‘Race First Versus Class First’ by Hubert H. Harrison from When Africa Awakes. Porro Press, New York City. 1920.

Delegates to the Socialist Party’s founding convention, 1904.

No section of the U.S. population is more thoroughly proletarian than those of African descent. And yet, for generations, those who sought to lead the working class rejected that reality. With disastrous consequences for the country and the class struggle. Hubert H. Harrison, formerly a member of the Socialist Party, asks that party to take responsibility for its racism, providing the quotes, and responds to the demand of ‘class first’ by a party that had long put race, the white one, first.

‘Race First Versus Class First’ by Hubert H. Harrison from When Africa Awakes. Porro Press, New York City. 1920.

“In the old days white people derived their knowledge of what Negroes were doing from those Negroes who were nearest to them, largely their own selected exponents of Negro activity or of their white point of view….Today the white world is vaguely, but disquietingly, aware that Negroes are awake; different, but perplexingly uncertain. Yet the white world by which they are surrounded retains its traditional method of interpreting the mass by the Negro nearest to themselves in affiliation or contact. The Socialist party still persists in thinking that the unrest now apparent in the Negro masses is due to the propaganda which its paid adherents support, and believes that the unrest will function largely along the lines of Socialist political thought.”

It is necessary to insist on this point today when the Socialist party of America has secretly subsidized both a magazine and a newspaper to attempt to cut into the splendid solidarity which Negroes are achieving in response to the call of racial necessity. It is necessary to point out that ‘radical’ young Negroes may betray the interests of the race into alien hands just as surely as “the old crowd.” Tor, after all, the essence of both betrayals consists in making the racial requirements play second fiddle to the requirements dictated as best for it by other groups with other interests to serve. The fact that one group of alien interests is described as “‘radical’’ and the other as. “reactionary” is of very slight value to us.

In the days when the Socialist Party of America was respectable, although it never drew lines of racial separation in the North, it permitted those lines to be drawn in the South. It had no word of official condemnation for the Socialists of Tennessee who prevented Theresa Malkiel in 1912 from lecturing to Negroes on Socialism either in the same hall with them or in meetings of their own. It was the national office of the party which in that same presidential year refused to route Eugene V. Debs in the South because that Grand Old Man let it be known that he would not remain silent on the race question while in the South. They wanted the votes of the white South then, and were willing to betray by silence the principles of inter-racial solidarity which they espoused on paper.

Now, when their party has shrunk considerably in – popular support and sentiment, they are willing to take up our cause. Well, we thank honest white people every where who take up our cause, but we wish them to know that we have already taken it up ourselves. While they were refusing to diagnose our case we diagnosed it ourselves, and, now that we have prescribed the remedy— Race Solidarity—they come to us with their prescription Class Solidarity. It is too late, gentlemen! This racial alignment is all our own product, and we have no desire to turn it over to you at this late day, when we are beginning to reap its benefits. And if you are simple enough to believe that those among us who serve your interests ahead of ours have any monopoly of intellect or information along the lines of modern learning, then you are the greater gulls indeed.

We can respect the Socialists of Scandinavia, France, Germany or England on their record. But your record so far does not entitle you to the respect of those of us who can see all around a subject. We say Race First, because you have all along insisted on Race First and class after when you didn’t need our help. We reproduce below a brief portion of your record in those piping times of peace, and ask you to explain it. If you are unable to do so, set your lackeys to work; they may be able to do it in terms of their own “radical scientific” surface slush. The following is taken from the majority report of one of your national committees during one of your recent national conventions. It was signed by Ernest Untermann and J. Stitt Wilson, representing the West, and Joshua Wanhope, editor of the Call, and Robert Hunter, representing the East, and it was adopted as a portion of the party program. We learn from it that—

“Race feeling is not so much a result of social as of biological evolution. Tt does not change essentially with changes of economic systems. Tt is deeper than any class feeling and will outlast the capitalist system. It persists even after race prejudice has been outgrown, It exists not because the capitalists nurse it for economic reasons, but the capitalists rather have an opportunity to nurse it for economic reasons because it exists as a product of biology. It is bound to play a role in the economics of the future society. If it should not assert itself in open warfare under a Socialist form of society, it will nevertheless lead to a rivalry of races for expansion over the globe as a result of the play of natural and sexual selection, We may temper this race feeling by education, but we can never hope to extinguish it altogether. Class-consciousness must be learned, but race consciousness is inborn and cannot be wholly unlearned. A few individuals may indulge in the luxury of ignoring race and posing as utterly raceless humanitarians, but whole races never. Where races struggle for the means of life, racial animosities cannot be avoided. Where working people struggle for jobs, self-preservation enforces its decrees. Economic and political considerations lead to racial fights and to legislation restricting the invasion of the white man’s domain by other races.”

It is well that the New Negro should know this, since it justifies him in giving you a taste of your own medicine. The writer of these lines is also a Socialist; but he refuses in this crisis of the world’s history to put either Socialism or your party above the call of his race. And he does this on: the very grounds which you yourselves have given in the document quoted above. Also because he is not a fool.

March 27, 1920.

When Africa Awakes by Hubert H. Harrison. Porro Press, New York City. 1920.

Harrison’s uniquely important collection of writings from 1917-1920 published in various journals from the time, published by Porro Press (personally published).

Contents: Introduction, THE BEGINNINGS). Launching the Liberty League, Resolutions Passed at Liberty League Meetings, Petition to Congress, DEMOCRACY AND RACE FRICTION) The East St. Louis Horror, ‘Arms and the Man’, The Negro and the Labor Unions, Lynching Its Cause and Cure, THE NEGRO AND THE WAR) Is Democracy Unpatriotic?, Why Is the Red Cross?, A Hint of ‘Our Reward’, The Negro at the Peace Congress, Africa and the Peace, ‘They Shall Not Pass’, A Cure for the Ku-Klux, THE NEW POLITICS) The New Politics for the New Negro, The Drift in Politics, A Negro for President, When the Tail Wags the Dog, The Grand Old’ Party. THE PROBLEMS OF LEADERSHIP) Our Professional ‘’Friends’, Shillady Resigns, Our White Friends, A Tender Point, The Descent of Du Bois, When the Blind Lead, Just Crabs, THE NEW RACE CONSCIOUSNESS) The Negro’s Own Radicalism, Race First versus Class First, An Open Letter to the Socialist Party, ‘Patronize Your Own’, The Women of Our Race, To the Young Men of My Race, OUR INTERNATIONAL CONSCIOUSNESS) The White War and the Colored World, U-need-a Biscuit, Our Larger Duty, Help Wanted for Hayti, The Cracker in the Caribbean, When Might Makes Right, Bolshevism in Barbados, A New International, The Rising Tide of Color, The White War and the Colored Races, EDUCATION AND THE RACE) Reading for Knowledge, Education and the Race, The Racial Roots of Culture, The New Knowledge for the New Negro, A FEW BOOKS) The Negro in History and Civilization, Darkwater, The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy. EPILOGUE: The Black Man’s Burden A Reply to Rudyard Kipling.

PDF of full book: https://archive.org/download/ldpd_13339574_000/ldpd_13339574_000.pdf

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