There are two different positions put forward for the program on oppressed nationalities: First position Racism and Capitalism Racism in its many forms continues to play a negative but central role in every aspect of U.S. capitalism, including keeping the bourgeoisie in power, producing increasing profits, and developing, justifying, and maintaining institutional discrimination.
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.
The U.S. today is a prison-house of nations, as was tsarist Russia a century ago. This is the result of the historical development of the country. It began with the expulsion of the native peoples from their lands, and their subsequent genocide through forced marches, purposeful introduction of diseases and outright wars of extermination. This even continues today whenever the capitalists find natural resources that they want to exploit on the reservations to which they have confined the native peoples.
U.S. history (and that of the earlier colonies) continued with the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans, and the mass rape of kidnapped African women, and their transportation particularly to the plantation areas of the South (the Black Belt). The production of cotton and other cash crops (sugar, tobacco, indigo) provided the basis for U.S. industry and its export to Europe. (U.S. cotton was the basis of the British textile industry.) Slavery did not only benefit the Southern plantation oligarchy, but also the Eastern shipping magnates who produced the slave ships, and the Northern bankers who financed the cotton trade. Marx pointed out that: “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.” (Capital, Vol. I, Chap. 31.) It took the Civil War (also considered the Second American Revolution), some 250 years after the introduction of slavery into the colonies, to put an end to chattel slavery. But after the defeat of the Confederacy, the U.S. government did not generally break up the plantations or distribute the land to the tillers, the Afro-American freed people. The defeat of the Reconstruction governments marked the end of the possibility of a democratic solution to the Afro-American national question under the rule of the U.S. capitalist class. Instead, Afro-Americans in the plantation South became an oppressed nation under U.S. rule. Despite the later dispersal of many Blacks to the major U.S. cities, and the decline of sharecropping, this situation continues today. The U.S. ruling class, in its drive for Manifest Destiny to expand its rule “from sea to shining sea,” conquered the northern half of México, first conquering Tejas (Texas) in 1836 and then California, Arizona, Nuevo Mexico, Colorado and more in the war of 1846-48. These wars, particularly for Texas, were largely to extend slavery into new territories. The ruling class quickly abrogated the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which promised to respect the rights of the inhabitants to their land and language. Thus the Southwest (called by some Aztlán) became an oppressed Chicano nation within the U.S. borders. As family members and others crossed the “falsa frontera” (the phony border) from México, this area became a Chicano/Mexicano nation. With the transformation of U.S. capitalism from “free competition” to monopoly capitalism, the ruling class continued its expansion. It occupied Alaska, which it purchased from tsarist Russia in 1867, and then occupied Hawai’i and overthrew its monarchy in 1893, adding two more territories to its list of oppressed nations. Hawaii, first treated as a Del Monte pineapple plantation, has now largely become a tourist destination, with many native Hawaiians forced into the low-paid “hospitality” industry. In one of the first inter-imperialist wars, the Spanish-American War of 1898, the U.S. monopoly capitalist ruling class took over the former Spanish colonies. Cuba became a Protectorate and only gained genuine independence with the victory of the revolution of 1959. The Philippines gained formal independence in 1946 but remains a neo-colony of the U.S. Puerto Rico, Guam and Samoa remain open colonies of the U.S., as does the Virgin Islands, which the U.S. purchased from Denmark in 1917. All these territories remain oppressed nations under the rule of the U.S. monopoly capitalist class. We must also recognize the national oppression of immigrant workers, mostly from Latin America, Asia and Africa but also from some areas of Europe (particularly Eastern Europe), who form a source of cheap labor for the capitalists. Thus the U.S. has developed into a multinational state with a long history of national oppression. Unfortunately, this has led some whites (Anglo-Americans), including white workers, to develop attitudes of white chauvinism towards their class brothers and sisters. This has at times led to “race riots” and acts of individual terror of whites against Blacks, not just in the far-off past, but in the Civil Rights movement in the South, in the struggle against racist attacks such as in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn in 1991 and the murder of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida in 2012. Let us be clear. These attitudes of white chauvinism, besides deepening the oppression of our comrades from the oppressed nationalities, are against the class interests of the white workers.
To take one simple example, the South and particularly the Black Belt has historically, and still today been the region with the lowest wages and least rates of unionization (“right to work” for less) for both Blacks and whites. There is of course some reactionary nationalism among Blacks and people of other oppressed nationalities, but this is overwhelmingly a response to the racist attitudes of some whites, and it is fanned by both the Black and white bourgeoisie. It is the special responsibility of white workers to take up the fight against white supremacy, and to join with their Black brothers and sisters against the special oppression of black people (such as against police violence, discrimination in all forms, etc.).
We also recognize the historic leading role that black workers have played in the class struggle. Moreover, all workers must take up the call to organize (unionize) the South. The CPUSA in its revolutionary days and under the influence of the international communist movement in the Comintern, took up the fight for the right to self-determination of the Afro-American nation in the Black Belt South. They connected this with the day-to-day struggles, whether it was for the defense of the Scottsboro youths, the demonstrations of Black and white workers for unemployment insurance (for which Black communist leader Angelo Herndon was sentenced to several years in prison), and for organizing industrial workers into integrated unions. In the January 1944 issue of The Communist, the revisionist Browder stated that “the Negro people in the United States have found it possible to make their decision once and for all. Their decision is for their complete integration into the American nation as a whole, and not for separation.” Although the position on self-determination was somewhat officially revived, together with the CPUSA itself, at the end of the war.
There is no doubt that conditions today are quite different from those of the 1930’s. For one, there is practically no share cropping in the South, and farming as a whole has shrunk there as well as in the rest of the country. (However, this is not different from the situation in many of the dependent countries, particularly in Latin America, including the U.S. colony of Puerto Rico, where the majority of peasants have moved into the big cities and many have migrated to the U.S.) Maybe most importantly, many Blacks and members of other oppressed nationalities, and have become workers in the major cities of the country. But even here, they generally have the lowest pay and the hardest jobs. Thus Blacks and members of other oppressed nationalities now form a large section of the working class, and an even larger share of the trade union movement. It is quite possible that the criminal rule of U.S. imperialism will be brought to an end by the united struggle of the multinational ruling class, and we must do everything possible to bring this about. But we cannot exclude the possibility that the struggle may break out first in the Black Belt South, or in the Chicano/Mexicano region of the Southwest, among the native peoples on the reservations, or among native Hawaiians or Alaskans. (Here we are not discussing the open colonies of Puerto Rico and others, whose struggle is for independence and socialism, which we must support.) Thus, it would be totally incorrect to ignore the right to self-determination for the oppressed nations within the U.S. borders. We must also connect this to the day-to-day struggles, such as against police brutality, against mass incarceration, for higher wages, etc. There are some who want to deny any special demands for people of oppressed nationalities, by saying “we are all oppressed.” All workers are exploited under capitalism, but they do not all suffer from national oppression. As a simple example, white workers have been shot and killed by police, but because they were workers, not because they were white. Moreover, these special demands are in the interest of the whole working class, Black as well as white, since they will help lead to the unity of the whole multinational working class.