Hubert H. Harrison, formerly a member of the Socialist Party, unleashes both bores in this attack on (unnamed) A. Phillip Randolph and Chandler Owen’s ‘Messenger’ magazine and the cry of ‘class first’ by a party that had long put race, the white one, before class.
‘An Open Letter to the Socialist Party of New York City’ by Hubert H. Harrison from The New Negro. May, 1920.
Gentlemen: During 1917 the white leaders of the Republican party were warned that the Negroes of this city were in a mood unfavorable to the success of their party at the polls and that this mood was likely to last until they changed their party’s attitude toward the Negro masses. They scouted this warning because the Negroes whom they had selected to interpret Negro sentiment for them still confidently assured them that there had been no change of sentiment on the part of the Negro people, and white politicians did not think it necessary to come and find out for themselves. Consequently they were lied to by those whose bread and butter depended on such lying. Then came the mayoralty campaign, and, when it was too late they discovered their mistake. At a memorable meeting at Palace Casino John Purroy Mitchell, the candidate of the Republican party, and Theodore Roosevelt, its idol, were almost hissed off the stage, while the Mitchell outdoor speakers found it impossible to speak on the street corners of Harlem. The party went down to defeat and Judge Hylan was elected.
All this is recent history, and it is called to your attention at this time only because you are in danger of making a similar costly mistake. You, too, have selected Negro spokesmen on whose word you choose to rely for information as to the tone and temper of Negro political sentiment. You have chosen to adopt the same faulty method of the white Republican politicians, and you do not care to go behind the word of your selected exponents of Negro thought and feeling. Yet. the pitiful vote which you polled in the last election might have warned you that something had gone wrong in your arrangements. What that something is we shall now proceed to show you—if you are still able to see.
During the recent world war the Negro in America was taught that while white people spoke of patriotism, religion, democracy and other sounding themes, they remained loyal to one concept above all others, and that was the concept of race. Even in the throes of war, and on the battlefields of France it was “race first” with them. Out of this realization was born the new Negro ideal of “race first” for us. And today, whether Negroes be Catholics or Protestants, capitalists or wage workers, Republicans or Democrats, native or foreign-born, they begin life anew on this basis. Alike in their business alignments, their demands on the government and political parties, and in their courageous response to race rioters, they are responding to this sentiment which has been bred by the attitude of white men here and everywhere else where white rules black. To be sure, neither Burleson nor Palmer have told you or the rest of the white world this. The Angle-Saxon white man is a notorious hypocrite; and they have preferred to prate of Bolshevism—your “radicalism”—rather than tell the truth of racialism, our “radicalism,” because this was an easier explanation, more in keeping with official stupidity. But we had supposed that you were intelligent enough to find this out. Evidently, you were not.
Your official Negro exponents, on behalf of their bread and butter, have seized on this widely-published official explanation to make you believe that the changed attitude of the Negro masses was due to the propaganda which you were paying them (at their published request) to preach. But this is a lie. Don’t take our word for it. Do some reading on your own account. Get a hundred different Negro newspapers and magazines, outside of those which you have subsidized, and study their editorial and other pronouncements, and you will see that this is so.
But let us come nearer home. The propaganda of Socialism has been preached in times past in Harlem by different people without awakening hostility of any sort. Today it elicits a hostility which is outspoken. Send up and see; then ask yourselves the reason. You will find a Negro Harlem reborn, with business enterprises and cultural arrangements. And these things have been established without any help from you or those who eat your bread. Even the work of Socialist propaganda was neglected by you between 1912 and 1917. Consult your own memories and the columns of the Call.
All these things are the recent products of the principle of “race first.” And among them the biggest is the Universal Negro Improvement Association, with its associate bodies, the Black Star Line and the Negro Factories Corporation. No movement among American Negroes since slavery was abolished has ever attained the gigantic proportions of this. The love and loyalty of millions go out to it as well as the cold cash of tens of thousands. Yet your Negro hirelings have seen fit to use the organs which you have given them to spread Socialist propaganda for the purpose of attacking all these things, and the Black Star Line in particular. Do you wonder now that they meet with such outspoken opposition that they have been driven to seek an underhanded alliance with the police (as your Negro Socialist organ avows in its latest issue)? Isn’t that a glorious alliance for purposes of Negro propaganda? When such things can happen you may depend upon it that someone has been fooling you.
And, just as the white Republicans did, you have assumed that those whom chance or change brought your way have, somehow, achieved a monopoly of the intellect and virtue of the Negro race. Do you think that this is sound sense on your part? Of course, it was natural that they should tell you so. But was it natural for you to be so simple as to believe it? On March 27 this newspaper in an editorial quoted a passage from one of your official documents showing that the white men of your party officially put “race first” rather than “class first,” which latter phrase is your henchmen’s sole contribution to “sociology” —for us. The quoted passage cuts the very heart out of their case. And yet, those whom you have selected to represent you are so green and sappy in their Socialism that, although six weeks have elapsed since this was hurled at their thick heads, not one of them has yet been able to trace to its source, this quotation from one of your own official documents. Think of it! And in the meantime you yourselves are such “easy marks” that you believe them, on their own assertion, to be the ablest among the Negroes of America. It is not easy to decide which of the two groups is the bigger joke—you or they.
You have constantly insisted that “there is no race problem, only an economic problem,” but you will soon be in a fair way to find out otherwise. Some day you will, perhaps, have learned enough to cease being ‘‘suckers” for perpetual candidates who dickered with the Democrats up to within a month of “flopping” to your party only because they “couldn’t make it” elsewhere ; someday, perhaps, you will know enough to put Socialism’s cause in the hands of those who will refrain from using your party’s organ for purposes of personal pique, spite and venom. When that day dawns Socialism will have a chance to be heard by Negroes on its merits. And even now, if you should send anyone up here (black or white) to put the cause of Karl Marx, freed from admixture of rancor and hatred of the Negro’s own defensive racial propaganda, you may find that it will have as good a chance of gaining adherents as any other political creed. But until you change your tactics or make your exponents change theirs your case among us will be hopeless indeed.
PDF of compilation: https://archive.org/download/ldpd_13339574_000/ldpd_13339574_000.pdf