I. The Permanent Revolution in America
The objective conditions have matured for the eruption of the class struggle in the South. The task of this struggle will be to overthrow the fascist-like yoke of white supremacy.
Since the destruction of popular government in the South at the close of the Reconstruction, the Southern Bourbon oligarchy, in close alliance with the whole American capitalist class, adapted the social relations of chattel slavery to the requirements of property relations and capitalist production.
The capitalists and planters achieved this Jim Crow system by a method which has been copied by all the imperialist ruling classes of the world. They broke up the working masses into hostile racial groups by the use of organized murder and terrorism against the Negroes and all who would stand side by side with them. They degraded labor through the enforced peonage of the Negroes. They created a white middle class which derived special privileges from the degradation of labor in general and the Negro in particular. They eliminated popular government and substituted the rule of a small minority of the privileged, the rich, the powerful: the white supremacists.
By creating a living hell for the Negro people, the ruling classes were thus able to achieve a super-exploitation of all Southern labor, bringing in profits which could be compared with those from colonial exploitation.
Thus, a whole social system became organized around the degradation of the Negro—a system which became an integrated and indispensable part of the economic, social and political structure of American capitalism.
The emancipation of the Negro people through social, political and economic equality is the fundamental condition for this liberation of all the oppressed in the South. This requires the destruction of the whole Southern system. Short of this there can be little change and few democratic rights for anyone.
However, the permanent revolution in America reveals itself in the following manner: the Southern system represents massive survivals of chattel slavery. These survivals take the form of great social problems unsolved by the Civil War and Reconstruction: an antiquated system of land tenure, the absence of democratic rights, segregation and racial discrimination. The solution of these questions was the responsibility of the capitalist class when it took the national power from the slaveowners in 1860. But they proved incapable of this. So these survivals of an antique system of exploitation have become integrated into the capitalist structure and form a component part thereof.
Capitalism could not solve these problems during its youth and virility, even under conditions of waging a bitter war against the slave power. Now, when amidst the decay and death agony of capitalism, these problems have become integrated into its very structure, the capitalist class will positively not prove able to solve them. This circumstance leads to the inescapable conclusion that although the tasks of the liberation of the South are of an elementary democratic nature, they have no solution within the framework of American capitalism: they become a part of the socialist struggle of the proletariat to overthrow the whole capitalist system of production.
The second manifestation of the permanent revolution lies in the question of leadership of the Negro struggle. The goal of the Negro struggle has been determined historically: the elimination of racial discrimination lies through the struggle for economic, political and social equality. The axis of this struggle is the fight against segregation. At the present time the leadership of this struggle is in the hands of the middle class. This Negro middle class suffers social, economic and political discrimination because of skin color. It is a far more terrible discrimination than is the usual lot of privileged layers of an oppressed group. This circumstance has produced a great galaxy of Negro scholars who have brilliantly analyzed and plumbed the depths and sources of racial oppression.
But, at the same time, the position of the middle class as a whole derives from and feeds upon segregation, the axis of the social force which oppresses them as Negroes.
This conflict between their racial and class interests causes the middle class leadership to act in a hesitant and treacherous manner. They will prove totally incapable of giving adequate leadership to the movement as it develops on to higher planes of struggle.
But the Negro workers have no such conflict of interest. They receive no such economic privileges from segregation. On the contrary they are super-exploited at the point of production and in all economic spheres. Discrimination against them as Negroes is intimately connected with their exploitation as workers. Finding themselves below the standard of living of even the white workers, they must of necessity open up a struggle for racial equality as the key to raising their standard of living as workers.
So as it falls to the American working class as a whole to solve the basic contradictions of American society, so does it fall upon the shoulders of the Negro proletariat to take the lead in the struggle for equality.
II. The Significance of Montgomery
The successful struggle of the Negroes of Montgomery shows a changed relationship of forces in the South. This is the first successful sustained mass struggle of the Negroes of the South in nearly seventy years. It demonstrates the decay and disintegration of the power of white supremacy and reveals that the situation is ripening for the liberation of the people of the South from the Jim Crow system.
The changed conditions have been brought about by the industrialization of the South and the deepening of the penetration of monopoly capitalism into all spheres of life. The salient features of this change have been: (1) The urbanization of the Negro population which now finds its center of gravity shifted from the dispersed rural areas into powerful mass forces in the cities. (2) The undermining of the mass base of the Southern system through the partial destruction of the white middle class and the proletarianization of large contingents of this former mass petty bourgeoisie.
This changed relationship of forces results in the inability of the white ruling classes to crush at will the aroused and organized Negro masses. The magnitude of the Negro struggle, reaching national and even international proportions, has rendered the U.S. government helpless to intervene decisively in behalf of the white supremacists.
These objective conditions have been ripening for decades and provide the groundwork for the outbreak of the Montgomery masses. The immediate factor preparing the masses for the actual struggle was the [Emmett] Till case and its aftermath, which demonstrated to the Negroes that the Federal Government would do nothing against the Jim Crow system, that any feeling that the Negroes had an ally in the national capital was an illusion, and that if anything was to be done they would have to do it themselves.
The struggle is now beginning to unfold. As it develops, all the resources of the American capitalist class will be aligned against it: all the forces of reaction, all agencies of government, the army, the avenues of information and the schools, churches and courts. Yet, the victory of the masses will be assured under two conditions:
1. That the struggle of the Southern workers, led by the Negroes, will rekindle the fires of the class struggle throughout the country and bring into play the great powers of the American proletariat in solidarity with them.
2. That the Southern masses will produce a revolutionary socialist leadership fully conscious of its aims, the road of struggle, the magnitude of the task.
