Imperialism and the integration of oppressed nations: some comments
“White workers belong to a totally different world than that of Black workers, They are caught up in a totally different economic, political, and social reality, and on the basis of this distinct reality, the pigs of the power structure and treacherous labor leaders find it very easy to manipulate them with Babylonian racism, This complex reality presents us with many problems, and only through proper analysis can these problems be solved. The lack of a proper analysis is responsible for the ridiculous approach to these problems that we find among Mother Country Marxist-Leninists, And their improper analysis leads them to advocate solutions that are doomed to failure in advance. The key area of the confusion has to do with falsely assuming the existence of one All-American Proletariat; one All-American Working Class; and one All-American Lumpenproletariat.” – Eldridge Cleaver, On the Ideology of the Black Panther Party, Part I
Eldridge Cleaver in 1969 was decades ahead of other Marxists on Amerikan soil in his understanding of class in the heart of the empire. In “On the Ideology of the Black Panther Party” he outlines the extant contradictions within the working class itself, which is today divided along national lines. According to the spirit of “United We Stand and Divided We Fall”, a slogan that has penetrated the consciousness of communists as they attempt to unite the working class for revolution against the capitalist system, class analysis and the program for revolution has been rather depthless, trying to preserve a rosy picture of a united class.
A narrow application of class analysis in the US is unexpected from class conscious communists, who should have a broad and materialist analysis of the history of how the working class in Amerika formed. To say integration is an ongoing phenomenon, a line usually repeated by the intellectual apparatchiks of imperialism, is simply wrong. Capitalism doesn’t dissolve national differences as it used to in the past (and even then, only for people who could be integrated in the white-settler nation). The theory of integration is dangerous to Marxists and especially Maoists, as it contaminates our revolutionary program’s understanding of long-term class struggle. Imperialism doesn’t break down national barriers and, as much as we’d like it to be true, the working class isn’t unified in consciousness and struggle. National oppression divided the class, spatially and in the struggle. The essential point isn’t providing a detailed analysis of the political economic status of the Afrikan people, but rather providing a schematic and extended premise: oppressed nations and oppressor nations’ working class isn’t uniform.
First, let’s define integration. Integration is the breaking down of national communities and their assimilation. The integration of a community requires a material and class basis: for an oppressed nationality to be integrated, its class structure has to integrate with the “host” class structure. Because the proletariat is the largest component of the class structure, the main dynamic required for integration is a rapid expansion of the labor force.
According to Sidney Willhelm’s “Who Needs the Negro?”, in 1910, 73% of the black population lived in rural Amerika, 91% of them in the South. By 1960, 73% lived in urbanized areas and only 60% in the South. In Marxist analysis, urbanization is to be understood in a materialist context, that is, in terms of its basis in social intercourse and the productive process of society. Modernization and urbanization are not automatic or uni-dimensional processes; they are caused by people in the reproduction of capitalism. In class society, people have differential amounts of power at their disposal. In Amerika, during periods of capital accumulation, it was possible for the Irish, the Italians, the Germans, etc. to integrate; these people are now collectively party of the white-settler nation. Afrikans (and Chicanos and Natives), however, didn’t have the same luck.
The creation of an organized supply of Black labor power required by capitalist economic development played out differently from the creation of the Caucasian proletariat. The largest waves of Black people’s immigration commenced in World War I, a period of imperialist growth. The need for labor power in the cities (and the North, which was more urbanized than the South), as the labor power pool was depleted by the war mobilization of mostly white workers, gave the impetus to Black migrations, who not only found jobs, but unemployment. Given the anarchic nature of capitalist production, the Black population moving into cities exceeded the amount of jobs available. This dynamic had been witnessed before in the 19th century, with immigrants filling both the pool of labor and the reserve army of the unemployed.
The result can be seen in the following table of ghettoization in Chicago, 1930:
In 1980, according to a paper by Leah Platt Boustan, 72% of metropolitan blacks lived in central cities, while only 33% of metropolitan whites lived in central cities. Between 1949 and 1979, four million black migrants left the South, increasing the black population’s share in Northern cities from 4% in 1949 to 16% in 1970, as non-southern cities lost 10% of their white populations. To go further into statistics and history, between 1959 and 1969, the twelve largest US cities lost 2 million white people and gained 2 million black residents. In the works of urban renewal there has been a history of racial discrimination, as only a handful of racially integrated new neighborhoods existed fourteen years after the adoption of Amerikan federal urban renewal plans, while many integrated neighborhoods had been razed. Of the people relocated by urban renewal operations, between 72% and 80% were non-white. Because half of the land cleared through urban renewal were used to build highways and parking lots, only around one fourth of the land area was used for housing; fewer housing units were provided than were supplanted, mostly at the expense of the Black population. The relative gap between Black and white family incomes has increased or remained constant throughout the recent history of Amerika. Between 1950 and 1960, less than 1% of the 280,000 new houses built in Chicago were occupied by Afrikans.
