J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

Danger Signals

(April 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 15, 9 April 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Last week I noted the evidence for the violent change and ferment that is taking place in the United States over the Negro question. I stated that this interest, even where it was expressed only in the reading of books, was a sign of the times.

The very ferment on the Negro question is a sign of progressive development. That is agreed. The changing attitude of the CIO is a tremendous social force. But it must not be forgotten that such progress unlooses and must unloose dangerous and counter-revolutionary forces.

Who Opposes Negroes?

How could it be otherwise? A substantial number of people in the United States profit by the degradation of the Negro.

The Southern landlords and politicians owe to this degradation the utterly disproportionate share of economic power and political influence which they wield. In the South many jobs (skilled labor and petty bourgeois office jobs) which are held by whites, would be held by Negroes if they were treated as ordinary members of the community.

Big capital needs this division between Negroes and whites in order to disrupt the labor movement both politically and industrially. And, as always, with the most powerful representatives of the ruling class, they have attached to them a not negligible section of the population who live personally by them and take their political opinions and are stimulated to political action by the propaganda and agitation of big capital at a particular moment.

All these are viewing this upsurge of intellectual interest, popular feeling and vigorous action by labor unions on the Negro question. They recognize what it means. They know that to carry the movement for Negro emancipation to its conclusion requires such a reorganization of economic and social life in the United States as would shatter the whole structure. They are not going to sit down and see their structure shattered – or even seriously threatened. For the moment they are giving way. But as sure as day they are waiting their moment for a counter-offensive. It may fail. But come it must.

European Counterparts

A similar movement and counter-movement took place in Europe during the years which preceded World War II. In every European country there was a tremendous upheaval among the masses, sections of the lower middle classes and the intellectuals. The intellectuals wrote and read and held meetings and organized. The masses took both industrial and political action, as we know, even carrying out many revolutionary outbreaks.

Nowhere did they go far enough. Nowhere did they manage to overturn the foundation of the evil, the capitalist system. The result was, and this, was inevitable, disillusionment, a feeling of hopelessness and a drastic counter-offensive by the ruling class. The fascists and counter-revolutionary elements gained strength always as a result of the half-hearted attempts by the masses and their allies to settle long-standing social and political evils.


For thinking people, therefore, the prevailing interest in the Negro question must be viewed with satisfaction, with hope, but also with a very clear insight into the dangers involved. At the present moment, progress is being made. But the counter-offensive is preparing, already. In Detroit, for instance, the Ku Klux Klan, the Knights of the White Camellia, Holy Roller religions groups and other reactionary organizations are active in the labor movement. In the South there are signs of mass mobilization in defense of white supremacy.

These movements, particularly those in the North, may appear to be of small significance in comparison to the forces arrayed against them. There could be no greater mistake than to think so. By themselves they amount to little. The labor movements could smash them to pieces in Detroit, for instance, particularly if thoroughly aroused. The danger of these movements is that at the proper moment they will have behind them the systematic, organized backing of the most powerful, the most unscrupulous men in the United States and all the social forces that they control.

In Germany Hitler used anti-Semitism as one of the means of disrupting the forces opposed to him. Anti-Semitism, however, never had any hold in the German labor movement. In the U.S., however, it is different. One of the greatest weaknesses of the American labor movement is race prejudice. And, as sure as day, that is one of the weak spots that the counter-revolution in the U.S. will attack with all its force.

It is therefore, necessary not to allow oneself to be carried away by excitement and enthusiasm over the projection of the Negro question into the progressive consciousness of the United States. Every ounce must be thrown into the drive forward. But that can only be properly done when it is recognized that what is taking; place here is the preparation for a battle – a tremendous battle which will be merely one part of the great battle between capital and labor over the future control of the United States.

Last updated on 8 June 2016