Thursday, November 29, 2018

Midterm Elections Leave Crisis in Political Leadership
Developments in the South and the worsening economic situation portends instability

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

Results from the Mississippi Senatorial runoff elections where Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith defeated Democratic candidate Mike Espy by an 11 percentage points margin illustrates the formidable obstacles placed before the opposition party within the United States body politic.

Hyde-Smith was captured on videotape making a macabre joke about being invited to a public hanging. Mississippi is one of the most dreaded states in the country as it relates to racial violence and terror.

Untold numbers of lynchings and other pseudo-legal forms of torture and execution have been carried out in the state since the conclusion of the Civil War over 150 years ago. During the period of Reconstruction after the war, southern planters resisted vehemently the empowerment of African Americans.

Other factors involved in the Hyde-Smith and Espy race was the revelation that the Republican candidate had attended an all-white segregationist academy during the 1970s. These schools were established as private institutions to avoid the federally-mandated desegregation of public education in the aftermath of the Brown v. Topeka Supreme Court ruling of 1954 and subsequent decisions by lower courts and state administrative structures.

Yet this was clearly not enough to convince the majority of whites in Mississippi that such a politician would be bad for the state. The notions of a “new south” seemed to have faded into oblivion of past decades in the aftermath of the turbulent 1960s.

Adding insult to injury was the appearance of nooses on trees outside the capitol building in Jackson on November 26, just one day prior to the runoff election. There were also hand written signs posted which said that things have not changed in Mississippi since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

There were numerous false statements made by the corporate media saying that if Espy won he would be the first African American senator to represent Mississippi in history. In fact there were two African American senators in Mississippi during the 1870s and early 1880s during Reconstruction.

Hiram Rhodes Revels, a former African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister and Civil War regiment leader for the Union army, was elected to the Mississippi state legislature and eventually selected by the state senate to serve as its senator as a Republican  during 1870-71 in Washington. Later Blanche Kelso Bruce, a politician and successful commercial farmer, was elected by the Republican-dominated state house to the U.S. Senate where he served from 1875-1881.

During this post-Civil War period in U.S. history, the Republican Party sought the support of African Americans in their quest to disempower the white former slave-owning planters who were Democrats. By 1880, with the 1876 end of Federal Reconstruction, Senator Bruce lost his political base in Mississippi and was forced out of the Senate. He remained in Washington, D.C. until his death in 1898 where he was appointed to several federal positions such as the Register of the Treasury and the Register of Deeds.

The election of Hyde-Smith sends an ominous message to African Americans and their allies in Mississippi along with the entire country. President Donald Trump campaigned for Hyde-Smith in line with his alignment with the most conservative and racist political forces in the U.S.

Stolen Statewide Elections in Georgia and Florida

Two major gubernatorial elections in the southern states of Georgia and Florida provided opportunities for African Americans Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum to break the glass ceiling of the political structures of these areas. There was overwhelmingly documented proof of voter suppression in the state of Georgia which drew national and international press coverage.

Georgia candidates Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp

Abrams, a state legislator, refused to concede the race for over a week after the controversial November 6 ballot. Initially she demanded that all votes be counted saying there was enough support for her candidacy to force a runoff election against Republican former Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

Nonetheless, on November 16, Abrams said she was ending her campaign for Governor. This was the announcement even after her supporters had won a favorable court ruling on the necessity of counting all votes just three days earlier.

In response to the national uproar over the suppression of African American voters in Georgia, people across the country were contemplating ways to strike back against the racist power structure in the state. However, there was never a call from the Democratic Party of Georgia to engage in any type of national mobilizations in defense of the basic political rights of the African American people.

After the ending of the campaign by Abrams, some leading figures in the film entertainment industry such as Alyssa Milano, Bradley Whitford, Ron Perlman and Frank Rich called for a boycott of the state of Georgia. It is estimated that $4.6 billion in revenues are generated annually through filming in the state and such a withdrawal of these movie production firms would send a solid message to the racists who control the political apparatus of Georgia.

These methods have been successfully utilized dating back to the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s and the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s. Yet Abrams came out against a boycott saying that people in Georgia needed the jobs generated by the film industry. She claimed that the problem of voter suppression would be fought in the courts.

Nonetheless, when has federal court litigation achieved any advancement for African Americans absent of mass mobilizations such as demonstrations, boycotts, divestment, sanctions and other measures? There were many court rulings against voter suppression and segregation from the 1940s through the 1970s. However, it was the advent of picket lines, civil disobedience, marches, strikes, boycotts and rebellions which brought even minimal reforms to the institutionally racist system.

In Florida, Andrew Gillum, the Mayor Tallahassee, conceded the elections to former Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis on November 17. The situation of voter suppression in Florida has been well known for decades and was highlighted in the 2000 presidential race where the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court decided the outcome of the vote in favor of former President George W. Bush.

Although a referendum overturning the exclusion of former felons from the electorate passed by a wide margin, restoring the right to vote to over one million people in the state, this still excluded these same people from participating in the November 6 poll. As was the case in Georgia, there has been no call for any type of national protest activity in response to the irregularities in Florida.

Who Will Lead the Democrats and Who Will Lead the Masses?

These developments in the electoral arena during the midterms illustrate again the political failures of the Democratic Party leadership to address important issues impacting the African American people. On a national level there are efforts to reinstall California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi to be Speaker of the House in January despite the election of dozens of new Democratic representatives, many of whom are much younger African Americans and women of color.

Pelosi’s tenure as Speaker of the House from 2007 to 2011 was disastrous. Even after former President Barack Obama won the White House with a comfortable majority in 2008, no fundamental reforms were initiated by the Democratic Senate, House and executive branch.

The Pentagon continued to wage unjust genocidal wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti. Later the war against the Libyan people beginning in 2011 destroyed the most prosperous state in Africa and spread destabilization and dislocation throughout the Northern and Western regions of the continent.

In 2011, as well, the U.S.-engineered a war against Syria which has brought about the deaths of hundreds of thousands and the forced removals of millions. Today the world is facing the largest number of refugees and internally displaced persons since the conclusion of World War II.

Racism and state repression is on the incline in the U.S. This is compounded by a worsening economic situation as exemplified by the proliferation of sub-standard wage labor; a widening gap between the rich and poor; a burgeoning federal budget deficit due to the corporate tax cuts imposed by the Republican-dominated Senate and House at the aegis of President Trump; the levelling of tariffs against foreign states creating havoc in the agricultural and industrial sectors of the economy; as well as the recently-announced plant closings by General Motors leaving tens of thousands of workers to a future of joblessness and uncertainty.

What is needed is an independent political party of the workers and oppressed in the U.S. which can speak in its own name based upon proletarian economic interests. A party of the workers and oppressed being brought into existence would end imperialist wars abroad and the super-exploitation of workers and the oppressed inside the country.

The Democrats cannot effectively represent the masses in this period of heightening international tensions since the leadership is pro-war and follows the dictates of Wall Street. Only a socialist-oriented party can put forward a program of struggle aimed at seizing the commanding levers of the political structures and national economy, to institute the monumental changes needed to liberate the people from the imperatives of capitalism and imperialism in the U.S. and worldwide.
Midterm Elections Generate Further Polarization in the United States
Voter suppression, ending modern day slavery, and the prospects for social transformation

Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

6 November 2018 was a day in which people across the United States and indeed the world were watching for some indications of the future political prospects for the leading capitalist state.

It had been predicted that the House of Representatives would be lost by the Republicans to the Democrats. This was the outcome of the elections where Democrats could pick up approximately 40 seats outperforming the party of President Donald Trump.

Trump played down the loss of the House and emphasised that the Senate would remain under Republican control. Nonetheless, there is a major shake-up in the cabinet of the Trump administration with the immediate departure of Attorney General Jeff Sessions with more ousters being imminent. 

A large number of women, national oppressed people and younger politicians ran for public offices while a significant number were elected. The results of the elections were in part due to the higher than normal turnout of voters for a midterm poll. 

With these new faces in Congress and the Senate it still remains to be seen what actual impact this will have on the overall political atmosphere prevailing in the US. Trump, whose 2016 campaign is still under investigation by a special counsel, continues his right wing, neo-fascist posture and agenda aimed at stoking fears of African Americans, Latinx people, Middle Easterners, immigrants, LGBTQ communities and anyone who does not agree with the policies of the current administration.

A series of high profile racial and political incidents occurred leading up to the midterms. 14 packages containing what appeared to be pipe bombs were addressed to two former Democratic presidents, a previous Secretary of State, a famous actor, the Manhattan building of the Cable News Network (CNN), among others, with a return address containing the name of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

On 24 October a white racist shot to death two African American seniors at a Kroger supermarket in a suburb of Louisville, Kentucky. Just minutes before this same assailant unsuccessfully attempted to gain entry into an African American church. Some three days later, another domestic terrorist entered the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill district of Pittsburgh and killed 11 Jewish worshippers. 

Both gunmen were imbued with hatred for various sectors of the population in the US and internationally. Trump through his campaign rallies across the country has agitated for stricter immigration laws even sending thousands of troops to the southern border with Mexico. The president’s attitude towards African Americans, particularly women, has been expressed through his derogatory statements to journalists who were merely asking him critical questions about domestic issues.

