A Transitional Program for Black Liberation

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RBG Communiversity is a Web 2.0 New Afrikan Liberation Education and Nationhood Program dedicated to Implementing the Teachings of Our Elders and Ancestors.

RBG Communiversity is a Web 2.0 New Afrikan Liberation Education and Nationhood Program dedicated to Implementing the Teachings of Our Elders and Ancestors.

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  • 1. International Socialist Review, November-December 1969Socialist Workers PartyA Transitional Program for Black LiberationResolution of 23rd National ConventionNew York, Labor Day Weekend 1969From International Socialist Review, Vol.30 No.6, November-December 1969, pp.50-60.Transcribed by Daniel Gaido.Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.It is becoming more and more clear to increasing numbers of Afro-Americans that nothing lessthan a revolution in this country will bring about the liberation of black people. As a result, agreat deal of discussion is going on over how to make a revolution and how to relate present-daystruggles and demands to the goal of changing society as a whole. In providing answers to thesequestions, the experiences of the rest of the world revolutionary movement can be immenselyhelpful. They teach that the most effective road to revolutionary victory is through developing arounded program of mass struggle – and organizing a mass political party around militant actionon that program.How can these lessons best be applied at the present stage of the struggle for black liberation inthe United States? That is the all-important question this document proposes to discuss andanswer.Editor’s note: This historical document served as a pivotal primary source of information in writing anddeveloping RBG FROLINAN’S NATIONAL STRATEGY AND TREATIES. It is provide herein as to enablethe learner to follow the historical dialectical and materialist arguments of the FROnt for the LIberationof the New Afrikan Nation (For more see RBG FROLINAN STUDIES COLLECTION)A Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 2. Page 1 of 38What do the developments of the past 15 years demonstrate? The struggle for black liberationhas taken giant steps forward since the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott touched off thecontemporary phase of the movement. It has given Afro-Americans a heightened sense ofdignity, worth and destiny as a people. It has made the claims of the black masses into aparamount and unpostponable issue in American life and politics. It has acquainted the wholeworld with the intolerable conditions of the more than 22 million Afro-Americans and theirdetermination to end the racist system and to win self-determination.More recently, it has propelled black nationalism from deeply felt resentment against injusticeand inequality into a powerful and ascending force in the Afro-American communities.In the conclusion to his biography of Sammy Younge, Jr., the first black college student to die inthe black liberation movement, SNCC leader James Forman summed up the situation in thefollowing terms:“The history of resistance to the most unique colonization experience known to mankind showsthat the ‘60s must be recorded as an accelerating generation, a generation of black peopledetermined that they will survive, a generation aware that resistance is the agenda for today andthat action by people is necessary to quicken the steps of history.”Black Americans have participated in plenty of actions since 1955 – and these struggles havebeen responsible for whatever advances have been achieved. But it is painfully evident that allthe struggles over the past decade and a half have not succeeded in improving the living andworking conditions of the masses of black people or eliminating the worst abuses inflicted dailyupon them. Only a few favored individuals from the black upper crust have benefited from thetokenism through which the white possessors of power and wealth have tried to dampen or buyoff the militancy of the masses.A pile of economic statistics confirms what almost every Afro-American knows from personalexperience. Blacks are subjected to many forms of discrimination, have much lower incomes andfewer job opportunities, get lower wages, live in rotten housing, have bigger rates ofunemployment and receive inferior education. Just one figure from the bottom of the heap showsA Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 3. Page 2 of 38what the score is. Forty percent of the nation’s 9,500,000 citizens on welfare are black. In somestates monthly welfare payments amount to as little as $40 for a family of four. In New YorkCity, 80 percent on welfare are blacks or Puerto Ricans.Despite the heightened consciousness of the nature of this oppression and the awareness of thefailure of the policies pursued in the past, no clear alternative conception has yet emerged fromthe black community on what has to be done to bring better results. Although repeated uprisingsin the black communities have indicated time and again the existence of a deep-going massradicalization, little headway has been made in organizing the ghetto masses into an effectiveforce for struggle. Instead, the gunning down of black leaders, the assassination of Malcolm Xand Martin Luther King, Jr., the repression of the Black Panther Party and the lack of massagencies of struggle have bred a widespread feeling of frustration which exists in the blackcommunity on all levels.The fraud of black capitalismMeanwhile the chief political representatives of American capitalism are not silent or inactive.They have no intention of removing the causes of discrimination, poverty and misery. These arebuilt into their system of racist oppression and economic exploitation. They have shown by theuse of police, state and federal troops over the recent years that they are ready to resort to themost brutal and bloody repression to put down black protest. In order to maintain their rule theystrive to keep blacks divided amongst themselves and separated from potential allies among thewhites. They expect to keep blacks in their place by alternating cheap concessions (“tokenism”)with repressions.The Kennedy and Johnson administrations banked on the passage of a few civil-rights bills and afake war-on-poverty to calm and appease the growing militancy. These have not worked. Nowthe more conservative Nixon administration has announced the development of a” blackcapitalism.”The essence of this program is that the principal lending institutions, backed by government loanguarantees, are supposed to help set up and encourage different sorts of small business enterpriseA Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 4. Page 3 of 38by black individuals or groups. Not much has yet been done along this line. But the idea ofcreating a puny black capitalism alongside the gigantic edifice of white capitalism and incompetition with it is a pure fantasy and a cruel hoax. While it may benefit a few blackbusinessmen, it will fool very few black people.Today almost all black businesses are tiny family operations, catering to a ghetto clientele andproviding a meager income for their owners and a few jobs for others. About 25 percent of blackfirms are barber shops and beauty parlors. One out of every 40 Americans is a proprietor, whileonly one black in 1,000 is.For show-window purposes, Nixon and his henchmen may aid and establish a few more black-operated enterprises – which will remain in debt to their financiers. But they will not narrow thecolossal discrepancy between white capitalist ownership and the layer of black proprietors. Thepredominant trend of American economy is toward accelerated concentration of business andindustry in fewer and bigger monopolies. This cuts down small white business as well asblocking the growth of black business. A sprinkling of new black firms cannot alter or reversethis process. They will remain petty and shaky marginal enterprises while the major banks,industries, insurance companies, chain stores and real estate interests stay in white hands andkeep on fleecing the black communities.Nor do the corporations which control the job market have any compelling reasons to betterwages or working conditions for their black wage-slaves or eliminate the higher rate ofunemployment among black workers and youth.So long as the capitalist system prevails, Afro-Americans have the right to demand equal, if notgreater, access to capital resources, credits and loans so they can go into business on their own aswell as into factories, offices and government positions. Cooperatives may help some blackcommunities to lessen the parasitic grip of the white bloodsuckers and acquire a larger measureof autonomy over minor aspects of their economic life. But this is quite different from expectingthat the present owners and controllers of the United States will satisfy the needs of the blackcommunity or that black capitalism will solve or even alleviate the most pressing problems ofblack people, such as housing, education, employment, and poverty. A