J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

(19 February 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 8, 19 February 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for MIA.

Revolutionary socialists have made it a basic principle to refuse to support candidates of capitalist parties. Even when Harlem rallies around a candidate like Councilman Powell in the legitimate desire to have a Negro represent them in Congress, the revolutionary party refuses to support this representative of the Democratic-capitalist Party.

Promises – And Reeds

Powell has gained a great deal of notoriety in Harlem by promising to answer the slanderous abuse of the Negro people by Senator Rankin and other Southern Negro-baiters in Congress. The violent attacks upon the Negro people constantly made by the Southerners in Congress have as their special purpose the task of covering with disgrace, with shame, with humiliation, the masses of the Negro people so as to maintain hostility between Negroes and whites. The New Dealers and other “progressive” congressmen never reply in kind to these anti-Negro diatribes. They sit and take it because politically they are closely allied to the Southern senators and secondly, it is not their business, as they see it, to defend the Negro people. Powell promised that he would put an end to this state of affairs.

He goes to Congress and, as usual, Senator Rankin opens up his usual anti-Negro assault. Every one was looking to hear a militant reply from Powell. Powell said nothing.

His excuse was that his colleagues in the Democratic Party, had told him that he had a great career open to him in the House on behalf of his people and that his first speech should be constructive. It is strange that these same colleagues have never been able to persuade Rankin to shut his mouth about the Negro people. Yet they had no difficulty in shutting up Powell at a time when he could have signalized his appearance in the House by serving notice to the Southern Bourbons that in the future on the question of Negroes they would get as good as they gave.

Was this merely an accident? Not at all. A few weeks ago the May-Bailey bill to draft labor came up in Congress. Now every Negro knows that a bill of this kind hits not only the labor movement in general but Negroes in particular. In the South especially it places Negro labor more than ever at the mercy of the state governments which use the war and such legislation to keep Negroes in the lowest possible positions at starvation wages, all under the slogan of “defense of democracy.”

Against Amending May Bill

While the bill was on the floor, Representative Charles Clason of Massachusetts, introduced an amendment which, in words at least, opposed discrimination against any workers because of race, creed or color. Up to his feet came Congressman Powell in order to make his first constructive speech. He spoke against the amendment! He called it a “cheap partisan trick to play upon racial prejudice in order to defeat a bill which should stand or fall Upon its own merits.”

The House was astonished. The liberals, weak brothers at best, had the ground cut from under their feet. Immediately after Powell’s speech, Congressman May moved that the debate be closed and a vote be taken. The Clason amendment was defeated by 148 votes to 113.

A survey of the Negro press shows a general opinion that there was a possibility of the amendment being passed until Powell made his “constructive” speech. It gave the liberals just the opportunity they wanted to drop the whole business. Senator Rankin was seen patting his colleagues on the back and congratulating them upon this new recruit to the anti-Negro forces in the House. Rankin and Powell walked up the aisle side by side in order to cast their vote against legislation aimed at Negro discrimination.

Just a Capitalist Politician

Harlem and the Negro people as a whole are in an uproar over this betrayal. Powell has been doing some vigorous explaining. He convinces nobody and even the Negro Labor Victory Committee in Harlem which worked so hard for his election has condemned him. Powell afterward voted against the bill on the score that it was totalitarian, thereby making still more inexcusable his vote against the Clason amendment.

That is the inevitable conduct to be expected from these capitalist politicians, whether they are white or Negro.

Last updated on 19 April 2016