A Further Response to Ba Jin

 -Neftali

A confused response

Ba Jin has produced a response to those who have criticized from many angles his proposed ten theses. In his response he also aims at the criticisms I have produced of his piece. However Ba Jin misses the primary points of contention and engages in a misleading characterization of my critique. Ba Jin writes in the first part of his response

“Neftali would have us cast aside analysis of race and focus instead on national oppression, seeing race as its ideological byproduct. However, I think this is too reductive, for reasons I’ll outline below. Instead, I believe we need a unified theory of race and nation, which would help us understand processes through which different national groups wind up in similar conditions, lose their national identities, and come to think of themselves as a racial group engaged in common struggle.

First – I would not have us by any means cast aside the question of analysis of race. It is however a fact that what Ba Jin offers of an analysis of race is quite mistaken, it gives little attention to the specificity of the ideological interpolation of concrete communities of people which forms the white supremacist regime of national and racial oppression.

Instead we get a crude pyramid scheme of racial construction which ignores even the fundamental particularity of those communities in the precise geographical space where Ba Jin himself works with the masses.

Second – I make no argument for reduction. What is argued for is an understanding of race in its structural material articulation with to regards to class social formations as they’re present. Such analysis begins with a look at such social relationships in their most concrete sense. When one begins from the moment of abstraction rather than from their manifestations as they appear in their concrete form, one begins from a subjectivist orientation.Ba Jin rejects this as ad hominem, but this response will clarify why that is not so.

Third – While Ba Jin believes in the need for a “unified theory of race and nation” he provides in the end no basis for one, but rather confines himself to denigrating “Mao’s theory of a nation” (though Mao never synthesized such a theory). In fact if Ba Jin’s part 1 of his first response serves as a retreat from a dubious position which attempts to construct a “racial order” with no reference to national oppression and the internal colonies, Ba Jin’s part 2 is a double down on the original position of his ten theses.

When Ba Jin was in essence left out on a limb for not having any analysis of the national question internal to the United States, he says he is for a “united theory” but then hopes people forget his own words and derides such a possibility throughout the second part of his response.

Fourth – Ba Jin elaborates the question of assimilation in a throughly ham fisted manner. People lose their national identities in the course of struggle? What proof is there of this? In fact it was demonstrated in my response this has never been the case. If we simply refer to the internal colonies that map the geographical space of our metropolis, one sees this clearly – how many decades must a enclave of people stare you in the face to recognize the reality of distinct national formations connected to a larger imperialist world circuit?

Our stance on this question is indeed different, and quite distinct from the naive perspective of “race consciousness” that we identify with the very petty-bourgeois trend of self-identifying POC, that Fanon spoke of as a retrogression of national consciousness in the service of neocolonialism[1], which Ba Jin was striking at before he again submitted to its framework.

Let us demonstrate this in an example comrades of the Maoist trend in this city have been utilizing for some time. It revolves around the question of Puerto Rican nationality in NYC. For over half a century there has existed a vibrant community of Puerto Rican people here. How has this been sustained, why has there not been assimilation to one race or another?

Well there has indeed been assimilation of people through decades into other communities and transformation of those communities. The national form is not statically fixed, but mutating in real time everyday. Many Puerto Ricans are brought into the New Afrikan nation, and some are brought into whiteness as new ethnic whites, this dynamic is very apparent to anyone who lives in the Bronx for example.

Yet there remains a strong Puerto Rican community precisely because of the consistent relationship of US imperialism to the colonial island. The consistent migration of oppressed colonial people from that island to this city. It sets off a dynamic of consistent renewal of the nation within the internal colonies.

This dynamic can indeed be exhausted and people can be assimilated full scale into another nation or forge altogether new and distinct identities – as is perhaps happening throughout the Southwest in the intertwined matrices of Chican@, Mexican@, Latin@, and indigenous identities. Here is where race  overdetermines the restructuring of national identities. This is something which was already insisted on in my initial response. Ideology is responsible for the reproduction of the structural base of the system, but how so?

The matter in question is Ba Jin’s framing of the issue. Ba Jin states he is attempting to figure out the structuration that ideology is responsible for; however what he methodologically does is transform the ideology into the structure itself- he doesn’t separate ideology from structure and therefore upholds a metaphysical position which culminates in the utter abstraction of a chart which introduces such a structuration in the most naive and didactic of ways, without empirical basis.

The confusion here is that Ba Jin has made the relationship between ideology and structure a causal one. The real reductionism at play in this debate is the metaphysical method which doesn’t see ideology as mediating and overdetermining the structure, but undergirding it as its fundamental cause. The irony here should not be lost on anyone.

Ba Jin’s Accusations of Racialism and Other Personal Questions

If in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process.-Karl Marx, German Ideology

Ba Jin makes the accusation in part 2 of his response that I am engaged in race-baiting,or ad hominem attack. It must be noted that I have no interest in Ba Jin’s personal identity. And when I refer to “yellow” in my own piece, it is precisely because I am breaking away from the “brown middle men” casting of Ba Jin and am more inclined to utilize the positive race consciousness of the movement that is in popular usage.

