Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from an article that first appeared in the pages of The Burning Spear 28 years ago under the title, “The History and Role of the Proletarian Party of the Black Working Class.”
At the time, evidence of the crisis of imperialism that defines today’s reality was coming into sharp focus. The U.S. presidency of Ronald Wilson Reagan was the white ruling class’s war-mongering repressive response to that crisis.
The response of the African People’s Socialist Party was to help the African working class recognize its historical mission as the primary agent of revolutionary transformation and to help the class achieve its full capacity to carry out its mission.
Today we are faced with the same task. It more important now than ever to mobilize the African working class in its own selfish interests and to equip the class to lead the international struggle for the liberation and unification of Africa and African people under its leadership as the new ruling class.
The U.S. presidency of Barack Hussein Obama and the success of the white ruling class in removing most evidence of the Black Revolution of the Sixties make it incumbent upon our Party to help African people and especially the working class, to become engaged in independent, self-serving political life.
We are printing this excerpt as one of the steps we will be taking to win African people and workers to independent revolutionary organization that is guided by advanced revolutionary theory.
An error in this piece is the reference of our philosophy as Pan Africanism developed to its higher stage. As the referenced quote in this piece clearly shows, we have never been Pan Africanists. The reader should be aware that it was the lingering ideological influence of the African petty bourgeoisie that made that error possible.
Political parties are organizations of the most advanced representatives of a particular class. The tasks of political parties are directly tied to the material interests of the classes they represent.
Sometimes elements of a particular class are not aware of their own class interests. There are people from the white ruling class, for example, who are drunks or drug addicts, or even insane. Sometimes elements of the ruling class are wife beaters, bed wetters, or lazy ignoramuses who are unconcerned and disdainful of the overall interests of the capitalist-colonialist ruling class.
Nevertheless, some members and representatives of the white ruling class take it upon themselves to organize into political parties, which represent and look out for the interests of the entire class, including the drunks, wife beaters, etc. We call these people the advanced or activist elements of their class.
What are the interests of the U.S. capitalist-colonialist class? The most fundamental interest of the capitalist-colonialist ruling class is the perpetuation of the capitalist system and itself as the ruling class. This fundamental interest gives rise to other interests:
Economically, there is the interest to eliminate all economic competition, both domestically and internationally. The interest of the capitalist-colonialist ruling class is in dominating the natural resources and markets of the entire world.
Politically, there is the interest in restricting the political liberties of the peoples of the entire world. This is an interest in crushing any political liberties that do not facilitate the economic domination of the U.S. capitalists. It is an interest in restricting the development of any independent political expression that would challenge the hegemony of U.S. capitalism.
Ideologically, the interests of the white ruling class are served by idealism and obscurantism, which covers over reality. This keeps the oppressed and exploited peoples, especially the African working class, separated from an understanding of their own material interests. It keeps oppressed and exploited peoples ignorant of science and a scientific approach to an examination of the nature of class exploitation and national oppression. Ideologically, the interests of the white ruling class give rise to ideological imperialism, the imperialist imposition of its worldview, aims and ideology onto oppressed peoples. Imperialist domination of ideology is consistent with the economic domination of the capitalist system.
During the sixties, black political parties began to emerge from within the colonized African population in the U.S. as a result of the internal pressures of class contradictions. As these contradictions began to crystallize, they revealed a colonial society that was much more complex than before.
Before the movement won our legal democratic rights, it was all of “us” (blacks) against “them” (whites). The U.S. government was not generally recognized as an agent of a particular class and social system. Our movement, under the leadership of the black petty bourgeoisie, courted the various U.S. presidents assiduously, hoping to find a “good” president who was sympathetic to the general democratic aims and demands of the movement.
By 1965, after a decade of most intense struggle, our movement won the vote and our legal democratic rights. In the process, the black petty bourgeoisie was growing as a result of the effectiveness of the movement and the intervention of the liberal white bourgeoisie. With the vote and legal rights, the basic aspirations of the black middle class were, in effect, realized. For them the movement had reached its goal.
