“The Struggle for Negro Emancipation” is an official theses of the Communist League of Struggle (Internationalist-Communists). Published 1935.
THE STRUGGLE FOR NEGRO EMANCIPATION
The Negroes in America are at one of the most critical periods in their history. The sixth year of the economic crisis sees no issue for capitalism except Fascism. The menace that is rapidly conquering Europe is creeping up on this country also. And Fascism here will rapidly mean such terrorism and oppression for the Negro as will outdo all that we have seen already. The spread of lynchings now taking place is only a warning.
Fascism means keeping capitalism in power at the expense of completely crushing the working class. It means unloading the effects of the crisis upon the backs of the toilers. It means making a scapegoat of any minority section of the population upon which hatred can be focussed in order to cover up the inability of the capitalists to solve the problems of permanent unemployment and the breakdown of a world system.
Already the Negro people, who are made up almost 100% of toilers, either poor workers in industry, agricultural laborers, tenant and sharecropper farmers, or domestics, have borne the brunt of sufferings under the crisis. The N.R.A. is a grand bluff as far as helping workers conditions goes, but even the N.R.A. picked out just those occupations where the Negroes work and gave them either no code at all or a code with abominably low wages. Negro’s make up the largest group among the unemployed but their share in the relief is the smallest.
In view of the situation that faces both Negro and White toilers, to think of enacting new laws, or running after politicians to help, or any half-way measures at all to remedy the general distress, is to catch at straws in the wind. What good would an anti-lynching bill do where sheriffs, judges, police and all the well-to-do are lined up against the poor Negroes who are lynched? What good would it do if the whole constitution is scrapped and legislatures abolished?
The rise of Fascism in this country will put before the whole population of this country, including the Negro minority, the question of Communism or Fascism. If the workers are victorious, they will bring forth a new society where race hatred and oppression will be no more. In the course of these bitter struggles against Fascism, the Negro toilers will be in the very forefront and will take their rightful place among the vanguard of the fighters for liberation of humanity.
Capitalism must be exterminated root and branch before the problems of the Negro people can be solved as well as those of the mass of poor whites. Communist organizations have been saying this for years but they have not yet won influence over the Negro masses, which they have sought. This has been due partly to the backwardness of American political life but also to the backwardness of the Communist movement. This pamphlet has been written to lay the basis for a program of struggle for the Negro people that will really give a new start to the work.
Super-profits, the economic basis for discrimination
Every Negro in the United States who, as he finds himself cursed at and kicked, shoved about and trampled into the dirt from birth to death, has to ask: “Why is this? What have we done to bring all these tortures on ourselves?” The preachers will say: “This is God’s will. The black man has to suffer here but he will be happy some day in a black man’s heaven, where he will find that God, Christ, and all the angels are black and there will be no Jim-Crow.” This is supposed to console the Negro thrown out of his job to make place for a white man, or the lynch victim, quivering in the agony of the flames.
Others will lay the blame on slavery days, while to some white people, poisoned by race hatred, it is enough to say: “These people are black, hence they must be inferior.” To them this explains everything. As a matter of fact the Negroes are not the only group discriminated against among the laboring classes in this country. Discrimination against the Negro is the worst but it is not the only one. A white woman worker in a factory will be paid lower wages anywhere, than a man for the same work and so will a youth. Foreign-born workers have to work at lower-paid jobs, at heavier, more dangerous work than the native-born, and are hounded by the government at the least excuse. Chinese and Japanese are herded into quarters by themselves and are kept out of the country if possible. Mexicans, when they enter the U.S., are often treated like dogs, and so are the Latin-Americans.
It is when we look at the point of production that we are able to see the root of race persecution, even though this persecution hits every single side of life and not merely the job. If any group of people can be picked out and segregated and made helpless, there is an excuse for paying them lower wages. If a people are conquered by a foreign-power, crushed and deprived of the right to govern themselves, then there is an opportunity for the bankers and owners of industry to exploit their labor at lower cost. The bosses can make SUPER-PROFITS out of them.
The labor of any worker, white or black, is exploited by the owner of the industry. The tiny amount that the workers are paid in wages does not by any means represent all the wealth they create by their labor. No, the lion’s share of the wealth produced goes to the owner of the factory, mill, mine or ship where they work. The lower the wages the greater the exploitation, the higher the profits to be extracted from their labor. The Negroes are thus to the bloodsuckers of society a choice morsel from which they can squeeze even greater gains than from white labor. Charging the Negroes higher rents for the wretched hovels which they have to live, giving them the poorest lands to work, robbing them outright by the peonage system, the boss class in all these things follows the same principle.
Negro labor for generations has supplied a vast flood of profits for the pockets of the industrialists, plantation owners, landlords bankers and all the other parasites that rule the land. These people are sitting on the backs of labor, both black and white, but it is black labor that they have trampled down most of all, that yields them the richest returns. No wonder there are lynchings and Jim Crow, no wonder the colored people have no political rights, no wonder a wall of prejudice and contempt is raised mountain high to separate them from the white workers and keep them down.
This is the simplest and most fundamental side of the question. To understand the life of the Negroes fully and to explain segregations and lynchings, we have also to look into the Negro history. The 200 years of slavery were the epoch of the colored people in this “land of the free". The slave trade was one of the pillars of the capitalist system through plunder, murder, knavery and violence of all sorts the early capitalists piled up their fortunes and were able to foist their system of exploitation upon the toilers of the world. Karl Marx said truly that capitalism came into the world dripping with blood and filth from every pore. The Indians, the native population of America, especially of the West Indies and Central America which were the first spots to be conquered, were either slaughtered outright or killed by overwork and disease as they were enslaved in the mines by the conquerors. Black slaves, stolen from Africa, where they had been caught, were then brought in to be sweated with the Indians in order to extract the wealth of the country.
In the early days of this country, labor was hard to get. There was plenty of land and any free man could go out as a pioneer, clear a piece of land, work it and become an independent farmer. And so capitalism grew up here by a process quite the opposite of that in Europe. There the peasants, descendents of the feudal serfs were driven off the lands, which were seized by the nobles and they became either factory workers or vagrants. Here, workers from Europe could get land and become independent farmers. Since, upon arriving in America many workers lost their class position and became farmers and little property holders, the only way for a boss to keep anyone at work was to chain him down. America, the “freest” country in the world became the country with the most developed system of chattel slavery and forced labor.
White people, homeless or out of work, were stolen from European cities, criminals were taken from jails and orphans from asylums to be brought here as white slaves, called “indentured servants". But the bulk of the slaves were Negroes stolen from Africa, which was wasted far and wide. Untold millions were killed; it is estimated about 12,000,000 Africans were brought here in chains. These blacks were the real proletarians, the ones who were doomed forever to work and produce profits for others. It was upon the flesh and blood of slave labor that were laid the foundations of the mighty wealth of the rulers of this country. In order to perpetuate this enormously profitable business of slavery, every effort was made to break the Negro people over the wheel, to stigmatize them as beasts, to hound them as dangerous savages who by no means were to be let loose.
In all of this, let us remember that the attack upon the Negro was the attack against the propertyless worker, the attack against the working class. Since most of the workers who came from Europe were able to become little property holders, they forgot that they too had come from the working class; that they would eventually be forced back into the working class. They could afford to abandon the Negro slaves and white indentured servants and sympathize with the slaveholders for a while. In America the working class starts out as mainly black. The Negro was labor and labor was the Negro. It is for this reason that when the working class really wakes up in this country, it will be forced to recognize that its heart was made of Negro blood. It will welcome the Negro into its midst as its older brother.
Torture and cruelty were necessary to keep the slaves in subjection, especially towards the end of the 18th century when their numbers greatly increased and their work was made much harder. Not only terrible whippings until the slave weltered in blood, but even death could be meted out as “punishment". Fiendish tortures were carried out merely in order to amuse the masters and mistresses gathered around to hear the cries of the slave. There was no redress for the slave, save insurrection.
With the invention of the cotton gin, when great quantities of cotton could be shipped out on the world market, in other words when the plantation system of the South became linked up with the capitalist system of the rest of the world, slavery became highly profitable. From then on the number of Negro slaves was tremendously increased and the wealth and power of the Southern plantation owners and Northern shippers and bankers grew apace.
The South became divided into great regions, one of which, the Northern tier of the Southern States, Virginia, Maryland etc., developed as one of its chief industries, the breeding of slaves. It was in order to stop “foreign competition” that is, the importation of more slaves from Africa, and in order to raise the price of the home-bred slave that so many of the “Southern gentlemen” suddenly began to talk of the horrors of the African slave trade. The white capitalist press and university professors like to point out that this or that Southerner spoke and voted against the continuance of the African slave trade and actually made this trade illegal. These intellectual prostitutes “forget” to say that this was because the New England slave traders were taking the Southerners profits away, that the Southern states, like Virginia and others, wanted to develop their own slave trading. They also neglect to state that the white masters were beginning to be afraid of the Negro revolts that would increasingly break out should more slaves be imported.
These university gentlemen who live off and sell their souls to capitalism also like to point out how the Negro was better off under slavery than under capitalism, because the master had to feed the slave at all times and not throw him out of work. At the same time they like to show moving pictures of the “old Virginia plantation” with the many “happy” slaves who were the servants and house workers around the plantation. Those same Negro haters “forget” to say that many of these Virginia plantations did not exist mainly from cotton or even from tobacco, but from selling the slaves they bred. It was necessary for the Virginia slave holder to feed his slaves well and bring them together so they would produce plenty of children for him and so that he could get a bigger price for them later when he sold them “down the river". And if the Negroes themselves would not produce enough slave children, the master himself would call in the Negro women and either turn them over to his foremen to be raped or do the job himself.
Throughout the whole South, Negro families were torn apart and sold so that they never saw each other again. Education was forbidden. In some parts of the South, for a white man to teach a slave to read and to write was an offence punishable by 30 to 100 lashes on the bare back, but for the slave to teach another slave meant death.
To make up for the “good times” in Virginia there were the conditions in the deep South on the cotton, sugar and rice plantations. The minimum of food was allowed. A bit of meal and pork and maybe a few potatoes; and the bare earth of the cabin floor was the field slave’s bed. It was carefully calculated by the professors and experts of the Southern planters that the most profitable use possible of a Negro would be obtained by working him to death in the seven prime years of his life. And so systematically and calculatingly was the Negro worked that at the end of seven years he was fit only for the grave into which he was rapidly pushed.
By the middle of the 19th century, two systems were then struggling against each other for the mastery of America: the Southern plantation system, based upon Negro slavery, and the Northern industrialist system, based upon white wage labor, which by that time had become “free". To gain possession of the West was the object of each. The Civil War was fought over the control of these systems, and it was due to the victory of the capitalist system that the Negroes were freed, not because Abraham Lincoln had such a noble heart. In fact, he himself declared that if he could win the war and save the union, the Northern capitalist system, without freeing the slaves, he would so. More than that, when the Northern generals set free the slaves in some sections of the South they had won, before the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln ordered the Negroes to be sent into slavery again.
Modern industry cannot be conducted by slave labor. It requires labor power that has no means of production (land, tools, drought animals, machines, etc.) and hence, in order to keep alive, is forced to sell itself for wages to the capitalists and landowners who do own these things. This labor power must also be free to move about, to sell itself wherever the capitalist needs it, and when it is not needed, the capitalist must not have to maintain it. The slave on the plantation, of course, owned nothing, not even his own body; he was not free to move about, and furthermore, he had to be fed and clothed the whole year round. Besides, the wage laborer in the factory must have a little bit of education, enough to read, write and figure a little. Even this minimum of education was forbidden by law to the slave. The factory system means good roads and many roads, railroads, canals, bridges, etc., many means of transportation for the shipping of the factory products and the free moving about of the labor power. To have brought all this into the backwoods South would have given so many more chances of escape for the slaves. Finally the bringing together of masses of Negroes in large numbers in the industries would in itself have meant the end of slavery, since they would then have been able to organize and revolt for freedom. For all these reasons chattel slavery had to be abolished.
