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Harry Allen

Negro’s Road to Freedom Linked with Labor’s Fight

(January 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 4, 25 January 1943, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The American ruling class is seriously concerned with the sharp growth, of dissatisfaction among the Negro masses. Meager sops and remedies now, and big promises for the future, placate some Negroes. However, the acute and distinct abuses and discrimination that the Negroes continue to suffer as a race cause the vast majority to be skeptical and cynical about their status, present and future – especially as long; as they are dependent upon favors from above for improvement in their situation.

Not even the increase of jobs for Negro men and women, induced by war needs and somewhat alleviating their economic conditions, can lead them to ignore fundamental realities.

No Freedom

For example, the influential Negro columnist of the Pittsburgh Courier, George S. Schuyler, comments on the disillusionment of those intellectuals who only now learn that the war “has ceased to be a fight for freedom” (Pearl Buck). “It never was such a fight,” states Schuyler, “except in the minds of the easily deluded, wishful thinkers ...”

Still, this otherwise realistic Negro intellectual, who understands that the promises of “a new order of justice, freedom and security” are just so much mouth-wash under imperialism, refused to draw the conclusion of his own logic: only socialism can end colonialism and racial oppression.

Instead, Schuyler skirts this decisive solution, which is in the long run the only truly PRACTICAL answer for the Negro masses. He contents himself by stating that the Axis must be defeated, thus relinquishing the needs and demands of the Negro people to war requirements.

However, the responsibility for the soundest immediate and ultimate aid to the Negro masses rests with the revolutionary proletarian movement, as the only force grasping accurately the immediate and historic needs of all the oppressed and exploited.

Stalinists Betray Negroes

Significantly, the Negro writer, Horace R. Cayton, recognizes and is troubled with the role played by the revolutionary movement with respect to the Negro in the recent past and during the war. He writes in the Pittsburgh Courier of January 2:

“The entire left wing and progressive movement, to which large sections of the Negro population have looked for leadership throughout the depression to an extent, let them down by subordinating the Negro people to the war program.”

Cayton here penetrates to a central issue, namely, the necessity for all the oppressed to stand and strike out independently for their joint class and inter-racial needs as against the demands of the ruling class.

Note, though, that by the “left wing” Cayton can only mean the Stalinists. It is they whom the Negroes must castigate and completely turn their backs upon. For it is the Stalinists – supporters of Kremlin interests and the allies of one of the war camps – who have “let the Negroes down.” Through the years they have distorted and betrayed the needs of the Negroes and all the masses. Only the genuine left wing – the revolutionary outlook represented in the program of the Workers Party – has pointed a. clear road to the Negroes.

Mr. Cayton declares categorically that the Negro masses “now are more unified on the issues which confront them than they have ever been in their history ... Negroes are beginning to think alike.” He then asks why this new solidarity among the black people has not brought forth a living organization, program and leaders to give leadership to the Negro people?

This is indeed the central question: the need of a dynamic leadership, based on a definite program. It is here that all Negro organizations and their professed leaders run in a vicious circle and fail to examine where and how a dynamic leadership on a definite program can be achieved.

The interests of the Negroes are not uniform or homogeneous. They are also divided by divergent class interests among them. Some present an entirely bourgeois outlook, determined by their status as capitalists of varying importance.

Why MOW Fails

Thus, for instance, the fault with the MOW (March on Washington movement) lies in the fact that its leadership, from Randolph down, endeavors to appease the contradictory forces within its own movement and within the social order of capitalism.

Specifically, Randolph, a working class representative, but backed and surrounded mainly by a secondary leadership of middle class Negroes, declines to get tough with the powers that be, except on secondary matters. Supporting the war, they cannot see, or refuse to see, that the ruling class (with a tremendous Southern bloc of Jim Crowers in Congress) has, above all, its war aims to attend to, and concedes to the Negroes only what it cannot avoid conceding.

Only the organized labor movement, also taking a beating from boss and government, gives real protection to the Negroes who help make up its organization.

The overwhelming bulk of the Negroes are workers or poor farmers of varying degree. It is to be expected that labor problems as a whole are receiving greater consideration than ever before by the Negroes. Thus the California Eagle, in discussing the entry of thousands of Negro women into war industry, comments editorially:

“But of the greatest significance is the fact that they (the new Negro workers in industry – H.A.) are now in a position to be drawn into the full stream of the progressive labor movement, whose heroic efforts in behalf of Negro liberation are the hope of our people.”

White Labor Has Special Duty

A part of the Negro world therefore recognizes the relation and indispensability of Negro workers to the labor movement. However, the decisive responsibility for the integration of the new Negro workers into the labor movement rests with white labor. The California Eagle pointedly voices the Negro’s suspicions, as well as a friendly warning to the labor movement, to exercise its responsibility by cracking down on Jim Crow practices within the labor movement:

“What is imperative, however, is that labor recognize its SPECIAL duties to Negro workers. The simple statement that labor believes in ‘equality’ isn’t worth a tinker’s damn. Negroes are a submerged group in the body politic. Before there can be any talk of equality, a militant campaign to hoist colored workers up to the levels, of equal treatment before the law must be made. Labor cannot afford to /take the position of a friendly endorser of the fight for Negro rights. Labor must become the forefront of that struggle.”

Out of a fighting alliance and unity of Negro and white workers and the Negro masses to achieve the democratic, social and economic rights of the Negroes will ultimately come a conscious class struggle policy against the common exploiters and political rulers.

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