Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Socialist Appeal, 21 September 1940

Robert L. Birchman

The Negro Struggle

“Labor with a White Skin Cannot Emancipate Itself Where Labor with a Black Skin Is Branded” – Karl Marx


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 38, 21 September 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Negro People Hold the Balance

The 1940 elections are of tremendous importance to the colored race. They take place in the midst of world shaking events. The war in Europe sharpens and the day comes closer when workers, colored and white, will be called on to give their lives to protect Wall Street’s profits. The crisis of unemployment remains with us, in spite of the huge expenditures for armaments. Wages stand still, relief and WPA go down, and the cost of living shoots up. The conscription bill is rushed for debate and passage, while the Anti-Lynch Bill lies a-mouldering in a drawer. The Army keeps shouting that it needs men, and it keeps rejecting Negro volunteers. The Ku Klux Klan gets bolder, and gives out leaflets on the Streets of northern cities.

All these things affect the lives and conditions of every worker. They affect the colored worker most of all because he is always hardest hit in every crisis. The Negro people cannot ignore these things, they have to do something about them. But in order to know what to do, they must understand what the situation really is, and why.

The first step on the Negro’s road to freedom is an intensified participation in politics. An old argument against this is: “We don’t have enough political strength to gain anything.” Recent studies by the Gallup Poll prove this argument completely false. In May this poll found that there are eleven states in which the Negro vote is the decisive one, the vote which will probably swing these states. They were Delaware, Indiana, New York, Minnesota, Illinois, New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Connecticut and Nebraska. Notice that this does not include the heavily Negro-populated states in the South, where Negroes are shot if they so much as try to vote. And still these eleven states will determine the course of the national election!

True, the colored man has not benefited much from politics so far. But that is because he has used his political strength against his own interests. A majority of the colored workers have always voted for either the Democratic or Republican Parties. A brief examination of these parties and their presidential candidates will show why this has been a tragic mistake. Here we will not take up at this time their policies in regard to the general questions of war, low wages, unemployment, etc. Just analyzing their policies in regard to the special problems of the colored race is enough to expose them for what they are. In the words of Roosevelt, “Let’s look at the record.” Let’s look at his record.

The Roosevelt Record

During almost eight years in office Roosevelt developed the idea of “must legislation”. By this was meant the bills in Congress that he badly wanted passed, and on many occasions he has publicly thrown his weight behind such bills. Often he has made the proposals himself, on such things as money for armaments, conscription, etc. During these eight years several versions of the Anti-Lynch Bill were introduced. Not once did he offer a single word in favor of such bills! Each time he was as mum as a dummy. While his party joined hands with the Republicans to kill the bill. In his years of office he has made hundreds of speeches, talked on thousands of things – but never once a speech, or a sentence, or a word about the Anti-Lynch Bill.

Eight southern states use a poll tax to keep the colored people from voting. Several bills, supported by Negroes and the labor movement, have been introduced in Congress to eliminate this vicious legislation. They all went where the Anti-Lynch Bill went. And Roosevelt continued to make speeches about democracy... in Europe. From him, not a word, not a syllable, only the silence of the grave, on the poll tax.

Jim Crow Is a General

As Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Roosevelt has much to say about its policies. No important decisions are made without his approval. But the history of the Army under Roosevelt is the same history of discrimination against colored soldiers and applicants as under the Republicans before him. Negroes are given the dirtiest jobs in the Army, they are denied the opportunity to advance themselves, they suffer insult and segregation. Jim Crow is a general in the Army, but the Commander-in-Chief has never been heard to say a word about it.

All this absolute silence from a man who talks so much means only one thing: Roosevelt favors the policy of discrimination!

Roosevelt was not-elected and re-elected on the basis of his smile alone. His election was made possible by a political machine. This machine is well known as the Democratic Party. Its main source of strength comes from one place, the “solid south”. There the Democratic Party rules supreme. There the Negro suffers everything but legal slavery. There is the home of the lynch mob. There such good Democrats as Senator Bilbo, who wants to ship the colored people back to Africa, and Cotton Ed Smith, and the other Ku-Kluxers and night-riders, are the masters, and when they say, “A third term for Roosevelt”, it means something. What self-respecting colored worker can deliver them his vote?

The Democratic Party belongs to these men. Support them and you will be supporting the whole system of Jim Crow. Put them back in office and you will be putting them in a position where they can tighten the chains of opposition around you. Fight for them and you will (be fighting to keep the Anti-Lynch Bill and other progressive legislation in the drawer. Vote for them and you will be voting for discrimination in private employment, on relief, civil service and in the armed forces.

(Next week: The Republicans)

Top of page

Main Militant Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 18 August 2020