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In a 1933 document, Max Shachtman, then a leader of the Trotskyist movement in the U.S., took aim at liberals who voice support to black liberation while seeking to maintain a ruling class whose most fundamental interests are bound up with black oppression. Against the liberals and reformist left, communists point the only way forward: fuse the fight for black freedom with the struggle of the working class to overthrow capitalist rule.

The liberal wing of the bourgeoisie does not rise to greater heights than outright reaction in the essential aspects of its “solution.” The greatest concern of these “friends of the Negro” is to pour cold water on his flaming protests; to console him with soothing phrases in the moments of his anguish and misery, to beseech the Negro to have patience, while they are in turn beseeching the big bourgeoisie to make enough concessions to the black to prevent him from revolting. They insinuate into the mind of the Negro the treacherous idea that nothing is to be gained by flying in the face of prejudices, that the Negro must wait until his oppressors have evolved to a “higher understanding of his problems.” They give him significant warnings that the “right people” will not be won to the cause of sweetness and light if the Negro does not behave like a good Christian, bearing his cross with dignity and grace, until those who have burdened him with it relent their unfairness. The best of the liberal friends of the Negro (save the mark!) reveal their fundamental white chauvinism the minute the latter turns toward the revolutionary movement or engages in a genuinely militant struggle which requires that the pretended friends lend their assistance in more concrete form than mere oratory and literature.…

The petty bourgeois Socialist party embraces another group which supplies the Negro with assurances, promises, and consolations. In the American Negro question, the hierarchy of the Socialist party is unusually “radical.” It refuses to look upon the Negro’s problem as something “unique.” It will not be diverted from the “straight Socialist” standpoint. As the Negro problem is created by capitalism, it will be solved when capitalism gives way to socialism. In the meantime, the socialists will carry on the same “struggle” for the Negro as they do for the white. The fact that the Negro masses in the United States occupy a special position, that they constitute a distinct racial caste of pariahs, is conveniently ignored by the Socialist theoreticians.…

The Communists do not endeavor, therefore, to divide the fight for full social and economic equality for the Negro from the general socialist struggle of the proletariat as a whole against the capitalist class. On the contrary, they combine the two, thus distinguishing themselves from the petty bourgeois liberals who demand (in words) the abolition of inequality but want to preserve the capitalist class and its system intact, that is, people who want “equal rights for the Negroes” without the class struggle. The Negro masses will attain social, political and economic equality only by way of the class struggle. Talk of any other way is pure phrase-mongering, conscious or unconscious deception, in other words, petty bourgeois liberalism in the service of the white ruling class.

—Max Shachtman, Communism and the Negro (1933)