Fred Hampton’s Rainbow Coalition included a few more hues than Black and Brown. I refer to “red,” also not in reference to individuals within Ba Jin’s collective, but to break the race pyramid built by Ba Jin (it is not for nothing that Ba Jin virtually ignores my criticism of his implicit political settlerism). One should say something here about the question of the relationship of ideas to their social basis. Ideas do not appear from the sky, and to note the basis of a metaphysical conception is absolutely necessary.

That I know Ba Jin and his comrades is perhaps a good place to start, is that methodologically problematic? Perhaps if one also fails to engage the concept itself, which is not the case here. However is this not something which FNT themselves are guilty of perhaps to an even greater extent?

I will quickly note the material produced by Ba Jin’s comrade, Will, whose writings can be found on the FNT website. In these pieces he speaks in completely racialized tones and has no clear articulation of concrete figures, organizations, and their presentations of themselves – No reference to specific political lines and no reference to any literature or documents. So here is the riddle – where FNT engages in abstract racial polemic , this is legitimate. However when mention is made of the fact that a flawed metaphysical reproduction of ideology (which can only be the racial ideology itself of the author, how he conceives race) as structure is connected to a social basis of practice and organizing consistent with FNT’s line, this is wrong?

The importance of this conversation lies in the fact that there exists a milieu of militant “people of color” who are moving to the positions of proletarian communist ideology in some form,that in this milieu there exist cliques and sects who are struggling over the correct path and the leadership of the movement. Ba Jin recognizes this so much that he bothered to write his original piece as a voice within that milieu. The importance of this particular line struggle is reflected in our work and organizing, the forward trajectory, the road upon which we march. That FNT has a particular social basis is not controversial, it is a fact.

With this said what is the importance of this question in general? FNT dances around the central question -what is our practice as communist revolutionaries in relation to the black masses? This is the fundamental issue and why instead of attempting to define each and every term from the Maoist position – which is a position that exists in real terms right outside FNT’s orbit – I have centered the conversation on the question of the New Afrikan nation. Is there a New Afrikan nation or not? If they are honest to themselves, the must know as a collective,not simply Ba Jin, that this is the real issue and that when we are talking about a milieu largely of non-Black POC who are organizing as revolutionaries this is a central question. I am not outside it either.

And yes the issue of the eclectic politics of the striving POC in this moment of time is at issue. The antagonism against “settled questions” is really nothing more than an antagonism that centers one’s own political project and even (as it is reality) one’s own subsistence as theoreticians in the class struggle.

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How Ba Jin Confuses the Relationship between Superstructure and Structure and Distorts My Argument

Nothing in this world develops absolutely evenly; we must oppose the theory of even development or the theory of equilibrium. Moreover, it is these concrete features of a contradiction and the changes in the principal and non-principal aspects of a contradiction in the course of its development that manifest the force of the new superseding the old. The study of the various states of unevenness in contradictions, of the principal and non-principal contradictions and of the principal and the non-principal aspects of a contradiction constitutes an essential method by which a revolutionary political party correctly determines its strategic and tactical policies both in political and in military affairs. All Communists must give it attention. -Mao Zedong; On Contradiction

Ba Jin makes up a few arguments on my behalf and this is very clear from my own writing. Ideology is not “illusory” nor are simple real dynamics the structure of society. This type of thinking is really nowhere to be found in my critique; however what will be found is a Marxist understanding of the relationship of ideology and structure (base and superstructure) and the primary and secondary aspects of a contradiction. Recently the not so unusual issue of incapacity to synthesize these things on the part of those prone to theoretical eclecticism (Ba Jin included) has been showing itself, so an elucidation of these issues may not be out of place.

What is ideology? Ideology is the unconscious relation between people and their world. It is the regime of ideas, norms, morals, ethics, language games, etc. These are inflections of our real practice in the world but also the means by which such practices are reproduced. Ideology corresponds fundamentally but not simply to the modes of intercourse specific to a mode of production, in concrete historical social formations. That this relation is unconscious is fundamental to the understanding of ideology in distinction to a historical class consciousness, to understanding how a system is legitimated.

It would be one thing if it had been argued, that ideology is a mere fraudulent representation of our world,that it is the means by which the ruling class simply infuses its ideas of division among us. However that has never been simply the case. A social formation is never constituted through the simple instrumental dictatorship of the ruling class, though that is the final instance which binds it together, but rather it is legitimated in the ideological practice of millions of people and such practices have a material basis in actual production and accumulation.

Ideology and the struggle for production are integral in understanding a world of historical class societies which renew their own legitimation among the masses. How does race fit into this narrative? Race is a social construction, one which emerged out of the conquests and triumph of the emerging European bourgeoisie, integrating the pre-capitalist social formations and reorganizing them in its own vision of the world system, in its own project of civilization. Race indeed was instrumental in the legitimation of European dominance not simply to its colonial and slave subjects but to its own self, within its own discursive narrative of civilization, christendom, and free enterprise.

