Communist Party USA

  Frank Chapman has a long and storied reputation as an activist-leader-theoretician in the anti-repression, labor, and left movements. His history makes it imperative that activists engage with his theoretical work, which is drawn from years of struggle in the mass movement. His latest book, Marxist-Leninist Perspectives on Black Liberation and Socialism, traces the history of the developments and interconnections between the struggle for socialism and the African American freedom movement. Chapman’s thesis is that “the revolutionary content of Marxism-Leninism lies precisely in seeing the centrality of the national question in the struggle against imperialism and the struggle for socialism” (p. 7). (One may contest whether, in general, that is the “revolutionary content” of Marxism-Leninism, but it is indisputable that Lenin’s analysis of the relationship between the socialist revolution and the national/colonial struggle to the world revolutionary process is critical—of that, there is no doubt.) In early chapters, Chapman examines the development of the African American movement and the broader movement of the working class through the growth of capitalism in the U.S., the American revolution, slavery, and Reconstruction. He also examines early African American freedom movements that sought equality and/or separation on lands based in Africa or the Caribbean. In Chapman’s retelling, the 1919 founding of the Communist Party USA created (with the assistance of the Communist International) the basis of a theoretical framework to solidify the relationship between the struggle for socialism and the struggle for Black liberation through the application of the nationalities question. Chapman traces the development of the idea of African American oppression as being an aspect of the “national question” through the work of African American and Afro-Caribbean activists in the African Blood Brotherhood and the writings of Lenin and Stalin. The Sixth Congress of the Communist International (1928) put forth a resolution that mandated the U.S. Communist Party recognize the legitimacy of the African American movement. In Chapman’s summation, it called upon the U.S. party to “implement a program calling for complete and real equality, for the elimination of every kind of racial, social, and political inequality” (p. 113). The resolution also made it clear that African American oppression was a “national question” and that African Americans were an oppressed nation within the boundaries of the Black Belt South, where they made up the majority of the population, and that the area was entitled to the right of self-determination. Chapman also details how Communist and leftist African Americans, in alliance with foreign communists who were familiar with the U.S., including the Japanese Communist Sen Katayama, played a major role in getting the Communist International to focus on the African American question. Chapman argues that this new theoretical framework laid the basis for the Communist Party to concentrate activities within the African American community. Throughout this period, the party organized sharecroppers and industrial workers in the Black Belt South, and ratcheted up its efforts in opposing discrimination and racism throughout the country. This is the period when the Communist Party earned the sobriquet, “the party of the Negro people.” Chapman concludes by noting: “It was not by some ingenious device for recruiting or brilliant propaganda strategy that the Communist Party gained so much ground with Black people in the deep South. Communists gained so much ground because they were programmatically and concretely addressing the most elemental demands of the struggle for Black Liberation.” He adds that the Communist Party “recognized the existence of the Black Nation” and “joined in the class struggle and the struggle for Black Liberation on the ground” (p. 178). The Communist Party dropped the “Self-Determination for the Black Belt” position…

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Book explores struggles for Black liberation and socialism