Editorial Notes

Trifling With the Negro Question

(March 1931)

Written: March 1931.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 5, 1 March 1931, p. 2.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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In its struggle against the workers’ emancipation movement capitalism plays upon all the dark sentiments of ignorance, prejudice and superstition. This is seen daily and hourly in its endeavors to divide the workers and oppressed people along national, racial and religious lines. The very air we breathe is saturated with these prejudices which arise from class society like foul odors from decaying matter. The revolutionary struggle for the solidarity of labor is also a struggle for knowledge and light on these questions.

These problems have a particular importance and acuteness in America where the proletariat, enslaved by bourgeois ideology, is inflamed against the foreigner, the Jew and the Negro. Communism cannot be other than the mortal enemy of these devastating prejudices, and the Communist party is charged with an irreconcilable struggle against them. In no small degree the party of the proletariat is to be judged by the vigor, and also by the wisdom, with which it conducts this struggle. And it is self-evident that the Negro question takes first place within it. Communist ideas, Communist teaching and practise must break down the artificial wall which bourgeois prejudice has reared between the races; the Communists must be the heralds of a genuine solidarity between the exploited workers of the white race and the doubly exploited Negroes.

This is no question to be played with. Its seriousness and its difficulty are enormous. The deep-seated prejudices of the white workers will not be extirpated by force or terror any more than the justified suspicions of the Negroes will be removed by cajolery. In this field education takes the first place – patient, unceasing and systematic explanation combined with a genuine policy of equality in practise. Such a policy must be as free from discrimination on the one hand as it is free from flattery and demagogy on the other. Only along this path will real progress be recorded.

During their career as leaders of the party, Lovestone, Minor & Co., did their best to spoil this work, as they did others. For discrimination against the Negroes – the instinctive attitude of all petty-bourgeois elements, but an attitude formally impossible in the name of Communism – they substituted an unscrupulous demagogy, and a policy of flattery, condescension and bribery of Negro intellectuals and careerists on the make. By this they attracted not a few outright scoundrels and adventurers while they repelled the self-reliant type of proletarian militants of the Negro race – the type which is offended, and justly so, no less by discrimination than by its twin, condescension. Thereby they arrested the real work among the Negroes and transformed the whole question into a factional football.

The Foster leaders, who have set for themselves the historic task of matching the Lovestone regime in unworthy demagogy and combining it with a stupidity all their own, are now having their fling at the Negro question – and at the Negro. They seem to labor always under a psychological fixation that their time is short and that what they do must be done quickly. The eradication of racial antagonisms, like the creation of a new trade union movement, is a small task for these high-pressure people; a task to be accomplished between plenums, by command. Prejudice against the Negro, that ugly poison which has been injected into the veins of the white workers, is to be removed at one stroke.

The Daily Worker of February 24 features the announcement of this major operation. Comrade Yokinen, a member of the party in Harlem, is accused of manifesting a prejudicial attitude toward Negro workers. One might think – if this is really the case and not a frame-up as we knew of in the days of the Lovestone leadership – that the incident could be made the occasion for an education of the party on the concrete case. Education however, particularly on such a question, requires a calm atmosphere; an atmosphere free from demagogy, hypocrisy and incitement; an atmosphere created by teachers of the proletariat, not by terrorizers.

But such methods are alien to the blustering vulgarians who feel the need to shout down their own prejudices of yesterday. They are going to summon the offending comrade to a mass trial! “This trial”, they announce, “must be packed with Negro and white workers.” Workers’ organizations are asked to send delegations to the sport. The mass trial, they say further, “will be the forerunner of similar trials all over the country.” And all this is to be done “so that the Negro workers will know that the Communist party is in deadly earnest in its fight for the Negro masses.” Otherwise they would not know.

Just a moment, gentlemen! Aren’t you insulting the intelligence of the Negro masses just a little? Aren’t you stultifying the party with this stupid campaign of terror? If you have been educating the party properly how does it happen that race prejudice among party members is manifested “all over the country”? For the Negro masses radical persecution is a bitter actuality that confronts them every moment of their lives. They have learned to recognize all forms of this reactionary poison, including that form of so-called freedom from it which protests too much. Take care, triflers, lest your indecent demagogy becomes a boomerang for the party. Take care lest the Negro masses ask: If your own conscience is clear, why do you shout so loud?.

Last updated on: 5.12.2012