The essence of reparations is one aspect of the revolutionary struggle of the Afro American People for DEMOCRACY, i.e. equal citizenship rights and Self Determination. Reparations is a democratic demand and is both the confirmation and projection of Afro American Self Determination. In the context of a retrograde US dominated by the far right, with a counterfeit president for a fake democracy, the struggle for reparations constitutes one of the cutting edges of Revolutionary Democracy, a motion towards a US Peoples Democracy and the eventuality of Majority Rule, that is, a US controlled politically and economically¾by law and by force¾by a United Front government made up of the multinational US working class, as leadership, in strategic alliance with farmers, democratic petty bourgeoisie, national bourgeoisie, and oppressed nationalities.
Reparations is a truly democratic demand, but it is a reform; that is, when Reparations are won, by a victorious mass movement of the US people, led by the Afro American people, it will not eliminate US monopoly capitalism and its imperialist ruling class. But like all reforms it must be fought for in a revolutionary manner if it is to produce substantive advance for the people.
What makes this democratic demand and the social reform it represents so important, is that it would allow critical transformation of the Afro American people, at the deepest root of our presence in the US, and, as such, would work profound changes on the whole of US society, both socially, at its economic base, and to its over-girding superstructure.
Reparations is a form of justice in the philosophical sphere; it is in essence a revolutionary democratic thrust that must bring the yet unfinished US democratic revolution¾viz. the civil war, and the sharp social and political upsurges of the last decades of the 20th century, including the most recent civil rights-Black Liberation and anti-imperialist anti-war movements¾closer to completion.
The fundamental demand for Democracy, as Equal Citizenship rights, which must be coupled with and is a confirmation of Afro American Self Determination, calls for indemnification for the Slave Trade, the Middle Passage, Chattel Slavery, Capitalist Slavery, National Oppression and Racism, as well as the multiform abuses that have gone with these. We know them well: Kidnapping, Criminal Imprisonment, Torture, Unlimited Violence, Endless Abuse (physical, psychological, social, &c), Child Abuse, Rape and Assault, Robbery, Denial of Rights, Fraud, Character Assassination, Slander, Violation of the constitution of the US and of its own laws, Exploitation socially, economically, politically, culturally, Cultural Aggression, Theft of Intellectual Materials. It is endless, and will take much time to detail these and prescribe indemnification and damages, general and collateral, for these various crimes, and to determine punitive damages as some “cost” which must be factored as a continuum of our relationship to the US, not a simple number.
That is, Reparations must take the form of Social Reconstruction, which is Economic and Political and Cultural at base. For instance, any initial demand must include the demand for free education for the Afro American people, not as affirmative action, but as a constitutional amendment which by law would give Black Americans education to the highest sectors of the US without charge.
But to do that, certain coordinating structures and social organization must be created. We could not just send people to school; there must be preparation and maintenance with new social-economic-educational support systems, and with a focused planned method of absorption and priority use, for the enlarged output of educated Black people, in the areas of Afro American and American life where this increased educational potential can be utilized for the benefit of the whole people.
Thus the demand for Reparations must contain understanding of what resources, networks, production and distribution systems must be part of the demand, not just cash (no checks!).
The basic advance for Black people would be a raising of the level of the productive forces of the national Afro American community, of Black Americans generally. Productive Forces are the level of educational and social development of the people and the instruments of labor¾where they work, what they produce, and what value it provides them, not the general human and self alienation created by capitalist production of profit for others.
One controversial aspect of the question of Black Self Determination¾a consideration that must be grasped as the fundamental philosophical and political motif stabilizing the demand for reparations¾is the concept of the Black Belt South as the land base of an oppressed Afro American Nation. We could give the parameters of the concept of nation, historical presence of a stable community of people, common language, common economic development and common psychological development producing a common culture.
And while I personally uphold the historical positing of the oppressed Afro American Nation in the Black Belt South, this should not be confused with the basic political demand for Self Determination for the Afro American People. The demand for Self Determination is simply the declaration that Black Americans have the right and the responsibility to struggle for Democracy and social transformation by any means they find necessary and that no power on earth can determine for us what direction that struggle must take or define it for us.
We must create our own weapons of struggle, our own organizations and institutions, not because we think we are separate from America, but because we know we are in America, and historically and contemporarily understand that the forces that brought us here in chains at the bottom of slave ships, that made us chattel slaves, and even now, victims of national oppression and its concomitant abuse, racism, by US imperialism will never willingly solve our problems, and in the absence of our own efforts will create new more vicious ones.
There are two teachings of the great W.E.B. Du Bois that speak to this question. In Black Reconstruction, Du Bois said, “…many people suffered as much as we did, but none of them was Real Estate!” The other is the well known but insufficiently understood positing of a black “Double Consciousness.” That is, we are people torn between being Black and being American. What is key is that we understand we are both: Black by birth, American historically and legally. Our Blackness is natural, though even this psychological and social self- recognition needs continuous reinforcing by cultural means, by reemerging cultural revolution.
