The Oppression of Black People and the Revolutionary Struggle to End All Oppression
Editors' Note: This third article in a series of excerpts from writings and talks by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, is taken from an article published in the Revolutionary Worker, #941, January 25, 1998, as part of a series titled "Ask the Chairman." (As this article was written nearly 10 years ago, in republishing excerpts of this article here, minor editing has been done.)
QUESTION: How would we handle it if after revolution all the races that united to make revolution still wanted to be united but also be segregated? Seeing that there's no more of one race dominating another, what if different races decide that they just want to live around other people of their race?
THE CHAIRMAN ANSWERS: The simple and basic answer is this: Once this system has been overthrown and the proletariat has seized power, some people will, and some people will not, be allowed to "just…live around other people of their race." In general, there will be allowance for people of color to do this, but not for white people. This will be nothing like the segregation and discrimination that exist under the present system--and the purpose of this policy will not be to promote separatism. It will, in fact, be a part of developing and strengthening the revolutionary unity of the masses of people, of all races and nationalities, on the basis of the fight against white supremacy and inequality. It will greatly strengthen the overall struggle to radically transform society, to abolish all oppression and exploitation, as part of the world-wide revolution. The reasons why this is so are complicated--they have to do with the whole history and nature of the capitalist-imperialist system and its development in the U.S. in particular….
First of all, it is very important to recognize the great leap in unity among the masses of people, of all races and nationalities, that will be necessary and that will take place in making revolution--that will be achieved through the whole process of preparing for and then carrying out the revolutionary overthrow of the existing capitalist order. This unity can only be built and will be built through mobilizing the masses of people of all nationalities, and including white people in particular, to take up the fight against discrimination and all other forms of oppression that people of color are subjected to….
It is also very important to grasp how crucial and how precious to the masses of people is unity that is built among people of different races and nationalities in the struggle against the capitalist-imperialist system and its continual abuses and outrages. Experience has shown over and over--for example, in the rallies and marches and other activities of the October 22nd Coalition against Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation--that the masses of people are greatly heartened and inspired whenever there are manifestations of such unity in actual struggles. And if this is true even today, it will be all the more so with the further leap in such unity as the revolutionary movement advances and then again as it actually mounts--and wins--the revolutionary war to overthrow the rule of capital which promotes and enforces inequality and the division of society into oppressor and oppressed.
At the same time, even when the proletariat has seized and consolidated power, it will be faced with the whole legacy of white supremacy and national oppression in (what has been) the USA, and there will be a great need for continuing struggle to thoroughly overcome and uproot this. The standard of the proletariat and its Party in regard to this--and specifically in regard to the question posed here, about people living with others of their race--will be to support and promote whatever strengthens the struggle of the masses of people to overcome and uproot white supremacy and to prevent a return to the old relations of inequality and oppression.
DOING AWAY WITH INEQUALITY: AN HISTORIC STRUGGLE
Capitalism means inequality--it is grounded in profound inequality between rich and poor, the haves and have-nots, and most fundamentally between the capitalist ruling class and the class of exploited proletarians who own no capital and must slave for some capitalist or face starvation. But capitalism has also been built on, and cannot do without, other great inequalities and divisions, including the oppression of whole peoples and the subjugation of whole nations. This has been true since the time when capitalism first arose several centuries ago and carried out colonial conquests throughout the world; and it is all the more so now that capitalism has entered its final stage--imperialism--a world-wide system of exploitation and oppression dominated by gigantic monopolies and financial institutions.
Within the U.S. itself, one of the main and most ugly features of the capitalist-imperialist system is the great division between people of the European-American nation (white people) and peoples of color. This great division is not just a matter of racist ideas and attitudes, among white people in particular--although that is one expression of it. This division is deeply rooted in the historical development and the present-day economic and social structure of U.S. society. In imperialist America, with its whole foundation of slavery and genocide, with its whole history and continuing reality of white supremacy, the European-American nation is the oppressor nation. People of European descent, even those who are poor, powerless, and exploited--and even those who may have faced certain aspects of discrimination and prejudice, at least for a certain time, as part of immigrant "ethnic groups"--still share the status of being "white" in America, with everything that means. They enjoy certain privileges in relation to people of other nationalities who are the oppressed nationalities. To put it simply, if you are "white" in America, you may be treated badly, you may even suffer horribly at the hands of the system, particularly if you are without wealth and power, but you will not be subjected to certain kinds of discrimination and oppression that people of color cannot escape, even those who do accumulate a certain amount of wealth.
