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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.

(24 May 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 21, 24 May 1941, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Negro March to Washington

Last week in this column we discussed the March to Washington on July 1, and indicated the full agreement of the Socialist Workers Party with such an undertaking. We also warned that if the march were to accomplish anything, it would have to he militant, on a mass scale, and based on the proper set of demands.

It is as yet too early to determine just what the Randolph Committee means by the “militancy” which they urge the Negroes to exercise in this march. It is also too early to determine in what way the Committee, and the local groups, are going to mobilize the marchers, and whether they will really succeed in bringing out the masses.

But it is already possible to discuss the general approach of the Committee, as set forth in its Call To America (copy available from Negroes’ Committee To March On Washington For Equal Participation in National Defense, Suite 301, 217 West 125 St., New York City).

This Call is filled with militant words and some not-so-militant ideas. It demands the end of Jim Crowism; it stresses the need for action by the Negroes to bring it about; but it does not indicate the correct kind of action and program. As a result, it is filled with contradictions from one end to the other, which will have to be set-tied in one direction or another.

What the Call Says

In one place the Call says:

“But what of national unity? We believe in national unity which recognizes equal opportunity of black and white citizens to jobs in national defense and the armed forces, and in all other institutions and endeavors in America. We condemn all dictatorships, Fascist, Nazi and Communist. We are loyal, patriotic Americans, all.

“But, if American democracy will not defend its defenders; if American democracy will not protect its protectors; if American democracy will not give jobs to its toilers because of race or color; if American democracy will not insure equality of opportunity, freedom and justice to its citizens, black and whiter it is a hollow mockery and belies the principles for which it is supposed to stand.”

Why all those ifs? Don’t we know very well what is going on? Is there any real doubt in their minds as to exactly what is happening to the Negro in our great American democracy?

Just turn those two paragraphs around, read the second first, and you’ll get a better picture of what the Call’s declaration of loyalty amounts to. You’ll see that it is a declaration of loyalty to a hollow mockery, and that hidden behind the “ifs” is a potential surrender of the fight for full equality for the Negro people.

Maybe they don’t think so, but the ruling class in this country sees it and they will say, “Don’t worry too much about this whole business of the march; no matter how they are treated, they promise that they’ll go along and that they’ll drag the masses behind them.”

This is one of the contradictions that must he solved before a fight against Jim Crowism is going to be successful. Loyalty to a Jim-Crow system can never end in its destruction and replacement by a system of equality.

Kinds of Mass Action for Effective Struggle

This is not the only instance of the Call for the march making concessions to the ideas looked on with favor by the ruling class. In another place it says:

“However, we sternly counsel against violence and ill-considered and intemperate action and the abuse of power. Mass power, like physical power, when misdirected, is more harmful than helpful.

“We summon you to mass action that is orderly and lawful, but aggressive and militant, for justice, equality and freedom.

“Crispus Attucks marched and died as a martyr for American independence. Nat Turner, Demark Vesy, Gabriel, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass fought, bled and died for the emancipation of Negro slaves and the preservation of American democracy.”

Our criticism of this section of the Call should not be mistaken to mean that the Socialist Workers Party is in favor of “ill-considered and intemperate action” or anything of the kind. Not at all.

But who is served by this reassurance that everything is going to be nice and respectable and within the “lawful” bounds established by the ruling class and its anti-labor, Jim Crow legislatures and courts?

Once again, the Bourbon politicians in Washington will smile and say, “It’s nothing to worry about, they are only letting off a little steam.”

Does this serve the interests of the struggle against Jim Crowism? If so, we fail to see it.

And if we are going to talk about history, let us talk about it correctly. Did King George the Third think that Crispus Attucks’ action was “lawful”? Did the slaveholders of Virginia think that Nat Turner was “orderly”?

The trouble is that the Randolph Committee is too much concerned about what the powers-that-be may think about them. And as long as that is true, they lead a half-hearted fight, in spite of all their talk about aggressiveness and militancy.

Considerations such as these may seem trivial on first glance, but they help to determine the character of the entire march, and those who want a successful and meaningful march must think about and correct them.

(Continued next week)

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