Based on a talk given at the Feb. 5 webinar “Global Class War: Lessons from Sam Marcy for workers struggles today.” Go to youtu.be/5Arb33Q8SN0 to view the webinar.
Comrades and friends, Sam Marcy made the following quote at the end of his 1984 article “Black nationalism and white chauvinism: Marxism and national oppression”:
“We promote and must propagate the right to self-determination, but which road to take for liberation must be decided by the oppressed nation itself. A revolutionary working-class party promotes class solidarity irrespective of which option an oppressed nation chooses.
“The neutrality of the party in this respect is the strongest pillar of working-class multinational solidarity in the struggle against capitalism and imperialism. The bourgeoisie denies and closes the road to both separatism and integration. They neither wish to complete the bourgeois democratic revolution for political equality nor allow social and economic equality. Nor will they permit the development of a movement for an independent separate state.”
Sam defended the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who allied himself with former leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, when Jackson was running for president on the Democratic Party ticket in 1984. Jackson came under vicious attack for accepting Farrakhan’s endorsement.
Both Farrakhan and Jackson were labeled as being anti-Semitic on the part of the ruling class to drive an artificial wedge between Black and Jewish people. These individual attacks were a smokescreen for attacking the NOI, a Black Muslim mass organization, founded on the principle of separatism in response to racist state repression.
This is an example of self-determination that all revolutionaries and communists should defend, regardless of agreement or not of one’s program, to demand any formal equality denied systemically by the powers that be.
Jackson campaign raised form vs. content
Workers World Party consciously supported the Jackson campaign but not because of his program, which was bourgeois in its political orientation. The Jackson campaign was a mass, grassroots movement that threatened the racist leadership of the Democratic National Committee and had the potential of empowering the disenfranchised Black base to move in a more independent, revolutionary direction.
To quote a Dec. 8, 1983, WW article, “Why we support the Jackson campaign”: “Jesse Jackson’s candidacy represents an upsurge in the Black struggle and has taken on an electoral, that is, parliamentary, form. Our program, on the other hand, calls for the relentless prosecution of the class struggle with the purpose of overturning the capitalist system with all its repressive forces.
“Our Party will continue to relentlessly expose both the Democratic and Republican parties as part and parcel of this struggle against capitalism. However, we recognize that Jackson at this moment expresses the aspirations and the movement for democratic rights of Black people. It is the duty of all progressives, but especially of white workers, not to obstruct the use of these rights but to facilitate it.”
During Jackson’s second presidential run in 1988, Workers World Party helped to initiate Labor for Jackson’s outreach to win white workers to an anti-racist perspective and build critical Black and white anti-racist solidarity beyond the elections.
White-chauvinist attacks on Rep. Omar
Fast forward almost 40 years later and Sam’s words still ring true. Just a few days ago, one of two Muslim women representatives in Congress was ousted by the Republican-led House of Representatives from the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee, accusing her of being “anti-Semitic.” This is the same representative, Somali-born Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who was attacked, along with three other women of color representatives, during the Trump administration.
It is less controversial to defend Black people when they are being fatally shot by police or white vigilantes; but when it is an individual whose position lies within a reactionary institution such as the Democratic Party, there is more gray area because of the unfortunate white-chauvinist views regarding nationalism of the oppressed on the part of leftists. Whether resistance to national oppression has expressed itself in bourgeois or revolutionary forms, self-determination has to be consistently defended when it comes under attack by our class enemies. And those forms take on an international character.
Rep. Omar is a bourgeois politician, who happens to be of Somali origin, and that in itself cannot be ignored. Besides being African and a woman, the underlying reason why she was ousted from this horrible committee is because she implicitly criticized the U.S. government’s condoning of Israeli massacres of Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories.
The ruling class scapegoats anyone who threatens their world hegemony, especially as its military garrison state of Israel becomes more isolated. When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. opposed U.S. foreign policy in Vietnam, instead of just sticking to civil rights, the ruling class decided to permanently silence him.
Understanding the national question and the right to self-determination goes beyond defending an individual like Rep. Omar against right-wing attacks; it is about defending the most oppressed within our class because of divide-and-conquer white supremacy.
It’s about defending the Palestinian people, Black people, Latinx people, Indigenous people and other oppressed nationalities, who have suffered as whole nations from profit-hungry capitalist genocidal practices when sovereignty is at stake.
So to defend Ilhan Omar is not equal to defending the Democratic Party, the other pro-big business, pro-war party, but has to be extended to defending Palestinian, migrants and other oppressed peoples’ right to self-determination in order to forge working-class unity to prosecute the class struggle.
To end with Sam again: “The whole struggle of the working class, as well as the oppressed people and their allies everywhere, is to recognize that there can be no real independence, freedom or equality, as long as the monstrous system of capitalist exploitation and imperialist oppression remains. The struggle for any and all concessions must and will go on, and each concession won is a building block in the struggle for emancipation from imperialist finance capital.”
Class oppression is primary; national oppression is not secondary! Long Live Proletarian Solidarity!