The Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers George Padmore 1931


6. Revolutionary Perspectives

I. The Role of the R.I.L.U. in the Struggles of the Negro Toilers

The Red International of Labour Unions (Profintern) celebrated its Tenth Anniversary in 1930. Having been organised in the very heat of the acute post-war economic and political crisis in the most important European countries, the Profintern came to be the militant revolutionary headquarters of the world trade union movement, rallying to its banner all the class-conscious proletarian elements of the whole world.

Today the Profintern is in the thick of its struggle for winning over the working class. In spite of its fine successes in extending its influence the Profintern cannot yet say that it embraces the majority of the working class. The Profintern is still obliged to wage a relentless struggle for freeing the workers from the influence of the bourgeoisie, the reformists and anarcho-syndicalists. The greatest enemy of the Profintern in the struggle for influence over the working class is the International Trade Union Federation, the so-called Amsterdam International.

The Amsterdam International was organised one year prior to the Profintern. In spite of its high-sounding name of “International Federation,” Amsterdam is, in the main, an association of European trade unions, owing to the fact that out of the 28 organisations affiliating with it 23 are in Europe and only 5 organisations are non-European. Besides, the Amsterdam International is a white chauvinist international. The Amsterdamites reflect the interests of the upper strata of the working class in the imperialist countries, and look down upon the trade union movement of the colonial and coloured peoples. Amsterdam’s first and most important task is to preserve and reinforce capitalism and imperialism, and to strengthen the position of the bourgeoisie by suppressing the revolutionary movement in the imperialist countries and the national liberation movements in the colonies and semi-colonial countries.

The Profintern is the first real International of Trade Unions, because the workers of all nationalities and races, regardless of colour or creed, have rallied to its banner. The Profintern has its sections in practically all countries in the world, in the form of independent trade unions and opposition groups and minorities inside the reformist trade unions. Besides these trade unions, which are organisationally connected with the Profintern, there are a whole number of trade union federations which adhere to the ideological leadership of the Profintern. Two very powerful organisations are among these – the Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat and the Latin-American Confederation of Labour.

The Red International of Labour Unions is the first Trade Union International which furthered the development of the trade union movement among the colonial peoples, and succeeded in rallying a great part of them to its banner. It is the only international which conducts a consistent and permanent struggle against white chauvinism for equal rights for the labour movement in the colonial and semi-colonial countries, for the correct solution of the national-race problem. This struggle has only just begun. The problem of national equality has not been sufficiently appraised even by many of the Profintern supporters, while in the ranks of those sections of the working class which still follow the reformist and the reactionary leadership the “race struggle” in most cases, we regret to say, overshadows the class struggle. The Profintern has, however, mapped out a correct line for solving the national-race problem. It has indicated the path for waging the struggle against race chauvinism, against all colour bars, for uniting the workers of all races and nations.

A very vivid example of the national-race policy of the Profintern is its fight for strengthening and extending the trade union movement among the Negro workers. The Negro workers are the most exploited, the most oppressed in the world. It was the fate of the Negro workers to pay the horrible tribute to slavery, which served to destroy millions upon millions of black toilers. The Negro workers even now are actually slave-bound to their white conquerors. Different forms of forced labour, peonage, expropriation of their lands, extraordinary laws and unbearably heavy taxes, lynchings, segregation, etc., etc., are up till now the fate of the Negro toiling masses languishing under the yoke of imperialism. Tens of thousands of Negro workers are still groaning under the lash of their enslavers.

The Negro workers, however, exploited and oppressed by the imperialists, have not received the necessary support of the organised labour movement. The white worker, in many cases even today, still regards the Negro as a pariah, and scornfully refuses to stretch out a helping hand to his black brother. Even in the ranks of the revolutionary workers numerous examples of white chauvinism can be recorded. A long and bitter struggle has been waged by the Profintern against this psychology of “white superiority.” Day in and day out, year after year, the Profintern has raised the Negro problem before its affiliated sections in the U.S.A., South Africa, England, France, Belgium, Portugal, etc., sharply condemning any and all manifestations of white chauvinism and underestimation of winning the black workers for the class struggle, pointing out the necessity of paying the most serious attention to the organisation of the Negro workers into revolutionary trade unions together with the white workers.

