Dossier — Reparations, Black Liberation and the Fight to Abolish Capitalism

(reprinted from October 2019 issue of The Organizer newspaper)

IN THIS DOSSIER:

(1) “It’s Up to Black People to Draft the Demands for Reparations” — Interview with William C. Anderson (Black Agenda Radio)

(2) Theoretical Underpinnings of our Support for a Black Workers Party — Editorial Board, The Organizer

(3) “Freedom Now!” — by Alan Benjamin

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(1) “It’s Up to Black People to Draft the Demands for Reparations”

[Note: Following are major excerpts from an interview with Black activist and author William C. Anderson on the topic of Black reparations. It was broadcast on Black Agenda Radio on July 22, 2019. — The Editors]

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William C. Anderson

It’s up to Black people to draft the demands for reparations — and the subject is not open to debate. Black people are owed. We know that we’re owed.

This is not something we should be negotiating. It’s a demand. It’s about acknowledging slave labor, exploitation, criminalization, and other such forms of egregious violence.

This is not a topic of discussion by presidential candidates, most of whom are white and have no connections to the Black community. This whole thing is being mainstreamed, it’s ridiculous. Some candidates have been saying, “Well, I bid $100 million in reparations.” Others have thrown in other proposals, like increasing aid to Black school districts or things of that nature. And they call that reparations!

This is not an issue on which you can put a dollar amount. We’re owed much more than reparations for all the things we have endured as Black people. Our demand has to include the end of capitalism.  Period.

We cannot negotiate with a system that facilitated our ancestors’ enslavement. If we’re serious, we have to demand something much bigger than just a settlement. We need to put an end to — and uproot — all the systems that have perpetuated the violence against Black people that we’re still dealing with today, systems that have been inflicted upon us through capitalism.

If we are going to truly redress the wrongs that have been done to us over centuries, we need to be thinking very largely about putting an end to the systems of violence that we face day to day.

We can’t take a reformist approach; that is what got us to a Donald Trump presidency. If we think we’re going to reform our way out of the violence we’re facing, we’re in for a rude awakening.

We need to be thinking about abolition — meaning abolition of the capitalist system, of which slavery was an integral part, in the United States and globally.

What we need is more discussion about the nature of our demands among Black people.

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(2) The Theoretical Underpinnings of Our Support for a Black Workers Party in the United States

Presentation

In his interview with Black Agenda Radio on July 22, 2019, Black activist and author William C. Anderson explains that it’s up to Black people — and only Black people — to draft the demand for reparations. It is especially not a topic to be debated by mainly white Democratic Party presidential candidates.

“You cannot put a number amount of the reparations that Black people are owed,” Anderson insisted. “We are owed much more than reparations. … Our demand has to include the end of capitalism. We cannot negotiate with a system that facilitated our ancestors’ enslavement. We need to be thinking about abolition — meaning abolition of the capitalist system, of which slavery was an integral part.”

Fin Coming American RevolutionAs a supporter of the right of Black people to self-determination, Socialist Organizer — the organization that publishes The Organizer newspaper — agrees fully with this stance. Having said that, we believe that the call by Anderson to “abolish the capitalist system” requires opening a fuller discussion on how the Black liberation movement can most effectively articulate its struggle for freedom with the anti-capitalist struggle of the working class as a whole.

We submit below a contribution to this discussion rooted in our revolutionary continuity — from the discussions between renowned Black author and activist C.L.R. James and Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky in the late 1930s, to the adoption in 1963 by the Socialist Workers Party of the seminal resolution titled, “Freedom Now: The New Stage in the Struggle for Negro Emancipation and the Tasks of the SWP.”

A few last words of introduction. In the 1930s and up through the early 1960s, Black revolutionary organizations still used the term “Negro.” For the sake of historical accuracy, we have left the term “Negro” in the texts cited in our article below.

The Socialist Workers Party, the organization to which we trace our origins, advocated a Black Party and a Labor Party. Today Socialist Organizer supports the creation of a Black Workers Party and calls for a Labor Party rooted in the trade unions and oppressed communities. — The Editors

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(3) “Freedom Now!”

