The working class must fight against racism, for full equality of all nationally oppressed, and for affirmative action, if it is to unite internally and enter lasting alliances with the organizations and movements of racially oppressed peoples. By the same token, the nationally and racially oppressed groups must support trade union demands in order to unite internally and to ally with labor.
The U.S. is perhaps the most multiracial and multinational country in the world, with about 300 million people including almost every race, nationality, and ethnic group on the planet. Racially and nationally oppressed people live and work in every region, in every state, and in every major city. They are primarily working-class and generally occupy the lowest-paying, most exploitative jobs. Among the nationally and racially oppressed are African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, and Arab and Middle Eastern peoples.
From its inception, the United States was built on racism, from the displacement and near genocide of Native Americans, to the enslavement of African Americans, to the theft of huge sections of Mexico, to the racist workers. The ability of employers to pay workers differently based on skin color, country of origin, immigration, exclusion of Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants, to the current xenophobic hysteria against Arabs and South Asians, racism has been a convenient tool for the maintenance of power and profits by the ruling class at the expense of oppressed people and all workers.
Racism affects the unity of the working class at all levels. Racism is a tool that not only exploits racially oppressed people; it aids in the exploitation of white workers as well. Racial discrimination in hiring, racist wage and salary policies, and racial stratification of various industries and trades undermine the interests of all status; the hire date in two-tier wage systems exerts downward pressure on the wages of all workers. It allows bosses to extract even higher profits from racially oppressed workers.
Racism is good for capitalism, but is bad for working people of every race. White workers have a powerful self-interest in fighting racism; white workers will gain greater victories to the degree that they unite with nationally and racially oppressed workers. Multiracial unity in the workplace and on the shop floor is the key to winning victories for all, to lifting wages, conditions, and dignity for every worker. White people must take an initiating role in combating all instances of racism and national oppression wherever and whenever they occur and provide support to people of color who are in leadership of movements and organizations.
These acts are the building blocks of grassroots unity and trust. They prove the struggle against racism is not for racially oppressed people to combat alone. It is in the self-interest of all workers, leading to greater unity, respect, and strength for the trade union movement and all other movements.
National Minorities and the National Question
Attention to national minorities in Austro-Hungary and Russia even before the revolution in 1917 led Lenin and other Bolsheviks to judge that national independence was essential for multi-ethnic participation in the democratic transition after the success of the Revolution. However, these leaders recognized that such revolutionary-socialist nationalism would be conditioned by economic and other factors which would determine whether specific people would best be served by national determination. Joseph Stalin, using a definition eagerly embraced by Lenin, defined a nation as an “historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.” Whether a case had reached such conditions would involve extensive discussion of relative theoretical issues applicable to each national minority. Additionally, general efforts to deploy Korenizatsiya, a kind of Soviet administrative action, to depute advantage to members of national minorities into Soviet government and industry.
African-Americans and national Self-Determination
While the Communist Party abhorred racism, it was not until the 1920's that a unified Communist strategy was adequately adopted, particularly toward African-Americans in the Deep South. Bolstered by the emergence of the Third Period adopted by the Comintern in 1928, the American party enthusiastically endorsed the national self-determination of African-Americans: “While continuing and intensifying the struggle under the slogan of full political and social equality for the Negroes, which must remain the central slogan of our party work among the masses, the Party must come out openly for the right of Negroes to national self-determination in the southern states where Negroes form the majority of the population” (ECCI 1928). By 1930 the Communist Party and the Comintern had made 'black belt self-determination' in the American south an integral part of its political work: “Owing to the peculiar situation in the Black Belt (the fact that the majority of the resident Negro population are farmers, and agricultural laborers and that the capitalist economic system as well as political class rule there is not only of a special kind, but to a great extent still has pre-capitalist and semi-colonial features), the right of self-determination as the main slogan of the Communist Party in the Black Belt is appropriate” (ECCI 1930). A number of Communist cadres, particularly Harry Haywood, made this struggle for black belt self-determination for African-Americans the central core of their lives. This was very much an effect of economic and political events of the 1920's and 1930's.
At the time a large minority of several states had a largely rural African-American population in what amounted to peasant subjugation, tied to the land by sharecropping, debt peonage, and Jim Crow legalization of a corrupt racist culture. Under these conditions national self-determination made sense. There remain Communists today who conclude that black belt self-determination is the appropriate strategy. However, other Communists believed that the black belt area, and African-Americans, had completed under capitalism an evolution which made an actual black belt state irrelevant. Certainly war plants in WWI and WWII forged a massive relocation to cities throughout the U.S., and the integration of African-Americans as trade unionists and enthusiastic defenders of labor rights. The question of national self-determination for African-Americans led to the question of whether African-Americans in any sense were still a peasantry. Furthermore, the Communist Party had been making self-determination less a part of Party doctrine with the emergence of the 1935 Popular Front. This resulted in a controversy until the Communist Party made abandonment of black belt self-determination in the 1950s as a matter of a judgment that in the struggle for African-American rights that political and economic events had advanced by making Africa-American and white American laborers ever more unified. A great deal of the motivating of the policy announced by the Communist Party was done by such African-Americans as Benjamin Davis, W.E.B. DuBois, and Henry Winston, which occurred as the Civil Rights Movement began its multicultural activist mission. It is thus the case that the Program of the Party of Communists must now decide whether the struggle of African-American should revert to self-determination or continue to another theoretical-revolutionary plan.
Self-Determination for Other National Minorities
There remain national minorities about which there has never been any dissension among Communists. The Party of Communists U.S.A. enthusiastically endorsed self-determination for Native Americans and for Pacific Islanders, and for the immediate liberation of Puerto Rico as a free and independent state.