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Irving Howe

Daily Worker Covers Up Poll-Tax Politicians
on Missouri Lynching

(February 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 6, 9 February 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Not the least interesting of the various reactions to the horrible lynching of Cleo Wright in Sikeston, Mo., was that of the Daily Worker, organ of the American Stalinists.

This lynching was understood by every progressive Negro and white worker as but another link in the chain of Jim Crowism in the South. It was understood – how else CAN is be understood? – as but another instance of the terrorism which the Southern white ruling class (in some instances the planters, and in this particular case, the small town business men) exerts to keep the Negroes “in their place.”

Was there anything unusual about this lynching? Even its sadistic ferocity is not without a precedent. Was it an exception? Everyone knows of the many, many lynchings of the past years – those widely publicized and those which do not even get three lines of publicity in the press.

This lynching is merely a manifestation of a rotten social system; it is an integral part of Southern capitalist society. Everybody – even the most war-mad liberals – must admit that!

Everybody, that is, except the Daily Worker, which in its hysterical jingoism and pseudo-patriotism is second to none in this country, not even to the yellow tabloid press.

What It Doesn’t Say

For the Daily Worker the Sikeston lynching is significant not primarily as a manifestation of a decadent society which exerts its “justice” by burning black bodies. That is not even a secondary aspect of it, for it. The Daily Worker has not a word to say about the connection between the lynching and Southern society; not a word to say about the connection between the lynching and the Southern Democratic political machine (a machine which President Roosevelt not only tolerates, but actually leads!).

For the Daily Worker the lynching is important ... in terms of the military struggle which American imperialism is conducting today. The lynching, says the Daily Worker of February 2, “must be judged in an entirely new light – in light of the requirements for military victory against the Axis enemy.”

It continues: “It is a conscious deed of sabotage and interference with a domestic phase of the military program for the defeat of the enemy; it is a political crime against the U.S. government.”

This statement is a lie! If the Negro people follow the advice in this statement they can only prepare the ground for new sufferings for themselves.

Lynching is not a “conscious deed of .sabotage and interference with a domestic phase of the military program.” Nor is it a “political crime against the U.S. Government.”

Who Are the Lynchers?

Every Negro knows that the elements which perpetrate lynchings in the South are among the most substantial sections of society, at least in their leadership; that the “respectable” business and middle class elements are generally behind these lynchings.

Every Negro knows that these same “respectable” elements are precisely the most “patriotic,” the leaders of the Democratic machines in the South who condone the lynchings, who uphold Jim Crowism.

Nor is lynching a “political crime” against the U.S. government! Every Negro knows that Congress has refused to pass even the mild anti-lynching bill; nor has the President ever said a word to prompt Congress to pass such a bill!

What Worries the Daily Worker

What worries the Daily Worker is not so much that there’s been a lynching ... but that Hitler may use it as propaganda! The DW says: “The Tokio and Berlin short wave radio stations are already citing this lynching as ‘evidence’ of the treatment in store for the colored races of South Africa and the East – allies of the United States – in event of a victory of the democracies.”

What vile stuff this is! Of course Hitler can use this as propaganda; of course Hitler lies and offers just as bad a fate for the Negro. But isn’t it true that under the rule of the great “democracies” – England and America – the Negro people ARE enslaved, ARE humiliated both in Africa and America.

This doesn’t mean that the Negro people should support Hitler; he is their enemy. But it follows also that the Negro people shouldn’t give support to the British and American bosses; they have also shown themselves as the enemy of the Negroes.

Jim Crowism is an integral part of Southern capitalist life. It is the way that the Southern capitalists prevent the cementing of unity between white and black workers; it is the insidious method of “divide and rule” which helps retard labor organization in the South – and that is clearly to the bosses’ benefit. It is the way they maintain their low wage policy. It is the way they maintain their plantations. It is the way they maintain their social position and prestige – in a word, the way they maintain their system!

The Capitalists’ Stakes

And the entire capitalist system of the country, including both capitalist political machines, has a stake in the preservation of this system. This is true of the Administration, which can get the votes of the Southern Democratic machine any day to make every section of the world safe for democracy ... except the South!

That is why the Daily Worker commits such vile treachery against the Negro people when it hails “the promptness with which Governor Forrest Donnell reacted in ordering an investigation of the lynching ...”

Why does the Daily Worker lie? Why does it hide what it knows so well, and has previously written about, that such “investigations” which the governor of Missouri ordered are merely bluffs to quiet and soothe the indignation against the lynching, to smother the issue in red tape.

The Stalinists’ Treachery

Why? Because the Daily Worker, faithful agent of the Kremlin dictator, is interested in one thing only: the military victory of Russia and whoever its allies may happen to be at the moment. When Stalin was mousing around with Hitler, then

the Daily Worker suddenly understood that lynching is an integral part of capitalism, that the way to fight lynching is to organize a united front of black and white workers against the bosses and their system and their agents who instigate the social conditions that give rise to such barbarisms as lynchings.

The Daily Worker can blow hot and cold at will. It can recognize social evils in America ... when Stalin is on the opposite side of the diplomatic and military side. But when Stalin is on the side of America ... then all is milk and honey – even if there is an “occasional lynching.”

Negroes Can’t Relax

But the Negro workers live and suffer under Jim Crowism regardless of which side of the war Stalin may happen to be. They cannot relax their hatred and opposition to Jim Crowism merely because it is to Stalin’s advantage.

The Negro workers must brand the Daily Worker and the Stalinists for what they are: accomplices of the political party which tolerates lynchings in the South – the Democratic Party!

The Negro workers must brand the Daily Worker for what it is: the accomplice and supporter of the social system which tolerates and produces lynching!

And they must turn their backs on the Stalinist fakers and continue the fight for full social, political and economic equality for the Negro people!

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