It isn’t easy for radicals to find the time to write books — unless they’re in jail or in exile! So when busy revolutionaries find time to produce a major work of scholarship, it is the result of an individual and his or her cohorts making the highest priority of the issue at hand. That was the genesis of Revolutionary Integration: A Marxist Analysis of African American Liberation, a groundbreaking, optimistic, colorful, and controversial study of Black reality and Black resistance in the United States.
From life to theory and theory to action. The evolution of the two-part book, newly published by Red Letter Press, is a story in itself.
The first section, “Dialectics of Black Liberation,” was written in 1963, as the civil rights movement was exploding. The author was socialist theoretician Richard Fraser, in collaboration with a multiracial group of co-thinkers who included his editor, Clara Fraser, and other members of the Socialist Workers Party on the West Coast. “Dialectics” provides a gripping look at the Black movement just as it was confronting the full might of the segregated police state in the South.
Fraser and his colleagues dissented from the widespread view among activists of the time that African Americans were an oppressed nationality whose liberation struggle was essentially similar to those of national minorities around the world. Instead, Fraser’s tendency agreed with major Black scholars such as O.C. Cox, E. Franklin Frazier, James W. Johnson, and Alain Locke that oppression against African Americans, so basic to U.S. capitalism, is a distinct form of exploitation based on race.
The issue they grappled with — are U.S. Blacks a nation? — is anything but academic. They recognized that effective action is guided by correct theory. How they answered the question would determine what slogans to put forward, what goal to organize for, what alliances to make, and whose leadership to develop and follow in the fight for freedom.
They arrived at their conclusions by applying Marxist theory about how nations are formed and by carefully studying U.S. history and then-current events. What they found was that African Americans mainly desired and insisted on full equality and integration, not separation. Because racism is essential to the survival of the profit system, the struggle for these basic demands is a revolutionary one, pulling the whole working class forward.
In fact, Fraser and the others became convinced, the struggle against racism is the key question of the American revolution — and the domestic link to the African and world struggles of colonial people as well.
This perspective, which became known as Revolutionary Integration, was not shared by the Socialist Workers Party majority, who believed that U.S. Blacks were in fact a nation. Fraser and his comrades pushed the SWP to become active in the civil rights mobilization, which was shaking up the entire country, but the party held back, disdaining the movement as “reformist/integrationist.” The SWP opted instead to support the Black Muslims, who, to Malcolm X’s eventual disgust, also boycotted the civil rights struggle, and advocated racial separatism based on the utopian idea of an independent Black economy.
In an effort to win other SWP members to their viewpoint, Fraser’s group submitted “Dialectics of Black Liberation” for the party to consider at its 1963 convention. But SWP leaders would not permit a democratic discussion of this crucial point of political contention. In 1965, Richard Fraser, Clara Fraser, and all the other Seattle members of the SWP left the organization and founded the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP), with Revolutionary Integration as one of its central principles.
From the civil rights era to Reaganism. Part 2 of the new book, “Revolutionary Integration: Yesterday and Today,” is a reevaluation, affirmation, and updating of the original theory. Written by African American radical Tom Boot for the FSP’s 1982 convention, it picks up where “Dialectics of Black Liberation” leaves off.
“Black mass revolt at the height of the civil rights era … stunned the bourgeoisie, exposed and confronted its racist police state system, and made huge cracks in the pillars of racist capitalism,” Boot writes.
“But the movement was literally smashed at its height by the frenetic defense posture of the government….
“The retreat of the movement was caused by both objective and subjective phenomena. Its own internal weaknesses — lack of radical leadership and program — were magnified by its lack of true allies. Organized labor and white workers generally abstained from support, and the Left gave support, but played little of a vanguard political role. White radicals’ cheerleading of Black nationalism, coupled with their treatment of all movements as mutually separate, operated to stall what might have been a vast united front.”
Like Part 1, “Yesterday and Today” is written with the urgency of revolutionaries in the thick of things. At the time, FSP was deeply involved in self-defense against the Reaganite offensive targeting African Americans, unionists, the poor and radicals. The party saw enormous potential in the constituencies inflamed by Reagan’s policies — if only they could be united.
Boot’s descriptions of racist backwardness in the U.S. labor movement have the ring of someone with direct experience of union bureaucrats and discrimination. So too does his conviction that the solution to the problem is the kind of determined Black labor leadership that produced the famous 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, whose organizers and opponents Boot discusses.
Part 2 also devotes special attention to the under-recognized social and political importance of activist Black women, lesbians, and gay men. In a section on the uphill battles of African American feminists in the 1970s, Boot writes, “They demanded to fight as whole women against all the enemies they faced.”
A compass for the road ahead. Black freedom and equality are still yet to be achieved, and the ideas of Revolutionary Integration retain all their relevance in the winning of this battle. But their significance goes even beyond that.
In its exploration of the nature and consequences of racism in U.S. life, Revolutionary Integration has profound implications for liberationists of every color today. “No struggle can be fought if it segregates allies instead of integrating us,” says Christina Lopez, a Chicana feminist organizer. “And no victory is lasting unless it’s anticapitalist to the core. That’s what Revolutionary Integration means to me.”
To learn more about revolutionary integration, see Revolutionary Integration — A Marxist Analysis of African American Liberation. It tells the rich history of the Civil Rights movement and lays out the centrality of Black working-class leadership to U.S. revolution. Order on line at www.redletterpress.org