J.R. Johnson

The Negro Question

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

(15 September 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 70, 15 September 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Negro and the War – V

It should now be clear to every Negro that the Communist Party is today as great a deceiver of the Negro people as the Republican and Democratic Parties. There was a time when the Communists and Soviet Russia were the greatest leaders of the poor and oppressed in every country including the Negroes. They used to call upon all the workers and peasants to fight against imperialists and capitalists everywhere, above all in a war. But these days are, over and they have been over for many years.

Stalin sold oil to Italy all during the martyrdom of Ethiopia. That was proof enough for any Negro. Since that time Stalin and the Stalinists have been encouraging Negroes and all workers to fight for the British and French democracies against Hitler and Mussolini; that is to say, with one gang of bandits against another gang. And after encouraging workers to do this for years, Stalin suddenly turns and signs the Stalin-Hitler pact. Thus he encourages the fascists and throws the workers in every country into confusion and dismay. Unlike Roosevelt, the Communists at one time used to put forward a policy of militant struggle for Negroes. Precisely for this reason, they are the most dangerous enemies of the Negroes in this attempt of the rich to shove them into the war. Why do they do it?

Revolutionists No Longer Rule Russia

They do it because revolutionists like Lenin and Trotsky no longer rule Russia. Stalin and millions of officials, engineers, trade-union bureaucrats and others, now have the country in their grip. They live easy lives with great power and privileges. They oppress the Russian people, they murder all the old revolutionists like Zinoviev and Kamenev in frame-up trials, they have tried several times and are still trying to murder Trotsky, the last of the great revolutionists. They do not want revolution anywhere. Bureaucrats never do. They want to prevent the revolution, for resolutions will not only overthrow Hitler, Chamberlain and Roosevelt, but will give the Russian workers a chance to overthrow Stalin.

Therefore Stalin and his army of bureaucrats give money to the Communist parties in the various countries, and these parties no longer lead militant struggles as in the old days, but try to fool the workers, white and black, and keep them subordinate to Roosevelt, Chamberlain, and Daladier. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Their policy is to support the democracies in a war for civilization. And this, every Negro knows from his own experience, would be a damnable treachery and betrayal. Any one, parson or president, black or white, who encourages Negroes to shed their blood for this so-called “democracy” is a damnable traitor and betrayer.

What Happened to Negroes in 1917

Some people, however, including the Communist party, state that there is a possibility of Negroes gaining their rights and participating freely in American life, if they show that they are willing to die for democracy. Let us look back at the last war. They said then that the war was being fought for democracy, was being fought to make the world a better place than it had been before. Also, and this is what is important, many Negro leaders told the Negroes to support the war whole-heartedly. By showing themselves good citizens, they would win the sympathy of the whites and gain all the things of which they had been deprived. That is what was said but how did the rulers of their country actually treat the Negro?

First of all, they took many more Negroes than they should have taken. Out of every hundred persons in the population, ten were Negroes so that, roughly, out of every hundred soldiers, ten should have been Negroes. More than that, the Negroes are the worst paid, live in the worst houses in the worst localities, get the worst food and the poorest medical attendance. Thus, taking the Negro population as a whole, the number of persons fit for military service should have been proportionately less than the number of whites. This through no fault of the Negroes, but through the lives and conditions to which they are condemned. So that instead of ten out of every hundred of the soldiers being Negroes, we could reasonably expect that there should have been about seven or eight. But instead of some number like seven or eight per hundred there were more than ten. So that this American democracy seized the opportunity to kill off as many Negroes as possible as a means of helping democracy solve the Negro problem.

Soldiers – But Jim-Crowed

The war was a war for democracy, but the Negroes were segregated. There was not a single regiment consisting of white and Negro soldiers mixed. American democracy did not want to have even American colored officers, and it took a hard fight to have a few hundred. When they did agree, they trained Negroes as officers in a special camp of their own. And these men were informed by the State Department that when they visited the South, they should not wear their uniforms. Democracy was sending the Negro to fight for democracy, but could not bear the sight of him in the officer’s uniform of democracy.

The old lynch spirit continued. The Negroes were beaten up in the camps, they were stoned and jeered as they marched along the streets. When they were on leave and attempted to enter cafes and restaurants frequented by white people, they were driven out in many places.

When they went to France, the discrimination continued. American democracy forced most of the black soldiers to be common laborers. Of the 200,000 Negroes who went to France, some 160,000 were used as servants and in labor battalions. Even when fighting democracy, the Negro was kept in his place. Negroes were made to build roads, wash clothes, cook food, clean up camps and trenches and clean latrines, though they had enlisted as soldiers of the line.

Far from practicing any sort of democracy to Negroes, the American commanders did their best to make the French maltreat the Negroes. The French people are not as prejudiced as one would expect from their treatment of natives in Africa, and great numbers of French people in France do not differentiate at all in any way between Negroes and whites. But when the American officers saw this and the friendly way in which Negro soldiers were being welcomed both by French men and women, they issued a military order, Order No. 40, instructing Negroes not even to speak to French women. For this offense against democracy, many Negroes were arrested, though the French people, men and women, had made no complaint.

The American officers, in this war for democracy, wrote a special document to the French commanding staff, telling them that Negroes were a low and degenerate race, that they could not be trusted in the company of white people, that although some Negroes were officers, the French officers should have nothing to do with them, except in matters relating strictly to fighting. The French, said this American order, should not eat with Negroes, nor even shake hands, and above all, they wanted the French to use their influence to keep the white women who worked in or near the camp from forming any associations with Negroes.

This was the way in which the American ruling class fought side by side with Negroes in the great war for democracy.

Negro Bravery – And the Reward

The Negroes, believing that by fighting bravely and showing that they were men as good as any other, they would gain freedom from their oppression, performed feats of distinguished bravery. Of all the American soldiers in France a Negro was the first to win the Croix de Guerre (War Cross), and one Negro regiment, the 8th Illinois, received more decorations than any other regiment in France. Another American Negro regiment stayed a longer spell in the trenches than any other regiment in the Allied forces. No one after that could say that Negroes were inferior. They had stood the stern test of modern war and came out with a great record.

What happened to the Negroes, after this fine showing, should be branded on the forehead of any so-called Negro leader who tries to thrust them again into war. For as soon as the war was over, there was such a desperate series of race riots in America as had not been seen for many years. In Washington, in Chicago, white mobs inspired and encouraged by American employers and American capitalist police, shot down Negroes, many of whom had lost relations in the great war for democracy. The Southern whites were so anxious to put the Negro back in his place that they lynched Negroes who dared to wear the uniform of a private. The great war for democracy and the bravery and the sacrifices for democracy of the Negro people ended with thousands of them having to fight desperately, not for democracy, but for their lives in “democratic” America.

Now let Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt and Earl Browder and James Ford and some so-called Negro leader, stand up and tell Negroes that the present war is another war for democracy and that they must go again to fight in it.

(Continued in Next Issue)

Last updated on 13 March 2016