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Albert Parker

The Negro Struggle

Randolph and the Press

(19 April 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 16, 19 April 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

I have before me the editorials of about 20 Negro newspapers on A. Philip Randolph’s proposal to launch a “civil disobedience” campaign if Jim Crow is not abolished in the armed forces, and the great majority of them make pretty sickening reading. Instead of pointing out the weak aspects of Randolph’s position, they attack it for the most part because it is “extreme,” they wave the flag, beat their breasts patriotically, and assure the Jim Crow ruling class that they can be depended on not to do anything “extreme” themselves.

The Pittsburgh Courier’s editorial was typical in this respect: “We counsel at all times complete co-operation with the adopted policies of the government ... We should battle the issue to the point of decision, and then, if defeated, gracefully accept the decision and cooperate in its implementation.” Translated into plain English, that means: “We are against Jim Crow and will keep on writing articles to that effect. But if you insist on maintaining Jim Crow, we will be good sports and will even ‘gracefully’ help you in your dirty work of Jim Crowing us.”

The man who wrote that editorial wipes his feet on the real tradition of Negro struggle against oppression in this country; he dishonors the memory of the heroic Negro and white abolitionists who won immortal glory by defying the government’s fugitive slave law almost 100 years ago (instead of gracefully cooperating with it). That editorial would have made Uncle Tom blush in shame. And it undoubtedly brought hearty chuckles from Rankin, Eastland and the other Southern demagogues who know that the Jim Crow structure won’t even be dented as long as the Negro people listen to such servile advice.

These people denounce Randolph for being “extreme,” but how else can you end a brutal system like Jim Crow except by being extreme? When was tyranny ever ended by promising to be “loyal” to it?

When it comes to cooperating or not cooperating with the Jim Crow forces, the Negro people will instinctively side with Randolph, and they will be a thousand times right. But unfortunately, the problem is not settled by merely deciding not to cooperate. You are still faced with the questions of what to do, and how to do it, and when.

The first and most obvious weakness in Randolph’s position is that it places its main emphasis on action by the Negroes after the UMT or draft bills become law. From the viewpoint of tactics, that would be an error. The time to begin fighting most energetically on this question is right now, not after Congress acts. The labor movement’s experience with the Taft-Hartley Act proves that it is much harder to repeal reactionary legislation than it is to prevent its passage.

The second serious shortcoming in Randolph’s proposal is the kind of struggle it advocates. A mere refusal to register and serve in the armed forces will get the Negroes nowhere but in jail – which will remove the most active and courageous elements from the struggle where they are needed, and will leave untouched the power of the ruling class to maintain Jim Crow in full force. What is really needed is a program of positive struggle – mass meetings, demonstrations, a march on Washington, protest work stoppages, collaboration with the labor movement to end Jim Crow through independent political action.

Randolph’s proposal may lead to seriously embarrassing the ruling class. But a mass movement of relentless struggle, determined to return blow for blow instead of turning the other cheek, could and would lead to the complete destruction of Jim Crow.

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