Towards an anti-capitalist Black liberation strategy

BY:Jamal Rich| February 25, 2020
Towards an anti-capitalist Black liberation strategy


The supposedly “revolutionary” (even so-called Marxist!) books on the colony analogy, now in mass circulation, were written by white radicals who have abandoned the struggle against racism, and by Black radicals who seek rhetorical shortcuts to liberation.1 By portraying Black people collectively in the U.S. as a colony, these radicals assist the ruling class’s aim of diverting the Black liberation movement from a winning strategy: one that would advance the self-organization of the Black liberation movement and simultaneously combine this independent strength with that of allies—the working class, Black, Brown, Yellow, Red, and white, together with all the poor and exploited—in a new formation. This is the basis for an anti-monopoly coalition, the only strategy that opens the way to a future without racism, exploitation, poverty, or oppression.

Henry Winston, Strategy for a Black Agenda


Taking into account the current Black liberation organizations such as Black Lives Matter, Black Youth Project 100, Assata’s Daughters, Dream Defenders, and various others, and the 2020 U.S. presidential elections and tokenization of the “Black vote,” we must, as Communists, continue to imagine and hammer at the question of what true anti-capitalist Black liberation looks like in the 21st century.

The history of Black radicalism in the United States has gone through many phases encompassing ideas of separatism, assimilation, and anti-racism. Examples of each include, respectively, Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) of the late 1910s and the idea of colonizing land in Africa for American Black people (similar to modern-day Liberia via the American Colonization Society); education suasion for the development of the “talented tenth,” an idea supported by a younger W. E. B. Du Bois who advocated for higher education for racial uplift, and by Booker T. Washington who proposed industrial education for racial uplift; and revolutionary struggles of the CPUSA (and early on—the African Blood Brotherhood), which led to Black Communist leaders like Harry Haywood, Cyril Briggs, and Richard Moore developing the self-determination line better known as the “Black Belt Thesis,” which constituted Black people in the United States as a nation2 (a theory later critiqued by Du Bois and other leaders in the CPUSA3).

Does white supremacy (specifically of the Left) have anything to do with this? White chauvinism has always been a serious criticism from the Left, especially in the long history of the CPUSA and its inception.4 The Party continued developing its Black liberation theory and praxis post-1948, which moved beyond the Black Nation Thesis. At the same time, the Party suffered several setbacks, including Browderism, which led to the temporary liquidation of the CPUSA; the dissolution of the massive Sharecropper’s Union in the South and other Black youth front organizations such as the Southern Negro Youth Congress; and the anticommunist activities of COINTELPRO and the Smith trials of the McCarthy era, which led to the imprisonment and deportation of many activists and leaders within the Party, let alone the loss of their jobs.

During the New Left (and subsequently, New Communist) movements of the late 1960s and beyond, reactionary ultra-Leftists heavily criticized the Party over the question of Black liberation, which led to splits and a revival of the Black Nation Thesis, while the Thesis had been experiencing a slow death among the Old Left. Here is an excerpt from Theodor Draper’s American Communism and Soviet Russia on the history of the self-determination line:

The policy of Negro self-determination has lived twice and died twice. After overthrowing Lovestone’s “revisionism,” Browder made self-determination one of the cardinal articles of faith of his leadership. In November 1943, long after it had ceased to show any signs of life, he delivered a funeral oration over the corpse of self-determination; he explained that the Negro people had already exercised the historical right of self-determination—by rejecting it. After overthrowing Browder’s “revisionism,” Foster made self-determination one of the cardinal articles of faith of his leadership. In 1946 self-determination was reincarnated in a slightly watered-down version—as a programmatic demand and not as an immediate slogan of action.