The culmination of these violent acts and inflammatory rhetoric has created a socially tense atmosphere in the US. Although the official unemployment rate has declined sharply over the last two years (3.7 percent), a significant number of working families are continuing to suffer from poverty and economic marginalisation. The ruling class is growing wealthier at the expense of the majority while a burgeoning federal budget deficit threatens the future stability of the country.

Voter suppression, institutional racism and the legacy of slavery

Two gubernatorial and one senatorial race in the states of Georgia and Florida have become a focal point for millions throughout the country and the world. Democratic State Representative Stacey Abrams has refused to concede [she later stopped her bid to become governor, but refused to concede] to former Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp in Georgia where a narrow margin separates the contenders.

The Abrams campaign has objected to documented evidence of voter suppression targeting mainly African Americans and naturalised citizens. Abrams is demanding that all votes be counted, strongly believing that the gap between her and Kemp would deny him 50 percent of the vote necessitating a runoff election in early December. Kemp has already resigned as Secretary of State claiming victory and setting up a transition team.

An article by Khushbu Shah published in The Guardianon 10 November states that: “In the three months leading up to election day more than 85,000 voters were purged from rolls under Kemp. During 2017, 668,000 voters were purged, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Of those 2017 numbers, investigative reporter Greg Palast told Salon, 200,000 people left the state, died or moved out their district, making them legitimate cancellations. However, through litigation, he got the entire purge list. “Of the 400,000 who supposedly moved, our experts will tell a court that 340,134 never moved – wrongly purged,” Palast told The Guardian, saying “people had been purged for not voting in an election or two.” 

Such a high degree of irregularity within the Secretary of State’s office should have prompted a Justice Department investigation. However, considering that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was fired from the Trump administration the day after the midterm elections, has been accused of being a racist for many years, it is not surprising that no administration intervention on the side of the disenfranchised has been forthcoming. In fact Trump has sided with the Republican candidates in Georgia and Florida, where similar charges have been made. 

This same Guardianreport continues noting: “Furthermore from 2012 to 2016, 1.5 million voters were purged – more than 10 percent of all voters – from records, according to a 2018 report from the Brennan Centre for Justice. In comparison, 750,000 were purged from 2008 to 2012…. On the first day of early voting a bus full of African American senior citizens on their way to a voting centre were turned back. Organisers called it ‘live voter suppression.’…  The Guardianwitnessed long lines in various parts of metro Atlanta, where the majority of counties lean Democrat. MIT’s Election Performance Index for 2016 suggested Georgia ranked 49th out of 50 for wait times to vote.”

Similar developments occurred in the state of Florida where African American Mayor of Tallahassee Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for Governor, is in another undecided race against Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis. Voter suppression is a perennial systemic problem in Florida as well. 

In 2000 the presidential race between Democratic Vice President Al Gore and Republican Governor George Bush, Jr. was decided in Florida after a 5-4 Supreme Court decision ordered the state election commissions to stop counting the votes, giving the election to the Republican candidate. Broward County became a focal point of the 2000 election and this centre of Democratic African American voters is once again being targeted for disruption by the right wing supporters of the Republican Party.

Carol Anderson of The Guardianwrote on 14 November saying: “Florida is, once again, in an election debacle that is straining the bonds of credibility and democracy. Governor Rick Scott has actually called in the state police to investigate ‘voter fraud’ (none was found), then ordered the voting machines impounded in Broward county, all to protect his precarious lead in the US Senate race. A judge, however, emphatically blocked that last command.”

A referendum was passed in Florida on 6 November, which restored the right to vote to 1.4 million people denied the franchise as a result of previous felony convictions. Nonetheless, these potential voters could not cast their ballots in the midterms. The recounts for Governor and the Senate will intensify the struggle generating more animosity from the right wing towards African Americans and other national minorities.

Impact on domestic and foreign policy

Even with a majority Democratic House of Representatives the question remains as to which course the party will take as it relates to domestic and international affairs. Many Democratic politicians and their allies within the corporate media have focused attention on allegations of Russian governmental interference in the 2016 presidential elections, which brought Trump to the White House. 

Yet with this preoccupation with Russia’s influence, the US electorate completely neglects the political bankruptcy of the Democratic campaign of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. During the administration of President Barack Obama, the militarist policies of US imperialism continued in full force leading to an escalation of Pentagon and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troops in Afghanistan; the destruction of the North African state of Libya in 2011, the most prosperous nation on the continent, resulting in the brutal assassination of Pan-Africanist leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi; an initiation of a counter-revolutionary war aimed at toppling the legitimate government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad which fuelled the crises of migration and displacement, the worst since the conclusion of World War II, triggering the advent of neo-fascist regimes in Eastern Europe and the threat of the breaking up of the European Union (EU).   

On a domestic level after the ascendancy of Obama in 2008, the following midterm elections in 2010 saw a major swing to the right in both the Congress and the Senate. By 2014, the Democrats had lost both the House and Senate along with numerous state legislative bodies and governorships. 

During the period of 2009 through 2016, African Americans were subjected to greater levels of state violence and socio-economic depravation spawning rebellions in Ferguson, Baltimore, Milwaukee and Charlotte. There was the proliferation of racist organisations while the Democratic Party seemed helpless in countering the reactionary trend. 

The struggle for voting rights among African Americans extends back to the years following the Civil War (1861-1865). The defeat of Black Reconstruction after 1876 and extending through the remaining decades of the 19th century returned African Americans to conditions reminiscent of enslavement where state governments enacted segregation laws, which were reinforced by a penal system that constitutionally within the framework of the 13th Amendment coupled with local laws could in fact subject detainees to involuntary servitude.

An enslavement policy in the state of Colorado was overturned by the voters in the midterms shining a light on this practice as it exists in the 21st century. Nevertheless, the prison system whose inmates are disproportionately African Americans, Latinx and poor is not being dismantled. 

How will the incoming Democratic Congress address these fundamental questions? Are they even capable of such a challenge considering that the leadership of both the Democratic and Republican parties represents the ruling capitalist class?

The political rights of African Americans must be defended as a principle within the concept of universal suffrage. Nonetheless, the genuine democratic aspirations of the nationally oppressed in the US and their right to self-determination cannot be realised under the racist capitalist system. The capitalist system was built on the enslavement of African people and the extermination of the indigenous nations in North America. Consequently, a revolutionary reconstruction of the contemporary dispensation must overturn the material basis for this centuries-long national oppression and economic exploitation in order that a truly democratic system comes into existence.
Coastal Georgia Celebrates RiceFest Amid Racist Voter Suppression
November 29, 2018
Fighting Words
12th annual RiceFest. | Photo: Johnnie Stevens

By Johnnie Stevens

Thousands gathered in Riceboro, Georgia, from November 3 to November 10 for the 12th annual RiceFest. The parade and festival celebrate the culture, heritage and resistance of the Gullah Geechee people, a distinct African-American community in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida that has preserved many African traditions and has its own language. It is spoken by about 125,000 people.

The Gullah Geechee community is based in small farming and fishing communities on the Sea Islands. The warm, semi-tropical climate of those islands made rice cultivation extremely profitable. In the 1700s, over 50,000 skilled rice workers were kidnapped from Senegambia and the areas now known as Sierra Leone and Liberia and enslaved on rice plantations there. Production soared, and some plantations vaulted in value from $50,000 to $700,000 by the time of the Civil War. Today, the Georgia rice industry is gone, but the wealth produced by rice workers lives on in old money fortunes from Georgia to Wall Street.

Rice production was organized on the task system, allowing enslaved workers to cultivate their own crops and hunt and fish after the day’s labor was done. The rice country was the scene of intense class struggle both under slavery and after its overthrow, including mass strikes by South Carolina rice workers in 1876.

RiceFest was founded 12 years ago by late Gullah Geechee activists and historians Jim and Pat Bacote to preserve and honor their people’s legacy. The couple also founded the Geechee Kunda Cultural Center. Mr. Bacote passed away in May of this year and they were honored at the festival.

The festival concluded with a parade of marching bands, antique cars, motorcycle clubs, truckers and cowboys on horseback that led to the RiceFest Homecoming. The festivities featured entertainer N Da Groove, R&B groups from Atlanta, standup comedian Barbara Carlyle, hip hop by DJ Giveaway and an African libation.

This year’s RiceFest took place amid the electoral challenge by Georgia Senate minority leader Stacey Abrams, the first Black woman to run for governor of the state. Her Republican opponent Brian Kemp had removed over 1.4 million voters, most of them Black, from the rolls during his tenure as Secretary of State.

Hundreds of thousands of Georgia residents were falsely recorded as having moved out of the state. On a single day in 2017, Kemp’s office removed more than 500,000 people (8 percent of the electorate) from the rolls. Removal of these voters occurred after he had announced his gubernatorial bid. Kemp also closed 214 polling stations, mostly in Black communities. This is on top of the “routine” methods of voter suppression, such as the denial of voting rights to people once incarcerated.

