This article appeared in the new journal Avant-Garde: A Journal of Peace, Democracy, and Science.  The whole article can be read at avantjournal.com. This is the second half of the article. -THE EDITORS

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Science, the Black Proletariat, and Revolution: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Henry Winston’s Strategy for a Black Agenda

 

By Anthony Monteiro

November 9, 2023

 

Du Bois’s thinking carried tremendous weight for Winston. Based upon it he could see the central role of the Black proletariat to the class and democratic struggles and to the logics of revolutionary change. For Du Bois to arrive at this new understanding of the working class in the U.S. meant going beyond normal scientific and rational assumptions and assertions. It was an intuitive/imaginative leap; a new social category was thus discovered; scientific knowledge was advanced.

Winston’s Deployment of the Black Proletariat Imaginary

Winston, in essence, bends Marxist categories, deploying Du Bois’s scientific categories and empirical studies to achieve a new scientific synthesis, which I call a Du Bois/Lenin synthesis. In particular this is necessary to explain the special oppression of Black people, the special super-exploitation of Black labor, and how all this fits into the struggle against U.S. imperialism. The extraordinary thing about Winston’s method is that the imaginary is organic to who he was. He bends science to a special empathy for working people and their suffering. This imagination arises from the lifeworld of the Black proletariat and slavery. Winston knew this world and found in it a source of knowledge and creativity.

Winston’s Black Proletariat Imaginary had the effect of unsettling and challenging what turned out to be dogmatic Marxist assumptions about class and race, especially as they related to the Black struggle. This is the existential and lived world dimension of scientific practice. Winston’s being a Black man—a person who grew up in the shadow of slavery under conditions of inhuman poverty and degradation, seeing unimaginable suffering—frames the human essence of his approach to knowledge and science. In other words, the totality of knowledge and his approach to theory, philosophy, and science are filtered through his Black proletariat lifeworld. This life experience, part of the deep structure of his mind and his thinking, became the imaginative and intuitive filter for knowing. It must be emphasized that this gave to his thinking a creativity and an urge to understand concrete social reality in creative ways. In Winston, we see the fact that the Black Proletariat Imaginary is a necessary and indispensable part of revolutionary science. Ultimately, this more holistic approach to scientific knowledge forces it away from positivism and dogmatism. This dimension unsettles purely rational construals of science—it upsets what is believed to be normal; yet properly deployed, it produces the possibility of new knowledge.

The Revolutionary and Moral Imperatives

The third dimension is the revolutionary and moral imperative as part of scientific knowledge. That higher purpose of science for Winston is revolutionary change, which compels the scientist away from the status quo towards the moral imperative to act, and not for one’s own interests but in the interests of humanity. Moreover, the revolutionary is not merely bound to theory, science, and philosophy in order to know the world, but to a revolutionary and moral imperative to change the world, to transform it and bring into being a new world. The Black Proletariat Imaginary, along with the Revolutionary and Moral Imperatives, further pushes science and the Scientific/Rational towards the purpose for which science and knowledge must exist: humanity.

Time, History, and Black Proletarian Agency

Finally, a word about history. It cannot be said enough, Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America is a great and transgressive historical work, designed as a study of socio-historical time. Time is a measure of movement; historical time is a measure of the velocity of social and historical change, rooted in the struggles of human beings. The Black proletariat and its consciousness are a major part of determining social time; in essence, measuring movement and its speed. In this respect it can be viewed as a measure of the maturity of human agency and consciousness. Time is concrete, and therefore, embedded in human social relationships. Understanding time in this concrete way informs our understanding of the architecture of struggle and what are appropriate strategies and tactics.

In a nuanced critique of Huey P. Newton’s (a co-founder of the Black Panther Party) understanding of the relationship of time to revolutionary tactics, Winston introduces a scientific understanding of time and revolutionary agency. With Newton and Winston, we have opposing theories of time, tactics, and when the people will be ready for revolutionary action. Winston says that Newton’s idea that certain tactics must await the future, or the right time, is a way of saying we must passively wait for time. Which is to say that time is disconnected from actual material relationships of classes and oppressed groups. For Winston, time is part of the material world and thus a part of human relationships. Thus, the actions of human beings and of classes determine social time. Humans can both make time through their actions, and we can know time through scientific observation. Human social relations have Time embedded in them, yet human agency determines Time, especially its velocity. At the end, Winston concludes that Newton’s notion of Time and the future time of revolutionary action is rooted in a fantasy, a fiction, about when and how to act, leading to the justification of political passivity and forms of Black capitalism in the name of waiting for a revolutionary time for revolutionary activism. For Winston, this is a distorted understanding of current time and the future.

Neo-colonialism and the Scientific Understanding of Imperialism

Africa, for Winston, is central to explaining the modern world, both the rise of capitalism as a system and the imperialist, or general crisis stage, of capitalism. Hence in the imperialist stage and after the independence of most African nations in the 1960s, neo-colonialism plays a strategic function in the consolidation of capitalism as a world system. He recognized the fundamental role of Africa’s national liberation struggles to the class and anti-racist struggles in the U.S. He believed that the U.S. working class, and the Black proletariat in particular, could move forward to the extent that they politically understood Africa’s positioning in the world. This understanding elevates class consciousness among U.S. workers to anti-imperialist and anti-racist consciousness. A high level of political and ideological clarity.