No element of this situation, which led to and perpetuates the ghettoization of the Afrikan population (which is here taken as an example, but the Chicano and Native nations have similar histories), has improved in recent times:
Ghettoization as a control mechanism in Amerika functions to maintain a super-exploited workforce inside the borders of an imperialist power. By means of ghettoizing a population, capitalists can import labor when necessary, controlling the rate of migration, the conditions of life and opportunity of the ghettoized workforce, and the conditions determining their emigration from their current situation, preventing their assimilation. It’s not a case that oppressed nationalities are a large percentage of the reserve army of labor.
Without having control over their education, the Afrikan community can’t assure a future for its young, which diminishes Afrikans’ lifetime earnings. An article by the Population Reference Bureau states: “Nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), when out-of-school suspension rates were examined by race, one in five black males and more than one in 10 black females were suspended in 2009-2010—higher than any other race. The next highest rates were among American Indians, then Hispanics: Twelve percent of American Indian males received out-of-school suspensions and 6 percent of females received suspensions; and 9 percent of Hispanic males and 4 percent of females received suspensions”.
Racism, an ideological component of the oppression of communities that relate to the productive forces of society in different ways, is the rule in Amerikan schools which even after the Brown ruling remain highly segregated:
The conditions in which the Afrikan nation finds itself in can only be called colonial; the adjective neo-colonial, sometimes utilized by Marxists, doesn’t fit the characteristics of oppressed nations within the United States. A neo-colony is an officially sovereign state that is dominated economically by foreign interests; a colony instead is characterized by the usage of political oppression to enforce and sustain a pattern of superexploitation on a nation. And what is the police, representative of finance capital (from which the Afrikan population is disenfranchised), if not a permanent colonial presence in the form of a standing army?
The Afrikan population is disenfranchised by finance capital because it has virtually no share of it. According to the latest available data from the US government’s Census Bureau, as of 2007, “blacks owned 1.9 million nonfarm U.S. businesses operating in the fifty states and the District of Columbia, an increase of 60.5 percent from 2002. These black-owned firms accounted for 7.1 percent of all nonfarm businesses in the United States, employed 921,032 persons (0.8 percent of total employment) and generated $137.5 billion in receipts (0.5 percent of all receipts)”. Meaning, of the 1.9 million Afrikan-owned businesses, 1.8 million don’t employ any wage laborers. We find here a somewhat sizable petty bourgeoisie, which could enter a united front led by a class conscious proletariat.
As control mechanisms for oppressed communities, we can see welfare, police forces, and comprador sections of the community. In Third World countries, an unemployed worker can usually go back to farming if she can’t find employment, but in the First World welfare functions as a mechanism supporting the existence of the reserve army of labor. Comprador elements within the oppressed nation, such as bureaucrats, “poverty pimps”, etc., who are part of the oppressed nation but antagonistic to its workers, perpetuate the condition of subordination to the nation for their own gains. All this happens in a legal framework of bourgeois right enforced by police forces, which allow for the exploitation of oppressed nations to continue (for instance, housing discrimination is unprosecutable, and racial segregation in schools persists decades after being outlawed).
The picture presented is one of a working class divided along national lines, with a white working class primarily inhabitating suburbs and an Afrikan working class primarily concentrated in cities (and in poorer sections of the city), a relatively better off white working class and a segregated and disenfranchised and nationally oppressed Afrikan working class; overall, a fragmented working class for America.
“We demand freedom of self-determination, i.e., independence, i.e., freedom of secession for the oppressed nations, not because we have dreamt of splitting up the country economically, or of the ideal of small states, but, on the contrary, because we want large states and the closer unity and even fusion of nations, only on a truly democratic, truly internationalist basis, which is inconceivable without the freedom to secede. Just as Marx, in 1869, demanded the separation of Ireland, not for a split between Ireland and Britain, but for a subsequent free union between them, not so as to secure “justice for Ireland”, but in the interests of the revolutionary struggle of the British proletariat, we in the same way consider the refusal of Russian socialists to demand freedom of self-determination for nations, in the sense we have indicated above, to be a direct betrayal of democracy, internationalism and socialism.” - Vladimir Lenin, The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination
The task of communists in regards to oppressed nations is assisting them in their liberation, forming an independent political force, exposing comprador bourgeois elements as agents of finance capital, and lead the united front against imperialism. Remembering Lenin’s advice, communists must actively support the right of nations to self-determination as a transit point to the overturning of imperialism globally.
- Klaas V.