A study of the first discussions of the Negro question in the American political movement reveals that the question which was originally quite simple has become extremely complicated. The Negro struggle for equality was an obvious type of movement, as viewed by the IWW, a matter of equality for all workers. They would not tolerate any ideas of segregation. They would go into the deep South and hold integrated meetings there. It was simple, but incomplete. It required Marxism to clarify the question.
Of recent years, since the introduction of the nationalist conception of the Negro question by the Stalinists, the problem has revolved around the question of what is the nature of the Negro question. Dan [Roberts] says it is a national question and it isn’t a national question. So, if it isn’t a national question, what is it? It is a racial question. It is a question of racial discrimination. This is a unique category of special oppression which is different from national oppression.
Religious oppression, which Dan relates it to, is closely associated with national oppression. It is oppression of a part of the culture of a people; but that is not what the Negro question is like. The Negro question is only like itself. That is, it is a unique phenomenon arising fundamentally in the United States, and emanating from there in various forms throughout the world.
Color discrimination is a unique problem and requires an analysis of its own. Upon close examination the first thing which you find in the Negro question is its diametric opposites to the national question. Not in the whole history of the national struggle of Europe or Asia, did you ever see a national minority or a nation, whose fundamental struggle was the right to assimilate into the dominant culture. You never saw it. It is the diametric opposite of all the national struggles.
The national struggle is characterized by the desire for self-segregation, the desire to withstand the pressure of the dominant nations to force them to assimilate, give up their economy, give up their language, their culture and their religion. All of the militant tendencies of the nationalist movement stress the requirements of the nation to organize itself and to segregate itself from the nation that oppresses it. The conservative, conciliatory elements are on the side of assimilation and integration. That is absolutely characteristic of the national struggle. That is one of the fundamental characteristics with which Marxists were historically confronted.
This was the problem in dispute between Lenin and Luxemburg, and Lenin and everybody else who dealt with this problem of nationalism. It is the precise opposite of the Negro struggle. From the very beginning of the modern Negro struggle 150 years ago, all tendencies of a militant, revolutionary, progressive nature in this struggle have tended to find as the axis of their struggle a resistance against racial separation because this is the weapon of racial oppression.
Comrade Dan, you say that you want to leave the door open for self-determination at some future time. Will you not permit the Negroes a self-determination now based upon 150 years of struggle? Everything points to this fact. They do not want to be designated a nation. Why do you demand to place this designation upon their struggle? It is not a national struggle. It is a struggle against racial discrimination. That’s from whence it derives its independent and dual character, i.e., its independence from and identity with the class struggle.
It is the feature of the permanent revolution in American life. What is involved is the vestigial remains of color slavery, an antique social system unsolved by the capitalist revolution in the Civil War and Reconstruction. These vestiges, the social relations of chattel slavery, color segregation, color discrimination, white supremacy adapted to and integrated into the whole economic, political and social life of capitalism, become one of the important driving forces of the movement for socialism because capitalism can no longer even be considered as a possible ally of the Negro people in the solution of this question. The capitalist class has decided this long ago. They integrated their system with the Jim Crow system, it is one and the same thing now.
Consequently, the Negro struggle for equality, in its independence, arises out of racial oppression, attacking a Southern social system which is the result of these vestiges incorporated in the capitalist system. This struggle begins on the plane of elementary consciousness. Equality is an elementary democratic demand which has no solution under capitalism and therefore becomes, because of its nature, a transition to the struggle for socialism.
Comrade Dot accuses me of accusing the P.C. of being pro-Stalinist and pro-reformist.
(Note by Kirk: The following interchange was not picked up in the transcription. I have reconstructed it as it occurred according to my memory:
Interruption from the Presiding Committee: That what you said yesterday?
Kirk: That’s not what I said.
Presiding Committee: Then you implied it.
Kirk: I implied nothing of the kind.
Presiding Committee: Let’s have plain speaking here.
Kirk: I say that your program is an adaptation to reformism.)
That means that you do not differentiate yourselves from the reformists in the Southern movement. The critical problem of the moment, the crisis of leadership in the Negro movement, revolves around the question of reformism or revolution, and the resolution does not differentiate between these two tendencies. If it did we would have a different situation today in the convention. I would not have written another resolution.