Race or Nation? A Burning Question in the Struggle for the Liberation of Oppressed Peoples

By Manny Rodriguez

r/krtheworldsetfree - The Black Belt's Left Revolutionaries (Ben Davis, Harry Haywood, James W. Ford, Paul Robeson)
PICTURE CAPTION: The Black Belt’s Revolutionaries (Ben Davis, Harry Haywood, James W. Ford, Paul Robeson). PHOTO: u/NewAccount556786 (Reddit)

What is the policy needing to be pursued which will enable U.S. Communists to forge together different stages of social development into unity of the effort of building a multinational socialist state? How will U.S. Communists transform a territory built on the blood and sweat of indigenous, Black, and immigrant labor into a family of nations, a free union of peoples?

The answers to these questions, sought and arrived at by various revolutionary groups, have often overlooked the starting point due to a constrained focus on race. This starting point, the law of social development of the formation of peoples into nations, differs from the focus on what W.E.B. DuBois characterized as the problem of the “color line”. DuBois did not see the “color line” as the solution but a strategy that aggravates the problem. Liberal “remedies’, as stated by Harry Haywood, have sought answers in the myth of race. Henry Winston expanded upon this myth in describing it as a tool of the ruling class alongside the weapon of anti-Communism to keep the working class in the U.S. from waging a united class struggle against its monopolist enemy.

“In the ideology of race, the ruling class have a much more potent weapon at their disposal than even religion or language”

Harry Haywood, Negro Liberation

The problems of oppressed peoples have been hideously distorted to a limited biological concept ignoring the reality of the particular form and device of national oppression used by the oppressor nation. The device of “divide and rule”, of increasing tensions between struggling peoples of various nationalities has been the name of the game of the reactionary ruling class. What is, in reality, an aspiration for identity as a nation has sought expression through false symbols, buying into the myth of race imposed on oppressed peoples by the oppressors who are never divided by color.

This all begs the question. What exactly is a nation? A nation, categorized as a historically constituted community of people is based on four main characteristics: 1) a common economic life, 2) a common language, 3) a common territory, 4) a common psychological makeup originating from common features in national culture.1

Why nation and not race? Differences in skin color are used by monopoly capital to create and perpetuate division between the white majority and the oppressed minorities. This division did not originate from skin color but a different economic system – slavery – which has been grafted onto the capitalist system. The dogma of racial inferiority of oppressed peoples has been sunk deep into the minds of white America. This has forced oppressed peoples into positions that defend their assertion of basic humanity – rallying under the causes of racial equality, racial solidarity, which ignore their oppression as a particular nation and obscure the real enemy: the forces of monopoly capitalism. The so-called racial persecution of oppressed peoples in the United States preserves isolation and thus economic and social inequality. The deliberately cultivated emphasis on race has acted as form of retardation on the growth of political self-assertion. It has fostered narrow deviate and opportunist ideological analyses blunting the revolutionary edge of the masses and taking the racist ruling class off the hook.

There is no way out for white workers without recognizing that their common interests with oppressed nationalities demand that they shrug off the racist ideology of the ruling class. Oppressed peoples must also understand that we cannot put an end to our triple oppression by going it alone through the reverse side of the white ruling class strategy in this country. While the ruling class promotes racist separatism for whites, the skin strategists of the oppressed peoples concern themselves with working the other side of the street by advocating for separatism. To carry out the legacy of the liberation of oppressed peoples, we must challenge the quasi-intellectuals and pseudo-revolutionaries who abandon the class basis of racism. Fighting racism is fruitless without targeting the source of racism. The ruling class is the most vulnerable when the oppressed and exploited move in solidarity. However, history has assigned a doubly significant role to oppressed nationalities as the leaders and backbone of their respective liberation movements. 

“Upon the ruins of the “prison of nations” that had been the Russia of the tsars, where the most rapacious and wildest forms of national and racial oppression prevailed, has now been built that great commonwealth of free and equal nations known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Here 189 peoples speaking 150 languages, different in tradition, race and color, enjoy the same rights and are forged together in an extraordinary unity of effort and enthusiasm for a common ideal—a multicolored, multi-national fraternity of peoples, a commonwealth of nations based on the free association of races and nations living in peace and friendly collaboration. This democratic solution of the national question, grounded in a socialist economy, is the reason for the unshakable unity

Harry Haywood, Negro Liberation

It is through taking up the ideological weapon of the working class, Marxism-Leninism, and the inspiration from the model of the Soviet Union that oppressed nationalities can free themselves from class and national oppression and illuminate the road towards socialist construction.

This poster from 1957, shows a multicultural group exploring Moscow sights.
This poster from 1957, shows a multicultural group exploring Moscow sights. Photograph: Wayland Rudd Archive/ Yevgeniy Fiks/Flint

1J.V. Stalin, Marxism and the National Question

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