fundamentalA Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 5. Page 4 of 38transformation of the whole economic, social and political system is required for this.The liberal approachThe liberal black leaders, from Whitney Young and Roy Wilkins to Ralph Abernathy and BayardRustin, advocate extensive reforms for the benefit of black people. The trouble is that theyexpect to see these concessions come from Democratic and Republican party politicians, the veryagents of the capitalist ruling class which has bred racism for centuries, upholds it and is its mainbeneficiary at home and abroad.These gradualists and reformists keep their ideas and activities within the limits of theestablished order which they are committed to serve. They resemble the house-slaves andhandkerchief-heads who came cap in hand begging “massa” for favors.The more astute white capitalist politicians and their black stooges are aware that any breakawayfrom the two-party system to the left is a danger to them. That is why they back the campaignsand build up the reputations of black Democrats like Mayor Carl Stokes of Cleveland and MayorRichard Hatcher of Gary. Such black men are nominated and put in office, not to serve thewelfare of the black community, but to head off the mounting demands for change, to co-opt andcorrupt black nationalist sentiment if possible, and turn it back into channels which are safe andsecure for the white supremacists.The first major action of Mayor Stokes was to increase payroll taxes to raise money so that morecops could be hired to maintain control over the black community. And Mayor Hatcher admittedhis administration has little control over what happens to black people in Gary.“There is much talk about black control of the ghetto,” he said. “What does it mean? I am mayorof a city of roughly 90,000 black people – but we do not control the possibilities of jobs forthem, of money for their schools, or state-funded social institutions. These things are in the handsof US Steel Corporation, the county department of welfare and the State of Indiana.”A Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 6. Page 5 of 38The positions of the revolutionary nationalistsTo one degree or another almost every Afro-American shares the sentiments if not the ideologyof black nationalism. The spectrum of the black nationalist movement comprises a wide varietyof political positions and trends, ranging from those on the extreme right, who want to buildblack business, through the purely cultural nationalists, to the revolutionary left wing.Today hundreds of thousands of black men and women look forward to the black revolution asthe road to liberation. In the vanguard are the rebellious black youth in the ghettos, the streetsand the campuses who are absorbing ideas and inspirations from the “Third World” revolutions,the teachings of Malcolm X, and their own experiences in struggle. The most advancedrecognize that capitalism is the source and support of racism and that it is necessary to abolishcapitalism in order to attack racism at its roots.This rapidly growing revolutionary consciousness means that increasing numbers of blackpeople, especially among the youth, are ready to devote their lives to the building of arevolutionary movement to win power for the masses and overturn this system. They are nowforced to grapple with the extremely complex problem of how this can be done. Without acorrect and realistic perspective for carrying on the liberation struggle, based on a clearunderstanding of the objective conditions in the United States today, thousands of excellentrevolutionary cadres run the risk of disorientation or wasting time and energy while trying toreach the goal of emancipation.Numerous revolutionaries see the necessity and desirability of breaking away, once and for all,from both the Democratic and Republican parties and forming an independent black party whichwill not only enter candidates in election campaigns but mobilize the Afro-Americancommunities in actions to attain community demands.However, they do not yet see clearly how to link struggles for the pressing immediate needs ofthe black people with the revolutionary goal of overturning the whole racist capitalist system. Intheir search for an answer to this difficult problem they swing from one extreme to the otherwithout finding a logical and practical connection between the two ends. Thus at one time theyA Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 7. Page 6 of 38talk about armed struggle by small, highly disciplined, and trained groups of militants as the onlyreally revolutionary method of action. When they run up against the unrealism of guerrilla-typeactions in the United States, where the scale of revolutionary struggles demands huge and muchmore complex commitments of forces, they fall back to spasmodic and uncoordinated activitiesassociated with the largely spontaneous struggles that flare up in the community over issues thatoften do not appear to be far-reaching. Many militants who have grasped the need to overturn thesystem as a whole feel that in participating in such battles they are merely marking time whilethey search for the formula that will put a successful revolution on the agenda in the UnitedStates.In order to work out a strategy and tactics that can realistically hasten a revolutionary showdown,it is necessary first of all to understand where the black liberation struggle actually stands today.What stage is it in?In the country as a whole, a struggle for government power by the working class is not animmediate perspective. This obviously holds true for the white workers, who remain relativelyquiescent politically and still tied in with the Democratic Party machinery through the unionbureaucracy.Without the white workers, the movement for black liberation cannot realistically pose animmediate struggle for government power. It is true, of course, as the mass uprisings indicate,that the black masses are more ready to fight for their rights against the authorities than any othersector of American society. But it requires the active backing and participation of the majority ofthe population to achieve government power. This stage has not yet been reached in the UnitedStates. Moreover, the political understanding of the black masses today is far less advanced thantheir combative frame of mind. Despite their bitterness, nine-tenths of the black voters cast aballot for the Democratic candidate for president in 1968, as they did in 1964.The truth is that we stand in a preparatory period. Once this is thoroughly understood, theproblems begin to fall into place.A Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 8. Page 7 of 38The first big problem is how to break the hold of the white supremacist capitalist politicians uponAfro-Americans. The solution lies in promoting the formation of an independent mass blackpolitical party.The second big problem is how to get Afro-Americans in their majority to move faster andfarther along the road to revolution. The solution lies in formulating and fighting for a programthat can help transform the general discontent and general militancy of the black masses into anorganized, cohesive, consciously revolutionary force. By presenting and fighting for such aprogram, a small vanguard can transform itself into an influential power among the masses.The next section of this document presents proposals along this line, many of which have alreadybeen brought forward by various elements in the movement.Suggested program of mass struggleThe motivation for a program of revolutionary mass struggle must be the self-determination ofAfro-Americans. Like all oppressed nationalities, black people can achieve their freedom only bytaking their destiny in their own hands: “Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.”This means that black people must form and unify their own organizations of struggle, takecontrol of the black communities and all the institutions within them, and conduct a consistentfight to overcome every form of economiq political and cultural servitude and inequalitygenerated and enforced by the decadent, racist capitalist society.A. Black control of the black communityIt is a basic democratic principle that a people should have the right to decide its own affairs.Therefore the central demand of the liberation forces is for black control of the black community.A Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 9. Page 8 of 38This is an indispensable step towards freeing the black masses from domination by the whiteracists who benefit from their exploitation.The demand for black control of the black community has a number of attributes which give it anextremely powerful potential for mobilizing the masses in a revolutionary direction.The demand for black control has been raised spontaneously in thousands of struggles across thecountry. It is obviously a demand which speaks directly to the needs and present understandingof black people. At the same time, black control of the black community is a democratic demand.It is based on something which even the ruling class says it believes in – the right of people