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Albert Parker

Two Negro Newspapers’ Views

They Differ Only in Their Choice of Slavemasters
for This Negro Colony

(28 December 1940)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 52, 28 December 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The ruling class of this country is preparing to seize Martinique, the French-“owned” colony with a population of a quarter-million colored people.

The fate of Martinique should be of vital interest to every Negro and white worker, for the question of Negro freedom in the United States is very much connected with what happens to the Negro people everywhere – in Africa, the West Indies, etc.

That was why the Negroes here and everywhere were and are so concerned about the independence of Ethiopia. We knew that the successful defeat of the Fascist invasion of Ethiopia would have been a blow at the bosses, the oppressors of the Negroes of all countries; that’s why we of the Socialist Workers Party supported Ethiopia’s fight for independence.

From this point of view, let us examine the editorials on Martinique which have been recently carried by two of the leading Negro newspapers of this country.

The Baltimore Afro-American editorial is entitled, Let’s Take Martinique. When the writer says let us, he means let the United States government take it. The arguments of the editorial are almost the same ones made by the American capitalists, who have had experience “taking” other colonial countries in the past:

“As long as France is tied to Hitler’s apron-strings, it seems to us that the United States ought to step in and take over the island for the duration of the war.

“France couldn’t object. It lies prostrate under Hitler’s heel. After the war is over, it can have its island back.

“There is another reason why we should take Martinique. Its 250,000 people are poor and hungry. The British blockade has ruined the trade. “Uncle Sam can do them a favor and get rid of a likely headache if he adopts these few French-speaking colored folks until peace comes.”

In other words, says the Afro-American, Washington should take the island because it would be the best thing for its natives.

They are poor and hungry, says the Afro-American. But so are the people of the other countries Washington has “taken.” Just look at Porto Rico! Its people were starved by Spain. Now they’ve been “taken” by the United States for more than 40 years and – the Afro-American would scarcely deny it – the people of Porto Rico have been poor and hungry throughout these years, and remain so.

And so far as “adopting” the island “until peace comes” is concerned, that is a childish joke. If that happened, it would be the first time in its history that Washington or London or Paris took over a small country and then willingly let it go. The bosses of this country don’t take over colonies out of good nature or concern for their people’s welfare – they take them to be able to exploit them, and Martinique is a rich prize which they will no more give up after the war than they gave up the Philippines 40 years ago.

The Courier Takes a Different Stand

The Pittsburg Courier editorial takes a different position. After making clear that it has no sympathy for Petain or the Nazis, the editorial says: “We certainly view with alarm the projected grabbing of Martinique by the United States presumably to forestall Hitler ...” It then explains that Martinique happens to be one of these few colonies where the natives do have some rights:

“There are 246,712 inhabitants of Martinique and all but a handful are Negroes or mulattoes. They vote, they have direct representation in the French parliament, they serve without discrimination or restriction in the French Army and Navy where many have risen to high rank. They have freely attended France’s best universities and have good local schools.

“Not a single British colony or American dependency is as free as black Martinique, and we shudder when we contemplate what Negrophobic U.S. naval rule will mean to this little Eden.

“Under American rule, Martinique would have no representation in Congress, its sons and daughters would be barred from a large number of mainland universities, and its sons would be viciously discriminated against in the armed forces and defense industries.”

“So,”, concludes the Pittsburgh Courier, “for the sake of Martinique’s dark sons and daughters, we hope it will remain under French rule.”

Let’s pass over, without the refutation it deserves, the Courier’s picture of “little Eden.” It’s true that France commits less formal discrimination against Negroes as Negroes; France mistreats all her colonials regardless of color!

Let’s get to the main point. The Afro-American wants Martinique ruled by America; the Courier wants it ruled by France. The two opinions may seem different; at bottom, however, they are very much alike. They share in common the theory of “the lesser evil:” since you’ve got to be a slave, you might as well pick yourself the “best” and “kindest” master. Both take it for granted that Martinique must “belong” to someone, i.e., someone other than the people of Martinique.

This attitude is not new to either paper. They both employed it quite consistently in the election campaign just concluded. Both had endorsed Roosevelt in 1936, and repudiated the Republican Party. Both became disgusted with Roosevelt this year, and endorsed Willkie. And thus they limit the struggle to being Jim Crowed under one boss party or Jim Crowed under another.

The capitalists and their press say that the colored people in the colonies are not fit to rule themselves; that is why the imperialists must run things for them. This is the same vicious lie that they use in this country to perpetuate segregation and discrimination against the Negro people.

What have the Courier and the Afro to say about this? Why do they reject this theory for the Negroes in the United States and accept it for the Negroes in the colonies? How can they accept “white supremacy” for the colonies and logically answer the advocates of “white supremacy” in this country? Why did they demand the independence of Ethiopia and why don’t they demand the independence of Martinique? How can they logically demand it for one, and not for the other?

It seems to us that these papers which claim leadership in the fight for equal rights for the Negro people “in all spheres of life” have some explaining to do to their readers.

As for us of the Socialist Workers Party, we take a view entirely different from those of the Courier and the Afro-American on this question.

But, the “practical” editors of the Courier and the Afro-American may say with a patronizing smile, “how can the people of this small island possible keep from being taken over by one or other of the imperialist countries?”

To these “practical” people, we answer: The people of Martinique may not be able to free themselves at this moment. But that’s no reason for you “spokesmen of the Negro” to endorse one or another slavemaster for Martinique!

The first step on the road to freedom for Martinique – and for the colored people everywhere – is first of all not to praise any slavemaster but to declare oneself against all slavemasters. Do that – and you will find powerful allies: the revolutionary white workers. Tomorrow, hand in hand with these allies, you will find your way to the leadership of all the oppressed everywhere. “We are many, they are few.” On this road – and only on this road – shall we all, black and white, find freedom.

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