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H. Allen

Pearl Buck’s Theory of a “Racial War”

(June 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 22, 15 June 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In an article in the New York Times of May 31 entitled The Race Barrier That Must Be Destroyed, Pearl Buck, the novelist on the Orient, puts forward her solution for the “race problems” arising out of the imperialist war. She observes the discrimination and exploitation of the colonial peoples and sees all these peoples stirring as never before, in resentment against imperialist domination. And she asserts that the “colored man is no longer willing to endure his inferiority.” Her conclusion is that in the future the dominant white nations must “hew out our course not according to past lines of race and empire but along new lines of common humanity and cooperative equality.”

At no point in her long article does Miss Buck indicate what this “cooperative equality” looks like – so far as the masses of people are concerned. Their wages, hours of work, standard of living, political rights – of these she does not speak. Nor does she indicate how “cooperative equality” is to be achieved. Does cooperative equality mean socialism? Or does she mean by it capitalism along the lines of American “democracy”? The British style of “democracy” with ruthless colonial exploitation gives her some qualms. Besides, she implies, it is the United States, not Great Britain, which will decide the destiny of the colonial countries, assuming a United Nations victory. Thus, presumably, the “American way” (capitalist style) is what she would approve as a model, if only the American bourgeois order would lop off the “distressing” Jim Crow which bears an embarrassing resemblance to colonial exploitation and race superiority in the East.

Miss Buck writes:

“The plain fact of the matter is, and the sooner we realize it the better, that too many of the people of the East have not helped the people of the West in this war. The white man ... has been afraid to tell how desperate and hopeless it is ... If the Allies had been fully aided by the colonial population, Japan could have won no territory whatever.”

The statements are true. But apart from small groups in Burma, whom Japan has managed to buy over, the colonial peoples have not been stirred on behalf of the Japanese imperialists either.

Why not? If this is a “race war,” as Miss Buck indicates, why didn’t the masses of Singapore and Burma welcome their racial colored brothers (the Japanese) and aid them en masse in the struggle against British and Allied imperialism? Why don’t the teeming millions of the Indian people extend a hand of welcome to the Japanese and aid them in throwing off once and for all the white British imperialist yoke?

Miss Buck’s “race war” finds China (one yellow nation) on one side of the imperialist camp, subordinated today to the requirements of American and British imperialism; and Japan (another yellow nation) a spearhead of an ambitious rising imperialism on the other side. One yellow nation (Japan) unblushingly bombs and destroys another yellow nation (China), starving, wounding and killing millions of Chinese.

How the Colonial People See the War

With all this evidence before their eyes, the “colored” people cannot but instinctively feel that fundamentally their prospective colored “liberators” from “white” imperialism are not one whit different from their present rulers. They feel that if the Japanese imperialists were victorious they would carry on essentially in the same manner. The “people of the East” already feel that their interests as exploited people make it impossible for them to lift a finger for either side of the imperialist camps.

What Miss Buck doesn’t see, and what the colonial masses have yet to grasp, is that they are already a decisive factor in the entire war situation. They can decide their own destiny – free themselves from all domination and set their own independent course – the moment they realize their own strength. They must first put forward their own class program as exploited peoples; find means to arm and defend themselves; and then they will be in a position to expel all invaders. In this sense, the colonial peoples have but to take their own freedom. They do not have to depend upon the good will and “common humanity” of their oppressors.

The “whites,” the Western imperialists, are desperate, since they realize that the exploited masses not only do not aid them, but are more than likely to eliminate them from the scene altogether if opportunity arises. The Japanese imperialists also realize that their military conquests will turn to “scorched earth” if the colonial peoples whose countries they have taken over decide to resist the invaders.

Further, says Miss Buck, “It is possible that we are already embarked upon the bitterest and longest of human wars, the war between the East and the West, and this means the war between the white man and his world and the colored man and his world.” Here again is denied or ignored the essence of imperialism, which crosses all color lines. Japanese imperialists, pretending to be banner bearers of the colored peoples, have found it easy to ally their cause with the upholders of “Aryan purity,” the German Nazis. The manner in which the common people in each country will intervene will also cross race lines – depending on social and economic issues.

That the “colored man is no longer willing to endure his inferiority” is a fact. He has never been “willing” to endure it. He has not yet learned completely, but is learning fast, how to throw off the yoke. He is finding gradually that color and racial divisions are fostered by his oppressor to prevent his linking his destiny consciously as an exploited colonial with workers in other lands.

What Allied Imperialism Promises

“The truth is,” proceeding farther afield among the colonial peoples, “that India has become the business of the Allies, and is no longer the possession of any country ... Is this anti-British? No; in the truest sense it is pro-British.” Here again Miss Buck says more than she perhaps realizes. British imperialism has no standing among the Indian masses. The American imperialists are indeed making India THEIR BUSINESS. Note that the Roosevelt Administration, the great “moral” force in the “democratic” struggle against the Axis nations, has not stated or advised the Indian people to proceed to establish their national independence today.

Democracy? Independence? Abolition of imperialism? The United States SEIZES Martinique; the British SEIZE Madagascar. Do they advise and proclaim the independence of these colonies from French imperialism? Not at all; they are seized for “military reasons” and will be “held in trust” for the French Empire until after the war. And then back again to old imperialist ways!

“The tragic aspect of the whole thing,” concludes Miss Buck, “is that the barrier between East and West is an artificial one.” This is potentially an accurate and meaningful statement. But it is only the workers and all exploited peoples who can remove this barrier. By the class struggle which pits our class, regardless of race, color, creed or nation, against the imperialist class, regardless of race or color, will come the end of color division, discrimination and exploitation.

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