Excerpts from the Classics: African American Equality and Racism

November 15, 2002


African American Equality and Racism

This subpart of National Oppression presents just a couple quotations from Lenin applying his general theory to the African American people, showing he followed the question and considered it important, his attitude toward the oppression and its solution. The famous quotes from Marx demonstrating how closely he followed the Civil War and the struggle against slavery and his attitude toward it begin the quotations.

The highest form of popular self-government till now realized is giving battle to the meanest and most shameful form [slavery] of man’s enslaving recorded in the annals of history.

Marx, The London Times on the Orleans Princes in America, “NY Daily Tribune”, Nov.7, 1861, MECW, Vol. 19, p.30

“In the United States of North America, every independent movement of the workers was paralyzed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic. Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.”

Marx, Capital, 1867, Vol.1, p.301 (IP), MECW, Vol.35, p.305

“You will have been just as delighted by the defeat of President Johnson in the latest elections [for Congress by the Republican Party] as I was. The workers in the North have at last fully understood that white labor will never be emancipated so long as black labor is still stigmatized.”

Marx, Letter to Francois Lafargue, London, Nov.12, 1866, MECW, Vol.42, p.334

“In the US, the Negroes (and also the Mulattos and Indians) account for only 11.1 percent. They should be classed as an oppressed nation, for the equality won in the Civil War of 1861-65 and guaranteed by the Constitution of the republic was in many respects increasingly curtailed in the chief Negro areas (the South) in connection with the transition from the progressive, pre-monopoly capitalism of 1860-79 to the reactionary, monopoly capitalism (imperialism) of the new era, which in America was especially sharply etched out by the Spanish-American imperialist war of 1890 (i.e., a war between two robbers over the division of the booty). “The white population of the US makes up 88.7 per cent of the total, and of this figure 74.3 per cent are Americans and only 14.4 per cent foreign-born, i.e. immigrants. We know that the especially favorable conditions in America for the development of capitalism and the rapidity of this development have produced a situation in which vast national differences are speedily and fundamentally, as nowhere else in the world, smoothed out to form a single ‘American’ nation.”

Lenin, Statistics & Sociology, Jan 1917, CW, Vol.23, p.275

“Everyone knows that the position of the Negroes in America in general is one unworthy of a civilized country – capitalism cannot give either complete emancipation or even complete equality. It is instructive that among the whites in America the proportion of illiterates is not more than 6%. But if we divide America into what were formerly slave-holding areas (an American ‘Russia’) and non-slave-holding areas (an American non Russia), we shall find 11- 12% of illiterates among the whites in the former and 4-6% in the latter areas!

“The proportion of illiterates among the whites is twice as high in the former slave-holding areas. It is not only the Negroes who show traces of slavery! Shame on America for the plight of the Negroes!”

Lenin, Russians & Negroes, Feb 1913, CW, Vol. 18, p.543

The Jewish People & Anti-Semitism

The quotations in this subpart of National Oppression indicate Lenin considered anti-Semitism a key question of national oppression (in religious garb) in Russia, supported full equality and highly valued the contribution of Jewish people to the revolutionary movement, while disagreeing with the bourgeois nationalist tendencies of the Jewish Bund.

“Taking into consideration that the fullest and closest unity of the militant proletariat is absolutely essential both for the purpose of the earliest achievement of its ultimate aim and in the interests of an unswerving political and economic struggle in conditions of the existing society;

“that, in particular, complete unity between the Jewish and non- Jewish proletariat is moreover especially necessary for a successful struggle against anti-Semitism, this despicable attempt of the government and the exploiting classes to exacerbate racial particularism and national enmity;

“that the complete amalgamation of the Social-Democratic organizations of the Jewish and non-Jewish proletariat can in no respect or manner restrict the independence of our Jewish comrades in conducting propaganda and agitation in one language or another, in publishing literature adapted to the needs of a given local or national movement, or in advancing such slogans for agitation and the direct political struggle that would be an application and development of the general and fundamental principles of the Social-Democratic programme regarding full equality and full freedom of language, national culture, etc., etc.;

“the Congress emphatically repudiated federation as the organization principle of a Russian party and endorses the organizational principle adopted as the basis of the Rules of 1898…”

Lenin, Draft Resolution on the Place of the Bund in the Party, June-July 1903, CW, Vol. 6, p.470

