G.F. Eckstein

The Negro Struggle

Randolph’s Campaign

(26 April 1948)

Source: The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 17, 26 April 1948, p. 4.
Source: PDF supplied by the Riazanov Library Project.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

A. Philip Randolph and Grant Reynolds have further concretized their program against Jim Crow. On April 19 Reynolds told a congressional committee that the Committee against Jim Crow in Military Service and Training is actively preparing its civil disobedience campaign. He exhibited a card, saying the signer would not be drafted for military service, to be nationally circulated. All races would be invited to join. 100,000 buttons saying “Don’t Join a Jim Crow Army” have been ordered. Said Reynolds:

“Upon delivery we expect to launch the sale of these buttons — outside of the White House and on the steps of the Capitol. In this way, we hope to impress the mind of White America that Negroes have had enough of this bi-partisan maneuvering on civil rights and that, come what may, we are withdrawing our support of Herr Jim Crow.”

Meanwhile the turmoil in the Negro community continues. The pages of the Pittsburgh Courier show the dilemma in which middle class Negroes find themselves. Four of its columnists have expressed their views and they are all different. But while the Negro intelligentsia betrays all the typical vacillations of intelligentsia, white or Negro, the general view is that the masses of the Negroes are deeply in sympathy with Randolph»s proposals. And that is the crux of the question.

The bold and defiant way in which Randolph and Reynolds have raised this question is a contribution to the revolutionary struggle against „the crimes and hypocrisy of American imperialism. But defiant protests and even going to jail solve nothing. The power of the protest is in the mass action and mass activity which it unlooses. It is precisely this fear of mass action, which has characterized the Negro leaders, as it has characterized the labor leaders. It is precisely what the government too respects and fears.

That Randolph, Reynolds and others are ready to go off to jail is creditable to them as individuals. But what is decisive is the organization of the great rank and file. Committees of action can be formed in every center of Negro life embracing the masses. Propaganda and agitation explaining the need for their active support should be the first consideration of Randolph and his committee. Huge meetings should be organized in every big town, explaining simply and clearly the issues and proposals.

A great mass movement can emerge from such local committees and demonstrations. The Negro people have always been fertile in invention of methods of struggle, and tenacious and self-sacrificing for their rights. Forces of organization and leadership can spring up overnight. The precise program of action and the best tactical methods of achieving it will thus be worked out in life through the experiences and contributions of the Negro masses themselves.

It is not enough merely to make bold declarations and sell buttons and distribute cards for signature. Without the support of the masses all this means little and in fact can do harm. The boldest, most determined of the Negroes and some of their white friends may find themselves in jail for years. How will they be able to use their revolutionary energy for the cause when they are behind bars? The only possible justification for risking imprisonment is the power and range of the mass movement which the leaders organize and set in motion.

Under questioning Randolph insisted that he intended only a civil disobedience movement, that he aimed at achieving Gandhi’s non-violent methods. But Gandhi continually complained that the Indian masses would accept his non-violence theories but in practice would act in the most violent manner against the British authorities. One Senator maintained that no matter what Randolph said, acts of violence would be committed if any such mass movement developed. Randolph admitted that he expected a nationwide wave of terrorism against Negroes if his plan was adopted on a national scale.

What type of leadership is it that, foresees vigilante repression and invites, his followers to submit to it? It is here that Randolph’s attempt to transfer Gandhi’s practices to the U.S. breaks down completely. Negroes are a minority of the population. They are trained in and accustomed to the methods of political and social struggle practiced around them every day. The surest safeguard against Jim Crow terrorism is the powerful organization of the Negro masses. The government and the vigilantes will respect that. It is necessary to repeat: They respect nothing else.

Furthermore, the power of this protest will depend on the support it gets from both Negroes and whites. If the Negroes see and feel a powerful organization and a serious leadership, the waverers will be won over and the petty bourgeois elements now sitting on the fence will be swept into the movement (or they will be isolated and lose their following). Best of all, a genuine, disciplined Negro mass movement will compel first the attention, and later the support, of organized labor. Under those circumstances, and only under those circumstances, a planned, deliberate refusal to obey the draft call can be,the starting point of great and resounding struggles for the Negro people.

If, however, Randolph and his friends do not devote themselves primarily to organizing the masses, or if those who sympathize with the movement do not see to it that the power of the Negro masses is expressed in an organized form, then the protests of the Negroes may find only irregular or sporadic and demoralizing expression. Without this, Randolph and the others will sound like anarchistic or romantic individuals and great harm will have been done. In that case it would have been better not to have attempted the protest at all.

Last updated on 3 February 2022