At that historical moment the legitimation of such an enterprise was not simply a matter of ideological hegemonic certainty, but needed to be welded tightly to the superstructural regimes of power – the state, its laws, contracts, etc. – to ensure that such conjurations meant what they needed to mean in actual production. Race gave the contours to structure, it fundamentally determined its identity at this very moment – it shaped nations, social formations and class in a fundamental sense, because it was law, it was the means by which the European colonial projects established themselves.

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Principle and secondary aspects…

However what was to come from such a process? Here we look at the transformation of things in relationship to each other. There has existed for over half a century, two centuries for the Latin American countries,independent (arguably neocolonial) countries which are formed on the basis of nation-states. Such national state formations appear after the racial construction of the European powers, they however become more important in regards to their relationship to intercourse then the static ideological and superstructural conceptions of race. In fact, race, as law, as legal caste, is defeated, ideologically also and has taken up many more dimensions based upon the communities which it is in contact with.

Race is transformed and mutated, played with,in the unconscious practice of the communities of nations. From the black race slaving away in plantations throughout the Americas, kidnapped and stripped from their history and culture, of many ethnic peoples, there came to be real historical communities with strong economic, cultural, social, familial, political, and linguistic relations.

 

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What is a Nation?

National units form out of the overall structure of the world economy, as a function of the role they play in that structure in a given period. More exactly, they form against one another as competing instruments in the service of the core’s domination of the periphery…in a sense, every modern nation is the product of colonization: it has always in some degree been colonized or colonizing, and sometimes both at the same time.- Etienne Balibar; The Nation Form

Ba Jin states “In accord with much of the Marxist tradition, I share Neftali’s distinction between base and superstructure.[1]However, his assertion that “race=superstructure/ideology” and “nation=base” is pretty unsupported. What have been called “nations” throughout history have clearly exhibited different bases at different times: some “nations” have been fairly developed capitalist economies that nevertheless lacked a modern political state; other “nations” have been composed of an existing state, perched atop a totally un-integrated series of local markets, language groups, and so on. What “base” is common to all these cases? Neftali could sidestep this problem (and others like it) if he could specify what configuration of forces and relations of production amount to a “nation,” and demonstrate how this configuration arose historically and is manifested in different contexts. But Neftali doesn’t do this.

Once again race is ideological and superstructural, it only appears in structural form via the fantasy of the ten theses, but nowhere does it appear as anything more than the ideological interpolation of peoples as subjects to the state. But now what of nations? It is interesting to me and perhaps to many others that the milieu that speaks about New Afrikan theorists with such thunderous promotion would be so unaware of the definition of nation. Astonishing considering it has been the hallmark of general internal struggle among New Afrikan revolutionaries (nationalist, socialist, communists, and anarchists!).

I perhaps took it for granted we have been speaking the same language considering FNT and Ba Jin’s enthusiasm for such theorists, or perhaps they just skipped over all that writing, but anyhow – how does one define a nation, what is a nation? It is quite clear from the get-go that Ba Jin is operating with a sense of “nation” which is not scientific,he works with a definition of nations as they’re intertwined with the bourgeois borders and neocolonial order that exists today or at best merely repeats the bourgeois academics like Gellner and Anderson (who themselves only repeat the Enlightenment conceptions of polity as subjective will and consciousness).

He accepts the legitimation of these above constructions as nations at first sight and shows that there are contradictions in this concept of nations. This is a clever trick for anyone who isn’t schooled in history and the general struggle of Marxist revolutionaries and the national liberation struggles against colonialism, but it is a trick. A nation is a modern historical social formation which appears in the capitalist world system’s intercourse, it appears as a bloc of integrated people who share common economic ties, contiguous territory, cultural identity, common language, shared psychological features, etc.

A nation is its people, the objective relations as they exist outside the will and subjective consciousness of those people, and of course the intersubjectivity of that people. This is distinct from a country or an Empire – both of which define the character of the USA. Countries can discipline and rule over many nations – hence there are oppressed nations who struggle for self-determination, like the New Afrikan people whose flag FNT and Ba Jin are always quick to raise and then put down when convenient.

Now on accusations of not “building” on other theorists. This a disappointing slip of Ba Jin, but to be expected. It is a general characteristic of scholastic methods and tendencies of book worship among the dogmatic eclectics. It amounts to engaging in arguments from authority when their back is against a wall in debate, or in other words, “how much did I read”, as opposed to dealing with matters straight on.

That they’re not arguing from such theorists is no surprise precisely because this type of engagement is common, refer to this or that professional academic, assert how the other knows nothing because they don’t know about it, fail to explain one’s own position, said academics position, or make a comprehensible synthesis. Yes there has been much material written in regards to the national question by various theorists.

What of it? And is it not the case that when Ba Jin’s collectivity explicitly promotes a political line in their latest pamphlet aimed at black youth which reflects these positions and understanding of my position here, that they – rather than ever actually engaging in this material themselves – refer back to the professional Euro-academics rather than those militants. The hypocrisy is striking.

So the question must be raised to Ba Jin and FNT explicitly – is there a Black Nation? is there a Chicano Nation? What are the rights of oppressed nationality people, self-determination? What are the rights of other national minorities throughout the internal colonies of the US? One sees a lot of pushing of material “to be studied and read” but no program, no answers.

