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Ria Stone

MOW Announces Policy Conference

Rank and File Negroes Must Be Represented to See to It
That MOW Fulfills Its Purpose

(September 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 37, 14 September 1942, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The March on Washington Movement (MOW) is now more than a year and a half old. During this period, A. Phillip Randolph has been its acknowledged leader. The Negro masses have been told over and over again: “What we need is leadership. We must place all our faith in Randolph and follow him wherever he leads and whenever he calls. But we must leave it to him to signal us if and when he wants a march. We must not criticize him or disagree among ourselves but must present a unified front to the white population of the U.S.”

It is true that the Negro masses need leadership. For without leadership and organization; their natural militancy and desire for action against their oppressors can only result in sporadic and futile outbreaks.

But a mass movement must develop leaders who are responsible to the needs and demands of the ranks. It cannot simply depend on decrees or arbitrary decision from the top. It cannot leave all the planning to one man who, like Randolph, announces one week (in Los Angeles) that the movement never intended an actual march on Washington, and the next week (in St. Louis and New York) denies that a real March on Washington has been abandoned.

Whom does Randolph hope to fool or confuse by these vacillations and maneuvers – the Negro masses or the powers that be? Every time he “postpones” or renounces the March on Washington, he plays into the hands of the powers that be. The ruling class rejoices whenever the leadership shows itself to be sensitive to pressure from above rather than to the desire for action from the militant masses below. These vacillations and maneuvers weaken the mass movement and confuse the Negro masses; they don’t fool the ruling class.

Ranks Should Decide

Randolph said recently in answer to such criticisms, which are becoming increasingly numerous: “Naturally, all sorts of misinterpretations will be made on all that happens in connection with the March on Washington Movement, but this movement knows what it wants and where it is going and how it expects to get there.” But how are the ranks in the MOW to know where the movement is headed unless matters of policy are discussed in their membership meetings?

If these meetings are used only for rubber-stamping decisions handed down from the top and for entertainment and agitation, the MOW will not be a mass movement. The relation between leaders and members cannot be simply that of blind and uncritical acceptance. Such a relationship creates a false and arbitrary unity and does not lead to strength in organization, nor does it develop leadership among the Negroes themselves. The members of the MOW themselves want to and should discuss in their membership meetings all, questions of policy, especially the decisive question: “When shall we march on Washington?”

The MOW leaders are aware of discontent and rumblings in the ranks who suspect that they are being used or sold out by the leaders. That is why. Randolph has announced a national policy conference to be held at the end of September in Detroit. Randolph has stated that any member of the local divisions of the MOW can attend the national conference and have a voice and vote.

Masses Want March

The local divisions of the MOW, at special meetings called for this purpose, should see to it that a substantial delegation from the ranks is sent to the Detroit conference, since the central theme of the conference is to be the question of a march on Washington. Otherwise the only ones who will be able to attend the conference from various cities will be the middle-class and professional leaders – the only ones who can afford the time and expense of the trip on their own.

It is at such a decisive turn in the direction of this movement that the ranks of the MOW should have an opportunity to register by official vote the real sentiment of the masses at home – and that is that the MARCH ON WASHINGTON MOVEMENT SHOULD DECIDE TO MARCH ON WASHINGTON.

Randolph poses the central question thus: “Should Negroes march on Washington and when?” This ambiguous posing of the question is typical of Randolph’s attempt to face two ways. He implies, on the one hand, that a national march is unquestionably planned; while, on the other hand, he reserves to himself the privilege of withdrawing from sponsorship of such a march if the pressure from the Administration becomes too hot, or if the Administration grants him a conference.

Randolph appears interested in threatening a march on Washington only in order to obtain a conference with the President. Yet Randolph admitted that “the President and the government have failed us.” The Negro masses should reject Randolph’s intention to threaten a march only if another executive order from the President is not obtained.

Why does Randolph change his mind so often about a real mass March on Washington? Is it because he realizes that such a demonstration of Negro strength and determination to fight for democracy at home will make the Negro masses move toward a constant stream of militant actions in which the vacillating leadership of Randolph and the other MOW leaders today will be supplanted by more determined leaders?

The Negro masses have a healthy distrust of the imperialist war. Randolph knows this. But any leader, like Randolph, who supports the “war for democracy” abroad is forced, in one way or another, consciously or not, to sell out the struggle at home in the interests of “national unity.” Randolph does it today by “postponing” a MARCH ON WASHINGTON. Tomorrow, as the war | pressure grows stronger, he will sell out the Negro masses even more crassly.

Let’s Set the Date!

In the face of the determination of the Negro masses to march, Randolph has conceded and declared that IF a national March on Washington is decided upon, preparation for the national mobilization will take the form of a series of local marches on city halls. Good. That means that, first, the ranks at the Detroit conference should declare themselves unambiguously for a March on Washington, and then and there set the date.

Next, they should then and there make plans in preparation for the national march. These plans should include, not only local marches on city halls, but also a series of marches and picketing of Jim Crow plants in various cities. Such actions in St. Louis, Akron and Cleveland have had positive effects; organized on a national scale they will be powerful instruments, not only for organizing toward a national March on Washington, but for getting jobs for thousands of Negro Workers.

The MOW in various cities can easily and effectively register Negro workers who want jobs in industry. Mass action through a series of ultimatums and marches on Jim Crow plants will get jobs for a large number of these workers.

This is the kind of actions which the MOW must carry out if it is to be an effective mass movement. These are the kinds of actions which can be taken if the dominant elements within the MOW committees are Negro workers. For it is the Negro workers, unlike the Negro middle class and professional elements which dominate the MOW today, who know the desperate need of jobs in industry for the Negro masses.

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