Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

The New International, January 1945

David Coolidge

Negroes and the Revolution

Resolution of the Political Committee


From The New International, Vol. XI No. 1, January 1945, pp. 7–13
Transcribed and marked up by Damon Maxwell for ETOL.


For the furtherance of its revolutionary aims and in order to extend its proletarian orientation to the most exploited section of the population, the Workers Party must turn its face resolutely to the Negro masses in the United States.

The Negroes are a race of toilers; the most oppressed and proscribed group in the country. But despite the most loathsome discrimination and the most barbaric treatment accorded human beings in any civilized country, the Negroes have revealed no tendency to submit to this mistreatment. After 300 years of debasement the Negroes continue to strive for their democratic rights.

As workers Negroes have ever been ready to enter the trade unions and join with the white workers in the struggle for the economic demands of labor.

The Negroes thus constitute a vast reservoir of potential revolutionary manpower. Here is a fruitful field not only for party recruiting, but also a force which under the inspiration of the Workers Party and the program of the labor movement, can give a great lift to the revolutionary forces and the advancement of the interests of the proletarian revolution.

The Blight of Slavery and the Struggle for Democratic Rights

The debasement of the Negro in the United States has its roots in slavery. Two and a half centuries of bondage placed a stigma on the Negro which even after several decades of freedom he has not been able to wipe away. While the Negro as human property was a means of capitalist accumulation for the English and the United States bourgeoisie, it was this same slavery which fastened on the Negro the stain of racial inferiority and forged the chains for holding him to the lowest social, economic and political status after emancipation. Not only this, but it was during slavery that what were in effect class divisions, were established among Negroes. This was based on the difference of status which obtained between a half million free Negroes with $50,000,000 in property in 1860 and the Negro slaves in the fields and swamps. It was a cleavage between men of property, who had visions of getting on in the world, and the propertyless slave whose main and all-possessing aim was to cease to be nothing more than a piece of property.

Another division was established in slavery which laid the basis for caste distinctions among Negroes. This was the system of concubinage, cohabitation between master and slave woman. The result of this type of race mixing was the degradation of the slave woman, the degeneration of family life and the emergence of a mulatto caste which often considered itself superior to the black Negroes.

This offspring was either freed or retained on the plantation as house servants. The fact that these slaves did not work in the fields, and lived and ate at the “big house,” set them apart as a caste and engendered in them a feeling of superiority over the Negroes from the fields and the cabins. Among the house servants and the favorites of the slave owners divisions were created, often based on color, which carried over after emancipation.

The mass of Negroes, however, initiated during the slave days a struggle for democratic rights. The slave insurrections, the passage to freedom over the underground railway the desertions to the Union army, were all blows struck by the Negro for liberation and the opportunity to function as free men in a world of free human beings.

The Negro After Emancipation

After emancipation the freemen were thrown immediately into competition for jobs with Northern white labor and the poverty-stricken white workers of the South. The black slave rebel-lions were in the past and the freeman was ready for integration into the life of the nation under the aegis of bourgeois-democratic abolition humanitarianism. But the integration did not take place. Expanding Northern capitalism was more interested in economic penetration of the South than in the equalitarian notions of the abolition-democracy. The Negro was turned over to the erstwhile slave owners with their Black Codes and KKK. In return the way was cleared for the new Northern finance-industrial bourgeoisie to begin the economic exploitation of the South.

The difficulties of the freemen were intensified by the indifference or downright hostility of the new trade union organizations and white labor. The stage was set in this period for barring the Negro from industry, from the benefits of union membership and from the simple democratic rights promised him in the Constitution and the 14th and 16th amendments.

The Northern bourgeoisie found a new role for the ex-slave to play: a unique role. The Negro was assigned the function of a special labor reserve. The presence in the country of nearly five million freedmen, untrained and illiterate, was a boon to the young system of “free enterprise” just beginning the conquest of the North American continent. Thus began the triple oppression of the Negro: exploitation as a wage-earner, economic robbery as a Negro, and political and social inequality.

The conscious plan of the Northern bourgeoisie was to hold the Negro in reserve in the lowest paid and meanest jobs, and then to inculcate in him the belief that his plight was due wholly to the antagonism of the white workers or to some sort of inferiority of the Negro which unfitted him for anything but the dirtiest and heaviest labor.

It was the definite intention of the Northern bourgeoisie to provide capitalist enterprise with a mass of cheap labor; a group that could be fitted into an hierarchical scheme: Negroes, poor white common labor, white skilled labor. This plan also envisaged the use of the Negro as a strike-breaker and a constant threat, to be used at will, to frustrate the social, economic and political presumptions of white labor.

Thus did Northern capitalism begin its post-Civil War career of exploitation and robbery. Thus the bourgeoisie drew white labor into its net, incited fratricidal warfare between white and black workers and laid the foundations for the continued misery and exploitation of the proletarian masses; white and black, North, South, East and West.

The political apex of the structure of bourgeois rule was the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, the Northern bourgeoisie with its Southern comprador underlings, and the Northern abolition-democracy. The Negro masses followed the Northern bourgeois liberals and the petty bourgeois Negro politicians into the Republican Party, where they remained until the New Deal revolt of 1932.

