‘The Black Ten Millions’ by Robert Minor from The Liberator. Vol. 7 Nos. 2-3. February-March, 1924.

U.N.I.A. Women’s Corp marching up Seventh Avenue in Harlem. 1924.

A milestone document in changing the position of the U.S. Communist movement on Black liberation. Robert Minor was the most senior early U.S. Communist to support the Comintern’s view of Black oppression, in part, as a national oppression, placing U.S. racial history firmly in the context of imperialism and colonialism. The line was resisted by much of the leadership, including in Minor’s own faction but more strenuously by Foster’s, with this article serving as a public polemic against Party policy. Black Communist leaders like Otto Huiswoud and Cyril Briggs were largely prevented from shaping the Party’s early Black work, in part because of their hostility to Marcus Garvey’s movement, which Robert Minor urges an orientation to. Minor, a white man, would become the first head of the Party’s Black work which would develop dramatically after the Comintern’s position was accepted by the party in the years following this article, first printed in two parts in The Liberator.

‘The Black Ten Millions’ by Robert Minor from The Liberator. Vol. 7 Nos. 2-3. February-March, 1924.

WITHIN the great white city of New York is another city of one-quarter of a million Negroes. Five other great American cities have within each of them a Black City of more than 100,000 inhabitants.

The separateness of the Black Cities within the white is fairly complete. The Negro may freely visit the white town, and may work there the day through, but, come the end of his labor, must return, be it to sleep, to eat or to amuse himself, to his own pale.

The Black Man has a culture of his own his musicians, his poets, novelists, actors, students, his bourgeoisie, his scientific men and-his apostles of liberty. The Black Man of the city is a restless man; he wants to break down all the humiliating restrictions that confine him as a lower race, the “white supremacy” that loads his life down with limitations and holds him to a “black belt” as a prostitute is segregated.

New Masses. December, 1926.

The city Negro is the articulate Negro. It is he who forms the many organizations which have the purpose of completing the emancipation of his race. And among the city Negroes it is the Negro “inteligentzia” which at present has the lead. Thus it is characteristic that Professor Kelley Milier, Dean of Howard University, Washington, D.C., and a noted scholar, has sent out the call which brings together in Chicago on February 11, 1924, a national conference of organizations especially concerned with Negro emancipation. It is called the “Sandhedrin Conference,” in memory of the ancient Jewish racial council at Jerusalem. The conference is sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Equal Rights League and the African Blood Brotherhood.

The “Negro Sandhedrin” will be a bold attempt to gather all Negro and mixed pro-Negro organizations into a “united Negro front” on a common program for race emancipation. If it were merely a matter of a few hundred Negro intellectuals gathering decorously to discuss ways and means of smoothing their professional careers, one need pay little attention. But back of these intellectual leaders are the Black Ten Millions that stir in unhappy slavery on plantations from Florida to Texas and in illpaid labor in factory, mine, mill and lumber-camp the country over. The unrest of these is pressing the intellectuals forward to perhaps greater lengths than they as yet dream of going. No matter what mild speaking may be heard from the black prophets of today, the Negro in the vast heart of his race wants, and cannot stop with less than, complete and unqualified equality both in law and in social custom. Leaders may promise to take less, but the black race will ultimately walk over the faces of any such leaders.

Slave Revolts

It is a mistake to assume that the Negro was a submissive slave. Even before the American revolution there were twenty-five insurrections of Negroes against slavery in the American colonies. One of the reasons given in favor of the adoption of the American Constitution in 1787 was that it made possible the formation of a national army with which to suppress the then threatened slave rebellions of Georgia and other southern states, which it was feared that no single Southern state with its own army would be able to suppress.

