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Albert Gates

What Is Responsible for the Attacks on the Negro People?

Race Discrimination – National Policy and Practice

(June 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 26, 28 June 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The bloody “race riots” in Detroit which have resulted in the death of 25 Negroes and three white persons and injury to scores of others is one of the worst outbreaks in the history of the country. But it is no isolated event: These pogroms against the Negroes have become frequent in recent times. Only last week the press contained harrowing reports of lynch mobs roaming the Negro districts of Beaumont, Texas, burning down homes and beating Negro men, women and children.

A couple of weeks ago, soldiers and sailors, incited by the Los Angeles press, participated in what yellow journalism termed “zoot suit” riots. A Negro was recently lynched in Florida. Five Negroes were killed in the Sun Shipyard at Chester, Pa., by company guards. A Negro soldier was just slain at El Paso, Texas. He is not the first colored serviceman to meet his death in this way. Is this a complete list of the violence, organized and unorganized, against the Negro people of this country? Not at all. There are hundreds, literally hundreds, of cases comparable to those cited. Prior to the outbreaks listed above, we had the attacks on Negro shipyard workers in Mobile, Ala. It is now clear that company officials inspired that attack. The pattern of the Mobile riots is found in other cases. The anti-Negro walkout at the Packard plant in Detroit was also organized at the top, entirely inspired by company officials and aided by the KKK. As a matter of fact, in most instances these attacks upon a racial minority are inspired from above and are organized!

Who Incites Race Hatred?

Since the war broke out, racial tension has increased. The propaganda against racial and national minorities has been both open and secret. But it has increased steadily and to a point where open attacks, reminiscent of Hitler’s pogroms against the Jews, were bound to take place. And all of this in a country at war, presumably in defense of the principles of the so-called “Four Freedoms” and the Atlantic Charter.

But, it will be said: the Administration is firmly against race discrimination, has made attempts to solve the racial problem and to improve the status of the Negro people. In some respects, this is true. However, it must be explained that whatever concessions the Negro people have won in the fight against Jim Crow and discrimination were largely the result of their own determined efforts.

Yes, the Negro people have made progress, but it is this very progress which has incited the race haters, Hitler’s spiritual comrades, the Southern politicians, the Klansmen of the North and South, and many in high places in industry, to open their vicious and vile propaganda against racial and national minorities.

How and why is this possible when presumably the Negro people have made progress in their struggle for equality? It is possible because all the necessary bases for inciting race tension and maintaining it are with us every day.

Jim Crow, Administration protests to the contrary, is a national policy. There is Jim Crow in the armed forces, in every branch of the service – in the Navy, the Army, the Air Force. Jim Crow is practiced in nursing and in the Red Cross. There is Jim Crow in government service. These evils alone would serve to keep alive race tension and race discrimination. But this is not all.

The Southern states are poll-tax states. The fight in Congress to abolish the poll-tax brought on a Southerners’ filibuster and speeches by such human rabble as Rankin, Bilbo and Starnes which were calculated to incite pogroms against the Negroes. Thus the legislative halls in Washington were used as a podium to express the basest and most reactionary thoughts of ignorant Southern Bourbons, still fighting the Civil War and, in essence, endorsing the entire racial program of Hitler and his degenerate hordes. The debate over the poll-tax and the speeches of these champions of darkness and hate have been one of the main springs for the current racial violence.

Last but not least in this list of race baiters, are the industrialists who thrive on racial antagonisms because it takes the attention of exploited labor away from their real problems of life and directs their dissatisfactions into racial and national channels. The current situation has brought much proof of this charge!

Jim Crow – A National Policy

But in addition to the fact that Jim Crow is a national policy, in addition to the fact that the congressional discussion over the poll-tax has incited racial feeling against the Negro, there is the ordinary day-to-day hatred of the Negro and all minorities nurtured by the apostles of darkness in the South and the North, in the Democratic as well as the Republican Parties.