It is not difficult to understand how and why the newly emancipated Negroes turned to the Republicans. This was the way it looked to the ex-slaves. They were not acquainted with the intricacies and ramifications of slavery and the slave trade, and the participation of the North in this trade. Neither could they have understood that the Republican Party was first of all the political instrument of the Northern finance-industrial bourgeoisie and that this class was primarily interested in control and domination of the national resources and the national market. This was illustrated, for instance, in the infamous Compromise of 1876, in its attitude toward the Homestead Acts and the conniving at the grabbing of the public domain by the railroads and their raiding of the national and state treasuries.

The perfidious treatment of the Negro was also occasioned by the desire of the Northern bourgeoisie to placate the Southern leadership, establish the ex-slave barons as an appendage of Northern capitalism to the end that the Southern market and natural resources would be available to Northern enterprise and investment. In the political sphere the Republican Party became the administrative and managerial agency of the bourgeoisie for effecting this transformation.

The Freedmen and the Labor Movement

The vicissitudes and struggles accompanying slavery had thrown up a militant group of Negroes who took their places at the forefront of the fight for Negro rights in the uncertain days following emancipation. Their leaders were of two types: Republican politicians and office holders, and the embryonic trade unionists. Douglass and Langston were symbols of the former and Myers, Downing and Martin as well as Douglass (who at one time was president and his son secretary of the Colored National Labor Union) of the latter. That Douglass and Langston were in the CNLU did not mean that all of these men had the same outlook on the questions affecting the masses of Negroes. In fact, the difference in attitude of the two groups resulted in Negroes being led to petty bourgeois politics and into the web of the Republican Party. This was a triumph for the petty bourgeois ideology of the Negro leadership and the capitalist ideology of the Northern abolition-democracy.

This conflict between the inchoate economic viewpoint of the Negro trade unionists and the conscious political ideas of the Negro politicians was carried over to the relations between the Colored National Labor Union and the National Labor Union. The NLU leaders were opposed to the Republican Party and inclined toward the Populist propaganda. Such political heterodoxy was anathema to the Negro politicians. The controversy reached a climax in 1872 when the CNLU passed a resolution repudiating the NLU.

This action was not due alone to differences in political outlook. It is reasonable to believe that if the NLU had not been so lukewarm on the matter of the admission of Negroes and had put up a fight against the anti-Negro forces in the labor movement, the views of a man like Downing might have prevailed in the CNLU. Downing had already taken the position that the Republicans should have been more consistent and harder in dealing with the enemy. He appealed to Negro and white labor to work together in the cause of labor. He also expressed the opinion once that the economic problems which the Negro faced were more fundamental than political activity.

The next phase of the Negro’s relation to organized labor was in connection with the Knights of Labor. The KL was the first trade union which took an unequivocal and unambiguous position on the Negro. It stood for the complete assimilation of the Negro worker into the labor movement. In all about 60,000 Negroes became members of the Knights.

The KL, however, with its all-inclusiveness and rather hazy notions about contemporary capitalism, the class structure of bourgeois society and the prominence of the skilled worker, could not compete successfully with the AFL. The very fact that the KL decided to include the Negro and the common white working masses only added to its difficulties and was one of the causes of its decline and disintegration. The KL leaders did not understand that in this period the skilled artisan was the decisive section of labor, that the AFL was seeking control of the labor market, basing itself on the skilled worker. The AFL was not only opposed to taking in Negroes but was indifferent to the plight of the unskilled white worker.

This was the apostasy of the labor movement: its indifference to and misunderstanding of the question of the Negro as a proletarian question that could not be handled by labor after the pattern of the bourgeoisie. The failure of the white workers to realize the meaning of what Marx was talking about when he said that labor in a white skin could never be free so long as labor in a black skin was enslaved, was the great tragedy of the Civil War and post-Civil War days. The fact that white labor left the freedmen unprotected from the designs of the industrial bourgeois political dictators was a guarantee for the spoliation of the Negro people that was to proceed unchecked for decades after emancipation.

The abolition-democracy which essayed the role of defender of the Negro was a part of the Northern bourgeoisie and in full ideological support of capitalism. It is probable that a large part of the support of the main economic ideas of the new capitalist enterprisers and financiers came from the abolition-democracy. They were the propaganda shock troops of the anti-slavery North. In addition to their support of capitalism they were firm believers in the rights of man and human equality. They were themselves, and also the foreparents of the philanthropists who established schools, churches and missions all over the South for the Negro. On the matter of Northern philanthropy, Spero and Harris have the following to say in The Black Worker: “White Northern philanthropy by accepting the Southern doctrine of racial separation became a powerful instrument for fortifying ‘white supremacy’ and ‘keeping the Negro in his place.’”

The consequence of all these untoward events was to place the Negro on the fringes of industry and determine his treatment as a pariah for seven decades after emancipation. This means that Negroes were left to fend for themselves and to protect themselves against a young, vigorous and predatory bourgeoisie bent on enriching itself by the shortest route possible. Thus for seventy years the Negro was debased by a bourgeois-democratic government apparatus and locked out by an organized labor movement gripped by the most stupid policy of class collaboration yet seen in the New-World.