And the fears were justified. A dozen slave rebellions, large and small, occurred in the United States after the American revolution and before the Civil War of 1861. The nineteenth century began with one thousand armed slaves marching against Richmond, Virginia, led by two Negro slaves, Gabriel and Jack Bowler. Two years later an area covering ten counties in North Carolina was the scene of an armed insurrection of Negroes, and this was followed three years later by another. In the year 1811 a little army of five hundred armed slaves marched against the city of New Orleans, recruiting the adult male Negro population of each plantation as it passed. The insurrection was crushed by the garrison of Fort Charles after a military engagement. Five years later a planned slave insurrection at Fredericksburg, Virginia, was prematurely disclosed and its leaders hanged. A similar disturbance occurred in Camden, South Carolina, in that year, followed two years later by another at Charleston, South Carolina. In the next year, 1819, a Negro slave insurrection was attempted in Augusta, Georgia.

Denmark Vesey Monument statue in Charleston, South Carolina, erected in 2014.

In 1822 a wide-spread conspiracy for a slave insurrection was organized by that strange Negro genius, Denmark Vesey. Throughout an area of forty or fifty miles around Charleston, South Carolina, the best of the Negroes were carefully and secretly organized by a recruiting committee. One organizer, Peter Poyas, is said to have sworn in six hundred persons. The mistake was made of trusting a meek household servant, who betrayed the plot. Thirty-five leaders of the plot were hanged, including Denmark Vesey- to whom, I swear, a monument will some day be raised in Charleston, South Carolina.

Nine years later, 1831, the Negro preacher, Nat Turner, led an armed insurrection in Southampton County, Virginia, which was put down by United States troops and state militia with the loss of the lives of one hundred Negroes and sixty white persons. Twenty Negroes were afterward hanged. Before the year ended another rebellion began in three counties of North Carolina, but was betrayed by a free Negro and crushed. In Maryland there was an uprising of slaves in 1845, followed by disturbances in 1853 and in 1857. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859 was an attempt at Negro uprising incited and led by a white man. Because it occurred at a tense political moment it has been made in our histories to overshadow the greater uprisings which were inspired, organized and led by Negroes alone. The John Brown insurrection was comparatively and actually very small.

The outstanding fact is that the American Negro has found within his own race both the genius and the daring to fight for his freedom. That the desperate and unsuccessful insurrections of the slavery days were inadequate in method and pitifully ineffective is beside the point: The Negro possesses the initiative and the courage to make his a free race.

After “Emancipation”

For fifty years after the Civil War the Negro wandered in a fog of republican “emancipation.” He was “free”-to starve or to sell himself back to the white landlord. The white ruling1 class considered merely that they had been deprived of certain property, but not in the least that the Negro had attained “social and political equality with white persons,” as a South Carolina statute of 1865 put it. Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation” of 1863 had, according to its own wording, not the purpose of abolishing slavery, but the purpose of breaking the economic backbone of a rival war-power. The aim was not to free the Negro but to destroy $1,500,000,000 worth of property in “black ivory” of a belligerent enemy. The “Preliminary Proclamation” directly offered to leave slavery intact in any part of the South that would lay. down its arms. The “Emancipation Proclamation” very carefully specified that slavery should not be abolished “for the present” in sections of Louisiana and Virginia not at that time in arms against the Union.

The ex-slave was legally not a citizen, but a “freedman”- quite a different thing; he was property that had been confiscated as a means of punishment of his owners. The Negro had, in Southern eyes, been changed from a domesticated animal to an undomesticated animal.

When the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1868, giving the rights of citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States “and when the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified in 1870, providing that “the right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, or by any State, on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,”- these Constitutional provisions merely refined the skill of Southern lawyers in writing laws to disfranchise and de-citizenize the Negro.

The emancipation of the American Negro from chattel slavery has not yet been completed. The Negro “share” farmer or tenant-farmer is still to all intents and purposes the slave of his white landlord. The white landlord continues to take the product of the labor of the Negro, and gives in return, in almost the same manner as seventy-five years ago, little more than a miserable ration of food. In Turner County, Georgia, in 1913 “the average annual cash income per Negro tenant farmer- usually a family- was only $290.” The Negro tenant is kept in debt to his white exploiter, sometimes for an entire lifetime, and his “running away” is often forcibly prevented as long as his white overlord owns a “debt”- interest in his body.

