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Albert Parker

Conscientious Objectors Cannot Stop Jim Crow

(1 February 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 5, 1 February 1941, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

When Ernest Calloway told a Chicago draft board last month that he wants exemption from military service because he is a conscientious objector against the Jim Crow treatment of the Negroes in the armed forces, he opened up a very important question for all those who are serious about the fight for equal rights in the Army.

That question is: Should other Negroes follow Calloway’s example? Should they declare that they are against being trained how to fight, and refuse military training? Can such a course of action have a decisive effect on the shameful treatment of the Negro soldiers by the officer clique in charge of conscription?

There can be no doubt here, of course, of our attitude toward the attacks that the draft officials are going to make on Calloway. Already his local board has turned down his request for exemption, and although he is appealing their decision with the aid of the N.A.A.C.P., it is pretty certain that they will prosecute and attempt to jail him if he persists in his determination not to he drafted. When the draft officials and the army bureaucrats launch their attack against him, they will do it because he has opposed their draft and has given publicity to the Jim Crow regime in the Army. All workers must defend Calloway against such attacks even if they don’t agree with Calloway’s method.

But it is one thing to oppose Jim Crowism in the army and another thing to oppose it correctly and successfully.

What Is Wrong with Calloway’s Method

We are certain that actions such as Calloway’s will not have any decisive effect on the fight for equal rights in the armed forces. It can’t, because it leaves untouched the power of the officer caste to do exactly what it pleases. As long as the labor-hating officers have the power to do what they want with the rank-and-file soldiers, there will be Jim Crowism in the army. Not until their complete and all-powerful control over military training is taken from them can the fight for equal rights be won.

What is wrong with Calloway’s method, even if it were followed by ten other men, or 1000, or 10,000, is that it does not touch this main problem at all. Whether Calloway is sent to jail or whether he will be set free will not in any way affect or diminish the powers of the officer caste. They’ll still have the power to Jim Crow Negroes and treat them as second-class citizens.

The second major weakness in Calloways’s method (which was conceived of and proposed by a Chicago organization, known as “Conscientious Objectors Against Jim Crow,” headed by St. Clair Drake, who is also executive secretary of the local branch of the Stalinist-controlled National Negro Congress) is that it does not take into consideration at all the need of the Negro people to learn the military arts.

This is a world of war and revolution today. Every important question is being decided by military means. The Negro people too will be able to solve their problems only by struggle against their armed and trained enemies. Whoever denies that the Negro people must master the other military arts is misleading and disarming the Negroes in the face of their enemies. Whoever says that the Negro people in this country will win their freedom in any way other than by fighting for it is miseducating and confusing the Negro people.

Negroes Must Join Fight for Military Training

It is correct and necessary to maintain our opposition to conscription by the boss class, but it is useless to do so unless at the same time we present some other proposal which, while it will eliminate military Jim Crowism and anti-labor practices, will also provide for training the workers in the military arts.

Since the Calloway-Drake proposals ignore both the question of control of military training and the necessity for such training, they cannot be accepted as a program for Negro workers.

Since the Socialist Workers Party program for trade union control of military training has the answer to both these questions, it must be pushed by Negroes as the only real aud practical solution of discrimination and segregation in the armed forces.

To push this program requires not an arms-folded policy of individual abstention, which by itself can never win anything, but militant activity to mobilize the Negroes and the trade unions to struggle against the bosses for its realization.

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