This article, by the editor of our predecessor, The Worker, was written in 1956, and later published in “Revolutionary Tracings, Selected Writings” (International Publishers, 1974). We reprint it, in conjunction with African American History Month, because of its continuing relevance today.
Essentially, the Black liberation movement in the United States is constituted to secure and safeguard the rights of a people to be free from all oppression. To be effective, it must amass power equal to its task. For this purpose it strives to unite the great mass of Black Americans so that the strength of their numbers and the weight of their alliances with other anti-monopoly groupings of the population can best be employed to fight for new positions of political strength, a larger economic share, social justice, and cultural recognition and opportunity. It struggles to gain a just share of political strength in order to acquire a fair share of the economic means needed to eliminate ghetto poverty and racist misery.
The political struggle of Black people, therefore, is for a national political situation of genuine representative government, wherein they seek to exercise their right of majority rule in those areas and communities where they are the dominant constituency, and for a maximum democratic share of power in those situations where they are in the minority. And, for the elimination of all those racist proscriptions and prejudices which bar eligible Blacks from high office regardless of the ratio of Black people to the total population.
In northern ghetto and southern community, the population centers of the Black citizens of this nation are boiling points of militant passion and launching pads of sky-rocketing social struggles. The Black people of all classes, of town and country, North and South, are to one degree or another suffering a common burden of racist oppression. It is manifested by a pattern of special economic exploitation, political disfranchisement, cultural denial and social ostracism.
Racism is not only a depraved ideology that violates the human dignity of Black citizens, it is a body of practice, prescribed by law and customs, which assaults and ravishes the human and civil rights of Blacks; it is an instrument of divisionism between Black and white toilers, a device for compounding profit taken by the ruling class from the extraordinary exploitation of Black people.
The basis for a broad spread of unity of the Black people across class lines lies in this fact of the all-class national character of the racist oppression which Blacks are subjected to regardless of station in life. However, the weight of racist oppression does not fall equally hard upon all classes. The Black workers and farmer-toilers suffer the severest consequences, bear the heaviest burdens of the racist system. And it is the Black workers — concentrated as they are in the pivotal centers of the production process within the capitalist economy — who, in unity with their white class brothers, have the potential power to compel real relief of the immediate situation, and for effecting strategic changes in the social system itself.
The ratio which the urban working class strata and the rural working people occupy in relation to the total Black population emphasizes the determinative, the decisive aspect of the role of the working class in the leadership, program, strategy and tactics of the Black people’s liberation movement. Maximum internal unity of the Black liberation movement is forged in the course of struggle for freedom and against the influences of anti-working-class policies within and upon the movement
Racism in the United States is sustained and nourished by the monopolists in the interest of boosting their profit lust and power greed. Consequently, every blow struck against racism, every advance secured by Black Americans on the way to unqualified equality and freedom, strikes at the system of the ruling power of the monopoly, capitalists.
The practice of white supremacy and racism is at once brazenly flaunted and subtly insinuated. Genuine revolutionaries — Marxists-Leninists above all — must set sterling examples of sensitivity to even the slightest manifestation of racist discrimination, bigotry or national chauvinism, and be models of initiative and courage in the untiring struggle to rid the labor movement and popular movements of this alien force. Racism, like anti-communism, is a powerful and dangerous virus designed to disintegrate the needed unity of Black and white working masses and to blind the masses to the interests they have in common: working class unity and people’s alliance for victorious struggle against the common foe.
The river of the U.S. working class is not white, nor Puerto Rican, nor Chicano, Indian, Asian or Black; the working class is international. It is composed of all the differentiated national and racial elements that exist in our country, and on a global scale.
What is the problem? There is ice on the river of the working class. It forms on the largest body of water in the river of the working class, that of the white workers. These ice blocks of chauvinism, racism, of white supremacy and prejudice in the river-bed of the working class impede its flow and diminish the torrential revolutionary power inherent in the waters of the whole working class. Therefore, the ice of racism must be melted to unleash the energy of the river of the working class.
But something has to be added, and that is, the function of the conscious force in the working class. It has to melt the ice of white supremacy that blocks the torrential waters. There is vast revolutionary potential in our working class. And we have to put an end to what is in some areas still lingering disdain, a writing off, of the numerically largest category, the most numerous physical component of the American working class — the white workers. Whoever sees only the ice of prejudice, racism, white supremacy in the mainstream of the workers and not the potential power of the waters of this mighty river is blind to revolutionary reality.
There is more in the river-bed of the working class than the ice floes of prejudice, of racism, of racial backwardness. The ice is temporary; the river is enduring. The task is to introduce into this river of the working class the heat of revolutionary consciousness, to convert the ice floes into torrents of revolutionary working class force. Whoever denigrates the white workers does not understand the simple arithmetic of the requirements of unity of the whole in our country. Without class unity there can be no real outlook for radical, revolutionary transformation.
There would be no victory prospect for national freedom for Black Americans, for Puerto Ricans, for Chicanos, for Native Americans, for the specially oppressed nationalities of our country save as their struggles are related in the first instance to the class struggle of the majority among the workers who are white in our country. If the white workers are written off as hopelessly frozen in their prejudices of white supremacist racism, then social revolution as well as freedom for the oppressed nationalities must be judged hopeless. Such a position objectively becomes counter-revolutionary.
Genuine revolutionary leadership always demands the highest standards of sensitivity and vigilance against the penetration of influences of white supremacy prejudices. It must be intolerant of the slightest chauvinist assumptions of national or racial exclusiveness or superiority.