tohave democratic control over their own lives and communities. Thus the resistance the powerstructure puts up against this struggle will help to expose the hypocrisy of the ruling class on oneof the central issues which it uses to brainwash and enslave the masses – its proclaimedadherence to democracy.At the same time, the struggle for black control is profoundly revolutionary, because it poses thequestion of who will have decision-making power over black people: themselves or the capitalistrulers. The realization of this aim can build black fortresses which will be centers of blackcounterpower to the white power structure in the principal cities of the United States.As they develop within the black communities, struggles targeted to win control over specflcinstitutions and agencies can pave the way and prepare increasing numbers of people for the all-inclusive goal of total control of their community. These partial struggles, carried out aroundissues such as black control of the schools, can be extremely important because through themencouraging victories can be won. These victories, even if limited to speciilc areas, can help toraise the confidence of the community in its own power and lay the basis for broader futurestruggles.The following demands can help promote this process:A Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 10. Page 9 of 38 1. Replace police occupation of the black community with a community-controlled police force drawn from residents of the community. 2. Black control of all government funds allocated to the black community and control over all plans for renovating and constructing housing and other communal facilities and improvements. 3. Community control over all institutions in the black community, such as hospitals, welfare centers, libraries, etc. 4. Establish community councils to make policy decisions and administer the affairs of the black community. These councils should be composed of representatives elected by workers in various community institutions – factories, hospitals, educational institutions – as well as delegatea elected on a block basis. The local councils or boards of control should be joined together on regional, state and national levels, the aim being to create a National Council of Black Communities. This should be composed of elected, not appointed, delegates representing the local constituencies. Such a National Council could work out common policies and speak with one voice on all matters affecting the communities as a whole and their relations with all other forces and agencies. It would thus exercise far more authority than any single community could. To prevent the National Council from bureaucratic usurpation of power, elections should be held regularly and delegates should be subject to recall at any time so that they remain under the control of the local committees they represent.B. Formation of a black political partyA Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 11. Page 10 of 38The indispensable instrument for organizing and carrying on effective struggle for suchdemands, achieving complete control over the black community, and moving forward to blackliberation, is an independent black political party. Its program would be designed to use theimmense wealth created by working people, black and white, not for imperialist war and theenrichment of a few but for the needs of the majority.The main purpose of a black party is to lead Afro-Americans in political and mass action. But itsprogressive proposals would attract support from other sections of the population which sufferfrom the evils of capitalist rule.A black party would expose and challenge the do-nothing policy of the Democrats andRepublicans and present an alternative to them not only by participating in elections but byorganizing effective community actions. It would take the initiative in promoting the self-mobilization of the black people and forming alliances with students, poor white people, workersand all other forces interested in radical change. It could play a vanguard role in bringingrevolutionary ideas to all sections of the country.C. Key planks in a party programDomestic policy 1. It is the duty of society to provide well-paid jobs for all. A shorter workweek with no loss in pay to spread the available work. Unemployment insurance at full wages for everyone 18 or over whether or not they have held jobs before. 2. Transfer the funds from the war budget to launch a multi-billion-dollar crash program of public works to build schools, hospitals, better public transport, parks and recreation facilities, nurseries, libraries, and housing. Give black workers priority on all jobs connected with the construction program.A Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 12. Page 11 of 38 3. A $3 an hour minimum wage with guaranteed protection of this minimum against increases in the cost of living. 4. Put an immediate end to hunger and malnutrition through a guaranteed annual income which can assure everyone, including the old, sick and disabled, adequate living standards. 5. Abolish all taxes on incomes of $7,500 and under. Abolish all sales taxes which discriminate against the poor. 6. Make free quality medical care available to all citizens. Expropriate the drug monopolies and medicine profiteers. Undertake a large-scale program to train black people as doctors and nurses. 7. Organize self-defense units to protect the black community and its organizations. Oppose gun laws which leave black people defenseless and unarmed while white cops and racists assault members of the black community. 8. Investigate the financial records of all landlords and businesses operating in the black community and tax their super-profits to help finance improvement projects for the community. 9. Extend credits to black cooperatives and small businesses. 10. Enforce and tighten all existing housing codes. No tenant to pay rent exceeding ten percent of his total income.A Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 13. Page 12 of 38 11. Expropriate any firm which discriminates against black people. 12. Elect price committees to inspect and police prices in the neighborhoods. 13. Review the cases of and release all black prisoners because they have not received fair trials. All black people to be tried by a jury of their peers as guaranteed by the Constitution, that is, by other black people.Military and foreign policy 1. End the draft. Exempt black youth from military service. 2. Bring the GIs home from Vietnam immediately. The black man’s struggle is here at home. 3. Take a referendum on the attitude of the black community toward the Vietnam war and all foreign wars. 4. Support the constitutional right of GIs to speak out against the war and discrimination in the armed forces. An immediate end to all discrimination in the armed forces. 5. Self-determination for the Vietnamese and all Third World peoples. Solidarity with the liberation struggles of all oppressed nationalities. 6. End government assistance to all oppressive regimes from South Africa to South Vietnam. Dismantle all foreign military bases.Black educationA Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 14. Page 13 of 38The black community should have control of its entire educational system from the nurseryschool through college. This can be accomplished in the following ways:the educational system 1. Election of community control boards to supervise schools in the black community. 2. The establishment of an educational system and curriculum which meets the needs of black children, prepares them for future economic security, gives them a knowledge of themselves and an understanding of the true history and culture of black people. 3. Parent involvement in every phase of school life. 4. Institute a crash program to train black administrators and teachers. Preferential hiring of black teachers and administrators. 5. Community groups should be entitled to use school facilities to promote activities of benefit to the community and the black liberation struggle. 6. Offer a full program of adult education. 7. Dismiss all school officials who victimize or insult students on racial grounds. 8. Introduce special tutoring programs for all students who have fallen behind in their studies.A Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 15. Page 14 of 38high schools 1. Establish student policy-making boards to run student activities in the high schools, handle disciplinary problems and participate in the general supervision of the schools. 2. Hold regular full assemblies to discuss school problems and ascertain the will of the students. 3. Maintain the rights of all students and teachers. These should include: freedom of expression, freedom to organize, to pass out literature, freedom from censorship of school newspapers, freedom of assembly and the right to invite any outside speakers regardless of their political views. 4. An end to disciplinary expulsions. 5. An end to the tracking system – special tutoring for all students who fall behind. 