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Negro & Class Struggle

[Hugo Oehler]

The Negro and the Class Struggle

(May 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 19 (Whole No. 115), 7 May 1932, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Continued from last issue)

Revolutions and civil wars are always followed by “counter-revolution” (reaction, terror, etc. against the exploited) unless the workers are able to carry the civil war over to the point where they seize power for themselves. During the struggle, concessions are necessary to gain the support of the exploited for the exploiters’ war. But once the former exploiter is defeated, the new exploiter makes haste to bring about a new alignment with the former enemy, under the hegemony of the new exploiter, against the exploited. The results of the civil war only confirmed this truth again.

The legal forms of capitalist rule were not sufficient for the needs of the plantation owners of the south. Lynch law was added – a necessary measure used against the whole exploited class whenever the formal legal means do not suffice to keep them in check. Lynch law exists for the Negro every minute of the day and night. But it is not the elimination of the lynch law that will free the Negro. Rather lynch law, as such, can only be done away with by the overthrow of capitalism. In the struggle to overthrow capitalism a necessary part is the constant struggle against lynch law and all forms of discrimination (discriminating law prohibiting admittance to, public and private buildings, schools universities, parks, etc.; restrictions regarding jury service and civil service; disfranchisment; prohibition of inter-marriage; lease system, chain gangs, etc., and admittance to working class organizations, trade unions etc.)

The Negro in America – bourgeoisie, petit-bourgeoisie, farmer and worker – stands as an oppressed racial minority, a national minority. Of course they are a minority of the nation; and in this sense, a mechanical one, they are a national minority. But in the political sense it is not so. A national minority are a people not only with racial differences, but a people with special differences of language, custom and religion, or with a separate national character or national interests. Politically speaking, national minorities always have the integral element of racial minority (race or branch of race). But a racial minority, in the hodge-podge of capitalist society, does not necessarily signify national minority. On the other hand, racial oppression does not always mean the oppression of a national minority. This oppression may be inflicted on a national majority, as in the case of China and India. One could give countless examples of this kind in the past history. America, the outstanding representative of Capitalism, is the best example to show the differences between a racial minority and a national minority. America is now a nation and its people take pride in their nationality, regardless of the descent, especially those Americans of the second and third generation of foreign descent. In the United States we find many racial groups making up the nation as “Americans”. The Swedes, English, Spanish or French born in America, who may still have the “pure Blood” of their race, can be considered as a racial minority (races of Europe) of the population of the United States. In this way they are catalogued mechanically as part of a national group. But, in spite of this, they cannot be considered as a national minority in the political sense.

The Negro was brought from Africa, from a system of Barbarism where nations as political states were only in, the process of formation. He was hurried through the process and now is part of Capitalism. He brought with him racial characteristics, as well as traditions and modes of the past. However, his life in America has overbalanced that which was brought from the past, has modified it, has changed it. Capitalist America as forced him to adopt the language and religion and modes of the country and of the economic system as the DETERMINING FACTORS of this part of his make-up. The more complicated economic structure here in America has swallowed up the past. And, although it cannot be eliminated and expresses itself in the new make-up, it is not the determining factor of the American Negro.

As an oppressed racial minority it is one question, and the question is the race form of the class struggle. As an oppressed national minority it is another question. The attempt to construe the Negro question this way can only result, not in nationalism for the Negro, but in national reformism for the “Marxist”. The idea of Self determination for national minorities (which include races or racial groups) is a compromise and concession; it is a transitional measure, a weapon against capitalism, providing it is used at the proper time, where, no other road out is possible. This is not the situation in America with the American Negro, as the Stalinites contend.

Objective conditions are still on the move for the Negro, and particularly since the world war. The shortage of labor in the War period, the stoppage of the immigration flow, and the development of capitalism at a faster pace in the South – all this moved the Negro into the stream of class struggle. The racial expression of the oppression of the Negro is no reason for a revolutionist to see the form (racial oppression) and enlarge this out of its true relation to the content of the class struggle.

The decisive section of the Negroes, in relation to the problem considered, is no longer the one which is “half slaves-half serfs”, it is not petty bourgeois Negro. The decisive section in the class struggle, in the North as well as the South – in America as a whole, which is the proper way to look at the problem – is the Negro proletariat. His weight as a proletarian, if it is the decisive part (and even Stalinism does not deny this in words), will make up for his weakness in the “South” where Stalinism says the slogan of Self Determination is necessary.

The complicated race form of the class struggle for the Negro lays the main burden upon the Negro proletariat in relation to the rest of the Negroes, but not in relation to the white proletariat. The main burden of the relation of the Negro to the white proletariat rests upon the shoulders of the latter. The white worker must be ready to meet the Negro more than half way. He must go to the point – no matter how far – for the victory of the workers over capitalism. The Negro worker is necessary part of this problem for the victory not of the white workers but of the WORKERS regardless of their race.

(Continued in next issue)

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