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Julius Falk

Youth and Student Corner

How the Stalinist Student Youth
Pervert the Issue of Jim Crow

(27 February 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 9, 27 February 1950, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Labor Action for February 6 carried a detailed account on the recent session of the planning committee for the forthcoming Conference on Democracy in Education, attended by a large number of representatives from campus clubs and student councils. This conference was originally initiated by several Stalinist front groups, but control was taken out of their hands as a result of cooperation among an ever-increasing number of anti-Stalinist student organizations supporting the conference.

At the above-mentioned pre-conference planning session, the CP’s youth forces took a bad drubbing, failing to win a single post on the conference executive committee. They were voted down 3–1 on most other important issues by the coalition of forty opposing student groups.

In the course of the meeting, as it became clear that they would be washed out of the executive, they resorted to their usual rule-or-ruin tactics. In this case, they pulled the race issue out of thin air and began to mutter in a rising crescendo that the meeting was becoming – Jim Crow! This technique, which the Stalinists had found to be workable elsewhere, was here especially crude and notably unsuccessful.

The details of the affair reveal something of the political psychology of the Stalinists. Remember throughout that the dud charge was hurled during the elections to the executive committee under the conditions sketched above, and when no Negro student had as yet been elected. This fact became the basis for their charge.

What the Stalinists did was to take an idea which is generally correct and completely distort it in a crudely demagogic application. The specific facts make this more than clear, but first some general considerations.

On Negro Representation

By and large, it is perfectly true that the leading committees of democratic organizations should reflect as far as possible the membership and composition as well as the views of that organization and take into consideration the audience it is appealing to. For example, that is why a national organization often properly gives weight to the geographic areas from which candidates for a leading committee come, even where this may mean that a less qualified person from one area is elected instead of a more qualified contender from an over-represented area. For different but often even stronger reasons, the question of minority-group representation should be considered in a somewhat analogous light.

An organization may be completely free from Jim Crow itself – as the student conference under consideration is, of course – but one of its most effective ways of impressing this upon the student body at large can well be the fact that its leading committee is inter-racially composed. In a free society where discrimination and racism no longer exists, such considerations might also become obsolete; but in the United States, where bigotry and various degrees of prejudice are deeply embedded, they are important.

Of course, this does not mean that such minority-group representation automatically gives a democratic character to an organization: the converse of a true proposition is not necessarily true.

Naturally, this consideration is especially important if the organization itself is infested with discrimination. Where this is not true, the main reason still holds – but in no case is race the only consideration in voting for a candidate. It is this last point which was the issue raised by the Stalinists, and this alone.

Racist Blackmail

The Stalinist hue and cry was not raised through stupidity or passionate concern with minority rights. The student groups in the Conference on Democracy in Education are all thoroughly anti-Jim Crow. The demagogic and chauvinist manner in which the Stalinists used the racial issue was offensive to all other students present, who were eventually roundly abused by the Stalinists. What was damning about the latter’s strategy was that they did not inject the “You-are-Jim-Crow-unless-you-elect-a-Negro” angle until it was completely clear that one of their own Stalinist hacks who is a Negro was going to be defeated for the executive along with the other Stalinists. This at a meeting where the political lines were sharply and tightly drawn and had been for some time.

The Stalinist strategy was, on the one had, a crude and vulgar appeal to the democratic instincts of the students in the hope that this would override their POLITICAL antagonism; on the other hand, it was simple blackmail to get a Stalinist elected solely and simply on the basis of his color where he was rejected on the basis of his politics. “Unless you elect THIS Stalinist, we will brand you as anti-Negro” was the line.

The most that one could say is that the anti-Stalinist students at the meeting did not give sufficient weight to the general considerations discussed above with regard to constructing the most effective and representative leading committee, through overwhelming concentration on the candidates’ views and competence rather than color. As a matter of fact, however, the anti-Stalinists did propose a Negro student for their own slate; this student unfortunately declined to run.

fn the course of the election, the anti-Stalinists even nominated one of the Stalinist Negro students for a post on the executive, and he had an excellent chance of being elected; by this time, however, the line was to break up the meeting and this nominee declined.

If he had run and been elected, the Stalinists would not have been able to cover their rout or try to break up the meeting by hurling the fantastic charge of Jim Crow at the socialists, young liberals, members of Students for Democratic Action (SDA), Young Democrats, AVCers and student council representatives who were allied in the anti-Stalinist caucus.

As described in our February 6 issue, the Stalinists seized upon a weird incident to precipitate their fracas. A student in the audience, a member of the SDA (which is the student section of Americans for Democratic Action) was accused of having made a Jim-Crow remark, by a student so far away from him that he could not have heard anything. In any case, the SDAer vigorously denied the charge. The junior S-men started a riotous demand that he be kicked out instanter – no evidence needed, no defense permitted, Moscow-fashion.

Absurd Lengths

The lengths to which the Stalinists went were astounding and if one could have maintained a sense of humor under the circumstances might even have seemed comical. At one point a student from the Columbia Student Council referred to a Negro Stalinist, whom he had known personally, as “Irving.” The Stalinist yelled at the Columbia student: “This proves that you are Jim Crow because my name is Douglas and you know it.”

It happens that Douglas has a twin brother whose name is Irving; both of them are leading Stalinists, both go to Brooklyn College, both of them were known to the Columbia student. To cap it, the Columbia representative who was thus accused of Jim Crowism for confusing twins was perhaps the most active proponent in the student council for the widely publicized recent investigation of Jim-Crow practices in the fraternities.

The Jim Crow charge, however, was more than simply a smokescreen or an attempt to break np the meeting; in the form it took, it was a reflection of the Stalinist attitude of inverted chauvinism, of Jim Crow upside-down. The Stalinist movement, in its own special way, also refuses to treat the Negro as an equal – as a man, a comrade and a co-worker who can stand on his own feet without implicitly patronizing condescension. At the same time, they instill not racial pride but racial chauvinism.

This aspect of Stalinism on the Negro question was brought out dramatically at the meeting by the same Negro Stalinist who had been defeated for the executive. Following his defeat, he got up and shouted to the students that “Every white man has some Jim Crow in him!” A socialist student asked him whether that went for the YPA also [the Young Progressives of America, Stalinist youth front]. The Stalinist student was quick to reply: “You heard me – I said EVERY white has Jim Crow in him.” That’s what he was taught in the YPA.

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