At the same time, proletarians of all races and nationalities, who are exploited and dictated to under the rule of the capitalists, are all part of one, single, multinational proletariat. Fundamentally, they share a common fate and common interest as a class. For the class-conscious proletariat, for all those who become aware of and take up the revolutionary mission of the proletarian class, one of their most important goals is to completely abolish national oppression--to put an end to discrimination and inequality between nations and, in the U.S. in particular, to put an end to white supremacy and the domination of the European-American nation over peoples of color. This is an absolutely necessary and crucial part of the all-around revolutionary struggle to overthrow and eliminate this system and all forms of exploitation, inequality and oppression….
(The whole history and the present-day reality of the oppression of Black people in the U.S., and how the struggle to abolish this oppression relates to the overall revolutionary struggle, is obviously a very big and very important question--for a further discussion of this, see also the pamphlet Cold Truth, Liberating Truth [CTLT].)
THE REVOLUTIONARY STATE AND EQUALITY BETWEEN DIFFERENT NATIONALITIES
This new socialist state will move to achieve real equality between all its different nationalities. As an important part of this, within the overall territory of the socialist state, there will be autonomous areas in some rural regions and some urban communities where there is a predominance of Black people, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, or other nationalities that were oppressed under the old capitalist-imperialist system. This will mean that, in contrast to things like the "Indian reservations" under the present system, the real needs of oppressed peoples for some land and resources under their autonomous authority will be met; and, at the same time, the proletarian state will provide special assistance to the people of these autonomous areas in developing these areas. It will mean that, with regard to customs and culture and language, things will be decided by the people of these autonomous areas. All this will be within the framework of the larger socialist state and its guiding principles. Among the most important of these guiding principles will be that practices and customs must tend to promote equality, not inequality, unity not division between different peoples, and eliminate, not foster, exploitation….
At the same time, as we have also made clear: These land and autonomy policies of the proletarian state will not mean that the oppressed peoples will have to live in these areas--which would amount to a new form of segregation. Instead the new proletarian state, while favoring and encouraging unity and integration, will ensure these formerly oppressed peoples' right to autonomy as part of the policy of promoting real equality between nations and peoples.
It is also very important to recognize the important changes taking place in the population of the U.S. in the present period, with a major increase in the percentage of the population that is non-European. Already, judging from present trends, it has been predicted that, not too far in the future, the U.S. will no longer be a country in which European-Americans make up the majority. As I have pointed out before:
"The U.S. imperialists like to pride themselves on how they have used and absorbed millions and millions of immigrants--we have all been told about the `great melting pot.' But in the U.S. today there are millions of immigrants whom the imperialist rulers regard as troublesome and dangerous. These are immigrants from the Third World, particularly those from nations oppressed by U.S. imperialism…. The imperialists see in such immigrants a source of instability and upheaval, a force weakening the internal cohesion of the home base and potentially undermining the power of the U.S. as an international overlord…. The imperialists react by asserting more aggressively the white, European, English-speaking identity of the American Nation.
"For the revolutionary proletariat it is just the opposite. We renounce that nation, we denounce any such identity--we are proletarians, not Americans, and our identity is that of the international proletariat. We insist on the equality of nations, including equality in culture and language. And more, we recognize in such immigrants a source of great strength--a vitally important force for the revolutionary struggle to overthrow U.S. imperialism and to create over its grave a powerful, living expression of proletarian internationalism and a powerful base area for the world proletarian revolution." (BULLETS…From the Writings, Speeches and Interviews of Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, RCP Publications, 1985, pp. 164-65)
But, of course, these changes in the population and "social composition" of U.S. society, as important as they are, will not in themselves eliminate white supremacy and the domination of the European-American nation over other peoples in the U.S. Even if and when European-Americans are no longer a numerical majority of the U.S., white supremacy and the oppression of non-European peoples will still remain an essential feature built into the foundation and the structure of the capitalist-imperialist system in the U.S., on all levels. To eliminate and eradicate this will require a revolution--the most radical revolution in history--the revolution led by the class-conscious proletariat to sweep away the capitalist-imperialist system and all the economic, social and political relations, and all the ideas, that perpetuate the division of society into exploiters and exploited.
REVOLUTIONARY STANDARDS IN THE FIGHT FOR EQUALITY
The aim of the class-conscious proletariat is to achieve the unity of the masses of people, on a revolutionary basis. And, all other things being equal, the proletariat generally favors the establishment of a unified socialist state in the largest possible territory. This is our objective in carrying out the struggle to overthrow the present exploitative rule of capital and to establish the revolutionary rule of the proletariat; and this is consistent with and is guided by our final objective of achieving communism on a world-wide basis.
