Marxism, four U.S. national questions, and the inequality of 30,000-to-one

BY:Wadi’h Halabi| May 15, 2019

THE DRAFT PROGRAM discusses special oppressions in the US, including of Blacks, Chicanos and Puerto Ricans, with a remarkable overview of indigenous peoples, Pacific Island and other oppressions.

Our party’s greatest work – including International Labor Defense’s Scottsboro campaign and the Sharecroppers Union organizing – accompanied our recognition of the Black right to self-determination. (Blacks here refer to descendants of people kidnapped from Africa and enslaved in the US.)

The program mentions the right to self-determination for Puerto Ricans, but not for Blacks, Chicanos or Hawaiians, or the possible applicability of autonomous regions for the many indigenous peoples. That is a significant weakness.


Palestine offers insights into national questions in the US. There was no Palestinian national question before 1900. What created one was the horrors imperialism inflicted on Palestinians starting around World I, including Britain’s seizure of Palestine and November 1917 endorsement of Zionism and a ‘two-state solution’. US-supported ethnic cleansings helped create the Israeli settler-state. Seventy-one nightmare years have followed.

My own and immediate-family experience included expulsion from Palestine in 1948, on to Gaza, Egypt, Lebanon, the US, Iran, Lebanon again, Libya, the Saudi state, the US again. One million Palestinians who moved to the Gulf for jobs suffered mass expulsions during the US-led 1990 Gulf aggression. Palestinian-Black identification was evident during the Ferguson uprising following Michael Brown’s murder.

Dispersals have not negated the Palestinian right to self-determination.  (Incidentally, that right’s sole democratic expression rejected separation and calls for a ‘secular, democratic Palestine’: 1969 vote of the Palestine National Council, never overturned.)


The CPUSA was formed 100 years ago, a great advance we are rightly celebrating. Early members were mainly first- and second-generation Ukrainians, Finns, etc. They were committed to worker power — but largely ignorant of the true history of the US, not least regarding the indigenous peoples, slavery, Mexicans, Hawaiians, Puerto Ricans, etc. Furthermore, they weren’t familiar with Lenin’s great contributions to Marxism on national liberation.

The Communist International was also formed 100 years ago, a historic development. A contribution by Lenin for the Second Congress of the International (1920) identified “Ireland, the Negroes in America” as national questions.

For Marxism, a national question has specific implications. This includes the right to self-determination (separation) and to land – as territory, and as land torn from the exploiters and their state, and placed in the hands of the oppressed who would work and protect it.

Lenin compared the right to self-determination to the right to divorce: we are not advocating divorce, but without this right, women can be effectively enslaved in patriarchal societies. We are not advocating separation of oppressed nations, but their right, which is up to the oppressed nation to express – and that the ruling class of the oppressor nation is certain to oppose.

Party members from the oppressor nation have a duty to emphasize oppressed nations’ right to self-determination; those of the oppressed nation emphasize unity of the workers of the world.

Self-determination and freedom from landlords are among bourgeois-democratic tasks that capitalism hasn’t carried out. The working class must, in the ‘battle for democracy’.  

The young CPUSA began applying Lenin’s stance after the Communist International passed 1928 and 1930 resolutions affirming the right to self-determination of ‘Negroes in America’. What followed is the CPUSA’s finest work on both class and national struggles. Workers’ greatest efforts are commonly in support of others.

True, the Comintern resolutions erred by tying the Black national question to the ‘Black Belt’, regions in the South with majority Black population. Superficially, dispersals from the region appeared to negate the question. But what defines the Black national question is the searing experience of kidnapping from Africa, enslavement – and the unending oppression and discrimination since “emancipation”.

The US ruling class is the world champion in national oppression, with Black oppression especially insidious and cruel. No jobs. Prisons. Evictions.


A construction-site accident seven years ago landed me in Boston-area health facilities for two months. I kept count of the workers I met, some 200 in all — nurses, janitors, doctors, aides.

Eighteen of the 200 workers were Africa-born (Nigeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Morocco), six Haiti-born. Only two – one percent! — were US-born Black. Yet US-born Blacks far outnumber Africans and Haitians in Boston. Darker-skinned workers generally had the worst jobs. But the exclusion of US-born Blacks reflects national oppression.  


In 2015, the Federal Reserve Bank published an unusual study, “The Color of Wealth in Boston” — unusual because it distinguished between US-born and Caribbean Blacks.

The study found white households’ median net worth was $247,500, while that of Caribbean Black households was $12,000. The median wealth of US-born Black households was $8.

The “color line” operates – Caribbean Black households faced twenty-to-one inequality. But US-born Blacks faced 30,000-to-one inequality! There is national oppression atop the racism.


Black dispersal from the South, like Palestinian dispersal, changed forms of oppression but did not end national oppression.  The Comintern’s correct recognition of the Black national question strengthened the CPUSA, despite the Black-Belt error. Today, far better for the party to err on the side of sweeping democracy and recognize the Black right to self-determination, than to decide in advance that it no longer applies.

The Hawaiian national question, like the Puerto Rican, meets Marxism’s classic conditions — a common territory, language and history. The Chicano question is more complex, reflecting multiple waves of oppression over two centuries, starting with US aggressions to seize Mexican territory and expropriate inhabitants’ land.

In the 1930s, under Herbert Hoover and especially FDR, millions of Chicanos/Mexicanos faced racist expulsion to Mexico, including untold numbers of ‘Mexican-looking’ US citizens. This oppression continues to this day, indeed is escalating.

Communist recognition of oppressed nations’ democratic right to self-determination and to land will not divide but strengthen and unite the workers of the world. It will advance our struggle against rotting world capitalism and for world socialism.


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