J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

(16 September 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 37, 16 September 1946, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by
Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Congressman Powell was defeated in the Republican primary in Harlem. Commissioner Grant Reynolds and the Amsterdam News hail this as a great victory. But the People’s Voice points out that the Congressman is certain to be elected on the tickets of the Democratic Party and the American Labor Party. The Congressman’s supporters say that he gained numerous jobs for Negroes. In my last column I showed that Governor Dewey, Republican, had also given a lot of jobs to Negroes.

The Congressman’s supporters have another argument. They say that he introduced into Congress a permanent FEPC bill. He introduced into Congress an anti-lynching bill. What happened to these bills, they do not say. But everybody knows. They were thrown out. They were thrown out by the activities of the same Democratic Party which Congressman Powell is representing.

In other words, the Democratic Party, as represented by Congressman Powell, brings in a permanent FEPC bill and an anti-lynching bill, and the Democratic Party as represented by Bilbo, Rankin and Pappy O’Daniel, throw these bills out.

It hasn’t happened ONCE. Congressman Powell is not the first who has brought progressive legislation dealing with Negroes into Congress. The Democratic Party throws them out. The Congressman sounds progressive and powerful and even, at times, revolutionary, in Harlem. In Washington he acts as a sort of safety valve. He speaks, the people are told what he says. It sounds as if something is going on. But sure as day the Democratic Party axe falls and the Negroes remain just where they were.

Action on the FEPC

The Workers Party and Labor Action have been, are and will be tireless in the exposure of the fraud and deceptions which characterize the procedure of the Democratic Party and its promises to the Negro people.

We say: In 1941 the first FEPC bill was passed. We say that it was won by the mobilization of the Negro masses in the March on Washington movement. The mere threat of disciplined mass action caused Roosevelt to force the bill through. He was faced on the one hand with the pressure of the Southern Democrats (and some Northern ones too); on the other hand he had the Negro masses. The bill was not much good, but at any rate it was a beginning.

In 1943 there was the tremendous explosion of the Negro masses in Harlem, known as the Harlem riot. Conservative journalists and politicians have acknowledged that this action so frightened the ruling powers and so stimulated labor that the result was a new FEPC, the Ives-Quinn bill.

Is parliamentary action, then, useless? Not at all. But parliamentary action on behalf of workers and the poor and oppressed needs two things to be effective. First, it must speak the naked political truth, so as to clarify the masses. Secondly, it must be backed by the mobilization of the people. Congressman Powelll can do neither. How can he? The raw truth about Negro persecution and deception of Negroes by politicians is that today the course and fountainhead of Jim Crow is the ruling Democratic Party and the power it wields as ruler of the United States.

This party has been in power for the last fourteen years. For the Negroes it has done nothing. Therefore, the first task is to denounce it, to expose it, to lay bare its hypocrisy and its trickery. But Congressman Powell cannot do it. He is a member of the party.

Job for Labor Party

The Workers Party has, as its main political slogan, the formation of a Labor Party – a party of the workers. Such a party, even if it had only three members in Congress (and there is no reason why it should not have 300), could exercise enormous influence. Why? Because it could do the first and most important thing – unremittingly place the responsibility for Jim Crow where it lies – at the feet of those who rule this country and control both the Democratic and the Republican Parties.

Secondly, the mobilization of the Negro masses themselves to express their hostility to the existing order arid their readiness and determination to change that order. A. Philip Randolph made a fine beginning in the March on Washington Movement. We believe that a Congressman, elected by a predominantly Negro community, should use his position in Congress to denounce both the Republican and Democratic Parties, and from there to speak in a loud, clear and rousing voice to the masses of the people, both Negro and white. This is what we conceive to be the duty and possibilities of a Congressman representing the masses of the people in Harlem.

How can Congressman Powell fill this bill? He cannot do it. He cannot try to do it. He is tied hand and foot to the Democratic Party. The Mayor of New York, O’Dwyer, is a Democrat. His police brutally attack the Negro people. His sole purpose in Harlem is to keep the Negro people in Harlem quiet, by alternately bulldozing them with soft words and battering them with police batons. Congressman Powell has O’Dwyer on one hand and Bilbo and Rankin on the other. Nothing of any value can come from a politician so placed.

WP’s Proposal

The Workers Party’s proposal is clear and simple. We propose that the Harlem people elect a candidate whose principles are as follows: (1) Nothing can be got by the Negro people from the Democratic or Republican Parties; (2) The federal government and all its allies, big capital and the landlords, are the main source of Jim Crow and Negro oppression; (3) The Harlem representative must use his position in Congress to proclaim these truths to the whole nation; (4) His aim should be to mobilize the people for mass action so as to make the government and Congress recognize that they have to deal with the militant, organized, disciplined but burning wrath of the Negro people and their friends.

That is our concept of a Harlem Congressman. If he had ten times his energy and ten times his ability, Congressman Powell could not satisfy that need. His political basis is false and therefore his activity can result only in the demoralization and confusion of the Negro people.

Last updated on 8 July 2019