During the first two hundred years in this country, the mass of Negroes were of one class, a slave class. Even here the seeds of class distinctions were sown. The house servants were better off than the field hands. The tobacco and plantation hands were better off than the slaves in the far south, down the river, in the sugar cane fields of Mississippi and Louisiana. A few slaves managed to learn a trade and were permitted to work out as skilled laborers (their masters generally getting the pay). Some managed to escape to the North via the “underground railway” of the Abolitionists and became freemen. The slaves living in the Northern states were freed at an earlier date than those in the South. A very few, like Frederick Douglas, achieved education, position and even renown. Perhaps this is the place to mention, too, that even when there were over 3,000,000 slaves, about 9% or 400,000 Negroes had been able to free themselves and some of them had been able to acquire property and even some slaves themselves.
The “emancipation” from chattel slavery, even though it did not free the Negroes in any human sense of the word, was nevertheless a great step forward. It gave them the possibility of becoming part of the working class, of moving from place to place to a greater extent than under slavery, of a certain limited amount of education, of organizing with other workers. It laid the basis for a real struggle for freedom, whereas under slavery there was no prospect except submission or futile revolt.
Since the Civil War the history of the Negroes has seen a certain class development among them. A small number of the former slaves have been able to become owners of land, but only small owners, and the land they can buy is the poorest in quality. A certain very tiny number have been able to go into business, banking or storekeeping, on a small scale. With the increased opportunities for education—poor though they have been—the Negroes have been able to develop some intellectuals and professionally trained people—teachers, artists, and such. A far more important development has been the drift into industry of large numbers of Negroes and the migrations to the North where most of the Negroes become industrial workers in such important industries as coal mining, steel, meat packing, lumber, automobile, rubber, etc. The majority of the Negroes are still on the land, however, as tenant and share-cropper farmers on the cotton, tobacco, sugar cane, peanut, etc., plantations of the Southern states and as agricultural laborers.
The Negroes in the United States are no mean or petty group. The 1930 census gave them a population of about 12,000,000 souls. No doubt it is about 13½ million at the present time. This is equal to the population of Turkey, or Jugo-Slavia, or Argentina, or almost equal to that of Mexico or Rumania. According to the last report of the U.S. government, the 1934 annual income of the Negro people amounted to over two billion dollars; their wealth can be estimated therefore, at around five to seven billion dollars at the least. Standing alone these figures show the importance of the Negro minority. It is only when it is contrasted, not with foreign countries, but with the situation in the rest of the U.S. that the discrimination against the Negroes is discerned. For example, the annual income of the U.S. as a whole was estimated at 50 billion dollars. If the Negro people had obtained their share in proportion to their numbers, it would have been around 5 billion instead of the 2 billion. Thus the Negroes on the whole averaged but two-fifths of the income of the white section of the population.
It is important to keep in mind that the Negroes have never been taken into the ruling classes of this country. While there are a few Negroes in business, they have never become partners to white business. They have never got anywhere near big business, they have never got into Wall Street, into the big trusts and banks, nor have they even been able to own land except on a small scale. Such Negro business people as there are do business among the Negroes. The same is true of the professional people, doctors, lawyers, etc. Negroes also have never obtained such positions as technicians in factories, engineers, chemists, efficiency experts, etc.; in other words, they have never become part of that middle class which directly works to organize capitalist business and to boost the profits of the boss. The Negroes have remained, in their overwhelming majority, poor and downtrodden people. They are workers either on the plantation, or in the factories, mines, railroads, etc., or as servants of the well-to-do whites. The Negro thus represents simple unskilled labor, which is the heart and basis of the nation as a whole.
As such labor, the Negro has a great role to play in the struggles for emancipation of the working class of this country.
The Negroes in the United States—An Oppressed National Minority
The various Communist groups have called the Negroes a “racial minority”, a “nation”, and a “colony". The best way to express their status, however, is to call them a national minority.
Here is a people whose ancestors for generations have lived in the U.S., and yet to call the colored people simply “Americans” would be to blind to all the terrible facts of discrimination. The Universal Negro Improvement Association (Garvey movement) called the Negroes “Afro-Americans". This was linked up with their reactionary utopian scheme of going back to Africa and with a lot of race propaganda.
To call the Negroes a “racial minority”, as some of the workers groups do, not only gives a false idea of the actual position of the Negroes but puts weapons in the hands of the white chauvinists. “Race” is a term that deals with physical characteristics; the political situation of a people, however, is not decided by the color of their skin or the quality of their hair. What has black skin, by itself, got to do with slavery?
As far as races are concerned, it is not so easy to say who is a Negro and who is not. There are scientists who claim that we all spring from the Negro race. Besides, are we supposed to go around hunting for traces of Negro blood and put up commissions to decide how many drops make a Negro? The various States have laws as to who is a Negro, but these laws are all different. The mixture of the blood in America goes back to slavery days when the white masters saw to it that plenty of slave babies were born. To rape the Negro women and to sell their own children “down the river” was a common thing for the white plantation owners.
The American white chauvinists of the South are experts in snooping out the least signs of Negro blood in order to persecute somebody. They always fall back on the argument of race to justify all their cruelties on the Negro. “The Negro can never be equal because he is black”, they say, “It is an inferior RACE". To call the Negroes merely a “racial minority” under the circumstances plays right into the hands of these chauvinists and fails to expose the real political and economic reasons for the discrimination against the Negroes.
The Negro, seeing prejudice heaped on him from all sides, twists the argument of “race” in another direction, lumps all white people together and distrusts the whole “white race". But class distinctions have to be made among the whites. The Civil War of 1860 showed that all whites are not alike but may have different interests. The whole Abolitionist movement with its “underground railway” and its John Brown raids testifies to this also. To be sure, the white capitalists, landlords, bankers and their agents in the government are the enemies of the Negroes and must be exterminated. But the poor whites, workers and poor farmers, have also to fight to overthrow these same capitalists. Among these whites the Negroes can find good allies. The prejudice of the white workers can and must be broken down and this will be done the sooner we stop talking race and talking revolutionary politics instead.
Neither is it correct to say the Negroes are a nation in the full sense of the term. A people that can be called a nation has generally occupied a certain land as its own, either by conquest or from time immemorial, and has lived there under a certain system of society with its definite class relationships (such as primitive Communism, slavery, feudalism or capitalism) with the political and social life arising from this system. The nation generally has its own language, traditions and culture. To be sure, the language is not decisive, since the English and the people in the United States speak the same language, yet are entirely separate nations. The nation is rooted in the land, having a peasantry that for generations has tilled the soil, as well as cities in a capitalistically developed country. The Negroes not only have not owned any section of the country, but they were originally slaves, not peasants. Since the freeing of the slaves, the Negro population has shifted about very much. The tenancy in the South has never been on a long term basis, as in Europe where the tenant farmers occupy lands that were formerly feudal holdings. The contracts here run generally for one year only. (It is true the peonage system compels by force many Negroes as well as poor whites to remain on the land, but of this we shall deal more fully later.)
The national minorities or the peoples living as subjects within a ruling nation are the ones who most resemble the Negro people. Even here, we have to admit, the Negroes have kept no distinct language of their own (as the Ukrainians, Finns and Letts, for example, who were minority peoples under the old Czarist empire), nor have they ever owned any part of this country as their own. But we must remember the peculiar history of the Negroes, who certainly once had a common land in Africa, from which they were torn by force. If they were not able to preserve a common language here, it was because they came from many tribes and had different tribal dialects, which under the conditions of slavery were lost. Besides, the African inheritance, the common tradition of slavery and the great fact of their common segregation and persecution today bind the Negroes together closely as a national minority. They remain a distinctive people, never absorbed into the general population in spite of a certain amount of mixing of the blood, with their own characteristics and customs.
As far as culture is concerned, notwithstanding the fact that the Negroes are an oppressed people and largely an agricultural people, they have nevertheless, made some contributions to the culture of the country, in the shape of plays, novels, songs, acting, etc. This culture is, of course, the culture of the Negro intellectual petty-bourgeoisie. The question arises, is it a distinctive culture? The educated Negro tends unfortunately to ape the white man, and this fact would tend to hide and dull his own particular national peculiarities. Yet, it seems, in spite of this, that there is a distinctive spirit in this Negro culture. But for the particular spirit and soul of the Negro we must look to certain expressions that are closer to the masses, namely the Negro folklore and the Negro church which has produced the Spirituals. Both the Negro Spirituals and the Negro folklore have become well-known by means of the stage, the radio, books, etc. One cannot come in contact with these things without realizing that here is a rich contribution, full of highly imaginative, emotional spirit, which is the Negroes own.
The position of the Negroes outside of the U.S. is quite different. In Africa and in parts of the West Indies (Haiti) the Negroes are forced to live as colonial peoples in the very lands which were once their own, before their conquest by the white imperialists. In these countries they are the majority of the population. Their scattered condition in tribal life in Africa, the fact that the majority there are still backward and above all, the brute force of the imperialists, the armed might of the foreign capitalist powers, all have so far enabled the conquerors to hold them in subjection in spite of strong revolutionary movements and frequent uprisings which the various imperialist powers have drowned in blood. Abyssinia is an exception. However, already in South Africa as well as in Haiti and elsewhere the Negroes have shown how well they can fight imperialist capitalism.
In South America there is much mingling of the Negroes with the native Indians as well as with the poor white population of Spanish descent. Here, the Negroes and mixed bloods, together with the pure-blooded Indians, form the bulk of the toiling population, oppressed by the bankers of the U.S., England and other countries as well as by their own rulers. In South America, where Indians and Negroes as colonials are ground down to the same extent, the Negro is no longer in many cases a mere national minority. Here he has become thoroughly fused with the Indians and must join as one with them in their common struggles.
In the U.S., owing to the fact that the Indians were early robbed and plundered of their lands and driven into remote parts of the country, the Negroes were never able to unite their forces with the Indians. In spite of that fact, it has been recorded that approximately 27% of the Negroes in America have Indian ancestry and although in some places Negroes who were suspected of having Indian blood were killed by their masters, a good deal of race mixture actually took place.
Here is what Edward B. Rueter in his book, “The American Race Problem”, pages 122-124, has to say about this:
“In America, the Negroes have intermarried rather freely with the Indians whenever the races have come into contact. The two races have had some common bases for sympathetic association, the barriers between them have not been formidable and there was no legislative acts forbidding the intermixture. Slavery of the Indians existed in a number of the English colonies before the coming of the Negro in these places. Those captured in battle were sold into slavery in distant colonies. Others were kidnapped along the coast and sold as slaves in more settled territory. The mention of Indian blood is frequent in the literature of the early slave period. With these enslaved Indians the enslaved Negroes came into close and intimate contact. The social status was the same and as the slaves, they met on equal terms. Intermarriage followed and, as the body of Negro slaves increased and Indian slavery declined, the Indian slaves were absorbed into the larger Negro population. The offspring of the Indian slaves or of mixed Indian parentage came presently to be counted with the Negroes. Many of the broken tribes of the coast Indians disappeared entirely into the Negro people…”
“There is also a pronounced Negro strain in a number of Indian tribes. Runaway slaves frequently made their way by accident or otherwise to the Indian camps. In some cases the Indians returned the slaves to their masters; sometimes they killed or mistreated them. But in other cases they were protected and kept as slaves to the Indians among whom they sought refuge or were taken into the Indian tribes by adoption. The five civilized tribes owned many slaves whom they were required to free and admit to equal Indian citizenship at the close of the Civil War. The Seminoles in Florida had in 1834 some 200 slaves who had gone to them as runaway slaves from the whites and had been in turn enslaved by the Indians who intermarried freely with them…”
“Also other Negroes who were not classed as slaves made their way into Indian groups and many of the reservations became the joint homes of the Indians and free Negroes. In some cases the Negroes were more numerous than the Indians and the reservations became Negro and Mulatto settlements with little more than a tradition of Indian ancestry. The so-called Croaten Indians in North Carolina, “The Redbones” of South Carolina, the “Moors” of Delaware, the “Melungions” of West Virginia, and other similar tribes of the present day are wasted Indian tribes that have been swamped by intermixture with escaped slaves, free Negroes and Mulattos and white outlaws and rovers. Much of Negro Indian intermixture has chosen to be Indian rather than Negro and so appears in the statistics. Some of the Indian tribes today are more Negro than Indian in their ancestry and many of them contain a large admixture of Negro blood".