On November 6, Election Day, Georgia’s African-American community turned out en masse to vote, often waiting in line for hours, but tens of thousands of were turned away from the polls. Their numbers included elders who had grown up without the right to vote, which Black people in the South only won in the 1960s. Some were falsely accused of having requested absentee ballots and therefore could not vote in person. Abrams herself was almost stopped from voting with that excuse. Similar racist Old South practices characterized the nearby election in Florida, where Andrew Gillum was running for governor.

Despite the blatant rights violations, Georgia authorities declared Kemp the winner by 53,000 votes. Many people this writer spoke with compared what happened to the massive electoral fraud and racist terror that accompanied the overthrow of Reconstruction in the 1870s. Nearly 150 years later, the fight for the most basic democratic rights continues in the historic African-American homeland.
Revolutionary Approach to the Workers’ Struggle – Reviving the Transitional Program
November 16, 2018
Fighting Words

Workers disrupt the National Conference of Governors in Traverse City, MI, to demand a moratorium on plant closings. (1987)

By Jerry Goldberg

The current period of capitalist development is characterized by the imposition of austerity by the capitalist class against the working class worldwide. Austerity means the direct rule by finance capital over cities, states and even countries, where the banks impose drastic cutbacks in services, wage cuts, destruction of pensions and privatization to ensure the payment of debt service on fraudulent and usurious loans. Austerity in the U.S. means 41 million people struggling with hunger, 15 million households suffering water shutoffs in 2016 alone, 38.1 million people living in unaffordable housing (based on a 30% of household guideline), roughly a half million people experiencing homelessness and 58 percent of adults with less than $1000 in savings.

When the attacks on the basic rights to survival, water, shelter, food, jobs, freedom from police and ICE terror, etc. manifest themselves constantly, the necessity to revive the transitional program within the communist movement and to apply transitional demands to the struggles of our class presents itself every day.

The transitional program

Leon Trotsky described the substance and importance of the transitional program as follows:

The strategic task of the next period — pre-revolutionary period of agitation, propaganda and organization — consists in overcoming the contradiction between the maturity of the objective revolutionary conditions and the immaturity of the proletariat and its vanguard (the confusion and disappointment of the older generation, the inexperience of the younger generation). It is necessary to help the masses in the process of the daily struggle to find the bridge between present demands and the socialist program of the revolution. This bridge should include a system of transitional demands, stemming from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.

In the book “High Tech Low Pay,” Sam Marcy discussed the application of the transitional program to the conditions of the U.S. working class.  Marcy emphasized the need to frame transitional demands in legal language where possible, because of the belief in “legal rights” that permeates large sections of our class. Of course, while framing demands in such a way, we always emphasize that it is the struggle that is the only way to win these “legal rights.”

The essence of all transitional demands is to move the workers in the direction of confronting capitalist property relations, through occupations of the worksite, home, hospital or whatever institution is involved. That is what distinguishes transitional demands from social democratic demands to “reform the system.”  Most importantly, raising transitional demands that truly speak to the workers’ needs and capture their attention and imagination, allows us as communists to make up for our small numbers with the boldness of our program.

Application of transitional program in Detroit

Detroit has been the epicenter of the imposition of austerity against the working class for many years. Auto industry restructuring, especially by Chrysler and General Motors, eliminated tens of thousands of union jobs in the city beginning in 1979. The economic attack on Detroit further intensified from the early 2000s through the present with the housing crisis precipitated by the banks’ subprime predatory lending practices against Detroit’s homeowners, and ultimately against the city government itself.

In 1982, when the recession hit Detroit particularly hard, the All-Peoples Congress (APC) launched the “Food is a Right Campaign.” The APC sued the federal government in Detroit for the release of surplus food during the recession of 1982. At that time, the federal government was paying agribusiness over $30 billion a year to store “surplus food” in warehouses to keep food prices high. We held mass rallies in Detroit preparing our class to locate the warehouses and to liberate the food in them. The campaign succeeded in forcing the federal government to institute monthly free commodity food distributions that lasted for 17 years in Detroit.

In response to an announcement of massive plant closings by General Motors in December 1986, our comrades launched the “A Job is a Right Campaign.” We had one comrade in the Fisher Body Fleetwood Plant in Detroit that was closing, and sent one or two comrades to Flint, but with the support of our national organization at the time, we succeeded in building a national movement to challenge the plant closings by General Motors and other corporations. We raised the demand that “A Job is a Right” and for an immediate moratorium to halt all plant and office closings. We articulated the idea that workers, who produce all the wealth, have a property right to their jobs. If the bosses refuse to keep the plants open, the workers have the right to take them over and maintain production for human needs, not profit. Our program took on a national life, while the leadership of the million-person UAW was paralyzed because of its acceptance of bourgeois property relations.

The campaign carried out many actions around this program, including a workers’ demonstration that disrupted the National Governors’ Conference in Traverse City, Michigan, mass in-plant meetings (where workers discussed taking control of the factory), a national meeting on plant closings at the UAW local associated with the 1937 Flint sit-down strike and a tent city in June 1988 on the front lawn of the Michigan Capitol. While the movement was not strong enough to prevent the shutdowns, it helped generate language in the 1987 UAW contract for guaranteed lifetime jobs and a moratorium on future plant closings. (This language was unfortunately eliminated in subsequent concession agreements.)

Application of transitional program to banks’ war on Detroit from 2005 to present

In the mid-2000s, the banks launched their subprime predatory lending scheme that particularly targeted African-American and Latinx communities and led to the destruction of 53 percent of Black wealth and 66 percent of Latinx wealth across the U.S. Detroit, the city with the highest African-American homeownership rate in the U.S., was especially devastated. Sixty-five thousand families suffered bank foreclosures from 2005 to 2010. By 2017, one-third of the city’s 360,000 homes had been lost to bank or property tax foreclosures.

Every state has provisions for the governor (or sometimes local officials) to declare a state of emergency to avert a natural or “man-made” (corporate-made) crisis that can be utilized in advancing the transitional program. The first step is to demand a proclamation of a state of emergency under the particular law in effect in the state. The next is to demand that the official implement whatever transitional demands are being raised to meet the emergency. Most importantly, activists begin implementing the program ourselves through direct action.

Our comrades utilized this approach in launching a campaign for a moratorium, or halt, on all foreclosures. This demand confronts capitalist property relations, asserting that the workers’ right to their homes supersedes any claim the banks had on them.

As early as 2007, we demanded that Michigan’s governor declare a state of emergency and implement a moratorium on foreclosures. We pointed out the legal precedent for such a demand, and the fact that 25 states had implemented foreclosure moratoriums in the 1930s. These were won as a result of the unemployed struggles in the Great Depression and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1934 in its decision in Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell.

A bill for a two-year moratorium on foreclosures that we drafted was introduced into the Michigan state legislature by State Representative Hansen Clarke. Most importantly, we took the moratorium campaign to the community and stopped numerous foreclosures and evictions through direct actions such as move-ins, preventing the placement of dumpsters in front of homes slated for eviction as required by a Detroit ordinance, and by numerous pickets and occupations of the banks. The Occupy Detroit movement adopted the campaign and organized a Detroit Eviction Defense Committee, which still operates. This struggle kept hundreds of families in their homes and educated many Detroiters as to the nature of capitalism and the need for a direct struggle against the banks and finance capital.

Anti-capitalist intervention against emergency management and austerity

Under monopoly capitalism, the banks play a central role in every attack on the workers and oppressed. By examining their bond deals and studying the financial statements, we can become familiar with them, and point out their fraudulent, swindling character. This strengthens the demand for canceling the debt and positions us communists as the anti-capitalist voice in the larger struggle. Raising a transitional demand means going beyond just raising a slogan. Rather, it means putting forth the demand in a serious manner both in substance and tactics, so the workers perceive the demand as winnable even as its essence is a direct challenge to capitalist property relations.
After one-quarter of Detroit’s population was driven out of the city through 65,000 mortgage foreclosures based on racist, predatory, fraudulent mortgage loans between 2005 and 2010, the city was placed into a financial crisis. An emergency financial manager, appointed by the governor, was placed over the city. Detroit became the epicenter within the U.S. of the struggle against the destructive forces of finance capital.

There was a large movement that developed challenging this usurpation of democratic rights and self-determination for this African-American city. Our comrades, while completely supporting the anti-racist aspect of the struggle against emergency management, studied the emergency manager bill and noted that while he was empowered to break contracts and privatize city services, the emergency manager was required to guarantee payment of debt service to the banks.

We pointed out that behind this racist law was the imposition of direct control of the city’s finances by the banks, the same ones that had destroyed our neighborhoods with their massive foreclosures. We obtained all the city loan documents through a Freedom of Information Act request, studied them, and became familiar with the fraudulent character of the city’s debt service, especially with the interest rate swaps owned by Bank of America, UBS, Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citi, etc. When the emergency manager took the city into bankruptcy to steal the pensions of the city retirees, the Moratorium Now Coalition intervened in the bankruptcy, both with daily demonstrations calling for cancellation of the debt and guaranteeing the pensions and city services and with a legal intervention in a trial against the banks and their interest rate swaps during the bankruptcy proceedings.

