Neither Class nor Color-Blind

Josh Hollandsworth makes the case for national self-determination, particularly Black self-determination, as compatible with Marxist policy

Black North Carolinians: concentrated
At the 2016 National Convention of the Red Party, we elected to expand an existing policy of self-determination to include all of America’s Pacific holdings and clarify the status of Native American reservations as nations in their own right. Most controversially, we included my proposition to also extend these rights to majority-black communities, to be democratically decided on a community-by-community basis. The other members present at the National Convention that voted in favor of it to secure what I considered an unexpected majority (Gabriel Pierre and David Arthur Smithers) did so with a certain amount of reservations as to the specific details of what such self-determination would be worthy of our party’s support. It has also come under a great deal of criticism from other members, prospective members, and outside observers. Not all of these criticisms come from a wrong place but rather a misunderstanding of where our party decided to stand on the issue during the convention. I’ve neglected to spell out my understanding nor release the audio of the convention in a timely matter, so the blame for this falls on me alone. It is therefore necessary to clearly explain the line for ethnically-based self-determination rights in the United States in my eyes and how the Red Party can use it to support the long-term struggle for communism. This debate will help clarify where the whole of the party stands and I welcome input from anybody on it.

Critics have referred to my position as supporting bourgeois forms of nationalism, much as the form of separatism advocated by groups like Hamas, the Workers World Party or the New Black Panther Party. If this were my position it would indeed be worthy of such criticism but that is not the case. The NBPP favors full separatism for all of Black America regardless of the overall material conditions. One small part of their campaign for this is an insistence to “only buy from black-owned business”. This is the type of society that their vision of self-determination would create, and it is not the one for which I campaign; a state with exploiters who just happen to belong to a historically-oppressed minority. It and similar positions held by the other groups I mentioned are not the solution to centuries of oppression. Neither, however, is mandated national integration in a new society for communities that may desire their own governance.

One of the biggest things that has been denied to black people, as well as all Native American nations and island territories is a collective voice which has any serious level of authority over their own material conditions. It goes without saying that a socialist society would empower them in ways they never had been in the history of the United States. But what if they want assurances of their own representation and leadership? It has already been existing policy in the Red Party to support the independence of Hawaii and Native American tribes (which we now identify in our party language as “nations”). And yet only about 10 percent of the population of Hawaii is of Native Hawaiian descent. What do we carry this policy for, if not specifically to empower Native peoples and guarantee their representation in the maintenance of their own historical lands in each of these cases? Their reduced size is a direct result of colonialism and genocide carried out for hundreds of years. In a new socialist republic, they should be guaranteed an opportunity at rebuilding their societies as direct owners of its territory.

All of these conditions exist for Black America, with only the exclusion of a direct nativity to the land they currently inhabit. In discussion on the matter comrade Gabriel Pierre mentioned that Black Americans “have some features of a nation but not others”. I would agree with this analysis as a statement of all American residents who happen to be black. But there are some individual communities, and indeed in some cases entire counties and portions of states that have majority black populations whose issues go unaddressed by the larger governments that theoretically represent them. A handful of their people may be granted privileged positions, for example through gerrymandered voting districts that ease fears of de jure misrepresentation but who have no significant impact on their larger government.The goal of enacting my ideas is not to create a micro-state out of every black community; I imagine that stark contrasts in social conditions within small areas will be greatly reduced if not eliminated entirely. So no, I don’t foresee a “People’s Republic of Harlem”. Rather, I see it creating a couple notable states out of major existing concentrations of black people that we don’t even hear a thing about and whose existence has a greater historical significance than immediate material conditions alone. My home state of North Carolina has an excellent example of this. The largest metropolitan areas are in the center and center-west of the state. To the east in the coastal plains lie a number of majority-black counties all banded together. These counties, making up 10-15% of the area of the state in one blob, face harsh poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and no hope of meaningful expansion opportunities even as new projects are erected in the big cities. What connection do these people have with the policy-makers in Raleigh? None. What does Raleigh grant them? Nothing. A single socialist republic will help but not eliminate these contradictions. Who is to say that these people have no connection to their land? Should they be expected to have more of a connection to the big city governments? Most importantly, what if we create socialism and then these empowered and democratically-owned communities start to demand their own increased level of control?

What also must be considered is the nature of self-determination. It does not have to strictly refer to the creation of a new national identity (and that is not the spirit around which this policy was adopted). Rather, it can refer to various forms of autonomy, guaranteed representation in existing government, or community mobilization. Indeed the original Black Panther Party of Huey P. Newton, the one far more worthy of leftist support embraced these ideals as their model for black independence. What was discussed at the convention was not looking at every distribution of Black America and cutting their land away when it was more than 50% black. No, it is guaranteeing each separate community the right to ask for more autonomy, up to and including independence or annexation by another nation. Lenin has compared this right to a couples’ right to peaceful and legal divorce, and it is one that ought to be guaranteed. The only condition which I would place upon meeting this legal definition is the means of production remaining in control of the working class in a separate nation. In a society predicated upon the pre-existing overthrow of capitalism, I do not view this as a serious concern.

Those who look towards the communist world society with starry eyes are flabbergasted by my proposal. When our long-term goal is a classless, stateless society, why create more states? The objective of allowing oppressed peoples to create their own or join another proletarian republic is not to divide the international working class, but to foster unity in separation. Respecting, rather than erasing, our identities is our best hope for creating the long-term future we seek. Historically oppressed communities will have a great many unique conditions that they face as a liberated class. They have to be able to respond to this in ways different from how a single “mandatory melting pot” might. This cannot erase the horrors inflicted on them for so long- nothing will. But it will allow us to collaborate in all the ways that matter, so that a single society for us all might eventually come to pass. In a world where any of my policies on national liberation might be considered likely, the majority of the world’s imperialism would have been halted. We could build a very strong foundation for the next generations born on a post-capitalist planet. These are the people who may one day erase those borders themselves.

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