militant perspective, however deviant its objectives may have been, in the case of the NFAC it is reduced to a… request.  Beyond all the tragically folkloristic aspects of this revived claim, the “national issue” thus continues to exert its negative influence on the struggles of proletarians of all colours and continues to re-emerge even in its most banal and confused forms.  It should also be remembered that even militants like Malcolm X (who nonetheless in the last months of his life before his assassination in 1965 was gradually distancing himself from it) fell victim to this nationalist, separatist ideology; and in the late ‘60s important attempts to give voice and bring organization to the avant-garde workers’ movements in the industrial fortresses of the North (Detroit in primis) with the constitution of organisms like the League of Revolutionary Black Workers or the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement,  suffered from the same attitude: one of separation and opposition, in the workplace, between black proletarians and white proletarians.  They thus became trapped in a dual mistake, tragic because it constituted a division, by arguing and putting into practice the idea that the union body (which must be open, without discriminants or discrimination), should be composed a) of black-only elements and b) of elements who had already gained a revolutionary political awareness.

Taking as his starting point a correct analysis of the black proletariat as the most exploited and persecuted sector of U.S. proletarians, the militant worker James Boggs himself, certainly one of the most advanced points of reference for the black movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s, concluded by upholding the need for a “separate” black revolutionary organization to which the direction of a future “black American revolution” would be entrusted, refusing the support of white proletarians, because expecting the “fight for black power” to include white workers, would mean expecting “the revolution to welcome the enemy into its own camp” [9]…

There is no doubt about it. Racist ideology has penetrated into the depths of U.S. society and continues to poison whole strata of the working-class aristocracy and the “poor whites”.  It must be fought.  But how?  It is partly the same, objective, dynamics of the class war that offer a suitable terrain for this dismantling work of open criticism.  But it is right here, on this terrain, that the active presence of the revolutionary party, the only one able to lead this battle, is needed.  We shall return once more to these vital issues, which – we repeat – are not specific to the United States, but regard the proletarian movement in all countries. For the moment, what must be stressed is that our perspective is opposed to any separatist view:  on the contrary, we work for the rebirth of grassroots organisms open to all proletarians, independently of their nationality, language, ethnic background, age, gender or (non) working status, who take on the fight for the defence of the living and working conditions of proletarians, men and women alike; and the establishment internationally of the revolutionary party, characterized by unity of principles, theory, programme, tactics and organization and composed of militants who have succeeded in “forgetting, disowning, ridding their minds and their hearts of the classification to which the registry office of this decaying society has assigned them” [10], thus united by joint political work and a common will to fight for communism.

Dealing with the struggles of the Mexican-Americans (chicanos), in 1978 we wrote: “This is why one of the USA’s fundamental tasks today is to tear the workers of the various groups away from the temptations of reciprocal blacklegging, which are favoured by the various ‘nationalistic’ policies.  And it is just as essential to fight the latter, saving the workers from a feeble democratic policy disguised as revolution and perhaps socialism; save them from the petit-bourgeois attempt to separate the chicano proletariat (as the black one) from the rest of the working class, with the result of depriving the American working class of contributions by new and vital energies and isolating them from the rest of their class” [11].  This, indeed, is the work of the revolutionary party, which is “anti-racist” because it is anti-capitalist.  

***

So is there a “black issue” in the United States?  NO.  There is a social, class condition, distorted and deviated by widespread racism, institutional and not, but also by democratic-reformist anti-racism, and this is the tragic condition that cries out for revolutionary theory and the establishment of the class party.  In the second part of the 1967 article, we wrote: “Bitter though it is, this observation must be made: not in practical action but in the political direction and its translation into doctrine and a programme, not even at the heart of the heroic black proletariat have we heard – but it is our fault, the fault of us militants from the proud countries of advanced capitalism – the only slogan that can fling open the gates of the future:  proletarians of the world, of all ‘races’, of all countries, unite to overthrow the capitalist régime and establish your dictatorship!  Not ‘black power’ but ‘proletarian power’!  And so, once again, the need for Marxist revolutionary theory and the class party, its bearer and vehicle of battle, in America – and to say America is to say world – is posed with dramatic urgency by the great light and terrible shadows of the events in Newark and Detroit” [12].