The Montgomery boycotters forecast the unfolding movement which will take the lead in the emancipation of the Southern masses.
We support the courageous internationalism of their sympathy for and self-identification with the struggles of the dark-skinned colonial masses. This kinship arises from the common bond forged by years of common struggle against white supremacy. It is our elementary duty, however, to warn the Negro people away from Gandhi’s program of “passive resistance” as a means of their liberation.
This program, fostered by the Indian bourgeoisie, paralyzed the action of the masses of people, kept the Indian capitalists at the head of the movement for Indian independence and made it possible for the native bourgeoisie to reap all the rewards of the struggle against imperialism at the expense of the masses.
In the United States this program has been super-imposed upon the struggle in Montgomery by its petty bourgeois leadership. By thus identifying a dynamic struggle with “resistance in the spirit of love and non-violence” they blunt the consciousness of the masses who require a program which corresponds with the reality of their militant actions.
We hail the emergence of the proletarian militants in the Montgomery struggle. They are the coming leaders of the struggle of all the Southern masses. It is they who have nothing to lose and the world to gain. Their class position gives them courage and insight, for it is they who have the fundamental stake in the struggle against the Jim Crow system.
We salute the women of the South both black and white for their heroic role in the struggle.
The unbounded revolutionary energy of the triply oppressed Negro women is making itself manifest in the initiative and leadership which they have given to the movement in its initial stages.
The decay of the Southern system which foretells its doom is expressed by the defection of the white women away from the forces of white supremacy and by their organized appearance in greater and greater numbers in joint struggle with the Negroes. This is the proof that they recognize that they, too, are the victims of the system of white supremacy. They understand that the so-called “chivalry” of Southern tradition degrades them: that the pedestal of “sacred” white womanhood is in reality a prison for chattels which denies independence, the rights of citizens and the status of human beings.
They are aware that the myth of “sacred” (i.e., segregated) white womanhood is one of the focal points of the ideology of white supremacy and ties the struggle for the emancipation of women directly to that of the Negroes.
Other large sections of the white population hide their disgust with the Southern system in fear of reprisal. We recommend the example of the women and urge them to give organized support to their courageous struggle.
III. The Labor Movement
The existence of the Southern social system is a constant mortal threat to the entire labor movement in the U.S. Every factor of political and economic life shows that the extension of unionism into the open-shop South is a life and death question.
But unions cannot exist on any mass scale in the total absence of elementary democratic rights. On the other hand labor unions will grow hand in hand with the successes of the Civil Rights movement. Consequently the labor movement must dedicate itself to the destruction of white supremacy as the only way to assure the extension of unionism into the South.
We call upon the officials of the AFL-CIO to begin the campaign to organize the South with a repudiation of their political alliance with the liberal Democrats who are the protectors and defenders of the Southern Bourbons. We call upon them to take the next step in the Southern drive: to declare for the formation of a political party of labor which would become the political and organizational center of the struggle against Jim Crow.
IV. The Advanced Position of the Negro Movement
The struggle for racial equality is an integral part of the struggle of the American working class for socialism. The connection between these two goals is so fundamental that one cannot be envisaged without the other.
This connection has been implicit from the very beginning of the anti-slavery struggle and found clearest expression in Karl Marx’s dictum to white American workers: “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.” The consistent logic which led many abolitionist leaders such as Douglass and Phillips to embrace socialist principles confirmed this connection.
The power of the ruling class and the pernicious influence of the Southern system has kept the American working class divided along color lines for long periods of time. However, the past twenty years have demonstrated again in life the identity of interest which had been implicit all along.
The close connection between the Negro struggle for equality and the labor struggle became one of the paramount features of the great struggles of the 1930’s. One of the greatest achievements of unionism during this stormy upsurge was the successful conclusion of the long struggle to build the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. This achievement was capped by the emergence of the CIO which represented the first mass joining of the two movements in modern times.
Together during the 30’s the two movements made giant strides. But with the preparation for World War II they diverged: the CIO under the pressure of a newly created bureaucracy capitulated to the bosses and the government and it wasn’t long before the Communist Party did likewise. Together they sacrificed the interests of the working class to the needs of the U.S. imperialist war machine. But the Negro movement, under the stimulus of workers arising from great depths of super-exploitation, refused to be taken in or intimidated by the patriotic hysteria.
Ever since the beginning of 1941 the unions have taken one backward step after another and the bosses have followed through with body blows. Although the labor movement was able to mobilize briefly in 1946 for a successful defense when mortally threatened, it soon gave in again and as a result has endured a never ending string of humiliating repressive measures inflicted on them by the government and the employers.
But all through this period and even at the height of the worst wave of reaction which has been unleashed against the American workers in many decades—the Negro movement has registered steady advances. The source of this difference in achievement lies in the divergent lines of development which were laid out in 1941 when the Negroes were organizing for a March on Washington in defiance of the needs of the government for domestic tranquility at the very time that the labor bureaucracy was giving no-strike pledges to this same government. The Negroes were able to withstand the patriotic pressure upon them and to see through the lies of American imperialism because of their advanced consciousness derived from super-exploitation and discrimination.
Upon this background the Montgomery uprising propels the Negro movement into a greatly advanced position which, coinciding with the ebb tide of the labor movement, approaches isolation.
And this poses a dual danger: First, that this great movement may remain isolated and be crushed for lack of needed support from the labor movement. Second, that such a defeat inflicted upon this dynamic sector of the working class would set back the development of the labor movement.
It is the duty of all socialists to spare no energy in rallying the working class and the labor movement to the aid of the Negroes struggling in the South and to connect and integrate the struggles.