Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Labor Action, 30 May 1949


Michel Salomon

An Interview in Paris with –

Richard Wright: On U.S. Politics


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 22, 30 May 1949, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Richard Wright, author of Native Son, Black Boy and many short stories, probably the best-known Negro writer in the United States, attended the “International Day Against War and Dictatorship” on April 30 in Paris, organized by the RDR (Rassemblement Démocratique Révolutionnaire – Revolutionary Democratic Assembly). As was reported in Labor Action last week, Wright took a forthright stand at this conference (together with Jean-Paul Sartre and Merleau-Ponty) against both American imperialism and Russian imperialism, distinguishing himself sharply from the pro-Washington flag-waving of Sidney Hook and James T. Farrell, the American delegates.

The following interview with Wright was transmitted to Labor Action from Paris by Michel Salomon and we publish it for our readers’ interest. It is translated from the French. – Ed.


“I agreed to participate personally in the RDR meeting,” Wright told me, “in order to make clear my disagreement with the American left.”

He smiled at me and carefully tapped the ash off his cigarette. Sitting there sunk down in his armchair, looking massive and slender at the same time, the author of Native Son is the prototype of those writers for whom social problems are not merely cold abstractions but questions of “human destiny.”

I asked him if there was any truth to the rumors of a coming split in the RDR between supporters and opponents of the Atlantic Pact. Wright immediately reassured me.

There are no split-differences, properly so called, in the French political movement known as the RDR – at least not to my knowledge. One likewise finds a rather substantial unity of viewpoint everywhere in Europe among the parties and movements which, like the RDR, are based on revolutionary socialism. It is, rather, a question of a fundamental difference between the European Left and what may be called the American Left.

“When the American delegates arrived in Paris, they expected that, like themselves, I would take a position resolutely in favor of the Marshall Plan and the Atlantic Pact. I immediately told them that my position on these questions – and on many others – was not the same as theirs.

“In fact, I maintain that the American Left, to a certain extent, is not completely free from anti-Semitism, from a discriminatory policy against Negroes, and from active collaboration with capitalism in many fields. The American trade unions are very different from the European unions. As far as social policy is concerned, they are at least a half century behind. The Europeans and the Americans may use the same words, but these words rarely have the same meaning here and there.

“The American Left is very little concerned with the class struggle. Its social demands are never political but simply aim, within the framework of the capitalist state, to ensure the wellbeing of the unionists through a compromise with the capitalist state.

“Moreover, the American Left is above all doctrinaire, wearing itself out in sterile ideological discussions, without understanding the deep-lying interests of the working masses. Thus it is that Sartre, for example, who is not a Marxist, is politically and concretely much more to the left than Sidney Hook, who proclaims to high heaven that he is an orthodox Marxist ...

Worked with Sartre

“Is that the only reason why you did not take the floor at the meeting?” “Yes! I spoke to Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, and they decided to abstain together with me, to support me. Sartre, who was recently in America, is also acquainted with this curious Left in that country. Since, however, we wanted to present our point of view to the conference, we sent a joint message.”

I tried to recall how this message read. It had followed the pro-Atlantic Pact declarations of James T. Farrell and of De Kadt; the latter was a Dutch delegate and one of the rare Europeans who took the side of the American wing:

“We condemn, for the same reasons, both the more or less disguised annexations in Eastern and Central Europe by the USSR, and the Atlantic Pact. It is by no means certain that this pact will slow up the coming of war. It may on the contrary hasten it. What is certain, on the other hand, is that, a little sooner dr a little later, it will contribute to make it inevitable.”

“Your declaration sounded a bit like the one which Paul Robeson made to the Communist Peace Partisans’ Conference ...”

Wright vehemently shook his head in denial.

About Paul Robeson

“Robeson claimed that if a war broke out between America and the Soviet Union, no American Negro would fight against the Soviets. Such assertions are not only dangerous but totally false. The American Negroes will fight for their country under any circumstances. That is my deep conviction, but I do not want to do what Robeson did – talk in the name of 13 million American Negroes when he was actually representing only the little circle around Wallace.”

Wright’s voice grew softer.

“I like Robeson very much – as a singer. He is a wonderful artist; he knows how to convey the humiliation and burning hope of the American Negro in his songs. There is also a kernel of truth in what he says.