For the new generation of fully mobilized African workers that was thrust onto the scene as the main social factor in the U.S. political life, its aspirations were far from being met by gaining legal democratic rights. The attempts by the petty bourgeoisie to moderate the Black Liberation Movement, to decelerate it and direct it toward liberal bourgeois democratic sops, were met with the cries of “Burn, baby burn,” in Los Angeles and “Black Power” in Mississippi.
At this point the independent aspirations of the African working class became clear. This new clarity fueled efforts to build independent political parties by and for the colonially oppressed African population. Nevertheless, our inexperience frustrated our efforts at party-building. More often than not, we were unable to build parties that clearly identified the class interests they served. Generally we were not able to show that the African working class had an interest in overthrowing the colonial oppression of our whole people.
The party-building movement was successful, however, in creating party formations that raised principles of unity going beyond the limitations of the liberal black petty bourgeoisie. Those who could unite with militant anti-colonial principles that clearly distinguished African workers from the black petty bourgeoisie joined the party and were able to characterize themselves ambiguously as revolutionaries and black nationalists. Such parties began to characterize sectors of the movement that were trapped inside the limitations of reform as Uncle Toms and sometimes as the black bourgeoisie.
None of these parties was capable of raising up the interests of the black working class as the hegemonic interests of the party. Although it was the pressure of the black working class resistance and struggle that pushed this party-building process forward, it was essentially petty bourgeois nationalists—often revolutionary—who were leading this effort. The black working class was yet to seize leadership of its own revolutionary movement, even as history was pushing events in that direction with growing urgency.
Black Panthers, first black worker’s party
The Black Panther Party, which emerged in 1966–67, came closest to being the party of the African working class. 6 For the first time in the history of our movement, an independent black political party had identified itself as a socialist or communist organization, with socialist or communist revolutionary objectives. 7
Inherent in this identification was the assumption of a worldview with the interests of the African working class at its center. Certainly the vast bulk of the membership of the Black Panther Party was working class, and its Ten Point Program and Platform raised fundamentally working class demands.
The Black Panther Party (BPP) gave the colonially oppressed African working class more experience in leading its own struggle than any organization before it. Nevertheless, it muddled its own effectiveness with an ideology that mystified the character of the black working class under colonialism. Instead of elevating its membership to the highest stance of the African working class, the Black Panther Party idealized the traits of the lumpen proletariat, a non-working class element of unstable and unemployable people, as the leadership of the Revolution. In this process, the BPP mistakenly identified colonized unemployed black workers, who sometimes have lumpen tendencies, as the lumpen proletariat. 8
Nevertheless, the Black Panther Party provided the closest thing to a revolutionary center that our movement had ever experienced. Although incorrect on some essentials, the BPP introduced the question of class struggle to our movement, a question that was briefly taken up within a large sector of the African working class itself.
Bourgeois democracy and the parties of the white ruling class
The parties of the white ruling class inside the U.S. are the Democratic and Republican parties. The objective of the Democratic and Republican parties is the perpetuation of the capitalist social system, which rests on the foundation of African oppression. Although both of these parties are capable of prattle about democracy, the democracy they talk about is only a description of the form of the U.S. State, which exercises capitalist rule with its organs of coercion such as the police, army, the courts, etc. Besides being “democratic,” the capitalist State can take the form of dictatorship or monarchy, among others.
Neither the Democratic or Republican party is capable of talking about overthrowing the capitalist social system. Neither party will ever be able to bring about democratic self-determination for the broad mass of African people. This is because the capitalist social system within the boundaries of the U.S., perhaps more than any place else, rests on the foundation of African oppression going back to the days of what is called slavery.
The Democratic and Republican parties have been excellent tools of the white ruling class precisely because they appear to give African workers, oppressed peoples and even the general white population a choice in the U.S. They give the illusion of providing alternatives and freedom of democratic participation in American political life.
The Republican and Democratic parties make it possible for the white ruling class to monopolize political, economic and ideological power while obscuring the class interests that they represent. Since oppressed peoples, like sectors of the bourgeoisie, are often ignorant of their class interests, African workers generally attempt to pursue their class interests within the parties of the white ruling class, especially the Democratic party in this period.
Within the U.S. and most capitalist countries there is generally, but not always, more than one capitalist party. This allows the bourgeoisie to wear two hats, a kind of “good cop, bad cop” routine. In this way, the bourgeois social system protects itself by passing political power to one bourgeois party when the other has come into disrepute with the people.