This was the lot of a group which had been in bondage for 250 years, which had produced courageous, daring and militant journalists and insurrectionists, which had fought heroically in Northern armies and exposed itself to the most inhuman retaliation from slave owners; they were refused a place among labor which was rightfully theirs. The Negroes were denied the right – which they had earned – to contribute their loyalty, faith, courage and their numbers for the further enrichment of the great heritage of the world labor movement.

In the face of this situation the Negro masses were well-nigh helpless. Unorganized, untutored and misled, socially degraded, sold over the political bargain counter and industrially ostracized, they were safely delivered to the leading political organ of the bourgeoisie and locked out by a labor movement that could and should have taken the lead in fighting for their freedom. It should be emphasized that Negroes were ready and willing to enter the labor movement. They proved this by the thousands who joined the Knights of Labor, by their continuous gestures at forming all-Negro unions, by their support of the IWW and finally by their rush into the CIO when it came on the scene. After the debacle and betrayal of the Reconstruction Period, the freedman found himself pushed into a definitely inferior social position. He had passed from chattel slavery through a brief period of political exaltation to the status of an oppressed race with a civil and social status comparable to that of the Jews in Czarist Russia or in fascist Germany today.

The short-lived block between the plundering Northern bourgeoisie and the Negro was broken and the Negroes were cast asunder. This bourgeoisie, keeping its eye on the fat profits to accrue from industrial exploration of the South turned the Negroes over to Southern rapine. The Negro was a freed slave; he was branded with this mark, stigmatized and prepared for super-exploitation and robbery. This was easy because the color of his skin told the story.

The Negro, of course, did not understand these things. When he saw that his own class did not want him he turned to the class enemy and the real culprit in the drama: the Northern bourgeoisie. Willing as always, to sow seeds of discord in the working class, Northern capitalists made the most of the Negro’s importunity – which the capitalists themselves had engineered. They posed as friends of the Negro, building schools and churches and establishing funds and foundations for Negro welfare. Booker Washington said that in slavery the black worker looked to his master for protection against the poor white. After emancipation, he looked to his employer for protection against the hostile white worker.

Today, even in the midst of the war, which its defenders say is a war against fascism and for democracy, the Negro is con-fronted with the denial of democratic rights, the persistence of his inferior status and the necessity to struggle for social, political and economic equality. The Negro people are still faced with the problem of bringing themselves up to the level of the white workers. This has served to bring home to the Negro not only the necessity for examining the meaning of bourgeois democracy in the United States but the validity of the claim that he should support the war.

This struggle for democratic rights is not a struggle against the backward sectionalism of the South nor the rampant anti-Negro attitudes of that section but a consistent struggle against a national policy of Jim Crow. It would be a serious political error for the party or the Negroes to fall prey to the illusion that this is even mainly a problem of the South. While there are important and significant differences between the North and the South, the differentiation is not basic. What is significant is that in both sections, in the country at large, the Negro is looked upon as inferior and given a status of second-class citizen.

It is this group disability which constitutes the Negro an op-pressed race: this denial of social, political and economic equality. The crudest manifestations of Negro oppression: terroristic practices, Negro-baiting, mob law and lynching are but the continuation by other means of the non-violent Jim Crow policy of the national bourgeoisie and the federal government.

The party must participate in this struggle for democratic rights in a practical way. This means for the party and its members to support and work in all movements that have for their purpose the elevation of the Negro to the same level as other racial minorities in the country; to the same level which has been attained by the white proletariat.

This struggle must not be placed in the same category as the general struggles of the working class for democratic rights. This would be a false approach that could only be taken by those totally ignorant of the dual disability of the American Negro. Neither should the party or the Negroes be guided by the reformist dictum that the only struggle against Jim Crow is a direct struggle for socialism. The WP rejects this social-democratic and reformist cringing before the bourgeois conspirators and the misguided white proletarian purveyors of hate and class disunity. For the Negro now, the first stage in the struggle for socialism lies through the struggle for democratic rights: the struggle to bring himself socially to the stage the white worker has reached.

The WP does not consider the struggle for democratic rights an end in itself. The party does not look upon Negro or mixed organizations formed for leading this struggle as ends in themselves, to be permanently maintained and useful in all situations and in all circumstances. While the party is positive and sincere in its demands for Negro equality, urging the Negro to carry on the fight ceaselessly and relentlessly, the party has its own correct Marxian outlook and aims: the consolidation of the whole proletariat, irrespective of race, color or nationality.

The main strategy of the WP in the struggle for democratic rights and in the Negro organization is to promote the class independence of the Negro proletarian masses from the petty bourgeois and bourgeois Negroes. We seek to win the Negro toilers to the class struggle, class consciousness, the struggle for socialism and the Workers Party. In the concrete circumstances, the ordeal of agitation for democratic rights and the economic struggle of the Negro proletarians in the trade unions is provided the best means for bringing the Negro workers into class struggle and class consciousness. The party will have as its aim, therefore, the transformation of this struggle into the struggle for complete workers democracy.

In view of these considerations the WP will approach Negroes and Negro organizations with an appeal directed primarily to the proletarians. Our aim is to break the wage earners away from the stultifying, defeatist, class-collaborationist Negro leadership. This is the first step in creating a class rupture between the proletarian Negroes and the Negro leader clique, servitors of the white bourgeoisie.

