J.R. Johnson

The Negro Question

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

(20 September 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 72, 20 September 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Negro and the War – VI

Nevertheless, if even we are agreed on the necessity of uniting the Negro masses against the war many American Negroes will say:

“I agree with the Socialist Workers Party that the 15,000,000 Negroes in America have as their natural allies the 150,000,000 Negroes in the world and the millions of Indians, Burmese, Ceylonese, etc. If we all join together, that would be an immense force acting on a world scale. It is true also that the imperialists are so hard pressed for men and forces that they are arming and training these millions of colonials. But nevertheless we remain only 15,000,000 out of a population of some 130,000,000 people. The Africans in Africa, the Indians, in India will be concerned with their own struggles. We wish them well. But how can we here struggle against the vast numbers and the great power that are opposed to us.”

It is a very good question, and the answer to it brings us to the very heart of the matter. We shall have to examine this very carefully. Whenever a problem, like that faces us we should examine it in all its aspects, then examine similar situations in foreign countries, look back into our own history, see where the circumstances are alike and where they differ, and then attempt a conclusion.

A Lesson from History

The best example that we can start with is what happened in America some 75 years ago, when the Negroes gained their freedom. If all the American whites were agreed upon the fact that the Negroes should continue to be slaves, then, the 4,000,000 Negroes of that time and their descendants would have continued to be slaves until they died, for they would never have been able to free themselves against the enormous odds that were arrayed against them. But all the whites were not united. There was a great division between the whites themselves, between the merchants, the industrialists, and the bankers of the North on the one hand, and the slave-owners of the South on the other. That was a fierce quarrel that had been going on for many years, and at last it reached a stage where it could only be settled by force of arms.

It was this terrific quarrel that led to the Civil War. And Lincoln and the North found that they could not win their battle against the South except by bringing the Negroes in. Lincoln never intended at the beginning to free the Negroes. Yet all men who fight a battle and wish to win it seek their allies where they can find them. So he enrolled the Negroes in the Northern army, and finally declared their emancipation from slavery. That is one of the great lessons of the Civil War. The division among the whites, and the necessity for Lincoln to seek assistance from Negroes.

Class Stands Against Class

Let us now look at what is happening in Europe at the present day and during the last twenty-five years. Everyone knows that a very bitter civil war has just taken place in Spain. The Spanish workers and peasants were on one side. The Spanish capitalists, the bankers, the great landlords, and their followers were on the other side. It is true that some Moors from Africa took part on the side of Franco. But that has nothing to do with the fundamentals of the question. What we must note is that in Spain, where no Negroes live, the workers and the peasants on the one hand, all the poor, fought very fiercely against the rich owners of the country. Unfortunately the workers and peasants lost. Yet we see that in a country where all the population is of the same color the various classes can light desperately to decide which class shall be master.

Let us take another example. The whole world has heard of how brutally the German fascists treat the German workers. The fascists murder the workers’ leaders, throw them into concentration camps, beat up the workers in the streets, cut their wages down, and treat them in the most brutal manner. But no Negroes live in Germany. This is a matter between whites and whites. The white capitalist class is in mortal conflict with the white workers. Jews have nothing to do with this at all. If there was not a single Jew in Germany, the leaders of the German workers would still be in concentration camps, and the working-class movement stamped upon.

The same thing has happened in Italy, where the workers and poor peasants have had their leaders murdered and their organizations destroyed by Mussolini and his fascists.

Let us take one final example: Russia in 1917. There the workers and peasants fought the same civil war against the nobles, the landlords, and the capitalists. Only in this case, the Russian workers and peasants won. The land was divided among the peasants. The workers took over the factories and the workers’ government was established.

The Situation in America

Here then it is clear that during the last few years, not to mention other great examples in history, there have been developing terrific clashes in country after country where the population is all of one color. In the case of Russia, the workers and peasants won. In others they have definitely lost, for the time being. In other countries, as in Great Britain and in France, this struggle, the continual struggle of the classes, goes on, although for the time being it is hidden by the war.

Now let us look at America of 1939 in the light of what we have just discussed. We saw that in America 75 years ago the division between sections of the white population in America resulted in one side calling the Negroes to join and assist them in their struggle. Through this means the Negroes gained their emancipation. Although at the present time it may seem that all the whites, or at least most of them, are against the Negroes, oppress them, and discriminate against them, yet we can take it as certain that the same struggle which we have seen working itself out in the various countries of Europe is taking place in America today. Sooner or later the workers and farmers of America, who are now fighting against the landlords and capitalists in unions, on the WPA, in struggles for better relief, will ultimately be driven to the same civil war that we have seen take place in country after country during the last 25 years. A Negro therefore who is looking at the political situation, not as it appears on the surface, but is seeing into the realities of the struggle between the classes, can have confidence in the future. He will realize that all white America is not solid. There is a tremendous division, a great split opening up. We can already see the signs of it very clearly. And as this struggle approaches and then actually flares out into the inevitable civil war, Negroes can be certain that many white workers and farmers who today are prejudiced will seek their assistance in the same way that Lincoln did when he wanted Negro help. Negroes in the last Civil War made one great step forward and so, in this coming civil war, the workers’ revolution, Negroes have a great chance to complete their long journey to full freedom.

(Continued in Next Issue)

Last updated on 13 March 2016