Negroes are Jim Crowed every day of their lives, North and South, East and West, and in every sphere of life. They are Jim Crowed on trains, in restaurants, in public places. They are segregated in the slum districts of cities, in dilapidated houses where they pay the highest rents. They cannot go to certain theaters. They are overcharged for the food they eat and the clothes they wear. Moreover, they face the daily insults against their race. In a word, they are discriminated against socially, politically and economically.

What does Jim Crow arid discrimination mean? It means that you single out one racial group or a national minority, and vilify it. It means that you charge such people as being inferior, mentally, physically and spiritually, to another group; in this case, the Negro people as against the white. The moment that is done, racial conflicts are inevitable. They are especially unavoidable when incited from above, in the congressional halls, by the reactionary press, by high political figures, by industrial leaders who find it profitable to divide the workers in their employ.

What Race Hatred Does

Obviously, relations between Negro and white peoples in this country are not simply solved. Decades of Jim Crow and racial discrimination have led to a certain conditioning of the thinking of large sections of the population. Children are not born to it; they are raised and educated to race hatred by their elders. But race hatred is a prevailing doctrine in the South. From the South it spreads to all parts of the country. It infects other groups where national antagonisms exist. And thus we have a vicious circle of race and national antagonism which cannot serve the real interests of the overwhelming mass of the American people, the workers and the poor farmers.

We revolutionary socialists are opposed to Jim Crow and racial and national discrimination not only because it is inhuman and reactionary. We are opposed to it because such doctrines hurt labor and hurt the poor farmer. The well-being of the working class and the poor farmers depends upon their unity, and not division. Division plays into the hand’s of labor’s exploiters. It plays into the hands of reactionary politicians, big business and the rich farmers. They are the ones who profit from the attacks now made upon the Negroes.

But that isn’t all. Today these attacks are made against the Negroes. Tomorrow they may be made on the Jews. The next day on the foreign born, and a third day upon the Catholics. Once this disease becomes rampant, it has no limits!

The efforts of the liberal press to lay the blame for the anti-Negro riots solely upon the Axis is dangerously false. We have no doubt that those who echo Hitler’s racial doctrines in this country are active in these events. But remember, long before Hitler was even known this race situation existed in this country. It was present in the last war and after the war. It was present before Hitler came to power. The existence of Hitlerism only served to make our native racial haters more outspoken and more vicious in their propaganda. But if the blame for these recent outbreaks is placed exclusively upon fascism in Europe we will overlook the fact that these events have a native base which must be thoroughly uprooted.

How to Defeat Race Hatred

How can this deplorably anti-working class, that is, anti-social, conduct be eliminated?

By ending Jim Crow as a national policy! By abolishing Jim Crow in the armed services! By abolishing the poll-tax and all forms of race discrimination in the South! By abolishing all forms of race discrimination in the North, East and West! By abolishing all forms of Jim Crow and race discrimination in industry! By creating genuine racial equality, national equality, social, political and economic equality for all peoples!

One step in this direction is to make it a criminal offense to practice race discrimination – in industry, in political life, in the armed services, in transportation. Discrimination on account of race, creed or color must be destroyed in every community in every phase of life.

Do this and progress on the racial and national front will be made immediately.

Overcoming and fighting Jim Crow and all forms of race discrimination is a chief task of white workers. The Negro people know what race hatred means and everyone knows how determined they are in fighting it. The white workers, organized and unorganized, must also recognize that race and national hatred is a weapon that can be turned against their best interests as workers. They must fight it with all their vigor and prevent any groups or individuals from introducing such practices in their ranks.

But above all it is necessary to unite the labor movement – the working class, the poor farmers, and all people who toil – in the fight against the scourge of race antagonism. It is they who in the end will suffer most from this condition. It is they who become the prey of vested interests which profit from divisions of color, race or creed. Such a movement of all who toil is the best safeguard against race and national hatred.

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