We also pointed out how the massive water shutoffs that led to 100,000 homes in Detroit having their water disconnected were similarly initiated to pay off termination fees to the banks on swaps on water bonds, and we brought that issue into the bankruptcy trial as well.

Our comrades carved out a large role in the struggle against emergency management and the Detroit bankruptcy precisely because we developed a programmatic approach that targeted the real source of the crisis in Detroit: finance capital. To this day, the Moratorium Now Coalition is known throughout the movement of the workers and poor in Detroit as the organization to turn to in order to fight the banks and the capitalist system. Unfortunately, the representatives of the labor unions, retiree associations, pension boards and most prominent religious figures in Detroit failed to mobilize a mass struggle against the bankruptcy. In the end, 78 percent of the $9 billion written off of the City of Detroit’s debt was stolen from the pensions and healthcare of 30,000 retired city workers.

Linking U.S. workers’ struggle to international movements against austerity

We can and must link our struggles for the most basic human needs of the workers to the worldwide struggle against austerity, bringing internationalism to the workers. In March 2018, the Moratorium Now Coalition built a National Conference to Defeat Austerity. A highlight of the conference was both the reports from different cities, which helped the many Detroit workers and community activists in attendance feel that they were not fighting alone, and also the terrific session on the international dimensions of the struggle against austerity, featuring two Puerto Rican comrades and including the former president of the Electrical Industry and Irrigation Workers Union of Puerto Rico (UTIER), a statement from Jose Maria Sisson from the Philippines, a young woman who had just returned from Lebanon, a speaker on Cuba and solidarity statements from Italy and Spain  The next day, Ricardo Santos Ramos from Puerto Rico did a Facebook video while we toured a hard-hit Detroit neighborhood. It got over 50,000 views, with many Puerto Ricans bemoaning the fate the banks had in store from them upon seeing Detroit’s neighborhoods. (Pretty wild when you consider this was after Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico.) A delegation of the Moratorium Now Coalition was hosted in Puerto Rico in September 2018 by UTIER to participate in mass meetings linking the struggles against the bankruptcies in Detroit and Puerto Rico.

The day-to-day struggle around the basic needs of the workers and oppressed necessitates attacking the capitalist system to win anything. The reformists are incapable of formulating demands that meet the crisis because they limit the struggle to reform within the confines of bourgeois property relations. As communists, we have no such limitations. Raising transitional demands that speak to the immediate needs of our class while moving the workers and oppressed in the direction of challenging the foundations of capitalism allows communists to intervene in these struggles in a serious manner even where our numbers are small. This is the Art of Revolution, an art that can and must be revived in the communist movement if we are to reach the multinational working class and win them to the revolutionary perspective that is the only solution to the capitalist war that intensifies every day.

Jerry Goldberg was an organizer for the All-Peoples Congress, Job is A Right Campaign and Moratorium Now Coalition and is a member of the Communist Workers League.
C.L.R. James (aka J.R. Johnson) on The Negro Question, November 14, 1939
“Labor with a White Skin Cannot Emancipate Itself Where Labor with a Black Skin Is Branded” – Karl Marx

The Greatest Event in History
(14 November 1939)
From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 87, 14 November 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked upby Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Greatest Event in History

A revolution is the greatest event in the history of any society, and the Russian Revolution is the greatest of all revolutions. By this uprising, the workers and peasants of Russia shattered the capitalist system on one-sixth of the world’s surface and took the road to socialism. On November 8, 1917, the night after the seizure of power, Lenin rose to address the Soviet congress. Gripping the rails before him he spoke the memorable words, “We shall now begin the construction of the socialist order”. On that same night and from that same platform, was sounded the call for the world revolution, uttered many times before, but now, because it came from the leaders of the first workers’ state in history, reverberating across the oceans and mountains from continent to continent. It was heard in Central Europe and in Central Asia, by millions of Indians and Chinese, heard too by the most oppressed people in the world, the Negroes in Africa, in the West Indies, and in the United States of America.

A few days ago the revolution achieved its twenty-second anniversary. Broken and besmirched, attacked from without and betrayed from within, yet it lives. From the great peaks scaled in its early years, it has fallen far. But it remains a basis and a banner, a banner torn and bedraggled, stained with crimes and blood, carried by treacherous hands, but still a symbol of the greatest effort yet made by downtrodden humanity to rid the world of economic exploitation and political tyranny. To rid the world, not only Russia. Today Negroes, weighed down by still heavier burdens than those they carried on November 7, 1917, must celebrate that never-to-be forgotten anniversary, must reflect on what the Russian Revolution has meant, and still means, to them and to all mankind.

It Shook the Foundations of Imperialism

Twenty-two years ago the great majority of Negroes in Africa and their brothers and sisters in America were little more than slaves, nourishing that hope of freedom which is unquenchable in the hearts of men, but feeding it on the illusions and misconceptions and impotence bred of white domination and the steel walls of imperialist slavery. But the Russian Revolution in 1917 razed to the ground one great fortress of world imperialism, and so shook the whole structure that today, twenty-two years after, it still rocks on its foundations. In the years that followed 1917, the Communist International carried the great message of the world revolution and the example of Russia to the millions of Negroes throughout the world. Negroes for the first time understood that for them, as for all the exploited and oppressed, there was a road out and upward, understood that they were not alone, that in France and in Britain, in Belgium and America, all over the world, there were millions of workers and peasants whose enemy was their enemy, whose aim was their aim, whose destiny was their destiny, not only to destroy tyrants and oppressors, but to destroy the system which gave them birth, not only to overthrow imperialism but to create the socialist society.

The Russian Revolution, the Communist International that grew out of it, by precept of brilliant propaganda and fearless agitation, by example of heroic struggle and self-sacrifice, taught the lessons of imperialist barbarism, of the necessity for proletarian revolutions in the imperialist nations, and national independence in the colonial countries; preached and practiced the unity of all the oppressed, irrespective of religion and race, indefatigably pointed to the two roads that lay before all mankind – imperialist war and capitalist reaction, or victorious socialism in Europe and America and the independence of Asia and Africa.

A Blow at Colonial Exploitation

There are Negroes who have seen and still see little for their people in the propagation of revolutionary doctrines. They are either selfish or ignorant – selfish because they are anxious only to preserve and extend the mean profits and paltry prestige they have managed to scrape together for themselves; or they are ignorant, not with the ignorance of the masses, which comes from lack of opportunity and which the great school of the class struggle can correct, but learnedly ignorant through too complete an acceptance of imperialist education which is designed to blind and not to open the eyes of the masses, to perpetuate and not to destroy the imperialist system. Let those Negroes who talk so superficially about “Reds” explain why the British government, when Anthony Eden visited Moscow in 1935, demanded as the first condition of British friendship with Russia the discontinuation of revolutionary propaganda in India, in the West Indies, and in Africa. These British imperialists, with the experience of three centuries, know the condition of the people they so mercilessly exploit. They felt and still feel the shock of the Russian Revolution, at home in Britain, and in every corner of their empire. They know that, in Africa for instance, there has arisen no threat to their power during the three hundred years it has lasted, so strong as that represented by a few thousand copies of a Bolshevik paper circulating among the Negroes, and a few men working devotedly to build a Bolshevik party. They can foresee the overwhelming power of the Negro masses when mobilised behind such a party. They know what this revolution will mean to their power and their profits and their privileges. They therefore curse the Russian Revolution and the day it was born.

No Southern capitalist or plantation owner celebrates the anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Should a Negro in the South walk down a public street carrying a banner marked “Long Live the Russian Revolution”, he might be lynched before he had gone fifty yards. And why? Because it stands for the destruction of the rotting capitalist system, with its unnecessary poverty and degradation, its imperialist war and its fascist dictatorships, its class domination and racial persecution. Every Negro with an ounce of political understanding or a spark of revolt against oppression will recognise the significance and celebrate the anniversary of the October revolution in Russia.

The Fourth International Carries On

True, we have seen the revolution outraged and degraded. We have seen, rising out of the ruins of Bolshevism in Russia, the monstrosity of Stalinism. We have seen the Communist International change from the valiant defender of the international working class into the mere tool of Stalin’s foreign policy. The development and decline of the Russian Revolution are described elsewhere in this issue, and in many of our books and pamphlets. But the principles of the world revolution, which first assumed flesh and blood in 1917, still remain. Today a new international, the Fourth, maintains the tradition and works for the goal. Though we condemn and ceaselessly expose Stalin and all his works, we celebrate the Russian anniversary and we call upon the Negroes and all workers to celebrate with us.

