First published: 23 February, 1948
Published in: The Militant, (The Negro Struggle Column), Vol. 12 No. 8, 23 February 1948, p. 4.
Source: The Militant
Transcribed by: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Many pages of the Negro’s history in America still remain unwritten. Not only has the capitalist historian kept the Negro’s contribution to the development of America out of the school textbooks, but even “adult” books specifically devoted to the Negro problem, including the 1,483 pages of the pretentious An American Dilemma, have seen fit not to do serious research to fill those blank pages. The most glaring gap is that of the Negro’s role in the Populist movement in the 1880s and 90s, and it is to that period that we wish to turn our readers’ attention.
This is a particularly glorious page which explodes many of the stereotyped conceptions of the Negro. It is alleged, for instance, that it is impossible to organize the Negro into a cohesive movement, yet the Colored Farmers Alliance in that period numbered no less than one and one-quarter million members. Another myth blown to bits is that the Negro has followed the Republican Party from the days after the Civil War until 1932 when he changed to the “New Deal” Democratic Party. Actually, the Colored Farmers Alliance was a part of the Populist movement. Not only that it was its left wing and in the forefront of the struggle for a third anti-capitalist, anti-landlord party, which then took the shape of the Peoples Party.
This party was later swallowed by capitalism, becoming a part of the Democratic Party, but in its time it was a revolutionary movement that united with the labor forces – the Knights of Labor was part of this movement – and threatened the power of the capitalists. It was strong enough then to elect governors and congressmen. The infamous union of Northern capital with the Southern slavocracy dates precisely from this threat to capitalist rule. To conquer the threat of Negro and white unity, the plantocracy united with the railroad interests and raised race discrimination to a principle. The Southern Bourbons to this day live on this.
There are some “liberals” who wish us to think that in the South, in any case, it is impossible to unite white and black. That myth too is branded as a lie by this page of American history. For the populist movement that united black and white swept the prejudice-ridden South immediately after the notorious doctrine of “white supremacy” had just won its first counter-revolutionary battle against Reconstruction. Yet the economic plight of the cotton picker, share cropper and tenant farmer had welded them together as one, irrespective of color, against both the Southern oligarchy and Northern capital.
In Tom Watson, Agrarian Rebel, C. Van Woodward reports the following:
“For the first time in his political history, the Negro was not regarded as an incompetent ward of white supremacy, nor as a ward of military intervention, but as an integral part of Southern society, with a place in its economy ... Never before or since have the two faces come so close together as they did during the Populist struggles.”
What the CIO has since done in the economic field, an independent Labor Party could accomplish in the political field. In the forging of that instrument the Negro will play a part that will bring his role in the Populist movement of the 90s to twentieth century dimensions.