J.R. Johnson

Negro Protest Runs Too Deep to Be Squashed

(21 July 1941)

The Negro’s Fight, Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 29, 21 July 1941, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Roosevelt is out to break the Negro movement. He has won the first round in the fight. Without Randolph and Walter White he couldn’t have won. But the fight isn’t over. It is just beginning. The Negro protest against the crimes of American democracy is running too deep and too strong to be squashed by a slick President and two traitors.

For the Workers Party this is a question of the first importance. Our party has therefore been seeking to find out by its own contacts and its own investigation what is the attitude of the Negro people to this recent sell-out and to the whole political situation.

Negroes Want Something Done

First, Washington. The general attitude is a growing militancy and a feeling that something must be done. The Negro petty-bourgeoisie is of course concerned with its own petty pleasures and with its old game of aping the government bureaucracy. But the people in the street are responding to events. Two party members were distributing leaflets in a Negro neighborhood some weeks ago. Cops in a car wished to intimidate them, asked them what they were doing there and tried generally to be tough. Negroes crowded out to see what was going on. They read the leaflets and then shouted at the cops: “Yes, this is right, this is true.”

The idea that the war is a war for democracy is treated with profound contempt. The march on Washington they thought was a good idea, but many had not heard of it at all. What did they think of it being called off? There was no hatred of Randolph and Walter White; perhaps they had done what was right. But “we want leaders who wouldn’t sell us out; educated, cultured men.” This perhaps is the most remarkable characteristic of the reports: “We want leaders.”

The Negro people suffer more than most sections of labor from this conviction that political activity of any extended sort is the business of “leaders,” of “educated people” who will do the necessary thinking. The average labor leader and many revolutionaries, the latter through corruption or short-sightedness, suffer from the same weakness. The function of the revolutionary party is to lead and organize, but to lead and organize awakened masses. Above all, leadership must stimulate the creative capacity and sense of historic initiative in the masses. That was the chief characteristic of Lenin’s great Bolshevik party.

Baltimore Negroes Oppose the War

In Baltimore our party is in contact with a type of Negro more “proletarian” than in Washington. One Negro had a very interesting story to tell. He works with a group of Negroes who do laboring work. These Negroes have one opinion about the war. They have no democracy to fight for. They are not opposed to war but they will fight only for two countries, for Ethiopia and for Russia. This is a very high degree of political development and if they are still deceived by the Stalinists, their willingness to fight for Russia is in reality their desire to fight for the revolution. They do not hide their feelings, either. The man who spoke to them and asked one what he thought about the war. “I have no democracy to fight for. You have democracy. You fight,” was the gruff reply. The stool-pigeon went down the line and all the men told him the same thing. It is not unlikely that reports like this in the hundreds are going into Washington from all over the country. That is why Roosevelt is so determined that there must be no march.

These Baltimore Negro laborers had one response to the treachery of Randolph and White. They said that it was a shame to call off the march. Most interesting, however, was the response of some white men on the same job. They, too, thought that the Negroes should march on the government and ask that something be done. The Negro who reported this is an old militant who knows the Stalinists for what they are, but the others have come to their conclusions from the everyday experience of their lives. They are not fooled by Roosevelt or Randolph or Walter White.

A prime danger today is from the Stalinists, for with their revolutionary talk and their well-financed organization, they are now busy everywhere “proving” that the war is no longer an imperialist war, and that Britain, Russia and. America are fighting for democracy. Instead of getting leadership the workers get misleadership.

Must Prepare for New Action

Every Negro must reflect very carefully over the political situation today. We must think and work out ways of action. To break the march Roosevelt called on Eleanor Roosevelt, LaGuardia, Stimson, Knox, Knudsen and Sidney Hillman; in other words, he mobilized the most powerful forces in the government today. That shows how much he wanted to break action by the Negroes. To any thinking Negro it is clear that the ruling class considered the march a great danger, a means of helping the Negroes to struggle. If that is so, then it follows that the Negroes themselves must prepare for similar action on a bigger scale this time, however, under leaders who will not sell out.

Last updated on 5.1.2013