“Anti-Semitism means spreading enmity towards the Jews. When the accursed tsarist monarchy was living its last days it tried to incite ignorant workers and peasants against the Jews. The tsarist police, in alliance with the landowners and the capitalists, organized pogroms against the Jews. The landowners and the capitalists tried to divert the hatred of the workers and peasants who were tortured by want against the Jews. In other countries, too, we often see the capitalists fomenting hatred against the Jews in order to blind the workers, to divert their attention from the real enemy of the working people, capital. Hatred towards the Jews persists only in those countries where slavery to the landowners and capitalists has created abysmal ignorance among the workers and peasants. Only the most ignorant and downtrodden people can believe the lies and slander that are spread about the Jews. This is a survival of ancient feudal times, when the priests burned heretics at the stake, when the peasants lived in slavery, and when the people were crushed and inarticulate. This ancient, feudal ignorance is passing away; the eyes of the people are being opened. “It is not the Jews who are the enemies of the working people. The enemies of the workers are the capitalists of all countries. Among the Jews there are working people, and they form the majority. They are our brothers, who, like us, are oppressed by capital; they are our comrades in the struggle for socialism. Among the Jews there are kulaks, exploiters and capitalists, just as there are among the Russians, and among people of all nations. The capitalists strive to sow and foment hatred between workers of different faiths, different nations and different races. Those who do not work are kept in power by the power and strength of capital. Rich Jews, like rich Russians, and the rich in all countries, are in alliance to oppress, crush, rob and disunite the workers. “Shame on accursed tsarism which tortured and persecuted the Jews. Shame on those who foment hatred towards the Jews, who foment hatred towards other nations.

Long live the fraternal trust and fighting alliance of the workers of all nations in the struggle to overthrow capital.”

Lenin, Anti-Jewish Progroms, Speeches on Gramaphone Records #8, March 1919, CW, Vol. 29, p.252

“The same applies to the most oppressed and persecuted nation – the Jews. Jewish national culture is the slogan of the rabbis and the bourgeoisie, the slogan of our enemies. But there are other elements in Jewish culture and in Jewish history as a whole. Of the ten and a half million Jews in the world, somewhat over a half live in Galicia and Russia, backward and semi-barbarous countries, where the Jews are forcibly kept in the status of a caste. The other half lives in the civilized world, and there the Jews do not live as a segregated caste. There the great world-progressive features of Jewish culture stand clearly revealed: its internationalism, its identification with the advanced movements of the epoch (the percentage of Jews in the democratic and proletarian movements is everywhere higher than the percentage of Jews among the population).

“Whoever, directly or indirectly, puts forward the slogan of Jewish ‘national culture’ is (whatever his good intentions may be) an enemy of the proletariat, a supporter of all that is outmoded and connected with caste among the Jewish people; he is an accomplice of the rabbis and the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, those Jewish Marxists who mingle with the Russian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian and other workers in international Marxist organizations, and make their contribution (both in Russian and in Yiddish) towards creating the international culture of the working-class movement – those Jews, despite the separatism of the Bund, uphold the best traditions of Jewry by fighting the slogan of ‘national culture.'”

Lenin, Critical Remarks on the National Question, 1913, CW, Vol. 20, p.26

“Tsarism vented its hatred particularly upon the Jews. On the one hand the Jews furnished a particularly high percentage (compared with the total Jewish population) of leaders of the revolutionary movement. And now, too, it should be noted to the credit of the Jews, they furnish a relatively high percentage of internationalists, compared with other nations. On the other hand, tsarism adroitly exploited the basest anti–Jewish prejudices of the most ignorant strata of the population in order to organize, if not to lead directly, pogroms …”

Lenin, Lecture on the 1905 Revolution, Jan. 1917, CW, Vol.23, p.250

Women’s Equality & Oppression

Engels traces how oppression of women began with the division of society into classes and private property in the means of production. Lenin discusses in this subsection sources of women’s oppression, what had been achieved in the early days of socialist Russia, and what yet had to be done, as well as the role of working women in the revolutionary struggle. A substantial quotation is presented from Clara Zetkin’s notes of a conversation with Lenin on the oppression of women. Zetkin was a leader of the German Socialist Party and of the Second International and its women’s organization and then supported Lenin and the CI.