“This definition is simple enough, but as soon as it is made explicit, it raises as many questions as it answers. For example: aren’t there plenty of oppressed groups in society that depend on the larger society and are vital to in in turn, but which aren’t considered “nations”? What degree and quality of oppression, and what degree and quality of internal and autonomous economic development, is sufficient to call a group a “nation”? Does the existence of a niche market proper to a given social category indicate the existence of a nation? What about a merchant class? Small shop producers? Must the group of people composed through these markets or productive layers of society employ the same language? Must it inhabit a contiguous territory? And so on.”

Yes there are. We’re not broadly speaking of oppressed people as “nations.” This would be absurd. But in terms of the the main aim of the white supremacist state, it is fundamentally directed against oppressed nationality people within its borders and outside of it. There are peoples, like the Jews, who are a historical people but never were a nation (until they were forged as such by the last European settler-colonial project) who were a people class. However Jewish people are exceptional,because of their place in European Christendom as a pre-capitalist people-class (we refer readers here to Abram Leon’s work on the Jewish Question)

. Furthermore there are indeed persons who are people of color but are not oppressed nationality people, who face superficial racial prejudice in larger society today who perhaps did face real national oppression at one point but are not integrated into whiteness (Japanese-Americans for example). There are also people of color who owing to whatever circumstances are cut away from any community. However these are exceptional to the fact of the existence of concrete communities of people in relationship to the means of production.

And moreover ALL oppressed people, including national formations, are integrated into the larger intercourse of economy. We exist in a world capitalist system. What is interesting of course is the lack of reflection in Ba Jin’s thought. It is in the end the unreflective expression of the anxiety present in the declassed POC movement in general. Would you refer to the Korean or Yemeni shop owner? Yes they’re indeed a merchant class, but are you so naive to think that these people do not compose such a class in the United States only in relation to the funds and finance of a bloc of capital composed in another nation?

How would they have managed to win such position if they didn’t have an on-going relationship with the countries they immigrated from? In Flushing, Korean finance swims oceans; or to be more literal, it is wired instantly. The truth of the 21st century isn’t the withering away of nations under the the communicative revolution of advanced capitalism. No. It is their further integration so seamlessly within the fabric of world capitalist production, that in today’s neo-colonial framework, the colony is brought right to the master. The people-class merchants are only such if one remains ignorant of how the present world system operates, especially in a global city of finance. There is very little possibility for a people to be forged into a people-class as was historically done in precapitalist Christendom with the Jewish people. That is there exist today no new Jews. This is where the short-sightedness of Ba Jin’s race structure stands out.

From the standpoint of speculative reason, from the standpoint of subjectivist assumption as opposed to analysis of the material basis for the unconscious drives which contour basic social practice, one derives a Hegelian totalist order which renders the world so simply structured when it is anything but. This totalist picture from the standpoint of racial ideology is myth making which doesn’t grasp the full ensemble of social relations and complex experience of social being. Back to Marx!

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The Black Nation/New Afrika

if you’re calling yourself a New Afrikan, then you are at once saying that you are not an amerikkkan (of any stripe). You are rejecting the reactionary/colonial identity placed arbitrarily on you by the enemy culture. You are implying that you are a citizen of the Republic of New Afrika…Now, the “nation” here is not to be confused with a state or government. A nation is a cultural/custom/linguistic social development that is consolidate and evolves on a particular land mass and shares a definite collective awareness of itself.” -Sanyika Shakur; Study and Struggle: An Overstanding

I must state that the position articulated here with regards to the Black Nation is an analysis illuminated by the revolutionary science of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. It is necessary to make this point clear on the the question of a Black Nation or “New Afrika” because ideologically there are various trends revolving around a political platform of self-determination which are nationalist, socialist, communist, and even anarchist.

Such trends have contending lines on the national question. From the perspective of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, that is scientific communism, the idea of a black nation is derived from the position of the Comintern in 1928 and 1930. It is called the Black Belt Thesis and was famously popularized and defended by the African American communist theorist Harry Haywood. This is disputed by James Yaki Sayles and Sanyika Shakur but their arguments amount to a subjectivist voluntarism which deploys a historical revisionism in service of their NAC (New Afrikan Communist) line.

The historical origin of this position lies first in the claims of Lenin that African-Americans represented an oppressed nation in the United States and the African Blood Brotherhood’s calls for “self-determination” of African-Americans. Such reality was apparent to many in the early 20th century, where throughout the Black Belt south,New Africans were pushed aside, distinguished as a people in the intercourse of a white supremacist nation. Throughout this whole period, post slavery, African-American people were tied economically to the land of the black belt south.

The Black Belt is a geographic area throughout the South that was the center of the plantation economy. A geographic area which concentrated for centuries the kidnapped peoples of Afrika, put them to work as chattel slaves, property of the settler-colonial farmers who owned the land. As the settler-expansion movement West brought contradiction between industrial capitalists and the slave owning plantation aristocracy (a contradiction that brought once cooperative modes of production into antagonism), tension led to civil war between the North and South. Subsequently the following period of reconstruction promised something of a new democratic revolution for the Black masses under the leadership of northern industrial capital. This has been popularly caught in the minds of the Black masses as an era of promise lost – 40 acres and a mule.

