J.R. Johnson

The Negro Question

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

(10 October 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 77, 10 October 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

[In Politics Instinct Is Not Enough]

Dr. Charles Petioni is a Negro of West Indian origin who is an enemy of British imperialism. Many years ago, in the island of Trinidad, his opposition to colonial tyranny led him to leave the island. Today in Harlem he is president of the Caribbean Union and is still opposed to Britain. In an interview published in the Daily Worker of Oct. 5, 1939, he says:

“India, Africa, and the West Indies have no sympathy for Chamberlain. They will fight on the side of Britain only when forced to do so.”

So far so good. Dr. Petioni’s statement represents what we called last week in this column the powerful revolutionary instinct of the Negro masses. But in politics instinct is not enough. You must have political clarity. And the need for it is alarmingly. illustrated by Dr. Petioni’s further statement.

“The imperialist countries are on the run. Russia is doing the only logical thing that could be done. When the little buffer states were set up in the Balkans during the last war, they were intended for future powder kegs to be set off the moment the big imperialist countries were ready to mop up with Russia. Now that Russia has removed these explosive the situation is much clearer.”

Trap to Be Guarded Against

Thus from his healthy opposition to seeing colonials fight in a war which is not theirs, Dr. Petioni takes a further step and finds himself in the Stalinist camp. The Stalinists say today (Oct 6: we have to mark the date because nobody, not even they know what they will be saying tomorrow) that the war is an imperialist war. Dr. Petioni says that the war is an imperialist war. Therefore, say the Stalinists to Dr. Petioni, let us work together against the war and for the emancipation of the colonial peoples, etc.

A lie that is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies. The Stalinist policy is in reality a trap to catch the Negroes and make them serve the basest interests of world reaction.

When the Hitler-Stalin pact was signed, the Stalinists were at the peak of the five-year campaign for a war of the “democracies” against the fascist aggressors. Said James Ford in his book The Negro and the Democratic Front: “My earnest opinion is that we would make a tragic error in giving our su-port to any member of the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo alliance.” Even after the pact was signed, Ford continued to agitate for America’s entry into the war. In the Amsterdam News of Sept. 23, appears a letter by Ford dated Aug. 31. In it he says:

“The Soviet Union pursues the policy of peaceful intercourse with all nations and is a threat to no nation, ready at all times to enter into such alliances with the democratic powers to assure world peace.

“We see it as our duty as Americans to support this policy with all our power, to enlist the support of our government for cooperative action against acts of aggression and to implement this policy by strengthening the democratic rights of the people in this hour of crisis.”

Swallowing a Bitter Pill

”The strengthening of democratic rights is the sugar. The pill is to enlist the support of our government for cooperative action against acts of aggression.”

That meant war. The whole Stalinist policy for the previous five years was an incitement to war by the “democracies” and the Soviet Union to stop Hitler.

After Ford’s letter, however, the international situation developed rapidly. Russia invaded Poland and shared in its partition As time went on, it became clear that Stalin was tying the future of Russia to the victory of Hitler. If America went into the war to fight for “democracy” it meant that a very powerful country would now be allied to the enemies of Hitler, Stalin’s ally. The victory of Hitler, or if not his victory, at least the saving of Hitler from defeat, has become at the present stage, a vital necessity for Stalin and Stalinist policies. Immediately the Stalinists discover that the war is an imperialist war they begin to shed tears for the sufferings of the colonials. They raise the slogan of opposition to the war.

It sounds all right until you realize that what they want is to save Hitler, Stalin’s ally, from defeat.

Is Dr. Petioni prepared to endorse this cynical use of the Negro revolutionary masses as a mere pawn in Stalinist foreign policy? Or is he merely caught by the superficial resemblance of the Stalinist policy to his own hatred of British imperialism.

And if he has been trapped, what is the reason for it? It is because he has not taken his own opposition to British imperialism to its logical conclusion. Opposition to British imperialism can not stay isolated. You must be opposed to French imperialism also, to German imperialism and to American. You must maintain an undeviating opposition to all of them. You must call on Negroes, everywhere at all times, to use all their efforts to fight against imperialism in war as well as in peace. Once you grasp this, you are in a position where you will not allow yourself to be used by one imperialism against the other. And you are in a position also to see the true significance of the Stalinist change from war for democracy in August to opposition to war for democracy in September. To this very moment the Stalinists do not call on all the workers, Negroes and all, wherever they are, to prepare for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, the establishment of socialism and the independence of the colonial peoples.

The Road of Revolutionary Struggle

They don’t because if the international position should change, as it well may, you will find the Stalinists, with that peculiar brazenness which distinguishes them, solemnly telling 150,000,000 all over the world that it is their business now to fight for British, French and American “democracy” against fascist aggression. These treacherous scoundrels have done it before and will do it again. All this the Socialist Workers Party has explained in a pamphlet Why the Negro Should Oppose the War, which will be on the market in a few days. The Caribbean Union will hold a mass meeting on Oct. 19 at St. James Presbyterian Church (St. Nicholas Ave. and 141 St.) where Harlem Negroes will discuss their attitude toward the war. Negroes should get hold of this pamphlet and current copies of the Socialist Appeal. There they will see not only an analysis of the war but a program of action which will show them the road of revolutionary struggle and make them immune from capitalist propaganda and Stalinist trickery.

Last updated on 14 February 2018