J.R. Johnson

The Negro Question

(16 December 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 93, 16 December 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Periodically one comes across statements in the Negro press, more often one hears remarks from individual Negroes, which betray with what facility some Negro politicians slip into racial chauvinism to cover political bankruptcy. The latest addition to the list is Roy Wilkins.

Roy Wilkins is the editor of The Crisis, writes a weekly column in the Amsterdam News, and is known everywhere as a “progressive” person. He, with other Negro intellectuals, was a great friend of the Stalinists in the days when they were rooting for “F.D.R.,” throwing their cloaks in the mud for Eleanor Roosevelt to walk on, and fraternizing with Negro bishops and Father Divine as the future leaders of Negro emancipation. All these rascally tools of Stalin were after was to get America into war with Hitler, then Stalin’s enemy. The moment Stalin came to terms with Hitler, the Stalinists began to see that the war against Hitler was not so good after all, that in fact it was a very bad war – it was an imperialist war. They opened fire on F.D.R., Eleanor, Murphy, and all their old friends, and sure as day they are going to instruct Ford, Patterson, Richard Moore and the other Negro Browders to pour a special stream of abuse on Walter White, Roy Wilkins, and the other Negro New Dealers, whom not four months ago the Stalinists flattered and fawned upon.

The Bedfellows Part

Now the New Dealers are bitter. Eleanor, in particular, is very bitter. She says the Stalinists “ought to go to Russia.” One day she will, even send a letter to David Lasser of the Workers Alliance, resigning her honorary membership, unless Dave Lasser first expels her. All the liberals, once friends of the Stalinists, are now howling for their blood. And high among them is Roy Wilkins. He cursed the Hitler-Stalin pact and now, in his column in the Amsterdam News of November 9th, he denounces the invasion of Finland and the lies of Molotov.

The Fourth International denounces and will continue to denounce the policies of Moscow, which remain the chief obstacle in the working class on the road of the world revolution and the emancipation of the workers. But we are no supporters of Mannerheim and the Finnish bourgeoisie, who in 1918-1919 massacred Finnish workers by the thousands. No word of this appears in Wilkins’ comment. He is for Mannerheim against Stalin. Wilkins is no revolutionary and has the same ideas about politics as the Roosevelts, Attorney-General Murphy, and the whole gang of New Dealers, white and black.

What, however, is most revealing is the last paragraph of his column. In it he says:

“Aside from everything else, this means that the dark brother in America, who had been hoping for the emergence of some international leadership sympathetic to his problems, must turn elsewhere, for the opportunism of the Stalinites is on a par with the opportunism of the Republican party. Both have tossed the brother overboard as soon as they got what they wanted from him.”

Wilkins Deceives the Negroes

This is one of the most mischievous and despicable misstatements that could be made by a man in Wilkins’ position. In what way have the Stalinists, scoundrels though they are, tossed the black brother overboard when they got what they wanted from him? Stalin and the bureaucrats exiled Trotsky, a white man, and murdered nearly every member of his family. They shot Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov, Tomsky, Bucharin, Yagoda, and thousands upon thousands of other Russians, all white men. As Wilkins knows, they massacred the Spanish revolutionists, white people all. When they wanted to push America into war against Hitler, they became New Dealers, they praised the “democracies,” they said they would make capitalism work, they shook hands with Wilkins and presented their foreheads to be blessed by Father Divine and the behinds to be kicked by Walter White.

Now that they want to keep America from going to war with Hitler, they abuse Roosevelt, they curse the New Deal, they condemn capitalism, they use phrases about socialism, and they open up a big drive in Harlem to recapture the natural militancy of the Negroes. All this is part of the Stalinist policy.

But how can Wilkins say that they have specifically used the black man and now want to drop him when they have no more use for him? Wilkins has committed a great crime against the Negro people.

Why Wilkins Raises the Race Issue

Today, in the world crisis we face, we need unity in the working class, particularly between black and white. The workers may differ among themselves, this one Stalinist, the other one Socialist, another Trotskyite, etc. But against the capitalist class and their capitalist war we must be united. We of the Fourth International know the Stalinists for the treacherous corruption that they are. We point out their political crimes, the political reasons for them, and we ask the workers to break with them.

But Wilkins, who ought to know better, says to the Negroes, “It is merely some more whites fooling the Negroes again.” While some Detroit Negroes printed leaflets and distributed them to the Negro workers telling them not to scab on the white workers, thereby building up class solidarity, Wilkins goes out of his way to make the Stalinist crimes a race question and thus accentuate racial differences.

Every Negro worker, with three hundred years of oppression behind him, is naturally inclined to see race prejudice in every political move. That is understandable. We must explain, Wilkins deliberately confuses. And why? Because he is not a Marxist; he is not a revolutionary. He is bourgeois to the bone. He, like so many others, wanted to be imperialist with Roosevelt and play at being revolutionary with the Stalinists. But the Stalinists have only one god – Stalin. They get their orders and they leave all the New Dealers naked. Wilkins has nothing to fall back on. But he knows one cry which will always catch the ears of Negroes – “Race. They do it because we are black.”’

In reality the racial traitor is not the Stalinist, who twists his policy for reactionary political reasons, but Wilkins himself. Yes, Wilkins himself, who uses the race issue to cover up his political bankruptcy.

Last updated on 27 June 2018