More than a century has gone by since those events and those words of ours.  And while the world of capitalist production flails around more and more wildly, caught up in its crisis, slaughtering proletarian men and women, destroying land and water and air and bringing the day of a new world massacre closer, this need is becoming more and more urgent.

 

October 2020

 

[1] Let us limit ourselves to a few (official) figures. In the second quarter of 2020, the average weekly wage of a full-time employee was  $805 for blacks and $786 for Hispanics, as against the $1,017 for whites (for a black worker, 74.3% of the wage of a white worker; for a Hispanic worker, 75.4%; for a black woman worker, 83.9% of the wage of a white woman worker; for a female Hispanic worker, 77.2%) (figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S.A. Department of Labor, press release of 17 July 2020). As to the unemployment figures, again in the second quarter of 2020, the rate was 17.4% for Afro-American workers, 16.9% for Hispanics, 13.3% for Asians and 10.8% for whites (from: Economic Policy Institute, August 2020, https://www.epi.org/indicators/state-unemployment-race-ethnicity/). Added to this, living conditions and health assistance etc. should also be taken into account.  But these figures already speak quite clearly.

[2] See: “The ‘Black Panther’ Movement”, The Internationalist, n.4, Summer 2017 (originally published in il programma comunista, n.5/1971); “Il proletariato chicano: Un potenziale rivoluzionario da difendere”, il programma comunista, nos.1, 2, 3/1978.

[3] See below: “’Black’ Anger Makes the Crumbling Pillars of Bourgeois and Democratic ‘Civilization’ Tremble” (originally published in il programma comunista, n.15/1965”.

[4] See, if nothing else,  “Democrazia e Stato borghese sono due nemici perenni del proletariato”, il programma comunista n.4/2011, and “A proposito dei recenti avvenimenti nel mondo arabo”, il programma comunista, n.6/2012.

[5] See: www.blacklivesmatter.com.

[6] See "A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom and Justice," (Aug. 2016), in “Movement for Black Lives”, Wikipedia. Really, what else can be expected from organizations well supported by the … Ford Foundation?!

[7] “Not Fucking Around Coalition”, Wikipedia.

[8] Obligatory reading is the classical text by Theodore Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia (Cap. 15: “The Negro Question”), Vintage Books, 1960, 1986, which contains ample references to sources of the U.S. Communist Party and the International.

[9] This concept of Boggs’ is expressed in several of his writings. Also see his Pages from a Black Radical’s Notebook. A James Boggs Reader,  Wayne State University Press 2011

[10] From “Considerazioni sull’organica attività del Partito quando la situazione generale è storicamente sfavorevole”, il programma comunista, n.2/1965 (ora in In difesa della continuità del programma comunista, Edizioni il programma comunista, Milano 1989, p.167).

[11] “Il proletariato chicano: Un potenziale rivoluzionario da difendere (III)”, cit., n.3/1978.

[12] “Necessità della teoria rivoluzionaria e del partito marxista in America”, il programma comunista, n.16, settembre-ottobre 1967.

Punti di contatto:

Milano, via dei Cinquecento n. 25 (citofono Istituto Programma), (lunedì dalle 18) (zona Piazzale Corvetto: Metro 3, Bus 77 e 95)
Messina, Piazza Cairoli - l’ultimo sabato del mese, dalle 16,30 alle 18,30)
Roma, via dei Campani, 73 - c/o “Anomalia” (primo martedì del mese, dalle 17,30)
Benevento, c/o Centro sociale LapAsilo 31, via Firenze 1 (primo venerdì del mese, dalle ore 19)
Berlino, ogni ultimo giovedì del mese dalle ore 19, presso il Cafè Comunista, RAUM, Rungestrasse 20, 10179 Berlino.
Bologna, al momento è sospesa l’apertura al pubblico
Torino, nuovo punto di incontro presso Bar “Pietro”, via S. Domenico 34 (sabato 20 febbraio 2021, dalle 15)

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