6. A rounded black studies program which will teach Afro-American history and literature truthfully and throw light on the real nature of capitalist racism. 7. Upgraded job training programs. Adequate preparation for all students desiring to attend college. 8. A guaranteed job for all high school graduates.a black universityA Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 16. Page 15 of 38The black community should have universities which are related to the needs of black people, totheir struggle against oppression, and to their development as a nationality. Third Worlduniversity students and faculty should be able to shape their own educational destiny and providetraining in all the skills and professions required by the black community. The followingdemands to accomplish these ends have already been raised in the campus struggles: 1. Autonomous black studies and Third World studies departments, adequately financed and with complete control of curriculum, facilities and policies in the hands of Third World students and faculty. 2. Representatives of Third World groups on all policy-making bodies. 3. Availability of university facilities for use by the community and their expansion in the black community. 4. Free university education for all Third World students who desire it, with full expenses paid by the government and scholarships available to all who need them. 5. Guaranteed jobs for all graduates.The black workersBecause of the role they play in production, black workers are potentially the most powerfulsector of the black community in the struggle for liberation. As the victims of inequality in theeconomy, black workers have already begun to organize separately on the job to advance theirinterests and protect their rights.The unity of black and white workers is indispensable to combat and overthrow capitalism. Butwhere white workers are privileged and black workers are penalized, black unity in action mustprecede and prepare the ground for black-white unity on a broad scale. Black caucuses in theunions can fight against discrimination in hiring, firing and upgrading and for equality ofA Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 17. Page 16 of 38treatment in the unions themselves, as DRUM and other black caucuses in Detroit and elsewhereare undertaking to do. Where they are part of organized labor, they should strive to democratizethe unions, regenerate their progressivism, and eliminate white job-trust conceptions andpractices. These aims can be furthered through the following demands: 1. Rank and file democratic control of the unions. Elimination of all racist practices in the labor movement. 2. Preferential hiring and advancement of black workers and free access to apprentice training programs, the skilled trades and higher-paying supervisory posts. 3. For an escalator clause in all union contracts to assure automatic wage adjustments to keep up with the rising costs of living. 4. For a 30-hour week with no reduction in pay. 5. For speedier grievance procedures. No restrictions on the right to strike. 6. Equal rights and treatment for all black union members. 7. Complete independence of the unions from government interference. Repeal of all anti-labor laws. 8. Workers control of industry through factory committees elected by the workers on the job.Most of the proposals listed above have been brought forward at one time or another in thecourse of the black liberation struggle over the past years; others are taken from the experiencesA Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 18. Page 17 of 38of the masses elsewhere in fighting against capitalist domination. A program of this sort cannotbe fully finalized or frozen. It has to remain flexible and open-ended with plenty of room foradditions and improvements as the struggle develops and new problems come to the fore.The whole point of the program is to provide a guide for the organization and action of the Afro-American masses which can lead toward the goal of black liberation with the maximum of gainsen route.The black liberation movement is bound to play a vanguard role in the coming Americansocialist revolution both by its example of combativity against the racist power structure and bythe stimulus its struggles will give to actions of other sectors thrown into opposition to the rulingcapitalist class.The strategy of the black liberation movement hinges on the achievement of two tasks. One isthe unification and mobilization of the black masses for revolutionary action. The other is theweakening of the enemy forces.Since Afro-Americans constitute a minority of the population in the United States, it will benecessary to find ways and means to take advantage of potential social divisions among thewhites and thereby reduce the original unfavorable odds. This can be done by drawing on part ofthe poor and working-class whites, as well as sympathetic students and intellectuals, into analliance of action while some other sections of the white population are neutralized. Those partsof the program suggested above which not only correspond to the needs of the blacks but willlikewise benefit prospective political allies among the white majority can serve to further theselong-range aims of a realistic revolutionary strategy.Revolutionary strategy and tacticsHow does the program outlined above fit into the strategy and tactics of a socialist revolution inthe United States?A Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 19. Page 18 of 38At first sight most of the points appear limited in nature. Many of them concern rights andliberties guaranteed to every citizen by the Constitution. Or they propose broadening these rights,as, for example, establishing the right of black control of the black community. They can bedefined as “democratic demands.”Other points concern guaranteeing jobs, hourly wages, annual income, a 30-hour week, socialbenefits such as adequate medical care. Others involve independent political action, the defenseof the black community, organization of black power. For reasons which will be explainedbelow, these can be defined as “transitional demands.”Taken point by point, the program can seem modest, perhaps even feasible under capitalism ifone were to take at face value the propaganda about capitalism standing for democracy, a goodliving, and a free world.Particularly to be noted about the demands is that they have either already appeared in the blackcommunities, in some instances with quite broad backing, or they are easily understood andappreciated by wide groups and, with correct leadership, could serve as rallying slogans for verymassive struggles. This is a first prerequisite for any program for revolutionary struggle. That is,above all, the program must be based on the objective needs of black people.But how does such a program tie in with the struggle to overturn capitalism and build a socialistsociety in America?To understand this, it is necessary to bring in some general considerations. On a world scale,capitalism as an internationally integrated system for the production and distribution of basicnecessities is in its death agony. It offers little to most of humanity but grinding poverty,hopeless insecurity, declining opportunities, increasingly repressive regimes, and endless wars,each more horrifying than the last.A number of countries have already torn loose and set out on the road to building socialism,whatever the difficulties, hardships and setbacks caused in the final analysis by the poverty-stricken level at which they had to begin and the efforts of the capitalist powers to injure andA Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 20. Page 19 of 38destroy them. The relationship of forces between capitalism and socialism on a world scale haschanged to such a degree in the past 50 years since the first successful socialist revolution inRussia that even the United States is, at bottom, on the defensive. That is the basic reality despitethe decades of prosperity arising out of the victory in World War II and the preparations forWorld War III, and despite the colossal military force at the command of the American capitalistrulers.What is to be observed all over the world is that mass struggles of any considerable scope nowtend to collide with the capitalist system and, with proper leadership, have the potential to breakthrough the barriers of capitalism and cross over into struggles for socialism.This tendency is so strong, so deeply imbedded, that examples can be cited throughout the ThirdWorld where a struggle for such democratic demands as national independence and athoroughgoing agrarian reform has moved in the direction of a struggle for socialism. In Cuba,Vietnam, and China these struggles have culminated in actual revolutionary overturns of thecapitalist system.While the tendency for big mass struggles to move toward socialism is especially striking in theThird World, it is also operative – with certain modifications – in the industrially advancedcapitalist countries. Under the impulse of serious problems affecting their lives in general andstandard of living, masses of working people can become engaged in struggles of a militantnature, the logic of which