Ernest Rice McKinney Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

David Coolidge

“Negro Speaks Out” Committee Plots
Feeble Path with Faulty Compass

Gathering of Prominent Negroes Looks Suspiciously Like
an “Innocent” Group Concocted by the Stalinists

(9 July 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 23, 9 June 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Last week the Stalinist Daily Worker and some o the Negro weeklies carried an advertisement entitled Negroes Speak Out. The Negro papers also carried a press release, presumably from the group that was speaking out for the 15,000,000 Negroes in the United States. The Daily Worker made quite a display under a two-line, five-column head. This was the Daily Worker of Tuesday, May 27. Among the “initiators” and “sponsors” of the new group are some of the most prominent Negroes in the United States. In the list of “initiators” are Dr. Sara W. Brown, a trustee of Howard Univerity; Dr. W.H. Jernagin., president of the Baptist Young People’s Union; Dr. David D, Jones, president of Bennett College; Earl B. Dickerson, alderman, city of Chicago; Dr. A. Clayton Powell, Abyssinian Baptist Church, New York; Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, president, Morehouse College; Bishop Reverdy C. Ransom, African Methodist Episcopal Church; C.C. Spalding; Prof. Doxey Wilkerson of Howard University and Bishop W.J. Walls of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.

Another member of the “initiating group” is Max Yergan, who is set down as the “director, Council on African Affairs.” Mr. Yergan is also treasurer of the movement, and those interested are asked to send contributions to him.

And the “Sponsors”

Among the “sponsors” are: George S. Scuyler; Rufus E. Clement, president, Atlanta University; Robert P. Daniel, president, Shaw University; J.A. Cotton, president, Knoxville College; John M. Gandy, president, Virginia State College; and J.B. Randolph, president of Claflin University. Then there are numerous YMCA secretaries, other college presidents, teachers, preachers, lawyers and other Negroes in the professions.

Also among the “sponsors” are Ben Davis, Jr., editorial board of the Daily Worker; James W. Ford, Stalinist candidate for vice-president; numerous members of the Young Communist League, the International Workers Order and the International Labor Defense. Also among the sponsors and initiators are a dozen or so Negro organizers and leaders in various CIO unions.

Its Purpose as Stated

The statement issued by the group bears the title: The Present Position of the Negro People in America. The declaration begins: “At this crucial stage in our country’s history there are mighty forces that seek to undermine democracy in the name of defending democratic rights.” The statement then goes on to discuss “discrimination, Jim-Crowism, segregation and unemployment.” ‘’This discrimination,” says the statement, “is in clear violation of the Constitution of the United States.” Leaders of government “have taken definite steps in the enforcing of Jim-Crowism as a national policy ... today they carry this policy one step further in the exclusion of Negro workers from jobs in defense industries ... we declare ourselves unalterably opposed to Jim-Crow as a national policy.”

The ills of the Negro population increase, but “the enactment of anti-lynching and anti-poll tax laws and the removal of all discrimination would be to Negroes a clear indication of the democratic intentions of our government. But we have been given no such indication. On the contrary, in the name of ‘defense’ our condition grows worse.” The signers of the statement have the feeling that the war has something to do with the situation and “the Negro people cannot avoid the conclusion that the war drive and the rights go together ... it is impossible for us to see how a program of ‘national defense’ can become a reality, when, in the very process, constitutional liberties are denied such a large segment of the population ... the Negro people want nothing of Hitler; they detest him and all his practices. On the other hand, the British warmakers hold Africa, India, the West Indies and other colonial areas in a cruel bondage often infinitely worse than the oppression known by Negroes in America.”

Another Feeble Petition

It’s really very difficult to guess what this group wants to accomplish. I know what they are talking about when they are reciting the disabilities and evils under which Negroes live in the United States. But Negroes have been doing this for the past half century. Their supplications and laments have been persistent and eloquent, George Scuyler, one of the “sponsors,” has done considerable waiting on this point. Recently he has been talking about the inevitability of socialism. The ruling class, in the United States, however, does not seem to have been much influenced by these petitions and protests. The “Negroes Speak Out” group has only presented another feeble petition.

Despite the fact that the statement recites the wrongs suffered by the Negro, the signers seem completely oblivious of the fact that there are reasons for Jim-Crow and that these reasons can readily be discovered by anyone with the intelligence and courage to look capitalism straight in the face. These Negro leaders seem to be of the opinion that American democracy is all right in and of itself (whatever that means) but that it has been distorted by a group of bad men in the government and in industry.

They talk about violation of the Constitution. Of course the Constitution is violated. Whose Constitution is it? Is it the Negroes’ Constitution or any worker’s Constitution? If the Negroes or any other workers’ group had framed this Constitution they would have the power to enforce it. This Constitution is the organic law of a certain capitalist state, a certain imperialist state: the United States. The capitalist class which operates that state bends the Constitution to serve its own class purposes and protect its own class interests. It is not in the interest of the ruling class to eliminate Jim-Crow. Jim-Crow today is one of the pillars of capitalism in the United States. Its main function is to maintain and intensify the separation of the white and Negro workers so that there will be no solidarity in the working class.