“In the United States the Negroes represent a terrible reservoir of despair and bitterness. They have been disillusioned time and again; and Truman’s promises – which, personally, have never convinced me – will, like those of the other politicians before him, go into the cemetery of lost illusions. But the American Negroes will fight for the conquest of their civil rights within the traditional framework of the American parties and by their own means ...”

CP and the Negroes

“But don’t the Communist Party and Wallace’s crypto-Communists have a certain amount of attractive appeal for the Negroes?”

“You saw proof to the contrary in the last election. The American Negroes do not have a short memory. They know the Communists, their methods and their promises – in which no more reliance can be placed than on those of the bourgeois parties.

“During the war the American Communists did not oppose racial discrimination in the armed forces. They told the Negroes to tolerate everything, to have patience till the war ends. Meanwhile the Negroes were supposed to bend the neck before the stupidest of stupid Jim Crow practices. The Red Cross itself kept the blood of Negroes separate from the blood of whites.

“There were better aspects. The war drew a large number of Negroes into the industrial occupations. The Federal Employment War Service was created with the stipulation that there was to be no racial discrimination against any worker. Negroes began to participate actively in the trade-union life of the AFL and CIO, and did so in spite of the Communists, who prefer to see them disorganized and therefore more easily subject to CP control, In many of these cases, for example, when the Negroes got ready to make demands or go on strike, it was the Communists who denounced them to the FBI.”

Truman’s Promises

“What are the political perspectives before the American Negroes today, after Truman’s re-election?”

“If Truman does not repudiate his pre-election promises tomorrow or the day after, that is only because of the cold war now raging, if there is a settlement, if everything is arranged in Berlin and elsewhere, Truman will forget all about his statements.

“That does not mean that he will no longer be able to count on the loyalty of the Negro population, who do not expect American politicians to be consistent in fighting for their rights. The Negroes in the United States stand alone. They certainly do not reject alliances, find from all sides allies – and disinterested ones – are coming forward. They are beginning a long and hard struggle under the guidance of their political leaders and their intellectual elite. The Communists have ridiculed, for example, an organization as timid as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but this organization has done more for the colored people than all the virulent and flamboyant maneuvers of the Communists.”

”Let’s talk about you for a moment. All French progressives are happy to have you among us, and we are happy to see that you are at the side of Sartre and his friends in the struggle which counterposes freedom through socialism to various forms of concealed fascism. Have you any definite plans?”

Agrees with RDR

“I am a foreigner here and my collaboration with Sartre is limited to certain special fields. I cannot be a member of the RDR since it is not fitting for me to take part in questions of internal French politics. But I am in complete agreement with the RDR as far as its views on international questions are concerned.

“I am especially happy to be able to live in France, in a climate of liberty arid tolerance Where I can carry on my work. The question of liberty is posed much more in the United States than in Europe. To be sure, the individual has fewer obligations to the state; he is apparently freer; but a permanent pressure of coercion is brought to bear on him.

“Over there men are at the mercy of a public opinion which is manufactured by second-rate publicists, speakers on the radio, and leagues of righteousness. The influence of the intellectuals, which is so important here, is almost nil in the United States; there a wall of complete silence is erected around works which do not correspond with the ‘American way of life.’

“America demands the abdication of the personality in favor of its conventions. Besides, all the political parties stand for a discipline which also sacrifices the man to ideological coercion. I agree with Sartre, who thinks that the individual can do something by himself.

There Is a Solution

“I have no ready-made solution, but unless we are persuaded that there is one, we will never find any. I am against the pessimists; I have confidence in man. We need an ideology which proposes a new definition of the values which have made man what he is, and these values imply in the first place the idea of liberty.

“I have heard politicians, churchmen and party leaders say: ‘Follow me – I have a plan to solve your problems, but it will not give you liberty right away. Have patience, you must struggle, you must be organized, you must be disciplined; later you will also have liberty, but the struggle will be long and hard.’

“In my opinion, liberty is indivisible; it is acquired gradually, like something which one buys on the installment plan. At each stage, one enjoys a little more liberty, and this permits you to carry the struggle on more effectively. But it is not with methods which abolish liberty that we will struggle for liberty.”

Top of page

Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 3 August 2019