By a curious trick of fortune, Leon Trotsky, whose name is inseparably associated with Lenin’s as the leadership that guided the revolution to success, was born on November 7th, the anniversary of the revolution. This year he celebrates his sixtieth birthday. History is the struggle of economic and social forces expressing themselves in the words and actions of men. And sometimes the life of a single individual epitomizes the history of a movement. Second only to Lenin, Trotsky was at the head of the Russian Revolution during the great days of October, the war of intervention, the founding of the Soviet state, and the organisation of the Communist International. But with the decline of the revolution, he found himself leading the opposition to the bureaucracy of Stalin. He was driven out of Russia and exiled to Turkey. His children and family have been systematically exterminated. He has been slandered as no other man in history has been slandered. He has been driven from country to country and for years has been guarded day and night to save him from Stalin’s assassins. All for one reason only. Because he remains today as he has always been, the enemy of capitalist society, the organiser and theoretician of the world revolution, and the unsparing opponent of the bureaucracy which has betrayed the great revolution; concerned not with personal revenge nor the lust for power but with the liberation of the workers and farmers in all countries from capitalist chains and slavery.

He has written little specifically on the Negro question, as he has written little, for instance, on the Indian question. The circumstances of his life and the necessities of the struggle have compelled him to devote most of his attention to the great centers of proletarian revolution in Europe. But he has always seen and taught that the struggle in the last analysis is one, that the blows he gave and directed at world imperialism in any country, weakened the whole system and thereby facilitated the victory of Indians in India and Negroes in Africa and America. If today the Socialist Workers Party has placed work among the American Negroes as one of the most important tasks before it, and has a clear program and policy on the problems of the Negro, it owes much to the insistence of the importance of the Negro in the American revolution, his sympathy with their oppression, his boundless faith in their power to struggle, their will to conquer, their capacity to aid in the creation of the socialist society. Negroes will join with us in celebrating his anniversary to wish him and his wife Natalia, his devoted helper, many years of life and health to continue their work, of such importance to us today and to the generations yet to come.

This joint anniversary bears for all Negroes a special significance at this time. It comes at a moment when the imperialist barbarians are engaged once more in their periodical orgies of destruction and slaughter, when the masters of Russia have allied themselves with the imperialist criminals, when hopes of liberation seem faint and distant. But in the early days of 1917 just such a pall seemed to rest on the poor and oppressed in all countries everywhere. Yet that gloom was the prelude to such an uprising of the masses as had never been seen before. Negroes were unprepared then. Today, thanks to the Russian Revolution, they and all others who suffer with them can see more clearly. Knowledge is power. Let us celebrate these anniversaries, not only in memory of the great deeds that have been done but of the still greater tasks that face us in the days that are ahead. Negroes more than all the others have nothing to lose but their chains. They more than all others will play their part in the destruction of capitalist society for they have most to win.
C.L.R. James (aka J.R. Johnson) on The Negro in Industry, November 3, 1939
“Labor with a White Skin Cannot Emancipate Itself Where Labor with a Black Skin Is Branded” – Karl Marx
(3 November 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 84, 3 November 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Negroes in Industry

The future of the Negro is hound by unbreakable chains of iron and steel to the industrial system of this country. We, as a revolutionary party, must therefore has a very clear conception of the relationship of Negroes to this system, and the Negroes too must see the position as it is. Ninety-nine Negroes out of every hundred, to be more accurate, 999 out of every 1,000, firmly believe that Negroes are discriminated against in industry because they are black. “We could get such and such jobs. Only one thing prevents us. As soon as they see our black skins they turn us away. Obviously it is because we are black.”

The reasoning seems unanswerable. But it is false. In fact it is not the least exaggeration to say that the Negro’s skin has nothing at all to do with the fundamentals of this question. Bet me repeat that. The color of the Negro’s skin has nothing at all to do with the fundamentals of the question.

And now for the proof of this apparently bewildering statement. In India, Hindus and Moslems are quite often, the same color to the last shade. They, however, are divided by their religious differences. Therefore one of the chief strategies of the British government in India is to push fire between Hindus and Moslems in industry, in politics, and in every sphere of life. By this means they divide the Indians, particularly the masses, and make their own position more secure.

Take again Northern Ireland. There the population is white. The British ruling class must find some method of division, They find it in the different religions, one group Catholic and the other group Protestant.

The technique employed is simple as daylight. The Prime Minister and the chief spokesmen always preach about the necessity of unity, how the government duty is to keep the peace, protect the rights of all citizens, etc. So much in words. In action, however, the Government drives wedge after wedge between Catholics and Protestants, and keeps the antagonism at fever pitch.

In Germany Hitler found another source of dividing the workers, the peasants, and the lower middle class: he foamed at the mouth whenever he mentioned the Jews and persecuted them when he came to power.

Divide in Order to Rule

It is perfectly clear that your capitalists, your representative of the ruling class, seeks above all to divide in order to rule. In Britain where so much of the population is of the same racial type and of the same religion your capitalist is in difficulty as to how best to divide the workers. He does it by paying higher wages to some and creating a body, relatively small, of privileged workers. These, being quite satisfied, then become conservative and act as a check on the millions whose dissatisfaction with their lot would be a constant threat to the system if it were not suppressed by this privileged section within their own ranks.

Your capitalist must divide the workers in order to weaken them. In India he fans the flame between Hindus and Moslems. In Ireland between Protestant and Catholic, in many other countries between Jew and Gentile. But the Negro has a black skin. This makes him easily distinguishable from others. Your American capitalist, therefore, at his perpetual game of dividing the workers, leaps with joy and rubs his hands at the good God who made the Negro black. It is so easy to say: “There, don’t you see his black skin? White workers, my good friends, let us keep that black man in his place.”

The black skin business is only an excuse, as Hindu-Moslem, Catholic-Protestant, Jew-Gentile is only an excuse. Now you can’t look at a man and say whether he is Catholic or Protestant, Hindu or Moslem. But a Negro is seen to be different to the white man at first glance. Hence the viciousness and the obviousness of the discrimination against Negroes. But the root of it is in the system which gives the capitalist the need and the power to divide. And the cure is the abolition of the system which breeds this necessity to divide.

The Wherefore of Race Prejudice

Both Negroes and white workers who are advanced politically beyond their fellows must understand this, must have it in their bones. That is the truth and nothing but the truth. Naturally, there are other aspects of the question. Your capitalist does not say this openly. That would, ruin everything. He builds up great theories of Negro inferiority, Negro incapability, etc. These are taught in schools from generation to generation, and millions of unsuspecting people learn this and never think that it is in reality nothing else but capitalist rationalisation for the benefit of capitalist pockets.

Having imbibed these ideas with their mother’s milk so to speak and seeing Negroes living in dirt and slums, most white workers think what they hear all around them is quite true. And when white workers find that being white means the possibility of working in any factory and being black means exclusion from half of them, that being white means 70 cents an hour and being black 45 cents an hour for the same type of work, then these capitalist ideas receive a powerful material enforcement in the working class. This is the reason for race prejudice among the white workers. What the white worker does not see is that by combining with the Negro both can get 90 cents, or overthrow the system altogether. Your capitalist sees that quite clearly however.

How to clarify the minds of workers, both white and black, is the revolutionary problem. Propaganda and agitation to break down the capitalist propaganda; but above all joint action. As the economic crisis deepens, the white workers are driven to revise their previous conceptions. The crisis drove some 400,000 Negroes into the CIO. Thus millions of white workers have begun to think differently about Negroes. Another sharpening of the crisis, another stride forward of the organized workers, will bring thousands upon thousands of Negroes into the ranks of organized labor. But we cannot wait for these developments. We must work in preparation for them.

The first thing therefore is to know something about the Negro’s position in industry, not to know in the abstract, but to be familiar with it. How did the Negro enter into certain industries, what was his status there yesterday, what is it to-day? It is by this study, that we can get some real living conception of the role of the Negro in the working class movement. Few white workers have any conception of the history of this development. Still more tragic, fewer Negroes know anything about it.

Periodically this column will examine the Negro’s role in industry, the understanding of which is an indispensable preliminary to correct revolutionary action. In the next issue we shall have a general survey of the Negro in industry during the last hundred years, after which we shall examine his situation in steel, meat packing, etc. There we shall see how in the South, the employer used 5 Negros to one white in skilled industry before slavery was abolished, how after emancipation he used five whites to one Negro, how he started to use more Negroes to break the fighting power of the whites. In other words we shall see concretely how little the color question means to the employer where his pocket is concerned.

(7 November 1939)
From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 85, 7 November 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Industry and the Negro

The first, the absolute indispensable necessity for Negroes who want to struggle for their emancipation, is to understand that difference of color is not the cause of discrimination against them in industry. The intelligent capitalist knows this. The Negroes must know it too. Not that the race question is unimportant. Not at all. It has acquired a tremendous importance. But it is a subordinate question.

In our pamphlet on the war, (Why Negroes Should Oppose the War, J.R. Johnson, 5 cents) we wrote the following: (p. 23)

“Whenever a problem faces us we should examine it in all its aspects, then examine similar situations in foreign countries, look back into our own history, see where the circumstances are alike and where they differ, and then attempt a conclusion.”

To that something more can be added. We must see where the problem is today, then where it was yesterday, then see where it is likely to be tomorrow. In other words we see it from all sides and particularly we see in what direction it is moving, what is likely to happen tomorrow. This is known as the dialectic, and the method of investigation is called the dialectical method.

