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Albert Parker

The Negro Struggle

“Labor with a White Skin Cannot Emancipate Itself Where Labor with a Black Skin Is Branded.” – Karl Marx.

(9 November 1940)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 45, 9 November 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

We think that it will be generally agreed that the shabbiest Uncle Tom sell out o£ the whole electoral campaign was pulled off two weeks ago at the convention of the United Government Employees held in Washington. (This organization, led by Edgar G. Brown, claims a membership of 30,000 Negro federal employees. It also claims to speak in the interests of the Negro people. Both these claims are grossly exaggerated.)

For it was at this convention that the United Government Employees won the “honor” of being the first (and perhaps the only) colored organization in the country to go on record endorsing the vicious Jim Crow policies announced by Roosevelt a half month earlier for the armed forces of the United States.

Endorse Segregation

First they endorsed the principle of segregation in the Army. Then they went further. They asked that this principle be extended, that more Jim Crow army divisions be established. The only thing they asked in return was that colored officers, instead of white, be assigned to these divisions.

Not satisfied with segregation in the land forces, the men responsible for the adoption of this position by the U.G.E. then asked that it be extended to the Navy.

In the Navy Negroes can become only waiters and cooks. In this way they are segregated into one part of the ship. Instead of protesting this and demanding that they be permitted into all branches of the service, they asked instead for a separate battleship, cruiser, submarine, destroyer and airplane carrier “to be eventually manned and officered by Negroes.”

In this way they ask for complete segregation! They aren’t satisfied with half-way measures.

Negroes are also barred from the naval academy. Instead of demanding an end to this and equal rights for Negroes at the academy, they asked instead for a separate “Annapolis” in the Virgin Islands.

Of course, it isn’t too hard to figure out why the convention adopted this position. They knew what discrimination and segregation mean to the Negro people—but they weren’t thinking of the Negro people. They were thinking about themselves, and their jobs, and their salaries as government employees.

By telling the colored people, “This is a good thing for us; all we need now is more of it and more colored officers and our problems are solved,” they attempted to keep in office the Administration that signs their pay-checks and wipes its feet on them.

What It Really Means

But putting aside for a minute the sordid motives behind it, let’s examine the proposal on its own feet and see how well it stands up.

What people who support such proposals don’t understand is this: The policy of discrimination and segregation in the armed forces places a stamp of approval on discrimination and segregation in civilian life.

When Roosevelt endorsed segregation in the Army, he said in effect: Yes, Negroes are not like other people, they should be placed off on a side, they are inferior, and they should be separated from white men in the Army just as they are separated from them outside the Army.

In other words, the Jim Crow policy in the Army is based on the theories of “inferiority of Negroes” and the “necessity for white supremacy.” Let Mr. Edgar Brown ask any Southern lyncher or Ku Kluxer and they’ll tell him that’s what it is!

Roosevelt, by announcing this policy for the Army, says to the owners of industry, to big business, to relief officials, to movie and restaurant proprietors, and even to some reactionary labor fakers: Sure, go ahead Jim Crowing them, the government, is doing the same!

And Brown and his supporters are themselves now in the position of saying: Roosevelt is right, we don’t deserve equal rights, we should be segregated.

Those who support this position now cannot complain about discrimination in civilian life either. If a reactionary school board in the North wants to send colored children to separate schools, how will Brown be able to argue against it? All !he could do is weakly say: All right, but don’t forget to give us colored teachers in the Jim Crow schools.

Lives of Negroes Involved

As long as the Negroes are separated from the white soldiers, it is very easy for the labor-hating officer caste in charge of the Army to pick them out for special assignment and work: as labor battalions, digging trenches and latrines, and as suicide squads, for the most dangerous work, where men’s lives are thrown away cheaply.

This was the practice in the last war, and it will be the practice in this war, as long as the officer caste controls the Army, and as long as Negroes are in separate regiments.

Having Negro officers for these separate regiments will not change matters in this respect at all. They won’t be able to prevent choice of their regiments for dangerous assignments at all.

Consequently, in spite of who the officers are, separate regiments will not protect the Negro soldier from the most important discrimination of all: a high proportion of assignments that endanger his life.

Those who want to protect the Negroes from insult and discrimination must join the struggle for union control of training. This struggle alone will abolish Jim Crowism in the Army, will create the conditions whereby Negroes will be able to enter any regiment, free of discrimination, and officered by workers, black and white, selected by the soldiers themselves./p>

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