J.R. Johnson

The Negro Question

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

(11 September 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 68, 11 September 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Negro and the War – III

Let us take, one by one, the arguments put forward by the war-mongers. A Republican like Landon, a Democrat like Roosevelt, or a member of the Communist Party like Earl Browder and James Ford, tells everybody (including the Negro of course) that the war now being fought in Europe is a war against aggression, a war for “democracy,” for the “preservation of human liberties,” and the like. They say this because, although they are talking about peace, they are really preparing the minds of the workers for war,

The average Negro lives the life of an outcast in the North. He has little enough “democracy” there. But let Browder and Ford go to Memphis, Houston, Dallas, New Orleans, Jacksonville, Birmingham, Mobile, all the South, where some nine or ten million Negroes live, and tell those Negroes to fight for “democracy.” Such is the “democracy” of the South that in many towns the Negroes wouldn’t be able to sit in the same room with the whites to hear why they should die for “democracy.” There are hundreds of places in the South where if James Ford dared to stand on a platform to talk about anything, he’d be torn limb from limb, vice-presidential candidate though he is. There are a thousand hotels in the South where if he showed his nose at the front entrance, three janitors would fall on him and throw him out into the gutter, after which the police would beat him up and take him to jail. In many cities, if he went near the polling booth he would risk being beaten up and perhaps shot. He must come out of the rear entrance of a bus in many Southern cities, or any white cop nearby would riddle him with bullets. If Ford got a job as a butler in the South, and a friend of his rang up the house and asked for Mr. Ford, his friend would be fined and imprisoned for disorderly conduct, as happened in this year of “democracy” 1939. In the South, Ford is plain Ford, no Mr. for Negroes. In Memphis you can go to the zoo only once a week, when whites are not there.

Roosevelt’s Party Rules Us in the South

And it is the Democratic Party, Franklin Roosevelt’s party, which controls the state government in the South. Argue with these Democrats about the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments, which “guarantee” the political rights of the Negroes. If you insist you will get fourteen or fifteen bullets. That is the only kind of amendment the Southern Democrats have allowed the Negroes for many years. So that the vast majority of Negroes in the South will tell Roosevelt and James Ford, “What is this democracy I am to fight for? Where is it? Since when are Cotton Ed Smith and Senator Bilbo and the Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt my good friends? Why must I die for them? I am not afraid to fight. Negroes have been some of the greatest fighters in history. But the democracy that I want to fight for, Hitler is not depriving me of. I know the people who have kept me away from it for seventy-five years by rifles and revolvers, by state-law and lynch law! You, Franklin Roosevelt, James Ford and Earl Browder, tell us why we must go and shed our blood for something that we have never had.”

“We Americans must fight against aggression,” says James Ford and Franklin Roosevelt, seeking to drive American workers, white and black, into war. No wonder all of these politicians are so scared of raising the question of war directly to the Negroes. Every word they say turns to ashes in their mouths. Let us agree that Negroes must fight against aggression. But who are the aggressors against the Negroes? Hitler? Nonsense. The Southerners of the Democratic Party are the greatest aggressors against the Negroes in American history, and the North is not far behind them. “Oh! but we mean aggression in foreign countries, aggression by Mussolini, Hitler and Japan,” say Roosevelt and Ford. The Negro will immediately reply, “And why if you so hate aggression, didn’t you help Ethiopia?”

What These Democrats Did to Ethiopia

Ethiopia was the last little bit of Africa left free. Mussolini decided that he wanted it. The League of Nations had sworn to defend it. Every Negro with a spark of pride knows what happened, and remembers it with justified bitterness. Not only did they not protect Ethiopia as they had sworn to do, but instead they prevented arms from going to her while they bargained with Mussolini. They stabbed Ethiopia in the back – Britain, France, America, these great democracies. And Stalin, who is Ford’s paymaster and boss, sold oil to Italy all through the Italian campaign. Now Roosevelt comes running, and Ford with him, to tell all good Americans (Negroes included of course), that they must fight against aggression.

And who is going to do the fighting against this aggression? The workers as always. Chamberlain, Daladier, and Roosevelt are getting ready to push the workers in America into the war. These are the very men who actively collaborated with Mussolini in destroying the last independent African state.

Why Should Negroes Trust These Rulers?

On[ce] again a Negro will ask:

“Why should I trust you? You who have betrayed the last African state? Am I to go fighting for Poland to retain Danzig and prevent Hitler from getting it? Have I nothing else to fight for? I am not such a fool as not to know that international affairs are important. If Africans in Africa are fighting for freedom as Ethiopians fought, and are still fighting, I’ll do all I can to help. The Indians are an oppressed people, and when they fight to drive Britain out, I am with them. Negroes went to fight in Spain against Franco. That was a good thing to do. As people who for centuries have suffered from oppression, Negroes must and will assist struggles against [some text missing] ler and Poland are quarrelling over Danzig and East Prussia? When Czechoslovakia was cut up into pieces, it was fascist Germany, Hungary, and this same Poland that divided it. Now Germany and Poland begin fighting over one bone. Britain and France know that this is only the beginning of a struggle for world wide power. So they come in at once. But tell me, Franklin Roosvelt, and James Ford, why must I, a Negro, follow you into that?”

The Biggest Lie of All

Then will come the last argument. “It is not a question of Germany and Poland and Danzig. But freedom, civilization and liberty are in danger against fascist aggression, and the people of Britain, France, America, Belgium and the Soviet Union must unite to fight against aggression.” But of all the big lies that are being told to push the people into war, this one about the war for civilization is the biggest.

There are today over 150 million Negroes in the world. There are fifteen million in America. They are the lowest paid, most humiliated, most despised people in the country, and in the South where four-fifths of them live they are treated like the Jews in Germany. We know how this great democracy terrorizes Negroes in the South and how it discriminates against them in the North.

When Roosevelt and other so-called lovers of democracy protested to Hitler against his treatment of the Jews, Hitler laughed scornfully and replied, “Look at how you treat the Negroes. I learned how to persecute Jews by studying the manner in which you Americans persecute Negroes.” Roosevelt has no answer to that. Yet he will call upon Negroes to go to war against Hitler.

The “Democratic” Rule in Africa

War in defense of democracy and civilization? But it is when we look at Africa that we see how shameless is the lie that Belgium, France and America will fight any war for liberty and civilization. For it is in Africa that Negroes have for years suffered and still suffer today the vilest fascist tortures. And at the hands of whom? Not Hitler and German imperialism. Germany hasn’t an inch of land in Africa. That is one of the things this war is about. Who is to have Africa? Hitler wants some of Africa, but up to now at any rate he has none. Japan has not an inch in Africa and today is much too busy trying to steal half of China. Mussolini controls a certain number of Africans. Who is it, then, that has taken Africa from the Africans? Who else but Great Britain with sixty million African slaves, and France with another forty millions, and “democratic” little Belgium, little in Europe, but with a large piece of Africa and twelve million Negroes under her control.

(Continued in Next Issue)

Last updated on 13 March 2016