J.R. Johnson

From Jobs to the Struggle for Socialism

(2 June 1941)

The Negro’s Fight, Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 22, 2 June 1941, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Coordinating Committee which led the recent Harlem bus boycott has now begun another campaign. It is directed against the obvious and shameful fact that in the colleges of New York City – this metropolis of democracy, having at its head one of the greatest and noisiest defenders of the democratic system in the world today, by whom we mean his democratic lordship and mightiness, Fiorello La Guardia – this great city has not one single Negro on its college teaching staffs.

The Coordinating Committee called a mass meeting and 1,500 people turned up in order to register their protest and to gird themselves for the struggle. We presume that the Coordinating Committee has been long enough in this business to know that genteel deputations, lengthy correspondence and all the rigmarole by which preachers of democracy who sit at the top try to bluff all those who are striving to get a little democracy from below – we presume that the Coordinating Committee knows exactly how much all this is worth. The line should be, “Appoint, or we picket you and expose your hypocritical pretensions across the whole country, and across the five continents if we can.”

Of course the Workers Party is absolutely 100 per cent with the people of Harlem and the Coordinating Committee on this question. Our theoretical contribution is very simple. It can be summed up in four words. “Don’t play with them.” Our material contribution can be summed up in five words. “Tell us where to picket.”

At this stage, however we want to draw attention to the fact that 1,500 people turned up to support the attempt to get a few teachers on the staffs of the colleges. How many of these people could themselves hope to te4ach at any college? How many of them had friends or relatives whom they could reasonably expect to get one of these jobs? It is safe to say very, very few. Five per cent at most. Yet these Negro people, urged on by a tremendous passion for equality, turned out in numbers and worked for weeks to get a few Negroes jobs driving buses. Now they go further and show they are prepared to fight in order to get teachers at colleges that few of them attend and few of them have any prospect of attending.

A Significant Struggle

Now what is happening in New York can happen in Chicago, in Cleveland, in Pittsburgh, in Los Angeles, in San Francisco. Further, we can judge from the present manifestations the fires that are smouldering in the South – the fires which will blaze at the first opportunity that presents itself and gives the Negroes a chance not only to wish but to hope. All that these people want throughout the length and breadth of the country is leadership. We have maintained that the Negro is bound to be in the advance guard of the revolutionary struggle in this country – in the front ranks of the builders of socialism. Here is proof.

We commit a grave crime if we do not understand the full significance of these recent demonstrations by the Harlem people. When workers in a union or a factory strike, they strike for concrete advantages to themselves. The revolutionary struggle, however, is of a higher order of intensity. It opposes not only a particular grievance for immediate, concrete advantages, but opposes itself to a system even though those struggling do not themselves expect to reap any immediate personal benefit so far as they can see. That is precisely the way we should appraise 1,500 Negroes getting ready to fight for a few jobs for some Negro teachers. It is a struggle “on principle.”

The skeptics will point out that the Negro is not struggling for socialism, that he is merely struggling for his democratic rights. These idiots do not understand that the struggle for democratic rights in their completeness is the struggle for socialism; and that today, in particular, the struggle for democratic rights in capitalist society can go only thus far, because almost immediately it runs up against the whole organized force of capitalism striving desperately to maintain itself in the catastrophic world situation.

Where the Future Lies

To see this is not to be blind to the fact that there are many intermediate stages, advances and retreats which face the Negro people in their struggle for their rights. The realization that only socialism can give them these rights can come to the millions only in and through struggle. They will learn by hard experience that their leaders, whether black or white, must ultimately make up their minds that their future is with organized labor. Here, however, another enormous asset of the Negro people presents itself. They are willing to go with organized labor.

That there is no nationwide unity between the Negroes and organized labor is the fault of organized labor, due to historical circumstances with which we are all familiar, and which we must explain ceaselessly to both whites and Negroes. The fact remains, however, that the Negro is ready to fight for equality; that he is ready also to fight with organized labor; and that we who are concentrating so much on Negro work can do so with the fullest consciousness that the large masses of the Negro people will be a battalion second to none in the struggle for the defense and extension of democratic rights in declining capitalist society. Which is to say, the struggle for socialism.

Last updated on 31.12.2012