The end of reconstruction and the reintroduction of white terror forced the overwhelming number of the black masses into semi-feudal servitude, in service of the needs of production as share-croppers, bondage of labor was reintroduced under the Black Codes and then codified in Jim Crow.

 

sharecropping_map

Serf-like exploitation of the Negro is ensured by a combination of legal and extra-legal pressures whose antecedents reach back to the dark past of chattel-slavery. Bound and gagged by all sorts of semi-slave proscriptions, the share-cropper is the central figure in the modern plantation scene and he is delivered to the present-day slave driver as “fit for only cotton and servitude.”

- Harry Haywood; Negro Liberation.

At the time the Black Belt Thesis was implemented by the CPUSA, nearly 80% of “African-Americans” lived and worked in the Black Belt. The main form of economic production of people here resided in agricultural production in the Black Belt south, as even W. E. B. Du Bois spoke of in his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk.

Simultaneously there was a migration of the Black masses into the Northern city, a foundational transformation of the class basis of any analysis of the national question today as well as the concrete meaning of the movement for liberation of the Black masses. The first radical nationalist expression in the urban centers around Garvey and the UNIA was the expression of a new consciousness broadly developing among the black masses, an expression grounded in the purposeful underdevelopment of the economy. Booker T. Washington styled integrationist politics, which attempted to unite itself with big capital, lost significant legitimacy with the formation of technically skilled labor and new middle strata elements. As noted by Haywood

“The “overproduction” of Negro intellectuals had already become menace to “social-peace and order”. Negro business enterprise, which even today has only been able to absorb only a minute fraction of the “educated” stratum of its people, was then in an extremely rudimentary stage. The fear of this new Negro intelligenstia, thwarted by Jim-Crow barriers, debarred from opportunities for which it had been trained, might in bitter frustration fall back upon the restive and sullen black masses, arousing them to struggle, and that such a contingency might well disturb the delicate equilibrium of the regnant social order—that was the problem posed before the dominant white ruling class.” (ibid 177).

This historical land remains predominantly dominated in its ethnic makeup by African-American populations. Over 55% of the African-American people reside in the South[2], with much of the rest concentrated in a few key metropolitan areas. And when one looks at the basic features of movement of African-American people throughout this country, it remains a vital area at the heart of the African-American nation.

Today the demographic make up of this nation in terms of its relationship to the overall US Imperialist social formation has radically changed since the integrationist civil rights struggles and victories in the middle part of the last century. Jim Crow was the legal basis of state repression of the nation insofar as the social basis of the nation was primarily semi-feudal and detached from the overall relationship to the means of production in the United States. The struggle led primarily by the the black petty-bourgeois and national bourgeois forces of that time, coupled with the division which came to exist among the white supremacist reactionary ruling classes and state forces gave the impetus for the obliteration of these laws,the civil integration of the black masses into the democratic polity of Empire.

This was backed by the federal state forces, who understood against the most reactionary sections, that it had become completely impossible to hold down the black masses via oppressive measures which were grounded in semi-feudal conditions. The civil rights movement led by the black petty-bourgeois and national bourgeois forces led to the rising leadership of the black proletarian masses, who rather than championing bourgeois integrationism,upheld the rights of self-determination, autonomy, and revolutionary intercommunalism.

The most proletarian of these forces championed such positions while simultaneously working for multinational unity for socialist revolution throughout the country, in the real revolutionary world conjuncture that had presented itself at that period. Political leadership of the oppressed ‘New Afrikan’ people had passed from one class to another. It is after the smashing of the vanguard elements by the reactionary state through its terroristic counter-insurgency that the real danger of the oppressed nationality proletarian masses was understood. The development of the NEW Jim Crow, as it has been popularly labeled by Michelle Alexander, is the condition for new national oppression of a whole people that takes precise aim at any viable proletarian leading force among the nation.

It must be stressed that Maoists do not speak in the dogma of Harry Haywood, which does indeed fail to clarify our historical understanding of the movement and trajectory of the African-American masses. I have already in reflected on this basic fact in my first response, and a much more elaborate comment on the transformations of the nation; however let us focus on some basic questions by Ba Jin.

 

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About the “black middle class” and general petty bourgeoisie

First and foremost, Ba Jin argues with a strawman of his own creation. Never have I stated that a black petty-bourgeoisie was forged by the recent financial bubble. Second, it is important to note that in contradiction to my statistical data Ba Jin utilizes an old piece from 1985, not to take from such a piece any data that gives meat to the anemic bones of his argument, but to simply note there has been talk of the black middle class for a while. This is dishonest scholarly method.

To counter all this, let us speak more historically. Since the end of WWII the entire country’s class structure was transformed owing to its new relationship to the world capitalist system. Growth of the black middle class (and for that matter working class) was immediate and coupled itself with the political movement for civil rights at that time. It finally smashed the social basis of semi-feudal national oppression.

