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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

(30 August 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 35, 30 August 1941, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Is This the Negroes’ War?

No one will dispute the right of the Communist Party to say of the bosses’ war which the United States is about to enter that it is their war too. In fact, they can say so with the greatest justice, for they are subordinating everything else to support of the imperialist war.

But when they presume to speak for the Negro people too, and to say for them, “This is our war,” then they are taking just a little too much upon themselves and have to be brought to order – above all, of course, by the masses of Negroes themselves.

Last Wednesday in Chicago, William Patterson, old time Stalinist Negro leader who has successfully weathered a half dozen changes in the Communist Party line without blinking an eye, attempted to identify the sentiments of the American Negro people with the views of Stalinism.

According to the Daily Worker, Patterson, who was speaking at a rally with William Foster to whoop it up for Roosevelt’s war plans, “pointed out that the Negro people were behind the war because it was a war against slavery just as much as the war of 1861.”

He said, “This is our war. Black America will play its part today just as it did in 1776 and again in 1861.”

We do not care at this point to enter into a discussion of why Patterson and James Ford say such things today and why they are trying to round up the Negro people for support of the war. Everybody who keeps up with them knows that three months ago they were calling Walter White and William Pickens and A. Philip Randolph all kinds of names because they were trying to get the Negroes to support the war. And that they would still be doing this except that the Soviet Union was attacked by Hitler, and the Stalinists, instead of continuing the struggle against the ruling class here, are now currying favor with them, and dropping all opposition to the capitalists and their treatment of Negroes.

Even less room do we have to devote to the preposterous idea that the masses of Negroes are supporters of the war plans of the government. Anyone who is not blind or dishonest admits that of all groups the Negroes are the least enthusiastic about this war that will be fought with Jim Crow airplanes arid a Jim Crow armed force. Only among people like Pickens, a paid stooge of the government, and now the Stalinists, does one hear the phrase, “This is our war.”

What we do want to discuss is not whether the Negroes now think this is their war – an idea which they may accept in the future as a result of the pressure and propaganda of the Uncle Toms and Stalinists – but whether they should think so.

What the War Will Mean

What is the war about? Is it a war for democracy? The capitalist governments that claim it is do not seem very much worried about democracy in their colonies or at home. The politicians who are beating the war drums the loudest in this country, the southern poll taxers, have never been known to seek any democracy for the Negroes and poor white workers. The British imperialists who oppress, shoot and arrest the colored people in the colonies, are not much interested in democracy in those countries either.

No, it is simply a war for profits, for colonies, for markets to sell goods. Britain and the United States have control of these markets and colonies today, while the Nazis want to get them to exploit themselves.

Who will gain from the war? The bosses in the countries that win will be able to exploit the masses of the world. They will try to disarm the other bandits so that they continue this exploitation for as long as possible. That will be the kind of “peace” they will give us. One thing is sure: under neither imperialist rule will the colonial people of Africa, India, etc., be given freedom or security.

What will the war bring the Negroes? Temporarily it may bring a few jobs that will be vacated by white workers getting into the expanding war industries. It will bring insult and segregation and death to large numbers of young Negroes. It will bring increased prices and a lowered standard of living for 95% of the Negroes. And then when the war is over, it will bring the biggest depression in history, in which as usual the Negroes will suffer the greatest hardships. After that there will be only the prospect of World War III.

All we need do is state the problem as simply as that, and the answer is obvious: the Negro people, least of all, have any reason to say, “This is our war.”

We are not claiming that this answer solves all the problems of the Negroes. It is clear that it doesn’t. It can tell the Negroes what they shouldn’t do willingly, but that isn’t enough. Wars can’t be prevented just because the workers don’t want them, because as long as the capitalists hold economic and political power, they can force the workers into their wars even against their will.

But nevertheless the Negro must hold fast to his position: this is not his war, it is a war for the bosses who Jim Crow him. He may be forced to fight in it, but unwillingly and with the understanding that it is not in his interests. Only if he understands this, can he really fight in his own interests by supporting a different kind of war.

Next week we will discuss the kind of war the Negro people should support, as well as the reference by Patterson to the Negro’s role in the wars of 1776 and 1861.

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Last updated: 25 May 2016