The fact that the people can vote for one or the other bourgeois party gives the impression of political free will by the masses and acts as a social pressure release valve, blunting the development of class struggle. This is what is called bourgeois democracy.
Actually the people have not exercised free will, which presupposes information and science. Freedom is the recognition of necessity, which is prerequisite to exercising free will. Within the U.S. and other places where more than one capitalist party dominates political life, elections are means of nonviolent struggle by different sectors of the ruling class for control of the State.
The various social forces are not organized into their own independent class parties and engaged in conscious class struggle, one against the other. Instead, the American two-party system mobilizes African and other oppressed workers into the service of a sector of the white ruling class as it engages in intra-class struggle with another sector. The two-party system obscures the class interests of the exploited workers and oppressed peoples, reducing them to reserve forces for one sector of the bourgeoisie or another.
The question of class struggle within the U.S. has always been difficult enough even without the two-party duplicity of the bourgeoisie. This has to do with the parasitic nature of the capitalist system. Within the U.S., this parasitism stems from a social system built on stolen land, the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Native people and the enslavement of African people.
The entire white population—workers and bourgeoisie alike—and all social forces and classes that benefit from the development of the “New World,” find their happiness and freedom from political oppression and material want at the expense of the life, liberty and development of Indigenous and African peoples.
Hence, there is a material, economic basis for the political unity that exists between the North American bourgeoisie and the general white population. This political unity is directed against the African, Indigenous and other colonized peoples here and around the world, in defense of the capitalist social system.
The parasitic nature of the capitalist system is the basis for the political and ideological leadership of the modern U.S.-based African proletariat. The African working class is the only social force that has the exact combination of qualities which makes it an absolute, volatile opponent of the capitalist social system.
Along with the Indigenous people, the oppression of the African people represents the foundation upon which the capitalist social system rests. The nineteenth century philosopher Karl Marx termed this economic relationship “primitive accumulation…an accumulation not the result of the capitalist mode of production but its starting point.” The African population exists as a domestic colony upon which the U.S. capitalist system was founded.
The African population is a colonial population within the belly of the U.S., a factor with explosive social connotations in and of itself. In addition, the African population is essentially made up of workers, with estimates ranging from eighty-eight to ninety-four percent of U.S.-based African people falling into the working class.
Racism or white nationalism, the ideological foundation of U.S. and world capitalism, has as its basis “primitive accumulation,” the material foundation of the U.S. and world capitalist social system that was born and maintained at the expense of African, Indigenous and other oppressed peoples.
Inside the U.S., the class struggle against the capitalist-colonialist social system is centered in the colonized African population, which constitutes the true proletariat. Through the Black Revolution of the Sixties, the African working class came to understand that the bourgeois parties are opposed to our genuine interests.
When the black working class was organized into its own party in the sixties with the Black Panther Party as its legitimate representative, the African working class became a formidable opponent to the U.S. capitalist system. The threat of organized African workers was so great that the chief of the U.S. secret political police declared the Black Panther Party the greatest threat to the internal security of the U.S. since the Civil War.
The war against the Black Revolution
When the black working class was organized into its own party, with its class and national interests summed up in the form of a political program opposed to colonial rule, the Democratic and Republican parties had to call into force the repressive arms of the State. These parties of the bourgeoisie were incapable of engaging in successful ideological and nonviolent political struggle with the black working class. It took an all out urban war against the black working class in the sixties for a return to imperialist class peace and the reinstatement of the facade of a two-party system supposedly representing the class interests of all the people.
This war saw African workers stand up alone not only against armed police organizations, but even armed military forces usually reserved for foreign U.S. intervention. In Detroit this included the Eighty-second Airborne Division. In urban areas throughout the U.S., military tanks and an assortment of other sophisticated armaments were deployed against the unarmed black working class communities.
The military offensive, directed by the Democratic and Republican parties, was faced with the immediate task of putting down a massive movement with insurrectionary characteristics similar to that presently occurring in Occupied Azania (South Africa). This military offensive, or counterinsurgency, was designed to destroy the will of the entire African working class to struggle by crushing their independent organizations, particularly the Black Panther Party.