Engels, Origin of the Family, Private Property & the State, April- May 1884 (Excerpts)

“The herds were the new means of gaining a livelihood, and their initial domestication and subsequent tending were his work. hence, he owned the livestock, and the commodities and slaves obtained in exchange for them. All the surplus now resulting from the task of gaining a livelihood fell to the man; the woman shared in consuming it, but she had no share in owning it. The ‘savage’ warrior and hunter had been content to occupy second place in the house, after the woman. The ‘gentler’ shepherd, insisting on his wealth, pushed forward to first place and forced the woman into second place. And she could not complain. Division of labor in the family had regulated the distribution of property between man and wife. This division of labor remained unchanged, and yet it now turned the former domestic relationship upside down simply because the division of labor outside the family had changed. The very cause that had formerly ensured the woman supremacy in the house, namely, her being confined to domestic work, now ensured supremacy in the house for the man: the woman’s housework lost its significance compared to the man’s work in obtaining a livelihood; the latter was everything, the former an insignificant addition. Here we see already that the emancipation of women and their equality with men are impossible and must remain so as long as women are excluded from socially productive work and remain restricted to private domestic duties. The emancipation of women becomes possible only when women are enabled to take part in production on a large, social scale, and when domestic duties require their attention only to a minor degree. And this has become possible only as a result of modern large-scale industry, which not only permits of the participation of women in production in large numbers, but actually calls for it…

“…the second great division of labor took place; handicrafts separated from agriculture. The continuing increase in production, and with it the increased productivity of labor, raised the value of human labor power. Slavery, which had been nascent and sporadic in the preceding stage, now became an essential part of the social system. The slaves ceased to be simple assistants; they were now driven in scores to work in the fields and workshops… “The distinction between rich and poor was added to that between freemen and slaves – with the new division of labor came a new division of society into classes. The differences in the property of individual heads of families caused the old communistic household communities to break up wherever they had survived until then; and this put an end to the common cultivation of the soil for the account of this community. The stable land was assigned for use to the separate families, first for a limited time and later in perpetuity; the transition to complete private ownership took place gradually and parallel to the transition from pairing marriage to monogamy. The individual family started to become the economic unit of society.”

Engels, Origin of the Family, Private Property & the State, April- May 1884, IP 1973, pp.220-23; MECW, Vol.26, pp.261-63

“Capitalism combines formal equality with economic and, consequently, social inequality….

“And one of the most glaring manifestations of this inconsistency is the inequality of women and men. Complete equality has not been granted even by the most progressive republican and democratic bourgeois states…

“In this respect only the dictatorship of the proletariat, only the socialist state could attain, and has attained the highest cultural level.

“The new. mighty and unparalleled upsurge in the working women’s movement is therefore inevitably associated with the foundation (and consolidation ) of the first Soviet Republic – and in addition to and in connection with this, with the Communist International. “…Democracy, even democracy for those who were oppressed by capitalism, including the oppressed sex, is not enough for us. “The chief task of the working women’s movement is to fight for economic and social equality, and not only formal equality, for women. The chief thing is to get women to take part in socially productive labor, to liberate them from ‘domestic slavery’, to free them from their stupefying and humiliating subjugation to the eternal drudgery of the kitchen and the nursery.

“This struggle will be a long one, and it demands a radical reconstruction both of social technique and of morals. But it will end in the complete triumph of communism.”

Lenin, On International Working Women’s Day,, March 4, 1920, CW, Vol.30, p.408-09

“Equality before the law is not necessarily equality in fact. We want the working woman to be the equal of the working man not only before the law but in actual fact. For this working women must take an increasing part in the administration of socialized enterprises and in the administration of the state.

“By taking part in administration, women will learn quickly and will catch up with the men…

“The proletariat can not achieve complete liberty until it has won complete liberty for women.”

Lenin, To the Working Women, Feb.21, 1920, CW, Vol. 30, pp.371-72

“But you cannot draw the masses into politics without drawing the women into politics as well. For the female half of the human race is doubly oppressed under capitalism. The working woman and the peasant woman are oppressed by capital, but over and above that, even in the most democratic of the bourgeois republics, they remain firstly, deprived of some rights because the law does not give them equality with men; and secondly – and this is the main thing – they remain in ‘household bondage’, they continue to be ‘household slaves’, for they are over-burdened with the drudgery of the most squalid and back-breaking and stultifying toil in the kitchen and the individual family household.

“This is only the first step in the liberation of woman. But none of the bourgeois republics, including the most democratic of them, has dared to take even this first step. The reason is awe of ‘sacrosanct private property.’

“The second and most important step is the abolition of the private ownership of land and the factories. This and this alone opens up the way towards a complete and actual emancipation of woman, her liberation from ‘household slavery’ through the transition from petty individual housekeeping to large-scale socialized domestic services.