Also it is necessary to break the Negro masses away from their leadership as a prerequisite to breaking them away from the bourgeois parties. This leadership holds the Negro in the camp of bourgeois politics today just as did the Negro politicians and office-holders in the Reconstruction period, and with far less justification It is necessary to effect this break if the Negro workers are to be won to support of the Labor Party. While the tendency of the Negroes in the union will be toward joining hands with the white workers for independent political action, such action will be greatly retarded if the Negroes remain under the influence of their present leadership, black and white.

The masses of the Negroes today are triply deluded. They are beguiled by white politicians, traduced by the industrial overlords and misled by the Negro leaders, lieutenants of the politico-economic general staff of the bourgeoisie. Herein lies the danger of uncritical support of organizations, even the best of them, fighting for democratic rights. Under the present leadership, white or Negro, the struggle is and will be carried on entirely within the framework of bourgeois democracy and capitalism. The program of this leadership does not include a struggle against capitalism, now or in the future. This in itself will throw the proletarian Negroes into conflict with their leaders and open the way for the propaganda of the Workers Party. It is the task of the party therefore to steer the Negro proletarians to the labor movement and toward organic unity in class struggle with the white proletariat.

While the struggle for socialism and against capitalism is implicit in the demand for equality, it is at the same time – in a sense – a struggle for immediate demands. This is especially true so far as the thinking of the masses of Negroes goes. This is demonstrated in the manner in which their demands are concretized. They make demands for jobs, for promotion to skilled classifications, for equality of treatment in the military service, against separate accommodation and against residential segregation. While even violent struggles may take place around such issues, the aim of the WP must be to lead the struggle for democratic rights^ out of these narrow confines just as the party aims to do in the wider arena of the whole working class struggle.

The strategy and tactics of the revolutionists must be to liquidate the ideological influence of the present Negro and white leadership of the Negro masses and to replace this leadership with a militant leadership at least moving in the direction of class consciousness. Concretely this could only be a leadership supplied from the trade unions or the WP.

The organized struggle of the Negroes for their democratic rights has a long and continuous history. The first organizations were concerned with emancipation. Most of these societies were mixed groups. Negroes carried on some independent activity in small organizations of their own. Today there are a multitude of organizations, committees, commissions and groups concerned with this problem. The oldest and most outstanding from the point of view of longevity, clarity of program and aim is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The earliest organization, however, which has had a continuous existence is the Negro church. Notable among this type of organization is the African Methodist-Episcopal Church which was formed during slavery by ex-slaves and completely organized and administered by Negroes.

It is relevant to mention the Negro church in this connection because it has always been more than a religious institution. It played a social role in the life of the Negro and functioned also as an uplift organization. At times it has participated in political blocs and in economic activity.

The NAACP mentioned above is an organization which operates to secure and protect the civil rights of Negroes. It is com-posed of both Negro and white liberals. White liberals are prominent in the leadership of the organization and have been from its beginning. It functions through propaganda, investigation and re-sort to the courts in cases where the constitutional and legal rights of the Negro have been violated. Outstanding in its achievements was the investigating and securing of first-hand information in connection with lynching and lynchings.

The National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes took as its sphere of activity improvement in the employment, housing and recreational facilities for Negroes. It appeals to big industrialists to hire Negroes and to accord them more equitable treatment in the matter of up-grading.

While there are many differences between the Urban League and the NAACP in program and functioning, the dominant opinion in both organizations is wielded by petty bourgeois persons. In the NAACP it is the white and black liberal intellectual and in the case of the Urban League it is either the less conservative white business man or outright reactionaries who have been convinced that it is to their interest to hire Negroes.

Both of these organizations today concern themselves primarily with questions raised by the war: the employment and up-grading of Negroes and the matter of discrimination in the military services, in industry, and in housing. The program of both organizations are proposals for the solution of the problem of the Negro and his democratic rights within the framework of bourgeois democratic and capitalist enterprise. They ask only that Negroes be granted their constitutional rights and that they be given a chance a prove their “loyalty” to the country and their fitness to. take their place in industry.

In recent years it has become evident to the leaders of both the Urban League and the NAACP that they were not keeping pace with the demands made by Negroes and, under pressure, a slight reorientation has been noticed. In the case of the NAACP, it begins to broaden its activity somewhat. This organization has discovered to some extent that something more than the technical procedure of the courts is necessary. In various cities from time to time picket lines have been organized by the local branches. On the whole, however, their militancy remains a petty bourgeois brand of militancy. This manifests itself in the seeming inability of the NAACP to recognize that Negroes are predominantly a race of toilers and that for greater effectiveness it would be necessary to base itself primarily among the Negro proletarians.

While the Urban League is less reactionary than it was in an earlier day, it nevertheless remains tied to the corporations which gave it the bulk of its funds. In many cities the League is a member of the Community Fund which, of course, is controlled by boards composed of corporation officials. With the trend of Negroes toward the labor movement, the League has also learned at least to give lip service to organized labor and doesn’t aid in the supplying of Negro strikebreakers for which it was severely criticized a few years back.

The upsurge of the Negro in the past decade and his entrance into the labor movement indicated the need for a different type of organization; an organization of the Negro masses with a militant program. Concrete evidence that the mass of Negroes were not satisfied with the program of the elder organizations and the 100 per cent pro-war attitude of the Negro leadership was the out-spoken discontent and resentment which supported the formation of the March on Washington Movement.