In 1958, the Communist leadership again buried the corpse of the right of self-determination. It decided that the American Negro people were no longer a “stable community”; that the Negro national question was no longer “essentially a peasant question”; that the Negroes did not possess any distinctively “common psychological make-up”; that the main currents of Negro thought and leadership “historically, and universally at the present time” flowed toward equality with other Americans; that the American Negro people did not constitute a nation; and therefore that the right of self-determination did not apply to them.5

For context, in 1953, W. E. B. Du Bois offered a critique of the Black Nation Thesis in Paul Robeson’s Freedom magazine in “100 Years of Negro Freedom”:

Such attempts, however, bring up the question as to just what the American Black group is and with what it can be rationally compared. Is it a nation, a closed economy, a cultural unity or what? It is certainly not a nation, for its political power is limited and is seldom exercised as a unit. It is not a closed economy but part of the economy of the whole nation and becoming more and more integrated. It is proportionally more largely engaged in agriculture, domestic service and common labor, and that increased its dependence on the national economy. There is some evidence of group economy where Black professionals, businessmen, and artisans serve primarily the Black group, but it is not clear how this development is growing in comparison with the general picture. One thing is certain: the economic survival of the Black in the South depends on close union with white workers, so as to present a united front against the tremendous growth of monopoly capital in the South today. This Black group inherited and has formed a group culture with some customs, language dialects and with a growing literature and other forms of art. Yet, as this goes on, there is increasing integration with the American culture until it is difficult to say how far there is today a distinct American Black culture, and in what direction it will probably grow.

Now, Millennials and Gen-Zers who are new to the Left are joining coalitions and organizations which are diving into these old debates and trying to figure out who has the correct line on the Black question. Revolutionary Black nationalist groups such as the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and New Afrikan People’s Organization still maintain the Black Nation Thesis line, as do Maoist groups that have remained since the 1970s  which seem to attract some of the white ultra-Left. Podcasts with white hosts such as Red Menace, a theoretical branch of the now relatively well-known Revolutionary Left Radio—have attacked the CPUSA through an opportunist, non-Marxist lens using the ghost of Harry Haywood as a means to criticize our current analysis on the African American question. There has also been a tradition in the Trotskyite Left allying with left nationalism. Is there an ideological basis to this kinship? If so, what is its source? Harry Chang, a largely unknown Korean immigrant from the 1970s who coined the term “racial formation” and made many contributions to what is now known as critical race theory, wrote:

The Black Nation Thesis is, therefore, a pedantic version of popular misconceptions. In the context of the unproductive dichotomy of separatism and integrationism, the Thesis has not only reflected this dichotomy, but also combined the worst in separatism with the worst in integrationism. The shibboleth about the national territory of the Black Nation is, in essence, an argument for negating the (Black) producer’s right outside of the Black Belt; the shibboleth about the “national minority” status of Black people is, in essence, an argument for affirming the (White) appropriator’s claim as the “national minority” from whom a guarantee of “minority rights” must be begged. In either case, it supports the ideological premise that the national formation of the U.S. is essentially the “work” of Whites, to which Blacks “contribute” incidentally and episodically, and thus adds one more grist to the mythology mill of racist historians.6

So, what is the Party’s position on the national question for Black Americans? Are they constituted as a nation, a nationality, or a national minority? This was recently answered by Joe Sims and Jarvis Tyner in the Party’s pre-convention discussion in 2019.

The African American people, then [post–Civil War], emerged as a racially and nationally oppressed minority within the framework of an evolving multinational bourgeois democratic republic. Confronting oppression-based skin color (“race”) and a distinct national culture (“nationality”) Black people faced a similar though unique experience with other people of color within the continental U.S., most of whom are described in Leninist terms as national minorities.

Why are white (and some Black) leftists in particular so disillusioned with the CPUSA’s supposed “right deviation” from the self-determination line that they typically take up ultra-left or Western Maoist positions on nationhood for Black people? And on top of that, why are their organizations predominantly white if they are trying to build a Black nation for Black people in a future socialist USA?