The very opposite of the dialectical method is the kind of argument that runs as follows:

“I went for a job yesterday. As soon as they saw my black face they turned me back. But the fellow who followed me was white and they gave him the job at once. Therefore the Negro problem is a race problem.”

What Makes for Slavery?

It sounds good, but is it? Let us see.

First take the question of slavery. To too many Negroes, slavery is the badge of the Negro and his black skin. Error Number One. For white men were slaves for thousands of years in the greatest empires of antiquity, particularly the empires of Greece and Rome. White men enslaved white men by the millions. In fact white men have been slaves in Europe for far more centuries than white men have been free. Similarly, black men in Africa enslaved black men, and yellow men in China enslaved yellow men. Wherever economic conditions and political power enabled one class of men to enslave another class, there slavery existed, until the economic and political conditions changed and slavery was abolished. Color has nothing to do with it at all. So that a Negro who goes for a job and is refused because he is black, must stop and consider if there isn’t more to this question than appears at first sight.

Let us now look at slavery in America. The Europeans who came to America in the early days tried to make the Indians slaves. But the Indians could not do the work. They died in millions. In the smaller islands of the West Indies they were wiped out almost entirely. On the American continent which was large they could fight and retreat before the invader. When they were caught they fought back, for their brothers and friends were carrying on the struggle elsewhere.

The European invaders then tried to enslave whites. They imported poor white people from Europe and worked them in the fields side by side with the Negroes. In other words, the color question did not trouble them at all.

But white slaves did not stand the climate well. Enough of them could not be got from Europe to do all the work that was to be done. So that the employers of those days, looking round for labor, decided to use the Africans from Africa because they were the most suitable. There were many more Africans in Africa than there were Indians in America. The weapons the Europeans used were technically so much advanced and deadly that they had the Africans at their mercy.

The Africans were strong and could stand the hard work as slaves. Once brought to America, they had no hope, no society, no common language, no common tradition to bind them together and stiffen their resistance as the native Indians were stiffened. They had no perspective for freedom. So that they could only make periodical revolts one after another, which failed and left them often more miserable than before. In the same way the millions of slaves in the ancient Greek and Roman Empires made their periodical revolts and then submitted.

What we must note is that in America the slave-owners tried Indians, tried whites, and then finally settled on Negroes as slaves; obviously not because they were black but because they were the most suitable from an economic point of view.

Here again, therefore, a Negro who is refused a job because he is a black man, must think over history and note how unimportant the question of color was in the history of slavery and how it was the economic factor, the question of highest profit, which predominated. This is the dialectical approach. We watch the subject in different periods of history, in different countries in our own country, see where, it was yesterday, where it is today and where it is going tomorrow. That is the most important thing for us. Where is it going tomorrow? When we know that, we know how to act today, and how to prepare action for tomorrow.

Slave-Drivers Disguise Truth

Now there is another very noticeable fact about history which we must always bear in mind. In the same way as a man tries to cover his naked body with pleasing clothes, so men like to cover naked economic facts with pleasing moral ideas. Roosevelt wants to go to war for the sake of American investments? But he does not say that. He talks about war for “democracy”. Does Hitler want to go to war to seize territory? He does not say that to the German workers. He says “the Aryan blood” the Nordic race and much tripe of the same sort. The reason for this constant bluffing is plain. These men of privilege and power must fool the common people. If they spoke plainly “War for colonies and for profits” the masses, who never get any profits, would reply “Go and fight yourselves for your profits.” The naked truth must be disguised.

It is in accordance with this historical law that the slave-drivers, when people began to challenge the system of slavery, did not dare to say “We tried Indians, we tried whites and now we use Negroes because they are the most suitable.” No. They said “This black man is a barbarian. He lives like a wild beast in Africa. He is an inferior creature. God intended him to be a slave.” Thus, to justify economic exploitation, they elevated the race question into a position of importance which it had never had before.

It wasn’t an easy thing to do this, even in the South. A hundred and twenty years ago, there were many white people who denounced slavery. Wherever a man had a small farm, or where mines were worked, wherever in fact Negroes were not required for large-scale cotton plantations, the whites as a rule opposed slavery. There were scores of abolitionist societies in the South in the period around 1800. Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, the great men of those days had no love for slavery, and hoped that it would soon be abolished. And it would probably have beep abolished long before 1863, if Eli Whitney had not discovered the cotton-gin in 1793.

This invention could do the work of a dozen slaves. Straightway cotton production began to jump. In 1791 it had been two million pounds. Ten years after, in 1801, it was forty million pounds. Ten years after that, in 1811, it was eighty million pounds and still ten years later, in 1821, it was 177 million pounds.

Huge cotton farms employing hundreds of slaves, spread over the country. The small farmers were driven off the land. So strong had been the abolition movement previous to Whitney’s invention that up to 1826 there were still 103 emancipation societies in the South. But, as fast as the production of cotton and the profits doubled, equally as fast the propaganda against the Negroes doubled. The more the slave-owners exploited Negroes the more they proved that he was a being created by God to be a slave. In other words, to disguise the naked economic exploitation they had to say that in reality they only did it because he was black and inferior.

But even while they proved by the word of God and the laws of man that Negroes were inferior creatures fit only to be slaves, the need for profits made them act in a way entirely opposed to their lying propaganda. They found that slaves could become highly-skilled mechanics and could make the implements, tools and furniture required for the plantation. It was cheaper to have them made by slaves than by free whites. So that by 1861, the number of Negro skilled workers in the South was five times as large as the number of whites.

When a Negro in the South is kept out of a skilled job because he is black he should meditate upon the strange fact that eighty years ago he had nearly all the skilled jobs. Quite true he was a slave. But the white mechanic starved. The white employer, making his profit wherever he could and however he could, simply ignored the fact that by his own argument the slave was a barbarian, and certainly he did not care what happened to the white skilled laborer. In other words he had his eye glued on the economic situation and he made his politics in strict accordance with his pocket. He didn’t let the race question interfere with his profits. Every Negro and every white worker should learn this great lesson from the capitalists.

(10 November 1939)
From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 86, 10 November 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Industry and the Negro

Then came the Civil War. Every Negro should know by now why the Civil War took place. The capitalists and their allies of the North were fighting for control of American economy and of the Federal Government. The Southern slave-owners wanted to maintain that control. Every new State added to the union meant more representatives and more power to one side or to the other. If a new state was a slave-state then the slave-owners gained more power at Washington. If the new state was a state based on free labor, then Lincoln and the Northern capitalists gained more power. So that for years there was always a quarrel whenever a new state was to be added to the Union.

But the slave-owners were in a jam, not only politically but economically as well. To make profits at all they had to have new land. The huge plantations and their wasteful methods of cultivation exhausted the soil and periodically they had to extend the territory they controlled. So that when the North said, “No more new slave states” the slave owners replied, “If we do net get new territory our economy will collapse.” And the next thing was the Civil War.

Lincoln would never have fought to free the slaves. He didn’t intend to free slaves at all. But he found that he could not win unless he pulled the slaves powerfully over to his side. This he could decisively do only by declaring the abolition of slavery.

International Labor Aided Emancipation

There was also another powerful current sweeping Lincoln on toward the abolition of slavery in America. When the Civil War began, the British ruling class wanted to intervene on the side of the Southern slave owners. But the British working class, took the side of Lincoln. Led chiefly by Karl Marx, they maintained a powerful agitation in Britain, mass meetings, protests to Parliament, and open letters of support to Abraham Lincoln, etc. The British ruling class used to point to the fact that the North was not fighting any war to abolish slavery, for Lincoln himself had said so. But one of the strongest weapons, in the working class anti-war agitation in Britain was this very argument, that the war of the North was a war for abolition. Lincoln, therefore, for the sake of his valuable working-class allies in Great Britain, was further driven to declare the abolition of slavery in America. A Negro, therefore, who is really trying to get at the root of the Negro position today, cannot help drawing the following conclusions: “The actual question of color had very little to do with the abolition of slavery in America. Powerful economic and political forces were at work in America. The military assistance that the Negroes could give played a great part. And, finally, the international working-class movement, in this case the British working class in particular, played a great part in Negro emancipation.”

From this, such a Negro worker would be justified in thinking that if color played so little part in that great event it is not at all unlikely that in the great events of today, color and race, which in everyday affairs seem to occupy so large a place, will in reality at the decisive moment, prove as unimportant as they did in the Civil War.

Negroes Enter the Factories

How does that apply in recent history? The biggest event that has taken place in the history of the American Negroes since the Civil War is the great migration of millions of Negroes from the South to the North that began in 1915. Between 1915 and 1923, 1,200,000 Negroes came from the South to the North. The Negro gained a place for himself in industry. Now, ten thousand workers in a factory have infinitely more capacity to struggle for better wages, better living conditions, and an extension of their democratic rights than fifty thousand farmers scattered over the countryside. Thus the entry of millions of Negro workers into industry, particularly in the North, marked a decisive stage in the development of the American Negro. But how did it happen? Was it because the white employers had listened to some preachers and had been converted to the view that Negroes should have a better chance in life? Nothing of the sort.