is to disregard the limitations of capitalism and to seek solutions thatcan actually be worked out only if socialism is instituted.This gives these struggles a “transitional” nature. Beginning with a limited challenge to the ruleof capitalism, they move logically toward the creation of a new revolutionary power inopposition to the capitalist government.The key demands being raised in the black liberation struggle today, such as black control of theblack community, jobs for all and self-determination of Third World peoples have this quality ofbeing transitional in nature. They are rooted in the needs and present understanding of the blackA Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 21. Page 20 of 38community, yet they have a revolutionary logic because the capitalist system does not have thecapacity to meet them. A new, more rational, more productive system is required.On the ideological level such transitional demands constitute a means of bringing the level ofunderstanding of the broad masses under capitalism to the higher level required to understandconsciously the need for socialism. The present-day struggles around these demands for changesin the system can lead to and become part of the overall struggle for power. The mobilization ofthe masses thus takes place as a process, with each struggle awakening, educating, inspiring andorganizing new layers toward revolutionary consciousness and action.Several examples will suffice to show this logical development.Unemployment is a familiar enough phenomenon in the black communities. It is easy for a blackyouth, for instance, to understand why he should have a guaranteed job opportunity. When greatnumbers of youths face the same situation, a point can be reached where they can engage withsome militancy in common action in support of jobs for all.The problem is obviously no longer an individual problem, as the capitalists seek to picture itand to maintain it. Its true nature has come to the surface. It is a problem involving society as awhole, demanding an overall solution.Where are the jobs to be found? One possibility is to take all the current jobs and reduce thehours on each job sufficiently to make room for everyone seeking employment. To maintainliving standards, however, current yearly incomes must be guaranteed despite the reduced workweek.What power can enforce such a solution?Quite clearly, only the government can do this. Since the present government will resist thiscollective way of solving the problem, the question arises as to who it really represents, and whyit should not be removed to make way for a government that will guarantee jobs for all.A Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 22. Page 21 of 38More questions arise. The solution demands economic planning on a national scale and theplacing of human needs above profit-making. Consideration of the socialist alternative tocapitalism has thus been placed on the agenda.Thus the demand for jobs, can, under certain circumstances have very far-reachingconsequences.The actions spearheaded by black students on campuses across the country give anotherindication of the potential role of struggles a-round transitional demands. The demand forincreased or open enrollment of Third World students has already been shown to have far-reaching implications. Significant gains towards increasing black enrollment can and have beenmade within the present educational structure, but the struggle for open enrollment – that is, forcollege education for all who want it – will not be so easy for the system to fulfill.Certain key questions are immediately raised by this demand: Where are the resources for such avast expansion of educational facilities to come from? How will adequate jobs be found for allthe students upon graduation?If persistently pursued, struggles around this demand call into question the capitalist economicstructure itself. Because of its built-in need for large pools of low-paid, unskilled labor,capitalism is not constructed to absorb the costs and consequences of higher education for themost exploited sector of the working force.From the standpoint of moving the revolution forward, struggles such as those that have beentaking place on the campuses – whether they end in victories or not – can inspire and lead todemands with more far-reaching implications than was apparent in the original issues. The blackcommunity as a whole has supported and received inspiration from the example set by the blackstudents in struggles for self-determination.The fight for autonomous black studies departments, for example, has helped pave the way forstruggle for control of other institutions in the black community. If there can be black control ofA Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 23. Page 22 of 38black studies departments in the universities, why not black control of the public schools, blackcontrol of the police and black control of the community?The impact which these black student struggles have already had can be seen in the fact that theyhave succeeded in bringing about unprecedented unity in action between blacks and othernational minorities including Chicanos, Oriental-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Indians. Theyhave likewise attracted support from many radical white students and even, in one small butsignificant instance, from a progressively-led union local of oil workers in the Bay Area.The movement of black and Third World students is a clear example of how a struggle in alimited arena under present conditions can help to expose the system and lead to bigger andbroader efforts. Struggle is the school of the masses and the means for clarifying theirconsciousness of what has to be done. All the demands that bring them into action for their ownaims are worth raising, fighting for, and incorporating into an overall revolutionary strategy andprogram.The strategy of advancing the black liberation struggle through the development of transitionaldemands is fundamentally different from both the reformist and ultra-leftist concepts of what todo.The reformists view capitalism as so powerful and entrenched that it cannot be overturned, atleast for a long time to come. From this pessimistic outlook, they conclude that the best that canbe accomplished is to improve the lot of the poverty-stricken masses a little, either by persuadingor pressuring the rulers.The ultra-lefts see capitalism as completely finished, not only as to perspectives but in capacityto survive. They see it as standing by inertia, requiring only a slight push to make it collapse.They dream of bringing this about by galvanizing the masses through clever or extremelyrevolutionary propaganda – which often times turns out to be mere rhetoric – or by a smallheroic group undertaking a spectacular action which, by setting an example, will provecontagious, setting the masses in motion in some kind of spontaneous way.A Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 24. Page 23 of 38Against both the reformists and ultra-lefts, revolutionary Marxists view capitalism as havingentered the epoch of its death agony, yet as still retaining considerable capacity to defer the finalshowdown through violent means, through a few concessions in some instances, through keepingthe masses from gaining an understanding of politics, and through blocking the organization of arevolutionary party deeply rooted among the masses and endowed with a competent leadership.As against both the reformists and ultra-lefts, the revolutionary Marxists seek to take advantageof the basic weakness in the position of the ruling class. This lies in the deep-going tendency ofall serious social struggles in this epoch to involve government power and to raise the question ofwho should exercise this power, no matter how limited these struggles may be, or may appear tobe, at the beginning.The revolutionary Marxists propose a strategy based on this fact. The succession of transitionaldemands suggested above corresponds to the course of struggle repeatedly observed in the worldtoday. To pose these demands in their logical succession, to try to organize battles along thisline, helps to develop an understanding of the main existing tendency in the class struggle,thereby advancing the political understanding of the masses and hastening the stage when a finalshowdown with the racist capitalist system becomes a realistic possibility.The goal of liberation: capitalism or socialism?The program of a movement or a party is a means to an end – and for a revolutionary movementthat end means the replacement of the prevailing system of racist oppression by a free and equalsociety. What kind of socioeconomic organization can enable the black liberation movement toachieve self-determination and a better life for all Afro-Americans?A Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 25. Page 24 of 38Black nationalists have very varying attitudes on this crucial question. On the right are some whobelieve in building up black capitalism. To the left are those revolutionaries who have come tounderstand that only a socialist society can solve the