“It is incorrect to classify the revolt of the Negro as simply a racial conflict of Black against white, or as a purely American problem. Rather, we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter.”
Malcolm X, February 18, 1965.
Since the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, the subjugation of black labor has played a central role in the construction of American capitalism. Through a second revolution, chattel slavery was ended; through relentless social struggle and political determination, particularly by black workers and youth, Jim and Jane Crow were smashed; but the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow remain. The long and historic black freedom movement in its radical and revolutionary contours is now entering a new phase to challenge the remnants of institutionalized and socialized racism in a nation which proclaims itself the “land of the free and home of the brave.”
This generation of young people have become politically, socially, and culturally awakened by the deep structural crisis of capitalism, the betrayal of the rhetoric of the first black president, and the ascendancy of the social movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter (BLM).
For the past 160 years, black and white revolutionary socialists have correctly sought to bring together the fight against racial oppression and class exploitation because both require the same solution, namely tearing down the edifice of capitalism and racism.
The publishing of Socialist Alternative’s Marxism and the Fight for Black Freedom introduces to a new generation of activists and organizers the heroic richness and complex legacy of the Marxist left in the struggle to end capitalism and racism. Socialist Alternative politically supports the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) which has groups in over 40 countries and has played a key role in anti-racist campaigns in many parts of the world.
We live in a society full of mindless sound bites, reality television, capitalist speculation, instant gratification, alienation, grinding violence and historical amnesia. We must struggle to reclaim the past which is full of rich lessons for today. As Lenin said, part of the role of Marxists is to be the “memory of the class.”
In the first article of this pamphlet, we focus on the role of American socialists and Marxists from the late 19th century onward. We examine the powerful impact of the 1917 Russian Revolution and the founding of the Third International under the leadership of Lenin, Trotsky, and the Bolsheviks on the fight of all oppressed people for freedom including African Americans. We look critically at the successes and failures of the Communist Party and later the Socialist Workers Party in the U.S. moving on to the impact of socialist ideas on the black liberation movement in the 60s and 70s and lessons for today.
The second article by Hannah Sell on the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, founded 50 years ago in Oakland, is highly relevant as the Panthers continue to be a key reference point for activists today. We have also included a brilliant contribution from our CWI co-thinkers in South Africa, the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP), which provides a materialist analysis of the historical and ideological foundations of racism in Europe, Africa, and the United States dating back to the 1400s.
In part two, the material comes from the discussions and decisions by Socialist Alternative’s leading bodies over the past two years on the political forecast and way forward for the BLM banner.
For the past two years, Socialist Alternative has put forward the urgent need for the movement to take on demands and a focus to challenge the ruling 0.1%.
Recently the Movement For Black Lives (M4BL), a coalition of more than 50 organizations, released a comprehensive program, A Vision For Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom, and Justice (policy.m4bl.org), taking on the issues of economic injustice, reparations, police violence, and political power.
We believe that adopting a clear set of demands is a very important step forward for the BLM banner. There is much that is positive in this material which also has significant political shortcomings, but the key question is how this will be discussed, debated and amended by the wider movement so that the program becomes the driving focus for struggle. We desperately need to build mass campaigns for tangible gains for black workers and youth like community control over the police and a $15 minimum wage.
To win victories against racism and poverty, we need mass demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people disrupting “business as usual.” Union leaders should support Black Lives Matter in more than just words by mobilizing their members to attend protests with contingents connecting the fight against police violence to the struggles for good jobs, healthcare, education and public services.
While fighting for every reform possible within the framework of the current social order, we must also recognize that the only way to end institutionalized racism is to end capitalism. This will require the leadership of a mass multiracial workers movement whose common struggle will be a decisive step towards a society where race division is finally consigned to the history books where it belongs.
As the BLM banner matures and the crisis of capitalism continues to create unconscionable conditions of endemic poverty, political disenfranchisement, and law enforcement terror, our struggle must arm itself with historical memory, programmatic demands, fighting leadership, and sustainable organizations. We must seize the time now as the winds of change are swirling. The ideas and methods of Marxism are already beginning to find a new audience that will seek to wash away the vestiges of capitalism and institutional racism. Another world is possible, a socialist world!
September 14, 2016