Peonage, a close imitation of chattel slavery, is still accomplished with the device of convicting men (both black and white, nowadays!) of “vagrancy” or “idling,” or sometimes for real offenses, and then leasing them out to planters, mine-owners, lumber operators or contractors for periods of months or years. The recent cases of Martin Tabor (white) who was beaten to death by a “whipping boss” in Florida, and the eleven Negroes who were murdered on a peonage-farm in Jasper County, Georgia, are examples of a “sacred institution” of our Country.

The Negro is still not a citizen in the South. Places of public resort are divided as are the buildings of a farmhouses for the (white) human beings and barns for the (Negro) animals. The railroads provide cattle-cars for cattle and Negro-cars for Negroes. In many parts of the South (Alabama, Florida) Negroes are kept out of public parks and playgrounds; sometimes “Jim Crow” parks and playgrounds are provided. Throughout the South it is taken for granted that Negroes are not to be permitted to live in houses near the residences of the well-to-do whites. Commonly Southern towns have their “red-light” districts and their “n***r-towns”-often jumbled together for the sake of real-estate convenience. Segregation is sometimes accomplished by law- as in Tulsa, Oklahoma, among· many other localities- and sometimes by terrorism alone.

Occasionally there has come over the White South a panic due to a fear that the Negro parent’s zeal for educating his black child is raising the literacy of the Negro child above that of the poor white. But the white man is doing his best to keep the Negro behind the white. In South Carolina, where the Negro population approaches that of the whites, ten million dollars is spent to educate white children, while one million is spent for a similar number of Negro children. It is claimed that in some parts of the South when the Negro progresses too far the Negro schoolhouses are burned.

Minor speaks at Communist n Madison Square Garden, New York City, May 27, 1935.

They say that the Negro is not disfranchised in the South, and then they explain that he is permitted to vote whenever and to whatever extent that his vote won’t win anything. Throughout the South wherever the Negro population outnumbers or dangerously approximates the white population in number, the Negro is frankly and openly excluded from the ballot to an extent sufficient to give the white man a guarantee of control. Then, in most cases, the real election takes place in the Democratic primaries, where the Negro is barred, and the formal election follows automatically. The disfranchisement of the Negro is considered basic in the political system. And the tendency to transform Negro disfranchisement into working-class disfranchisement is already apparent. Three years ago the editor of the Birmingham News made a serious proposal that “high-class” Negroes (of the new Negro bourgeoisie) should be carefully selected and given the “privilege” of voting.

The Rise of the Black Giant

The tremors of the World War that shook the world to its foundations, did not fail to reach the Negro. To be exempted from conscription was a privilege, and the “damn n***r” received no privilege. 367,710 young Negro men were drafted and given military training. About 200,000 had the amazing experience of a trip to Europe and a flickering glimpse of what is called “social equality”-yes, even between black men and white women-. The American Negro who went to France did not, when he returned, fit into the scheme of the plantation and the overseer. What is more exciting, his neck no longer fitted meekly into the lyncher’s noose! The young Negroes who had had the awakening experience of the War, and associates influenced by them, began to transform the lynching into what is called a riot-that is, a two-sided fight. But it really began before the men went to France.

A young Negro friend has told me of the pride and newfound security that he felt on the day of his first leave after being mobilized, when, in his new uniform, accompanied by a half-dozen of his fellow Negro soldiers, he strolled in the streets of a Southern city where before then he had never been free of the uneasiness engendered by white terrorism.

In 1917 Corporal Baltimore of the 24th (Negro) Infantry, then waiting at Houston, Texas, to be shipped to France, interfered with two policemen who were beating a Negro woman on the street. The result was-not a lynching this time, but a race-battle in which many were killed. The military authorities stepped in on behalf of the whites and hanged nineteen of the Negro soldiers. Fifty-four members of the 24th Infantry are now confined in Leavenworth penitentiary. Thus, when the Negro defends himself the Law steps in to complete the thwarted lynching.

