Glotzer Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page


Notes of the Month

Our White “Democracy”

(February 1942)

From The New International, Vol. VIII No. 1, February 1942, pp. 7–8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

In the December issue of The New International we expressed the opinion that the Atlantic Charter and the Four Freedoms were essentially the shibboleths constructed and designed to gather in mass support for this imperialist war, pointing out at the same time that the freedoms outlined by Churchill and Roosevelt obtained in general only for the white race and, at that, the small economically dominant section of the white race, the bourgeoisie. The Four Freedoms and the Atlantic Charter have no applicability to the oppressed colonial peoples who inhabit the possessions of the big powers nor to the Negro people of the United States.

If we, this time, omit reference to the racial policies of the Axis (Germany, Italy and Japan) it is only because no hypocrisy shrouds their program. They frankly state that their program is based upon the most reactionary racial doctrines (Herrenvolk, Aryanism, divine destiny, etc.). They do not engage in any double-talk. But a glance at the ideological propaganda of the United Nations leaves one aghast at their cynicism and the wide gulf which separates the word from the deed, the program from the practice. The “democratic” powers speak of the right of national self-determination, the freedom of speech, press and assembly, and the equality of races. But they do not have and never had any intention of concretizing their program. Moreover, they do not believe in it. The colonies of Africa, India, the Dutch East Indies, the American colonies (Hawaii, Haiti, Puerto Rico) – all of them are governed upon the principle of white prerogatives, the superiority of the white race over all others.

One need not go to the colonies to observe the living expression of the race doctrines of American democracy. With 12,000,000 Negroes living within the borders of the United States, the practice of race discrimination, Jim Crow and daily physical persecution has many-faceted openings. Prejudice against the American Negro is not confined to the South; it is not limited to civilian life. Discrimination and persecution of the Negro pervades every sector of our national life, economic, political and social. Since America’s entry into the war this situation has become aggravated.

Some Notable Examples

1. In Philadelphia, for example, the United Service Organization (USO) Center, erected for the sole purpose of providing some social enjoyments for the soldier, bars Negroes with the statement that another center was being prepared for them in the Negro section of the city. It wouldn’t do, the authorities declare, to mix the black and white boys, because that would give rise to ideas of equality!

2. This action was followed by the posting of a regimental notice in Philadelphia, declaring that any sexual relations between a Negro soldier and a white girl, with or without the girl’s consent, would be regarded as rape and would invite the penalty of death!

3. Only a few weeks ago, the harrowing news of a “race riot” among the soldiers on leave at Alexandria, La., was published announcing that 29 Negro soldiers were shot and beaten, three of them seriously. What caused this outburst against the Negro boys? First, their stationing in Southern camps and in the heart of Negro-hating centers. Secondly, the assigning of white mounted police to supervise Negro soldiers on leave. Thirdly, the inexcusable failure of the authorities to accord proper protection to Negroes from the North and the damnable discrimination in the Army itself, especially where Southern officers are in charge.

In this event, it was obvious that it was simply a case of prejudice assuming a violent physical form. The protests that followed the shooting compelled the War Department to undertake an investigation. But there was still another reason for this investigation. Continued persecution of Negro boys in the armed forces would hinder morale and militate against the conversion of Negro youth into soldiers.

So rank and obvious was the affair in Louisiana, where civilian police joined in what they no doubt regarded as a little fun “shooting and clubbing n..........s,” that the War Department could hardly avoid pinning the blame where it belonged: on the civilian police, the white authorities. The report states:

Preliminary reports indicate that although a show of force (1) may have been justified to disperse the excited crowd which gathered when a colored soldier resisted arrest by a military policeman, nevertheless civilian policemen and one military policeman indulged in indiscriminate and unnecessary shooting.

And what is the War Department going to do about it? It says that:

... the investigation is continuing and efficiencies in military police control are being studied carefully with a view to appropriate action in this case and elimination of basic and correctible causes which might otherwise result in future disorders.

We are certain that this ends the Alexandria affair! In the meantime, twenty-nine colored soldiers are recovering from their wounds.

Sikeston, Mo., Gains National Fame

4. No sooner had the Alexandria affair ended when Sikeston, Mo., received some national prominence in the press. Cleo Wright, a 30-year-old Negro cotton mill worker, charged with an attempted attack on a white woman, was seized by a white mob and lynched. Lynch law, of course, has nothing to do with investigation, the ascertainment of facts and truth. It is the legal code which operates in the Southern and border states. The assistant chief of police of Sikeston announced that Wright had admitted (confessed) that he stabbed the wife of any army sergeant. After his “capture” he stabbed an officer and was in turn shot three times. We can understand his resistance. He knew what was in store for him if taken alive by his “judges.” He had not long to wait!

