Workers Vanguard No. 1002
11 May 2012
For Black Trotskyism
July 1963 (Excerpt)
We print below a key portion of a document by James Robertson and Shirley Stoute of the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which was submitted for the party’s 1963 National Convention. The RT, forerunner of the Spartacist League, was formed to combat the SWP majority’s increasing abandonment of a Trotskyist perspective. This was reflected mainly in the party’s tailing of the petty-bourgeois Castroite leadership of the Cuban Revolution and in its adaptation to both liberal pacifism and black nationalism in the civil rights movement.
The RT document argues against the criminally abstentionist policy of the SWP majority, as expressed in a draft resolution of the Political Committee (PC), which refused to devote party resources to intervene into the burgeoning struggles for black rights. RT members were bureaucratically expelled from the SWP beginning in November 1963 and continuing through the spring of 1964. The excerpt is from Part II of the RT document, subtitled “To the Socialist Revolution—The Broad Tasks.” The document appears in its entirety in Marxist Bulletin No. 5 (Revised), “What Strategy for Black Liberation? Trotskyism vs. Black Nationalism.”
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2. Our Point of Departure—The Socialist Revolution
Our point of departure comes in turn as the conclusion that the Negro question is so deeply built into the American capitalist class-structure—regionally and nationally—that only the destruction of existing class relations and the change in class dominance—the passing of power into the hands of the working class—will suffice to strike at the heart of racism and bring about a solution both real and durable. Our approach to present struggles cannot be “objective.” Rather it rests on nothing other than or less than the criteria of what promotes or opposes the socialist revolution.
Therefore we can find an amply sufficient point of departure in a key statement of the 1948-50 resolution:
“The primary and ultimate necessity of the Negro movement is its unification with the revolutionary forces under the leadership of the proletariat. The guiding forces of this unification can only be the revolutionary party.”
3. Negro Mass Organizations and the Revolutionary Party
It would be fool-hardy and presumptuous to seek after any pat schema detailing the road to be traveled in going from today’s struggles to our ultimate goals. But there are certain qualities and elements which, as in all such social struggles, do and will manifest themselves along the way.
One such matter is that of the basic approach to organizations of Negro workers and youth. The generality is that in an American society in which large sections of the working people are saturated with race hatreds and intolerance of the particular needs of other parts and strata, special organizations are mandatory for various strata. This consideration finds its sharpest expression in the Negro struggle. Today in the wake of the upsurge in mass civil rights struggles there is a felt and urgent need for a broad mass organization of Negro struggle free of the limitations, weaknesses, hesitancies, and sometimes downright betrayal which afflict the currently existing major competitors. This need will be with us for a long time. Participation in the work of building such a movement is a major responsibility for the revolutionary party. Very likely along the way a complex and shifting combination of work in already existing groups and the building of new organizations will be involved. But as long as we know what we are aiming for we can be oriented amidst the complexities and vicissitudes of the process.
At bottom what the Marxists should advocate and aim to bring about is a transitional organization of the Negro struggle standing as a connecting link between the party and the broader masses. What is involved in working from a revolutionary standpoint is to seek neither a substitute to nor an opponent of the vanguard party, but rather a unified formation of the largely or exclusively Negro members of the party together with the largest number of other militants willing to fight for that section of the revolutionary Marxist program dealing with the Negro question. Such a movement expresses simultaneously the special needs of the Negro struggle and its relationship to broader struggles—ultimately for workers’ power.
This approach to the special oppression of the Negroes stems from the tactics of Lenin’s and Trotsky’s Comintern. It was there that the whole concept was worked out for relating the party to mass organizations of special strata under conditions where the need had become evident and it becomes important that such movements contribute to the proletarian class struggle and that their best elements be won over to the party itself. The militant women’s organizations, revolutionary youth leagues, and radical Trade Unionists’ associations are other examples of this form.
Parenthetically, it should be noted how little there is in common between this outlook and that of the 1963 PC draft. Thus even in the hypothetical case that a separate social and material base was somehow created sufficient to generate a mass Negro national consciousness, the Bolshevist response is not just to back away and talk of facilitating eventual common work between a “them” of that nationality and an “us” of the (white) socialist vanguard of the (white) working class. Even if a new state—a separate black Republic—were created, our Negro comrades, even at this greatest conceivable remove, would become nothing other than a new section of a politically common international party—the Fourth International. And their struggle for socialism would continue to be our cause too.
