THE NEGRO WORKER FALLS INTO LINE
By Robert H. Hardoen
In accord with the historic tendency of a wide-spread group sentiment to crystallize into organized effort, it has long been expected that the general discontent among the American colored people would sooner or later express itself through militant bodies with the broad general object of emancipation by any or all of the means that other peoples have always employed to rid themselves of oppression.
The great danger attendant upon all the movements for group emancipation is that they may become purely nationalistic or racial in their aspects, rather than built along lines that take into consideration the economic foundations of society. This, as every class conscious worker knows, accounts for the strange anomaly that so many workers (most of them in the craft unions and some few in industrial unions too) have never lost their nationalistic tendencies, as witness the Polish workers who loaded ammunition for Wrangel, and that strange creature whom we encounter now and then, the Zionist radical.
Two points explain this anomaly: first, all of us have been thinking as races and nations for a hundred centuries, and only a very few are beginning to think as workers; secondly, the well known campaign of the capitalistic class to assiduously cultivate every line of working class division possible, which just now during the present economic crisis is being kindled into a fury of veritable nationalistic madness never known before, evidenced by anti-English, anti-Japanese, anti-Catholic, anti-foreigner, anti-Negro, anti-Russian, anti-Jew and especially anti-everything that portends social change.
Out of this pandemonium of shrieking, clawing class war, with its variegated false and real issues, from “white supremacy” in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to the miner’s insurrection in West Virginia, have emerged three distinct types of Negro sentiment and lines of action. The oldest of these is represented by the National Association for the Advancement of colored People. This is an organization comprised of Negro scholars and business men, together with quite a number of white journalists, liberals, philanthropists, etc. The official organ of the association is The Crisis, of which Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois is the editor. Its activities are confined largely to awakening a wide-spread sympathy for the Negro’s problem. A well managed publicity bureau endeavors to investigate lynchings, riots, etc., and carries on a ceaseless campaign against Jim Crowism, and all legislation aimed at depriving the Negro of his rights as a citizen. Further than this, the Association does not attempt to go.
By far the greatest Negro organization in the world is the Universal Negro Improvement Association, at the head of which stands a full-blooded Negro publicist of the British West Indies, named Marcus Garvey. The aim of this society organized only three years ago and now numbering two million members is a free Africa. They have adopted a flag and racial emblem comprised of red, black and green stripes, running parallel. A steamship line, made up of six vessels, all named for colored writers or poets, and called the Black Star Line is already plying between New York, Liberia, Jamaica and the northern coast of South America.
Approached with a discussion of the class struggle, the members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association insist that no mere change of social structure can be expected to eradicate a century-old race hatred overnight in America and points to that almost solid wall of opposition which the Southland offers to every progressive idea, and Garvey himself, while recognizing that the race question is basically economic, maintains that an ethical superstition forms another important factor that no possible rearrangement of society can eliminate, not even education, that is conventional education, for educated folk and educators are often prejudiced.
Of course the flaw in this reasoning is not that they seek a free Africa; all peoples desiring freedom should have it and no one can dispute Mr. Garvey’s reasoning that racial antipathy will, like every element of human consciousness, live somewhat longer than the conditions that gave rise to it and have kept it alive. But just as the decapitated serpent without its head must die and the engine that has exhausted its fuel must stop, just so the race problem bereft of its economic basis must vanish from American life.
The same danger lies hidden in the Garvey movement that is to be found in the Sinn Fein movement or the Zionist movement, namely, that in fleeing the claws of a lion in the form of foreign capitalists they may rush pell mell into the jaws of a tiger in the form of capitalists of their own group.
The third division of Negro sentiment, and by far the most prominent of all so far as vision and perspective of the true nature of their problem is concerned, is represented by a rapidly growing group who call themselves the “New Negro,” in contradistinction to the black man with the vestigial slave psychology, whom they contemptuously designate as an “Uncle Tom” or an “Old Negro.” This “new Negro” is at once the most interesting as well as the most intelligent of colored folk. The type is that of the awakening millions of toilers of the changing world, done in blacks and browns. The leading mouthpiece of this section of the race is the Messenger, a magazine published in New York City by two young Negro socialists, A. Chandler Owen and Philip Randolph who, in spite of the fact that they have gone far in putting the economic question before their people, have, nevertheless, all the shortcomings of political socialists of every race the world over.
