American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard

December 16, 2010

Part of the classic American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard, written by Raya Dunayevskaya, has been posted on the web at the Marxists Internet Archive. The entire book can be obtained from News and Letters Committees.

This was excerpted from Part V, “From Depression Through World War II.”

Source: American Civilization on Trial, Part V “From Depression Through World War II.” This pamphlet was published by News & Letters in 1963 and has since appeared in several editions, most recently in 2003 [it was also used in Freedom Schools of Mississippi Freedom Summer, 1964];
Transcribed: by Kevin Michaels.

March on Washington

The outbreak of World War II in 1939 and the gearing of the American factories for war output very nearly wiped out unemployment – white unemployment. But nearly 25 per cent of the Negro work force remained unemployed in 1940. The very fact that, both South and North, the Negro had become urbanized and unionized only sharpened his sense of oppression as a national minority. The very potency within the trade unions made this ghettoization and unemployment outside the more frustrating. This time the great unrest among the Negroes did not go unheeded by the American Negro leadership.

A. Philip Randolph, President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, organized a March on Washington Movement. This all-Negro mass organization planned to mobilize 100,000 for its march on the nation’s capital. Under its pressure President Roosevelt issued Executive Order No. 8802 which barred discrimination in war industries. While this small version Fair Employment Practices Act did stop this March on the capital, it did not stop the movement as an organization which then proceeded to transform itself into a Committee to End Jim Crow in the Army [1].

Again, the winning of some of his demands only sharpened the Negro’s sense of lacking all rights. In housing, especially, conditions became unbearable as more and more thousands of workers, white and Negro, moved into the industrial centers. Neither the CIO, which by now had about one and one-half million Negro members, nor the March on Washington Movement in a narrower field, had achieved what the Negro was fighting for – full democratic rights. They seemed impossible to achieve.

However, this time, far from either joining any “Back to Africa” movement, or taking the defensive when attacked by KKK and such racist elements, the Negro took the offensive. In the year 1943 there was an outburst of mass Negro demonstrations in New York, Chicago, Detroit. It was the year also of the first great wartime strike among miners, which, inevitably, had a great number of Negro members. The American Negro took the offensive and showed great discrimination in what he attacked.

Something new occurred also in the sense that there were instances of white solidarity, especially in Detroit, where the CIO undertook to have white and Negro work in and out of the factory alongside of each other. Above all, none dared attack it as unpatriotic. None that is except the Communists.

The Communists Oppose the Independent Negro Movement

At the beginning of World War II, the slogan of the American Communists was “The Yanks Are Not Coming.” They tried duplicating the treachery of the Stalin-Hitler Pact by joining with the fascist “America Firsters” – to Communists, anything at all which would keep America from entering the war on the side of the allies was justifiable. If they opposed anything at all in the original organization of the March on Washington Movement, it was that it was not militant enough because it allowed itself to be led by A. Philip Randolph. All this was changed overnight when, in June, 1941, Germany invaded Russia. The imperialist war was now declared by these quick-change artists, who undeviatingly follow Russian foreign policy lines, to have become “a war of national liberation.” The began demanding the immediate establishment of “a second front” – everywhere, that is, except for Negroes in the United States.

Now they began to attack A. Philip Randolph as a veritable “subversive” and the March on Washington Movement as being “too belligerent.” By its fight for jobs for Negroes, said the Communist Party’s Vice-Presidential candidate and Negro leader, James Ford, it was “creating confusing and dangerous moods in the ranks of the Negro people and utilizing their justified grievances as a weapon of opposition to the Administration’s war program?”

These “justified grievances” didn’t seem to warrant, in the eyes of Communists, even so mild a program as that of the Pittsburgh Courier which had launched the slogan of the “Double V”: “double victory for democracy at home and abroad.” This, said the Daily Worker, in its special symposium on the Negro question in March, 1942, destroys national unity! “Hitler is the main enemy and the foes of Negro rights in this country should be considered as secondary.”

Many a sympathizer of the Communists and what they had done on such cases as the Scottsboro Boys in the 1930’s were taken aback. As George Schuyler [2] put it: “Whereas at one time they were all for stopping production because of Jim Crow employment policies, low pay or bad working conditions, they are now all-out for the Government’s policy of no wartime strikes and have actually endorsed labor conscription, i.e., human slavery. Everything must be done to save Russia even if Negroes’ rights have to go by the board.”

The Communists proceeded also to rewrite Negro history. Robert Minor, in “The Heritage of the Communist Political Association,” discovered that “the abolition of national oppression is a bourgeois-democratic reform” and therefore is achievable within the framework of American capitalism so long as the “Negro people pursue the correct course – the Frederick Douglass course of full support of the war?”

Outside of the slanderous statement about that great Negro Abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, as if he uncritically supported the Civil War, the Civil War did finally turn into a revolutionary war which abolished slavery. It thus merited also the support of the international working class which was given by the International Workingmen’s Association headed by Karl Marx. World War II, on the other hand, remained an imperialist war, as was evident by the type of support given it by American Communists. They came out (1) in support of the no-strike pledge by the trade unions, not to mention being for company incentive plans; (2) against any independent activities by Negroes for their rights either on the job, or in the army, or anywhere; (3) helping railroad the Trotskyists to jail under the Smith Act; and (4) vying with the D.A.R. in its “patriotism,” that is to say calling “subversive” all who disagreed with them. Even the NAACP had become too militant for them.

Above all, Frederick Douglas was a leader of the Abolitionist movement which did not stop its independent activity during the Civil War. Though he unequivocally supported Lincoln when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, here is how he described Lincoln at he unveiling of the Freedman’s Monument to Lincoln: “It must be admitted, truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man. He was pre-eminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of the white men?You are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his stepchildren; children by adoption, children by force of circumstance and necessity. But—we entreat you to despise not the humble offering we this day unveil to view; for while Abraham Lincoln saved for you a country, he delivered us from a bondage, according to Jefferson, one hour of which was worse than ages of the oppression your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose.”

During the 1943 mass demonstration, the Communist Councilman Benjamin A. Davis appeared with Mayor La Guardia in Harlem and on the same platform spoke against the Negro outburst.

According to Earl Browder: “The immediate achievement in this period under the present American system of complete equality for the Negroes has been made possible by the crisis and by the character of this war as a people’s war of national liberation.” And just in case there was any illusion about the “complete equality for the Negroes” requiring any activity, the Negro Communist Doxey A. Wilkerson, spelled it out for all as no more, and no less, than the “full support of the win-the-war policies of our Commander-in-Chief.”

So eager were the Communists in their support of the Roosevelt Administration that they spoke not only of “war-time unity” but post-war plans. We don’t mean those of the Cold War that they did not anticipate. No, in that same 1944 pamphlet, What The Negro Wants, Wilkerson wrote “To draft idealistic war plans for the Negroes?tends to divert much needed energy from the really urgent task of today: to win the war.” Shades of the Bourbon South!

No wonder the Negroes by the thousands – for they had joined the Communist Party during the 1930s – tore up their Communist Party cards and were not again fooled by the new change in line that came with the Moscow Cold War which made the American Communists once again (for how long?) come out “for the Negro liberation.”

1. The War’s Greatest Scandal! The Story of Jim Crow in Uniform, published by the March on Washington Movement.

2. George Schuyler (1895-1977) was a pioneering African-American journalist, long associated with the Pittsburgh Courier. He published an autobiography, Black and Conservative, in 1966. [Transcriber]

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