All of the references are taken from Professor Muhammad Ahmad’s work The World Black Revolution. The subsequent analysis regards only this specific work and should not be seen as a personal criticism of Professor Ahmad or any of his previous or thereafter works.
By Zak Brown
A few months ago I read a pamphlet that had been hosted on this site entitled ‘World Black Revolution’. The work was written in 1966 by Muhammad Ahmad (Maxwell Stanford) who is now a Ph.D and professor of African American Studies at Temple University in the US; despite his clandestine efforts which earned him FBI repression in the early 70s.
The work has largely been dismissed by the Marxist-Leninist community for a number of reasons. Notably, it challenges the traditional understanding of the class struggle presented by Marxism-Leninism. However, I feel that the ‘World Black Revolution’ offers a very critical insight into the relationship between race and class something J. Sakai has termed an ‘electrically charged’. It is for this reason I have decided to highlight key ideas and analysis put forth in this pamphlet because there is definitely something to take from Ahmad’s analysis. Obviously his analysis approaches the threshold of revisionism especially when he rejects the notion of proletarian internationalism. Therefore my thoughts should not be considered an endorsement of this form of ‘Black Internationalism’ as Ahmad terms it; rather, my thoughts reflect a desire to extend the understanding and theory of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to properly address the qualitative changes in imperialist-capitalism and the powerful relationship between race and class.
First, let us examine the primary thesis of the ‘World Black Revolution’ from which all of Ahmad’s theory grows. He begins by affirming the the principal contradiction in the world, between imperialism and the oppressed peoples. He identifies US Imperialism as the “leader” in this “White Alliance” of oppressor nations. So far, nothing in his analysis has really deviated from the international line of most MLM organizations. It is understood by many contemporary Communist organizations (including parties) that imperialism (usually the US at the front) and the oppressed peoples of the world form the principal contradiction in our world. However, Ahmad does not stop here. He goes on to analyze what he calls the “primary” and “secondary” manifestations of this principal contradiction. The primary manifestation is what he calls caste struggle, the racial struggle between the non-white oppressed nations and the white oppressor nations. The secondary manifestation is the class struggle, the more orthodox struggle between the Black Underclass (the global proletariat, peasantry, and national bourgeoisie of oppressed nations) and the White Overclass (the European-American bourgeoisie, labor aristocracy, and presumably large portions of the white working class).
So here we see an interesting duality of the principal contradiction. Ahmad argues that because the caste system is used to maintain the class system the caste struggle assumes the primary manifestation of the principal contradiction and thus where we should devote our struggle to. Before I begin to make the obvious criticisms, I will try to apply Ahmad’s analysis. In reality I believe there is some level of truth to Ahmad’s theory even if it does no longer perfectly reflect our present material conditions or social realities (which nothing perfectly does, that is the point of continually theorizing, developing line struggle, etc.).
For example, if this caste struggle were to be resolved with the non-white peoples of the earth defeating their white oppressors then would capitalism as a mode of production continue? Clearly the current form imperialism takes would be destroyed but Ahmad theorizes that the synthesis of the caste struggle would also resolve the contradiction of class society. Could this really be the case? I believe to answer this question effectively we need to understand some theory concerning the social relevance of imperialism and neocolonialism.
As we know, early orthodox Marxists felt that revolution would begin first in the most advanced nations, particularly West Europe. After the success of the October Revolution and building of a Proletarian Dictatorship in Russia this was realized to be at the least inaccurate. As the century continued we saw revolutions spring up in nations that would be typically considered ‘backwards’ in their development, still composed of at least a semi-feudal class structure. Granted, there were some significant communist movements in the more advanced nations of Europe and the United States, however its clear that these movements always played a supporting role. They were never to be considered at the forefront of the world revolutionary movement. Without delving too much into why this came to be, there is something to say about the imperialist processes of the period, their influence, and how this might shape a critical review of Ahmad’s theory.
Imperialism has a process not completely recognized in the extraction of super-profits from the oppressed nations. Imperialism, through its material processes of oppression and extraction, also shifts the contradictions of capitalism to the periphery. This has shaped, or rather pacified, the effective class struggle of the the core imperialist nations by transforming antagonistic class relationships into ones considered non-antagonistic through the scope of social fascism and imperial domination. The bulk of antagonistic relations have thus been shipped to where the majority of the exploitation takes place, the periphery. We can observe the way in which this process has effected global capitalism historically. Nations with intense class struggle in the 19th century were able to counteract these contradictions by moving them abroad, pulling the legs from under the workers’ movements. This is also why we can see oppressed nations become the centers of class struggle. The contradictions arising from exploitation there cannot be exported by the processes of imperialism. The contradictions of capital accumulation are the most intense and there is no illusion as to the antagonisms between the exploited and oppressed peoples and their imperialist overseers.
So now let’s return to the original question I posed. Could the synthesis of the caste struggle really end capitalism? I believe so. If we agree with all of the analysis above then we arrive to the conclusion that global capitalism sustains itself on the imperial divisions between the core and periphery; divisions which have materially emerged as caste or racial contradictions between the White Global North and Non-White Global South. If this principal contradiction were to be surmounted, I have no doubt that capitalism as a mode of production would also be crushed. Without a way to pacify exploitation and modify concrete class relationships, the objective conditions for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie of formerly oppressor nations would be created, which would permit the creation of the subjective conditions needed for the carrying out of people’s war.
