J.R. Johnson

The Negro Question

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

(26 September 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 73, 26 September 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Negro and the War – VII

No, it is not Negroes alone who recognize that a war for democracy is a fraud, a deception, and a trap for the workers. Many workers in England, in France, in Belgium, and in America are daily becoming more clear in their minds about this war for democracy.

Negroes can hear many a white worker say:

“What is this democracy that I must shed my blood for? It is true I have a vote. And I elect representatives to Congress. But what control have I really, got over this country? When the capitalists want to go to war, the president decides. Representative Ludlow brings in an amendment to the Constitution which would give me the right to say a word on going to war. Let the people vote on war. By all means. But the president and Congress, both of them refuse. They are not going to have any consultation of the people by referendum vote to decide this question of life and death. So much for this fraud of democracy.”

Many a white worker says:

“Most of the people of this country would have been willing to allow the Spanish workers and peasants to buy arms from America in their fight against Franco. But the President who, like all capitalists, wanted to see Franco win, refused to allow this and showed that in any matter of importance it is the wish of the capitalists, the landlords, and the bankers which decides, and not the wishes of. the large majority of the people.”

Why Die for Capitalism!

More and more, white workers are beginning to say things like this.

“These capitalists keep babbling about this democracy. They say that if war comes I have to go and die for my country. But I have ho country to die for. The only part of this country that is certainly mine is the 6 ft. by 2 ft. which will enclose me when I am dead. Morgan, DuPont, Rockefeller, Ford, the owners of big factories, the owners of big firms, the great landlords in the South, airthe.se people have some of the country. They have something to die for. But what have I got for which I must shed my blood?

“I am a working man. During the last ten years sometimes ten million, sometimes 20 million of us have been unemployed. When you add our dependents to this number, it means that thirty or forty million people have been living in misery and starvation for ten years. When will this crisis stop? This continuous crisis, this poverty, is not necessary. There is food enough for everyone. And the factories, if they worked, could supply clothes enough for everyone. And the building trade could build enough houses for everyone to live decently. But, no. This system under which, we live cannot employ the people and cannot use the great factories, the mines, and all the means of production which are now available. The system, this capitalist system, is obviously bankrupt. If it were not bankrupt, if it could work anymore, you would not have these millions of idle men on the one hand, and on the other this vast amount of idle capital. What the devil is the use of this democracy if it has always a quarter and sometimes one-third of the population starving.

“Before I die for my country, I must have a country to live for. I am not a coward. I am prepared to fight for my country, but it is not Hitler or Mussolini who have this country in which I live. I know well enough the people who have it and who mismanage it in such a way that one small section of the population is rolling in wealth while most of the others can barely live on what they earn and still another section earns nothing at all, and has to spend many hours hanging around relief bureaus begging for a few cents. If anybody is prepared to fight, to put an end to this state of affairs, I am ready to go along with them and shed my blood for that. But why the devil should I go to fight so that Roosevelt and the capitalists should dominate Latin America or China and make still more money for themselves? That is their capitalist war. This is not my war.”

For a Workers’ War

It is white workers today, not Negroes, who say all this. For instance, the Socialist Workers Party members, most of whom are white, for years have said as follows:

“The capitalists talk about democracy. In Germany there was this same democracy, and as soon as the capitalists found that the workers were mobilizing to put an end to the injustices and crimes of capitalism, they subsidized Hitler, that gangster, they destroyed democracy, and installed fascism in its place. They did the same thing in Italy. They did the same thing in Spain. We know these fellows here well enough to know that all the time they are talking about democracy they are thinking of all the property which they own. And as soon as ever they feel that their property is in danger they are going to subsidize their fascist bands and treat me no better than the workers in Germany, Italy, and Spain. So that I shall oppose this war of theirs as best I can, and when I get the chance I shall abolish this unjust bankrupt system and change things. My war is a war to help the workers and farmers of this country take it over from those who have it. Our enemy is not in foreign countries but is here in this very country. And to my fellow workers in Germany, in Italy, in Britain, in Japan, in China, we say this: ‘We have no enmity against you. You don’t want to shoot me and I don’t want to shoot you. I am going to try to change this bankrupt system in my country and I recommend to you to do the same.’

“Many years ago Karl Marx, the great leader and teacher of the workers, said ‘Workers of the world, unite!’ That is the only doctrine for the workers. We have to unite today to destroy this system which causes so much unemployment and misery, and leads the workers every few years into the self-destruction of imperialist war.”

Side by Side with the White Worker

Now, this is what a certain number of workers are saying and what still more are thinking, though they are not very clear about it. And the vast majority of Negroes in this country who have still less cause than these whites to love democracy, should realize clearly that their allies are not only the oppressed Negroes and the oppressed colonial peoples, but these white workers who are as fed up with capitalist democracy as any Negro is.

The white workers joined up with the Negroes to fight in the C.I.O. Some in the C.I.O. are still prejudiced. Prejudice does not end in a day, bu Negroes in the union know how much better things are for them now that the C.I.O. is enrolling both whites and Negroes without discrimination. But the fight against war is a hundred times as serious as the fight that was fought by the C.I.O. workers, and in this fight Negroes and whites will work together more closely and with more real equality than ever before. That is the lesson of history. In his determination not to be bamboozled into a war for democracy the Negro will find many true and firm allies among the whites – far more than he dreams of.

(Continued in Next Issue)

Last updated on 13 March 2016