A smaller but more dynamic force among the colored radicals is the Crusader, official organ of the African Blood Brotherhood, edited by a militant, class conscious man named Cyril Briggs. The African Blood Brotherhood is an organization that was originally formed to protect the race from armed attacks by its enemies and to prevent lynching, in accord with the world-old law of self defense. The Brotherhood educates its members in the class struggle and at the same time functions as a underground answer to the Ku Klux Klan. Their motto is, “Better a thousand race riots than a single lynching!”
Lest anyone think that this is only race-consciousness, we hasten to append the following from their manifesto issued at the last convention held in New York City, August 1921. “Negroes of the World, the day the European workers rise in armed insurrection against the capitalist exploiters of black and white toilers, we must see to it that Negro troops are not available as ‘White Guards’ to crush the rising power of the workers’ revolution! On that day, Negro comrades, the cause of the white workers will be the cause of the black workers, the cause of a free Africa, the cause of a Europe freed from capitalist control.”
In no organization is the colored worker made to feel more welcome or given a better chance than in the Industrial Workers of the World. Throughout the West and Southwest as well as the docks of Pennsylvania ports such as Philadelphia, great headway has been made in lining up the colored worker. The I.W.W. tolerates no race lines, plays no politics, discriminates against no groups because of color or creed. The program is industrial organization of all the workers of a given industry into job or city branches which, in turn, are part of the One Big Union built to fight the battles of the present and so organized that at the collapse of the dilapidated old structure of capitalism the workers may assume control of industry and administer it to serve the needs of humanity and not for profit as at present.
In this program lies the greatest hope for the solution of the Negro problem, which is in reality only a special phase of the international labor problem. That this is the case cannot be disputed by any black man who will but reflect that wherever colored people live in small numbers as in France or Canada or New England, no race problem exists, but as soon as black men come in sufficient numbers to become a factor in the labor market, the race problem appears.
In conclusion, let us note this “New Negro” has completely exploded the ancient fallacious doctrine of Booker T. Washington, by showing their people, through practical demonstration, that merely getting educated, learning a trade, going into a profession or becoming a petty bourgeoisie would not solve the race problem, but on the contrary it only intensifies it. They do not hesitate to show their brethren that if the young colored medical graduate takes the patients of the white physician, the white man will not love him for it, but on the contrary is likely to join the Ku Klux Klan; that the white tradesman and white business man will hate him for taking away “their” job or patronage as long as the present competitive system stands.
They point out the folly of Du Bois’ continual petitioning of Congress to pass an anti-lynching bill which must result in allowing the spirit of revolt to grow among the cotton workers and so curtail the profits of the Southern planter.
They point to the economic roots of the World War that centered around colonies, most of which lay in Africa, and try to tell the Garveyite that without the Social Revolution a few million poverty-stricken black men cannot hope to establish a free Africa with the combined armies of the whole capitalistic world waiting to crush them.
Indeed, this “New Negro” is a force to be reckoned with in the class struggle. Already he is causing those that have used him so long as a strike breaker many a sleepless night, and the authorities are steadily “investigating.”
The writer who is one of them wishes to say to our white fellow workers: “Move over, fellow workers, move over. We’re coming in. We’ve heard that the water’s fine!”
Originally printed in “Industrial Pioneer”, October 1921. This essay is also included in Peter Cole’s book “Ben Fletcher – the life and times of a black wobbly”, 2007, Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company.
Robert H. Hardoen (1895 – 1958) was a black research chemist with several patents to his name (Electronic rectifier (US 1815909 A), Protective Coating and Process of Producing Same (US 002812298), and Rustproof material and process (US 2275223 A)). He spoke several languages, and was – in his youth – an activist for industrial worker rights and the rights of Negro workers. He was married to Margaret W. Hardoen (1896 – 1989) who (in addition to her sister Clara Watkins, 1893-1962) was one of the first black chiropodists in the USA. Robert H. Hardoen and Margaret W. Hardoen are my beloved grandparents.