This transformation was all around, from 1940 to 1980, employed female black labor made up nearly 60% of private domestic labor and 11% of agricultural labor in 1940, by 1980 these both only formed roughly 7% of the entire labor force. From 1940 to 1970 black male technical workers’ increased from 1.8% to 7% and in the same time black proprietary increased from 1.3% to 3%.[3] It is important to note here such transformation was a process that radically changed the entire class structure, a transformation of the social basis of the nation.

It lifted from the semi-feudal condition the whole of the people and brought them into a modern structure, but still under the white supremacist regime. However such transformation indicates at every instance oppression of the black middle classes and petty-bourgeoisie as a part of national oppression. In fact the largest growth of the black middle class and skilled workers prior to the recent bubble must be mapped in relation to the entire class transformation and political integration into full legal civil order post-WWII.

The growth of the black middle class slowed in the mid-1980s’ till the beginning of the Bush era. By 1989, 1 in 7 African-American families gained an income of over $50,000 whereas in 1967 it was 1 in 17.[4] In the 2010 census the median households income for African-American families was $32,000. 27% of African-American households make $25,000 to $50,000 a year, 15% make $50,000 to $75,000 a year, and a combined 17% make over this a year.

When Ba Jin recognizes that 89% of the black businesses make less than $50,000 dollars net a year,but only point out that 65% of all American businesses make that amount, this amounts to ideological white-washing of facts. The distinction between the two numbers is not merely significant but evidence that

1) The largest concentration of black businesses is among the lower petty-bourgeoisie,

2) That substantively the lower petty-bourgeoisie is connected to the popular classes of the whole of the African-American people. The SBO survey of 2007 also reveals that out of the 1.9 million black owned firms, 1.8 million had NO PAID EMPLOYEES.[5]

This is further demonstrated by the sheer concentration of these black businesses which are over-represented in the service economy, which make up larger ratios of those industries in relationship to the demographic proportion of the entire population of African-Americans to the rest of the United States.

The SBO of 2007 contrasted sharply to the 2002 SBO, in that is demonstrated a sharp growth of over 60% of black businesses (mostly among the lower petty-bourgeoisie). This growth was triple the national rate.[6] This was the sharpest growth of black businesses in decades, increasing the number from 1.1 million to 1.9 million. However this was growth among the lower petty-bourgeoisie.

The firms which employed labor only increased by 13% whereas those with no employed labor grew about 64%. It can’t be denied however that those firms which employed labor increased their labor force by 22%. It must be noted that these are all pre-crash numbers. And “The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project recently released a report projecting that 68 percent of African-Americans reared in the middle of the wealth ladder will not do as well as the previous generation.”[7]

Moreover, against the historical angularity that one would be tempted to assume if one took seriously the throwaway reference of Ba Jin to a 1985 article which would have one inclined to believe there has been consistent growth of the black middle class, all empirical evidence shows in each moment of financial bubbles, the black skilled and technical workers, and of course black businesses are doubly affected.

This was the case in the 1970s’, the 1980s’, and of course today. Moreover since the control of liquidity and finance is NOT in the hands of the black bourgeoisie, it is they more than any other who are further undermined in a crisis of financial liquidity. We can even be briefer with Ba Jin’s points on the national and comprador bourgeoisie of the black nation.

 

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First – the comprador bourgeoisie we speak about in our piece, and the main section of the comprador bourgeoisie, are political representatives of the African-American people. Why is this? It is important to understand that the black working class has become incredibly intertwined with the black comprador bourgeoisie, in so much as the political project of this comprador class and the relationship to the means of production of the black working class have become interrelated.

A determinant section of the black working class has been positioned in public sector work.[8] Nearly 20% of this labor force is employed in the public sector, African-Americans are more likely then either Whites or Latinos to be employed in the public sector.[9] Most of this sector of the labor force is female. In general African-Americans have higher rates of employment among women than they do men.

Ba Jin has indeed spotted that a major section of the black working class is employed in the public sector but Ba Jin draws a wrong conclusion from this, with the claim that since these jobs are being cut class stratification among New Afrikans is becoming sharper.

We have taken great care to show the falsity of this in our analysis of trends in black business, and with regards to the public sector, these tendencies are hardly ripping apart the black working class and in the absence of revolutionary political leadership at the moment may be further uniting them with the political class.

To understand what we mean one must understand that the black political class is a class which arose as the leadership of the African-American masses in the process of its fight for integration. Its roots are in that process of struggle for integration, and its social base was to be found in the black petty-bourgeoisie. That has since transformed, and the social base of this political class is deeply connected to the black working class with the organized labor movement as its social base for legitimation.

In this respect, this is why you have New Afrikan revolutionaries like Jalil A. Muntaqim, refer to these representatives as the “comprador national bourgeoisie”. The political comprador bourgeois class is the representation in the polity of local, state, and federal government of its people. The legitimation of this class resides in their leadership over the struggle for integration which having broken through the semi-feudal and peripheral oppression of the black masses opened up the vistas of neo-colonialism .