“This transition is a difficult one, because it involves the remolding of the most deep-rooted, inveterate, hidebound and rigid ‘order’ (indecency and barbarity, would be nearer the truth). But the transition has been started, the thing has been set in motion, we have taken the new path.”

Lenin, International Working Women’s Day, March 4, 1921, CW, Vol.32, p.161-62
Zetkin, Clara; “Lenin on the Woman Question”, from “Emancipation of Women”, (a conversation with Lenin), Autumn 1920

Lenin is quoted, “The theses must emphasize strongly that true emancipation of women is not possible except through communism. You must lay stress on the unbreakable connection between woman’s human and social position and the private ownership of the means of production. This will draw a strong, ineradicable line against the bourgeois movement for the ’emancipation of women.’ This will also give us a basis for examining the woman question as part of the social, working-class question, and to bind it firmly with the proletarian class struggle and the revolution. The communist women’s movement itself must be a mass movement, a part of the general mass movements; and not only of the proletarians, but of all the exploited and oppressed, of all victims of capitalism or of the dominant class….There can be no real mass movement without the women.

“…We want no separate organizations of communist women! She who is a Communist belongs as a member to the Party, just as he who is a Communist. They have the same rights and duties. There can be no difference of opinion on that score. However, we must not shut our eyes to the facts. The Party must have organs – working groups, commissions, committees, section or whatever else they may be called – with the specific purpose of rousing the broad masses of women, bringing them into contact with the Party and keeping them under its influence… I have in mind not only proletarian women, whether they work in mills or cook the family meal. I also have in mind the peasant women and the women of the various sections of the lower middle class. They, too, are victims of capitalism, and more than ever since the war. The lack of interest in politics and the otherwise anti-social and backward psychology of these masses of women, the narrow scope of their activities and the whole pattern of their lives are undeniable facts. It would be silly to ignore them, absolutely silly. We must have our own groups to work among them, special methods of agitation, and special forms of organization. This is not bourgeois ‘feminism’; it is a practical revolutionary expediency.

“…Our demands are no more than practical conclusions, drawn by us from the crying needs and disgraceful humiliations that weak, and underprivileged woman must bear under the bourgeois system. We demonstrate thereby that we are aware of these needs and of the oppression of women, that we are conscious of the privileged position of the men, and that we hate – yes, hate – and want to remove whatever oppresses and harasses the working woman, the wife of the worker, the peasant woman, the wife of the little man, and even in many respects the woman of the propertied classes. The rights and social measures we demand of bourgeois society for women are proof that we understand the position and interests of women and that we will take note of them under the proletarian dictatorship. Naturally, not as soporific and patronizing reformists. No, by no means. But as revolutionaries who call upon the women to take a hand as equals in the reconstruction of the economy and of the ideological superstructure.

“…Our national sections still lack the proper understanding of this question. They adopt a passive, wait-and-see attitude when it comes to creating a mass movement of working women under communist leadership. They do not realize that developing and leading such a mass movement is an important part of all Party activity, as much as half of all the Party work. Their occasional recognition of the need and value of a purposeful, strong and numerous communist women’s movement is but platonic lip-service rather than a steady concern and task of the Party.

“They regard agitation and propaganda among women and the task of rousing and revolutionizing them as of secondary importance, as the job of just the women Communists. None but the latter are rebuked because the matter does not move ahead more quickly and strongly. This is wrong, fundamentally wrong! It is outright separatism. It is equality of women reversed, as the French say. What is the bottom of the incorrect attitude of our national sections? …In the final analysis, it is an underestimation of women and of their accomplishments… Could there be any more palpable proof than the common sight of a man calmly watching a woman wear herself out with trivial, monotonous, strength- and time-consuming work, such as her housework, and watching her spirit shrinking, her mind growing dull, her heartbeat growing faint, and her will growing slack?… What I say applies to the vast majority of women, including the wives of workers, even if these spend the day at the factory and earn money.

“Very few husbands, not even the proletarians, think of how much they could lighten the burdens and worries of their wives, or relieve them entirely, if they lent a hand in this ‘women’s work.’ But no,, that would go against the ‘privilege and dignity of the husband.’ He demands that he have rest and comfort. The domestic life of the woman is a daily sacrifice of self to a thousand insignificant trifles….We must root out the old slave–owner’s point of view, both in the Party and among the masses. That is one of our political tasks, a task just as urgently necessary as the formation of a staff composed of comrades, men and women, with thorough theoretical and practical training for Party work among working women.”