Oppressed people have the right to determine what is best for their lives and their futures, but this does not constitute the idea of “nation building” within the U.S. Does a sector of Black nationalism still exist within the confines of the country? Yes, it does: in the above-mentioned groups and in even more reactionary forms such as the internet phenomenon #ADOS, which is derived from American Descendants of Slavery and encompasses disparate folks who support extreme-right groups and reparations for descendants of slaves.

It is important to note key issues in our communities as Black people, and how they intersect with the global economic system that is capitalism. And it is extremely important for those outside our communities to understand the racial character of capitalism; hence why the late Black scholar Cedric J. Robinson coined the term “racial capitalism.”7 Black and Latino people constitute the majority of this country’s prison population because of over policing and criminalization resulting from the so-called War on Drugs and tough-on-crime policies of both Republican and Democratic presidents. They experience hyperexploitation within their workplaces, including an all-out assault on public-sector jobs (historically the largest single employer of Black Americans). They are burdened by extraordinary amounts of debt from credit cards, housing loans, and education. And they are the victims of environmental racism, voter suppression, wealth loss from policies such as redlining, and displacement due to gentrification of  neighborhoods. The white ultra-left and social democratic center-left continue to struggle in recruitment of Black people to their organizations and developing the correct theory and praxis for Black liberation.

This is a call for the CPUSA on this Black History Month of 2020 to revive its own anti-racist history and struggle and to formulate a Communist Black liberation strategy for this year and beyond. Our organization can become one that encompasses all poor and oppressed people of this country (and immigrants from others, as we always have) and creates a multi-racial-, multi-generational-, multi-cultural-led front fighting for an internationalist, anti-racist, eco-socialist future. Especially in the midst of the fascist danger from Trump, the neocon imperialists in the State Department, and the neoliberal media cheering him on, we must develop an anti-fascist, working-class-led united front program that is democratic and respects the leadership of people of color at all levels.

This struggle must encompass: (1) developing a stronger labor-black alliance, which has been severely weakened over the past 40 years; (2) building anti-racist, anti-capitalist coalitions, including the involvement of organizers and rank-and-file members with the re-establishment and work of the National Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression (NAARPR); (3) re-establishing an African-American Equality (or Black liberation) commission within the CPUSA for this work; (4) developing a section of this work dedicated toward prison and police abolition; (5) dedicating our energies toward ending the racist for-profit housing industry, getting involved with anti-gentrification struggles, and developing alternative dual power structures such as community land trusts; (6) fighting for the decriminalization of sex work, which disproportionately affects Black people especially those who are LGBTQ+ and the disabled; (7) focusing the majority of our educational efforts at the national and local level on anti-racism, and (8) fighting like hell to end discriminatory practices against triply and superexploited workers such as Black women and Black trans people.


Editor’s note: This article is a response to the discussion question on class struggle, racial justice, and the road to socialism. It was updated on March 2.


Author: for example, Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man (1966); Stokely Carmichael, Stokely Speaks (1971); and Black Panther Party, Ten Point Program (1966).

2 Harry Haywood, Black Bolshevik (1978).

3 W. E. B. Du Bois, “100 Years of Negro Freedom,” in Freedom (1953). Reprinted in Political Affairs (2007).

4 William Patterson, The Man Who Cried Genocide (1971).

5 Theodore Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia (1960).

6 Harry Chang, Critique of Black Nation Thesis (1975).

7 Cedric J. Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (1983).

Image: Ella, Creative Commons (BY-NC 2.0).


Related Articles

For democracy. For equality. For socialism. For a sustainable future and a world that puts people before profits. Join the Communist Party USA today.

Join Now

We are a political party of the working class, for the working class, with no corporate sponsors or billionaire backers. Join the generations of workers whose generosity and solidarity sustains the fight for justice.

Donate Now

CPUSA Mailbag

If you have any questions related to CPUSA, you can ask our experts
  • QHow does the CPUSA feel about the current American foreign...
  • AThanks for a great question, Conlan.  CPUSA stands for peace and international solidarity, and has a long history of involvement...
Read More
Ask a question
See all Answer