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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.

(23 November 1940)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 47, 23 November 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A Letter About the U.G.E. Article

“I read with a considerable amount, of interest your remarks on the stand taken by the United Government Employees at their recent convention in Washington. I also read in the same issue the resolution of the Political Committee of the Socialist Workers Party in which they give their position on the relation of the Negro to the armed forces.

“I find myself in agreement with most of what was said in both articles, but there is at least one thing which I am not sure I understand.

“In your party's resolution, under Point 5, is the following paragraph discussing the question of mixed or separate regiments:

“‘Because many Negroes have had personal experience of discrimination and segregation inflicted on them by backward workers in factories and in trade unions, a sentiment may arise in the course of the struggle for union control of military training for the right of Negro soldiers to choose for themselves whether they shall be in mixed regiments or in all-Negro regiments. In such a case we must pledge ourselves to support the right of the Negro soldiers to determine the question for themselves ...

“However, on the very next page, in your article on the United Government Employees, there occurs a case where a group of Negroes themselves have met and decided that they prefer separate regiments as long as they get colored officers— and you attack them very strongly for this. I do not dispute your attacking them, as I believe you were well justified in this. They were not considering the interests of the Negro people, they were carrying on a political fight to elect. Roosevelt and to cover up that be had announced a policy in the army that was aimed at Negroes. I also accept the other reasons you gave for attacking them.

“But what I do not understand is how this jibes with your party’s resolution which as I understand it says that Negroes themselves should have the right to determine this question.

“It seems to me that you owe your readers a bit of explanation on this contradiction. I feel that you should have discussed this, at least, in your article.”

Answer to the Letter

We do not find any inconsistency in the article on the U.G.E.’s endorsement on Roosevelt’s Jim Crow military policy and in the resolution our party has adopted on military policy.

We condemned the Edgar Brown-U.G.E. policy for the following reasons:

  1. It was dictated by the political needs of the Roosevelt administration, not by the demands of the Negro people for equal rights in all phases of American life. Some Negro group was needed to win back the votes that were endangered or lost when Roosevelt himself said that the Jim Crow policies in the armed forces had proved “satisfactory over a long period of years.” As such, the U.G.E. resolution is an endorsement of the theory that the Negro is different and inferior, because that is the principle underlying segregation in the army. That means an endorsement and acceptance of Jim Crow policies everywhere!
  2. The separate regiment policy cannot protect Negroes, even if they have Negro officers. What they have to be protected from is special choice for the menial, flunkey jobs and the assignments to duty in situations where mens’ lives are thrown away like matchsticks. Because the Negro soldiers will be off by themselves, the Jim Crow general staff, as long as it controls things, will always be able to pick them out for “special assignment,” as they did so often in the last war.

Now what, on the other hand, does the fight for the right of the Negroes to decide the question imply?

First of all, it implies a fight against the government policy. The ruling class says, “Negroes must go into separate regiments, whether they like it or not, because we think it’s most satisfactory.” That is, since under the present policy Negroes don’t have any say in the matter, the first thing they must do is fight against the official policy that denies them any voice in the matter and segregates them at the same time.

Secondly, it means a fight for control of military training. Whoever controls military training is in a position to decide what happens to the soldiers, colored as well as white. A struggle for the right of the Negroes to determine whether they shall be in mixed or separate regiments means a struggle to take control from the officer caste that runs things today and to put it into the hands of the soldiers themselves.

How different this is, then, from the hat-in-hand, body-braced-for-a-kick attitude of Brown and his cohorts.

“In short,” said the resolution of the Socialist Workers Party, “we differentiate between segregation under bosses’ control and self-determination under workers’ control. We are against the first, we are for the right of the second. It is part of our program, but is not a field for extensive agitation at this time.”

But our letter writer is correct in saying that in our article on Brown we should have contrasted his attitude with our own position on the question of “self-determination" on the question of mixed or separate regiments.


In our column last week on the effect of the poll tax in eight southern states, we said “only about 10% (of the adult population) can enter the voting booths.” This is not correct. More near the figure for the presidential election of 1936 would be about 20%, although in some places it is 10%. This does not change the point of the article, for the figure of 60% quoted for the rest of the country is still correct./p>

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