Black Liberation Struggle: The Key to American Socialist Revolution
Part Two
Date Written:  2019-02-22
Publisher:  Workers Vanguard
Year Published:  2019
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX23528

Everybody is familiar with Marx's famous saying, in Capital, Vol. 1 (1867), that "labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded." This was more than a moral appeal against slavery. It was a statement of fact: Marx recognized that so long as half the country was dominated by slavery, workers would never be able to fight for even basic trade-union rights. The Civil War paved the way for the growth of American capitalism and the labor movement.



It is important to contrast how the race concept in the U.S. incorporated the "one-drop rule," which was not the case elsewhere in the Americas. In Puerto Rico, there is a famous poem by Fortunato Vizcarrondo, "¿Y tu agüela, aonde ejtá?" whose title translates as, "Where is your grandmother?" In it, a black Puerto Rican responds to racist taunts by a white Puerto Rican, pointing out that both of them have black grandmothers, but his is a proud part of the family while the other's is hidden. The poem is powerful because many "white" Puerto Ricans have black ancestors whom they deny. But such a poem wouldn't work in the United States. Anybody in the U.S. with a black grandparent -- or great-grandparent -- is black, no matter his or her physical appearance.

For the overwhelming majority of slaves in the U.S., slavery was a permanent condition. Manumission was much less common than in other countries, so there was a much smaller population of free black people. There was at the same time a much larger white population than in much of the Caribbean.

Here it is important to keep in mind that about 500,000 African slaves ended up in the U.S. -- out of 12.5 million enslaved Africans who were brought to the Americas between 1525 and 1866. More than a third of all these slaves ended up in Brazil -- about ten times the number who ended up in the U.S. In Brazil by the time of abolition in 1888, there was a significant non-slave black population. According to the 1872 census, at least three-quarters of all black and mixed-race Brazilians -- some 4.25 million people -- were free. They constituted 40 percent of the entire population in Brazil.

Thus, the neat equation of black skin and being a slave broke down in Brazil in a way that it did not in the American South. I would argue that unlike in the United States, black people in Brazil do not form a caste. In fact, the term "black Brazilian" means something different in Brazil than it would to an American, since the "one-drop rule" does not exist in Brazil. Racial mixing is much more common -- and accepted -- in Brazil. There is a saying in Brazil, "money whitens." This means that wealth and status can to some degree offset racial discrimination. In the U.S. it is usually the opposite: the caste nature of black oppression means that even the most distinguished black person is still subject to racist abuse.

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