In passing, we can state that the pure Indians today, now a small people, are compelled to live herded on their “reservations” under conditions of artificial primitiveness, cut off from a normal development, plucked and plundered in the most disgraceful fashion by the U.S. government and its agents. The recent Senate Commission has revealed only a part of the shameful story. The only way out for the Indians is to link up their lot with the other oppressed national minorities like the Negroes and with the proletariat of the country which, in fighting for the overthrow of capitalism, will fight for the liberation of the minority peoples and for their right of self determination and autonomy.
As a national minority, the Negroes must link up their struggles with all other national minorities. This is especially true in reference to the Mexican masses of the South-West. Should, for example, the Wall Street government in Washington try to conquer Mexico, the Negro minority in this country must show the greatest hostility to this move and be the connecting link between the Mexicans and the working class of this country, to stop such an imperialist invasion of Mexico and to unite their forces with the Mexican masses for the freedom of both the Mexicans and the Negroes.
While the Negroes in this country have never possessed any section of the land as their own, we must not forget that in the B1ack Belt the Negroes are in the majority in a strip of country reaching from Virginia to Florida and from Georgia to Texas, a territory as great as any European country outside of Russia. Here, if anywhere, is a territory the Negroes can claim as their own—although they live there in peonage for the most part, or as poor tenant and cropper farmers, tilling the worst soil, and living in worse misery than even the poor white population. It is true that the “Black Belt” has never been a stationary region but has shifted from one part of the country to another depending upon circumstances, but that really makes no difference.
From the working class point of view, it is not because the Negroes are “entitled” to any given part of the U.S. that the workers are willing to fight for the right of the Negroes to have a separate territory and republic of their own if they desire, but because this is the best way to prove to the national minorities such as the Negroes that the working class fights for their liberation and against the oppressive policy of the white ruling class. Every national minority is “entitled” to have a place where it can build up a republic of its own and determine its own destiny, regardless of whether it has any given piece of land as “its own” or not.
The Right to Self-Determination of the Negro People
With the economic and political conditions as they are today when Fascism is rising, it is not likely that any oppressed people can obtain freedom unless capitalism is overthrown altogether. The two questions are bound together. The imperialist countries desperately depend upon the exploitation of both their colonies and the subject peoples within their gates for their very existence. All the more intensely must the struggle for the freedom of these peoples be carried on. This struggle weakens economically and politically the “mother” country, at the same time that it strengthens the proletariat of the oppressed nation. The struggle of the national minorities and of the colonies is tied up completely with the class struggle inside the imperialist country. One cannot succeed without the other. The struggle of the oppressed masses in India is tied as though by a long naval cord with the struggle of the British proletariat: The loss of India, or for matter even of little Ireland—would mean the beginning of the end of British Imperialism.
But this could never happen as long as it was possible for the British proletariat to sit pretty at the expense of the flesh and blood of millions of Indians.
The Negroes will never get complete freedom until the roots of all oppression are pulled up, and these roots are in the capitalist system itself. To overthrow capitalism altogether there will have to be a struggle of black and white toilers together. But we cannot for that reason set aside the Negro national minority question and tell the Negro masses to struggle merely as workers on the same basis as the white workers. The Negroes struggle as a national minority will strike deep into the power of capitalism here, both economically and politically. The day to day struggle against discrimination of the Negroes is one of the forms of the class struggle in the U.S. and the white workers must join whole-heartedly in this fight—if they want to see capitalism overthrown. But this is not enough.
The Negro people must have the right to govern themselves independently and to set themselves up as a separate nation, taking over part of the country for their own, if they want to. This is the right to self-determination, and it must be one of the principal slogans for Negro liberation.
Self-determination for the Negroes is now an end in itself. If there were set up a Negro State with a colored capitalist class grinding down the masses of Negroes, this would not help matters any. Or if the Negroes managed to set up a workers State in some part of the country, how long could it last in a capitalist country? It could live peacefully only if the rest of the country went soviet, that is if it made a proletarian revolution and drove out the capitalists and landlords. The fight for self-determination is only one of the steps to the goal. It would rally the colored people together, give them confidence in themselves and win respect for their struggle among other sections of the population. It would greatly encourage the struggle of the Negroes in Africa, West Indies and elsewhere, where they are actually a big majority in the land.
As for the Black Belt where the slogan of self-determination would be carried out, it would greatly sharpen the class struggle there and in such a manner as to weaken capitalism. If the Negro masses decide that there should be a separate Negro republic in the Black Belt, of course the Negro workers and poor farmers must fight that this republic become a Soviet Republic which would confiscate the land of the big planters in favor of the poor tillers of the soil and would insure workers control over the government and industries. Without such additional slogans the cry for a separate republic for the Negroes would have no teeth; for there would be no way to put it into effect without the struggles of the workers, both white and black. The power of the bourgeois landlords must be broken before there can be self-determination. The slogan, “self-determination” would cut straight through the classes in the South, lining up the white planters on the one hand and the oppressed Negroes on the other.
The struggle for self-determination is part of the general struggle for democracy and can be realized only through the victory of the working class. The capitalist system came into power through a struggle against the preceding feudal system and while it brought with it democracy for the capitalists, it denied democracy to many sections of the population. Thus, in the U.S., the right to vote is denied to the youth under 21; until recently it was denied altogether to the women; it is denied to the foreign-born and to the migratory workers and transients. Above all, over 13,000,000 Negroes are disfranchised and deprived of all the ordinary rights of citizens. After the capitalist revolutions there must come the proletarian revolutions which will overthrow the bourgeoisie. The working class revolutions will at once grant democracy to an extent unheard of in any capitalist country.
This is so because when labor, the lowest class of all, rises to power, it can do so only by eliminating all classes. When it takes over the factories it will put all to work equally. All then will become workers and classes will disappear. In order to overthrow the capitalists and establish the rule of the workers and poor toilers, the workers will have to unite all their forces together. There will be no room for discrimination as this will prove fatal to the workers cause.
When the Russian people, after overthrowing their Czar, advanced into a proletarian revolution and threw off the power of the bosses and their parties, they called a Soviet Congress and drew up a constitution for their country. This constitution gave the vote and equal rights to all adult toilers—women as well as men. (Only the old capitalists and landlords who refused to work were ineligible to vote) The Soviet power gave complete freedom to the nationalities that were oppressed under the Czar (Ukrainians, Letts, Finns, Georgians, Jews, etc.) Today the Soviet Union has set up a free republic for the Jews (Biro Bijan) where they can live under their own government. Most of the Jewish workers prefer to remain with the Russians with whom they feel themselves a part—but they are free to go to Biro Bijan if they wish, or to live in other parts of Russia. The Jews are like the American Negroes in that they are a national minority who have no country of their own. For the Jews to go back to Palestine is as much a reactionary scheme as for the American Negroes to go back to Africa.
The experience of the Jews in Russia shows how the proletarian revolution carries democracy forward and continues the job of the old bourgeoisie revolution. In this sense we can say the struggle for self-determination for the Negroes completes the American bourgeoisie revolution of 1776 and the Civil War of 1860 and makes the revolution permanent.
A concrete example of the Negroes attempt to complete white bourgeoisie democracy occurred during the period of reconstruction in the South after the Civil War. At that time the Negroes were elected to the state legislatures in the South. Here is what Judge Albion W. Tourgoe in his article” The Negro Government” wrote (see the “Chicago Weekly, Dec. 26, 1890) about the rule of the Negroes:
“They obeyed the constitution and annulled the bonds of states, counties and cities which were issued to carry on the war of the rebellion and maintain armies in the field against the Union. They instituted a public school system in a realm where public schools had been unknown. They opened the ballot box and jury box to thousands of white men who had been the debarred from them by lack of earthly possessions. They introduced home rule in the South. They abolished the whipping poles, the branding high-end, the stocks and other Barber’s forms of punishment which had up to that time prevailed. They reduced capital felonies from about 20 to about two or three. In an age of the extravagance, they were extravagant in the sums appropriated for public works. In all that time no man’s right of person were invaded under the forms of law. Every Democrats life, home, fire side and business was safe. No man obstructed any white man’s way to the ballot box, interfered with his freedom or boycotted him on account of his political faith.”
Self-determination for the Negroes does not mean Communism. It is only part of the struggle of the Negroes for equality and completes this struggle. But just as the capitalists cannot grant real democracy so can capitalism never grant the right of the Negroes to determine for themselves whether they want to remain a national minority within the United States or whether they want to set up a republic of their own in the Black Belt or anywhere else where they can control their own destiny. Whether the Negro people want to form a separate Negro republic for themselves in the South is not for the white people, either workers or capitalists, to decide but for the Negroes themselves. While the choice is up to the Negro masses, nevertheless the working class of this country must fight with every bit of its power to support the choice of the Negro people.
Especially must this be plain to the white workers of the United States. For centuries now the Negroes have been a oppressed and ground down as have no other people in this “land of the free". In all of this time the majority of the white toilers have not fought for the Negroes to end their discrimination and frightful lot. It is a good sign that the Negroes do not trust the white section of the population but say to the white workers: “if you really mean to fight misery and oppression for all, then let us see you start with a fight for the rights of those who are the most down-trodden of all, the Negro masses.”
The white workers cannot evade the Negro problem. They cannot say that there is no Negro problem. There is only the problem of the workers against the bosses. This is to deny entirely all the terrible persecution and discrimination that exists against the Negro. Nor can the white workers say: “The only thing we will fight for it is the equality of both white and black. We cannot fight for the right of the Negro people to have a Negro republic of their own in the South, if they desire it.”
Of course, the white workers must not tell their Negro brothers of whom over 2 million are established in the Northern cities and in the industries of the country, to “go back to the South.” The right of the Negro people to choose for themselves whether they want a Negro republic of their own or not does not mean that they must be compelled to return to the South. Such an idea would be a sign of the rankest Jim Crowism. We are not going to put the Negroes on some sort of “reservation”, as the white capitalists did with the Indians. Even if the Negro people should decide to form a Negro republic in the South, this still would allow all to go where they pleased and to enjoy complete equality with their white brethren everywhere else.
But how can any worker really object to the idea that if the Negro people wanted to separate themselves from the United States and form a republic of their own, they should be allowed to do so and the white workers should help them fight for the realization of this right? Certainly no Negro, except of the most servile and degrading sort, would object if he knew that if the workers won control of the U.S. he would have the right to live in a republic of his own. Strange to say there are some Negroes in the Socialist Party and elsewhere who try to save the property for the whites and argue against this slogan of self-determination for the Negro people. Against these servile Negroes who kiss the rears of their masters, the Negro people must carry on a relentless war.