In order to strengthen and stimulate trade union activities among the Negro masses, the Profintern finally established a Negro Trade Union Committee composed of Negro workers from the United States, South, East, West and Equatorial Africa, the British and French West Indies and Latin America.

Since the establishment of the Committee, the Profintern has to some extent succeeded in overcoming white chauvinism in its ranks, and has corrected the mistakes of its American section, which formerly ignored work among the Negroes. The Profintern will continue its fight until it completely eradicates all traces of white chauvinism from its ranks and unites all workers – white black, yellow, brown – in one revolutionary trade union movement.

II. What Must Be Done?

In order to help the Profintern and its revolutionary trade union sections in the United States and South Africa to carry out the task of building up strong unions by strengthening the bonds of solidarity between the white and black workers, two things must be done.

(1) The class-conscious white workers must take the initiative of drawing the Negro workers into the revolutionary unions and the movement of the unemployed, guaranteeing to them every opportunity of actively participating in shaping the policies of the workers’ organisations and leading the united front struggles of the working class against the offensive of the capitalists.

In this connection it is the special task of the revolutionary unions to bring the white workers into the struggle on behalf of the Negro demands. It must be borne in mind that the Negro masses will not be won for the revolutionary struggles until such time as the most conscious section of the white workers show, by action, that they are fighting with the Negroes against all racial discrimination and persecution. Every class-conscious worker must bear in mind that the age-long oppression of the colonial and weak nationalities by the imperialist powers has given rise to a feeling of bitterness among the masses of the enslaved countries, as well as a feeling of distrust toward the oppressing nation in general and toward the proletariat of those nations. This point was particularly emphasised in the resolution of the Communist International on the Negro Question in U.S.A.

It is absolutely necessary to pursue this policy. No retreat before white chauvinism must be tolerated, for only by deeds and not words will we be able to dispel the distrust which the more backward sections of the Negro toiling masses have towards the whites, a suspicion which has developed among them as a result of the traditional policy of the white reformist trade union leaders (Green, Mathew Woll, John L. Lewis, etc.). These A.F. of L. fakers not only refuse to organise the Negroes, but, when compelled to do so in order to safeguard the privileged position of the white labour aristocrats, invariably “Jim-Crow” the Negroes into separate unions and leave them at the mercy of the capitalists. Furthermore, the white workers must realise that in the present condition of world capitalism one of the aims of the imperialists is to find a way out of their difficulties by using the Negro workers, especially in the colonies, to worsen the already low standard of the white workers. Because of this the struggles of the Negro workers against the capitalist offensive must be made part and parcel of the common struggle against imperialism.

The emancipation of the white workers from the yoke of capitalism can only be achieved by making a decisive break with all reformist tendencies, which are the ideologies of the bourgeoisie within the ranks of the working class. They must come forward boldly in support of the programme of the Communist International and the R.I.L.U., which alone struggle for the overthrow of capitalism and the liberation of the toiling masses of all races and colour. The workers of the imperialist countries must not forget the memorable words of Marx that “labour in the white skin cannot free itself while labour in the black is enslaved.”

(2) The Negro workers must also take a more active part in the revolutionary struggles of the working class as a whole. They must make a decisive break with all bourgeois and petty-bourgeois reformist movements. They must not permit themselves to be misled by the “left” phrases of the American Negro petty-bourgeois reformists, such as Du Bois, Moton, Depriest, etc., etc., who are merely office-seekers and demagogues paid by the ruling class to befuddle the Negro masses in order to direct their attention away from revolutionary struggle into reformist channels.

The Negro workers must also conduct a more relentless struggle against the Negro trade union lackeys of the reformists, whose chief task is to betray the struggles of the Negroes on the economic front. This has been glaringly revealed both in the U.S.A. and in South Africa. For example, A. Phillip Randolph and his henchman, Frank Croswaith, “leaders” of the Pullman Porters’ Union and members of the Socialist Party, are the most outstanding examples of Negro reformists. Some years ago the Pullman Porters’ Union was the biggest mass organisation among Negro workers, but thanks to the opportunist policies pursued by Randolph and his supporters the organisation is almost bankrupt. Today it is largely a dues-paying organisation and sick and death benefit society, completely under the domination of the bureaucrats of the A.F. of L., whose last act of betrayal of the Negro workers was openly to sabotage their struggles against the Pullman Company in 1928.