Court Martial of 64 members of the 24th Infantry, 1917. 19 men would be executed.

From March 1919, when a white man attempted to exercise his privilege of slapping a “n***r woman” on a Birmingham street car and was killed for it by a Negro man, there has been a long series of incidents called “race riots” in Charleston S. C., Chicago Ills., Elaine Arkansas, Knoxville Tenn., Longview Texas, Omaha Neb., Washington D.C., Duluth Minn., Independence Kansas, Ocoee Florida, Springfield Ohio and Tulsa Oklahoma. Nearly all of these incidents would a few years ago have taken the form of a simple, respectable lynching of a Negro “without disorder.” But with what the Negroes call their “new attitude,” practically all of these incidents now take the form of terrific two-sided fights in which the Negroes in resisting lynching take white life for black life. As reported in the New York Age (Negro):

“The colored people of the District of Columbia have shown what a people can do when assailed on all hands by mob fury and deserted by the police power of the District and by the Federal Government, both of which to all intents and purposes threw their organized influence against the colored people, the victims of the fury of the mob.

“Disorganized as they were, and without leadership, when the rioting was started Saturday night and continuing through Sunday and Sunday night, without any effective interference on the part of the police, colored people were prepared on Monday to defend themselves, after a fashion, and began to do so with a grim determination to exact a life for a life. They entered into the strife with more determination than the whites who started it. and they stuck to the job all week like heroes of many battles!”

The Great Migration

But mobilization in the army was not the biggest means with which the World War wrought its changes in the life of the Negro. Just at the moment when the Northern manufacturers began to book huge orders for war supplies – the war shut off the customary source of American industrial labor: European immigration. Northern manufacturers began to dip into the great stagnant pool of the South for black labor-power. At first the White South was glad to see the Negro go, but soon began to change its mind and to try to stem the tide. At the end of hostilities and of war-manufacture, it is estimated a quarter of a million Southern Negroes remained in the North, charmed by the comparative freedom and better living standards into forgetfulness of “Dixie.” With the first industrial slump the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, for instance, became worried about the 20,000 new Negroes in the city, and considered ways and means to get rid of them; until business revived and made them useful. The Negro population of Detroit rose from about 5,700 in 1910 to about 53,000 in 1923.

The Black “Foreigner”

Afraid that immigrant labor would bring the revolutionary fever of Europe to our shores, Congress passed the severely restrictive immigration law. At the same time began the after-war industrial revival demanding cheap immigrant labor.

Drawn by Robert Minor.

The Southern Negro became the “immigrant laborer.” The rumor of “high wages and human treatment” that had once gathered the millions of Eastern and Southern Europe now swept the Black South of the United States. It is recorded that one Negro church at Lone Oak, Georgia, lost ninety-eight members between a Saturday evening and Sunday morning. 478,700 are said to have migrated in one year. The total of the great migration is roughly estimated at one million.

Georgian agriculture is said to have suffered’ $25,000,000 of damage in 1923 through the loss of its black peons. Other Southern States had similar experiences. The result of the migration was called by many writers a “revolution.” It is said that the South will be forced now to discard its primitive economic processes and to “machinize” itself. And Northern industry is also profoundly affected by the introduction of the new and dark-faced “immigrant labor.”

But most of all the Negro is affected. James Weldon Johnson, secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is quoted as declaring the great migration to be the greatest single factor in the twentieth century emancipation of the race. Whatever the objective reasons, the Negro has his own subjective reasons for no longer “wishing he was in Dixie,” and he states them as;

Mob violence.
Inferior schools.
Low wages.
Inequality of law enforcement.

Let no one imagine, however, that the Negro escapes discrimination when he escapes from the South. As fast as the Negro becomes a large factor in the Northern cities and industrial centers, most of the persecutions, petty and large- especially lynching and segregation- follow at his heels. American· capitalism cannot accept race equality. In fact race discrimination appears to be increasing with the bourgeois development. Racial residential segregation is as rigid in the big Northern cities as in those of the South -and seems to be in process of extension to the Jews! Advertisements for apartments to let, often carry the proviso, “for Gentiles,” meaning that Jews are excluded as well as Negroes, whose exclusion is taken for granted. Race discrimination is on the up-grade, not the down-grade, in these mad days of capitalist decay.