After all, “equality” must include within its mean the right to separate and quit. If the Negroes are subjected to white control by force, what kind of the quality is it? The equality of the Negro must carry with it the right to be a man like everyone else, to conduct himself and to control his own future. Any other sort of “equality” is pure hypocrisy. The working class will not be able to conquer the capitalists if it gives the impression that it will establish a new rule of force over the Negro people. Nor will it be able to rally the Negro masses with mere promises of how wonderful everything will be when the workers take power. The best way for the workers to prove that the Negroes will be truly emancipated is to declare to the Negro people: as a national minority you have the right to choose whether you wish to remain with us of your own free will or not. With you is the choice. We shall defend your choice with the last drop of our blood if need be.
Not only the capitalists will try to prevent the Negro people from establishing a republic of their own, but also the agents of the white chauvinist bosses in the ranks of the white workers. (Such agents are, for example, the Socialist Party, the Workers Party, Lovestone Opposition of the Communist Party, the American Federation of Labor, and such groups). Some of these people are afraid the Negroes will take away some of “their land". They wish to defend “their country” against the black barbarians. It is the same idea that will make these parties whoop it up for “their country” during the next war. Such opinions, of course, display such a nationalist poison, such imperialist chauvinism as must be knocked out of the heads of the working-class before the workers will be ready to put an end to misery under capitalism. Other misguided workers feel that such a slogan will divide the white and the colored workers, that it will lead to Negro nationalism and even to a feeling of racial superiority ("Black chauvinism").
But do these very people who are afraid of the nationalism of the Negro overcome their own nationalism? Have they made any attempt to intermarry with the Negro and thoroughly to assimilate a themselves with the Negro masses? Not at all. It is generally precisely these groups who do no Negro work, who avoid all discussion of Negro problems and forget them. These are the arguments of workers who are nationalist and imperialists themselves. The fact is that the Negroes are a national minority and all efforts to unite this national minority and throw it against the ruling white capitalist class should be supported by the white workers. Whatever nationalism exists among the Negroes, what ever hatred and distrust they have of all the whites is well founded and deserved and is the most natural reaction of any oppressed national minority. It will take time and great changes among the white workers as well as an energetic struggle to break this down.
It is not the Negroes who want to be by themselves. It is the white people under the rule of the capitalists who have segregated and hounded the Negro, treating him worse than a beast. It is ridiculous to charge that an oppressed national minority will develop its own chauvinism, “Black Chauvinism". The whole tendency of every oppressed minority is to intermingle and become assimilated as far as it can with the general population of the country if allowed. There is no danger whatsoever that the slogan of self determination will separate the Negro from the white workers.
Sometimes the argument is put that in the South, where the Negro republic can be most easily established, the white workers and farmers will object to this and will fight against the Negroes, thus dividing the Negroes and the poor whites. But it should be kept in mind that in the parts of the country where the Negro republic could be most easily established the Negroes will be the majority and not the minority. Certainly it will create antagonism between white exploiters and Negro toilers in the Black Belt. But how can the poor whites be antagonized if when the Negro masses will be fighting the blood sucking white plantation owners that grind down the white and farmers and laborers as well? How can the white workers object when it will be the Negroes who will give hundreds of thousands of lives in the struggle to overthrow the white ruling class, their own deadliest enemy?
The Negro masses will be able to establishing a Negro republic only by an insurrectionary struggle against the white plantation owners. In the course of this struggle, which will be conducted side by side with the white toilers and workers, the white planters will be dispossessed and their land confiscated. Does anyone imagine that after such a struggle, there will be constituted a black capitalist system and plantation ownership after the white landlords and rulers have been overthrown? Quite the contrary. The victory of the Negro masses in the South can come only with the aid which the white workers will give. Both Negro and white croppers will have wiped out their mutual prejudices in the course of this struggle. The land of the wealthy will have been confiscated for the benefit of both groups of toilers. Should the Negro masses begin a move against the white landlords, will not every poorer white tenant or cropper who wishes to wipe out his own slavery fight side by side with these Negroes? Or does anyone imagine that the white cropper will fight for the right of the white landlord to continue to rob and to gyp him?
After the Negro masses will be victorious in their struggles, they will treat the white minority in the Black Belt in the same way that the white workers will treat the Negro minority in the rest of the United States. There will be complete equality between both whites and blacks in both parts of the country. With the downfall of capitalism, race hatred and prejudice will disappear.
The most clever way by which the agents of the white ruling class try to dodge of problems of the Negroes and try to forget them is to raise of the cry of “full equality” for the Negro (under capitalism). We have heard this cry before from the white ruling class when they passed the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. Yet it is under these very Amendments to the Constitution that the Negroes are deprived of all their rights and that lynching goes merrily time. As the Secretary of Labor could write in 1921 in discontinuing the Negro Division of that department: “Our laws do not distinguish between white men and Negroes or any other class or classes.”
Just as their capitalist masters, so do these poisoned workers also cry: Equal rights for the Negro and the whites. But what is matched by this “equality"? Equality for the Negro and the white to become bosses, to become slave drivers, capitalists? This is the slogan of liberalism. This is the slogan of those relatively well-to-do Negroes who are professional men or have a little money and want to go into business for themselves. What do we care for such careerists, who want to exploit others and become capitalists for themselves? If we want to overthrow white capitalists do we want to create black capitalists? Or “equality” for the few Negro well-to-do to become capitalists like the others? What difference does it make to the poor Negro if he is robbed by a white or black landlord, banker, store keeper or boss?
Or does “equality” mean equality of each individual under the laws? But the only equality we have is capitalist equality that is to say, if you have money or wealth you have some say in how things are run, but if you are for or a worker you have nothing to say equally, whether you are white or black. The mere slogan of “equality” is the slogan of individualism. Mass equality, however, equality for the whole Negro national minority, means the right for the whole groups as such to be equal to every other group, to run their own affairs in their own way. Mass equality in other words means the right to self determination and nothing else.
Or does the slogan “equality” mean that we must fight so that the Negro will get the same rights as the poor white worker? But what rights has the white worker? The fact is the white workers are exploited, robbed and swindled in a thousand ways as well as the Negro toiler. One might imagine that the white workers were living such a wonderful life under capitalism that the only goal should be equality of the Negro with the white workers, No, the Negro must fight not only for equality with the white workers but together with the white workers must fight against the conditions that prevailed for the whole working-class, both white and black. Mere “equality” then, is nothing to brag about and is nothing to fight for.
Do we fight for “equal” wages for the Negro? But the white worker gets a starvation wage himself. What kind of fight is this to make? The same applies to a fight for “equal” rent, or the right to live where white workers live (in squalid slums, only one degree better than the Negroes slums). Of course we must wage a bitter fight against segregation. Of course we fight against the discrimination that keeps the Negro off the job and compels him to live only in a certain section. But this has nothing to do with “equality".
Under capitalism there can be developed no Negro culture, nor proletarian culture, either for that matter. “Equality” with the white workers, then, would mean cultural suicide for the Negro people. Suppose we get the right of the Negro to sit in the theater with the white people—great achievement—it would still be a white man’s theater, not the Negroes own. The Negro would have to sit through and look at plays that would show his people in a ridiculous or cowardly role, just as a these people write about the workers generally. The plays written about the Negro, even where they try to be sympathetic, are written by white people; they cannot bring out the spirit of the Negro. What sort of “equality” does all this turn out to be?
The fact is the Negro is not only equal to the whites but in some respects he is different, and thus in some respects superior. The whites must not chain down this superiority in feeling and expression in any direction in which the Negroes may develop. And that is the very reason why we cannot declare that a separate Negro republic would be bad for the Negroes in the U.S. even though at the same time we argue for complete assimilation and intermarriage between white and black. A separate Negro republic would give the Negroes a chance to fledge out and to develop their own thoughts and feelings about life in their own way. This is not nationalism. This is merely the recognition that internationalism does not mean the swamping of every national minority and crushing them into the belly of the leading group. Internationalism comes, as the Soviet Union well brings out, only through the synthetic harmony of all national cultures and the free intermingling of all.
The Negroes need some place where they will not forever be only a minority having all the stunted development that every minority must have. They must be allowed to have some place where they can develop their own executives, their own initiative, their own spirit. All this can only enrich the world culture and allow the maximum development to take place.
Of course it is possible for all this to take place if the white workers were victorious in the United States and if they really eradicated all their prejudice against the Negroes without necessarily forming a separate Negro republic. But this again is for the Negro people themselves to judge. Their’s is must be the full right of decision.
Who are the Leaders of the Negro People?
The situation among the Negroes is well brought out by the following figures: According to the 1930 census reporting on 12,000,000 Negroes in the U.S. about 2 million Negroes or 36% of all Negroes reported gainfully employed, worked in agriculture, over 1 million or 19% worked in manufacturing, and another ½ million in forestry, fishing, mineral extraction, transportation and communication or 9%. Over l½ million (29%) worked in domestic and personal service. The rest of the Negroes were scattered as follows: trade 3%, public service 1%, professionals 2½%, clerical, less than l%.
The first question we must ask ourselves is which group will play the leading role in the great struggle of the Negro people, the country or the city? Already, of the 12 million reported by the 1930 census, we find that fully 5½ are living in the cities and only 6½ million in the country. If we look at the increase of the populations in various key cities, we find that the Negro population has grown much faster than the whites in practically all cases. In the period from1920 to 1930 practically 1 million Negroes emigrated from the South to the North, all of them to go to the great industrial centers and cities of the North. Over 2½ million Negroes now live in the North.
The fact is that the Negroes are becoming increasingly a city people and following the rule that the city leads the country in general culture and development, already we find that the Negroes of the North and West are far less illiterate than the native whites of the South. In the U.S. Army Intelligence tests during the World War it was found that the Negroes of Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, Ohio, etc., were superior to the whites of such states as Mississippi and Georgia.
Even when we turn to the countryside we find that, while the largest single group of Negroes are agrarian toilers, they are not farmers, on the whole, but agricultural laborers. Of the 2 million or so reported as gainfully employed in agriculture, only about 800,000 of these were farmers, the rest being agricultural laborers. And of these, 800,000 farmers, only 160,000 were owners of farms and 650,000 or so were tenant farmers, over half of these being share-croppers, the poorest of all. We doubt whether the total annual income which all those farmers and croppers put together can call their own amounts to more than 100 to 150 million dollars, out of a national total of from 40 to 50 billion dollars.
The weakness of the Negro farmers is emphasized when we compare them with the white farmers, even the poor whites. The census stated that in 1928 the size of the farms of the white owners averaged 150 acres with 60 acres improved while the average for colored owners was 65 acres with but 33 acres improved. As for tenants, the average for white tenants as recorded in 1920 was 90 acres with 49 acres improved, while those of colored tenants averaged 38 acres with 29 acres improved.
From these figures we can see how foolish it is to imagine that the Negro farmer can take the lead in the struggle for Negro emancipation. Besides, we must see that a farmer whether white or black is an individual who lives alone on his land, on the few acres he cultivates with his family. Farmers do not work together :in large numbers nor get together in their daily occupations. They live far from .the cities where life moves ahead and culture is developed; their time is passed always in the same routine, in the same backward toil with plow and hoe. The farmers outlook upon life is limited and will be so long as they remain attached to the soil under capitalism.
On the other hand, as we turn to the cities, can we expect that the Negro professionals, the Negro businessmen, the Negro intellectual element will take the lead? From the figures given above it is clear they play a really very insignificant role in the life of the Negro people as a whole. The fact that the Negro people in this country never played the role of conqueror with sword in hand, accentuates the small role that the Negro “upper classes” have to play. One can expect that a section of the Negro intellectuals, professionals and others will play an exceedingly servile role. On the other hand, the terrible position of the Negroes as outcasts and outlaws will drive another section of the Negro small-properties elements right into the hands of the Negro masses and workers in their struggle for liberation. But while these small propertied elements have a considerable part to play, we must denounce as vicious the idea of the Communist Party (see “The Communist” March 1930) namely, that “The Negro peasantry, petty and middle bourgeoisie will be the driving force of this movement because it is a national revolutionary movement.”
