J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

An Answer to a Reader

(13 August 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 33, 13 August 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

I have received a letter from a member of the Lynn Committee for the Abolition of Segregation in the Armed Forces. The writer is Winston Olton and he challenges me on an article I wrote recently onEisenhower and Jim Crow (Labor Action, July 2, 1945).

First of all there is a misunderstanding. He quotes “...efforts at collective action, completely integrated units of war, reached at least one impassible barrier, ” viz., “You cannot have, a Jim Crow society and a non-Jim Crow army.”

Olton says that this has no basis in fact, and he claims that there has been no collective action against Jim Crow.

I am glad to have the opportunity to develop the point further. By“collective action” I meant the powerful, in fact, the irresistible tendency of society to function in units which increasingly embrace greater and greater sections of the population.

Eisenhower expressed it most clearly at West Point when he said that if he had his way he would even put soldiers, sailors and airmen into one uniform. By this he meant to emphasize the great lesson of the war, that all armed forces have to be handled as one, so close is the interconnection and interplay between forces on land, on sea and in the air.

Collective Tendencies

Not only that. The home front, as everybody now knows, is linked to the battle front. The bombers attack soldiers in the field, lines of communication and factories where the munitions of war are being manufactured. The whole tendency of modern society is towards organization and action as a whole – collectively.

Now isn’t it obvious that in such a society the existence ofclasses comes into irreconcilable contradiction with the tendency towards collectivism? That is why we have the vicious oppression of the totalitarian states. Collective action is needed. But the division between class and class is so sharp and brings such fatal consequences in every sphere that, finally, only an iron dictatorship can insure any sort of order. The solution to this dilemma, of course, is the abolition of classes, i.e., socialism.

But the basic principles apply to the Negro question. The tendency of society is towards collective action. The segregation, the discrimination in other words, the separation of the Negroes continues. And I thought it remarkable that in the remarks of Eisenhower who hammers away at collective action, or if you will, unified action, in the armed forces, there should appear so clearly the special position of the Negro in American society.

Has this tendency to collective action any meaning for us who are enemies of Jim Crow? Yes. Most certainly. The workers are the only ones who can genuinely carry out collective action. The process of production itself today socializes labor, compels it to act in a unified manner on a national and soon, we hope, on an international scale.

The Hope Is Labor

When Olton complains that there has not been collective action against Jim Crow in the army he is in a sense justified. The only force which can abolish Jim Crow is the organized working-class. But so far the working class has been concerned chiefly with Jim Crow in the labor movement.

In general Negroes can legitimately complain that this is only a part of the struggle. Agreed. But it is the most important part. And Olton, I hope, will agree that since the Civil War no organization in the United States has struck such mighty blows at Jim Crow as the CIO.

The lesson is plain. The Negroes feel the discrimination most keenly and strike out against it everywhere. The Lynn Committee makes vigorous protests and organizes action against Jim Crow in the army. But Olton, I hope, understands that the Negro activity will have only incidental and unsatisfactory results if it does not finally stimulate the labor movement to enter into the struggle without reservations on all fronts.

Prospects for Negro

What are the prospects of this? In my opinion very good. And very good not on account of “optimism” and such like psychological reasons. First, I consider the chances good because of this same fundamental movement towards collective action which characterizes our contemporary society. The general tendency is towards collectivism.

The capitalists are drawn towards it. The workers are drawn towards it. The result is a sharpening of the class struggle. The contending parties seek more and more to mobilize under their own banner those forces closest to them. The Negroes are overwhelmingly proletarian and semi-proletarian. The signs are evident that the workers are becoming aware that the Negro struggle is their struggle. There is the great force to smash racism.

Last updated on 13 December 2017