The U.S. ruling class used its military power, its state power, to defeat the independent, revolutionary capacity of the African working class, the only internal social force that made it necessary to defend the capitalist social system. The African working class was the only social force inside the U.S. that was capable of challenging the bourgeoisie for power, the fundamental question for any revolution.
For all these years subsequent to the military defeat of the Black Revolution of the Sixties the bourgeoisie has expended a tremendous amount of energy and resources in keeping the African working class politically disoriented, disorganized and unable to come together organizationally in its own class interests.
The methods for this have ranged from open white ruling class bribery of nonproletarian social forces, to naked terror against the African working class itself. Evidence of the African working class in the popular culture has nearly disappeared. Michael Jackson, Jesse Jackson, Prince, and Lionel Ritchie have become the stereotypes of the acceptable African within the U.S. On the occasions when black working class elements are allowed to emerge as acceptable, it is as followers of Jesse Jackson into the Democratic party. Or it is as fictionalized pathetic, poor black working class children who manage to escape colonial poverty through being adopted by well-to-do white petty bourgeois families, as seen on television sit-coms.
A significant sector of the liberal black petty bourgeoisie accepted neocolonial roles in the bourgeois Democratic party. This is payoff in material resources and prestige for administrating the African working class in areas where white direct colonial rule would be unacceptable. The Jesse Jackson presidential campaign was a manifestation of this, along with the bombing of an African working class community in Philadelphia by a black mayor and a black city manager. 9
In the years since the sixties, the white women’s and homosexual movements have become virtual scabs on the Black Revolution. These movements are incapable of raising up and supporting the Black Liberation Movement which is the quintessence of the class struggle within the U.S.
The black petty bourgeois neocolonialist puppets and the women’s and homosexual movements are conscious opportunist movements. They offer up the battered carcass of the collective African working class to the altar of capitalism as offerings of class peace in exchange for privileges for themselves. They all attempt to mute and obscure class struggle and call on the people to join the Democratic party to achieve their aims.
With the defeat of the Black Revolution of the Sixties, our independent working class organizations were destroyed and the mass of black workers were disorganized and dispersed. A variety of petty bourgeois social forces, mostly tied to the Democratic party, united with the white ruling class in assuring class peace. Such unity means the muting of any class struggle that has the interests of the African working class at its center.
This is the context of the significance of the existence and struggle of the African People’s Socialist Party.
Strategy for revolutionary African working class party
Organized in 1972 from surviving black working class organizations of the sixties, the African People’s Socialist Party pulled together the best elements of the class subsequent to the defeat of our movement. While we are a revolutionary party, we understand that our task for this period is not to make the Revolution, but to build the capacity of the only consistently revolutionary social force within U.S. borders, the African working class. This means that our primary task is to build the African People’s Socialist Party.
We must address our strategy for building a truly revolutionary African working class party. This is necessary because at least one petty bourgeois, U.S.-based African organization claims party-building as its main task. This party does not distinguish its main task from its general aim, hence the “task” of party-building has for all practical purposes, become its general aim. This party uses the slogan of party-building to obscure class struggle, to maintain the class peace which is necessary for successful bourgeois colonialist rule.
For the African People’s Socialist Party, fundamental to the task of party-building is the need to smash the class peace. Otherwise, sectors of the black working class might remain ensconced within the Democratic party. Additionally, the millions of African workers who have rejected the false choice of the two white ruling class parties will be unable to see that we must do more than just turn our backs on this pitfall. We must join and support our own independent parties in order to achieve our own separate class interests.
For the African People’s Socialist Party, the task of party-building is always a process deeply rooted in solving the concrete, practical problems of the Revolution for the period. A key, fundamental problem today is the reorganization of the black working class into its own independent revolutionary party. We are not, however, talking about party-building for its own sake. For us the task of party-building is for the purpose of solving the most fundamental problems of the Revolution. We are informed of the practical problems of the Revolution by our ability to sum up the period in which we live and assume the task of party-building.
Our summation of this period informs us that objective conditions for revolution are ripe. The U.S. capitalist-colonialist class is engaged in several undeclared wars, a fact which currently divides the ruling class.