Just as it is the city that will lead the country, so will the city industrialized proletariat lead the whole Negro mass.
The “upper layers” of the Negroes have built up several national organizations such as the National Association For the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League, etc. These organizations have completely failed to make any sort of struggle for “their people". They merely imitate the white rulers as best they can and scurry around for favors. One group tells the Negro: Be a good worker and you will be “recognized” and become wealthy. Avoid politics. Another group says: Trust the democracy of the white rulers, petition for equal rights and you will get them. A third urges: Go back to Africa and be rich and independent. All those servile schemes, however, only put the bridle and bit on the Negro horse still more firmly for the ruling class to ride.
The colored workers who have emigrated from the plantations to the cities, especially those who have come North, have traveled, have seen cities, railroads, ships and people. They have come in contact with the white people much more than in the country. They have come in contact not only with factory labor, which is much more highly organized than the labor on the farm, but with life in the cities, with its speed and variety. The Negro, like the white worker in industry, becomes part of a 1arge group with common interests, coming in daily contact with each other at their work. Here is a possibility of masses of workers coming together, acting and organizing on a great scale.
The industrial workers are more advanced than other toilers, both technically, owing to their contact with machinery and with the process of production, and culturally, as a result of their contact with the working class movement and their more varied life. They are less corrupted than the intellectuals by contact with the ruling class. They are most heavily exploited and have the greatest incentive to fight against capitalism. They reach Communism sooner than the toilers in the country. Finally, capitalism itself prepares its own overthrow by bringing together the workers in largo numbers in the mines, mills and factories. For all these reasons the industrial workers will play the leading role in destroying capitalism. There will be outbreaks on the countryside, among the tenant and share-cropper farmers, just as there will be uprisings among the unemployed. But it is the Negro city workers who will be in the forefront of the great class battles that will be necessary to make the proletarian revolution.
Let us keep firmly in mind that over 27% of the Negroes work in industry and that increasingly they are to be found in the basic heavy industries of the country—coal mining, iron and steel, meat-packing, oil, railroad, construction, automobile, rubber, etc—where the Negro workers occupy a decisive section of the entire working class. Whereas the figures for the country show that one white out of every three works, one of every two Negroes is gainfully employed. Thus Negro Labor is much more important than its percentage in the general population would indicate. Negro Labor makes up about 20% of the whole in agriculture. Were the Negroes to abandon the growing of cotton, rice, tobacco, fruit, etc., a disastrous blow would be given to the entire economy of’ the United States.
From all of this we can conclude that we can expect the first organizations, of Negro workers and their first movements towards Communism to come in the industrial centers of the North and Middle-west—Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, etc.
The mass of outrages and abuses that is heaped upon the back of the Negro people is enough to make any worker clench his fists in rage and vow vengeance. Anyone, colored or write, who wants to be a revolutionist must fight to the last ditch against any sign of discrimination wherever it may crop up. To tell the whole story of the crimes against the Negroes for which the white ruling classes of this country are responsible would fill a big volume. We can give only a few illustrations here.
First and foremost comes the basic economic discrimination, namely, lower wages for the Negro. This is done not only by putting white and colored side by side at the same job and paying the colored worker less, but by more clever methods. The colored workers are hired in different departments for the roughest, dirtiest jobs and are paid less. Thus is accomplished segregation within the plant, and at the same time the Negro is made to appear inferior by being kept from the machinery and the more skilled jobs. Are the Negroes penetrating the needle trades: Here colored girls are allowed to work rarely on the machines but are generally confined to finishing, hand-pressing or other less skilled and tougher occupations. Swooping and cleaning, freight-handling are usually the jobs of Negro young men and not merely are they paid less and are forced to work any number of hours but are often excluded from the union.
Another scheme the bosses use in dear old Dixie land is to have a separate building or loft, old and inconvenient, where the colored workers are segregated although they do the same work. If there is a tumble-down dilapidated wing or old building, this is considered good enough for the Negroes and all the old worn-out equipment is put there for them to work with. Many Negroes are employed in industries which are noted for being dirty or unhealthy, such as laundries, meat-packing and particularly slaughtering plants where, in the bloody stinking rooms, the carcasses are handled.
Colored workers are fired to make room for whites and are turned down from jobs they bitterly need, if a white person is available. The N.R.A., so far from helping has made this situation a hundred times worse. The two main occupations of Negro laborers (agriculture and domestic service) are excluded from the codes altogether. This is of great significance since the domestic help in the South receives only from $1.50 to $3.00 a week, not much more being paid in the North. A huge number work for board only. Conditions are vastly worse among the agricultural toilers. Let no one think that this is accidental. Neither is it an accident that the laundry industry, where so many Negroes are employed, is given starvation wages, nor that the rates of pay in the Southern territory are so much lower than in other parts of the country. Here the poor whites are also compelled to accept lower standards because of the great body of Negro labor which presses on them and the bosses use to lower the conditions of the whites as well.
The N.R.A. has been applied so as to exclude Negroes even from the jobs they formerly had. Even the menial toil, of which they once enjoyed a monopoly because of discrimination, is now being performed, in the main, by white workers, who, because of the lowering of their living standards and the increase in unemployment are now anxious to fill even those jobs which the Negroes once held exclusively. When an employer (in rare instances) is compelled to advance the scale of wages to comply with the code, he considers that standard as too high and too good for the Negro and dispenses with the Negro’s services.
A large pencil manufacturer in Atlanta, Ga., placed pink slips in the pay envelopes of the Negro workers which read as follows:
“The wages you are paid now are more than this company can pay and stay in business unless each worker produces more. If the false friends of the colored people do not stop their propaganda about paying the same wages to colored and white employees this company will be forced to move the factory to a section where the minimum wage will produce the greatest production….. Stop your friends from talking you out of your job.”
The above letter was printed in the New York Times, September 10th, 1933 with the following comments made by Julian Harris, the editorial correspond:
“It should be said first, that the Negro employees of this company receive from 6 to 13 cents an hour for eight hours daily, and five days a week; second, that it displays the familiar emblem of the Blue Eagle.”
Of all the discriminations, displacements and removals we can mention but a few. The majority of restaurants which formerly employed Negro cooks and porters are now hiring white help only. Contractors on building construction make known to all agencies the request for white workers exclusively. A secretary of the National Urban League has reported from a visit to Southern cities:
“I have seen white men building roads, digging ditches, waiting in hotels, portering in stores and repairing railroad tracks. I have seen few Negro chauffeurs and fewer building mechanics. Residents point to large hotels in Florida where Negro help was once employed. White people have told of telephone calls to their homes demanding that they dismiss their colored help. Houses painted by Negroes are smeared overnight and white contractors who employ them have been warned not to do so. Colored janitors of white and Negro schools have been replaced by whites and some of them have been beaten. Coal wagons on which a Negro would be employed to shovel the coal and a white man to drive, now make use of two whites, both of whom shovel.
The Railroad Commission of South Carolina, on April 22,1932, ruled that “no pullman will be allowed to operate in South Carolina without a white man in charge.”
Political disfranchisement throughout the South places the Negro at the mercy of the local governments. Barbers are driven out by municipal ordinance, electricians, plumbers and others are refused licenses, Negroes are barred from public employment such as construction, street cleaning and garbage removal.
Automobile dealers of Florida appeared before the Recovery Commission to argue that Negro filling station attendants—all Negroes—should not get more money and work less hours, because it would be unfair competition. The request for exemption from the code paying the minimum wage to Negro labor was granted.
A fair estimate of Negro unemployed would be from two and a half to three millions. Scattered surveys indicate that in March 1933, for example, for Chicago, Cleveland and St. Louis, Negroes form 40% to 50% of the total unemployed; in Birmingham, Ala., at least 75% etc.
Gradually the Negro is being shoved deeper and deeper into the gutter, into the ranks of the permanently disemployed. Even here discrimination hounds him. In the Southern States the wages paid to Negro workers on projects of the Public Works Administration is much lower than those given white workers on the same job. In Miami and Dade County, Florida, the white workers on relief get $2.46 a day, the Negroes get $1. 25. Very often white men are picked for the relief jobs instead of Negroes. For example, in Charleston, So. Carolina, where the Negroes are a majority of the population and over half of them are on relief, they have but 30% of the relief jobs.
Precisely in this period of crisis when the ruling class is howling about the big taxes, recall the measures which pertained to the welfare of the Negro people and which cost the state money, been cut down. This is particularly true for schools and such projects. A very large percentage of schools, especially in the South, that catered to Negro children, have been closed down.
The terrible economic discrimination against the Negro can be seen from the following record: Of the 667,000 children between the ages of 10 to 15 who are reported as gainfully employed in the last census, 240,000 or 36% were Negroes. The rate is five times higher than native whites and eight times higher than foreign-born whites. The Chamber of Commerce in Texas does not hesitate to display in journals and advertisements a picture of a little Negro girl of three years of age working in the fields and to boast: “There are none too young to work in Texas.” The ratio of married women working is three times greater than that of native whites; four times that of foreign born whites. Even among the poor croppers of the South investigations have shown that, for example, in Texas, while 46% of the mothers in white cropper families worked, 90% of the Negro mothers were forced to toil in the fields.
Due to the terrible exploitation of the Negroes, especially the males, there are more female than male Negroes and thus too the birth rate is higher among the Negro women than among the white. Nevertheless so high is the death rate among the Negroes that the Negro population gains much less than the white, and the Negro people are losing their percentage of the total population. The census shows that while the birth rate was 18.6 for whites and 21.5 for colored, for every thousand of the population in 1930, the death rate was 10.8 for white and 16.2 for colored, thus the excess of births over deaths was 7.8 for whites and only 5.3 for Negroes. In 1929 the U.S. Public Health Service made a study of Negro infant mortality in key northern cities and reported that whether in the city or in the country, the death rate for Negro infants was twice as high as the death rate for whites living in the same places. Here is the way the ruling class steadily murders hundreds of thousands of the Negro people.
The situation is blackest of course, among the agrarian Negroes. Generally, the relative position of the farmers and agricultural laborers has become much worse as capitalism developed. Farm mortgages now total ten billion dollars. Over three millions of the farm population were driven off the land in the period of 1920-1930. The gross income of the farmers has fallen off by 60% since 1929.The agricultural laborers are generally receiving the lowest pay they ever got since the beginning of this century. Tenancy has greatly increased. Tenancy in the Southern states in 1880 was 30% of the whole of the farms. Today it is 50% of the total. In 1920, 55% of the farmers in the chief cotton states were tenants, by 1930 this had become 62%. Of these tenants in 1920, 21% were cash renters and 37% were croppers. In 1930,only 13% were cash renters and 45% were croppers. This tells a clear story of the increasing impoverishment of the countryside.
However, though the conditions of the poor whites are bad enough, they are infinitely better than those of the Negroes. Immediately after the Civil War there was instituted a vast system of peonage and forced labor to chain the Negroes down. According to Carter G. Woodson’s “Rural Negro.”, Peonage developed as a most natural consequence of things in the agricultural South. The large planters constitute a borrowing class. It is customary for financial institutions to advance money for a year to cover the expenses of the landlord and his tenants, the amount being determined on the basis of one tenant for each 20 acres. The landlord then, must hold his tenant by fair or foul means. If they desert him he is bankrupt. Authority, therefore, must be maintained with overseers using whips and guns to strike terror to the tenants who are kept down in the most debased condition. Negro women are prostituted to the white “owners” and drivers; and children are permitted to grow up in ignorance with no preparation for anything but licentiousness and crime.”
