J.R. Johnson

The Negro Question

“Labor with a White Skin Cannot Emancipate Itself Where Labor with a Black Skin Is Branded” – Karl Marx

(6 September 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 66, 6 September 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Negroes and the War – I

In Europe the war has begun. Like Woodrow Wilson, Roosevelt says that he will try to keep America out but we know that he has been making every preparation to drag America in.

This is the situation that faces the American people and the great masses all over the world. The Negroes, here as elsewhere, know that great decisions are being made which will affect their whole future. What are they to do? What does this war mean to Negroes? What must they think about it?

Negroes, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, it is no use merely whispering to one another that it is a white man’s war. The stand you take today will help to decide the fate of the world and your own fate for many many years to come. Roosevelt’s war propaganda has been screaming at you and the other workers and farmers of America for the last two years. Now, as the hour comes nearer when your parsons, your Elk leaders, your Republican and Democratic Negro bosses, the university professors, Communist Party leaders like Earl Browder and James Ford, all are going to turn on their loud speakers, wave their flags, and beat their big drums, .to bewilder you and drive you into support of this war. But in your hearts, you, the masses of the Negro people feel that this war is not your war. You feel that once more you, your relatives and your friends all over the world, in America, in Africa and the West Indies, are going to be used and then flung aside. You are right, but only half-right. For this time you will not only be used, but by the support of this war you will be tying a thousand times tighter, the chains which now bind you as the pack-horse, the servant and the slave of capitalist civilization.

Why They Don’t Appeal to the Negro

In America, in Africa, in the West Indies, over 150 millions of Negroes bear on their bent backs and sweating limbs, a burden greater than that of any people anywhere in the world. If this war is a great war for freedom and a better life, the Negroes should have been addressed before anybody else. They need a better life and freedom more than any other people. But just note how careful everybody has been not to address the Negroes directly on the war question. In all the preparation for the great slaughter, in all the propaganda that pours over us like a flood, there has been a great conspiracy of silence in regard to what part the Negro must play in the coming war.

Republican Party, Democratic Party, Communist Party, all carefully avoid making direct references to the Negroes and the war. They will talk and write about Negroes and relief, about Negroes and the WPA, about Negroes and the New Deal, about why the Negroes used to vote for the Republican Party and why they now vote for the Democratic Party. The Republican Party appoints a commission to find ways and means to win back the Negro vote. The Communist Party points out why Negroes must hate Japan and Hitler, why the Negroes must vote for the New Deal, why the Negroes must be anti-fascist, why the Negroes must oppose those who attack Jews. But about Negroes and the war, what Negroes must do when the drums begin to beat and the bugles begin to blow, not a direct word all these months. They have been trying to smuggle the Negroes into the war as a section of the American people. They have not dared openly to explain to you why you, as Negroes, should take part in the war. They do not dare to start the discussion. They know their arguments would stick in their throats. Today, and still more tomorrow, they will seek to sweep you into the war under, cover of the general slogan: Our democracy is in danger. One party, however, the Socialist Workers Party, has no tricks to play on the Negroes or anybody else on this life or death question of imperialist war. Clearly, simply, and without possibility of being misunderstood, we say that this coming war, like the last one, is a war that will be fought by the muscles and blood and lives of the poor for the pockets and bellies of the rich. The poor have nothing to gain and everything to lose by supporting the rich in a war that will be fought exclusively for the benefit of the rich. And above all, the Negroes, the poorest and most oppressed people in every country where they live, would be the greatest fools to allow themselves to be deceived this time, as they were the last time. We are confident that the great majority of the Negroes who consider this question with the seriousness that it deserves, will come inevitably to the conclusion that they must fight against the war to the bitter end.

That is our position. The Socialist Workers Party has nothing to hide from the Negro. It says to him, as it says to the poor everywhere – whites, Negroes in Africa, Indians in India:

“Brothers and sisters of whatever color, this war is not our war. We will not support it. We, the workers, the poor farmers in every country, white, black, and brown, are not going to kill one another at the command of Chamberlain, or Hitler at the orders of Roosevelt or of the Japanese Mikado. We shall fight for a fraternal unity between all the poor in every country against all the rich. That is the war we shall fight. Down with the imperialist war!”

(Continued in Next Issue)

Last updated on 13 March 2016