fundamental problems of the black masses.Many nationalists are disinclined to take any definite position on this matter. We will settle thatwhen we come to it, they say. However, this is not the sort of issue that a movement seriouslycommitted to the abolishment of racist oppression can evade or leave indefinitely hanging inmidair.A realistic decision on what kind of economy can succeed the present system of exploitation inthe United States cannot be made in an arbitrary manner. The possibilities have been restrictedby great historical factors which have been at work over a long stretch of time. Foremost amongthese factors is the level of economic development which determines the character and the goalsof the contending forces.This point can be made clearer by comparing the situation which confronted the movement forblack emancipation in the mid-19th Century with that of today. At that time the main immediateoppressors of the black people were the Southern slaveholders, while the Afro-Americans inbondage were mostly cultivators of the soil. The objectives of that revolution were to destroychattel slavery and to provide the freedmen with the economic, social and political means fortheir liberation and advancement.What happened, as everyone knows, was that the slave power was smashed during the Civil Warand Reconstruction and the slaves given their formal freedom. But since the Northern capitalistconquerors denied them the promised “40 acres and a mule” and other prerequisites for theireconomic independence and the exercise of political power, the blacks could be thrust back intoa new state of servitude from which they suffer to the present day.Today, the main oppressor of the Afro-American is the capitalist class. The vast majority ofblack people no longer live on plantations in the rural South or work in the fields. They arepacked into city slums where they make their living – if they are not thrown on welfare – byworking in capitalist enterprises. They are surrounded on all sides by the capitalist owners whofleece them as employers, loansharks, bankers, landlords and merchants.A Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 26. Page 25 of 38In order to win liberation, the revolutionary movement must overthrow these exploiters whosesystem breeds and sustains racism and oppression. Because Afro-Americans are both anoppressed nationality and the most heavily exploited segment of the American working class, theblack liberation movement has a twofold character. It is at one and the same time a nationalistmovement for self-determination and a proletarian struggle against the capitalist possessors ofwealth and power.Afro-Americans have been the principal victims of the profit system at all stages of itsdevelopment in North America over the past 400 years. They were enslaved and shipped acrossthe Atlantic to raise staple crops to enrich the planters. They are still laboring for the profits ofothers today, although in the cities rather than the countryside and for capitalists rather thanslaveholders.The hour has struck when an end must be put to all forms of exploitation and servitude. Full anddefinitive liberation cannot be achieved except through abolishing the private ownership of themeans of production by the corporations and banks.This measure is mandatory whether Afro-Americans decide to exercise their right of self-determination through the creation of a separate black nation or within the context of the creationof a single socialist republic along with insurgent white workers and other anti-capitalist forces.The transitional program of a genuinely revolutionary movement must have a clear andconscious goal which guides all its activities and lights the way for its followers. It must bedesigned to satisfy the needs of the working masses and place them in control of their ownaffairs. While promoting a transition from national oppression to self-determination, it will ofnecessity advance the transition from capitalism to socialism.Through this second emancipation black America will not only have effected its own liberation,but promoted the liberation of all oppressed peoples from racism, capitalism, and imperialism.A Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 27. Page 26 of 38Cyril Briggs and the African BloodBrotherhood: a radical counterpoint toprogressivism.Link to this pageThe Progressive Era was generally an age of optimism. It was an age in which people believedthat it was possible, through legislative reform, to correct societal ills such as poverty, racism,and sexism. However, at the same time, there were many people who had little faith in suchidealism, feeling reform would come not through legislation, but only by way of the bullet. Onesuch group was the African Blood Brotherhood for African Liberation and Redemption (ABB),first announced in the pages of West Indian immigrant Cyril Briggs radical periodical theA Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 28. Page 27 of 38Crusader. The group was founded in response to the bloody race riots during the Red Summer of1919 and drew its name from the symbolic blood sharing ceremony performed by some Africantribes. The ABB credo, largely manifested from articles within the Crusader, merged blacknationalism with Marxism, espousing workers rights, black liberation, and anti-imperialism.Perhaps its most distinctive characteristic was its support for armed black self-defense. The ABBrepresents what can happen when groups of marginalized people, seething from long-standinginjustices, decide that legislature alone is not enough to reform society. Though the group wasshort-lived (1919-1924), its impact on black radical American politics in the 1920s and 1930swas profound.It is hard to separate the ABB from West Indian immigration. The leaders were almost allCaribbean; indeed, without its Caribbean members, the ABB would scarcely have existed.Besides Briggs, who was the executive head, other members of its ruling Supreme Councilincluded West Indian Americans (and Harlemites) Richard B. Moore (Barbados), Otto Huiswoud(Suriname), W.A. Domingo (Jamaica), and Grace Campbell (born in Georgia but whose fatherwas Jamaican). There remains considerable question as to whether the organization was foundedby the Communist (Workers) Party, but whether or not it was, it soon became affiliated with thegroup. (2)Although most West Indians fit within the mainstream political parties, a small but determinedgroup felt that legislative reform, because of inherent institutional racism, could not improveconditions for blacks. For them, a more radical approach was necessary to bring about reform.For many people, in fact, by definition a Negro radical was "an over-educated West Indianwithout a job." (3) The reasons for this Caribbean radicalism are debatable. AfricanAmerican Kelly Miller, Dean of Howard University, for example, believed that Caribbeans athome were conservative but became "radical abroad." (4) There are several flaws, however, insuch reasoning. First, it is inaccurate to assume the submissiveness of Caribbeans at home. Therewas a long history of Caribbean rebelliousness dating back to the Maroons, runaway slaves whoestablished their own communities. Furthermore, many Caribbean immigrants, such as MarcusGarvey and W.A. Domingo, had already exhibited radical tendencies in the West Indies,A Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 29. Page 28 of 38belonging to nationalist organizations or militant trade unions. The seeds for their behavior wereplanted in their homelands, and reached fruition in the United States, where they frequently felt aloss of status and prestige from what they had known back home. Black immigrants, beingamong the elite of those in the Caribbean, had generally received a solid primary and secondaryschool education and job training, giving them the skills to expect good positions; therefore,many were genuinely shocked when they faced discrimination they had not endured at home.They were unaccustomed to Jim Crow laws, let alone heinous crimes such as lynching, in theCaribbean. In addition, because they often were forced to move abroad due to limited highereducational and employment opportunities in their native lands, Caribbean immigrants, like otherimmigrants who tended to be in the vanguard of radical politics, generally had a moreinternational viewpoint than many native-born Americans. The experience of seeing life in othercountries and interacting with other blacks helped lead to a more Pan-American perspective.Moreover, the immigrants, unlike most black Americans who were linked to the Republicans,felt no special allegiance to any one political party and had fewer qualms about aligningthemselves with other parties. Their frustrations were also heightened by constantdisappointments after World War I. Blacks had expected after their sacrifices during the war(including a substantial military presence on the United States side) to be rewarded for theirloyalty. Such, however, was not the case upon the soldiers return home where the pattern ofracial discrimination continued unabated. (5)Cyril Briggs, the founding father