J.R. Johnston

One Tenth of the Nation

24 February 194

Originally published in Labor Action, 24 February 24 1947.
Transcribed by Matthew Quest.

The Negroes, we hope, are watching the tragic fate which has overtaken the Jews of Europe. The Negro people have shown themselves throughout their long history of oppression, sympathetic to other oppressed races. They have shown their solidarity with China, oppressed by imperialism. They have demonstrated their solidarity with the Indian struggle for independence. They Negro organizations should powerfully and clearly make known their wishes that the doors of the United States be thrown open to the Jews.

But the actual historical development of the Jewish struggle is of vast importance to Negroes. The Jews in Europe had been assimilated to European bourgeois society to an extraordinary degree. It is true that in certain parts of Europe, i.e. Poland, this was not so. But in Berlin and Vienna in particular, Jews were solid citizens, occupying high posts in finance, industry, government, and the arts. They intermarried. In many instances Jewish families were Jewish in name only. They had become entirely incorporated in the nation.

The Jewish people in Germany were only a small percentage of the population – one half of one percent. The Jewish capitalists and many of the petty bourgeois intellectuals were opposed to communism and revolution. They believed in all the rituals and rubbish of parliamentary democracy. More than that in the early days of Hitler, there were Jews, wealthy ones, who would tell you that Hitler was all right except he persecuted the Jews. Then as if hell itself had opened, the imperialist war threatened to engulf European culture. Six million Jews perished.

Why did Hitler order this inhuman barbarism? That he hated Jews, is no answer. That the Jews formed some sort of whipping boy for the German population and its allies is also true. But in the last years it is obvious that the calculated brutality against Jews and other peoples had a very special political purpose. The more the murders, the greater the massacres, cruelties, and bestiality, the more Hitler’s soldiers and the officials were tied to the regime. The deeper and wider the rivers of blood, the harder it would be for the German people to make up their minds to break with Hitler. Thus murder and bestiality were forced to expand and multiply.

Now comes the tragic climax. Today, when all the millions are already dead, the remaining Jews are fighting with rare heroism and determination, against Arab nationalism it is true, but also against British imperialism. However much we may differ in our political estimates of the aims of the struggling Jews in Palestine and their allies in Europe, we cannot but admire their heroism and rejoice at every blow they give to the power and prestige of British imperialism.

But we cannot help a few reflections. Why has this courage and self-sacrifice appeared so late, when so many are dead and cannot fight? The answer is one full of solemn warning. They believed in the promises and in the strength of bourgeois democracy. Many Jews in Berlin and Vienna and others of the great towns of Europe were revolutionary. But the great mass believed in democracy, they believed in British imperialism, they did not in Germany believe that Hitler could ever come to power. They could not understand that capitalism was doomed, that its progressive days were over, that henceforth it could only drag the human race downward, persecuting with savage ferocity minorities and the poorest and most oppressed of the workers and poor farmers. It was a deadly mistake.

Negroes should reflect on this. The Columbians, the Ku Klux Klan, the Knights of the Camellia, petty gangsters like the pretender Talmadge, these, mischievous as they are, cannot seize power in the United States. But woe betide the country if, in a period of crisis, the capitalists were to find a suitable fascist leader. Then behind him all these evil spirits and Negro-hating rabble will rally. They have their enemies marked down – the Negro people. It is perfectly possible that a catastrophe as destructive to the status of the Negro people in the United States as was Hitlerism to the Jews, can fall upon this country. Who does not realize that we are living in a capitalist world whose foundations are crushed and rocking is living in a fool’s paradise.

But fascism does not conquer so easily. It gets its chance only after the workers have failed to seize the revolutionary opportunities which the social crisis again and again presents to them. Against a revolutionary working class, fascism is powerless. Negroes themselves need to think in historical terms. They above all have no reason whatever to cultivate illusions in parliamentary democracy. They know it for the mockery and sham that it is. They have the historical background and the daily experiences which should place them in the vanguard of those who understand the historical processes at work today. Every Negro in the United States (except the incurable Uncle Toms) should be for the overthrow of bourgeois society. They have little to lose but their chains and a great new world of freedom to win. The lesson of history is plain.

Last updated on 2.10.2013