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David Coolidge

We Need a Program for Action by the MOW

(28 June 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 26, 28 June 1943, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

You are assembled in Chicago in answer to a call from the leaders of the March on Washington Movement. The slogan of the conference is: “We Are Americans, Too!” The call for the conference declares that “the need for mass organization is now. Negro Americans must awake to the cause of their nation’s freedom. Black men who have so long seen and cherished democracy from afar must arise and take this sacred goddess for themselves. Democracy must be Saved for America and hence for the world. We must join the swelling ranks of all people who are on the march toward a free world. We must be the standard bearers of this new community, of the spirit that has as its motto, the matchless slogan, ‘with malice toward none and justice toward all.’

“Here we will ponder and discuss whether Negroes should march on Washington and if so, when ... We will demand the abolition of the WAR’S GREATEST SCANDAL – JIM CROW IN UNIFORM! ... We will dedicate our lives to the cause of American freedom, the freedom of colored people everywhere and the freedom of the world. We will proclaim our dedication to the cause of a free Africa and the freedom of the West Indies ...

 Here we will map out a broad national program in the interest of abolishing Jim Crowism in America. We will ponder and discuss nonviolent techniques for mass action that may some day point the way toward a foundation of peace for a new world. We will proclaim anew and reaffirm the determination of the colored people to struggle for the victory of the United Nations over the Axis powers and for democracy. We will seek a solution to the problem of race which will avoid and prevent riots, violence and bloodshed.”

This is quite an ambitious program the conference sets for itself. Is it more than verbiage? Are we to assume that the MOW leadership will come to the conference with definite and concrete proposals for the delegates to act on, proposals that will be in line with the purpose for which the MOW was formed two years ago, namely, to organize Negroes in the United States for a mass MARCH ON WASHINGTON?

If the conference is carried through with the same indecisiveness that has characterized the MOW during the past two years or in the spirit of the high sounding but empty platitudes of the call, then this conference will begin and end as nothing more than a “Cave of the Winds.”

The call says that “the need for mass organization is now.” This is true, but mass organization for what? For more calls for organization? For more speeches? For more protest meetings? For more lamentation on the wrongs against the Negro? For more wailing over Jim Crow and lynching and segregation?

What Needs to Be Done

The imperative need is for mass organization followed by militant mass action. Furthermore, experience has demonstrated that the road to mass organization, the way to get the masses to respond to an organization call is through militant mass action. Neither the Negro masses nor any other masses can be organized merely by holding conferences and making speeches. The Negro masses, just like other groups with deep-seated, grievances, will respond only to the call of a leadership that comes with a program for concrete and practical action commensurate with the magnitude of their wrongs and grievances.

The call states that “we will dedicate our lives to the cause of American freedom, the freedom of the colored people everywhere and the freedom of the world.” The first and primary business of this conference is to dedicate itself to the cause of the freedom of the Negro here in the United States, to demand and organize for complete POLITICAL, SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC EQUALITY for the Negro right here in the United States – NOW. When we have made’some appreciable progress in this direction, we can consider the larger question of the “freedom of the world.”

The call says that the conference will “reaffirm the determination of the colored people to struggle for the victory of the United Nations over the Axis powers and for democracy.” Now, we can see no reason whatsoever why Negroes should desire a victory by the Axis powers. That is, we cannot imagine any Negro desiring the victory of the fascist nations. But, on the other hand, it is difficult for us to reconcile “our dedication to the cause of a free Africa and the freedom of the West Indies” with the victory of imperialist Britain in this war. That is, we cannot understand such a position unless the leaders of the MOW believe that after the Axis powers are defeated England will free Africa and the West Indies (which isn’t mentioned in the call).

Also, what is there in the present, situation which leads Mr. Randolph and the other leaders of the MOW to believe that the United States ruling class and its government have any intention of according equality to the American Negro after the Axis powers are defeated? After nearly four years of England’s participation in the war and eighteen months by the United States, we see no reason why any Negro, British or American, should have any such belief. The question of the liberation of the colonies by England and the elimination of Jim Crow in the United States have no place whatsoever in the minds of the American and British rulers.

The Negroes Do Understand

The Negro masses in the United States can see this. They see it written in their own blood in the streets of northern Detroit and southern Beaumont. They see it in the Jim Crow policies of the Washington government, in the brutal treatment of black men in uniform, in the savagery of the mob and in the discriminatory practices on Negro workers in the factories: the “arsenals of democracy.” All we need do is listen.and hear the groans of hundreds of thousands of black agricultural workers writhing under the lash of the plantation boss just as though i slavery had never been abolished. Then where is democracy? Where are the “Four Freedoms”? Where are even their beginnings to be discerned?

The March on Washington Movement began its career with at least a partial recognition of these facts. It was organized arpund a slogan calling for a militant mass march on the capital of the nation; the center from which flows out to the whole country a national policy of Jim Crow. In its original call for a march on Washington the MOW said that “our valiant and heroic forebears won the right for Negroes to enjoy the priceless gift of freedom ... they won it through tears, sweat and blood.”