The MOW was at first visualized and advertised as a militant mass movement of protest against Jim Crow and discrimination, particularly in the armed forces. The leaders of the MOW, however, with the exception of Randolph, being from Negro and Negro-white petty bourgeois organizations, with jobs to protect, soon turned the movement away from its militant beginnings into a sort of pacifist do-nothing organization. Before this stage was reached, however, most of the original Negro leadership in the MOW had withdrawn. They could not reconcile the maintenance of their petty bourgeois prestige and job holding with a militant movement of the Negro masses.

Randolph remained the leader of the organization, but the contradiction between his outspoken and persistent defense of the war and the interests of the Negro masses made it impossible for him to do anything concrete in carrying out the original purposes of the MOW.

All of the Negro organizations, including the MOW, therefore, were broken on the question of the imperialist war. There is no organization among the Negroes today of any appreciable prestige and leadership that carries on a militant struggle for democratic rights. There is need for such an organization, but if it is to serve the interests of the masses of Negroes such an organization will have to be led by militant Negro workers of the trade union movement. Such an organization to be really effective must have the support of the organized labor movement. Militant Negroes who become active in such an organization will not be able to play a proper role unless they understand clearly that it is imperative that they differentiate themselves from the class collaborationists and pro-war attitude not only of the trade union bureaucracy but of the top leadership in the ranks of the Negroes.

The Communist Party, despite its pro-war stand and its complete reversal of its former position of militant leader of the struggles of the Negro, still maintains appreciable influence among Negroes. This is particularly noticeable in the trade union movement. Here where the CP has well organized forces they have been able to corral hundreds of Negro proletarians.

This is a matter for the WP to give especial attention to in the future The Negroes can be won away from the CP and its influence if the party is able to accelerate its propaganda activity and expose the CP politically and organizationally.

The Role of the Working Class in the Struggle for Democratic Rights

Throughout history, the main current in the struggle for democratic rights for the oppressed has been the organizations of the toilers. This holds no less today than for the past. Consequently the Negroes in the U.S. must lay their case before the trade unions. Not as outsiders seeking a united, front but from the in-side as an integral and integrated part of the labor movement. Here the Negro proletarians will be caught up in the basic struggles of labor, they will have opportunity to pose the question of democratic rights for the Negro as a part of the struggle for the emancipation of the whole working class. And here too for the first time Negroes will be consciously a component of active and organized class struggle.

The organized labor movement must join in this struggle of the Negro for democratic rights. This is imperative for the labor movement today: this herculean task of increasing class solidarity, of bringing intra-class peace in the ranks of the proletariat. This is a prerequisite for the formation of the working class into a movement against the common oppressor. With such a step the organized labor movement can go a long way toward wiping out the blot placed on labor’s escutcheon by the shabby and shameful treatment labor has accorded the Negro since emancipation. Furthermore giving help and assistance to the Negro can correctly be equated with the struggle of the white worker for the preservation and enlargement of his own freedom.

The white worker must take the lead and the offensive in the struggle for the Negro’s democratic rights. This does not mean that the Negroes sit back and wait on the white workers. Already there has been far too much indifference on the part of the Negroes in the matter of leading and pushing white workers into action in behalf of the Negroes. If they remain true to the great traditions of the world labor movement, the white proletarians in the United States will not hold back and leave the brunt of the battle to those least able to carry the load. The white workers are strongly organized, they have had ages of experience and they are powerful. On the other hand, no matter how great their courage and determination, the Negroes are organizationally, financially and numerically weak in comparison with the white workers, and woefully and pitifully weak in the face of present-day capitalism.

The Workers Party must point out to the white workers that they have in the past and still do occupy a preferential position based on the social degradation of the Negro. Over against the Negroes and climbing up on their backs, the white workers have become a sort of aristocracy of labor in this country. A labor movement thus divided against itself, shot through with distrust, suspicion and hatred, can never hope to win its liberation from wage slavery or hold back the hordes of fascism that may appear one day to deepen the slavery of the whole American proletariat.

The struggle for democratic rights must become and remain an integral part of the class struggle in the U.S. Negroes can only attain the strength and confidence necessary to break through the thick walls of Jim Crow to the degree that they are supported by and integrated into the working class and its organizations. To place the main burden of this fight on the Negroes separated from the white workers, or on Negro organizations, no matter how militant, outside the labor movement, is only to wish and dream and send the Negroes out to certain defeat.

The Workers Party will not be indifferent to the militancy of the Negro in his own behalf, neither will it denigrate his heroism. These things will be accorded their proper place, as they deserve. But, on the other hand, the party will not exalt the social, political and economic weakness of the Negro, nor be blind to the low economic status of the Negro. This is not the Marxian way nor the correct way to come to the aid of the Negro masses.

The demand of the WP for social, political and economic equality for Negroes is not directed primarily at the bourgeoisie. It is not merely a slogan for attracting Negroes to the party. The slogan is addressed directly to the white proletariat: to the white workers in the organised labor movement. The party says to the white workers that the Negroes have already initiated and carried on the struggle for their democratic rights against terrific opposition; even the opposition of white labor. It is now the duty and the responsibility of white labor to step out in front, take the lead and throw its full weight into the fight.