Certainly, Governor Donnell became indignant. Certainly, the action of the mob was “a disgraceful blot on the state of Missouri.” Poor blot! Poor state! The governor now demands justice be brought to those who participated in the lynching. But the county prosecutor already observes that it will be impossible to apprehend the lynchers. Why? Because, undoubtedly, the lynchers include the “best citizens” of the town and the surrounding area! And isn’t that always the case? And did ever a lynching take place where the lynchers were brought to justice? Stuff and nonsense. Lynching is a law of the South!

5. On January 20th, the New York Post published a story of the intrigues in Congress that serve as a glimmer of light to show what happens even when a housing project for Negro workers in war industries is completed.

Here is the story: Such a housing development was recently completed in Detroit. Congressional pressure compelled the Federal Works Agency to turn the project over to white defense workers. Congressional pressure compelled the discharge of Clark Foreman, director of the FWA and New Dealer, for his opposition to the transfer of the housing project to white families.

According to The Post, the day before Foreman was discharged, the Public Buildings and Grounds Committee of the House informed Baird Snyder, acting FWA director, that before they would authorize a new defense housing program, Foreman would have to go. This demand was made by Representative Frank W. Boykin of Alabama, a member of the committee!

Foreman, the report states, was in conflict with the Southern congressmen for a long time. It began by his hiring of a Negro woman as secretary! Although his rating was “excellent” and he received an increase in salary for his work, the Southerners finally got him because he was quite obviously undermining race relations in this country.

The Detroit project, named after the Negro heroine and abolitionist Sojourner Truth, is now turned over to a Polish settlement. The protest against the Negroes occupying the project was first made by Representative Tenerowicz of Michigan, a Republican (!), on the ground that the Polish residents objected to Negroes occupying the houses. The Michigan representative appealed to the House committee and the Negroes were deprived of their project, but were promised another one!

But this is not the first time a Negro housing project was taken from them. According to The Post, Negro spokesmen in New York point out that a development in Texarkana was “temporarily” diverted to white construction workers. A 210-unit development near Portsmouth was, at the request of the Navy Department, turned over to white workers. A Maritime Commission development at Pascaguola, Miss., which originally contained a Negro section, is fully occupied by whites.

[Since this writing, the decision on the Sojourner Truth project has been reversed. Many-sided protests brought about the change, but nothing has yet been done about it.]

The Power of the South

This is the “way of life” for the Negro people in the United States. It is not our purpose to trace the origin and persistency of race prejudice and antagonism in this brief note. But we do insist on one point: Such discrimination and persecution of the Negro people would be greatly reduced and traditional race antagonism would be largely overcome if it were not fostered and nurtured in congressional halls; if the “great and freedom-loving” press had the courage and foresight to treat the question honestly and in a forthright manner; if the radio and the schools and the churches were to inveigh constantly against our native reactionary racial doctrines. We agree, that is asking too much.

The Senate and the House cannot even pass a lynch bill which is aimed at a prosecution of lynchers. Why? Because the Southern bloc is powerful and if such a bill were passed it would be a blot upon the Southern states – and the Southern congressmen would then prevent legislation of interest to the Northern congressmen. An eye for any eye! What makes the Southern congressman so powerful? An archaic representation system in Congress which gives an enormous power to the South far in excess of its population. Five Southern states, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas and Georgia, with a voting population of 1,620,584 (see, poll tax) have 43 representatives in the House, while five Northern states, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, Connecticut and Indiana, with a voting population of 4,973,203 votes, have only 40 members in the House!

But this is only a partial answer. Race discrimination, the persecution of the Negro, the lynch law and Jim Crow are simple and typical means of class rule. It divides the oppressed and exploited peoples; it keeps them in conflict; it makes easier their exploitation. It is a weapon that did not originate with capitalism, but it is a weapon used to its extreme by capitalism. It is not confined to the United States; it is an international phenomenon.

The recent events mentioned above are not new. They may not be even the most extreme examples of Negro discrimination and persecution. But they take on an added significance in the light of the war for the Four Freedoms. They tear the mask of hypocrisy from the Atlantic Charter and show it to be in truth, another imperialist doctrine, in its own way hardly different from barbaric fascism.

The One and Only Solution

But the issue of Negro discrimination and persecution has an even deeper significance. It is a tradition that goes beyond the Negro. It strikes at the Jew, the Catholic, the foreign born. It is a doctrine which gives heart to the most reactionary prejudices of our social order. It is one of the bases for fascism. And there are not a few sycophants ready to become “the leader” of such a movement.

But, above all, the existence of these conditions stresses more than ever that only one solution remains for the Negro people. It is, in fact, the one solution for the workers and poor farmers of this country, for the workers and peasants of the entire world, for the colonial peoples and all subject races and peoples. It is socialism! For the root evil which gives life and blood to the most reactionary of all prejudices is the ever-present hunt for profits, the capitalist social order. Only socialism can destroy this evil. Only a society in which the means of life belong to the people, in which class rule and class exploitation are forever barred, can bring genuine and lasting political, social and economic freedom to all of mankind, no matter their color, no matter where they may be.

Top of page

Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 15 February 2020