“Our Government”

They talk about the “democratic intentions of our government.” The democratic intentions of our government are to protect capitalism and American imperialism. That’s what “democratic intentions of our government” are to get into the war, defeat German imperialism and gobble up as much as they can of the British Empire for the use of America’s “Sixty Families.” The government has given no indication that it intends to treat Negroes fairly, says the statement. Of course not. Imperialist governments don’t treat any workers fairly. Imperialism is the most intense and most vicious stage of capitalist exploitation. Negroes are treated worse because they are the weakest group among the working class, and the workers as a whole have not learned yet to close ranks against the common exploiter.

To be sure “the war drive and the denial and destruction of democratic rights go together.” This is an imperialist war and everything is subordinated to the aims and goals of the imperialists. If the interests of the ruling class are served by the elimination of Jim-Crow, then eliminated it will be. But their interests are not served in this manner so they keep it going in peacetime and in wartime.

Who are the “common people” with whom Negroes should ally themselves? The statement is very broad and general. The only “common people” whose interests are identical with those of the Negroes is the white working class. Yes, the Negro workers and the white workers must join hands and close ranks. This is the road to the elimination of Jim-Crow. We do not believe that Negro college presidents, businessmen and professionals will render very effective aid in bringing this to pass. We are just as skeptical of this being forwarded by this type of Negro as we are of the same results being sought by white business men and college presidents. And the reasons for our skepticism are the same in the case of both groups. There is a Negro ruling class in relation to Negro workers just as there is a white ruling class in relation to all the workers. The fact that the Negro ruling class is a sort of appendage to the white ruling class does not destroy the facts in the situation. The Negro leaders who issued this declaration are only saying that if the government and industry will only grant Negroes the same status as white workers, they would have no cause for complaint. This may be true of these Negro college presidents, lawyers, preachers, teachers, bishops and YMCA secretaries. But how about the great mass ot Negroes who have no such favored economic and social status? We are against Jim-Crow wherever it shows its head, in peacetime or wartime, in the army, the navy or industry. Negroes should fighl against Jim-Crow but this is not enough, especially during the Second World Imperialist War. The main enemy of Negroes as of white workers is capitalism and imperialist war.

The statement talks of setting “our compass in the direction of freedom, security and full citizenship rights.” In this period of imperialist war you can set your compass any way you please, but you need something more than steam to get to port. Your ship might be sunk by a fellow more realistically and sensibly prepared.

This is a very weak pronouncement issued by a weak and helpless group. They neither understand the realities of the present-day world nor are they prepared to go through even with the very modest demands they make. When the United States enters the war, most of them will shut up and go over bag and baggage to the warmakers just like the whites of their type. They will be flag wavers and flaming patriots. What else can they do? They are not Negro workers and do not suffer the same as the real Negro worker. As soon as the government begins to crack down they will find all manner of excuses for supporting the war. This will be easy for them because they are not against the war now. Even now they are only asking the government to give them the opportunity to support the war on equal footing with the whites.

As to the Stalinists

There is one other observation that we wish to make before we close. That is about the Stalinists. We pointed out in the beginning certain well-known Stalinists who are prominent in this new committee. It is clear that this is another one of the numerous Stalinist innocents’ group. The statement itself is just a mish-mash as only the Stalinists could concoct. The whole thing was probably organized by Max Yergan, who is well known as a Stalinised Negro intellectual. And then there are James Ford and Ben Davis, Jr., both Stalinist functionaries.

We object to these Stalinist organizations not because they are groups formed by a political party, or because they are “red,” or revolutionary or for the overthrow of capitalism. No, we object because they are fakes and because Stalinism is a virulent poison in the labor movement. The Stalinists corral these Negro intellectuals and attempt to turn them against the war. But the Stalinists are not against the war; they are only against the United States and England. This for the reason that Stalin is hand in glove with Hitler since the Stalin-Hitler pact. The Stalinists are not against imperialism, but only against British-American imperialism. They are in one of the imperialist camps (Germany’s) themselves, and are in no sense a revolutionary anti-war group. Whenever it serves the interests of Stalin, orders will go out and the Stalinists in the United States will begin waving the flag and shouting for the U.S. to get into the war. That is, they will return to their position of the days of “collective security” when they were singing the Star Spangled Banner and urging the “democracies” (England, France and the United States) to go to war against Germany.

We say that the Stalinists are a poison in the labor movement. Wherever they have any influence in the unions they debauch the movement and subject the workers to all the twists and turns of Stalin’s foreign policy. They encourage or retard the militancy of the workers, depending on the particular political axe they have to grind at the moment. If they are friendly to the U.S. they confine their militancy to writing protest postal cards to “liberal” congressmen. If, as today, they are in a pact with the fascist Hitler, they are against the U.S. entering the war.

What We Believe

The Workers Party believes that Negroes should always fight for ECONOMIC, SOCIAL and POLITICAL equality. They should fight against every manifestation of Jim-Crow everywhere and all the time. This fight must be carried on by the Negro workers, as workers. The white workers must join with the Negroes in this struggle. They must take the initiative and lead in this struggle for liberation of the Negro people.

The struggle today must center on the Second World Imperialist War. The fight against Jim-Crow is the fight against capitalism. The fight against the misery and insecurity of the Negro people is the struggle against United States imperialism and against capitalist barbarism. The victory of the Negro people can only come with the victory of the working class. The leading of the workers, Negroes included, to victory over capitalism and imperialism is a task that can be performed only by the revolutionary party of the workers. The workers in the United States must have such a party. Negro workers must join, along with the white workers. The Workers Party stands on such a platform.





Ernest Rice McKinney Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 30.12.2012