of the ABB, fits the profile of the radical West Indianimmigrant. Briggs was a light-complexioned, mixed-race child born on the Caribbean island ofNevis in 1887. He immigrated to the United States on July 4, 1905, joining a growing WestIndian population in New York City. The foreign-born black population in the city increasedsteadily from 3,552 in 1900 to almost 60,000 in 1930. (6) Upon his arrival in the United States,he worked as a journalist. Briggs, who had such a bad stutter that it was hard to understand himat times, more than made up for his verbal deficiency with the power of his pen. Beginning in1912, Briggs gained employment at the Amsterdam News, writing pieces urging black self-determination and arguing against United States involvement in World War I. Perhaps his mostA Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 30. Page 29 of 38significant work with the newspaper was a two-part editorial (September 5, and September 19,1917), advocating an independent black nation within the United States. Briggs was not the firstto express the belief in a separate black state; others preceding him included Martin Delany,Alexander Crummel, and Marcus Garvey, but he was among the first to urge violence ifnecessary to secure such a state. Ironically, the inspiration for Briggs demand came fromPresident Woodrow Wilson, who in a speech on April 2, 1917, called "for the right of those whosubmit to authority to have a voice in their own government." (7) This speech raised the hopes ofblacks advocating a homeland within the United States who maintained "Wilsons principle ofself-determination should include the destinies of peoples of color." (8) The hopes that Wilsonwould advocate for such a homeland, however, were soon dashed, and Briggs lost faith in theProgressive belief that the social system could be changed by legislation. By the time Wilsondelivered his famous Fourteen Points speech (January 8, 1918) urging independence forsubjugated ethnic groups such as the Serbs and the Poles, Briggs felt there was hypocrisy in theAmerican position. He called the United States "a nation within a nation, [with] a nationalityoppressed and jim-crowed." (9) If the president of the United States urged the creation of ethnicstates abroad, Briggs reasoned, why should he prohibit it at home? Briggs increasingly radicaltone helped lead to his break with the Amsterdam News in 1919.Even before leaving the Amsterdam News Briggs had established the Crusader in September1918. In its early years, the periodical was the organ of the Hamitic League of the World, agroup espousing "race patriotism." Perhaps Briggs stance is summed up best in the editorial"Race Catechism," published in the inaugural issue of the Crusader, which stressed that blacksshould be proud of their race and be prepared to make any sacrifices for it.Although always continuing to emphasize the ideas of race patriotism, after the Red Summer of1919 the Crusader grew increasingly anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist. Thus, it is not surprisingwhen Briggs listed a cryptic advertisement in the October 1919 issue of the periodical, providingno agenda or even a phone number, just a call for those who were "willing to go the limit." Theimplication of violence because of the failure of legislation seems clear in this note. One letter-writer, for example, stated, "I dont know just what your game is, but I believe I can play it withA Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 31. Page 30 of 38you. So enroll me as one of those extreme limit players." (10) Just as the initial call providesscant information on the group, so does much about the ABB remain wrapped in secrecy, thisdespite the increasing attention that has been paid to this key organization in recent years.Though there is no known number of its members, the ABB never exceeded 3,000 adherentswith a core membership of no more than a few dozen.Inspired by nationalist movements such as the Irish Republican Brotherhood and by the growthof communism, the ABBs aims included "Absolute Race Equality ... The Fostering of RacialSelf-Respect ... Organized and Uncompromising Opposition to the Ku Klux Klan ... HigherWages for Negro Labor, Shorter Hours and Better Living Conditions ... Co-operation With OtherDarker Races And With the Class-Conscious White Workers." (11) Perhaps the most distinctivefeature of the ABB was its philosophy of incorporating both black nationalism and Marxismwhich is encapsulated in Briggs editorial "The Salvation of the Negro" (April 1921). Here,Briggs expresses his desire to create an autonomous black state "in Africa or elsewhere" and toestablish "a Universal Socialist Co-operative Commonwealth."Interestingly, though the ABB advocated a coalition with white workers, the group itself had nowhite members. Briggs himself said, "I know of no instance of a white person joining it. Nor didwe make any attempt to recruit whites." (12) Likely this reluctance to recruit whites came aboutdue to persistent white chauvinism within the labor movement, a subject which is frequentlyreviled in the pages of the Crusader. Again, while progressive labor laws might benefit whiteworkers, because of racial prejudices, many black laborers felt this legislation was not meant forthem; therefore, Briggs felt more extreme measures were needed. It was this distrust ofcompromise which had earlier made him suspicious of socialism. Whereas most of the otherblack communists had at one time been members of the Twenty-First Assembly District SocialistClub, Briggs never belonged to the Socialist Party, which he felt did little to advance the blackcause.A Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 32. Page 31 of 38Briggs and other ABB members became increasingly convinced that black liberation worldwidecould not be achieved through legislation but would necessitate bloodshed. The government,long investigating Briggs, planted infiltrators within the group. One agent, William A. Bailey,confirmed the governments fears, stating in a message from 1920, "if any Internationaldisturbances occur among the Colored People you may be sure that [Briggs, Domingo, and otherWest Indian radicals] will be instigators." (13) A year later, these fears were flamed by thereports of another infiltrator, James Wormley Jones, who had conversations with Briggs aboutpurchasing weapons. In his report, Jones labeled the ABB leader, a "radical of the worst sort."(14)The governments worries grew even greater after the Tulsa riot on May 31 and June 1, 1921,when over fifty whites and more than one hundred and fifty blacks died. Although Briggs wouldnot admit any Brotherhood participation in the riot in Tulsa, where the ABB had one of its posts,he praised the use of force by blacks. Briggs felt this way particularly after the failure to passprogressive anti-lynching legislation. Especially disappointing was the inability to make law ananti-lynching bill proposed by Representative L.C. Dyer of Missouri, with the backing of theNational Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.) sponsored in 1921.The bill passed the House but lost in the Senate due to a filibuster by Southern lawmakers.Ironically, accusations in the New York Times (June 3 and June 4, 1921) that the ABB wasinvolved in the Tulsa riot gave the organization much-needed publicity, which greatly increasedtheir numbers. The June issue of the Crusader also marked the first time that the periodicalidentified itself "as the official organ of the ABB, signifying a changeover of the Brotherhood toan aboveground organization." This occurred exactly when the Workers Party established "anaboveground legal party," thus creating another link between the two groups. (15) Briggsincreasingly militant communist stance put him in conflict with the more mainstream progressiveblack leaders. He had little use, for example, for W.E.B. DuBois and the N.A.A.C.P., believingthe group was a puppet organization run by whites. He makes this position clear in articles suchas "Dr. DuBois Misrepresents Negrodom" (May 1919) where he condemns the racial leadersA Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 33. Page 32 of 38"compromising tactics" in advocating black support for the American war effort and notrigorously enough seeking African self-determination.Briggs also differed from the Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey, an anti-communist who wanted toestablish a black homeland in Africa. Initially, Briggs had been supportive of Garvey and hisUniversal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). He had even made an unsuccessful attemptto work with the UNIA at their convention in 1921. After being rebuffed by Garvey, Briggs usedthe Crusader to wage a harsh campaign against him. Briggs especially felt that Garvey waswilling to kowtow to whites (even working with the Ku Klux Klan) in order to gain support forblack repatriation to Africa.The Crusader, a monthly, was never able to reach the mass audience of Garveys newspaper, theNegro World, which was published weekly. While the Crusader had a circulation of about 4,000the Negro World reached almost 