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Albert Parker

Randolph Calls for
a New Negro Movement

Says Million Negroes Must Organize
for a Serious Struggle Against Jim Crowism

(27 September 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 39, 27 September 1941, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In an article printed in a number of Negro newspapers last week, A. Philip Randolph, president of the AFL Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and national director of the March on Washington Committee, called for the organization of a million Negroes to fight against racial discrimination.

“Negroes,” said Randolph, “must no longer think in terms of little units, or small maneuvers. To this end, the March on Washington committees are out to enlist-a million Negroes to increase the striking and driving power of the Negro masses for their rights.

“Recent history in international and national affairs shows that it is not enough to be right. You must also be powerful. You must also build the machine with which to work and fight for justice.

“It was just, proper and right for the President to issue an Executive Order in the early stages of discriminations in national defense on account of race, color, religion or national origin as it was proper and just, June 25. But it never happened until the March on Washington movement was launched ...

“A million Negroes speaking at one time behind one vital issue will shake America and is certain to get a serious and respectful hearing.

“Let the Negro masses speak through a million voices.”

Randolph does not indicate whether he is just talking about something that would be nice or whether he plans to go ahead and take concrete steps to actually organize a Negro mass movement.

At any rate, his actual proposals are quite vague. All he says about the organizational work involved in creating such a movement is that it would be “an herculean task” and that “it perhaps will not proceed with a blitzkrieg tempo” because the March on Washington committee “does not have a quarter” and therefore the work will have to be carried forward “with volunteer workers.”

No Negro worker will deny the need for a mass organization that will fight for equality. With production expanding, with talk about democracy increasing on all sides, with their youth being called on to undergo military training, the Negro masses are ready to conduct a vigorous fight for their rights.

Money is not the decisive question. Plenty of organizations with finances cannot win the allegiance of the masses – and for a very good reason. They don’t have the proper program, they don’t have the proper internal structure. These are the [some text appears to be missing here]

“Let the Negro masses speak through a million voices,” says Randolph. Yes, but what words Randolph offer as the program for this organization? Is it going to make deals with the powers that be and call off militant action in return for promises, as the March on Washington Committee did last June? Is it going [some text appears to be missing here]

Is the organization going to be democratically run? Are the masses going to have the decisive word about the organization’s policies? Or is the organization to be controlled and directed from the top with a small committee not only making day-to-day organizational decisions but also the vital and fundamental decisions of policy?

All that Randolph has said on the question is this: “In it the organization proposed) every Negro will count. The highest will be as low as the lowest and the lowest will be as high as the highest.” This may be the answer in Randolph’s own style. But then again it may only be an evasion of the question.

But Randolph has never asked the masses to decide anything of importance – the program of the March on Washington, the right to decide whether the March should have been called off or carried through, the right to decide on the personnel on the national committee “announced” by Randolph after the March was called off.

Such a handling of questions is not only dangerous for the future of the proposed organization, but it also tends to hold back the initial steps. For many of the local committees will think:

“If Randolph doesn’t let us decide what our organization should do on a question like this, what reason do we have to believe that we will be permitted to decide policy later on? What guarantees then will be have against being sold down the river by a leadership over which we have no control?”

We Trotskyists do not hesitate for a moment to criticize the March on Washington Committee and its shortcomings when our criticisms can serve the interests of the masses. We feel all the more free to do so because from the start we gave wholehearted support to the progressive acts of the movement and defended it at each stage of its development against those forces which attacked it for being “too militant.”

Today we make our criticisms of Randolph’s call not because we are opposed to the creation of a Negro mass movement but because we are in favor of such a movement and want to see. it grow into a powerful force against Jim Crowism. We urge all advanced and class conscious Negroes to join this movement, to support and build it, and to try to make it the kind of organization that will win real successes for the masses. In addition, we urge the Negro people to be vigilant within the organization against any harmful policies or procedure.

If Randolph’s procedure in calling off the March last June had been correct – and we said before and after it happened that no greater mistake could be made – then he would not have to be coming before the people today. and saying that a million Negroes are needed to be “certain to get a serious and respectful hearing” from the ruling class and its government.

We warned that nothing could come of deals with the Jim Crow forces, that Negroes must organize to fight them all the way through. Randolph’s article is proof that we were correct, that his past procedure was incorrect and inadequate.

Negroes can learn much from the lessons of that March, and it is their duty to do so if they want within the proposed organization to avoid the mistakes its leaders have made in the past.

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