‘Communists welcome Angelo Herndon (second from left) to New York City after his release on bail from the Georgia State Prison, includes Scottsboro witness Ruby Bates. Robert Minor and James W. Ford on right.

WHAT does the Negro in America require in order to escape his condition as an oppressed race? He requires:

Abolition of restrictions upon his right of residence; that is, abolition of “black-belt” segregation.

Abolition of distinction between Colored and white children in the schools; which distinction, with segregation, results not only in perpetuating race hatred, but also in the starvation of Negro schools.

Equal right to vote in the South.

The organization of millions of unorganized Negro wage-laborers in industry, in the same unions with white workers.

The organization of the Negro tenant farmers and share-farmers of the South to fight against peonage and other terrible hardships.

Abolition of laws in the Southern states which put the Negro on a sub-human plane, such as the laws against inter-marriage.

Abolition of the Jim Crow system on the railroads, in the parks, theatres, hotels, restaurants, and other public conveniences.

Drastic measures against lynching.

Drastic measures against the Ku Klux Klan. Organized solidarity with the other groups of his oppressed race in other countries for common relief.

The Negro Sanhedrin.

How did the Negro fare in the supposedly great gathering of all Negro organizations, the Negro Sanhedrin Conference just closed in Chicago? All of the above questions were placed before the conference. The outcome of each was as follows:

When it came to the question of housing, it became evident that the Sanhedrin conference was heavily dominated by Negro business men. These men are theoretically in favor of the emancipation of their race. And they talk eloquently to this effect. But when Negro working people among the delegates, through a delegate representing the Workers Party, offered a resolution calling for legislation by which the black-belt residence district could be broken up and landlords compelled to rent living quarters at a fixed rental to the first comer regardless of color and independently of the landlord’s will, this measure was killed because the Negro real-estate men make enormous profits by confining the Negro tenant to a given district and charging him from twenty per cent more to twice as much as is paid for similar residence by white persons. The Negro, had to give up that demand in deference to the Negro real-estate men.

When approximately the same working-class elements supported a measure demanding the abolition of separate schools for white and Colored children, on the ground that such separation is but the preparation for a future life of segregation, a Negro school-teacher from Virginia arose and protested excitedly against committing the Sanhedrin to such a measure. The very evident and scarcely concealed reason was that he was doing very well in a good job; since he profited by segregation of the Negro race in schools the Negro must remain segregated.

The Sanhedrin conference was slightly besprinkled with Negro employment agents connected with the white chambers of commerce. So the Sanhedrin flatly and cold-bloodedly rejected the proposal to organize the millions of Negro industrial workers and confined their expression to mild and meaningless phrase about equality in the labor unions for such negro wage-workers as are already organized.

When it came to the question of treating the Negro as a human being before the law in the most intimate phase of life, the phase of marriage-of course, everyone agreed that the black and the white race have always mixed and are now mixing, and that laws against intermarriage are merely laws protecting the Southern white man in illicit sexual practices. But when the working-class delegates, through the Workers Party delegation, offered a motion demanding the abolition of the laws against intermarriage, it turned out that so many of the gentlemen and ladies present had to cater to the good-will of white philanthropists that the Sanhedrin conference had to give up any idea of demanding equality in law respecting marriage.

Every suggestion of organizing the millions of black tenant-farmers and share-farmers who live in virtual peonage in the South was too offensive to the well-dressed business-men and women, so the plan to organize the Negro tenant and share-farmers had to be dropped in favor of a meaningless phrase.

A vigorous resolution for organized protection against the Ku Klux Klan, introduced by the (working class) African Blood Brotherhood, was coldly rejected.