However, imperialism is reproduced to the extent that the labor and mineral wealth of Africa remains in the grip of the West. In other words, there is hardly an anti-imperialist struggle that is not equally a struggle against neo-colonialism in Africa. Winston concludes that Maoism (the political and theoretical ideas of Mao Zedong, leader of the Communist Party of China) and neo-Pan-Africanism (a capture of the Pan-African Movement for aims completely different from Du Bois’s) ideologically and politically operate to justify and uphold neo-colonialism. Maoism and neo-Pan-Africanism—by claiming that the Soviet Union, a vital ally to African nations and liberation movements, was an imperialist nation and thus anti-African—provided ideological aid and comfort to actual imperialist nations and to their system of neo-colonialism, which was fortified by financial, economic, political, and military institutions of the West. He notes that Maoism and neo-Pan-Africanism deploy what he calls a “skin strategy,” a “strategy” which says allies and enemies are defined by their skin color. Skin strategy thinking and analysis, rather than undermining neo-colonialism, fragment and disunite the anti-imperialist movements and fortify and reinscribe the color line on a world scale. Winston insists that Maoism and neo-Pan-Africanism are enemies of the oppressed.

Du Bois-Lenin Synthesis, A New Region of Science

An extraordinary part of Winston’s theorizing was his suggestion that Lenin and Du Bois thought along parallel lines. Winston, in a sense, opens up a new region of thought; a possible Du Bois/Lenin synthesis, which links the categories and assumptions of Du Bois’s work with Lenin’s. This synthesis creates a new region of scientific thought. It joins in unique ways the more general scientific achievements of Lenin’s and Marx’s theorizing with the special theories and categories discovered by Du Bois, especially concerning the class struggle and the class/race dialectic in the U.S. However, Du Bois foresaw a new Afro-Asiatic world configuration, replacing the imperialist alliance based on Western domination. Du Bois saw a large revolutionary role in the movements of Asian and African civilizations to communism. This new region of thought, though not fully developed in Winston’s work, is part of the Saturday Free School for Philosophy & Black Liberation’s theoretical work. Du Bois thought anew about communism and located its immediate possibilities in Asia. The rise of Asia and Africa would occur in the context of the crisis of the West, especially the United States, and the consequent crisis of neo-colonialism.

The prerequisites for communism were, Du Bois theorized, more readily grounded in the values of ancient Asian civilizations, especially ones that had had socialist revolutions and established the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat. Du Bois thought creatively about questions such as forms of state power, including the dictatorship of the proletariat and the state of the entire people, and what is today called the civilization state. He thought in new, unprecedented ways about a new type of communism based on a new way of thinking (“a different kind of communism,” he called it), and forms of state power and people’s democracy rooted in Asian civilizational values. He creatively synthesized several modalities of social scientific, philosophical and historical investigation, comparing civilizations and their possibilities to achieve communism.

These interrogations have meaning in the 21st century; a century where Asia will overtake the West, and Africa not being far behind, when the U.S. is confronted with domestic political instability and a rising crisis of government and bourgeois class rule. Du Bois’s conclusions concerning communism reflected his characteristic optimism, in spite of the Cold War and domestic police state repression, and even as he was being indicted as an agent of a foreign nation. Winston looked increasingly to the East and Africa, the so-called Global South, to carry the weight of humanity in toppling Western and U.S. imperialism.

Henry Winston for a New Epoch

This moment in history is very different from the moment in which Henry Winston produced Strategy for A Black Agenda and other works. The crisis of the West and significantly the crisis for the U.S. ruling elite are existential. The ruling elite are unable to rule in the ways they are most accustomed to, and the people are not willing to be ruled in old ways. That having been said, Winston’s work and his method of thought carries significance for this time. Especially important is his commitment to science as indispensable to revolutionary change. Winston’s contribution to scientific thinking and method—by joining three levels of thinking, the Rational/Scientific, the Black Proletariat Imaginary, and the Revolutionary and Moral Imperative—has enduring value. His rethinking of science, and how it is done; his rejection of positivism and other counter-revolutionary movements within science are all important as we go forward. Winston shows that strategy and tactics of struggle demand scientific analyses of the objective world, and that the objective of science joined to strategy and tactics is a way to answer questions such as what is to be done. Winston’s commitment was to unite working people and all of the peace, democratic, and socialist forces on a world scale.

Yet humanity is on the cusp of a new epoch of human liberation from imperialism, racism, and exploitation. Called popularly the rise of the Global South, what in actuality is occurring is the emergence of an Afro-Asian reconfiguration of the planet; a movement from the Age of Europe to the Age of Humanity. This new epoch will require the development of new sciences and new methods of scientific investigation. As such the purpose of science will be redefined, and counter-revolutionary ideas within science and about science will have to be overturned. As our people struggle to make and secure their future, Winston is deeply important. His message for children and youth is, There is a sky. There is a future worth fighting for; tomorrow is today, what must be will be decided now. We must recognize the fierce urgency of now, which means we must struggle hard to know the world and learn methods of scientific research and understanding. At last, because he was a scientist and a revolutionary, we celebrate him and Strategy for a Black Agenda on the fiftieth anniversary of its publication.