J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

(6 January 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 1, 6 January 1947, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Leon Trotsky once made a penetrating and valuable criticism of a U.S. Trotskyist paper. It was some six or seven years ago, before the WP and Labor Action had been founded. The Transitional Program had been adopted, and the party was grappling with the problem of shedding its more abstractly theoretical past and adapting itself to the masses it now addressed. Trotsky said that the paper contained many fine articles, some brilliant. But he missed in it what he referred to, I think, as the voice of the worker. He wanted to see, and missed in the paper, how the worker thought and even how “the worker drank whisky.” There is room for argument and discussion, but the point is, on the whole, in my view, clear and always worth consideration.

The article by Sarah Evans in the December 23 issue of Labor Action is the voice of a worker and of a Negro worker. And, in my opinion, the voice is strong, clear and basically sound in what it has to say.

Attacks Capitalism

The most important feature of this quite unsolicited article is that it is revolutionary. It does not attack the capitalist system in economic or in strictly political terms. It says something more. It pours out hatred and indignation on that society which condemns so many Negroes to an inhuman existence. It expresses that consuming opposition and detestation which is a component part of any great revolution. It is good to see a worker expressing it, without adulteration and without fear.

These are some of the less striking statements which speak volumes. There is in the article, for instance, the horrible episode of a driver in a bus walking up to a black mother and her baby, slapping the baby and saying, “Keep that damned bastard quiet.” One need neither be a Negro nor a parent to feel what the parents of that child must feel. Everyone knows degrading stories of discrimination, dramatic stories, striking stories. But not many people have stopped to think of such simple things as this: “If someone looks at you and doesn’t like your looks, you are put out.” Yes, it is as simple as that – the consciousness that your very presence is an offense. Sarah Evans utters a potent truth when she prefaces that observation by the apparently simple statement: “Discrimination is more horrible than you can think.” That it is. Only those who have been through it or studied it very closely can appreciate its full ramifications.

No Garveyism

Some years ago I had a conversation with an Indian, a Ph.D., a man educated in Bombay, London and the Sorbonne in Paris. He told me that living in London, he noticed an inclination, whatever he was doing, to finish it quickly and then rush to an inter-racial club where students of many nationalities and friendly English people lived in great harmony. He spoke to other colonial students and found the same to be true. Gradually it dawned upon them that the isolation, the consciousness of being stared at, the fears of meeting discriminations and slights acted upon them all through the day. Discrimination in England is not obtrusive, but it exists. It can appear at the most unexpected times. And this constant defensive attitude wore down the students, so that they were always subconsciously trying to place themselves back where they felt at home.

But Sarah Evans’ article is concerned not so much with personal reactions, but is written with conditions in the South in mind. In what is a brief piece, she manages to indict the whole economic and social system in human terms. Housing, labor, prices, the denunciation is not in terms of political amelioration, but of a complete change. The words say: Negroes should not live like that. But behind them can be felt the sentiment that no one who is a human being should be compelled to undergo those conditions of life.

There is not the faintest trace of Garveyism in the ideas expressed. The writer regrets that. Negroes have not had the chance “to develop knowledge” like the whites. She speaks of “the stealing” that goes on. She obviously is under no illusions about the conditions to which the system has reduced so many millions. But she has not the slightest doubt that the discrimination, its consequences and its abolition are all social questions. She not only has confidence in the social revolution as the only solution for that immense accumulation of misery. She is equally confident that the Negroes are ready to participate in such a social upheaval.

Expressed Feelings

There are many things that the article does not say. Any reader of Labor Action can draw up a list and probably Sarah Evans too. But the article is “revealing” and “worthy of attention” because a worker sat down and wrote it for no other purpose than to express feelings which are shared and too often not expressed by millions of other Negroes in the U.S.

The Workers Party, as a revolutionary organization in the Marxist tradition, strives always to give theoretical analysis and a political line. But we welcome the expression of the sentiments of workers, of people who do not usually write. This column for one and of course the paper as a whole would welcome any genuine expression of a worker’s reaction to the manifold crimes of capitalism in the U.S.

This is the first of this scope we have had from a Negro for a long time. It is because I hope that, apart from its intrinsic merits, it will be a precursor of many more from all over the country that I draw special attention to it. I for one learned a great deal from it.

One last word. For those not acquainted with our policy it is useful to restate a certain aspect of it. We do not ask that a correspondent agree with us. An industrial worker or sharecropper may think that revolution as a solution to the problems of the Negro is a Utopia. He may think that Sarah Evans’ approach is wrong. He may think that she did not sufficiently emphasize the relation of Negro struggle to the organized labor movement. He may think that the genuine feeling of rebellion among Negroes is not expressed often enough. Labor Action welcomes all views that are not consciously and maliciously reactionary. And above all we would like to hear the opinions of workers who are not in any way professional or trained writers. It is THE crime of capitalism to suppress and inhibit, crush and degrade the masses, and above all the Negro masses. It is the aim of socialism to release them in every way from these shackles so that the great mass of the producers can rule society in full equality and fraternity.

Last updated on 28 November 2020