J.R. Johnson

The Negro Question

(23 December 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 94, 23 December 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Ethiopia 1935, Finland 1939. What is being done for “brave little Finland,” and what was not done for Ethiopia, is causing some bitter reflections among Negroes. P.L. Prattis, Pittsburg Courier columnist, expresses a widespread sentiment in the issue of December 16th.

“England is reported sending airplanes and other equipment to Finland. Did she send any to Ethiopia? ... The United States is eager to play a hand. Recall our ambassador from Russia, our indignant leadership demands. All right. Recall the ambassador. Let us do anything we can to show our disapproval of Russia. But what did we do about the Ethiopians? Did anybody demand that we recall our ambassador to Italy? Did anybody become concerned enough to urge that we try to help Ethiopia? Indeed not!”

This is his conclusion. And he began:

“However hopeful dark people may try to be, things are happening every day to show us just how hopeless is our cause and plight. Nobody cares a great deal about us. That doesn’t mean just in the United States nor does it mean dark people in the United States alone. It means that in the entire world in which we live the folk with dark skin aren’t considered. Maybe this obvious, but sometimes things happen that make you feel it all the more keenly. If you are looking out over the world, incidents, tragic incidents, occur which get you down.”

No Time For Tears!

Mr. Prattis’s tears do not deserve even the loan of a dirty handkerchief. Negroes have shed many tears in the past, with good cause, but if in 1939 they are going to shed new tears whenever they have new proof of the treachery of what Mr. Prattis calls “England” and “the United States,” then they had better all trek to the Grand Canyon and sit in a row on both sides. There they can appoint Prattis tear-master and cry to their hearts’ content without the risk of causing floods.

What infinite stupidity is this! Who expects England to be friendly to an African state? England is the greatest oppressor of Negroes that history has known. Today England is chief jailer over sixty million blacks in Africa. Of the twenty billion British dollars invested overseas, five billion are invested in Africa. That is the only interest England has in Africa.

Come nearer home. Let Prattis dry his tear-filled eyes and look about him. Doesn’t he read bis own article, his own paper? Has he read the history of the Negro people in America? Presumably, before he started to cry so much he used to. Did Abe Lincoln love Negroes or hate slave owners? Prattis knows. And yet he comes weeping and wailing because the United States government didn’t help Ethiopia and now helps “poor little Finland.”

Aesop Knew the Answer

Let Mr. Prattis buy a copy of Aesop’s fables. There are many copies for children, with large print, which he will be able to read despite his present infirmity. On page 1 he will decipher the following fable:

“Once upon a time there were lots of lambs and a few tigers. Every day each tiger would eat a lamb, and sometimes the tigers would fight with each other as to who should have a fat, juicy lamb. One day one of the tigers ate a little black lamb. Whereupon another little black lamb (his name was Prattis) called all the other black lambs together and, his eyes streaming with tears, said, ‘Isn’t it a shame? Those tigers over there allowed this bad tiger to eat up this poor black lamb. It is because he is black. Boo-hoo.’”

England and France, by which we mean British imperialism and French imperialism, stood by and watched Italian imperialism rape Ethiopia. Why? Simply because it is the nature of imperialism to gorge its appetites on all colonial countries. What they were quarreling about was not whether the little black lamb should be eaten, but who should get the choice parts.

In 1936 a great revolution of the workers and peasants burst in Spain. Germany and Italy pounced on Spain, to help Franco and gain concessions for themselves. And what did the other imperialist tigers do? Chamberlain, the British Tory, declared for non-intervention. So did Blum, the French labor leader. Roosevelt, the New Dealer, clapped an embargo on arms to Spain. Stalin, the bureaucrat and murderer of Bolshevism and Bolsheviks, sold some arms to Spain—but on the condition that the workers and peasants would not abolish landlords and capitalists. You have only to look at a map to see how dangerous it was for British and French imperialism to have German and Italian imperialism dominant in Spain. But the “democratic” imperialists were prepared to allow even that, rather than give arms to the workers and peasants, who might conquer Franco and transform “democratic” Spain into socialist Spain.

Not a Color Question

Then Britain and France sold out Czechoslovakia. Suppose someone had said, “It is because the Czechs are white.” Wouldn’t Prattis have laughed at him as an idiot?

But by this time Germany was becoming too strong. So that these tigers, who didn’t lift a finger for “Poor little Ethiopia,” or “Poor little Spain,” or “Poor little Czechoslovakia,” are now weeping almost as much as Prattis over “Poor little Finland.” Back of this there is another more fundamental cause. All imperialists (Hitler included) hate Stalin. So when they yell "Poor little Finland,” what they mean is “Down with Russia.” But one way or the other, it is all a matter of imperialist power.

And any Negro who seeks to defend Finland against Russia, along with Roosevelt, Hoover, Mussolini, and the rest, is making himself the ignorant tool of imperialism. That is the truth. And all the tears of Mr. Prattis will not wash out a word of it. The moment you begin to look at world politics from the point of view of black against white, you end up either in the imperialist camp of loot and slaughter or the Prattis camp of tears and despair.

There is a third camp. Turn your back on imperialist politics. Follow the road to the socialist revolution. A long road? A hard road? Yes. But is there any other road? The workers and peasants in Czechoslovakia, in Spain, in Ethiopia, looked for help to the imperialists. And where are they today?

Last updated on 27 June 2018