In short, nearly every measure that the Black Ten Millions require ran headlong into one vested interest or another of the Negro bourgeoisie, and expired, leaving this “All-Race” conference of American Negroes on record practically for the preservation of the present condition of the Negro.

Why? Because in this conference the Negro business man and society lady undertook to be the spokesmen of their people. And the Black Ten Millions have, to a certain extent, consented to let them be the spokesmen. The Negro in America is more or less proud of his bourgeoisie, or thinks he is; he has been trained to think, and he is now being propagandized to think that to have a class of prosperous, well-dressed, limousine-riding members of his race, is somehow to get out of the wilderness of oppression. The outcome of this conference ought to be a flash of light to the toiling, suffering black millions: the Negro bourgeoisie is allied, hopelessly tied up with the white bourgeoisie; the white bourgeoisie ruled the Sanhedrin Conference through its allies, the Negro bourgeoisie.

In referring to the “Negro bourgeoisie,” however, it must be remembered that it is, correctly speaking, a petty bourgeoisie, subject to wavering between the capitalist and working classes, as was shown by the strong response to speeches of the African Blood Brotherhood and Workers Party delegates.

Mass Organization.

But there is much more to the Negro movement than appeared at this gathering. The great, silent millions who had so few champions there, have not been left untouched by the World War. The stirring of the Black Waters in 1917 started a new spring to flowing- the spring of mass organization. Many important Negro organizations exist and have- existed for a long time. But none of them were mass organizations.

The close of the war-period brought a new phenomenon -hundreds of thousands closely organized on a program of militant activity for race emancipation. The new phenomenon took place under the fantastic leadership of Marcus Garvey.

The biggest and most remarkable of all Negro organizations, the followers of Marcus Garvey, refused to be represented in the Sanhedrin. This is much to be regretted. One may laugh at this self-styled “Emperor of Africa” and point out the hollowness of his program to “redeem the Ancient Kingdom of Ethiopia” by reconquering Africa for the Negro. Garvey may be what his critics call him: a windbag and self-seeker. But that does not close the question, for this writer. For the fact remains that Garvey organized four hundred thousand Negroes-the first compact mass organization of the race ever formed in the world.

Seven years ago this lone Negro landed in the United States from Jamaica, to proselytize for the “Universal Negro Improvement Association,” which he had formed in Jamaica. in 1914. There is a curious prejudice between Jamaica Negroes and American Negroes. Yet Garvey in five years destroyed the tradition that the American Negro masses cannot be organized. He organized nearly half a million active, dues-paying members (he claimed four million members) on a basis of militant race-consciousness. Race-consciousness in a dominant race takes the form of race arrogance, and we are accustomed to despise it as reactionary (which it is). But race-consciousness in a people just emerged from slavery and still spurned as an inferior people-may be, and in this case is, revolutionary. True, Garvey is a Bolshevik-baiter. True, he might be called a “monarchist” since he set himself up as the “Negro King.” He may yet be an instrument of the worst reaction and of ruin to his people, as indicated by his advice to them not to oppose the Ku Klux Klan, and by his recent concession to “white supremacy.”

But Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association is a mass organization of four hundred thousand race conscious Negroes, brought together on the basis of determination to throw off the remaining traces of slavery. Such a phenomenon cannot occur without revolutionary effect, no matter what its declaration of aims may be. Garvey’s organization fiercely proclaims itself to be a submissive, docile, anti-Bolshevik, reactionary organization. It tries to be. But look over the spontaneous, classic cry of the Black Spartacus that rings through its fifty-four articles of faith adopted in its 1920 convention:

Garvey at Liberty Hall in 1924.

2. That we believe in the supreme authority of our race in all things racial: that all things are created and given to man as a common possession: that there should be an equitable distribution and apportionment of all such things, and in consideration of the fact that as a race we are now deprived of those things that are morally and legally ours, we believed it right that all such things should be acquired and held by whatsoever means possible…

7. We believe that any law or practice that tends to deprive any African of his land or the privileges of free citizenship within his country is unjust and immoral, and no native should respect any such law or practice.