Zetkin, Clara; “Lenin on the Woman Question”, from “Emancipation of Women”, IP 1966, p.95-123 (a conversation with Lenin), Autumn 1920


This subsection opens with a quotation from Engels on why youth are attracted to the revolutionary party and cause. Then Lenin discusses the special qualities of youth that require organizational independence to win them to socialism. He also discusses the needs and role of youth after victory of the socialist revolution.

“Is it not natural that youth should predominate in our Party, the revolutionary party? We are the party of the future, and the future belongs to the youth. We are a party of innovators, and it is always the youth that most eagerly follows the innovators. We are a party that is waging a self-sacrificing struggle against what is old and decaying, and youth is always the first to undertake a self-sacrificing struggle.”

Engels, quoted in Lenin, Crisis of Menshevism, CW, Vol.11, p.354, 1906 “Adults who pretend to lead and teach others, but who mislead the proletariat are one thing: against such people a ruthless struggle must be waged. Youth organizations which openly declare that they are still learning, that their main task is to train party workers for the Socialist Parties, are quite another thing. Such people must be assisted in every way. We must be as patient as possible with their faults and strive to correct them gradually, mainly by persuasion, and not by fighting them. Frequently, the middle-aged and the aged do not know how to approach the youth in the proper way; for, necessarily, the youth must come to socialism in a different way, by other paths, in other forms, under other circumstances than their fathers. Incidentally, this is why we must be decidedly in favor of the organizational independence of the Youth League, not only because the opportunists fear this independence, but because of the very nature of the case; for unless they have complete independence the youth will be unable either to train good Socialists from their midst, or to prepare themselves to lead socialism forward.

“We stand for complete independence of the Youth Leagues, but also for complete freedom for comradely criticism of their errors. We must not flatter the youth.”

Lenin, “The Youth International”: A Review, Dec. 1916, LLL Ed, p.23; CW, Vol.23, p.164
Lenin, The Tasks of the Youth Leagues, Oct. 2, 1920 (Excerpts)

“And so, in approaching the tasks of the youth from this angle, I must say that the tasks of the youth in general, and of the Young Communist League and all other organizations in particular, may be summed up in one word: Learn.

“Of course, this is only ‘one word.’ It does not answer the important and most essential questions: what to learn, and how to learn?

LLL, p.27; CW, p.283)

“The old school was a school of cramming; it compelled pupils to imbibe a mass of useless, superfluous, barren knowledge, which clogged the brain and transformed the younger generation into officials turned out to pattern. But you would be committing a great mistake if you attempted to draw the conclusion that one can become a Communist without acquiring what human knowledge has accumulated. It would be a mistake to think that it is enough to imbibe communist slogans, the conclusions of communist science, without acquiring the sum total of knowledge of which communism itself is a consequence.

(LLL, p.30; CW, p.286)

“This is what we must bear in mind when, for example, we talk about proletarian culture. Unless we clearly understand that only by acquiring exact knowledge of the culture created by the whole development of mankind and that only by studying this culture can a proletarian culture be built, we shall not be able to solve this problem.

(LLL, p.31; CW, P.287)

“The whole object of training, educating and teaching the youth of today should be to imbue them with communist ethics. “But is there such a thing as communist ethics: Is there such a thing as communist morality? Of course, there is. It is often made to appear that we have no ethics of our own; and very often the bourgeoisie accuse us Communists of repudiating all ethics. This is a method of shuffling concepts, of throwing dust in the eyes of the workers and peasants.

“We say that our morality is entirely subordinated to the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat. Our morality is derived from the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat.

(LLL ED, p.36-37; CW, p.291)

“We should not believe in teaching, training and education if they were confined only to the school and were divorced from the stress of life. As long as the workers and peasants are oppressed by the landlords and capitalists, and as long as the schools remain in the hands of the landlords and capitalists, the young generation remains blind and ignorant.

“Our schools, however, must impart to the youth the fundamentals of knowledge; they must train them in the ability to work out communist views for themselves; they must make educated people of them. At the same time, in the period people attend school, it must make of them participants in the struggle for emancipation from the exploiters.

(LLL Ed, p.42; CW, p.295) Lenin, The Tasks of the Youth Leagues, Oct. 2, 1920, LLL Ed, p.26- 48, CW, Vol.31, p. 283-99

back to top

back to content page




Related Party Information

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