Support for the formation of an independent Black Workers Party in the United States is rooted in the history and traditions of the Socialist Workers Party going all the way back to the discussions between Leon Trotsky and leaders of the SWP in 1938.The political rationale for such a position was put forward in various SWP texts. This is how it was motivated:

“The coming American revolution will have a combined character. It will be a socialist revolution by the working class and its allies against the bourgeoisie. At the same time, it will be a revolution of national liberation by Blacks and other oppressed nationalities. Only through the establishment of workers’ power in this country will this combined struggle be brought to a successful conclusion.

“Only a government based on the working class and all the oppressed will guarantee the democratic rights of all oppressed nationalities. There can be no solution to the national democratic demands of the oppressed nationalities apart from the solution to capitalist exploitation by the workers. The revolution, if it is to be victorious, must combine the uncompleted tasks of the democratic revolution — including the right to self-determination of all oppressed nationalities — with the socialist revolution.

“The revolutionary party supports the independent organization of Blacks and other oppressed nationalities. This will advance both their own struggles for self-determination and the struggle of the working class as a whole.”

Black people are a constituent part of the American nation. Capitalism in the United States was built on the backs of the blood and toil of Black people under slavery. The struggle for their emancipation was at the heart of the Second American Revolution — the Civil War. But the failure, or rather, the limitations of the post-war Radical Reconstruction period, enabled the struggle for Black freedom to retreat into the abyss of Jim Crow and segregation.

One of the most solid presentations by the SWP of the Black Party question and how the Black Party would tie into the overall struggle for independent working-class political action is contained in the resolution adopted by the 1963 convention of the SWP titled, “Freedom Now: The New Stage in the Struggle for Negro Emancipation and the Tasks of the SWP.”

The section on “Independent Political Action” (section VII) in this 1963 resolution correctly articulated the struggle for a Black Party and the struggle for a Labor Party in its treatment of the “Labor-Negro Alliance.” Basing itself firmly on what Trotsky, in his discussions with C.L.R. James, described as the “dialectical development of the Negro struggle for self-determination,” the resolution stated that Blacks as such would have to “divide” from the whites and form their own independent political party in order to then “unite with the white working class in the overall struggle against capitalism.”

The resolution noted that “while the Negro community is predominantly proletarian, the Negro people are more than just another more heavily exploited section of the working class, and the Negro movement is more than just a part of the general working-class movement. As an oppressed minority … their position in society is special, their consciousness is influenced by racial and national as well as class factors.”

The 1963 resolution goes on to note that “the labor and Negro movements march along their own paths” but went on to underline the fact that “they [the Negro and labor movements] do march to a common destination, and the freedom of the Negroes from oppression and of the workers from exploitation can be achieved only through the victory of their common struggle against capitalism. … Negroes cannot win their goal of equality without an alliance with the working class.”

Noting further on that “the tempos of development of the two movements are uneven,” the resolution stressed the need for “Negroes to … first unite [in their own party]” in order than they could be able to “bring about an alliance of equals, where they [the Negroes] can be reasonably sure that their demands and needs cannot be neglected or betrayed by their allies.”

Finally, the resolution pointed out that there is no contradiction between advocating a Black Party and advocating a Labor Party: “Our support of such a [Black] Party in no way conflicts with our … continued advocacy of a labor party. On the contrary, we believe that a Negro party … and a labor party would find much in common from the very beginning, would work together for common ends, and would tend in the course of common activity to establish close organizational ties or even merge into a single or federated party.”

In fact, the resolution states elsewhere, if a Black Party were to be formed first, it would be a major spur for the development of a Labor Party: “The creation of a Negro party running its own candidates would rock the whole political structure to its foundation. … Advocates of a labor break with the old parties would get a bigger and better hearing from the ranks. Thus the creation of a Negro party would benefit not only the Negro but his present and potential allies.” — Alan Benjamin

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