The Black Question (Communist International)
Fourth Congress of the Communist International
The Black Question
30 November 1922
1 During and after the war a revolutionary movement began to develop among the colonial and semi-colonial peoples and this movement is still successfully challenging the domination of world capital. Therefore, if capitalism is to continue, it must come to terms with the increasingly difficult problem of how to intensify its colonisation of the regions inhabited by black people. French capitalism clearly recognises that the power of pre-war French imperialism can only be maintained by creating a Franco-African empire, welded together by a Trans-Saharan railway. American finance magnates (who already exploit twelve million blacks in their own country) have begun a peaceful invasion of Africa. The extent to which Britain, for its part, fears any threat to its position in Africa is clearly shown by the extreme measures it took to suppress the strikes in South Africa. [This refers to the Rand Strike of 1922, an all-white affair conducted under the slogan: “For a White South Africa”. The Communist Party supported the strike movement, while calling for the unity of black and white workers] While competition between the imperialist powers in the Pacific has grown into the threat of a new world war, imperialist rivalry in Africa, too, is playing a more and more sinister role. Finally, the war, the Russian revolution, and the powerful anti-imperialist rebellion among the Asiatic and Moslem peoples have awakened the consciousness of millions of blacks who for centuries have been oppressed and humiliated by capitalism, in Africa, and probably to an even greater degree in America.
2 The history of the American blacks has prepared them to play a major role in the liberation struggle of the entire African race. 300 years ago the American blacks were torn from their native African soil, transported to America in slave ships and, in indescribably cruel conditions, sold into slavery. For 250 years they were treated like human cattle, under the whip of the American overseer. Their labour cleared the forests, built the roads, picked the cotton, constructed the railroads – on it the Southern aristocracy rested. The reward for their labour was poverty, illiteracy and degradation. The blacks were not docile slaves; their history is full of revolts, uprisings, and an underground struggle for freedom, but all their efforts to free themselves were savagely suppressed. They were tortured into submission, while the bourgeois press and religion justified their slavery. When slavery became an obstacle preventing the full and unhindered development of America towards capitalism, when this slavery came into conflict with the slavery of wage labour, it had to give way. The Civil War, which was not a war for the emancipation of the blacks but a war for the preservation of the industrial hegemony of the North, confronted the blacks with a choice between forced labour in the South and wage slavery in the North. The blood, sweat and tears of the ‘emancipated’ blacks helped to build American capitalism, and when the country, now become a world power, was inevitably pulled into the World War, black Americans gained equal rights with the whites … to kill and to die for ‘democracy’. Four hundred thousand coloured proletarians were recruited to the American army and organised into special black regiments. These black soldiers had hardly returned from the bloodbath of the war before they came up against racial persecution, lynchings, murders, the denial of rights, discrimination and general contempt. They fought back, but paid dearly for the attempt to assert their human rights. The persecution of blacks became even more widespread than before the war, and the blacks once again learned to ‘know their place’. The spirit of revolt, inflamed by the post-war violence and persecution, was suppressed, but cases of inhuman cruelty, such as the events in Tulsa, [City in Oklahoma. Scene of a pogrom in 1921 which turned into a veritable race war] still cause it to flare up again. This, plus the post-war industrialisation of blacks in the North, places the American blacks, particularly those in the North, in the vanguard of the struggle for black liberation.
3 The Communist International is extremely proud to see the exploited black workers resisting the attacks of the exploiters, since the enemy of the black race and the enemy of the white workers is one and the same – capitalism and imperialism. The international struggle of the black race is a struggle against this common enemy. An international black movement based on this struggle must be organised: in America, the centre of black culture and black protest; in Africa, with its reserve of human labour for the further development of capitalism; in Central America (Costa Rica, Guatemala, Colombia, Nicaragua and the other ‘independent” republics), where American capitalism rules; in Puerto Rico, Haiti, San Domingo and the other Caribbean islands, where the brutal treatment of our black brothers by the American occupation has provoked a world-wide protest from conscious blacks and revolutionary white workers; in South Africa and the Congo, where the growing industrialisation of the black population has led to all kinds of uprisings; and in East Africa, where the inroads of world capital have led to the local population starting an active anti-imperialist movement.
4 The Communist International must show the black people that they are not the only ones to suffer capitalist and imperialist oppression; that the workers and peasants of Europe, Asia and America are also victims of imperialism; that the black struggle against imperialism is not the struggle of any one single people, but of all the peoples of the world; that in India and China, in Persia and Turkey, in Egypt and Morocco, the oppressed non-white peoples of the colonies are heroically fighting their imperialist exploiters; that these peoples are rising against the same evils, i.e., against racial oppression, inequality and exploitation, and are fighting for the same ends – political, economic and social emancipation and equality.
The Communist International represents the revolutionary workers and peasants of the entire world in their struggle against the power of imperialism – it is not just an organisation of the enslaved white workers of Europe and America, but is as much an organisation of the oppressed non-white peoples of the world, and so feels duty-bound to encourage and support the international organisations of the black people in their struggle against the common enemy.
5 The black question has become an integral part of the world revolution. The Third International has already recognised what valuable help the coloured Asiatic peoples can give to the proletarian revolution, and it realises that in the semi-capitalist countries the co-operation of our oppressed black brothers is extremely important for the proletarian revolution and for the destruction of capitalist power. Therefore the Fourth Congress gives Communists the special responsibility of closely applying the “Theses on the Colonial Question” to the situation of the blacks.
6 i) The Fourth Congress considers it essential to support all forms of the black movement which aim either to undermine or weaken capitalism and imperialism or to prevent their further expansion.
ii) The Communist International will fight for the racial equality of blacks and whites, for equal wages and equal social and political rights.
iii) The Communist International will do all it can to force the trade unions to admit black workers wherever admittance is legal, and will insist on a special campaign to achieve this end. If this proves unsuccessful, it will organise blacks into their own unions and then make special use of the united front tactic to force the general unions to admit them.
iv) The Communist International will immediately take steps to convene an international black conference or congress in Moscow.