4. Toward a Black Trotskyist Cadre
To return to the realities of the Negro struggle as it is and to the SWP as it is, there is one vital element without which the basic working program remains a piece of paper as far as actual involvement in the struggle is concerned. That element is an existing section, however modest, of Negro party members functioning actively and politically in the movement for Negro freedom.
Viewed from this aspect the current PC draft is at once a rationalization and an accommodation to the weakness of our party Negro forces, and, moreover, will exacerbate this weakness. This organizational abstentionism is obtrusive in the draft’s direct implication that it doesn’t really matter about the SWP because the Negro movement can get along well enough without the revolutionary working class party and one day the Negro vanguard may turn in our direction anyway. The key paragraph of the PC draft quoted in this article sums up a permeating thread of the entire resolution, places the party’s role as one of fraternal relationship between two parallel structures: the (white) working class and its vanguard on the one side, and the Negro people and their vanguard on the other. This conception denies the fundamental necessity that the party will lead, must lead, or should even try to lead the decisive section of the working class in America. The resolution gives credence to the concept that “we cannot lead the Negro people.” This is absolutely contradictory to a revolutionary perspective. Our leadership means the revolutionary class struggle program carried out by revolutionists in the mass movements, fused into the revolutionary party. Just as trade unionists will not join the revolutionary party if they do not see it as essential to winning the struggle, so Negro fighters for liberation will not join the party on any basis other than that the only road to freedom for them is the revolutionary socialist path of struggle through the combat army. Negro militants will not see any advantage in joining a party which says in effect: “We cannot lead the Negro people. We are the socialist vanguard of the white working class, and we think it is nice to have fraternal relations with your vanguard (that of the liberation movement).”
Likewise, once we have recruited Negro militants to the party, the line expressed in the PC draft serves not to help them to develop as Trotskyist cadre and to recruit other black workers on the basis of our program, but rather would serve to waste and mislead them. When the party denies its role of leadership of the black masses, then for what reason do we need a black Trotskyist cadre? The logic of this position means that there is no role for a Negro as a party member that differs from that he could play without entering the party, or, as in the case of the position taken on southern work, membership in the party would actually isolate him from important areas of work because “the party is not needed there.”
Some comrades, in response to the criticisms made here, will say that the party is not giving up a revolutionary perspective, but is only being realistic and facing the fact that the majority of our membership is white and that we have only a tiny and weak Negro cadre. We must seek to become in reality what we are in theory, rather than the reverse—i.e., adapting our program to a serious weakness in composition. If we take this road of adaptation the party program in a process of gross degeneration will become based on a privileged section of the working class.
Negroes who are activists in the movement, such as, for example, the full-time militants around SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee], are every day formulating concepts of struggle for the movement. The meaning of the line of the PC draft is that we are not interested in recruiting these people to our white party because we have the revolutionary socialist program for the section of the working class of which we are the vanguard, and they (Negro militants) must lead their own struggle, although we would like to have fraternal relations with them. This is the meaning of the PC draft.
To the concept of the white party must be counterposed the concept of the revolutionary party. For if we are only the former, then black workers are misplaced in the SWP. There are three main elements which we recruit to the party: minority workers, white workers, and intellectuals. In the process of the work which brings these elements to the party there are special considerations which must be made with reference to the suspicions of minority peoples (“white caution”) in regard to personnel, etc. However, once inside the party we are all only revolutionists. All of these elements are fused in the struggle to achieve the revolutionary program into revolutionists who as a whole make up the revolutionary party. Thus the “white caution” in Negro organizations is wrong inside the party. An internal policy of “white caution” equals paternalism, patronization, creation of “party Negroes,” etc., and has no place in a Bolshevik party.
The statement by Trotsky, quoted at the head of this article, that if the SWP cannot find the road to the Negroes then it is not worthy at all, finds its concurrent counterpart in the choice now before us. Either the revolutionary perspective in the U.S. has become blunted and lifeless or else its expression today as a living aim of the party pivots, in the context of relative working-class passivity and active Negro struggle, upon the development of a black Trotskyist cadre.
The principal aim of this article is to show that this deficiency in forces is not the fault of objective conditions—isolation and the like—but is rooted in the complex of related political and organizational faults stemming from a loss of confidence and orientation toward the proletarian revolution by the SWP majority.