The Liberation of the Negro Nation: The Negro Question and World Revolution

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 8:30 AM
Columbia 9 (Washington Hilton)
Charisse Burden-Stelly, Carleton College
This paper seeks to emplace the debate over the “Negro Question,” especially the issue of whether U.S. Blacks constituted a separate “nation within a nation,” between 1928-1939 in the broader context of anti-colonial, anti-imperial, and antiracist world revolution. Competing approaches to the Negro Question included those proposed by the Comintern (especially Harry Haywood), Leon Trotsky, and C.L.R. James. Arguments over whether the “Black Belt”—the epicenter of the Negro problem in the U.S.[1]—should be ceded to Blacks had important implications for self-determination as a necessary condition for the eradication of imperialism and colonialism; the role of race in the international proletarian struggle; and the relationship between (Black) nationalism and world revolution. The Black Belt was understood as: “…a crescent through twelve southern states. Heading down from its eastern point in Virginia’s tidewater section, it cuts a strip through North Carolina, embraces nearly all of South Carolina, cuts into Florida, passes through lower and central Georgia and Alabama, engulfs Mississippi and the Louisiana Delta, wedges into eastern Texas and Southwest Tennessee, and has its western anchor in southern Arkansas.”[2] Using the work of Haywood, Trotsky, James, and Vladimir Lenin, I will argue that: 1) debates over the Negro Question in the United States provided the most powerful and convincing arguments for the inextricability of racism, class domination, and imperialism; 2) questions of Black self-determination were essential to understandings of the proper method of revolution; and 3) in the final analysis, any international anti-capitalist struggle must contend with racism generally, and antiblackness particularly. This paper shows that even though these debates over Black self-determination took place decades ago, they are nonetheless significant to contemporary political, social, and material conditions.

[1] Harry Haywood, Negro Liberation, (Chicago: Liberator Press, 1976), 12.

[2] Ibid.

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