The conditions of existence for the black working class are reaching new and greater levels of desperation, and the use of overt police terror against the colonially oppressed African workers is becoming more blatant every day.
These conditions are evidence of the general crisis of imperialism. Although the election of Ronald Wilson Reagan as U.S. president was designed to confront this crisis, it continues unabated, nationally and internationally. Clearly, the objective conditions for the African Revolution are very strong.
However, currently there are key weaknesses that we face in the subjective factors for revolution. These include the general state of disorganization of the African working class. This disorganization is facilitated by opportunism on every level. For example, there are the so-called revolutionary black parties that are fearful of class struggle and black working class hegemony over our own movement.
There are the silver-tongued, bourgeois-sponsored, neocolonialist black petty bourgeois stooges, whose prestige, appearance of power and material resources are dependent upon their ability to speak for the masses of unorganized black workers. There are the “communists,” “socialists” and “leftists” of all stripes, who can wear such appellations only so long as the African working class is voiceless and unable to impress our own version of class truth on the political life of the U.S. There are the women’s and homosexual movements and every other social force that faithfully serves the U.S. bourgeoisie, and who remember with fear and trepidation the undiluted power of the Black Revolution of the Sixties.
In practical terms party-building today means, first and foremost, concrete work designed to activate the best of the class into political motion around concrete programs. Our immediate aim is to achieve absolute political hegemony over our movement and class in the process. Party-building means providing leadership for the class even when the party is small and has not yet fully achieved its desired capacity.
For example, although small, the African People’s Socialist Party has been able to ignite a social movement in Oakland, California. The Party has successfully mobilized elements of the African working class. With the Party at its center, this movement has been able to mobilize social forces of various nationalities into the service of the African working class and away from absolute unity with the bourgeois colonialists.
Although most of the African workers in Oakland are not Party members, the leadership of the Party in the city has made it possible for African workers as a whole to experience an organized fighting capacity around real, concrete, social needs. The Party-led Uhuru Movement in Oakland has led a campaign to successfully challenge the basic assumptions of bourgeois property relations. For the first time since the sixties, the Party has put the bourgeoisie on the political defensive in a struggle with African workers.
In 1984, the African People’s Socialist Party put an initiative on the electoral ballot in Oakland calling for community control of housing. Known as Measure O, the initiative called for residential rents to be set no higher than twenty-five percent of the average income of a neighborhood. Measure O also called for abandoned houses to be turned over to homeless people. Essentially a land reform measure, the initiative won twenty-five thousand votes, a quarter of the votes cast, despite a half million dollars spent to defeat it by Oakland landlords and realtors. 10
Thus, our small Party, in the process of party-building, was able to provide leadership for African and other working class elements in a fashion greatly disproportionate to our physical size. More than this, the voters who were won to a working class stand in that election stood against the leadership of the bourgeois parties with whom they are registered.
The party-building process must awaken the black working class to practical participation in its own political life. This is why party-building is not an abstract process. Real political struggle must be coupled with real, practical leadership of the class when building the party. The party must be capable of mobilizing and leading the African working class and various social forces of various nationalities if it is to be worthy of the name “party.”
Today we are confronted with a period when the last significant political lesson to be summed up by the black working class is military defeat. Still reeling from the U.S. military assault against our movement of the sixties, the masses of African workers today are restless. They have not yet, however, again concluded that their own interests are summed up in the African working class party, or that joining the party is worth the risk to life and liberty that may be suggested by party membership. Nevertheless, African workers must still have the leadership of the party available to them and be able to claim the party as their own.
For the African People’s Socialist Party, the party-building process is an open one. We believe the African working class and our allies should have some idea of what parties are and what their functions are. We think our supporters should have a better grip on what it is they support and whether their support is what it needs to be.
The African People’s Socialist Party is a revolutionary African working class party, the only such party in the U.S. We are organized around a common General Program and policies that were ratified during our First Party Congress, the highest body of the Party, comprised of representatives of the entire membership.
Our General Program and our policies are the practical, concrete manifestations of our revolutionary theory of African Internationalism. African Internationalism is Pan-Africanism developed to its highest stage, Pan-Africanism during the age of imperialism.11 African Internationalism unites the African people of the world in a revolutionary process to liberate Africa under the leadership of African workers and poor peasants.