What happened was that Northern industry was faced with a tremendous opportunity for expansion due to the war. At the same time the stream of immigrants from Europe was cut short, because instead of working or coming to America to work these Germans, Austrians, Italians, and others had to spend their time and strength massacring each other for the profits of their imperialist masters. Our American capitalists, therefore, not only took Negroes into their factories but send hundreds of agents into the South offering Negroes free passage into the North and promising them a happy life. The Negro population of New York rose from 91,000 in 1910 to 327,000 in 1930, while over the same period the Negro population of Detroit rose from 5,700 to 120,000. This meant millions of dollars more in the pockets of Negro wage earners. Negroes were able to get much better education and opportunities for development. Negroes living in cities were better able to organize and fight for social and political equality. To serve the needs of these Negroes a greater number of Negro doctors, teachers, and other professional men was needed.

Of course we know that the Negroes still continue to suffer under heavy discrimination. But the fact remains that this migration and opportunity to enter into industry was a great step forward. And it had nothing to do with color. A great economic and social change was taking place in the country as a whole; great numbers of Negroes were swept along by it, and thus had an opportunity to improve their position.

The Next Step Forward

What was the next great step forward of the Negroes? It came in 1937 with the organization of the CIO. Here again we see that the decisive factor was not the question of race but the question of economic and social and political change, affecting American society as a whole. Up to 1937 the American Federation of Labor, representing on the whole the more privileged sections of the American working class, kept Negroes out of its ranks. But with the great crisis of 1929, American labor entered into a new phase of existence. One of the most important results of this shake-up was the organization of all workers in industrial unions, particularly the semi-skilled and the unskilled. The CIO was essentially the organization of the poorer types of workers. But the CIO organizers found that if they were to organize the workers in an industry as a whole they could not leave out the Negroes. In the packing-houses in Chicago and elsewhere the employers had deliberately brought Negroes into industry in order to use them against the white workers. Obviously these new CIO unions, to win their battles, had to have the Negroes in. And today, 1939, we can see hundreds of thousands of Negroes in the new unions, firmly knit with the white workers and gaining many of the great advantages that come to all workers who carry on militant struggles in workers’ organizations. This does not mean that prejudice and discrimination have been wiped away, even in the best of the new unions. But it means that a great step forward has been made. And here again the decisive factor was not color.

On the Eve of Great Upheavals

It may seem to an individual Negro that it is the color of his skin that is making all the difference. But this is true only to a limited extent. From an examination of history it can be stated with confidence that the Negroes as a whole, millions of them, have made strides forward owing to great economic, social, and political changes which were powerful enough to sweep aside the barriers of color. And this should teach us a great lesson for the future.

All human society today stands at the crossroads. Europe is plunged into a great war. In the Far East, Japan and China have been fighting for two years. America is visibly preparing to enter into the war. What is the cause of all this universal confusion? The cause is one thing and one thing only: the bankruptcy of the capitalist system. There are in America today over thirty million people starving in the midst of plenty. The capitalist system can no longer function, neither here nor elsewhere. The capitalists did not solve the crisis by the last war. The post-war crises have been more devastating than the pre-war ones. We are today on the ever of economic, social, and political upheavals infinitely greater than anything that took place in America during the Civil War. And in those upheavals color is not going to play any very great part. American society today, as society in all parts of the world, faces two alternatives. Either the workers and the poor farmers will get together in unions and political organizations and take over capitalist property, establishing the socialist system. Or, on the other hand, the capitalists will organize fascist bands, smash the workers’ organizations, and by this means insure their profits and the continuance of the capitalist system. That is the great conflict in the world today. It is a conflict in which the Negro must and will play his part. In America the white workers, as has been shown in the organization of the CIO, will in time seek the assistance of the Negroes against the capitalists as certainly as Lincoln had to seek it against the Southern slave-owners. But whereas Lincoln and the Northern capitalists were rich and powerful and their Negro allies were poor, today the Negroes and the whites are members of the same class. For this reason, in the course of the struggle and after it, the barriers of race prejudice will be much more easily overcome than they were seventy-five years ago.

On the international scale the workers of Great Britain and France, for instance, may feel today little solidarity with Negroes in Africa. But when they find themselves in deadly struggle with British and French landlords and capitalists they will welcome the news that the Negroes in Africa are striking at the brothers and sons and cousins of the European ruling classes, who oppress the Negroes in the colonies. It is to such great crises in human history that the whole world is moving today.

A Negro, therefore, who is turned back from a job because he is black will not lose courage. Instead he will see in what direction history is moving and, by means of political activity and industrial organization, he will try to assist those forces which make for greater solidarity among workers and farmers. That is the road along which we have to travel. It may seem slow, and it may seem also that it does not answer the immediate problems of the day. But there is no other road. And today the historical process is not at all slow. History is moving very fast. That is why it is necessary to know where we came from, where we are, and, infinitely more important, in what direction we are moving.
CL.R. James (aka J.R. Johnson) on The Negro Question, October 24, 1939
“Labor with a White Skin Cannot Emancipate Itself Where Labor with a Black Skin Is Branded” – Karl Marx
(24 October 1939)
From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 81, 24 October 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Negro Petty-Bourgeoisie

The Negro petty-bourgeoisie as represented for instance in the Pittsburgh Courier of April 29, can make clear analysis of such a fundamental conflict as imperialist war. It can point out that for the large masses of Negro and other colonial peoples of the world, victory for the “democracies” or victory for the dictatorships would make precious little difference. True the Courier drew the false conclusion that Negro and colonial emancipation could be gained by the imperialists destroying each other. The Courier saw that the majority of white people, i.e., the workers and farmers have little enough “democracy”, not nearly enough to die for at any rate. But it failed to show that if white workers in Europe and America, and the millions of oppressed colonials in Africa, India and the West Indies all have nothing to gain by dying for imperialism, the thing to do is to unite against both types of imperialisms, whether fascist or “democratic.”

Still the Courier is not a revolutionary Marxist journal. And its policy, muddled and impractical, is not to be lightly dismissed. It has the great advantage of recognizing the fact that violence on a large scale alone will suffice to break colonial slavery. But your petty-bourgeois of whatever race, however revolutionary he may sound, must have a powerful revolutionary party, based on the working class, or he will capitulate before the imperialists at the first sound of a gun.

Courier Begins to Move Backward

War broke out on September 4. On September 9 the Courier still takes a radical position:

“The war in Europe need not detain us because it will make no difference to us who wins. Our immediate concern should be the war in which we ourselves are engaged and have been engaged for a long time. That war is at once external and internal against the oppression and exploitation from without and against disorganization and lack of confidence within.”

The war of the Negro in this country is to acquire educational facilities for children, more jobs, greater progress in business, social equality in America, and above all self-respect, discipline and intelligent leadership among Negroes. “Our war”concludes this editorial “is no contest between dictatorship and democracy”, “our war is a contest between survival and destruction”. “When this is fully realized by all of us our progress will be much more rapid”.

There are still some of the brave words of the April springtime. Neither “democracy” nor dictatorship. But gone is the idea of self-destruction by imperialism as the only way of Negroes earning full equality. The Courier thinks that when Negroes see things more clearly then “progress will be much more rapid”.

How can you in April see hope only when the imperialists destroy each other and in September be sure of rapid progress as soon as you realize things more fully. You realized them fully enough six months ago.

In the following issue, September 16, the Courier takes a great step backward. It notes, in an editorial article, that Roosevelt has declared the United States neutral. But it sees and says that Roosevelt and American business are not really neutral. They want to help France and Britain by sending supplies and will do so as soon as convenient. Where, argues the Courier, do Negroes stand on this question. The reply is astounding. Negroes made great progress in the last war. If America does not export munitions there will be a job-slump (there is one on now, since 1929) and Negroes will suffer. So Negroes should support American sales to Britain and France and so assure jobs for themselves. “Oh, what a fall was there, my countrymen!” The great extermination of imperialism by which Negroes were to enter into the promised land has now shrunk into a war to help get jobs for Negroes. You never know where you are with a petty-bourgeois.

See “Democracy” for What It Is

You never know where you are with them indeed. For in the next issue, September 23, the Courier takes a step forward. It denounces war for “democracy”.

“Before any of our people get unduly excited about SAVING DEMOCRACY in Europe, it should be called to their attention that we have NOT YET ACHIEVED DEMOCRACY HERE.

“We cannot save what DOES NOT EXIST.

“None of the hundreds of millions of COLORED PEOPLE under the Union Jack have ANY VOICE in the British Parliament.

“They are ALL AT WAR with Germany, but they had NO VOTE in the matter.

“None of the black people who live in the French Empire have ANY VOICE in the Chamber of Deputies except those from Senegal and Guadeloupe.

“Yet they are ALL AT WAR with Germany and must supply MEN and RESOURCES.

“If democracy means taxation and conscription WITHOUT REPRESENTATION, then these British and French colonials ARE living in democracies.

“There are really NO DEMOCRACIES where black people are concerned, and therefore any talk about black people fighting for democracy when they are fighting for France and England is POPPYCOCK.

“Black people may have a SMALL MEASURE of democracy in the United States, but a VERY small measure.”