8…. there should be no obligation on the part of the Negro to obey the levy of a tax by any law-making body from which he is excluded and denied representation on account of his race and color.

9. We believe that any law especially directed against the Negro to his detriment and singling him out because of his race or color is unfair and immoral, and should not be respected…

12. We believe that the Negro should adopt every means to protect himself against barbarous practices inflicted upon him because of color.

16. We believe all men should live in peace one with the other, but when races arid nations provoke the ire of other races and nations by attempting to infringe upon their rights, war becomes inevitable, and the attempt in any way to free one’s self or protect one’s rights or heritage becomes justifiable.

17. Whereas, the lynching, by burning, hanging or any other means, of human beings is a barbarous practice, and a shame and disgrace to civilization, we therefore declare any country guilty of such atrocities outside the pale of civilization…

38. We demand complete control of our social institutions without interference by any alien race or races…

Which Way?

On what road lies the Negro’s way to freedom? Can the Negro obtain free admission into the white bourgeois class, while a society of class superiority and class inferiority continues to exist?

Of course it is “theoretically” possible that with the retention of an upper and a lower class, the more prosperous Negro might be admitted to the upper class. But in hard reality:

  1. Those Negroes who in spite of all handicaps accumulate property, are not admitted to terms of equality with the white bourgeoisie.
  2. In the struggle (inevitable and now going on) between the capitalist class and the working class, the capitalist class never fails to stimulate and use every possible race prejudice-one of its chief means of dividing the adversary- class. Never a strike occurs in a big industry employing several nationalities of labor, but the employers strain every device for awakening jealousies and suspicions between the nationalities. The basic industries of America habitually and systematically choose several nationalities for employment in each plant, thus to prevent cohesion. The flames of race-hatred between the blacks and the whites can be made to burn to ashes any labor-solidarity when the employer’s provocateur sets the match. This has been proven again and again with wearying repetition, in the great steel strike, the packing-house strikes, railroad shopmen’s strike and countless others.

The capitalist class cannot forego the powerful weapon of race-division in its sharp struggle to divide and conquer labor. Those who would retain the division of society into an upper and a lower class, must and will retain race prejudice and the present “white supremacy” as sacred American institutions. Taking the facts as they are: In a class society the Negro will inevitably be used as bait for race hatred in the waters of class conflict.

The Republican Party Goes Over to “White Supremacy”

The old, sentimental tradition to the effect that the Republican party seeks the freedom of the Negro is being exploded. Since 1875 the tradition has been a lie. Since the World War it has become a farce.

Capitalist interests have depended upon using alternately the Republican and Democratic parties. In those seasons when circumstances compelled their backing the Republican party, they found it embarrassing that the Solid White South voted always and automatically the Democratic ticket. With the Republican party black, there was no two-party system in the South … Yet the South is fixed in “white supremacy.” To be able to swing the South at will either to the Republican party or to the Democratic party, the capitalist interests had to make the Republican party acceptable to the southern white man. To get the white vote, the semi-disfranchised and therefore half-useless Negro has to be disowned. So we see the Republican Party in a “Lily-White” movement in Virginia, Georgia and Maryland, notably, and in other southern states to a less degree. In Virginia the leading Republican politicians have declared in principle against the holding of office by Negroes, but generously granting that the Negro should still have the right to vote for white candidates. In Louisville, Kentucky, the Republican political leaders adopted the practice of excluding Negroes from republican nomination; and the Negroes retaliated by putting up an all-Negro ticket for municipal offices.

In October, 1921, President Harding tried to draw the “white supremacy” vote toward the Republican party. He made a speech attuned to “white supremacy.” With a little carefully applied salve for the Negroes along the conventional lines of ambiguity, Harding committed himself and his party as “uncompromisingly against every suggestion of social equality”- which, as far as it means anything, means every form of right that anyone may want to deprive the Negro of. To rid the Republican party of the black stigma to Southern white eyes, he even suggested that the (voteless) Alabama Negro ought sometimes to “vote for Democratic candidates”! And Mr. Coolidge in his turn appointed Slemp- whom the Negroes call “Lily-White Slemp”-to be his secretary-for-Southern-vote-catching.