The theory of African Internationalism is ever-developing with the new experiences of the international working class, African and otherwise. It is based on a scientific method of investigating and analyzing social life. It recognizes that the current oppressive circumstances of African people have their base in the slave trade, the fundamental feature in the development of world capitalism.
The scientific method of investigating social life employed by the African People’s Socialist Party is called dialectical and historical materialism.
By dialectical we mean that our approach to the investigation of all phenomena is all-sided, taking into consideration the past and present. Dialectical means that we take into account the relationship of a phenomenon in motion to all other phenomena, even as phenomena come into being and die away.
By materialism we mean that our analysis of phenomena is based on an investigation of a phenomenon itself, not requiring an explanation of phenomena outside of it.
By historical materialism we mean the application of the principles of dialectical materialism to the investigation and interpretation of society and social life.
The opposition of the African People’s Socialist Party to the U.S. government and the capitalist social system, which rests on our colonial oppression, is total and absolute. There are no circumstances under which we would ever find the foreign domination of our people or the economic exploitation of our class acceptable. We are convinced that capitalism, the social system, was built off the slave trade and the theft of life, liberty, and resources of African people and the non-European peoples of the world. We understand that the world’s stolen resources are concentrated in Europe and the U.S., and are owned and controlled by a tiny minority of the people on the planet. Moreover, we are convinced that this capitalist system is on its deathbed.
We believe that the future belongs to the dispossessed colonized workers of the world. When armed with a revolutionary theory and led by a revolutionary party, African and other oppressed workers represent the conscious, subjective forces of history necessary for the overthrow of capitalism. This is the only way to bring about the advent of a new social system organized under the leadership of the working masses, the real producers of all material wealth.
This new social system will end production for profit and rule by a nonworking minority who maintain private ownership of our resources and control of the means of production.
We believe that the new social system that will follow capitalism is communism, a just social system based on labor according to ability and guaranteeing to each person the material resources of life and its reproduction according to need. Communism is the system that the white ruling class and all its hangers-on are attempting to suppress with the oppression of the African working class
Thus we recognize that the African People’s Socialist Party, the advanced, conscious detachment of the African working class, is, like the class itself, locked in a life-and-death battle with the U.S. capitalist system. Hence, the members of our Party represent the advanced sector of the African working class. They must constantly strive for a self-motivated discipline that is steeled by conviction.
As the advanced detachment of the African working class, the African People’s Socialist Party assumes the responsibility for advancing the cause of the whole class, which at any given time may be battered by ignorance, drug addiction, alcoholism, demoralization or other contradictions. The members of the African People’s Socialist Party must become professional revolutionaries, individuals whose real profession is revolution with the Party as their vehicle.
The African People’s Socialist Party recognizes that the colonially oppressed African workers are the most consistently revolutionary social force within the U.S. The African working class will not achieve revolutionary consciousness on its own, however. It is the task of the African People’s Socialist Party, even as it is being built to full capacity, to intervene in the day-to-day struggles of the African working class, to forge deep lines in struggle and to lead the class to an ever higher, ever more precise understanding of African Internationalism, the science of black workers’ revolution.
The African People’s Socialist Party, a revolutionary African Internationalist Party based on a revolutionary African working class theory, is a party of professional revolutionaries. All distinctions between workers and intellectuals, laborers and “professionals,” lose their significance. We are welded into one by the common cause of a proletarian future that is being advanced by the party of the colonially oppressed African working class.
On one side stand the bourgeoisie and all the institutions which serve to preserve its rule. On the other side stands the oppressed African working class, represented by the African People’s Socialist Party.
Together, these two social forces represent the great contest of our time. Separately, they represent the past and the future. The conscious representatives of these two great social forces are choosing sides. Every day makes the choice by the African working class and our allies more critical.
For us the question is clear. The future will prevail. It is urgent for all those who are taking a neutral seat as spectators in this contest, to take up the call. Take the Great Leap Forward and grab the future in your hands to help shape and mold it in our lifetime, for this generation.
Those who can, must join the African People’s Socialist Party; those who cannot, must support us.
Build the revolutionary Party of the African working class!
Build the African People’s Socialist Party!