The recent Mississippi floods have exposed the truly unspeakable conditions that prevail in the rural South. The Negro tenant is not a peasant rooted in the soil but an agricultural laborer chained to the soil by all the horrors that those who control the turpentine and lumber camps, the chain gangs, the peonage system and slavery of the South can possibly devise. A practice still common is for the planter in need of labor to have a bunch of Negroes rounded up by the Sheriff and charged with minor offences. The Negroes, of course, can not pay the fines; the white planter then stops in and pays them and the Negroes are compelled to work off the debt on his land. A system of debt and brute compulsion keeps these Negroes at this forced servitude for an indefinite period. If they attempt to escape, bloodhounds and shot guns are there to prevent. As lately as Oct. 1919 in Elaine, Arkansas, there took place a regular rebellion of the Negro people against the peonage existing. For their protests against this forced labor, some were attacked and shot down. Others were arrested and tried for high crimes. Sixty-seven were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment and twelve to death by a mob court. On appeal the case could not stand the light of day and the Negroes were released.
The contract between planter and cropper is signed at the beginning of the year (when the cropper is hardest up, of course.) In this contract the Negroes are swindled at every possible turn and they have no court where they can appeal. As Woodson writes: “After the cropper has agreed to become a tenant he comes under the supervision of the landlord who sends out his rider, a man employed to supervise all work on the plantation. This white boss apportions the acreage for cultivation, decides the amount of fertilizer each family must use on its parcel of land, when the crop should be planted and on what particular spot. The cropper is obligated to rise as early as there is sufficient light to work, about four in the morning on long summer days, and he must toil until dark. There is a bell or some other signal, informing the croppers when to start and when they may stop work. If his wife and children work in the fields, either she or some nearly grown girl is permitted to stop about eleven to prepare dinner. On some plantations the dinner intermission is about two hours on very hot days, but an others only one hour can be spared. If the planter happens to be liberal he allows the cropper and his associates to cease work on Saturday afternoons.”
“When the crop is harvested by the tenant the planter deducts therefrom his stipulated share and takes out also the value of the clothing, food and supplies which the planter has furnished(at enormously high prices- Editor) the cropper during the year. If there is anything left, the planter usually buys the cropper’s residues, for the latter is not in a position to hold the crop for a better price…”
Between 1920 and 1930 Negro farmers lost three and three quarter million acres of land which they formerly tilled as owners, tenants or managers. Now, since the “New Deal”, conditions have become much worse. The “New Deal” is paying the plantation owners to curtail production, to plow under their cotton and other crops. What is easier for the plantation owner to do than to oust his tenants, his Negro share-croppers, and to receive his reward from the government? The Negro sharecroppers have been drastically eliminated from production, thus a population of at least four million is being pauperized. In some cases the plantation owner, “from the goodness of his heart”, but really in order to insure a supply of help in the future, is letting the Negro tenant stay in his little cabin and with two acres of land to plow some vegetables upon. But that is all. The figures indicate that one out of every six rural families is on public relief. In the case of the Negro we can even double or even triple this ratio.
It would be a mistake to believe the discrimination on the job covers everything or even that it is the worst thing felt by the Negroes. Discrimination tracts down the Negro no matter what he tries to do and hounds him from birth to death. Jim Crow ranges the whole country from one end to another, but becomes more vicious the further South one gets. To be kept out of theaters, hotels and restaurants on the ground of color is in any part of the country an every day experience, but as one enters the Southern States, the restrictions begin either railroads, trams, and buses, with their separate coaches or seats, separate waiting rooms at the stations, separate schools, etc.
Segregation in living quarters going hand in hand with Jim Crow brings misery of all sorts. Does anyone not know the Negro quarters of our cities from Boston to Birmingham—these miserable, squad, broken down sections? The Negroes are Jim Crowed out of any except the worst section of the town and then are blamed for “causing” the run-down condition of the houses. For their dilapidated hovels and unpainted shacks, generally without plumbing or electricity, they are charged rents as high as for decent apartments in some other section of the town. But the Negro CANNOT move where he wishes. There is here a wonderful racket for landlords owning property in the colored sections.
Living always in such poor places, constantly under-nourished because of low wages and unemployment, the Negroes have always had a higher death rate than the whites, and are especially susceptible to diseases of environment, as tuberculosis to which they succumb more readily than white people. (This, to, is blamed on them as proof of their “inferior” blood)
The colored districts are all slums with everything that goes with it. The women are driven into prostitution by poverty and terrorization, and the youth to crime. On the subject of crime and its connection with the Negroes much might be said. If the Negroes have a higher crime rate than whites, it in part testifies to their greater spirit of rebellion (for is not crime, in a way, a blind way of protesting against the injustices of society, a refusal always to submit and take insults lying down?) But more than that, it is due to the policy of picking up Negroes on the slightest pretext. This serves a double purpose, of further terrorizing the Negro population, and in some sections of the country, notably the South, it is a method of obtaining forced labor for the state. For white as well as Negro, the frequent arrests and sentences on the chain gang and in prison help to get the workers regimented, to make them docile, more ready to serve as common fodder when needed, more prepared to accept Fascism or whatever else the rulers may have in-store for them. It is true, however, that these frequent arrests and imprisonment also hardens and toughens the worker as well.
Legally, the black man’s rights—especially in the South—are down to the vanishing point. The Scottsboro case threw a startling light on what is a familiar fact in the Southern states—that Negroes are not permitted to serve on juries to try Negroes. A black man’s word is given little credence in a white court and that is the only court he can be tried in.
The Amendments to the Federal Constitution (14th and 15th amendments) are supposed to permit the Negro to vote but they are simply jokers in the face of the restrictions which the several states have put into their voting qualifications. (taxpaying qualifications, employment, literacy and understanding of the Constitution tests, etc.) but even before these qualifications were enacted, there was a period in the Southern states, after the whites had been able to take over their government from the hands of the Negroes again, when terrorization on a broad scale was resorted to in order to put the Negroes down and to pave the way for their legal exclusion from the suffrage. There were all the familiar forms of violence by the Ku Klux Klan intimidation, manipulation of the ballot and ballot boxes, false counting of votes, illegal arrests the day before election, sudden removal of the polls, etc. A newspaper item of November 6, 1934 referring to the election in Holland, Mo., relates how “Gunmen seeking to prevent Negroes from voting in today’s election terrorized this Southeast Missouri town today, killing one white man, wounded to others, the several Negroes and disappeared before state highway troopers arrived and restored order.” “Several other reports of violence were received. In one instance, three men stopped an automobile driven by a woman who was bringing several Negroes to vote. She was not know lasted, but the Negroes were reported to have been beaten severely.” This illustrates the policy that prevails throughout the South, and which is more effective than laws for keeping the Negroes away from the polls.
Relations between the sexes are the touchiest point for the white chauvinists of Dixie. The purity of white woman hood heats their blood to a rapid heats when they see prospects of a Negro lynching (although white women work in the cotton mills of the Carolina’s, Georgia and elsewhere under the most miserable conditions and their lot is scarcely better than that of the Negroes.) relations between white men and colored women have been in force since slavery days but, outside of prostitution, relations between colored men and white women, even when based upon the most ideal feelings are made to appear as a sort of sodomy or some sex abomination. Twenty-seven states have laws prohibiting intermarriage between the twos races. Against these laws the workers of the U.S. must put up the sternest struggle. Every effort that leads to the intermarriage and closest social relations and companionship between white and black workers must be welcomed and encouraged.
Overlying all the facts of discrimination is a moral attitude that has been built up as a prime factor in keeping the white and colored toilers apart. The unceasing contempt of the white chauvinist dogs the Negroes steps from birth to death. The brand of inferiority which it is to the bosses interest to place upon this national minority for their more efficient exploitation varies in degree from polite condescension to bitter hatred.
A thousand little things accumulated make up the Negroes burden of oppression and daily life. But it is when the Negroes attempt to organize and fight against the yoke that the full onslaught of chauvinist hate is launched against them. From Turner’s rebellion, down to the latest attempts of the Alabama share-croppers to form a union, terror and bloodshed have been the answer. But when the government goes to war, it is another story. Then everything is promised to the prospective cannon-fodder. The down-trodden Negroes then become noble hero’s who are to go out and die to defend the profits of the Morgan’s and Rockefellers, the Mellon’s and the DuPont’s.
But discrimination follows them into the trenches. This was the case in the Civil War too where the Negroes, freed so that they might fight in the armies of the capitalist North, were assigned to fever-stricken swamp territory in order to preserve the white soldiers from these dangerous posts. Wherever colored troops were used in the last war—whether the French Senegalese or the American Negroes, they were given the worst deal just as an everyday life—were sent to the most dangerous posts where the slaughter was the greatest, etc. In peace or war, the mark of Cain is put upon the Negro.
Lynch the Lynchers of the Negroes and Poor Toilers
Since the Civil War, over 5000 lynchings of Negroes have taken place in the United States. In the last few years a veritable wave of lynchings has swept over the country. 1933 showed twice as many as 1932 and more than any year since 1926. 26 lynchings are recorded for 1934 in which Negroes have been Lynched.
What a lynching is like is well described by Mr. Gregg in his book “The Hindered Hand":
“The crowd dashed wildly in the direction of the church, all being eager to get places where they could see best. The smaller boys climbed the trees so that they might see well the whole transaction. Two of the trees were decided upon for stakes and the boys who had chosen them had to come down. B--was tied to one tree and F-- to the other in such a manner that they faced each other. Wood was brought and piled around them and oil was poured on very profusely.”
“The mob decided to torture their victims before killing them and began on F-- first. A man with a pair of scissors stepped up and cut off her hair and threw it into the crowd. There was a great scramble for bits of hair for souvenirs of the occasion. One by one her fingers were cut off and tossed into the crowd to be scrambled for. A man with a cork screw came forward, ripped F—’s clothing to her waist, bored into her breast with the cork screw and pulled forth the live quivering flesh. Poor B-- her helpless husband closed his eyes and turned away his head to avoid the terrible sight. Men gathered about him and forced his eyelids open so that he could see all.”
“When it was thought that F-- had been tortured sufficiently, attention was turned to B--. His fingers were cut off one by one and the cork screw was bored into his legs and arms. A man with a club struck him over the head, crushing his skull and forcing an eyeball to hang down from the socket by a thread. A rush was made toward B-- and a man who was a little ahead of his competitors snatched the eyeball is a souvenir.”
“After three full hours had been spent in torturing the two, the spokesman announced that they were now ready for the final act. The brother of S—Fl-- was called for and was given a match. He stood near his mutilated victims until the photographer present could take a picture of the scene. This been over, the match was applied and the flames leaped up eagerly and encircled the writhing forms of B—and F--.”
“When the flames had done their work and had subsided, a mad who rush was made for the trees which were soon denuded of bark, each member of the mob been desirous, it seemed, of carrying away something that might testify to his proximity to so great a happening.”
The causes of lynching are clear. Lynchings of Negroes are perpetrated to keep the “nigger” in his place, to prevent him from making any demands for higher wages, for better living conditions, for the end of all discrimination, for the right of self-determination. The white plantation owner knows very well that the whole economy of the South rests upon the low standards of black labor. If the wages of the Negro rise, all wages must rise. The Negro is the symbol and representative of all labor in this country. Lynching the Negro is the way to keep all labor down, and is a substitute to lynching labor generally.
It is for this reason that the white workers are waking up to the fact that lynching Negroes means more than Negroes but also poor white sharecroppers and labor organizers. It is for this reason, too, that the lynchings are mostly in rural farm and back-woods regions, not in the cities and that those who make up the ring leaders are not factory workers but exploiting farmers, plantation foremen and their thugs, the constable and country tool, the white country loafer and lout and such whose sole work has ever been as toadies and slave drivers for the wealthy.
Of all the people in the South who are closest to the Negro and will most easily be mobilized to defend him, the best and most trustworthy are the factory workers and cities.
