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Communist International: Theses on the Black Question

Following the success of the Russian Revolution in 1917, communists from around the globe came together to form the Communist International. At its Fourth Congress in 1922, the Comintern resolved to support all struggles of Black people for liberation. This is part of our collection on Marxism and Black Struggle.

Left Voice

August 11, 2020
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Leon Trotsky and C.L.R. James (Illustration: Sou Mi)

1. During and after the war, a movement of revolt developed among the colonial and semi-colonial peoples against the power of world capitalism, and this movement is successfully making progress. Meanwhile, the further development of capitalism depends on resolving its last great challenge, the penetration and intensive colonisation of the territories inhabited by Black races. French capitalism has clearly recognised that postwar French imperialism can only be maintained by creating a French empire in Africa, tied to the mother country by a Trans-Sahara railroad.

The financial magnates of the United States, who already exploit twelve million Blacks in that country, have begun the peaceful penetration of Africa. Britain’s fear that its position in Africa may be threatened is clearly shown by the extreme measures it took to suppress the strikes in South Africa in the Rand.1In March of 1922, workers in the Transvaal region of South Africa declared a general strike against wage cuts but also against the hiring of Black workers. The Communist Party tried to convince white workers to unite with Black workers but were unsuccessful. 154 people were killed in the struggle and another four were executed.

Just as the competition between imperialist powers in the Pacific region has produced an acute danger of a new world war, so there are ominous indications that Africa has become the object of their competitive efforts. In addition, the war, the Russian revolution, and the powerful rebellious movements of Asian and Muslim peoples against imperialism have awakened racial consciousness among millions of Blacks, who have been oppressed and humiliated for centuries not only in Africa but also, and perhaps even more, in the United States.

2. The history of Blacks in the United States has prepared them to play an important role in the liberation struggle of the entire African race. Three hundred years ago, the American Blacks were torn from their native soil, transported on slave ships under the most indescribably cruel conditions, and sold into slavery. For 250 years they worked as slaves under the whip of the American overseer. Their labour cleared the forests, built the roads, planted the cotton, laid the railway tracks, and sustained the Southern aristocracy. The reward for their labour was poverty, ignorance, degradation, and misery.

The Blacks were not docile slaves. Their history tells of rebellions, revolts, and underground techniques of winning freedom. But all their struggles were savagely suppressed. They were tortured into submission, while the bourgeois press and bourgeois religion declared their enslavement to be rightful.

Slavery grew into a barrier on the road to America’s development on a capitalist basis. In the contest between chattel slavery and wage slavery, chattel slavery was destined to defeat. The Civil War was a war not to free the slaves but to maintain the industrial supremacy of capitalism in the Northern states. It presented Blacks with the choice between slavery in the South and wage slavery in the North.

The longing, the blood, and the tears of the “emancipated” Blacks formed part of the material from which American capitalism was constructed. When the United States, which had now emerged as a world power, was inevitably pulled into the whirlpool of the World War, Blacks were declared to be of equal worth to whites. They were permitted to kill for “democracy” and let themselves be killed. Four hundred thousand Coloured workers were recruited into the American army and formed into Black regiments. Immediately after the dreadful sacrifices of the world war, the Black soldier, returning home, faced racial persecution, lynching, murder, deprival of the right to vote, and inequality between him and the whites.

Blacks fought back, for which they had to pay dearly. The persecution of Blacks became more intensive and pervasive than before the war, until they had learned to forget their “presumption”. The spirit of rebellion aroused by the postwar persecution and brutality, although suppressed, flares up again, as we saw in the protests against atrocities such as those that took place in Tulsa.2Between May 31 and June 1, 1921, the Black neighborhoods of Tulsa, Oklahoma were burned down and hundreds killed in one of the worst race riots in U.S. history. Combined with the impact of the Blacks’ integration into industry in the North, this assigns to American Blacks, especially in the North, a place in the vanguard of the struggle against oppression in Africa.

3. The Communist International views with satisfaction the resistance of exploited Blacks to the attacks of their exploiters, since the enemy of their race and of the white worker is identical: capitalism and imperialism. The international struggle of the Black race is a struggle against capitalism and imperialism. The international Black movement must be organised on this basis — in the United States, the centre of Black culture and the focus of Black protests; in Africa, the reservoir of human labour for capitalism’s further development; in Central America (Costa Rica, Guatemala, Colombia, Nicaragua, and other “independent” republics), which is dominated by American imperialism; in Puerto Rico, Haiti, Santo Domingo [Dominican Republic], and other islands in the Caribbean, where the brutal treatment of our Black fellow men by American occupation troops has aroused a protest by conscious Blacks and revolutionary white workers around the world; in South Africa and the Congo, where the increasing industrialisation of the Black population has led to uprisings of different types; in East Africa, where the current penetration of international capitalism is driving the native population to active resistance against imperialism.

4. It is the task of the Communist International to show Blacks that they are not the only people that suffer the oppression of imperialism and capitalism. The workers and peasants of Europe, Asia, and America are also victims of the imperialist exploiters. In India and China, in Iran and Turkey, in Egypt and Morocco, the oppressed Coloured peoples are mounting a heroic defence against the imperialist exploiters. These peoples are rising up against the same outrages that drive Blacks to fury: racial oppression, social and economic inequality, and intensive exploitation in industry. These peoples are fighting for the same goals as Blacks — for political, economic, and social liberation and equality.

The Communist International represents the worldwide struggle of revolutionary workers and peasants against the power of imperialism. It is not only the organisation of the subjugated white workers in Europe and America, but is also the organisation of the oppressed Coloured peoples of the world. It feels duty-bound to support and promote the international organisation of Blacks in their struggle against the common enemy.

5. The Black question has become an essential part of the world revolution. The Communist International has already recognised what worthwhile help the Coloured peoples of Asia can provide in the semi-colonial countries. It views the assistance of our oppressed Black fellow human beings as absolutely necessary for proletarian revolution and the destruction of capitalist power. For these reasons, the Fourth Congress assigns to Communists the special responsibility to apply the “Theses on the Colonial Question” to the situation of Blacks.3A resolution adopted previously in the Second World Congress of the Comintern in 1920.

6. a. The Fourth Congress considers it essential to support every form of the Black movement that either undermines or weakens capitalism or places barriers in the path of its further expansion.

b. The Communist International will struggle for the equality of the white and Black races, and for equal wages and equal political and social rights.

c. The Communist International will utilise all the means available to it to compel the trade unions to take Black workers into their rights, or, where this right already exists in form, to make special efforts to recruit Blacks into the trade unions. If this proves to be impossible, the Communist International will organise Blacks in their own trade unions and make special use of the united front tactic in order to force the general unions to admit them.

d. The Communist International will take immediate steps to convene a general conference or congress of Blacks in Moscow.

Source: John Riddell (Ed.), Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International (Chicago: Haymarket, 2012) / Transcription: Marxists Internet Archive

Notes

Notes
1 In March of 1922, workers in the Transvaal region of South Africa declared a general strike against wage cuts but also against the hiring of Black workers. The Communist Party tried to convince white workers to unite with Black workers but were unsuccessful. 154 people were killed in the struggle and another four were executed.
2 Between May 31 and June 1, 1921, the Black neighborhoods of Tulsa, Oklahoma were burned down and hundreds killed in one of the worst race riots in U.S. history.
3 A resolution adopted previously in the Second World Congress of the Comintern in 1920.
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