Commenting on this statement at the time, Labor Action said: “Nat Turner didn’t put in much time contemplating or condemning the oppressive governments of Europe in his day. He had an uncanny knowledge what government and what group was oppressing him and the Negroes of his day. And we are of the opinion that Nat Turner, Vesey and Gabriel did not shed many tears, ‘Toil, sweat and blood,’ yes, but not tears.”

After making a very militant beginning, so far as words could be militant, the march was called off. It was called off in the most undemocratic manner, without any consultation with the thousands of Negroes who were ready to march. Mr. Randolph announced that the march had not really been called off but only postponed. This was two years ago. Since then the movement nationally has been nothing more than a paper organization.

During these two years the United States entered the war as an active participant. Jim Crow, lynching, discrimination, segregation continued everywhere. Attacks on Negroes and

Negro communities became the order of the day. While this outrageous Situation was developing Mr. Randolph and the MOW leaders were stumbling along from one pronouncement to another, from one speech to the next. Randolph went over to full support ot the war and called for “national unity.” But Negroes found that they could not unite with those designated by the MOW leaders.

They could not unite with a government at Washington in war, because leading government officials had no inclination for “sociological experiment.” This is a new term for demands for democratic rights for Negroes, for freedom from lynching and the security of Negro neighborhoods from invasions by white mobs.

A Concrete Program Is Needed

Now, the leader of the MOW has had a revelation which takes on a sort of modified form of the Gandhi philosophy , of “non-violent resistance” or something known as “constitutional obedience.” The call for the July conference says that “we will ponder and discuss non-violent techniques for mass action that may some day point the way toward a foundation of peace for a new world.” (We can imagine with what profound interest the Negro delegates from Detroit, Beaumont, Newark, Alexandria, La., Florida and around Fort Bragge will listen to these discussions!)

The supreme need, of this, conference is to organize for ACTION and not more speech-making. There has been enough and too much of that already. We say again that the conference hall must not be a mere “Cave of the Winds.” The delegates must demand and insist on definite plans for action from Mr. Randolph and the other MOW leaders. The time for talk has long since passed.

One thing to be insisted on is the orientatipn of the MOW, in a very practical way, toward the organized labor movement. This means to call on the labor movement for support, to urge Negro workers to greater activity in the trade unions, to bring thousands of Negro workers into the MOW. If the MOW is to be an effective organization it must have a working class base and a working class membership.

MOW Must Become Working Class

Working class Negroes must rise to positions of leadership in the MOW. This must;! be real and not a fake. At present the MOW is led by middle class Negroes. Furthermore, we can see no reason why white workers should not be permitted to become members of the MOW. We have the opinion that one reason for excluding white people was the desire to exclude the Stalinists. But the most effective way to combat the Stalinists is to adopt a militant program which would automatically either exclude the Stalinists or render them impotent. But Mr. Randolph, in excluding the Stalinists, is in a very contradictory position. The Stalinists are warm and ardent supporters of the war – and so is Randolph. On the question of the main event of the day Randolph and the Stalinists stand together on the same platform.

The MOW should be made a genuinely democratic organization, with a real membership and controlled by that membership. This means democratically elected’officers in every branch and in the national organization.

The conference should adopt a militant and realistic program, specifically for the United States in the present concrete situation. The call to the conference contains far too many mushy and tender generalities.

The MOW, was called together for a MARCH ON WASHINGTON. There is greater need for such a. march how than two years ago. This, should be the main item on the agenda and all the other questions should be held over for more peaceful times and. occasions. It is all right for the leader of the MOW to indulge in philosophical musings on “non-violent techniques,” “the freedom of the world,” “peace for a new world,” the “brotherhood of man” and saving America “for God.” But that’s not the business of the conference.

After Detroit and Beaumont, the problem is to organize for saving the Negro masses in the United States and to secure for them SOCIAL, POLITICAL AND ECONOMICAL EQUALITY. A militant mass MARCH ON WASHINGTON will contribute more toward this end than anything else!

Workers all over the country are beginning to think on the question of independent working class political action. They are not ardent in their support of Roosevelt today. This does not mean that they will necessarily support Willkie or any other Republican in 1944.

Negroes too should fall in line with this current. They must join any movement for an Independent Working Class Labor Party. That is, a party formed of Negro and white workers, free from the control and domination of the two ruling class political parties, the Republican and Democratic Parties, Along with the main question of organizing the MARCH ON WASHINGTON, the Chicago conference might well give thorough consideration to the matter of independent working class political action and the formation of a Labor Party.

There are important things for the conference to do. We have mentioned a few of them. There may be more. The time has come for more action and less talk. While the MOW leaders talk and talk, the Klan and the native fascists incite to murder and pillage.

We do not believe that Negroes have no alternative to support of Axis fascism save crawling before American imperialism which Jim Crows and maltreats them. Negroes are of course against fascism. They are like the white workers who are also against. fascism. They will give no support to the Axis powers and, of course, they are correct. Labor Action and the Workers Party hold that the road to freedom, liberty and security for the Negro worker, is the same as the road the white worker must follow. They must go up that road together, arm in arm. That is the road of independent political action, of socialist political action; of political and economic action against capitalism and imperialism, whether the imperialism of the Axis powers or the “United” Nations; of the liberation of all oppressed and exploited peoples.

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