J.R. Johnson

The Negro Question

(30 December 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 95, 30 December 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by
Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Hoover has already sent $100,000 to the Finnish bourgeoisie. Let no Negro give one red cent to this counter-revolutionary campaign on behalf of the enemies of the Finnish workers’ movement. The road for the workers is a different road – the road that should have been followed in regard to Ethiopia. That road was pointed. Preparations were made. But the working class and the Ethiopian leaders made the fatal mistake of putting their trust in imperialists.

When Italian fascism began its attack on Ethiopia, workers all over Europe felt great sympathy with Ethiopia.

In 1935, as in 1914 and 1939, the leaders of the big labor parties, Blum in France, Attlee in Britain, and the leaders of the trade unions, Jouhaux in France, Sir Walter Citrine and Ernest Bevin in Britain, Lewis and Green in America, were completely reactionary. They always support their capitalist government in any really serious struggle.

But in Britain, France, Belgium, Spain, among the second and third ranks of the leadership, and especially among the class conscious workers, there arose a strong feeling for working class action on behalf of Ethiopia. All the capitalists and the labor fakers were babbling about League of Nations – in other words, looking to the League of Bandits to arrest another bandit for doing what all the bandits wanted to do themselves. But the rank and file workers, and the leaders nearest to them, were saying that the seamen, who were carrying oil to Italy should, supported by the International Federation of Trade Unions, stop carrying that oil.

If the workers stopped carrying it, both Mussolini and his brother bandits would be in serious difficulty, for these gentlemen fear nothing so much as the independent action of the working class.

Why Mussolini Got Oil

Eugene Jagot, official of the War Resisters International, a small political organization, went to the Brussels meeting of the International Federation of Trade Unions, to urge the trade union bureaucrats to sanction this international workers’ boycott. Naturally, Citrine, Bevin, Jouhaux, did not want any such thing. But the pressure was strong, the workers were aroused. There was some possibility of at least a partial success, or even, given certain circumstances, of a great victory.

What certain circumstances? The Soviet Union had been clamoring for both action by the League of Nations and independent action of the workers. Now you cannot do both. Either the workers act by themselves, or they support some action by the ruling class or by some section of it. But the Stalinists claimed that they could support the League of Bandits and at the same time have independent workers’ action. If, at this critical moment, when the Federation of Trade Unions was actually meeting, not the Soviet Government but the Soviet trade unions had decided on a boycott and called on all seamen, railwaymen, miners, to refuse to ship any materials to Italy, then those who were fighting at Brussels to break the resistance of the European Lewises and Greens would have been enormously strengthened. What happened was exactly the opposite.

The Stalinist bureaucracy is today and has been for many years the most dangerous enemy of the workers’ revolution. Stalin and the Stalinists had been calling for this independent working class action. This was for the record. But the moment there was a possibility of getting the millions of trade unionists moving, they sacrificed this to their alliance with Britain and France. A hasty telegram came from Moscow to Brussels, stating that under no circumstances would the Soviet Union support independent action. They would support the League of Nations, and the League alone.

With this blow from Moscow, the movement for working class option was killed.

The masses of the workers, especially in Europe, meant well toward Ethiopia, but they were misled by the labor fakers, assisted by the Stalinist bureaucracy.

Try to Save Ethiopia Again

There was another attempt made to save Ethiopia by the masses of the people. As soon as the war broke out, thousands of young men black and white, volunteered to form an international brigade, to fight with the Ethiopians against Italian fascism. Mr. G.T. Garratt, a British official in India and a correspondent of the Manchester Guardian, states in his book Mussolini Over Spain that in the list of names sent into the Ethiopian embassy there were, after all necessary deductions, five thousand men who could have been organized into a powerful corps, ready to stiffen Ethiopian resistance in those early difficult days.

Why did it not materialize? Because the Emperor of Ethiopia and particularly Mr. Martin, the Ethiopian Minister in London, were tied up with the British Foreign Office officials those imperialist bandits, and were looking to them for assistance and not to the masses of the workers. The result was that this splendid beginning, which could have been the nucleus of tens of thousands of volunteers and millions of dollars, was rejected by the Ethiopian Government in order not to offend the imperialists, those same imperialists who were plotting its downfall.

So that today when these same rascals start talking about “poor little Finland,” or poor little anybody, let every Negro ponder over the lesson of Ethiopia. Imperialism is on one side. We are on the other. We look always to ourselves. What was needed, what we need today, is an international revolutionary organization, which will agitate in the working class movement for international working class action for working class aims, – actions such as Eugene Jagot proposed. Such an organization as it grows stronger will organize international brigades, not to carry out the counter-revolutionary Stalinist policy, as was done in Spain, but to fight for the socialist revolution and the independence of the colonial countries. Such today is the Fourth International. Join it.

Last updated on 27 June 2018