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E.R. McKinney

One-Tenth of the Nation

Randolph’s Proposal

(12 April 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 15, 12 April 1948, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On March 31, Mr. A. Philip Randolph and Mr. Grant Reynolds appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to testify in connection with universal military training and the peacetime draft program. Mr. Randolph is president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Employees and Mr. Reynolds is a New York State Commissioner of Corrections. Both Randolph and Reynolds are officers of the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service and Training. Randolph, backed by Reynolds, told the committee that “passage now of a Jim Crow draft may only result in a mass civil disobedience movement along lines of the magnificent struggles of the people of India against British imperialism.”

Randolph said that he personally pledged himself “to openly council, aid and abet youth both white and Negro, to quarantine any Jim Crow conscription system ... I shall call upon Negro veterans to join this civil disobedience movement ... I shall appeal to Negro parents to lend their moral support to their sons – to stand behind them as they march with heads high to federal prisons as a telling demonstration to the world that Negroes have reached the limit of human endurance.”

It can be said immediately and without qualification that it is totally correct for Negroes to carry on an irreconcilable struggle against Jim Crow in all forms. This is particularly true of one who is asked to consent peacefully to being shot and butchered in a Jim Crow outfit. Negroes get murdered in civil life in this Jim Crow U.S. and then are drafted into Jim Crow military units to be shot and murdered in Europe, Asia and Africa.

Furthermore, it is a fact that Negroes are not only Jim Crowed, mobbed and lynched in the U.S., but they are Jim Crowed as the victims of American capitalism. They are oppressed and exploited as workers, and oppressed and exploited as Negroes. To be drafted into a Jim Crow military outfit and sent off to die in one of the imperialist wars being waged by U.S. capitalism is again to be oppressed and exploited as a Negro and as a worker.

Civil Disobedience

When this is said, it is necessary to evaluate objectively the Randolph proposal for civil disobedience on the part of Negroes. In the first place it would be well for the sponsors of this idea to pay some attention to the differences between India and the U.S. and to the fact that there was actually a movement in India. It is not often possible to lift sociological concepts and political programs out of one environment and transfer them whole to another social, political, economic and cultural environment. The basis for the civil disobedience program of the Indians is not identical with the situation in which Negroes find themselves in the U.S. The Indians were engaged in a struggle for their national independence and for release from British imperialism. They were demanding their own national state; the right of self-determination. It was not only these considerations which helped determine the nature of the struggle but also Gandhi himself. The passive resistance movement was organized by Gandhi on the basis of real philosophical and religious convictions in connection with the manner in which struggles of the masses should be conducted. Furthermore, the Indian movement came to its full development over a period of years. It did not spring full grown out of Gandhi’s head.

The situation in the U.S. is not comparable to that of India except in a very superficial way, and Randolph is not a Gandhi. We do not mean this in derogation of Randolph’s abilities or capabilities. What we mean is that so far as I have been able to learn Randolph is not himself a believer in passive resistance, or non-cooperation. For instance Randolph was not an opponent of the Second World Imperialist War; he only said that the democratic aims of the war could not be achieved if Negroes were subject to Jim Crow in the armed services, government and industry. In fact Randolph was a supporter of the war and only objected to the practice of Jim Crow against Negroes.

I have talked to Mr. Reynolds. He is certainly not a Gandhi; great or small. He is a full-blown American patriot, ardent supporter of “free enterprise,” the capitalist class, the Republican Party and Governor Dewey. I have a hunch that Reynolds was thinking as much about embarrassing Truman and the Democratic Party as he was of Jim Crow. It is good to embarrass the Democratic Party but I don’t have much faith in the exposure when made by Republican politicians. That is only the pot calling the kettle black.

These remarks do not, of course, apply to Randolph. He is of a different breed, and his a different record. However, Mr. Randolph is not on very solid ground in my opinion. I have already given some of the reasons. I do not say this because some Negro leaders have spoken in opposition to Randolph’s proposals. Most of the Negro leaders would be against any militant proposals, precisely for the reason that it was militant and called for the mobilization of the Negro masses and those white persons who support militant activity by Negroes. I do not therefore support these Negro leaders.

Something More Needed

In my opinion it would have been better for Randolph to have been farther along the road toward the formation of something concrete in the way of a movement before he made such categoric statements as those before the Senate committee. A program for civil disobedience is not something to play around with. It is not something that one can turn on and off like a kitchen faucet. Also, there is no need to drag in India and Indian civil disobedience. Negroes in the U.S. have every concrete and practical reason for organizing and fighting against all Jim Crow, wherever it occurs, in any way which will be effective. Negroes have the right and the duty to mass protest and mass organize against Jim Crow in the armed services, or any other place. I can see no difference between submitting to Jim Crow in the army and submitting to Jim Crow in a theater or restaurant. Negroes protest in various ways against Jim Crow travel laws. I can see no reason why we should not protest against and organize against a Jim Crow military set-up.

I don’t think much of passive resistance, however. I am not for Negroes preparing to submit peacefully to “a countrywide terrorism.” I am not for Negroes marching “with heads high to federal prisons.” Not much of a struggle can be carried on in a federal prison. Some Negroes may go to jail as a result of a militant struggle against Jim Crow army and navy, but that is different from mass marching to jail by Negroes, or mass dragging to jail in passive “resistance.” I am for a positive struggle against Jim Crow, outside of the capitalist jails.

I am for a struggle against imperialist war also. I am against the coming war even though every Negro in the country is given the opportunity to become Chief of Staff and Chief of Naval Operations, and no Jim Crow anywhere. A fundamental principle of the struggle against Jim Crow in the armed services is to struggle against Jim Crow everywhere and also against capitalism and U.S. imperialism.

Record Speaks

My final observation is in connection with what I said before about not playing with such ideas as those advanced by Randolph. This is serious business. Mr. Randolph should remember that he once was the head of a March on Washington Movement. Some of us remember that there was no march; that the march was called off. I do not believe that Randolph’s reasons for calling off that march were valid. The very fact that we are still faced with Jim Crow in the armed services gives support to this contention.

Now, Randolph has a new scheme. He should go slow and say nothing that he is not ready to follow through and only that which there is reason to believe can be carried out. Nobody is interested in Randolph saving his own soul, important as that may be. We are interested in what we can do as Negroes to organize an effective struggle against Jim Crow everywhere; the armed services included.

I see no virtue in marching to jail with “heads high” or low. I CAN see virtue in fighting, in resisting, in marching on Washington, in organizing for our defense, in casting out every Negro traitor and compromiser, every Negro who licks at the Republican or Democratic Party boots. These are only a few suggestions for A. Philip Randolph to think about before he marches to a federal prison.

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