The white workers North and South have not yet grasped the meaning and the significance of the proscription and defiling of the Negro people. White workers do not understand the relationship between Jim Crow as practiced on the Negro and their own precarious condition in capitalist society. They have failed to realize that the achievement of democratic rights by the Negro people and the integration of the Negro worker into the labor movement are a necessary condition for labor solidarity without which even the white workers themselves cannot protect their living standards or make any appreciable advance in social progress.

The main offenders in this respect have been the craft unions. On the whole they have been anti-Negro. Their history in connection with the Negro has been astoundingly reactionary. The main responsibility for the anti-union feeling developed by Negroes can be placed largely at the feet of the AFL craft unions and the rail-way brotherhoods. The attitude of these craft unions made it possible for Negro demagogues, politicians and leaders to create an anti-union feeling among Negro workers. The exclusionist policy of the craft unions furthermore aided employers in their schemes for winning the Negroes to their side, for using Negroes as strike-breakers and in setting up company groups and unions composed of Negroes only.

While the CIO is officially free from these Jim Crow discriminatory attitudes, this organization has not been able yet to purge its locals of these practices. The industrial union movement has not won over large sections of this membership to the practice of equality for the Negro worker.

The white workers in the United States have not freed them-selves from white chauvinism and white chauvinist notions and habits. Tremendous progress has been made, particularly in the CIO but a big job remains to be done. All too frequently the capitalist press carries stories about strikes of white workers who are objecting to the hiring of Negroes, to their being placed in “white departments” or to the upgrading of Negroes.

The more advanced white and black workers have before them the urgent and important task of educating their white brothers out of this anti-labor and anti-Working class attitude and practice. This must be a special task the revolutionary workers must take for themselves.

White chauvinism among the white workers is based on their indoctrination by the ruling class with the idea that they belong to a superior race and that the Negroes are an inferior race. White workers holding to such beliefs fail to recognize or understand that the problems faced by the working class do not arise out of the so-called racial divisions of mankind but from the class divisions in capitalist society and that classes cut across any alleged boundaries between races, creeds, color, sex or nationality. The difficulties faced by white workers are at bottom identical with those faced by Negro workers and all workers. They are the problems of an oppressed and exploited class seeking to hold its own and make its way against the capitalist exploiters. The class struggle can know no color line nor make any compromise whatsoever with any doctrine of superior and inferior race. The class-conscious white workers, in the unions and elsewhere, will maintain extreme vigilance against every manifestation of white chauvinism and racial discrimination. The class-conscious white worker, man and woman, will fight for complete economic, social and political equality for the Negro, in the union and in every phase of national life.

Black Chauvinism and Negro Nationalism

The WP is not unaware that Negroes have been indoctrinated with ideas of racial separation, racial sufficiency and racial autarchy. These dogmas have paraded under a banner labelled “race consciousness.” The most extreme form of this is promulgated by the advocates of black chauvinism or Negro nationalism.

The root evil of black chauvinism, as of all chauvinism, is disregard of class lines, class distinctions and class struggle. With the Negro today this provides a base for the perpetuation of the present Negro leadership, making more difficult the integration of the Negro proletarians into the labor movement and thus leaving them the private prey of the bourgeoisie. The advocacy of black chauvinism is to say, in effect, that Negroes can win their battle alone, that they are sufficient unto themselves, or at least that they shall strive for such a consummation in the economic, political and social spheres.

We have said that not even the struggle for democratic rights can be divorced or separated from class struggle. But this is what black chauvinism proposes to do. The theory of black chauvinism lumps the Negro proletarian masses together with the Negro compradore bourgeoisie and turns the struggle into a race struggle under the leadership of the Negro bourgeois and petty bourgeois. Black chauvinism, in practice, provides no way for the separation of the Negro working class from its reformist and reactionary black leadership. Black chauvinism provides- no way for the revolutionary Negroes to separate, themselves from the reactionary leadership and lead the Negro masses in militant struggles. The theory of black chauvinism builds an unscalable wall between the Negro workers and the white proletariat and perpetuates the present atomization of the working class.

In 1922, writing against the attitude of the white workers to the Negro, Comrade Trotsky said:

“The fight against this policy must be taken up from different sides, and conducted on different lines. One of the most important branches of this conflict consists in enlightening the proletarian consciousness by awakening the feeling of human dignity and of revolutionary protest among the black slaves of American capital. This work can be carried out by self-sacrificing and politically-educated revolutionary Negroes. Needless to say, the work is not to be carried on in a spirit of Negro chauvinism – but in the spirit of solidarity of all exploited without consideration of color.” (Quoted from M.S., Communism and the Negro)

While the Workers Party rejects all black chauvinist doctrines and conceptions as incompatible with the principles of class struggle and revolutionary Marxism, the party makes it clear that this is not a judgment against the righteous and justifiable anger of the Negro masses against their white oppressors, exploiters and calumniators. The party will not more condemn the Negro masses for this attitude than it would condemn the Jews of Czarist Russia or of fascist Germany for lashing out against their detractors and oppressors. By the same token the party will not join with reaction to condemn white workers who might vent their wrath in most violent manner against the police, the city jail or a particularly vicious employer. If the occasion should arise for a depressed group of white Gentile workers to express anger and hatred at Jewish landlords or Jewish capitalist employers with a record of extreme oppression we should certainly not condemn them as white chauvinists or anti-Semites. In the same way we do not talk of black chauvinism when Negroes express similar sentiments or behave in a similar manner.

