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Albert Parker

The Negro Struggle

Jim Crow and “National Defense”

(16 February 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 7, 16 February 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Jim Crow segregation of Negro soldiers is “in the interest of national defense.” That’s what Secretary of the Army Royall said last week, and he wasn’t speaking for himself alone. That is the view of all the brass hats and of both capitalist parties and of the Truman administration, just as it was of the Roosevelt administration during the last war.

They feel so strongly about it that Royall, while grudgingly granting the New Jersey National Guard permission to enlist members on a non-segregated basis “for the present,” in effect warned the other 47 states that they would be denied funds and equipment for their National Guards if they tried to do the same. You can see how vital this question is to the brass hats who, while howling for more military appropriations and peacetime conscription, are willing to disrupt and paralyze a section of their armed forces reserves rather than permit any interference with the reign of Jim Crow.

This question is equally vital to the Negro people and the organized labor movement. To understand how vital, just stop and ask yourself: What kind of “national defense” is it that requires the degrading separation of white and Negro troops? What is actually being defended under conditions where soldiers are driven into military ghettos solely on the basis of the color of their skins?

Democracy and the four freedoms? That is what the capitalist rulers and their servile propagandists say, but it is an obscene lie. With their mouths they spout beautiful phrases, but their hands wield the whip of “white supremacy” even in the armed forces.

When they talk about “national defense,” they are not talking about democratic practices, which they violate a thousand times each day. They are talking about defense of the capitalist system – of profits to be coined out of the exploitation of labor at home and abroad. What they want to defend is the “American way of life” that enables them to suck these profits out of the toll of the working people.

Racial discrimination and oppression are basic parts of that “way of life” because they divide the workers and thus make it easier for them to be exploited. In that sense the capitalists are wholly correct in contending that military Jim Crow is “in the interest of national defense.”

But such “national defense” is not in the interest of the workers. The result of “national defense” in World War II was monstrous profits for the employers, the Taft-Hartley Act for the unions, raging inflation for the consumers, and attempts to perpetuate the second-class citizenship status of the Negro people in all spheres of life. What reason is there to think that “national defense” in World War III will have any different or better outcome?

What the workers need to defend and extend are their democratic rights. To do that they must unite, regardless of color, and fight relentlessly against the reactionary defenders of exploitation, oppression and Jim Crow. “National defense” will have real meaning for the working people only after they have taken the nation out of the grip of the capitalist enemies of democracy and begun to run it on a truly democratic basis.

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