J.R. Johnson

The Negro Question

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

(9 September 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 67, 9 September 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Negro and War – II

Before Hitler marched into Poland, a great many people kept hoping against hope that a war would not take place after all. That is merely behaving like the ostrich and pretending that something isn’t there, because with our heads dug into the ground, we cannot see it. Now, today, they keep hoping that America will not go in. They trust Roosevelt when he says he will try to keep America out. These people are blind to the signs of the times. Every move that Roosevelt makes is towards dragging America in.

Take the question of armaments. During the last five years, every great country doubled and trebled its armaments. Guns and more guns, battleships, submarines and airplanes; soldiers and more soldiers. Whereas in 1932, Great Britain spent 426 millions of dollars on armaments, in 1938 she spent 1,065 millions. Hitler made Germany into one large armament industry. Both armed for the war they knew was coming. But the United States did the same. In 1932 Roosevelt asked Congress for 667 millions of dollars but in 1938 he asked for and got 1,065 millions, nearly twice as much, and in 1939 he got two billions. Why? He and Congress, like the other war-mongers in Europe, know that today no country can attack America. But Roosevelt and the American capitalists are not going to keep out when the other imperialist countries are righting to divide Asia and Africa and the markets in Latin-America. They have to be in, to share in the division. So that when we turn a deaf ear to all Roosevelt’s spectacular appeals for peace, and pay attention, not to what he is saying but to what he is doing, we can see that like the rest he is hiding his actions for war behind a mass of words for peace. Remember that Wilson played the same trick in 1917.

Negroes Wanted – To Die

Roosevelt is preparing to go in. The dirty bloody work is going to be done; and as usual whenever dirty work has to be done, the Negroes are going to be called upon to do the dirtiest part of it. Whenever blood is to be shed, the rulers of this country see to it that the Negroes shed theirs. That is a privilege and an honor of which they never deprive the Negro. They take away his vote, give him the worst jobs, shove him into the dirtiest slums, kick him out of restaurants, lynch him. But when they want people to die for “democracy”, to dig trenches in France, to build roads, to clean latrines, while enemy bombers rain their bombs, then they are sure to come looking for Negroes; There the rulers of this country are perfectly willing to see that Negroes have their full rights.

But 1939 is not 1914. Today hundreds of thousands of Negroes are saying to themselves:

“Why should I shed my blood for Roosevelt’s America, for Cotton Ed Smith and Senator Bilbo, for the whole Jim Crow, Negro-hating South, for the low-paid, dirty jobs for which Negroes have to fight, for the few dollars of relief and the insults, discrimination, police brutality and perpetual poverty to which Negroes are condemned even in the more liberal North.

“And in any case, Negro or not, for what is Roosevelt preparing to drag this country into a war? Why should any poor worker shed his blood? The white man, who works in the factory or in the hotel with me, despises me because I am a Negro. But he is very little better off than I am. Since the crisis he and I have often stood outside the relief bureau together, we have fought side by side in the CIO unions, and he is beginning to see that he and I are fellow workers first, last, and all the time. Before we are ready to die for our country, we should have a country to live for. And what part of this country is ours? We produce and for centuries we have produced the wealth of this country. But what do we get in return? And Negroes in particular.”

When the ordinary working Negro asks these questions, what can the war-mongers say to him? Nothing. Nothing but lies and empty promises of better treatment in the future. And that is why the Republican Party and the Democratic Party and the Communist Party make special appeals to the Negro on every conceivable topic, but keep far away from the war question.

(Continued in Next Issue)

Last updated on 13 March 2016