James P. Cannon


(April 1932)

Written: April 1932.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. V No. 15 (Whole No. 111), 9 April 1932, p. 4.
Source: Microfilm collection and original bound volumes for The Militant provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California. Additional bound volumes from Earl Gilman’s collection, San Francisco, California
Transcription\HTML Markup: Andrew Pollack.
Proofread: Einde O’Callaghan (May 2013).
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The Scottsboro case reveals American capitalism in one of its most hideous aspects, and offers to the Communists an exceptional opportunity to deal the whole system a mighty, world-resounding blow. The deliberately planned assassination of the unfortunate Negro children is notice to the entire world that imperialist America, this pretended pacifist and friend of justice, is in fact a monster. The endeavor to thwart its bloody designs in the present case calls out the deepest and best human instincts.

The words solidarity and justice acquire fresh values, they become new again in the struggle for the liberation of the helpless young Negro boys who await their fate in the Alabama jail. It is hard to think of a cause that could appeal more strongly to the hearts of the workers and all the oppressed than that of these obscure and friendless symbols of a doubly persecuted race and class.

From the revolutionary standpoint, the struggle, of course, goes far beyond the immediate objectives of the court appeals. To save the lives of the intended victims and restore their liberty is indeed our aim; but the only hope of accomplishing this is to set a really immense movement into motion. And such an achievement could have great implications for the strengthening of the Communist influence over the workers and the Negro masses. All of this is bound up together with the concrete fight for the freedom of the prisoners. To separate the one from the other, as the liberal and Socialist snivelers try to do, would only make the sacrifice of the prisoners doubly certain.

The problem consists primarily in the mobilization of the white workers for the fight. In our opinion it is incorrect to view the Scottsboro case as a “Negro issue”; it is wrong to direct the main agitation toward the Negro people and concrete organizational work around them, including their churches and lodges. Such a tactic will not be able to arouse a movement of the necessary breadth and power. And, moreover, it will fail even to make the desired impression on the Negro people.

There is no doubt that the Negro masses burn with indignation at the Scottsboro outrage and suffer their own thousandfold wrongs again in sympathy with the prisoners. But along with that, they cannot help being conscious of their position as a hopeless racial minority. What they need to inspire them for struggle is the prospect, or at least the hope, of victory. Direct agitation alone will never suffice for this. The sight of a significant movement of white workers fighting on their side is the agitator that will really move the Negroes and make them accessible to the Communist organizers of that movement.

The central problem of the Scottsboro defense movement is the organization of the white workers for the fight. Once a good start is made along this line, the enlistment of huge Negro contingents in the common struggle will be a comparatively simple matter. In this question, as in every important undertaking in the class struggle, the trade union movement exhibits its decisive importance. The trade unions ought to be alive at this moment with Communist agitation on the Scottsboro case. Here is an unexampled opportunity to explain to the organized workers the necessity of solidarity with their Black brothers, and to dramatize the argument with the monstrous story of Scottsboro.

Assuming a Communist Party that knows how to work in the trade unions, a big response can be expected from this agitation. The sympathies of the organized workers can be quickly crystallized into a network of conferences. The movement of the unions in this direction will give a tremendous impetus to the propaganda among the Negroes; they will join in the movement with enthusiasm and hope. The concrete demonstrations of white and Negro solidarity, ominously foreshadowing their coming union in the revolution, will impress the judicial hirelings more than a thousand lawyer’s briefs; will make them pause and weigh the possible consequences of their murders. The Communists, as the organizers and leaders of the unprecedented demonstration, as the loyal and capable champions of the most oppressed and persecuted, will gain an enormous prestige.

In such a perspective there is nothing fantastic. It assumes merely an active Communist Party which understands the essence of the Negro question, which applies the tactic of the united front, and which has not isolated itself from the trade union movement. Even in the present situation the deficiencies can be made up by a timely correction of policy. The best way to serve the Scottsboro case is to press for this.

Last updated on: 24.5.2013