The party understands these manifestations of anger and reprisal among all the oppressed. The WP will seek to guide this indignation of the exploited and downtrodden of all races and groups into organized manifestation of class struggle and orient them into effective class solidarity revolutionary channels. This is not the program of chauvinism, white or black.

It is particularly imperative that this attempt be made in the case of the Negro in the U. S. because if the Party cannot guide the Negroes into harmonious relations with the white workers the result might well be a fratricidal blood bath that would defeat the proletarian revolution.

In the place of the dissemination of black chauvinist notions, it is the duty and responsibility of the revolutionary party to win the Negro and white workers to an appreciation of proletarian dignity, honor and morality. It is the further duty of revolutionists to set their faces grimly against every manifestation of injustice perpetrated against any section of the working class, no matter from whatever source the offense may come. Therefore while we temper our judgment of Negroes when they strike out blindly against white workers, we will not glorify such acts. We seek to understand them, to explain them to the white workers and seek their aid in removing the causes behind such outbursts. We must do this even though our act brings the party into conflict with the opinions of the white and Negro workers. To act otherwise would make mockery of our proletarian revolutionary principles and be a blow against the proletarian revolution.

In contradistinction to black chauvinist notions, the WP will support and in its own way attempt to encourage Negroes to respect in life those aspects of their past which are significant for progress as well as emulation of the Negro martyrs who gave their sweat, blood and their lives for Negro liberation. We see these struggles, and so say to Negroes, as one more segment of the ages-long struggle of the oppressed against the oppressor. This is particularly relevant in the case of the black leaders of the slave rebellions: those militant Negroes who through their experience had assimilated the lesson, albeit in a primitive way, that slavery nor any other form of oppression by a master class could be eliminated by peaceful means. In this very crude way these Negro slaves had absorbed the simple meaning of the class struggle.

It is necessary for the WP to emphasize to Negroes especially that the real continuers of the work of the pre-emancipation militants were the Negroes of Reconstruction who attempted trade-union organization. These men were a hundred times more correct than were the Negro politicians and office holders of the day, who made the freed slaves an appendage of the Republican Party. The Negroes who stand today in the line of succession are the militant Negroes of the labor movement and the Negroes of the revolutionary political movement. These are the real and rightful in-heritors of the tradition of Attucks and Gabriel and Tubman.

The Negro as Potential Revolutionary Force

The Workers Party is fully aware that the Negro in the U.S. is a force of definite revolutionary potentiality. This political appraisal flows from the proletarian and semi-proletarian character of the Negro race, his role and place in capitalist society, his continuous expression of resentment against his oppression and his tendency to enter into alliance with the other workers and sink his racial identity in the general struggles of the proletariat. It must be stressed over and over to the Negro that the full value of his potentialities can only be realized in connection with the struggles of the white workers: with the black and white proletarians fused in the heat of the class struggle.

With these conceptions in mind, the WP girds itself for winning the Negro proletarians away from the influence of the bourgeoisie, to the WP and to Marxism. Through the struggle for democratic rights, through the struggle in unions for economic justice we will strive to attract the weight of the Negro masses to socialism and to enthusiastic support of the workers’ state.

On Self-Determination

Despite all the efforts of the WP, the Negroes in the U.S. might conceivably express the demand for separation and the establishment of their own nation. This demand is implicit in the theory of black chauvinism. We believe on what we hold to be sound grounds that such a demand is unlikely. Considering the whole history of the Negro objectively: his constant agitation to become integrated into the social, political and economic life of the nation; there is no cogent reason to believe that the masses of Negroes would want to risk existence in any society less democratic than the proletarian state. It is extremely unlikely that the op-pressed Negroes after observing the struggles of the working class for freedom and after being participants in that struggle, would choose to separate themselves from those who had fought and died for social, economic and political equality for the Negroes.

All the manifest tendencies of Negroes today, especially the proletarians, are in the other direction. As the regular Negro proletarians and the new Negro wage earners enter the factories and take their places in the trade union struggles they reveal a marked tendency away from separation and all ideas of racial separatism. It would be strange, indeed, and the Negro would be a strange phenomenon, if this were not so. It is the bounden duty of the WP to further this development to complete integration and assimilation.

However, if, despite our efforts, the Negroes should demand political independence, the WP guided by the Bolshevik position on self-determination, would approve such a course; provided, how-ever, that such a course did not violate wider principles of workers’ democracy and provided also that such a demand was not made under conditions that would jeopardize the existence of the workers state and throw the Negroes themselves defenseless into the clutches of counter-revolutionary imperialist forces.

The theory and politics of self-determination apply primarily and specifically to nations and groups with well-defined national characteristics. Any scientific criterion for the concept “nation” must be able to show that the people to whom the term is applied have a common language and a separate territory. They must be voluntarily bound to this territory and have developed a body of distinguishable mores and traditions. This is to say that there must be something than can be called a separate culture. This is not the ease with the Negro in the U.S.

