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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.

(22 March 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V. No. 12, 22 March 1941, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Tenth Anniversary of Scottsboro Case

This week marks the tenth anniversary of the opening of the now almost forgotten Scottsboro case.

We take note of it now, ten years after it began, to send our greetings to the five boys still held in the Alabama jails, to point out the remorseless class hatred of the Southern Bourbons who keep them there even though the whole world knows they are innocent.

Nine Negro boys, most of them still children, riding on a freight train from Chattanooga into Alabama, got into a fight with some white boys of around their own age and made them leave the train. When the train pulled into Paint Rock, Alabama, the train was stopped and the Negro boys picked up. On another car two white girls, dressed in men’s clothing, were also discovered, and taken into custody. They were taken to Scottsboro, the county seat, and word began to spread that the boys had raped them.

In short order, the boys were indicted for rape, quickly brought to “trial” and (with the exception of one child on whose case the jury disagreed) sentenced to death.

There was nothing unusual in this case. There have been scores of such cases in the South about which nothing has been written, which were passed off as a matter of course, where Negroes have been murdered to “teach them their place.”

But this case was not passed off. The Communist Party’s International Labor Defense entered it, provided lawyers and opened up a campaign which as it spread and secured support reached into every single important community in the country and every country in the world. Basing itself generally on a class struggle defense, the I.L.D. organized not only the legal defense, but mass demonstrations and meetings on a national and international scale.

Finally, one of the two girls confessed that they had been intimidated into telling the rape story. Because the case had reached such widespread proportions, however, the Alabama Bourbons determined to brazen it out, to show that Negroes have no rights in the South and had better not get any “uppity” ideas in their heads.

What Saved the Boys

It was the mass demonstrations and meetings in hundreds of cities which saved the boys’ lives. Again arid again, they were found guilty, again and again Alabama prepared to take their lives, but each time the courts, feeling the angry pressure of millions of White and Negro workers, retreated and ordered new trials.

Then, far away in Moscow, Stalin and his bureaucracy decided on the policy of “the people’s front, collective security and a Franco-Soviet Pact.” This was an order to the Communist Parties of the democratic imperialist nations such as France, England and the U.S.A., to try to line up the boss governments for an alliance with Stalin. To do this, they were told to support people like Roosevelt for elections, and in general to try to “soften” down the class struggle.

This meant, so far as the Scottsboro Case was concerned, an end to the class struggle policies which had saved the boyp up to that point. Early in 1936 the demonstrations had disappeared, and a new Scottsboro Defense Committee, hailed by the Stalinists, was set up. It turned down the class struggle program advocated by the Trotskyists and went to work on the case in a way that would suit the innumerable right reverend gentlemen on the committee.

The Result of the Stalinist Line

Ozie Powell, one of the boys, goaded by a sheriff driving from court, scratched back with a pen knife in self defense. The sheriff stopped the car, got out and put a bullet through Powell’s brain, paralyzing him for a long time and almost killing him. Despite the fact that everyone knew Powell had struck back in self-defense, the Scottsboro Defense Committee got him to plead guilty of assault with intent to kill! The result was that the state dropped the rape changes against him and sentenced him to 20 years imprisonment with no chance, because of the plea of guilty, of fighting the thing through the courts.

This was only one chapter in the story of a number of disgusting “deals” which were made at the time between the Committee and the Jim Crow judge handling the case. The whole story has not yet been told, but enough leaked out to show that both the Stalinists and the Norman Thomas Socialists had sanctioned a deal which would free some of the boys and keep others in jail. The deal did not go through exactly as planned, but four were released, and four besides Powell were kept in jail under sentences ranging up to 75 years on the same testimony which the state disregarded in freeing the other boys. When the whole truth comes out some time, it will be seen that these boys were sold down the river.

And meanwhile, nothing is being done by the Committee that can have any effect on freeing the remaining five. Attempts to organize committees in different cities by Trotskyists and other workers have been resisted by the Stalinists who point to the “official” committee that does nothing. No demonstrations are held, little is even written about the case. Requests for information from the committee bring answers like the following: “The only thing that can be done in the Patterson case is a request for a pardon from the Governor.” How? No answer. Who’s to force the pardon? No answer.

And meanwhile, with the defense movement bottled up by a class collaborationist committee, the remaining five boys continue to rot in jail and on the chain gang – while the Stalinists, who have put on a coat of “militancy” since the Stalin-Hitler Pact, dare not open their mouths about what really happened in the case nor reopen the case in a fighting campaign, because to do so would be a confession of their treacherous policies these last five years.

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