200,000. Indeed, because of increasing government pressureand dwindling financial support, the Crusader ceased publication in 1922 after having publishedforty issues. (16)By 1924, the same demise was met by the ABB itself; its extreme views, insufficient funding,lack of a charismatic leader like Garvey, and secretive nature worked against its gainingwidespread popularity. With little to sustain it, the ABBs membership gradually drifted into theWorkers Party by 1925, a group to which most of the leading ABB members had alreadybelonged. Soon, it would be replaced by the Communist party with the American Negro LaborCongress (ANLC). The lack of interest by blacks in communism can be measured palpably. In1928, of the approximately 12,000 members of the Workers Party, only about fifty were blacks,with most of them coming from the ABB. (17)A Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 34. Page 33 of 38Evaluating the achievements of black radical groups such as the ABB has not always been donefairly. Critics such as Harold Cruse and Wilson Record saw the Communist (Workers) Party asbeing dominated by the Soviet Union. (18) Cruse in particular makes a harsh indictment of therole of Caribbean intellectuals within radical American politics. Record and Cruse, and to alesser extent Theodore Draper, maintained that the socialist and communist parties weredominated by whites and only addressed black issues when it was convenient for their purposes.Any changes that took place were only made at the prodding of the Soviet Union. While theseaccusations are not without some substance, recent critics such as Winston James and MarkSolomon provide a more balanced viewpoint, arguing that American communists did not justfollow in lock step with Soviet Russia nor were blacks mere pawns of the party. Leading blackspokespersons such as Briggs were often unafraid to voice their opposition to white chauvinism.Even if it led to censure or dismissal from the party (as was the case with Briggs for severalyears in the 1940s). In general, though, black Marxist leaders believed that the best way toadvance black concerns was by eliminating the capitalist system which would lessen some of theeconomic disparities that suppressed blacks and encouraged the growth of imperialism. Briggs,in fact, said that his "interest in Marxism-Leninism was sparked by its hostility to Imperialismand specifically ... of the right of self-determination of the nations formerly oppressed by TsaristRussia." (19)Despite its brief existence and small membership, the ABB was an important force in the historyof communism in America and the rejection of the more mainstream progressive agenda. AsAfrican American Harry Haywood, a former member of the ABB stated, the group was "the firstserious attempt by Blacks to adopt the Marxist world view and the theory of class struggle to theproblems of Black Americans." (20) Its cadre of loyal followers would become the foundation inrecruiting new members to the party during its heyday in the late 1930s.Perhaps the greatest legacy of Briggs and some other ABB members occurred, however, in 1928at the Sixth World Congress held in Moscow in 1928. It was at this meeting that a controversialA Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 35. Page 34 of 38proposal regarding "the Negro question" was proposed in which the Cominern (the internationalarm of Soviet Russias Socialist party), declared that blacks in the American South had the rightof "self-determination" as "a subject nation." (21) Briggs was at the forefront of this radicalmovement toward black self-determination. Though the objective, of course, was neverachieved, this was the first serious attempt by the communists to address the endemic racialdiscrimination in the United States and link it specifically to the capitalist system (22)The connection between capitalism and the oppression of blacks made the Communist Partymuch more appealing to many blacks and opened the floodgates for them to join the party afterthe financial crisis in 1929; black involvement in the communist party would reach its peak inthe late 1930s. The ABB left a lasting mark on American politics, not the least of which was thatif legislative reform measures do not reach into all strata of society, then those who feelbeleaguered and oppressed will seek other means to redress their situation. This message was notlost on later black radicals such as Malcolm X, himself of West Indian heritage, who felt entitledto strive for their cause "by any means necessary." (23)NOTES(1) Louis Parascandola is an Associate Professor of English at Long Island University, BrooklynCampus. The author wishes to thank Dr. Pat Palmieri for her comments on an earlier draft of thispaper.(2) The information on the ABB and the Workers Party, including their origin, number ofmembers, and even membership itself, is often conflicting. The secret nature of these groups andtheir amorphous nature (e.g. trying to distinguish, for example, between the Workers Party, theCommunist Party of America, and the Communist Party) did not always allow accurateinformation. In many cases, it is virtually impossible to unravel their tangled histories. Ironically,it is often the government files while investigating the groups that have provided the mostinformation on them and preserved some of these materials.A Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 36. Page 35 of 38(3) Kelly Miller quoted in Winston James, Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia: CaribbeanRadicalism in Early Twentieth-Century America (New York: Verso, 1998): 2.(4) Quoted in Keith S. Henry, pg. 29, "Caribbean Migrants in New York: The Passage fromPolitical Quiescence to Radicalism" Afro-Americans in New York Life and History (July 1978):29-44.(5) James, 50-91.(6) Calvin B. Holder, pg. 9, "The Causes and Composition of West Indian Immigration to newYork City, 1900-1952" Afro-Americans in New York Life and History (Jan. 1987): 7-26.(7) Quoted in Robert A. Hill, introduction and editor, The Crusader 3 vols. (New York: Kraus,1987): xi.(8) Theodore Kornweibel Jr., "Seeing Red": Federal Campaign against Black Militancy, 1919-1925 (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1998): 132.(9) Quoted in Theodore Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia: The FormativePeriod (New York: Vintage, 1986): 323.(10) Quoted in Hill, xxvii.(11) Quoted in Hill, xxviii(12) Quoted in Thomas, 101.(13) Kornweibel, 136, his brackets.A Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 37. Page 36 of 38(14) Quoted in Kornweibel, 145-46.(15) Mark Solomon, The Cry Was Unity: Communists and African Americans, 1917-36(Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1998): 15.(16) For more on Briggs and Garvey, see Theman Thomas, "Cyril Briggs and the African BloodBrotherhood: Another Radical View of Race and Class During the 1920s," Diss. U of California,Santa Barbara, 1981, 121-85; Tony Martin, Race First: The Ideological and OrganizationalStruggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Asvociation (Dover:Majority P, 1976): 240-42; and Cyril Briggs, "The Decline of the Garvey Movement" TheCommunist (June 1931): 547-52.(17) Philip S. Foner and James S. Allen, ed. American Communism and Black Americans: Adocumentary History, 1919-1929 (Philadelphia Temple UP, 1987): 181.(18) Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual: A Historical Analysis of the Failure ofBlack Leadership (New York: Quill, 1984); Wilson Record, The Negro and the CommunistParty (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1951). For a reasoned rebuke of Cruse, see James,262-91.(19) Quoted in Thomas, 95.(20) Harry Haywood, Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist(Chicago: Liberator P, 1978): 123-24).(21) Thomas, 182.(22) While the proposal was very controversial and opposed by some blacks such as OttoHuiswoud, others including Briggs, Haywood, and Moore, embraced it though it left manyspecifics unclear (e.g. whether the founding of this black nation would be through violence, whoA Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969
  • 38. Page 37 of 38would lead the struggle to create it, whether it would become a sovereign nation or a self-governing region that would be part of the United States). For more see Draper, 342-53;Haywood 332-38; Solomon 68-91; Cyril Briggs "The Black Belt Republic Plan," The HarlemLiberator (August 1, 1932); Otto Huiswoud "World Aspects of the Negro Question," TheCommunist (Feb. 1930): 132-47.(23) Briggs remained active in radical black politics until his death from a heart attack in 1966. Itis not known if he ever met Malcolm X or if Malcolm was familiar with Briggs writings.Nevertheless, their anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist agenda was strikingly similar. Briggs atheism,though, was not in keeping with Malcolms commitment to Islam. The chief repository of Briggspapers is the Theodore Draper Papers, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Emory University, inAtlanta.A Transitional Program for Black Liberation International Socialist Review, November-December 1969