Whatever position the WP might take in the future when a concrete demand for self-determination arose, we are not now and will not be advocates of self-determination. To be an advocate of self-determination is to become an advocate of a subtle but vicious form of Jim Crow and segregation. In essence it is a recrudescence of the colonization plans of Civil War days.

We are and remain advocates of the unity of the working class: the fellowship of all the proletarians in the class struggle, the gathering together of all the working class for the coming assault on capitalism and the establishment of the workers’ state. This is our aim and the party resolves to hold steadfast and win the Negroes to our side.

The Negro Is a Racial Minority

The theory that the Negro in the United States is a nation was first promulgated in this country by the CP after the meeting of the Stalinized Sixth Congress. (A few Negro charlatans had been talking for years about Ethiopia stretching out her hand some day in the future.) It was at this Congress that the Stalinists devised their fantastic slogan of self-determination in the Black Belt. In order to give foundation to this opportunist Jim Crow scheme the Comintern declared the Negro a nation within the framework of a definition of “nation” which had been given by Stalin. Stalin said that “a nation is a historically developed, lasting identity of language, territory, economic life, and psychology, manifesting itself in identity of culture.” The American Stalinists had great difficulty in making this fit the Negro in the U.S. but their theoreticians finally emerged with the following gem:

“It was during this period [1877–1917] that the Black Belt took on all the characteristics of a nation. A common language, territory, culture, traditions had already been achieved. These continued: the territory of the Black Belt remained a territory of Negro majority, despite the migrations to the North. There now developed a common economic life; the group developed market relations and class differentiation among itself. It now became possible for a Negro to hire a Negro, fire a Negro, buy from a Negro, sell to a Negro.”

The only designation for the Negro in the U.S. that even approaches anything that can be called scientific accuracy is to say that he is a racial minority or population. There are other racial minorities and populations: e.g., the Jews. The Negro is the largest of these racial minorities and the most oppressed and exploited.

The Struggle for Proletarian Unity

The big task before the WP is to seize on the opportunities presented by the plight of the Negro and his willingness to struggle against his condition, as a platform for revolutionary propaganda. Negroes must be recruited to the party. They must be prepared inside the party for political and organizational leadership. Not just for leadership among Negroes, although this is of the greatest urgency, but for party leadership and for leadership in the proletarian organizations. The party must disavow every manifestation, within its ranks or out, which in any degree whatsoever tends to relegate Negroes to a separate status or function as a race. Properly motivated and organized as a component of the politics of class struggle and revolution the party will be saved from mistakes in this activity.

The WP as a Marxist Party is interested at all times in the political and organizational conquest of the masses. The principles of Marxism are suitable no less for the Negro than for the white proletarians. The party stands on the threshold of great opportunities today. So far as the Negroes are concerned these opportunities are unparalleled in the history of the country. Negro membership in the labor movement has passed the half million mark. Negroes are more union conscious than ever before. Even the petty-bourgeois Negro organizations now support the labor movement. This includes the Urban League which during the Great Steel Strike of 1919 played the role of scab herder for U.S. Steel Corporation.

The white workers show a great tolerance and more evidence of class solidarity than ever before. The whole industrial union movement provides a greater support for the economic advancement of the Negro than he has ever experienced in the United States.

The decline of capitalist society culminating in the Second World Imperialist War, during which Negroes still find themselves subjected to the grossest social and economic indignities, offers opportunities to the WP that facilitate political propaganda among Negroes. Capitalist decline with its prolonged crisis, dislocations in industry and agriculture has been particularly severe on the Negro worker. The war has brought disillusionment and opposition from legions of Negroes. Here too is the opportunity to drive a wedge between the black proletarians and the petty-bourgeois black social-patriots.

The WP takes unto itself the responsibility for joining with all those forces genuinely striving for proletarian unity and intra-class peace in the U.S. Beside the white heroes of the labor movement we place the black martyrs. It is for us, the revolutionists, to lead the way: to make the white worker and the black worker see and understand that the time has now come for the struggle to be joined.

Unity of the black and white proletarians is a prerequisite for proletarian victory in the U.S. The whole superstructure of economic and political activity must be built on this foundation. Any other foundation is a base of sand, any other propaganda is a hollow promise and a clanking cymbal. Without this conjuncture of forces capitalism may well prove to be an irreducible fortress, holding on until the advent of fascism. This is especially true of the South, a place of the tensest hatreds and open sores. This section could become a shambles of inter-racial strife; the Negroes seeking revenge and the white proletarians going over to the rotten Southern bourgeoisie in self-defense.

The Negro militants have the opportunity not only to lead the black proletarians into class struggle but they can be a force for inspiring the most enlightened white workers to greater militancy and fortitude.

The party must stand prepared and ready always to take its proper place in the line of fire when the Negroes are under attack and when any of the oppressed are under fire. We direct our appeal especially to organized labor; they are our allies. We must be alert and ready to move against every racial and class barrier and obstruction. We must win over the white and black workers, arm them with our program and principles and inspire them to march arm in arm against the common foe.

The Third National Convention of the Workers Party resolves to carry on political work among Negroes in the spirit of this resolution and grounded in the principles herein set forth. The convention instructs the incoming National Committee to prosecute this political and organizational activity with all vigor consonant with the resources of the party and in harmony with the line of policy set forth in this resolution.

Top of page

Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 26 April 2015