It is our “American-ness,” our possession of full citizenship rights and the recognition and enforcement of those rights by law and by force, that has always been in question. But we must see those as two aspects of our history, our lives, and our struggle, so that we fight for and with Self Determination and at the same time fight for equal citizenship rights, a revolutionary democratic struggle for a US Peoples Democracy.
From this premise we must not only assault the historic and contemporary institutions and organization of the US but at the same time set up our own independent structures even to gain equality in the US. It was not the US government, for instance, that registered black people throughout the south, but SCLC led by Martin Luther King, and SNCC led by Forman, Carmichael, and Rap, that did these things.
Likewise it was not agencies of the US government that fought against the oppression and exploitation of our communities, but Black American organizations and leaders. The Rob Williams, Malcolm X’s, Huey Newtons, Black Panthers, The Nation of Islam, CAP, RNA, ALSC, &c.
Thus our projection of Reparations demands must come from a broad United Front of Afro America, that creates a central unified Afro American Political Organization, much like what the National Black Assembly was projected as. It must be ultimately a representative assembly, a national congress, made up of elected representatives from the whole American Nation, but specifically constructed to be the accurate reflection of Black People in the US.
Such an assembly would begin to identify and project the most important issues which the Afro American people are affected by, and begin to develop methods and instruments to educate, mobilize and organize Black people so that these problems can be understood and mass efforts created to deal with them.
Among these would be the movement to create a national newspaper, a coordinated system of political effectiveness, such as national overview and communication about what election and candidates are crucial to be supported or what candidates need to be defeated, what issues are critical; what products or programs or companies must be boycotted, what strikes and workers’ campaigns are to be highlighted, supported, what abuses to be attacked or resisted; what marches, demonstrations, campaigns to support or be mobilized by. Who are our Friends? Who are our enemies? And what must be done about them!
We must create mass campaigns and mobilizations, enter into alliances and coalitions, give strength to the most progressive forces among us and oppose those who would sell us out or needlessly compromise with our enemies.
The defeat of Dinkins and the election of Giuliani could have been avoided with such organization. The defeat of Ferrer as well. Bush’s illegal and criminal seizure of power could have been stopped had we a unified political structure rather than the confusion and work at cross-purposes that only serves our enemies, whatever their nationality.
Yes, we must work for coalitions and alliances with working people and democratic forces and their organizations of all nationalities. Otherwise, Reparations is another pipe dream. How can we join with backward whites in Los Angeles and defeat a progressive Mexican candidate and, despite an even split between Latinos and Whites in New York, provide the numbers which defeated Ferrer, despite the claim of a Black-Latino Coalition, when 43% of our people voted for Green! And now to top it off some would put another billionaire republican in office, apparently some of our behinds have not been kicked hard enough by Rudy the Vile.
The work of creating a formal reparations demand, understood and legitimized by the broadest spectrum of Black America, must be a cutting edge of the work of constructing an Afro American National Political Assembly, which is the institutional entity confirming the existence of an Afro American Peoples Democratic United Front. The representative assembly, the national black political assembly cannot exist with any stability without an alliance of organizations and institutions and persons, who serve to give substance and strength, power and influence to it.
The work of creating a general Reparations Document, can be the fundamental dynamic by which such an organization can be created and institutionalized. Our demands for Reparations should be followed, necessarily at a later date, by a statement of the Afro-American People’s Right of Self Determination and a definition thereof.
The demands and statement of Self Determination must be widely disseminated, nationally and internationally. They must be delivered to the US Congress and other relevant bodies, as well as to the UN, OAU, OAS, World Court, Arab League, to the nations of the world, and especially to the progressive peoples of the world, the various international and hemispheric political and economic and cultural alliances (e.g., OPEC, COSATU, SEATO, NATO), political parties internationally, national and international trade unions, social, economic and cultural institutions and organizations in the US and internationally.
Whatever our ideological or political profiles, we should remember that both Garvey and Du Bois were attacked and exiled; both Dr King and Malcolm assassinated. And that the Black American struggle for democracy and self determination cannot be twisted and deformed by dividing us into integrationists and separatists. Only our enemies benefit from this. Haven’t we learned yet that Garvey and Du Bois should have been two leaders of a Black United Front? Are we still distant from the revelation that Dr. King and Malcolm would have served Black People much better as two key forces in a Black United Front? (Which, I should mention, is what both of them told me the last time I talked to them — Malcolm a month before he was murdered; King, ten days before he was killed.)
The Afro American People are an oppressed nationality in the US with over 450 billion dollars GNP per year, 16th in the world, according to the World Bank (larger than India and Switzerland but less than General Motors), with a population of at least 40,000,000, larger than most of the nations in the UN. Part of the structure of a national Afro American representative political assembly must be the creation of a Central Afro American bank, controlled by officials elected by a referendum of Black America, in which any monies, or other resources, would be deposited and registered.
The US National Debt, as well as significant percentages of US tax dollars, and the large percent of Afro American tax dollars, plus whatever is directed by our planning from the Afro American Commonwealth, must be directed to this institution, and its outlays must be the result of national planning and referendum applied to the specific problems and issues that Afro America, a self determining people, decide.
*Presented at the First Reparations Education and Mobilization Campaign Conference, City College of New York, Harlem, N.Y., November 3, 2001.