Marxism and Black Struggle

1

For Black August, Left Voice will be presenting a collection of classic Marxist texts about Black liberation. This includes writing by C.L.R. James, Leon Trotsky, T.W. Thibedi, George Breitman, and the Communist International.

Leon Trotsky and C.L.R. James (Illustration: Sou Mi)

The uprisings that have swept the United States have shown something that socialists have long argued: U.S. capitalism was founded on racist oppression. That is why the struggle for Black liberation is one of the driving forces of the struggle to beat capitalism. We have seen the protests against racist police violence mobilize millions of working-class and oppressed people in what might be the largest movement in U.S. history.

A new generation is entering the struggle. To commemorate Black August, we will be publishing classic Marxist texts to better understand the deep link between the struggles for Black liberation and for socialist revolution.

We will publish one text per day for the rest of Black August. We hope this connects the new generation of activists with great revolutionary thinkers from the past. Marxism is a strategy and a theory for the liberation of the working class and all oppressed people. This is why Black revolutionaries like George Jackson, C.L.R. James, and many others studied texts like these. Marxism is not a dogma, but rather a method to understand the world in order to change it.

Introduction

Marcello Pablito and Daniel Alfonso:
The Black Question and the Revolution in Brazil

Racism, Capitalism, and Revolution

The docile Negro is a myth. (…) The only place where Negroes did not revolt is in the pages of capitalist historians. — C.L.R. James

C.L.R. James:
Revolution and the Negro

C.L.R. James:
The Place of the Negro Is in the Vanguard

Communist International:
Theses on the Black Question

George Breitman:
When Anti-Negro Prejudice Began

Peter Hansen:
The Class Character of the American Constitution

Black Resistance Against War

We shall fight for a fraternal unity between all the poor in every country against all the rich. — C.L.R. James

C.L.R. James:
Why Negroes Should Oppose the War

International African Service Bureau:
A Warning to the People of the Colonies

The United States and the Black Question

If the Negroes want that then we must fight against imperialism to the last drop of blood, so that they gain the right (…) to separate a piece of land for themselves. — Leon Trotsky

Arne Swabeck and Leon Trotsky:
The Negro Question in America

C.L.R. James and Leon Trotsky:
Self-Determination for the American Negroes

C.L.R. James and Leon Trotsky:
A Negro Organization

C.L.R. James and Leon Trotsky:
Plans for the Negro Organization

South Africa and the Black Question

In their letter, (…) the South African comrades expressed particular interest in the questions of the Chinese Revolution. (…) he working masses of the oppressed peoples who have to carry on the struggle for elementary national rights and for human dignity, are precisely those who incur the greatest risk of suffering the penalties for the muddled teachings of the Stalinist bureaucracy. — Leon Trotsky

C.L.R. James
Imperialism in Africa

T.W. Thibedi
Letters from T.W. Thibedi on South African Trotskyism

Leon Trotsky
Letters from Leon Trotsky on South Africa

Lenin Club
Draft Thesis on the Native Question (Majority)

Lenin Club
Draft Thesis on the Native Question (Minority)

Lenin Club
Draft Thesis on the Trade Union Question

Leon Trotsky
Remarks on the Draft Theses of The Workers Party of South Africa

Women in the Fight Against Apartheid

We women will never carry these passes. (…) These passes make the roads even more narrow for us. We’ve seen unemployment, homelessness, and families separated because of these passes. (…) Who will look after our children when we go to prison for a technical offense as small as not having a pass? — Dora Tamana

South African History Online
The Turbulent 1950s in South Africa — Women as Defiant Activists

South African History Online
The 1956 Women’s March

One article appeared each day in August.

This Collection

This collection is based on the book A revolução e o negro, which was first published in Brazil in November 2015, reprinted in August 2016, and republished in an expanded edition in November 2019. It was edited by Marcello Pablito, Daniel Afonso, and Leticia Parks, with many of the texts appearing in Portuguese for the first time. Leticia and Marcello are part of Quilombo Vermehlo, a Black Marxist group connected to our Brazilian sister site Esquerda Diário.

All of these texts are available in English in different Trotskyist publications — most of them on the Marxists Internet Archive, who have made them available for free. A few additional articles are from South African History Online. Two of the texts we will be publishing were written in Portuguese and have been translated for Left Voice.

Many of the articles reflect discussions of the Socialist Workers Party, the U.S. section of the Fourth International, with C.L.R. James and Leon Trotsky in the 1930s. There are also a number of articles relating to the Communist Opposition in South Africa, which had a great activity and produced many revolutionary cadres who were subsequently active in the revolutionary movement in China, India, the U.S. and Great Britain.

Black August

We are publishing these historical texts during Black August, a month to commemorate Black revolutionaries throughout history. 

  • August marks the 401st anniversary of the arrival of Black slaves in the Virginia Colony — the beginning of African slavery in North America.
  • The enslaved of Haiti rose up on August 21, 1791, and within a decade defeated the French and British empires to found the world’s first Black republic.
  • August 21 is the 189th anniversary of the beginning of Nat Turner’s Rebellion in Virginia.
  • August 11 is the 55th anniversary of the Watts Rebellion in Los Angeles, which inspired mass resistance across the country.
  • Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Marin County Courthouse Slave Rebellion. On August 7, 1970, 17-year-old Jonathan Jackson entered the courtroom to free two prisoners. As he fled, he was shot dead.
  • August 21 is the 49th anniversary of the murder of George Jackson. He was a Black revolutionary organizing behind bars, and he was murdered during an attempted prison escape.

Notes on Language

These texts are primarily from the 1930s and 1940s, and the meaning of many terms has shifted since then. We have opted to maintain the original language, even though a number of words will be understood differently today.

The word “race,” for example, deserves critical consideration. Race does not describe a “natural” division between human beings — it is a historical construction laden with social, cultural, political, and ideological meaning.

The words “negro” and “colored people” have strong racist connotations in modern English. But at the time these texts were written, these were the terms used by Black people fighting for liberation.

The word “mulatto,” as used by C.L.R. James, was also not employed in a pejorative sense — it is a form of state classification used at the time of the French revolution to denote people with Black and European ancestry.

Similarly, “American” is often used in these articles to refer to citizens of the United States, to the exclusion of people from the other countries of the American double continent. Today we would use “U.S.”

Finally, it is important to note that the term “primitive” as used in some of the texts refers to the development of the productive forces and capitalist social relations, and not in an anthropological sense of inferiority.

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Left Voice

Militant journalism, revolutionary politics.