The same role of treachery has been played by the Negro reformists and other mis-leaders in the Union of South Africa. The natives must therefore conduct a sharper struggle against the tactics of Kadalie and Champion, as well as Ballinger, the British I.L.P. leader, who are the chief disrupters and splitters of the working-class movement among the blacks.

These agents of Amsterdam can boast of an unparalleled record of betrayals of the struggles of the natives of South Africa. The most recent example of Kadalie’s hypocrisy was during the railroad strike in East London in 1930. After hundreds of native railroad workers downed tools and went out on strike Kadalie entered into a secret conference with the agents of the Government, who owned the railroads, and then appealed to the men to go back in order that they might get a few shillings to pay their dues from which Kadalie could secure his salary.

Again during the heroic struggles of the natives on Dingaan’s Day (December 16th, 1930) Kadalie and Champion attempted to sabotage the demonstrations of the workers, who openly fought with the police for the right to protest against the vicious slave laws of the Hertzog’s Government by burning their passes at monster mass meetings. Kadalie told the workers to be submissive and obey their oppressors. He promised to send a petition to Hertzog asking him to abolish the Pass laws, failing which he would call upon the workers to demonstrate in 1934. This shows the bankruptcy of Kadalie & Company.

The struggle against Garveyism represents one of the major tasks of the Negro toilers in America and the African and West Indian colonies.

Why must we struggle against Garveyism? As the “Programme of the Communist International” correctly states: “Garveyism is a dangerous ideology which bears not a single democratic trait, and which toys with the aristocratic attributes of a non-existent ‘Negro kingdom’! It must be strongly resisted, for it is not a help but a hindrance to the mass Negro struggle for liberation against American imperialism.”

Garvey is more than a dishonest demagogue who, taking advantage of the revolutionary wave of protest of the Negro toilers against imperialist oppression and exploitation, was able to crystallise a mass movement in America in the years immediately after the war. His dishonesty and fraudulent business schemes, such as the Black Star Line, through which he extorted millions and millions of dollars out of the sweat of the Negro working class, soon led to his imprisonment. After his release Garvey was deported back to Jamaica, his native country. Isolated from the main body of the organisation, Garvey has been unable to maintain his former autocratic control over the movement, as a result of which there has been a complete disintegration of the organisation, which is now under the control of a number of warring factional leaders. Garvey, who was formerly in the service of American imperialism, has now switched his allegiance to the British, who are utilising him in order to keep the Negro toilers in the British colonies under submission. With this object in view the imperial Government has permitted Garvey to open his headquarters in London.

Despite the bankruptcy of the Garvey movement the ideology of Garveyism, which is the most reactionary expression in Negro bourgeois nationalism, still continues to exert some influence among certain sections of the Negro masses. The black landlords and capitalists who support Garveyism are merely trying to mobilise the Negro workers and peasants to support them in establishing a Negro Republic in Africa, where they would be able to set themselves up as the rulers in order to continue the exploitation of the toilers of their race, free from white imperialist competition. In its class content Garveyism is alien to the interests of the Negro toilers. Like Zionism and Gandhism, it is merely out to utilise racial and national consciousness for the purpose of promoting the class interests of the black bourgeoisie and landlords. In order to further their own aims, the leaders of Garveyism have attempted to utilise the same demagogic methods of appeal used by the leaders or Zionism. For example, they promise to “free” the black workers from all forms of oppression in reward for supporting the utopian programme of “Back to Africa,” behind which slogan Garvey attempts to conceal the truly imperialist aims of the Negro bourgeoisie.

The Negro workers must not be deceived by the demagogic gestures of Garvey and his supporters. They must realise that the only way in which they can win their freedom and emancipation is by organising their forces millions strong, and in alliance with the class-conscious white workers in the imperialist countries, as well as the oppressed masses of China, India, Latin America and other colonial and semi-colonial countries, deliver a final blow to world imperialism.