But the point is exactly this: The revolutionary unity of the masses of different nationalities and the new, revolutionary socialist state must embody the equality of peoples. The unification of this state must be the voluntary act of the masses of people of all different nationalities. It cannot be based on and held together by one nationality dominating others, reproducing the same old inequality--or inequality in some new forms--between different peoples and in particular the domination of the European-American nation over other peoples. And we must keep clearly in mind that the new socialist society that will be brought into being through the overthrow of the present oppressive system will have to deal with the consequences and effects of the whole historical development of the capitalist-imperialist system in the U.S., where white supremacy has been built into its fundamental structures and ruling institutions and dominant culture.
This will have to be taken into account in many different ways, including in terms of people "wanting to live around other people of their race," within the new socialist society. In correctly handling this, it will be necessary and decisive to consistently apply the basic standard of supporting and promoting those things that help to overcome the whole history and legacy of national oppression in the U.S., while opposing those things that set back the struggle against white supremacy.
Neighborhoods which have excluded or restricted people of color, including such things as "white ethnic neighborhoods," have a very definite social content in the history of the U.S.--they have been part of the discrimination and segregation that serve to maintain "enclaves" and "bastions" of white supremacy and privilege and to maintain oppressive relations overall. The proletariat must struggle against this now and, once we have seized power, we cannot allow things such as this to continue, or to be revived, because they are opposed to the basic interests of the proletariat and masses of people, of all races and nationalities, and to the revolutionary goals of our class. But, in accordance with these same basic interests and goals, the proletarian state will make it possible for people of the nationalities who have been discriminated against and oppressed in the old society and who wish to live "among other people of their own race" to do so, while also eliminating discrimination throughout society and promoting increasingly close and comradely relations among people of all different nationalities.
Why will it be correct and necessary for the proletariat in power to do this? Because of the whole history of horrendous oppression of the various non-European nationalities in the U.S. Because of the fact that, although the proletariat, once it has seized power, will move quickly and decisively to strike at the foundations of this oppression and will in fact eliminate many aspects of it right away, still it will not be possible to eliminate all aspects and vestiges of white supremacy immediately. To do this will require a longer, epoch-making struggle. And in these circumstances, among the nationalities that have suffered from this oppression and white supremacy, there will be people who--while welcoming the revolutionary unity that is continuing to develop and deepen among the masses of all nationalities, and while also welcoming the chance to take part in all spheres of society, on the basis of equality among nationalities--may still feel the need to be able to, at times, just be among people of their own nationality: to be where there is a shared history and shared culture and customs as a people; where they can provide each other mutual understanding and reinforcement and support in terms of standing up against the legacy of white supremacy and any continuing manifestations of it, subtle as well as overt. To allow for this will be necessary, and will play a positive role, especially in the early stages of the new, socialist society.
At the same time, there will not only be the general goal of developing and strengthening the unity of the proletariat and masses of people of all nationalities, on the basis of equality and the common struggle to radically transform all of society. There will also be concrete policies to make this a reality. The socialist state will encourage and promote the development of comradely relations among people of all nationalities, in every sphere of society; and, more specifically, it will foster and provide for the development of communities and neighborhoods, as well as workplaces and schools and other institutions, where people of all races and nationalities not only live and work side-by-side but actually develop close and deep relations of friendship and mutual support in the context of the overall struggle to revolutionize society, to eliminate and eradicate all inequalities and oppressive divisions among people. This struggle will be, and can only be, carried out on the basis of the increasingly conscious and voluntary unity and struggle of the masses of people of all races and nationalities. This is in accordance with and is a very important expression of the advance toward the final aim of communism, world-wide.
Mao Tsetung gave a very concentrated and powerful description of the communist future, as the era when all of humanity consciously and voluntarily transform themselves and the world. This will be a world without oppression and exploitation, without differences and barriers of class or of nation--truly a global community of freely-associating human beings, sharing a fundamental unity and giving expression to great diversity. But, in order to carry out the world-historic revolutionary transformation to achieve communism, it is necessary to keep in mind the point emphasized by Lenin: The achievement of communism can only be realized through the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the new socialist society, as a transition to the abolition of all relations of oppression and exploitation and all class distinctions (and the abolition of the state as such, as the means for one class to suppress others). So, too, Lenin added, this world-historic transition will be marked by the struggle to bring about the liberation of colonies and oppressed nations and to achieve equality between all nations, as the necessary path to the ultimate abolition of national boundaries and of separate nations altogether, and the creation of the communist world community of freely-associating human beings. This must be the guiding principle of the proletariat in handling all the complexities of the struggle to overcome every aspect of unequal relations between races and nationalities, every vestige of national oppression, in every sphere of society and everywhere in the world.