Breitman Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Albert Parker

The Negro Struggle

“Labor with a White Skin Cannot Emancipate Itself Where Labor with a Black Skin Is Branded.” – Karl Marx.

(31 May 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 22, 31 May 1941, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The March on Washington

The Socialist Workers Party recognizes the need for action such as the proposed march of 10,000 Negroes on Washington to protest against discrimination and Jim Crowism in the armed forces and industry. That is why, in spite of our disagreements on many things with the Randolph Committee making the march preparations, we have endorsed the march and will support it in every way possible.

Our support, while it is complete, is not uncritical. It is the duty of all those who support militant action against Jim Crowism to point out the shortcomings in the proposals of the Randolph Committee – to prevent, if possible, mistakes which can have a very bad effect on the action as a whole, and which can demoralize and discourage those militants who are supporting the March.

Last week we criticized the half-hearted approach of the Committee, as demonstrated in its Call To Negro America. We could also criticize the organizational preparations for the march; the fact that so far very little has been done about informing and arousing the masses of Negroes to action, although the date for the action, July 1, is little more than a month away; that apparently insufficient attention is being paid to the task of drawing the trade unions into the struggle.

But an even more important concern than how the march is being organized, and how many people are being drawn into it, is the question: What are the marchers going to demand when they get to Washington?

Militancy is necessary, the participation of the masses is required, but what they actually seek is the decisive thing. There would be no sense in 10,000, or even 100,000 Negroes marching on Washington and fighting for something which will not solve their problems.

What Randolph Wants

The Randolph Committee is making its central demand the issuance of an executive order by the president of the United States abolishing discrimination in the armed forces, all government departments, and industry holding contracts from the government.

According to the present plans, this will be the request of the march in Washington. The local demonstrations will also call on the city governmental bodies to memorialize the president to issue this order.

To understand the theory behind this, one has to read the article, Why P.D. Won’t End Defense Jim Crow, by A. Philip Randolph, published in the Negro press several weeks ago. It starts this way:

“President Roosevelt can issue an executive order tomorrow to abolish discrimination in the Army, Navy, Air Corps, Marine and on all defense contracts awarded by the Federal Government, on account of race or color, and discriminations against colored people would promptly end.” (Our emphasis.)

Now if this statement means anything at all, it means that discrimination and segregation continue to exist in the government and the armed forces and in industry only because the president hasn’t issued an order abolishing them.

Just to pose the question that way is to show how ridiculous Randolph’s statement really is.

Jim Crowism does not depend for its existence on the lack of executive orders abolishing it. li exists because it serves the interests of the capitalist ruling class to keep the working class in a position where it is divided and split along racial lines and therefore more easily exploited.

The Demand Is Inadequate

Undoubtedly it will be very difficult to get a man like Roosevelt to issue such an order. The Randolph Committee does not do the Negro people a service when it calls Roosevelt “a great humanitarian and idealist.” Calling him nice names will not make the man, who for eight years has refused to even speak one word against the crimes of lynching in the south, suddenly issue an order abolishing all forms of Jim Crowism. Praise of Roosevelt will not produce any changes in the administration that refuses to even pass the poll tax bill. After all, what is the march on Washington for – to praise F.D.R. or to bury Jim Crowism?

In our opinion, forcing the issuance of such an order from Roosevelt would be a definite step forward in the struggle for abolition of all racial discrimination. It would not “promptly end” discrimination, as Randolph claims, but it would make it easier to fight specific cases of discrimination. That is why, in a clear and cool manner, without fooling ourselves as Randolph does, we are able to endorse this demand.

But while we endorse it, we also believe that it is not enough, that it is insufficient as the central demand of the march.

It is insufficient because it does not go to the heart of the question of discrimination. There have been and there still are plenty of laws and rulings and orders on the books, prohibiting discrimination. In spite of them, Jim Crow still rides high. There are the federal constitution, state laws, the selective service bill and plenty of other rulings from Washington. Everyone knows they are ignored.

If this is so, the Negroes who march on Washington must demand more than the issuance of an executive order. Just what is it that they should ask for?

(Continued next week)

Breitman Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 2 November 2015