The article exposes the tricks of American capitalism in its plans on the Negro and ends:

“He (the Negro) would have to have some AT HOME before fighting for any ABROAD.”

Our petty-bourgeois is again uttering radical sentiments. There is only one point omitted. Suppose the Negro does not ge t“democracy” at home. What then? Fight against the withholders of democracy here? The Courier says nothing. Take a guess now at what will appear in the next issue. Step forward or backward? Backward you say? Absolutely correct.

Prosperity Through What?

The Courier editorial column is once more urging American capitalism to use the war as a means of prosperity. Raise the embargo, create jobs and give some to Negroes. But about the destruction of American imperialism? You don’t destroy something by making it prosperous. That is the kind of mess you get into when you have not a clear revolutionary program, opposed to imperialism, everywhere, at all times. What the Courier will do tomorrow or the day after we do not know but we can guess. Five steps backward and half-a-step forward. And if the workers and farmers do not prevent Roosevelt dragging this country into war, then when America enters, the Courier is going to call on Negroes everywhere to fight for “democracy”, the “democracy” American capitalism has withheld from the Negro for 75 years and which will be promised after the new war is over.

How grand the beginning was in April! Let the imperialists destroy each other. Today it is a question of jobs. In our pamphlet Why Negroes Should Oppose War by J.R. Johnson (32 pages, 5 cents) we outline our policy on Negroes and war. But the Courier has no policy. It vacillates from the extreme of bloodthirstiness to using the war for jobs. There you have your petty-bourgeois complete, always grouping between the imperialist and the revolutionary workers. Are they lost? Not by any means. Quite a few can be won today and though some are born traitors, many can be won for the revolution tomorrow.

But there is only one way. Build a powerful revolutionary party. Let it look as if it means business. Let it act as if it does. And when it leads the masses into action on a grand scale, we have a chance to tear the petty-bourgeoisie away from the imperialists. It is power and power alone that keeps these wavering elements from wavering so much. They rush to the imperialists today. But an equal power can pull them away in time, the revolutionary power of the masses. It is up to us to build that power.
C.L.R. James (aka J.R. Johnson) on The Negro Question, October 20, 1939
“Labor with a White Skin Cannot Emancipate Itself Where Labor with a Black Skin Is Branded” – Karl Marx
(20 October 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 80, 20 October 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

What Do the Negroes Themselves Think About the War?

To this question a Marxist replies automatically, “Which class of Negro are you inquiring about? Do you mean Negro workers and farmers or the Negro petty bourgeoisie – the lawyers, the doctors, the small businessmen, the stage performers?” In the party pamphlet, Why Negroes Should Oppose the War (J.R. Johnson, 32 pages, 5c), there is a section on the Negro petty bourgeoisie and the war. There it is pointed out that because he has a standard of living higher than that of the average Negro workers, farmer, or unemployed, the Negro petty bourgeois act essentially as agents of American imperialism. To quote one passage from the pamphlet (p. 22):

“And so, for the sake of the crumbs and bones that they get from the big table, they are quite prepared to sacrifice the interests of the majority of the Negroes. They are the most dangerous people. It is they who deceive the Negroes every time. They, despite their black skin, are no more than agents of the white imperialists. They are not saying much now, but when the time comes, they are going to shout for ‘democracy’ as loudly as the American ruling class ... Meetings will be held at which these Negro traitors will speak and agitate and do their best to bluff the Negro people to take part in a war and be deceived and maltreated just as they were in the last war for ‘democracy.’ The bait that they will dangle will be promises of a better world.” etc., etc.

Now this is undoubtedly true. And we have evidence of it already. But the Negro petty bourgeoisie, unlike the white petty bourgeoisie, is cut off very sharply from participation in the general life of American capitalist society. American race prejudice, designed to keep the Negro in a state of subjection and to maintain a division between the Negro and the white workers, differentiates very little between the poor Negro and the middle-class Negro. Both suffer almost equally from racial discrimination. Thus the Negro petty-bourgeois press reflects the sentiments of the large masses of Negroes, even though, when things come to a showdown, it declares for the program and policy of American imperialism. Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the writings of the Negro press on the war and the present international situation.

The Negro Press on the War

The Pittsburgh Courier is one of the best of the Negro weekly sheets. It fights some valiant battles for the Negro cause. It was one of the few Negro papers to wage a campaign on behalf of Negro entry into and support of the CIO (one of the three greatest steps forward of the Negro in American history during the last hundred years). The Courier has taken the lead in the struggle for the entry of Negro players into major-league baseball. It has battled for the fight of Negroes to entry into the American army on the same conditions as the whites and for equal facilities in training as air pilots. The Socialist Workers Party, the Fourth International, are opposed to imperialist war. But the Socialist Workers Party fully supports the rights of Negroes to participate in American life with the fullest equality, including entry into the army. If any Negro is ass enough to wish to go to fight for American “democracy” of his own free will, it is his privilege to do so. The paper has a great reputation among the Negroes. It sells for ten cents which the poorer Negroes cannot pay. It maintains a large staff and is essentially the paper of the Negro petty bourgeoisie. The Pittsburgh Courier has on its staff Mr. George Schuyler, one of the most brilliant journalists in America (of whom more later). It is not in any sense of the word a revolutionary paper.

The Pittsburgh Courier has naturally been commenting on the war. What it says, and still more what it does not say, is of the utmost importance for the revolutionary movement.

On March 29, the Courier published a cartoon on the war entitled Ringside Seat. The cartoon showed two boxers, one labeled “Democracies” and the other “Dictatorships.” The referee was a military-looking gentleman labeled “Imperialism.” In the ringside seats were Africans, American Negroes, Mongolians, Pacific Islanders, and Malays. The chief editorial of that issue expressed the following sentiments:

“The ‘democracies’ and the ‘dictatorships’ are preparing to do BATTLE in the near future.

“The referee is IMPERIALISM, who stands ready to award the decision to the VICTOR.

“The stake is the right to EXPLOIT the darker peoples of the world.

“The audience consists of the vast MAJORITY of those who happen to be NON-WHITES.

“They have NO FAVORITE, because it makes NO DIFFERENCE to them which party WINS the fight.

“They are ONLY interested in the bout taking place AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.”

Now this on the surface is a most bloodthirsty attitude. But the editorial had its very good reason for wishing this destruction:

“The AUDIENCE knows that the destruction of white civilization means the EMANCIPATION of colored people, and that explains why they eagerly await the opening gong.”

The editorial is anxious for the destruction of both camps because it knows that there is no essential difference as far as colored people are concerned between “democratic” imperialism and fascist imperialism. It explains this in detail:

“The democracies which now CONTROL the dark world have never extended DEMOCRACY to the dark world.

“THEIR meaning of democracy is for WHITE PEOPLE only, and just a FEW of them.

“The dictatorships FRANKLY DECLARE that if they win THEY will do as the democracies HAVE DONE in the past.

“The democracies as frankly declare that IF they win they will CONTINUE to do as they HAVE BEEN doing.”

An Indication of Revolutionary Instincts

Here is an astonishingly clear characterization of the real nature of the great forces which are now tearing civilization apart. Note particularly that sentence which states that even among the whites democracy is only for a few of them.

This clear vision into the fundamental nature of modern society, this rage at its pretences, this desire for emancipation at whatever cost, are what we mean by the revolutionary instinct of the Negroes. And this is why the Fourth International states that the place of the Negro is in the vanguard and not at the tail of the revolutionary movement.

The Courier editorial naturally makes a great error in thinking that the blacks can stand aside in the coming war. Colored people were compelled to fight in the last war. The Africans are being compelled to fight in this one, and if the workers of America, black and white, do not stop Roosevelt by working-class action, then the American Negroes will be compelled to fight when American capitalism goes in.

The Petty Bourgeoisie Cannot Lead

The Courier makes a still greater error when it thinks that emancipation for Negroes can come from the mutual destruction of the groups of white imperialists, with the people of color just stepping in to gather up the spoils. The root of this monumental error lies in the neglect of that most important fact which the editorial noted – that even among the white people “democracy” is only for the few. That is the key to the emancipation of Negroes and the oppressed colonial peoples. The political battle is unity among both these groups who recognize that in essentials capitalist democracy is a fraud for all the working people, white and black, and offers them nothing but continual crises, fascist dictatorships, and ultimately imperialist war. That is the unshakable basis of the Fourth International.

But what we must note is this. If the Negro petty bourgeois expresses himself in these drastic terms about imperialist war,we can have some conception of what are the real sentiments of the great masses of Negroes in every country who feel upon their backs the unmitigated blows of capitalism.

But can the Negro petty bourgeoisie give trustworthy revolutionary leadership? Can we trust it to correct itself and give the Negroes political leadership and organization necessary to translate this powerful revolutionary urge into concrete action against the war? Not at all. The outstanding characteristic of the petty bourgeoisie is instability, and in succeeding articles we shall see the Negro petty bourgeoisie, while reflecting the tremendous revolutionary drive of the Negroes, is in reality one of the most dangerous forces misleading the Negroes in the present crisis.