J.R. Johnson

The Negro Question

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

6 October 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 75, 3 October 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Negro and the War


But suppose the war does begin. What do we do then? WE CARRY ON THE STRUGGLE RELENTLESSLY THAN BEFORE. For capitalism here in America will still be the chief enemy. Naturally we shall not be able to fight in the same open manner as before. We will not be able for instance, to hold an anti-war meeting. But in a factory some militant workers may propose a strike against wage-cuts or oppressive conditions.

There will be traitors who will join the government and capitalists in saying: “Now that there is a war we must sacrifice for victory.” But all true fighters against the war will refuse to accept this treacherous advice and will fight as bitterly for the rights of the workers during the war as before it. That is the way to fight against war.

Many Ways to Fight War

There are many other ways which we cannot discuss in detail here. For instance, the Negroes can form small groups who will discuss the anti-war struggle, distribute leaflets against the war among themselves and their fellow workers and friends, and cooperate with all others who are doing the same important work. Some cowards will say that this is against the law. Of course it is against the law. But it is the capitalists who make the law. And he is a great fool who obeys the capitalist law when he realizes the necessity of fighting against capitalism.

The result of all this will be, that when the great bulk of the people, black and white, begin to feel the strain of the war and begin to revolt against it, they will have leaders and people who are well prepared. They will have organizations ready to lead the great masses in their assault against the chief enemy, the enemy who is at home.

The workers and farmers, white and black, must never forget this important fact. The statesmen and the politicians did not stop the last war. It was the workers of Russia who brought Russia out, by the great revolution of October 1917. And in November 1918, it was the workers of Germany who chased the Kaiser and his government out of the country and brought the war to an end. That is what we have to aim at. Fighting against the capitalists to prevent them going into war, and if we fail to stop them, carrying on the fight to bring the war to a close as quickly as possible. And not only bring it to a close, but sweep away capitalism altogether if we get the chance, and so prevent this mass slaughter which is inseparable from the cursed capitalist system.

If America is dragged into the war, during the early days the struggle against war will be difficult. It will seem hopeless. But in Germany, in December 1914, only one man, Karl Liebknecht, raised his voice against the war. Four years after, the great masses in Germany were following the advice of Liebknecht and bringing the war to a close by dealing with the enemy at home. At the beginning those who oppose may be few, but the masses will come to us in time as they came to Liebknecht. The mistake that the German workers made in 1918 was to change one capitalist government for another capitalist government, instead of sweeping away capitalism and establishing a workers’ government instead.

We Are International

In all this difficult work, the Negroes of America must take the lead. They have most to win. Similar work is going on in every country at the present time, though naturally the capitalist press does not publish it. The Socialist Workers Party has brother parties in England, in France, in Poland, in India, in Africa, in China, all over the world who are carrying on this work. We recognize that this is an international struggle and therefore, our organization is international in scope.

Lenin and Trotsky formed the Third International to assist the workers, particularly in crises of this kind.

But today Stalin has the Third International working only to serve him in the bargains that he makes with imperialist governments like Hitler. One day the Stalinists say to fight for democracy. That is because Stalin wanted an alliance with Britain. When Stalin joins with Hitler, the Stalinists begin to say that the war is not a war for democracy any longer, that it is a war between imperialist countries. That may sound all right but if Stalin changes tomorrow, they will change again. They are not leaders of the working class but agents of Stalin. They are particularly dangerous because they use revolutionary words and have a lot of money. That must be avoided like poison.

It is because of the treachery of the Third International that genuinely revolutionary workers everywhere have formed the Fourth International. Negroes who see the situation clearly should join this party. The workers can never succeed without a powerful and clear-thinking revolutionary party. But if a Negro does not feel that he wants to join a revolutionary party today, that does not prevent him from joining or from forming an organization of Negroes to fight against war. Such Negro organizations will work side by side with all other groups who are fighting against war in the only way this can be done, by fighting against capitalism.

Real Enemy Is at Home

Negro men and women in every country, in America, in the West Indies, in Africa; the Fourth International summons you to fight for your own liberation, for full social, political and economic rights in America, for the independence of Africa and the formation of Negro states in that continent so long oppressed. The enemy of your freedom and of your independence is capitalism. Do not support the capitalist war. Fight the capitalists in peace, and fight them still more in war. Do not join with one group of capitalists against another. Fight against both. The real enemy is at home.

In Britain, in France, in Germany, in India, in China, everywhere workers who do not see this today will see it tomorrow. The united workers and farmers of the world will oppose this bloody imperialist war to the bitter end. We will seek to build the new society, in which all men irrespective of color or race, will be able to work in security and peace, and with full enjoyment of the good things of the earth.

The End

Last updated on 14 February 2018