The Black Church and the Black Revolution
Part of being a Communist is realizing and working with the fact that the masses we seek to organize and develop for revolution already have developed their own institutions and formations that they support and which provide some semblance of tangible benefit for their communities — hence continued support for these institutions. In the New Afrikan community, the most obvious institution is the Church. The forces of capital recognize this as well, so we see the imperialists picking their “favorite” pastors who promote an anti-revolutionary, pro-capitalist, pacifist political line. These pastors are rewarded for their anti-revolutionary political work and betrayal of the most basic interests of the masses with media time, corporate funding and sponsorships for their various nonprofit activities (yet more instruments of social control/counterrevolution — many would-be Communists are beguiled by these instruments because of the apparent mass support they have and the economistic “serve the people” programs they conduct) and support for their political aspirations. Everyone knows that Black clergy are not just that, they are in many instances political figures that, if they are not officeholders themselves, are in a position to determine the outcome of political races (in which the lowest masses do not take part). Get out the vote efforts and Democratic machine political chicanery, backroom deals and vote trading — this is how many Black clergy spend their time. So, we can see that a revolutionary organization rooted in the masses which unites with the interests of the hard core of the proletariat and semi-proletariat will have a rough go of things — there’s going to be contradictions and class struggle because the bought and paid for New Afrikan clergy will not want a revolutionary organization chipping away at their power and stranglehold on the minds of the masses. However, not all New Afrikan clergy are bought and paid for, or beholden to capital. Remember, for decades the only profession for an educated New Afrikan person was “preacher”. Thus, we have individuals such as Jeremiah Wright who are able to preach a somewhat revolutionary interpretation of the Gospel. The Nation of Islam has been highly successful in organizing and politicizing prison workers and lumpen, far more successful than any Communists. Malcolm X, for good or for ill, was a product of the Nation and many people join simply because of the prestige he gave it — of course they usually end up leaving. And, of course, Martin Luther King, who started as integrationist and anti-communist and ended his life on the side of the struggling people of Vietnam, came from the Black Church. Thus, we can’t simply write off entire institutions, particularly if people actually listen to what they have to say and turn out to their rallies and sermons in the thousands. During the slavery era, many of the leaders of rebellions were itinerant slave preachers who knew the real Bible and preached it, particularly the parts about rebellions against oppressors.
Of course, as Communists and dialectical materialists, we are atheists. God is a creation of humankind in an era where science was poorly developed and natural phenomena weren’t understood. However, what we know isn’t necessarily what the masses know. When Marx described religion as “the opiate of the people”, he meant that is is a salve that people turn to to alleviate the conditions that they face, just like morphine, opium, heroin and fentanyl. To eradicate religion and superstition means eradicating the soil which gives root to it, meaning capitalism-imperialism. Religion is part of the superstructure which rests on a rotten capitalist-imperialist base and serves to beguile the masses, however, it would be wrong to simply go forth and callously and coldly denounce the religion that in many cases has served as a faithful crutch to middle-aged and elderly black people and implore them to physically attack their beloved pastor. Many Communists come from the mainly settler hardcore punk etc. scene where edgy sloganeering and rambling about defiling churches and corpses is worthy of accolade, the masses of black people find such things odd and bizarre. New Afrikan people don’t listen to hardcore punk and metal, so you can’t incorporate things and attitudes from these subcultures into your political line and carry it into the New Afrikan community and expect it to turn out in your favor. One of the major errors of the Communist movement in the 21st century is that for all of our talk about going among and learning from the people, our practice generally seems to be going among the people, alienating them with empty slogans, and squabbling endlessly with each other over “mass bases” of 10 or 20 people. For good or for ill, religious and petty capitalist institutions like AME and CME churches, the Urban League, and the Nation of Islam have Communists well beat in terms of building a mass base, meaning a segment of people that engage with the programs of these institutions in large numbers, donate to them, call on them for help with rent, food, clothing, etc., and joining them. To displace these institutions means isolating their reactionary, backward leadership, winning over the masses of intermediate people who engage with them and uniting them with the advanced within our organizations. This can only be done if we go deep among and get to know them.
Marable writes in How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America: “Many Blacks view Marxism and Communism as foreign ideologies. Young Black militants do not consider Marxism relevant since Marx was a white man. Liberal (and anticommunist) journalist Harry Golden suggested that Communism failed to attract Southern Blacks for two reasons. First, they do not depend on nor incorporate Jesus and the Gospels. Second, the great mass of the American Negroes do not reject the existing social order, they seek only to share fully in its bourgeois blessing”. (p.185)
Of course, conditions have changed since this work was written in the Reagan Era. An entire generation or two of Black working class youth, especially queer people, have come of age realizing that the Church as institution is fundamentally opposed to the revolutionary project that we have come to realize is required in the wake of Ferguson and Baltimore. We have seen, time and time again, the parachuting in of individuals such as Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and others who have secured media attention for themselves whenever one of us is murdered by vigilantes or police. We have seen, time and time again, the peddling of bourgeois, police accommodating, conservative-reactionary rhetoric from the pulpit. We have seen progressive clergy surrounded and politically isolated by reactionary clergy tied at the hip to the forces of reaction — the same took place in the 1960s, when Communists and Socialists such as Carl and Anne Braden, Paul Robeson, and various others were expelled from the ranks of various Civil Rights organizations and shut out from the mainstream demonstrations and efforts. This robbed the Movement at that time of politically advanced, revolutionary-minded, principled and dedicated organizers who in many cases were veterans of the movements of the 1920s and ’30s. So, we have seen how reactionary sentiment within the clergy elements of the New Afrikan elite has been noted by younger generations who, by and large, don’t trust preachers. Yet preachers still have a large mass base among the — still deeply religious — New Afrikan nation.
But, they don’t trust Communists either. Why? Because, by and large, self -proclaimed Communists in practice in New Afrikan communities have acted worse than preachers whether you count the opportunist formations that come out of the woodwork with signs and recruitment sign-up sheets after every murder of a New Afrikan person, the various forms of maltreatment of organic New Afrikan organizers within these communities who don’t adopt every aspect of an organization’s “line”, or the desire to channel the rage of the masses into either electoral uselessness or adventurist nonsense that serves to get more of our people killed. Thus, we don’t see Black people old or young flocking to the ranks of the RCP or the ISO (now collapsed). The Black Panther Party offers an example here — they worked with progressive clergy. Many of the Free Breakfast Programs and other survival pending revolution programs were hosted at churches, and Panther funerals were presided over by progressive clergy. We can also learn from the Filipino New Democracy movement — many clergymen and former nuns and priests have distinguished themselves in the ranks of the NPA and CPP. Mindlessly denouncing religion and alienating ourselves from the ranks of the working class and semi-proletarian people who are more apt to call themselves Methodists, Baptists, AME or CME as opposed to Maoists is the epitome of ultra-leftism and self-isolation. Correctness is determined by how many people are willing to harbor our cadre when shit pops off, how many people are willing to take off work to attend our demonstrations, how many people actually discuss our political positions in barbershops and beauty salons. The Left would do well to cease the positional warfare against itself and institutions that we are in no feasible position at this stage to overcome or destroy and humble ourselves before the real masses. To reach people and bring them up to the level of proletarian revolutionary as Lenin taught, it is necessary to reach them in language that they have been speaking since they were able to talk. The Black Church is probably the institution that has the most influence over the day to day life and ideology of broad segments of the New Afrikan nation. Communists disrespect and ignore it to our peril.