On the one hand the state offered integration, it offered centrality to the points of technical administrative reproductive labor and municipal industrial production. On the other it carries out a ruthless disciplining against the working class, a disciplining most focused on its semi-proletarian sections, to regiment the army of labor. The captains are this political comprador bourgeois, and in so much as the black worker is tied to state industry, they’re tied to their state shop stewards.

Where does Obama reside in all this? First of all, no where is the claim ever made that Obama is a comprador. No. He is in fact much more a tool than that. Whereas the black political class is certainly comprador, they are tied to the historical process of the struggle for integration which gives them whatever legitimacy they have. Obama is a neo-liberal, he is not a member of this section of the comprador class, he is a product of the white supremacists seeking to dissolve even this basic tie.

Obama’s first runs for office were directly against this class. In 2000 he went up against Bobby Rush in Chicago, who was once the defense minister of the Black Panther Party’s Chicago section under Fred Hampton. He was at that point nothing more than an “educated fool” of the white neo-liberal establishment attempting to launch its attack. In this respect he was no different from lets say Corey Booker in Newark whose main political battle has been a neo-liberal onslaught against the black working class and the black democratic party machinery, for white money, who is given praise by enlightened liberals like Rachel Maddow. These new black politicians were actually representatives of white finance capital.

Now in regards to the national bourgeoisie. The national bourgeoisie is definitely a very tiny section of the population, smaller than the comprador national bourgeois; however they’re indeed real. We need only point to private historically black colleges and universities, which are national industries, which have a relationship to the overall neo-colonial white supremacist regime, but provide a service unlike any other institution in terms of the vital interests of the WHOLE of the nation.

Can it be denied that these institutions accumulate capital like any other private university, that they’re centers of knowledge production? At the same time is it not a hit to the whole of the African-American people when such institutions are under attack? There are of course plenty of private service industries (in fact much of the private sector of black businesses service the black community) as well,who are explicit in their consciousness of themselves as national in character, and even patriotically proud of themselves as firms of the black bourgeoisie and popularly supported by a general cultural nationalism of the people.

 

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Addendum Furthering a Polemic – Anti-James; Communists Must Put forward the Slogan of the Right for Self-Determination Boldly

I would here like to take the opportunity to raise contention against the spring-well for the theory of FNT, and that is the position of CLR James on the national question. For many of us the problematic and muddled politics of CLR James is central to untying the gordian knot which is the confused transient nature of the whole of the JFT trend regarding national liberation. For at one and the same time we have both the reductionist logic of a declassed Marxism and the anxiety of the non-white intellectual.

In conversation with Leon Trotsky, James states:

“No one denies the Negroes’ right to self-determination. It is a question of whether we should advocate it.” [10]

James carries forward a few arguments from this position and ultimately confuses the principled basis upon which Communists struggle to win the whole of the working class for international proletarian revolution. His position in conversation with Trotsky comes down to a few basic arguments – that politically they’re not opposed to the right of self-determination for a black nation, that however it can’t be the slogan of a Communist Party without being the desire of the masses of people.And that furthermore the advocacy of such a slogan would undermine unity of a class character between the white and black worker. He states further

“The danger of our advocating and injecting a policy of self-determination is that it is the surest way to divide and confuse the worker’s in the South. The white workers have centuries of prejudice to overcome, but at the present time many of them are working with the Negroes in the Southern sharecroppers’ union and with the rise of the struggle there is every possibility that they will be able to overcome their age-long prejudices. But for us to propose that the Negro have this black state for himself is asking too much from the white workers, especially when the Negro himself is not making the same demand.” (ibid)

In this respect what CLR James cops to is bad faith. In accusing the CPUSA of advocating for self-determination (which they did not), James is arguing for the liquidation of a Communist consciousness which understands the right and viability of such a possibility and explicitly out of fear of the reaction of the white worker against such a right.

Gatekeeping intellectualism always works in this pattern, the gnostic society must keep the dangerous secrets of its understanding away from the class in order for an instrumental mobilization of said class to the benefit of one’s own political orientation. A communist does not deny such a right, but it is not prudent to raise such a right to the class conscious worker? This is how one bows to national chauvinism. It is interesting to note in this conversation how Trotsky himself is confused by James’ position

[James] “used three verbs: ‘support’, ‘advocate’ and ‘inject’ the idea of self-determination. I do not propose for the party to advocate, I do not propose to inject, but only to proclaim our obligation to support the struggle for self-determination if the Negroes themselves want it. It is not a question of our Negro comrades. It is a question of 13 or 14 million Negroes. The majority of them ate very backward. They are not very clear as to what they wish now and we must give them a credit for the future. They will decide then.” (ibid)

It is from this position that James retreats to find unity with Trotsky. However after the death of Trotsky, James polemicizes in articles written for the SWP on the same grounds

Should the masses of Negroes raise this slogan, the SWP, in accordance with the Leninist doctrine on the question of self-determination and the imperative circumstances of the particular situation, will welcome this awakening and pledge itself to support the demand to the fullest extent of its power…The SWP, while proclaiming its willingness to support the right of self-determination to the fullest degree, will not in itself, in the present stage, advocate the slogan of a Negro state in the manner of the Communist Party of the U.S.A.