What shall we do, fall upon our knees, weep and beg this or that group of people to please try to stop the lynchings? Or shall we expect the law to stop them? The Federal Anti Lynching Bill is supported by the N.A.A.C.P. and by the Socialist Party. Their idea is that the Federal Government in Washington with a special Federal Police force will stop lynching. Where the separate agencies have failed in the various states, these people believe the central government can succeed. How foolish this is can be seen from the fact that there have been the 13th 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution of the U.S. which is the fundamental law of the land and which are supposed to guarantee the Negroes the rights of citizenship and yet there is no enforcement by the Federal Government. State laws and above all, force and violence in every town and village throughout the South have made jokes out of the constitutional provisions in favor of the Negroes and the Federal Government has stood by and laughed.
As a matter of fact this agitation for strengthening the Federal Police system and the army only helps the Fascist tendencies in the Roosevelt regime and builds the very power that actively supports or shuts its eyes to the lynchings of the Negroes. The lynchings, supported by the law, the sheriffs, lawyers and police as well as by the bankers and the landowners, will not be overthrown by the law but in spite of the law and against the law.
Lynching is an old American custom. It originated in the frontier days before the State was instituted with its apparatus of courts and police, before classes had developed, when the backwards men would get together and lynch a cattle thief or other marauder. Lynching is symbolic of the violence of social relations always prevalent in American life and a prime characteristic of this country. It is part of the traditions of “direct action” that the American people held dear. However, from the beginning it has been the direct action of small property holders and (in the case of most lynchings in the South today, aided and egged on by the white big landowners.)
What is necessary is to change the DIRECTION OF LYNCHING. It is futile to think of eliminating something so deep seated in the customs of the country. The vital fact is WHO LYNCHS WHOM? A year ago during the farm strikes in the Middle West, some poor farmers through a rope around the neck of a judge in the Lemars, Iowa, and threatened to lynch him if he permitted further foreclosures of their farms. Here is direct action that can be hailed with pride by the working-class. The only thing to make the seemed perfect that was lacking was a large group of Negro sharecroppers participating in the event. Suppose we were to hear of the lynching of some rich Southern planter, banker or sheriff who had been responsible for the lynching of a Negro? Would this not put courage into the hearts of the black people? If for every poor toiler or Negro who was lynched, two profiteers, two plutocrats, two oppressors of the poor, two holders of mortgages, two bloodsuckers of the people were lynched, the lynching of Negroes and poor white would soon cease.
Let us keep in mind that it is not even illegal to wipe out those who intend to commit a murder. To wipe out a band of plantation owner’s and their agents who are lynching a Negro or poor white toiler for demanding higher wages is not only no crime but a bounden in duty on our part.
Defense groups must be built up in Southern communities, secretly organized of course, including both colored and white poor tenant and cropper farmers but mainly made up of white and colored workers, in preparation for the lynchings. One organized resistance to a lynching, one reprisal in the right direction, will do wonders to turn back the wave of terrorism against the Negro masses. Difficult though this task may be, it must be started sometime.
The period of the present crisis has seen the Negro stand up and fight for his rights, it has seen the Negro begin to turn towards Communism. The share-cropper movement in Alabama and Arkansas, the Scottsboro trial, the great participation of the Negro masses and all unemployment movements and in strikes, all are indications that the Negro masses are not going to take their miserable lot lying down forever. And the Negroes are beginning to strike back just at the time when the budding Fascist forces are stirring up and intensifying “nationalism” and “race” and are trying to throw the lower middle class elements, themselves pinched by the crisis, and the down-and-out elements against the solidarity of labor.
The lynching wave concerns not merely the Negroes but the whole working-class. Are we for direct action? For the masses in the streets? Yes, but it is necessary now for the people to learn who their real enemies are, and to turn against them their rage and revenge—not upon the Negro, the brother in their own ranks. It is upon the capitalists, the bankers, the manufacturers, the big employers and planters that direct action must turn. We must raise this slogan so that the capitalists will hear it plainly: LYNCH THE LYNCHERS OF THE NEGROES AND POOR TOILERS.
The Joint Struggle of the Negro and White Workers
The policy of “divide and rule” of the master class has erected a mountainous barrier of prejudice between the poor white toilers and the Negro people. This is part of the divisions which they have consciously fostered between the foreign-born and native labor, between different sections of the foreign-born, between women and men, etc. But the color prejudice has been made the strongest and most dangerous of all. Race prejudice, if it is not in some way mitigated, at least enough to permit of some degree of joint struggle and cooperation between the colored and white sections of the working class, will be enough to break the coming proletarian revolution in this country. Especially is this true now when the middle class will be aroused as an active Fascist force to lynch and torture the Negroes and when prejudice is being stirred up among the white workers to a greater degree than before.
This policy of separating the working class is very energetically carried out by those agents of the bosses who are running the American Federation of Labor, who run the trade unions of this country the way the capitalists run their factories. The Jim Crow policy of the American Federation of Labor has meant that the Negro has been forced to remain unorganized even when he has become an industrial worker. In 1900 Samuel Gompers, the head of the A.F.L. actually advocated separate unions for Negroes. This proposition was endorsed by the A.F.L. convention and in 1902 the A.F.L. provided for separate charters for Negro unions. At the present time, ten important national unions of the A.F.L. exclude Negroes from their ranks by provisions in their constitutions.
However, as the mass of Negroes continues to pour into the industries, the solidarity of the white and Negro workers is steadily increasing. According to the census, between 1910 and 1920 the number of semi-skilled Negro workers in the slaughtering and pack houses increased almost 2000%, laborers in the iron and steel increased 237% while laborers in food industries increased 261%. In the some period of time, the proportion of Negro women in manufacturing and mechanical industries nearly doubled. All of this is increasing the weight of the Negro workers and is compelling both groups to come closer together.
The forces of capitalism itself to a certain extent tend to throw the colored and white workers and toilers closer together, especially under the conditions of misery created by the present crisis. It is noteworthy that wherever there have been mass movements of the unemployed, Negro workers have been drawn in to a considerable degree (for example, in Chicago in 1931). But these forces in themselves are by no means sufficient to counteract the effects of chauvinist poison in the ranks of the white labor masses.
The best way to make the poisoned white workers listen to reason, the best way to get solidarity, is to build up the power of the Negro masses. The organization of the mass power of the Negroes themselves is the sledge hammer that will batter at the walls of prejudice more effectively than anything else. The slogan of self-determination expresses this principle on the political field. In the day-to-day struggle, defense groups to fight against terrorism and lynching, in the South the demand and fight for assimilation of the Negro, unions of Negroes where they are excluded from the white unions, share-cropper groups, general labor bodies such as the Negro Chamber of Labor, will build the power of the Negro toilers and compel the respect of the white labor movement.
Even inside the so-called revolutionary movement, gross discrimination and all sorts of white chauvinist tendencies constantly make themselves manifest. We have already spoken of the despicable attitude of such groups as the Socialist Party, the Workers Party and others who fight against the right of self-determination for the Negro minorities, who hate to discuss Negro questions and who try to make believe that there is no such thing as a Negro problem, but only a labor problem. As these people will never have much influence among the mass of workers in this country, we shall leave them stew in their own juice.
However, there is another organization that poses as the friend of the Negro people, that is, the Communist Party. We do not believe that the Communist Party really knows the American Negroes, really knows how to mobilize them for a genuine struggle for their liberation.
Take the Scottsboro Case which the Communist Party supported. On the surface it seems that the Communist Party did very good work to expose the conditions of the poor Negro toilers. Indeed, to some extent, it did do good work. But if we look beneath the ballyhoo we see that the good work is not very much, that the Communist Party is immature and even yellow. The Communist Party did good work in raising money for the defense of the Scottsboro boys, it is understood that they raised close to $400,000, an enormous sum. But what use was made of this money? Was it spent on the Negro workers, to mobilize them, to awaken them to lead them in struggle? How much money was spent for propaganda among Negroes? How many Negro organizers were sent down South? How many Negro people were organized into fighting unions and share-cropper organizations? But if we ask these questions, then we see that the money was practically wasted on white lawyers, on expenses for the office holders and job seekers of the International Labor Defense controlled by the Communist Party. It is plain that the best defense of the Scottsboro boys could come only through the organization of hundreds of thousands of Negroes, but, like the white exploiters, the International Labor Defense took hundreds of thousands of dollars, mainly from the poor Negro people themselves, apparently to defend the Negro boys, but in reality to spend it in a way that could not help them very much.
Instead of awakening the masses, the Communist Party relied mainly on lawyers and the Supreme Court of the U.S. When their attorneys told the Communists to get out of the State of Alabama and make no more propaganda among the Negroes there during the trial, although this very propaganda was vital to the defense, the Communist press made no protest. The Communist Party leaders showed themselves too yellow to really penetrate the South and carry on the necessary dangerous work that alone could win the Negroes for struggle.
Or take another example, the trade unions that were organized by the Communist Party. According to the Communist Party, they were going to organize the great mass of poor unskilled and unorganized workers in the factories, mills and mines of this country. They were going to fight the fakers of the American Federation of Labor. Did they do these things? Today all the “Red” unions have been liquidated by the Communist Party itself and all are being sent into the A.F.L. To show you how “dangerous” the Communist Party members really are, we can say that the A.F.L. does not hesitate to take in these “Communists” although they keep out the Negroes.
All that the Communist Party is interested in is the question of Soviet Russia. Soviet Russia through its bureaucracy has now abandoned the world revolution. The Communist International has pledged itself to abide by the agreement that Russia made with Roosevelt which was to the effect that Russia would not allow on its territory anyone who advocates the overthrow of the Slave-Jim Crow system in the U.S. Russia has now joined the League of Nations, better known as the League of Robbers. Now that Ethiopia is being attacked shamelessly by Italy and has appealed to the League of Nations to help, does Russia step out to help Ethiopia? Here we see that the Russian Communist Party leaders are fakers and traitors to their cause.
The advanced Negro worker is turning to Communism. If he joins the Communist Party he will soon see that there is no democracy for him there, no real discussion of his problems, no effort to mobilize his people. He will soon turn away from them and turn to the genuine internationalist Communists—THE COMMUNIST LEAGUE OF STRUGGLE, the organization responsible for this pamphlet. We call on all Negro Workers and toilers who wish to fight for Communism to JOIN THE COMMUNIST LEAGUE OF SLRUGGLE.
As a matter of fact the Negro workers do not have to take their hats off to any section of the working class when it comes to revolutionary activity. The Negro people have a tradition of actual insurrectionary struggle on their own account in this country that no other group has.
Scores of insurrections were put down in which the black man tried to wipe out chattel slavery. The uprisings of Cato, Gabriel, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner are remembered by all revolutionary workers who are trying to overthrow capitalist wage-slavery today. Let the black man lift his head high; no one else in America has such a proud revolutionary record. Outside of the Shays rebellion after the Revolutionary War (an uprising of debtor farmers in New England against the bad deal given them at the end of the war) and Dorr’s Rebellion in Rhode Island (a fight for a democratic constitution) where can the white toilers show any tackling of the State power?
Today, still the Negro stands as the most revolutionary group potentially in America. The best fight will be put up by unskilled labor, which now constitutes the biggest part of labor and which is a group least corrupted by capitalism, most exploited and oppressed and with the biggest inducement to fight. But the Negro as a whole is unskilled labor, this is the group to which he pre-eminently belongs. Furthermore, the white workers, even the poorest of them, have been spoiled by illusions of democracy, by all sorts of idiotic individualist notions of getting ahead, getting rich, escaping the working class, etc. These pipe dreams the Negroes never got lost in. They certainly never would stack their cards on their John or Henry becoming President some day, or on the proposition that all men are “equal” or that all have the same chance, etc. It is only recently since the crisis has walloped the white workers on the head, that they have began to wake up from some of these illusions which belong to their political childhood. But the Negro was never fooled by the democratic propaganda and ballyhoo of the higher-ups. While the white worker may be more advanced technically and in book culture, the Negro through bitter experience has had the truths of the class struggle knocked into him and has learned the realities of social and political life, much earlier.
