In the Communist movement in general, and in the Trotskyist movement that I’m most familiar with, I think it’s fair to say without exaggeration or any kind of pandering at all to say that “every month is ‘Black History Month'”. The history of the long and brutal struggle of people of color against racist oppression is something we study with seriousness at all times, not just for one month a year.
This month I’ve called attention to several Black History month pieces on Twitter; I reported them essentially as I came across them this month in my usual daily peregrinations across the Internet; and tonight I just came across this very fine short letter from the founder of the Trotskyist movement, the great Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky where he makes some important points on the critical importance for any revolutionary Trotskyist party to recruit workers of every ethnicity into the party, not merely for the purpose of a superficial “diversity” but because in a world where workers of color are the vast majority there will be no international socialist workers revolution unless workers of color are won over to the communist programme. This is even more critically important in multi-ethnic societies like the United States where workers of color make up a relatively small proportion of the entire working class and “white” workers have been steeped in varying levels of racism from the moment of their birth. Any “white” communist worker who is uncomfortable working under the leadership of African, Hispanic or Asian communist leaders is simply not worth a damn!
Historically, the communist movement of the USA has been dominated by “white” workers and intellectuals of European ancestry; and these workers have had to struggle to overcome the racist prejudices ingrained in them by their families over decades. In fact, if you’re a Black or Hispanic or Asian worker in the USA, when you think of an American “communist” you probably picture a white man or woman. right? This is in spite of the fact that the largest communist parties in the world are the Chinese, Indian and South African Communist parties, where whites make up only a tiny minority of the membership. Black, Hispanic and Asian workers who think that being a communist is “a white thing” are probably simply unaware that when you look at the world communist movement as a whole it is very much *not* “a white thing”!
Now I don’t want to suggest that the Independent Workers Party supports these Stalinist “communist” parties politically: we have very significant political differences with them and we have had those differences for the better part of the past century; I’m simply trying to demonstrate that the view of the communist movement that most African-, Hispanic- and perhaps to a lesser extent Asian-American workers (not to mention “white” workers) have of the communist movement is one that you’ve received through the very distorted lens of the racist US bourgeois press which goes out of its way to NEVER show workers of color in the USA images of the membership of the South African Communist Party or of any of the other major communist party gatherings in India or in the rest of the world. They’re afraid it might give you some “bad ideas” lol!
The founders of the Communist “Third International”, led by Lenin and Trotsky, were well aware of the necessity to wage intransigent struggle against any and all manifestations of racism inside the International. In fact it was because they fought so hard against racism that they were able to almost immediately win over the most talented and respected worker-leaders from India, China, Japan and South Africa to the communist movement starting from the moment that the Communist International was formed. By the end of World War II – just 30 years after the founding of the Third International – the largest communist parties in the world by far were in countries outside of Europe in Asia, India and Africa.
Without any further ado, I present to you this very modest example of the crucial importance one of the great leaders of the Russian Revolution of 1917 laid on winning workers of color from all over the globe to the revolutionary Marxist/Leninist programme. His assertions – though they are not made using the more politically correct modern terminology that a communist of the 21st century would use (they were written back in 1932) – are as true today as they were when he wrote them 89 years ago.
“Closer to the Proletarians of the Colored Races”
Written: 13 June 1932.
First Published: In Bulletin of the Russian Opposition, No.28, July 1932.
First Published in English: The Militant, Vol. V No. 27 (Whole No. 123), 2 July 1932, p. 1.
Source: Fourth International, Vol. 6 No. 8, August 1945, p. 243.
Reprinted: Fourth International (Paris), No. 4, Autumn 1958, p. 65.
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive, 2000.
Transcribed: Sally Ryan.
HTML Markup: Sally Ryan and David Walters.
To the International Secretariat:
(Copy to the National Committee of the American League)
I have received a copy of the letter dated April 26, 1932, sent by an organization of Negro comrades from Johannesburg. This letter, it seems to me, is of great symptomatic significance. The Left Opposition (Bolshevik-Leninists) can and must become the banner for the most oppressed sections of the world proletariat, and consequently, first and foremost, for the Negro workers. Upon what do I base this proposition?
The Left Opposition represents at present the most consistent and most revolutionary tendency in the world. Its sharply critical attitude to any and all varieties of bureaucratic haughtiness in the labor movement makes it possible for it to pay particular attention to the voice of the most oppressed sections of the working class and the toilers as a whole.
The Left Opposition is the target for the blows not only of the Stalinist apparatus but also of all the bourgeois governments of the world. This fact, which, despite all the slanders, is entering gradually into the consciousness of the masses, is bound increasingly to attract towards the Left Opposition the warm sympathies of the most oppressed sections of the international working class. From this point of view, the communication addressed to us by the South African comrades seems to me not at all accidental, but profoundly symptomatic.
In their letter, to which 24 signatures are appended (with the notation “and others”), the South African comrades expressed particular interest in the questions of the Chinese Revolution. This interest, it ought to be acknowledged, is wholly justified. The working masses of the oppressed peoples who have to carry on the struggle for elementary national rights and for human dignity, are precisely those who incur the greatest risk of suffering the penalties for the muddled teachings of the Stalinist bureaucracy on the subject of the “democratic dictatorship.” Under this false banner, the policy a la Kuomintang, that is, the vile deception and the unpunished crushing of the toiling masses by their own “national” bourgeoisie, may still do the greatest harm to the liberating cause of the toilers. The programme of the permanent revolution based on the incontestable historic experience of a number of countries can and must assume primary significance for the liberation movement of the Negro proletariat.
The Johannesburg comrades may not as yet have had the opportunity to acquaint themselves more closely with the views of the Left Opposition on all the most important questions. But this cannot be an obstacle in our getting together with them as closely as possible at this very moment, and helping them fraternally to come into the orbit of our programme and our tactics.
When ten intellectuals, whether in Paris, Berlin, or New York, who have already been members of various organizations, address themselves to us with a request to be taken into our midst, I would offer the following advice: Put them through a series of tests on all the programmatic questions; wet them in the rain, dry them in the sun, and then after a new and careful examination accept maybe one or two.
The case is radically altered when ten workers connected with the masses turn to us. The difference in our attitude to a petty-bourgeois group and to the proletarian group does not require any explanation. But if a proletarian group functions in an area where there are workers of different races, and in spite of this remains composed solely of workers of a privileged nationality, then I am inclined to view them with suspicion. Are we not dealing perhaps with the labor aristocracy? Isn’t the group infected with slave-holding prejudices, active or passive?
It is an entirely different matter when we are approached by a group of Negro workers. Here I am prepared to take it for granted in advance that we shall achieve agreement with them, even if such an agreement is not actual as yet. Because the Negro workers, by virtue of their whole position, do not and cannot strive to degrade anybody, oppress anybody, or deprive anybody of his rights. They do not seek privileges and cannot rise to the top except on the road of the international revolution.
We can and we must find a way to the consciousness of the Negro workers, the Chinese workers, the Indian workers, and all the oppressed in the human ocean of the colored races to whom belongs the decisive word in the development of mankind.
Prinkipo, 13 June 1932