Sam saw the national question
as central to our revolution

By Larry Holmes

Many activists around the world, speaking many languages, coming from different backgrounds know of Sam Marcy, of his writings and analysis, and consider him to be a guiding light.

Why? Because Sam was not only brilliant and clear, but he was an honest revolutionary. His writings, his ideas and his deeds were never skewed or affected by the narrow, temporary interests of his own organization.

Two things were of the utmost importance to him. One was class truth. The other was, what is in the interests of the world revolutionary struggle? What is in the interests of uniting all the revolutionary and progressive forces?

That’s what Sam lived and breathed– while not forgetting for a moment the differences in the communist movement, often fundamental differences that had dire consequences.

We were incensed here in the Party when we read in the New York Times obituary of our leader that they had misquoted him, saying he made derogatory remarks about the Communist Party. I don’t remember Comrade Sam ever in public criticizing the CP in a crass way, and certainly not to the bourgeois media. Our whole tradition is 180 degrees in the other direction.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Sam said we should be waging the most militant defense of the Rosenbergs to see that the imperialists don’t murder them. And when the CP and its leaders were under attack, being arrested and chased into exile—not just the whites but some of the African American leaders—Sam wanted to file an amicus curiae brief in their defense.

Solidarity is what is important.

The whole struggle of our tendency before we became a party was to try and keep the movement from falling into the trap of anti-Sovietism—regardless of its views of the Soviet leadership or their imperfections. When the Chinese Revolution happened, we didn’t see it as a peasant uprising somewhat discredited because it was led by "Stalinists"—we saw it as a great revolutionary transformation. And we called it what it was objectively—the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Of course, Comrade Sam gave as much study to the struggle in this country.

Most of all he worried about whether there could be unity in this country between the white workers and the other workers and oppressed of all nationalities. Could there be unity? Especially with the legacy of slavery, the robbing of the Mexican people’s land, and the even more brutal and genocidal thievery of the Native people’s land.

It goes on and on today—racism and all forms of national oppression. We’re talking about the importance of the national question.

Sam rejected the notion that the class question is supreme and the national question is secondary. Of course the class question is important, but if you do not have a correct analysis of the national question and a revolutionary program to enact, then the fate of multinational unity, the fate of any revolutionary party, the very fate of socialism is in jeopardy.

It was important to have a strong position on the national question, in defense of the right to self-determination of African Americans and Puerto Ricans and Mexicans and Asians and Native people—and not based on any artificial formula.

Our attitude was to support the oppressed on the basis of the living struggle. This was Leninism in essence and in spirit.

Sam said that when Malcolm X broke with the Nation of Islam, many young whites were relieved. They said he’s becoming an internationalist, he wants to work with everybody, he’s getting out of the narrow religious bag. But what about the NOI? They were very strong not only in the prisons but in the African American community. Their program was bourgeois nationalist, but who would defend them? Who would say, regardless of their program, they have the right to say it? Especially when the police go there and attack them. Who would stand with them?

The same thing could be said about the Garvey movement a generation earlier. We all know Garvey was a bourgeois nationalist. It’s not a question whether we agree with his program. But his movement was embraced by millions of African Americans. It was an expression of their right to self-determination.

As Sam saw the struggles of the oppressed peoples emerging in the 1960s, he put the Party at the service of all these struggles. He knew all the leaders in the NOI, in the Panthers and Young Lords. When they had a crisis, it was our crisis.

Our understanding of the national question deepened our understanding of all the other special oppressions—the oppression of women, and of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people.

Sam never wrote off the working class. He saw change in it: more women, more oppressed workers. This is a factor in how labor is asserting itself now, with new organizing drives and the UPS strike, so much so that the capitalists are fearful and are attacking the leaders. There’s still not an uprising from below. But the capitalist stability is superficial, the gap is widening between the classes, the poverty is growing.

It’s time to revive revolutionary Marxism. We can’t undo the horrors of capitalism without revolutionary Marxist theory and practice.

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