Owing to generations of oppression, ever since the days of slavery and the underground railway, the Negro has learned, too, how to work underground, how to keep quiet about his opinions, how to hide away from the law, how to protect a fellow worker. These illegal methods will come in good stead when the Negro turns seriously to the business of revolution, and here too the white workers will have to take lessons from him.
The Negroes must learn how to be Communists, that is to fight to overthrow the present system of wage-slavery and substitute another system where all the workers of the world own all that they produce in common. The Communists must learn from the Negro fighters who were fighting capitalism and the white ruling class before the Communists had even been in existence. That the Communists can learn from the struggles of the Negroes can be clearly seen when we compare the history of the Negro national minority with the present situation among the Communists:
The Negro is rooted in American life and history. It is upon his back that the great structure of American Imperialism rests the most. As the poorest and most down-trodden of all, he has the greatest interest to overthrow the present system of society. As slave and oppressed outcast, the Negro has engaged in a long struggle for freedom culminating in many actual rebellions and bloody riots. The Negro once held State power in some of the Southern States right after the Civil War and demonstrated his revolutionary character. The revolutionary possibility of the Negro is well attested by the thousands of lynchings that have taken place and by the ferocious war that has been carried on against him for so long a time.
Compare this record with that of the so-called “revolutionary” Communist Party members. These people are not rooted in American life. They are more interested in what is going on in Russia than they are in fighting their own capitalist class. They have been only talkers and have never engaged in insurrectionary struggle. They have not even penetrated the South. Their ranks are still filled with white chauvinist poison. Compared to the treatment the Negro gets, the Communist is still treated relatively mildly, although bad enough. Some of the Communist Party friends are welcomed to the best of Society—Corliss Lamont, the son of the banker who calls himself a Communist, John Strachey of the English Aristocracy who is also welcomed as a Communist. If these “Communists” really carried on the struggle for the Negro masses as they should, does anyone dream they would be welcomed among the white rulers who like to hear them prattle?
There remains always the necessity for unrelenting and uncompromising struggle on the part of the most advanced workers on both sides to eliminate the bourgeois poison and its effects from their own ranks. This struggle must come first from the white workers, since the distrust of the Negro is but reflection of the contempt and dislike the white workers exhibit towards him, as well as of many actual historic betrayals of white politicians who have promised everything under the sun to the Negroes and have given them nothing but dirt. Let the American beast first clean out some of the imperialist pus of chauvinism from his own system before he expects the Negro to fall upon his neck in friendship and brotherhood. On the other hand, the most advanced of the Negroes, if they see any hope at all in the programs of the white groups, must not leave them at once upon some manifestation of chauvinism, but must take this for what it is worth and remain there to fight this evil and help the white Communists to stamp it out root and branch.
The Negro Under Communism
The Communist society will be reached by stages which will be first the dictatorship of the proletariat (period of struggle to seize power and to defeat the overthrown capitalists) then Socialism (In which capitalism is defeated, classes are abolished, but there is not yet complete equality in all fields) and finally Communism (period of real equality and freedom. Race prejudice is inconceivable under Communism. But it will not be eliminated entirely except by the process of growth. Under the dictatorship of the proletariat there will probably be Negro Soviet Republics in various parts of the world which will be affiliated with the neighboring Soviet republics. Such a stage will be reached only when the revolution is international. The experience of the Russian Soviet Union shows that one country alone is bound to degenerate under the pressure of capitalist forces within and without, and cannot progress towards Socialism to any great extent. Already in this social stage there will take place a tremendous unleashing of the energy of the masses when the capitalist old men of the sea are thrown off the masses backs. Especially will the Negroes blossom out. As a spring shoots out when the pressure on it is released, so will the Negroes, just because they have been the most down-trodden, leap ahead when they get half a chance. They will rapidly develop a culture of their own, of which today we see only the germs. Already in this Socialist stage, while the capitalist class is rapidly being defeated, prejudice will survive only among the most backward people. Intermarriage will be encouraged, and the Negro Republics will cooperate closely with all other Soviet Republics. Their culture and spirit will be appreciated and they will in turn absorb much more of the culture of other races than they have had the opportunity to do so far. Thus already the basis for amalgamation of races is established. (Chauvinists of all sorts who emphasize the ideal of “racial” purity” will by that time have been thrown into the ashcan with the whole crazy capitalist system) Any colored worker even today would be only too glad to mingle with white workers if this could be done without persecution and the white workers would change their ideas of “white superiority.”
By the time the stage of Socialism is reached, there will be a tremendous advance in technical progress, and with the class barriers removed in the living conditions of mankind. There will be plenty to eat and wear, good dwellings for all and no such thing as overwork. Free travelling about the earth by the producers of all counties will be possible; national boundaries will be insignificant, intermarriage will have become so common and mutual appreciation of peoples so advanced that race prejudice will rapidly disappear.
At a given point of development Socialism turns into the highest stage of Communism. Here the immense scientific and cultural progress will be so great that it is as inconceivable to our minds as the radio and television of today would have been to the candle-light and horse and buggy days of our grand-daddies. At any rate we can feel sure that people will read about race prejudice in history books and will understand it much as we understand today the tortures of the Spanish inquisition or the throwing of the early Christians to the lions.
The Negro Chamber of Labor
Constantly we must emphasize that the best way to stop Jim Crowism, the best way to enforce solidarity between the white and black workers and the best way for the Negroes to win the respect of others, is to organize the power of the masses of Negroes to make that power felt and appreciated. It is ridiculous for the Negroes to wait until the white workers will take it into their heads to organize the black and to work together. The Negroes do not have to wait for anybody, especially now, when, under the blows of the crisis, their position is growing steadily worse.
We believe that one of the best things the Negro workers can do at the present time is to organize a Negro Chamber of Labor which will act as the center for all Negro organizations and where the masses of Negroes can be organized. At present the Negro has generally no place to go except to church or to the saloon. There is no center before which he can place his economic, political and social problems and try to solve them. To establish such a center is the first crying need of the hour.
One of the first tasks that the Negro Chamber of Labor should undertake for itself is the organization of unions in those trades where the Negroes work and where they are neglected and abandoned by the A.F.L. and other white organizations. The first places to try should be the industrial centers in the North where the Negro is concentrated in certain key industries. In the case of a factory or an industry trade where the Negroes are in the majority and the white workers in the minority, here the Negro Chamber of Labor should boldly organize a union in that factory, industry or trade. The union should be open for all, black and white. But the initiative should be taken by the Negro workers through the Negro Chamber of Labor. Quietly and secretly the Negro workers should first be gotten together and organized and the situation carefully explored to see whether the time was ripe to ask the white workers into the organization or not. Where the white workers are organized in a union of their own, every effort must be made to get the union to take in the Negroes. If the white union draws the color line, then the Negro Chamber of Labor should organizes a union of its own among the Negroes taking in those whites who would go along with it. If the Negroes are few and powerless they can try to work closely together with the other organization to change the rotten situation. Where the Negroes are in the great majority they must compel the white organization to work with them. If a tiny group of whites tries to act as a scab outfit it must be driven out of existence.
If there is a union organized in the factory or industry or trade which takes in Negro workers, then the Negro Chamber of Labor must do all in its power to see that Negro workers join the union together with the whites, that inside the union the Negroes are not discriminated against in any way and that the union fights against any such discrimination in the shop, industry or trade. In order to see to it that this is done the Negroe Chamber of Labor should urge that all the Negro union members should join it and that the union itself send delegates to the Negro Chamber of Labor and participate in its work.
In other words, the Negro Chamber of Labor will function as a militant trade union center for all Negro workers, no matter where they work, organizing them into unions, raising demands that will protect their interests, fighting against discriminations in the shop or industry and in the unions wherever they appear. The Negro Chamber of Labor should strive to be part of the organized labor movement of the country or community where it is functioning and try to institute a system of reciprocal delegates.
Besides taking an active part in all shop and trade union activities, the Negro Chamber of Labor must do its best to care for the interests of the unemployed Negro masses—to organize unemployed unions of its own wherever white workers will not take in Negroes, to fight
discrimination in the relief and within organizations which take in unemployed Negroes, to raise the proper demands, etc.
The Negro Chamber of Labor will be far from a Jim-Crow organization separating the colored from the white workers, it will be the best organization to see to it that the color line is broken down everywhere. There need be no fear that the Negro workers will choose to become segregated and isolated from the great body of white proletarians. On the contrary, the Negroes must really organize their fight if they wish to terminate the swinishness of the white worker who has separated himself from the Negro.
The work in the South, which is the main job, will be even more dangerous than the work in the North and must be accomplished carefully, secretly and even illegally. In the South, the chief work will have to be among the agricultural workers and share-croppers. The organizers who go down there must be prepared to take their lives in their hands and the entire organization must be ready to help them to the limit. Against the Negro Chamber of Labor organizer and member there will be launched the most ferocious lynch terror. That is why as soon as the work is in any degree on its way, after the most careful preliminary work, there must be organized armed defense groups to prevent and to smash any lynching that may be started.
The best place to start such work in the South is in the cities such as Birmingham, New Orleans, etc. As soon as possible, trusted white workers should be taken into the defense organizations so that the lynch mobs could be met not by Negro fighters alone but by organized white labor as well. A military discipline must be maintained and those who are accepted into the defense guard scrupulously selected. It must constantly be kept in mind, too, that the sheriff who is so quick to turn over the victim to the mob to be lynched will fight his hardest against any defense group that is out to stop the lynching. If the sheriff is part of the murder mob or refuses to stop the murder or tries to disarm those who are trying to stop the murderous lynching, the sheriff and his kind are enemies to society and must be sternly and firmly pushed aside, no matter what the cost. To stop lynching of Negroes and poor toilers is within the rights of all.
The Defense groups must not be mere secret terrorist groups against lynching but must be closely connected with the people. This can be done if mass organizations are formed at the same time and from the mass organizations the best militants are selected for the Defense guards. Among the share-croppers, the industrial and agricultural workers and other sections of toilers, when organized into unions, there will be plenty of men who will fight to the end, once the proper leadership is given. Wherever a lynching of a Negro or poor toiler does take place, the man at the head of the lynching mob must be carefully noted and if possible reprisals must take place. The lynching of any prominent Negro lyncher will be a tremendous demonstration and arouse the masses to struggle as nothing else can.
The Negro Chamber of Labor must not ignore political questions. It must enter into all sorts of united fronts with other labor and Negro organizations on concrete issues that will benefit labor as a whole and the Negro masses in particular. Democracy can come only to him who fights. The Negro Chamber of Labor, precisely because it wants real democracy for the Negro people must take on a most militant character and ally itself to those sections of the labor movement that really mean to carry on a struggle for the emancipation of the poor toilers. The Negro Chamber of Labor must carry on a ceaseless day-to-day struggle for the rights of the Negroes and furnish legal talent for their defense.
On the education field, the Negro Chamber of Labor will be extremely valuable. Lectures, classes, schools, forums, papers, bulletins, leaflets, in a thousand and one ways the life of the Negro people must be explained, the lessens drawn from the struggles and the Negroes trained to take an active part in the organization. The Negro Chamber of Labor will be one place where Negroes can assume full charge and responsibility of important posts and work. Here he will be able to develop his leadership and his methods. Here he will be able to show his executive ability, his initiative and his genius. In this way he will be in a position to make an important
contribution to the labor movement as a whole and will be able to take his rightful place in that labor and revolutionary movement.
The Negro can be nothing if not revolutionary. The Negro Chamber of Labor must not be afraid of speaking out in public, of telling the truth, of drawing all the conclusions from the struggles which face it. It must be prepared to join hands with the rest of the labor movement in all its struggles against capitalism as a whole.