Liberator. July, 1924.

The Negro started his American career in the class of “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” He is there now. It is to the interest of the ruling class to keep him there, and at the same time to keep him divided from the other “hewers of wood and drawers of water”-the white working class- by fanning the flames of race prejudice. It is to the interest of all hewers of wood and drawers of water -white and black- to overcome race prejudice and to come together.

The Negro’s fate in America lies in the labor movement, and there it is bound up with the exponents of the new order- the “radicals”- those who are fighting against the skilled labor caste system and broadening the labor movement out to the vast millions equally.

But the Negro’s fate is a political question. Again we say the Negro cannot free himself from lower-class status, nor from the race-hatreds utilized to preserve the class system, until he helps to overthrow the class system. To get out of the exploited class, the Negro must abolish the exploited class.

Where Are the Negro’s Allies?

To discover the forces that are ready to join hands with the Negro for his emancipation, for his equality without reservation or evasion, it would be well to compare the utterances of the American Negro bourgeoisie and intellectuals with the utterances of the Communist International. The last Congress of the Communist International adopted a drastic program for the solution of the Negro’s problem, both in America and internationally, and the following are extracts from its decisions:

“(3) It is with intense pride that the Communist International sees the exploited Negro workers resist the attacks of the exploiter, for the enemy of his race and the enemy of the white workers is one and the same- Capitalism and Imperialism. The international struggle of the Negro race is a struggle against Capitalism and Imperialism. It is on the basis of this struggle that the world Negro movement must be organized. In America, as the centre of Negro culture and the crystallization of Negro protest; in Africa, the reservoir of human labor for the further development of capitalism; in Central America (Costa Rica, Guatemala, Colombia, Nicaragua and other “independent” republics), where American imperialism dominates in Porto Rico, Haiti, Santo Domingo and other islands washed by the waters of the Caribbean, where the brutal treatment of our black fellow-men by the American occupation has aroused the protest of the conscious Negro and the revolutionary white workers everywhere; in South Africa and the Congo, where the growing industrialization of the Negro population has resulted in various forms of uprisings; in East Africa, where the recent penetration of world capital is stirring the native populations into an active opposition to imperialism, in all these centers the Negro movement must be organized … “

Otto Huiswould and Claude McKay, both addressed the Comintern in Moscow in 1922.

“(6) 1. The Fourth Congress recognizes the necessity of supporting every form of Negro movement which tends to undermine or weaken capitalism or imperialism or to impede its further penetration.

“2. The Communist International will fight for race equality of the Negro with the white people, as well as for equal wages and political and social rights.

“3. The Communist International will use every instrument within its control to compel the trade-unions to admit Negro workers to membership or, where the nominal right to join exists, to agitate for a special campaign to draw them into the unions. Failing in this, it will organize the Negroes into unions of their own and specially apply the United Front tactic to compel admission to the unions of the white men.

“4. The Communist International will take immediate steps to hold a general Negro Conference or Congress in Moscow.”

The Liberator was published monthly from 1918, first established by Max Eastman and his sister Crystal Eastman continuing The Masses, was shut down by the US Government during World War One. Like The Masses, The Liberator contained some of the best radical journalism of its, or any, day. It combined political coverage with the arts, culture, and a commitment to revolutionary politics. Increasingly, The Liberator oriented to the Communist movement and by late 1922 was a de facto publication of the Party. Max Eastman would sell the paper to the Party and In 1924, The Liberator merged with Labor Herald and Soviet Russia Pictorial into Workers Monthly. An essential magazine of the US left.

PDF of full February issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/culture/pubs/liberator/1924/02/v7n02-w70-feb-1924-liberator-hr.pdf

PDF of full March issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/culture/pubs/liberator/1924/03/v7n03-w71-mar-1924-liberator-hr.pdf

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