J.R. Johnson

The Negro Question

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

(18 September 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 71, 18 September 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Negro and the War – V

The Socialist Workers Party says to the Negroes:

“After your experiences in America during the last hundred years, after your experiences during the last war and after it, you would be making the greatest mistake of your lives if you were to give any support to the coming war.”

If Negroes supported the war, Franklin Roosevelt, Jack Garner, Cotton Ed Smith, Senator Bilbo and all that bunch in the Democratic Party would be able to sit back and say:

“We give them the nastiest jobs, we pay them the lowest wages, millions of them are unemployed. Even in Washington here, the Federal capitol, we kick them out of restaurants; and theatres. We lynch them whenever we think that they should be reminded of where they belong. We treated them like dogs in the last war. We lynched them after they came back. And now, when we want them to do some more dirty work for us, we just snap our fingers and whistle, and look at them! They come running to do anything we want them to do! We have only to make a few promises and they are ready to be fooled again. Truly these Negroes are the most ignorant, backward and slave-like people in the world, and deserving of no more consideration than the scraps we throw to them.”

But no, large masses of Negroes have no wish to support this war. Their memories of the last war and the great deception and fraud which were practiced on them are too vivid in their minds.

So bitter was their disappointment after the last war, that millions of Negroes supported Marcus Garvey. They were ready to follow even the fantastic, impossible scheme of going back to Africa rather than to continue to live in the American democracy for which so many thousands of them had suffered and died.

What Is the Negro to Do?

What then is the Negro to do?

Before we act we must understand the forces acting with us and the forces against us. Many Negroes in America feel that they would be ready to shed their blood and take any steps to break the chains which bind them. Yet they feel also that their numbers are too few. They think that the)’ would be overwhelmed by the number of the whites, their power, their authority, and their control of the means of destruction.

That, however, is a short-sighted view. Today we are dealing with an international war, and the problem is an international one.

Let us look at the last war. That also was an international war. It was fought in Europe, in Asia, and in Africa. The British armed the black man in Africa. The French armed nearly half a million Negro soldiers to fight for them. These fought not only in Africa, but in Europe. There was a regiment of West Indian Negroes. Now today, the millions of Negroes all over the world are more politically conscious, more bitter against oppression and humiliation than they were in 1914. They have not only had the experience of the last war. They have suffered from the effects of the crisis. They have seen the rape of Ethiopia, and they know that in Africa, for instance, whether they are ruled by Italian Fascists or British “democracy,” their situation is the same. Their lands are stolen, their wages are often ten cents a day. They are driven away to live in segregated areas, where at night they are kept jailed as if they had committed a crime by being born with a black skin. They are thinking the same things that the Negroes in America are thinking; only more fiercely because they have more cause. Many of them, particularly in the French and Italian colonies, have arms in their hands which they have learned how to use. Now that the war has begun, many more of them will be armed and trained in order to go and fight for their masters. But despite all the shouting about democracy by James Ford, the great millions in Africa only need leadership to use their guns, not for British or French democracy, but for their own independence, for a free Africa, liberated from all sorts of imperialist domination, liberated not only from Fascist Italy and Germany, but also from those democratic bandits, Britain, France, and Belgium. They outnumber by many millions the whites who keep them in subjection today. And these whites, in the course of a war, will have to arm more and more of these despised and oppressed blacks. The Africans are only waiting for the opportunity and for that powerful organization which will give them a policy and leadership. In a war fought on an international scale, the Negroes in America will have the Negroes in Africa as their allies. American Negro soldiers who may be forced by conscription to go to France to fight, will be certain to meet hundreds of thousands of African soldiers there.

An Alliance of the Millions

Contact can be made and plans made for the struggle on an international scale. But there are other allies as well – millions. For two hundred and fifty years, the British have been squeezing the lives out of the millions of people in India. There are well over three hundred and fifty million people in India today, and the large majority of them are just awaiting their chance to get arms in their hands, drive the British imperialists into the sea, and make their country their own again. The same in Burma, in Ceylon, and in Indo-China. So that from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, you have over five hundred million people, oppressed colonials, who are thinking in terms of freedom from the domination of imperialism. Imagine the enormous power which these colonials can exert for their own emancipation in the tremendous crisis which will soon be loosed upon all peoples in the world.

All this seems very commonplace and obvious. Millions of Negroes and other colonials, in Africa, in the West Indies, and India think of these things in a vague way. They understand them the moment they are placed clearly before them. Why is it, then, that so few people are saying all this in public speeches and writing it? Why is it that a pamphlet of this kind is published only by the Socialist Workers Party? The reason is very important and is fundamental to an understanding of the political situation not only as it is today, but as it will be tomorrow.

Poor as the majority of Negroes are, and despised and humiliated as all of them are, in every community, particularly in America, there is a small number of Negroes who have better jobs than the others, who have managed to climb onto a little ledge, a little higher than the rest of their fellow-Negroes. These are, in America, for instance, a few doctors, a few people who do well in business, and a few racketeers – Numbers kings, and so on. They are thrown out of the restaurants, excluded from the theatres, Jim-Crowed and discriminated against as all Negroes are. They will complain, and pass resolutions, and sometimes will carry a case to the courts. But because they get something between thirty and fifty dollars a week, they are prepared to do anything that the American ruling class really wants them to do. They are Negroes, and they are forced to live with the large masses of Negroes. But in reality, they are much closer to the American ruling class than they are to the great millions of their own people. It is the same thing in every other community, even in the South. The large majority of Negroes live in dirt, in poverty, are subjected to all sorts of humiliation, and a few are allowed special privileges, a few dollars more per week, etc. Whenever something serious turns up, these may make a protest and demand a little more for themselves, but they are always prepared to do what the American ruling class wants the American Negroes to do. It is so in America, it is so in Africa, it is so in the West Indies, and you have a similar situation in India, Burma, Ceylon.

Uncle Tom Negroes

Now these traitors are the people who have the best chances, who have the opportunity to get sometimes quite a good education. They run newspapers and magazines. They get subscriptions from rich white men. They are enabled to borrow from white banks. These lick-spittles, Uncle Tom Negroes, constantly speak in the name of the Negro people or in the name of Africans, when in reality, they are only saying what the imperialists want them to say. If they didn’t, they would be thrown out of their jobs, and lose their little privileges and benefits. And so for the sake of the crumbs and bones that they get from the big table, they are quite prepared to sacrifice the interests of the majority of Negroes. They are the most dangerous people. It is they who deceive the Negroes every time. They, despite their black skin, are no more than agents of the white imperialists. They are not saying much now, but when the time comes, they are going to shout for “democracy” as loudly as the American ruling class. Some of them are going to get jobs in the government service. A few of them are going to be given positions a little higher than the ones they have at present. Some of them will be allowed to train as officers. This one here will be made a major, the other one there will be made a colonel. These appointments and others will fill the pages of the imperialist press and the Negro press. Meetings will be held at which these Negro traitors will speak and agitate and do their best to bluff the Negro people to take part in a war and be deceived and maltreated just as they were in the last war for democracy. The bait that they will dangle will be promises of a better world. They will say that after the war, things will be different. We know better than that. So that the first preliminary step for action is to be ready to condemn and drive out of the Negro ranks those traitors who sell their birthright for a mess of pottage. Whether they are in America, in Africa, or in India, they are traitors. Whoever tries to drag Negroes into a war for “democracy” is a traitor and a Judas. They will come preaching about unity. But the workers and farmers want no unity with them. What we must struggle for is the unity of the masses.

(Continued in Next Issue)

Last updated on 13 March 2016