The advocacy of the right of self-determination does not mean advancing the slogan of self-determination. Self-determination for Negroes means that the Negroes themselves must determine their own future. Furthermore, a party predominantly white in membership which, in present-day America, vigorously advocates such a slogan, prejudices it in the minds of Negroes, who see it as a form of segregation.

But the SWP will watch carefully the political development of the masses of the Negroes, will emphasize their right to make this important decision themselves and the obligation of all revolutionaries to support whatever decision the Negroes may finally come to as to the necessity of a Negro state.” [11]

Imagine if this were any other issue, imagine if James spoke of women’s liberation and asserted that while there is indeed a right for women to smash the monogamous family unit, that if this did not proceed from women themselves, the supposed revolutionary party would hold its tongue as it perhaps could alienate working men and even women? Rather this party will keep its secrets, and wait to see if such is wanted by the masses themselves.

This soft liquidationist tailism is indeed simply “advocacy,” as James puts it himself. It is brilliant he uses this language. What are advocates? The advocate is a detached agent not of the class who does not represent the people, s/he is not a tribune, but only argues for the other. This is distinct in every way from the Leninist method.

What does Lenin state in regards to the self-determination of nations?

“imperialism means that capital has outgrown the framework of national states; it means that national oppression has been extended and heightened on a new historical foundation. Hence, it follows that, despite Parabellum, we must link the revolutionary struggle for socialism with a revolutionary programme on the national question.”

-Lenin; The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination. and

“We demand freedom of self-determination, i.e., independence, i.e., freedom of secession for the oppressed nations, not because we have dreamt of splitting up the country economically, or of the ideal of small states, but, on the contrary, because we want large states and the closer unity and even fusion of nations, only on a truly democratic, truly internationalist basis, which is inconceivable without the freedom to secede.

Just as Marx, in 1869, demanded the separation of Ireland, not for a split between Ireland and Britain, but for a subsequent free union between them, not so as to secure “justice for Ireland”, but in the interests of the revolutionary struggle of the British proletariat, we in the same way consider the refusal of Russian socialists to demand freedom of self-determination for nations, in the sense we have indicated above, to be a direct betrayal of democracy, internationalism and socialism.” (ibid)

The distinction in attitude is very clear here. Lenin puts forward that imperialism, as a new stage in the development of capitalism, has become a world system in which nation-states have been outgrown but yet national oppression and the integration of nation-states into such a system is not only entailed, but strengthened.

For Lenin national self-determination is not merely something that sits to the side, with respect to the the worker’s revolution, but rather it is the revolutionary proletariat itself which must make the right to self-determination in aim and policy a component part of real proletarian revolution. Simultaneously the communists do not advocate for secession or separation, but for integration of revolutionary forces; however this can only be accomplished within the context of the revolutionary proletariat putting forward and demanding the right of self-determination.

For CLR James, there is a weakness in this. Instead of putting forward the right of self-determination as revolutionary policy, he would only advocate for it, but acknowledge the right. For Lenin, the proletariat itself must be the champion of self-determination in the age of imperialism.

James is concerned that the slogan of the right for self-determination would weaken class unity, frightened by the possible perception of the white worker, whereas Lenin (who is indeed following Marx on to the Irish Question), sees it as the only viable way to strengthen class unity and put the proletariat in command. Communists, since the CPUSA, who put forward the slogan of the right of self-determination do not advocate for secession but for revolutionary integrationism. Such revolutionary integrationism is only possible however when the oppressed nationality masses have the right to a democratic plebiscite which decides their relationship with the core remnant of empire. If communists do not make this clear, do not consciously present all this to the masses, they are assisting in the renewal of empire.

Endnotes

[1] Fanon speaks quite clearly in his chapter on the Pitfalls of National Consciousness, of race consciousness as being a retrograde tendency in relationship to the struggle for national liberation. Fanon states “The faults that we find in it are quite sufficient explanation of the facility with which, when dealing with young and independent nations, the nation is passed over for the race, and the tribe is preferred to the state. These are the cracks in the edifice which show the process of retrogression that is so harmful and prejudicial to national effort and national unity. We shall see that such retrograde steps with all the weaknesses and serious dangers that they entail are the historical result of the incapacity of the national middle class to rationalize popular action, that is to say their incapacity to see into the reasons for that action.”

[2]< http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/2010_census/cb11-cn185.html>

[3] <http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2524277?uid=3739808&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21102006342771>

[4] <http://www.nytimes.com/1991/08/10/us/study-finds-gains-for-black-middle-class.html>

[5] <http://www.census.gov/econ/sbo/getsof.html?07black>

[6] <http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/business_ownership/cb11-24.html>

[7] <http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-10-07/news/ct-met-black-middle-class-austerity-20121007_1_black-middle-class-black-households-national-rate>

[8] <http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/20831680?uid=3739808&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21101882172913>

[9] <http://www.dol.gov/_sec/media/reports/blacklaborforce/>

[10] <http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1940/negro1.htm#sd>

[11] <http://www.marxists.org/archive/james-clr/works/1939/07/self-determination.htm>

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