Hence, it seems that Ahmad may have been at least partially correct regarding the principal contradiction. However, this is not a concession of theory, only a tentative agreement with an undoubtly different methodology. While we agree a primary struggle in the principal contradiction entails the global ‘black’ oppressed nations overthrowing the global ‘white’ oppressor nations, this process has its roots in the qualitative change to national oppression in the era of imperialism and not because the white man is the transhistorical enemy of all non-white peoples.
The relationship between race and class in contemporary capitalism-imperialism is too important to sweep away with some vague invitations to inter-racial solidarity, yet its simply unscientific to suppose all non-whites are revolutionary while all whites are not. Rather, race approximates class in our modern age of global capitalism. Not only within the structure of the oppressor nations but even within the contrast between the ‘white’ core and ‘black’ periphery. This does not mean that it is impossible for a white from the core or periphery to be exploited, that would be an immaterial analysis. Likewise, being non-white or even from the periphery does not guarantee belonging to the world’s exploited or even oppressed peoples. We see that many national bourgeois from what Ahmad terms the global Black Underclass have aligned themselves with the imperialists and in effect become oppressors themselves. What is important to understand, partially from Ahmad’s theory, is how race functions to approximate class and its position within the global production process in a highly complex world. Despite the volume of contradictions between classes, races, oppressor and oppressed nations we use what we understand from our material analysis to describe the principal contradiction and the resolution thereof. This is why we utilize approximations such as race and geo-privilege in a scientific manner, despite their internal contradictions, to help us describe the material conditions and guide revolutionary struggle.
Ahmad gets this wrong in a number of ways.
First, by rejecting Marxism-Leninism and scoffing at it as “science-religion”. In the context of 1966 for a Black Internationalist, the Marxist-Leninist line would seem entirely frustrating as it was dominated by Soviet revisionism at the time. This explains Ahmad’s turn towards Mao Tse-Tung Thought which he references often. However, Marxism-Leninism should not be understood as the golden calf of one particular party; in that context, the revisionists in the Soviet Union. Instead we should understand Marxism-Leninism as a guide on revolutionary thought and practice, the science of revolution. Ahmad should have recognized this and taken a lesson from Mao Tse-Tung before attempting to break from the revolutionary science.
Second, by taking an immaterial and unscientific analysis of race relations in the context of class struggle as a whole truth, Ahmad spoils much of his subsequent analysis on the resolution of the principal contradiction. The initial problem being he posits the white man as the “universal slavemaster” and transhistoric enemy of non-whites everywhere. Now, we might concede some of this analysis in the contemporary world where a qualitative and material shift in social relations has transformed race but clearly this has not always been the case. In fact, this idea of ‘white’ and non-‘white’ only emerged during the 17th century and became widespread at the beginning of the 18th as a way to distinguish between social classes in colonial societies. This lends credibility to our line that race was transformed into an approximation of global class by the processes of colonialism and imperialism. To suggest a significantly different narrative to the emergence of whiteness would require a significant amount of historical evidence which for Ahmad does not exist.
From Ahmad’s ill-founded conception of racial domination spring forth equally backwards positions on caste unity against the oppressor nations. Primarily we see how Ahmad groups the national bourgeoisie of oppressed nations into the revolutionary alliance he calls the Black Underclass. As I mentioned earlier, new developments show how this national bourgeoisie is hardly as progressive as Ahmad suggested but often fall in line with the reactionary forces and the imperialists. This failure of theory directly emerged from an unscientific analysis and a premature desire to blacken the national bourgeois with a progressive politics that materially did not exist. All of which could have been avoided had Ahmad not decided to forgo dialectical materialism for his own brand of humanism.
Ahmad also makes a number of mistakes throughout the pamphlet that are more than a deviation from Marxism-Leninism as an apologist might suggest. While most of his shortcomings can be understood as resulting from his deviation, many of them are simply ahistorical or generally false. It would take hours to detail every blemish in his thirty page thesis.
However, I did not decide to analyze Ahmad’s work to simply dispel him. Clearly, the route of history over the past half century has done enough to discredit so much of Ahmad’s original theories. Rather, I wanted to shed light on some of the more redeemable and critical points regarding race in the context of the contemporary struggle against imperialism. In fact I will end by reaffirming the need for a World Black Revolution; the call for all oppressed and exploited people’s to rise up and defeat their oppressors primarily manifested in the white imperialists of the Global North. This is not contradictory. For our struggle is only a continuation of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, a practical reassertion of its theoretical necessity and application within our contemporary world. Most importantly our action is conditioned by reality and our theory guided by the science of revolution. It is these fundamental characteristics which differentiate our call for a World Black Revolution and the calls of the revisionists.
We should seek to constantly redefine the borders of our struggle within the dimensions of Global People’s War. This is the only way to go about destroying imperialism and constructing people’s power. Destroying the old and building anew.