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Vol. 72/No. 45      November 17, 2008


 80 Years of Communist Continuity in the United States 

Black workers and the fight for political power
The communist movement’s role
in the proletarian battles for Black rights
“As a result of the social weight, disproportionately proletarian composition, and vanguard political experience of the oppressed Black nationality in the United States, workers who are African-American will make up a larger component of the fighting leadership of the workers movement in the class battles ahead,” states a 2005 resolution of the Socialist Workers Party.

The political course presented in the resolution draws upon the writings of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, founders of the modern communist movement, on the need for workers to champion the struggle of oppressed peoples against racial and national oppression, and the application of their programmatic conquests on this issue by the Russian Bolsheviks and the Communist International in its early years.

The struggle for Black rights in the United States began to accelerate during the militant labor battles and strike waves in the 1930s. Unlike the American Federation of Labor, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, formed out of these struggles, opened its doors to Black workers. African American workers responded enthusiastically and played an important role in strengthening the labor movement. Some of the best of them were recruited by communists working alongside them in industry.

As the rulers prepared for U.S. entry into the second imperialist world war, patriotic campaigns were launched to paint Washington as a defender of “freedom” and “democracy.” The Stalinized Communist Party zigzagged as the war progressed, based on the shifting diplomatic needs of the privileged bureaucracy in Moscow. During the Stalin-Hitler pact, the CP denounced Washington’s war drive. After German imperialism invaded the Soviet Union, the Stalinists backed the “Allied” imperialists as “antifascist” and “pro-democratic.” Throughout this latter period, the leaders of the CP called for subordinating the Black struggle to the “war effort.” In 1942, CP leader Benjamin Davis insisted that the leaders of the Black struggle who were fighting against Jim Crow segregation were working “against the war and against the best interests of Negroes.”

The Socialist Workers Party on the other hand deepened its work in the trade unions and the Black struggle as it campaigned against the imperialist world war. The party joined with Black organizations and worked to win labor’s support in the fight for desegregation of the armed forces and society as a whole. A week-by-week account of the SWP’s role in the Black struggle at this time is contained in the book Fighting Racism in World War II.  
Rise of the civil rights movement
Following World War II, the fight to end Jim Crow segregation exploded in the 1950s and ‘60s. Mass battles emerged in several cities around the country. In 1955-56 a pivotal battle ensued against segregation on city buses in Montgomery, Alabama. E.D. Nixon, president of the local Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union and a leader of the local and state NAACP, organized a campaign to boycott city buses after Black rights fighter Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat on a bus to a white passenger.

The Socialist Workers Party threw its full support into the “Station Wagons for Montgomery” campaign. Station wagons, tires, and other auto parts that were badly needed to maintain the carpools for those boycotting city buses were collected and donated by the party. Farrell Dobbs, then SWP candidate for U.S. president, went down to Montgomery to give a firsthand account, week by week in the pages of the Militant. Clifton DeBerry, who would later be the SWP candidate for U.S. president in 1964, was a leader in the effort to get the station wagons down to Montgomery.

A broad movement of marches and other protests swept the South over the following years. Rebellions erupted in several Northern cities between 1964 and 1967. The 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King set off further rebellions in more than 100 U.S. cities.

In the early 1950s, communists working at an aircraft engine plant in New Jersey met Robert F. Williams, a militant Black from North Carolina. Williams later returned to Monroe, North Carolina, where he led the NAACP chapter in struggles to desegregate public facilities and organized armed self-defense against attacks by the Ku Klux Klan.

In 1958-59, the SWP and Young Socialist Alliance, a communist youth organization, joined Williams in leading the defense campaign around the infamous “kissing case.” Two young Black boys—one seven, the other nine—had been arrested in Monroe in October 1958 for “letting” a seven-year-old white girl kiss one of them. At the trial, the presiding judge convicted the boy who was kissed of “assaulting and molesting a white female” and the other boy as an “accomplice.” They were both sentenced to a reformatory. The defense campaign was waged broadly, garnering support from across the country and around the world and won the boys’ release in February 1959.  
Independent Black political action
The militant battles against Jim Crow segregation and the collusion of the capitalist parties, Democrats and Republicans, with the segregationists increasingly posed the need for independent political action. The Freedom Now Party (FNP) was launched in 1963 as an independent Black political party and ran a serious electoral effort against the Democrats and Republicans. Its platform, which was printed in the Oct. 5, 1964, issue of the Militant, called for united, independent political action by Blacks and aligned itself with liberation movements worldwide. In Detroit, where the FNP centered its campaigning during the 1964 elections, the Socialist Workers Party withdrew its candidates for state and county offices in order to support the FNP and the break from capitalist politicians by Blacks.

In early 1965, Blacks, mostly farmers and farm laborers, in Lowndes County, Alabama, began to organize around issues such as voter registration and inadequate educational facilities. Out of these struggles emerged the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. The group mobilized a broad campaign in opposition to the two major parties and gained 40 percent of the vote in the 1966 county elections.

After breaking with the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, one of last century’s most outstanding working-class leaders, set on a revolutionary internationalist course in the fight against racist oppression and imperialist domination. In championing anticolonial struggles throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America, he came to work with revolutionaries regardless of race. He supported Cuba’s socialist revolution and its leadership.

Malcolm more and more collaborated with the communist movement, promoting the Militant newspaper and working with the Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialist Alliance. He spoke at meetings organized by supporters of the Militant on three occasions and gave an interview to leaders of the Young Socialist Alliance, which was published in the March-April 1965 Young Socialist magazine.  
Gains of the mass movement
The massive proletarian movement to end segregation and racist discrimination won sweeping gains for the working class. The passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts in 1964 and 1965 codified the victory in defeating Jim Crow. Broader gains for the working class were won as a result of the political radicalization the movement produced in the 1960s, including expanded funding for social programs and the extension of many democratic rights.

The Socialist Workers Party’s participation in the massive proletarian struggles that defeated Jim Crow segregation and transformed the political consciousness of millions of Blacks in the United States confirms the conclusions reached by the communist movement more than 70 years ago. These class struggle experiences form the basis for the party’s continued confidence in the vanguard role of Black workers in the class battles ahead.
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