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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

(6 September 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 36, 6 September 1941, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

According to William Patterson, a Negro representative of the Communist Party in Chicago, the Negro people are behind the war because it is a war against slavery just as much as the war of 1861, “This is our war,” he said at, a meeting on August 20. “Black America will play its part today just as it did in 1776 and again in 1861.”

Last week we refuted Patterson’s claims that the Negro people support the present war, and showed that since it is an imperialist war (not for democracy, but a fight between capitalist bandits over control of colonial markets and raw materials), the Negro people are correct in not supporting it. This week we want to discuss Patterson’s attempts to win Negro support for Roosevelt’s war plans by pretending that today’s imperialist war is like the wars of 1776 and 1861.

Wars the Negroes Supported

The capitalist historians have always tried to play down the role of the Negro in those wars. They do this to bolster up their reactionary ideas that the Negro is inferior and incapable of playing any important role in society. More and more people, however, are learning the truth nowadays and beginning to understand what a tremendous part the Negro masses had in the construction and development of the American republic.

We do not have to argue the question as to whether the Revolutionary War of 1776 was progressive. Everybody knows that. A great revolutionary movement, it secured independence for the colonies from their oppressor, Great Britain, and resulted in the formation of the most democratic government at that time in the world. Like all great revolutions, it was carried on militantly, arms in hand. Progress was secured at the cost of much suffering and sacrifice. People who are afraid of revolutions today try to gloss over the fact that American bourgeois democracy was created only by violent struggle.

In this revolution, the Negro people played a glorious role. Crispus Attucks, a Negro, was among the very first to fall in it. Elsewhere, on all the fronts of the war, Negroes did not hesitate to give everything they had, even their lives. For their numbers the Negro people, freeman and slave, were as much responsible for the victory of the colonists as anyone else.

Not all the tasks of this revolution were accomplished in the 18th century, however. Feudalism still existed and had much power in the south, in the person of the landlord slave-owning class. The Civil War was the second American revolution, and it ended in the defeat of the south and the weakening and even destruction in most respects of feudal power in this country. It preserved the unity and independence of the nation, so that the capitalists could go forward with the economic development of the country. It destroyed chattel slavery and set the Negro people free.

Again the Negro people were in the thick of the battle, again they were on the side of progress and social revolution. Hundreds of thousands of colored troops fought and worked on the Northern side; their brothers in the south aided the Union forces as best they could. Lincoln and other Northern leaders admitted that without the Negro soldiers they would not have won the war.

What About the War of 1917?

Today the government and its lackeys, including the Stalinists, are using many of the same slogans employed in the two American revolutionary wars: for democracy, freedom, independence, against slavery, tyranny, dictatorship, etc. But the kind of war it is cannot be determined by what its supporters claim it is; for even Hitler knows how to use slogans in his own interests, even the slaveholders in the Civil War claimed that their war was in the interests of the slaves.

The Negro people in this country have already had an experience in wars and slogans which was very enlightening; that was in 1917.

And it is very significant that Patterson, who spoke about the war of 1941 and the wars of 80 and 165 years ago, had nothing to say about the war of 24 years ago, and the Negro role in and attitude toward that war.

For today’s war, so far as most workers are concerned, is a repetition of World War I, and the same kind of war. Patterson can’t mention it because the masses would immediately see through his stock phrases.

Again as in 1917 the capitalist class is conducting a war for its own profit. Workers are made to pay for it in money and blood. Negroes are Jim-Crowed in the armed forces and face a virtual blackout in industry. The outcome of the war will be the same for Negroes as after 1918, when they were lynched for daring to wear an Army uniform. (As a matter of fact already, even before we are in the war officially, the lynch spirit against Negro soldiers has been whipped up.)

This war will bring no improvement in conditions for the masses of the world, regardless of whether the Allies or the Axis powers win. Negroes in this country will get no benefits from a Roosevelt victory. They will have the same problems they had before the war, and probably worse.

The Revolutionary War and the Civil War were progressive, in the interests of the masses as well as the rising capitalist class. World War II, like World War I, is reactionary, in the interests only of capitalism decaying and in its death agonies. Negroes instinctively do not support it. Their instincts are healthy and correct.

These correct and revolutionary instincts of the Negro people must now be connected to an understanding of the kind of war they can and must support. This we intend to discuss week.

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Last updated: 25 May 2016