Civil Rights ... a Socialist Appraisal


The text of a leaflet distributed in 1965
by the Socialist Labor Party of America

Racism is an evil that has subjected millions of American Negroes to degrading and humiliating discrimination.

During the past several years this problem, and the Negroes' efforts to deal with it and improve their lot, have received widespread attention. A fairly large, vocal and demonstrative "Civil Rights" movement has come into being. There have been many mass demonstrations throughout the nation. They have demanded and sought the enforcement of the right of Negroes to register and vote, to ride in desegregated buses, to sit at desegregated lunch counters, to attend desegregated schools, etc. At first, most of these mass demonstrations took place in the South. But before long they spread to many cities in the North, where demands for "fair employment practices" and "desegregated housing" received priority. On more than one occasion seething unrest, resentment and frustrations of the exploited and oppressed Negroes exploded into violence.

It has been claimed that these events have resulted in significant gains for the Negro. Those who make the claim point to United States Supreme Court decisions ordering desegregation of schools, the Federal Housing Laws, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Law of 1965, etc. We are told that we are witnessing a "Negro Revolution."

"Negro revolution" a misnomer

First, it should be pointed out that the term "revolution" is not applicable to the Civil Rights movement nor to Negro demonstrations generally. A revolution aims at a fundamental change in the social system. Neither the Civil Rights movement nor the Negro demonstrations aim to accomplish a fundamental change in our social system. Accordingly, the term "revolution" cannot be applied to these movements. Professor C. Vann Woodward of Yale University summed it up well in a recent New York Times Magazine article when he wrote:

"... No movement is a revolution . . that derives overt support from the established government, that strives to realize rather than destroy traditional values, that seeks to join rather than overthrow the social order." [Aug. 29, 1965.]

Negro "gains" questioned

Furthermore, the facts refute the claim that any real or significant gain have been achieved by, or on behalf of, the Negroes. True, integration ol schools, lunch counters, buses, housing etc., has been accomplished in some areas of the South. But in many, if not most, instances it has been token integration. For example, more than a decade after the U.S. Supreme Court decision ordering desegregation of the schools in the South, the New York Times stated:

"It appears unlikely that more than 7 to 8 per cent of the South's Negro students will attend schools with whites this fall...." [Aug. 29, 1965.]

And no one who knows the facts will argue seriously that there has been any dramatic improvement in the housing conditions under which most Negroes are forced to live.

On the contrary, there has been an actual increase in school segregation in the large urban areas both North and South. The Federal Housing Law and the various Urban Renewal programs have resulted in increased housing segregation -- or, to put it more bluntly, in ever larger Negro ghettos. Furthermore, the rapid spread of automation is wiping out so-called unskilled and semiskilled jobs at an ever increasing pace. Negro workers who have been kept at the bottom of the economic ladder, find themselves bearing the brunt of technological unemployment.

Capitalists and racism

This is so despite the many-sided support that the Negro movement appears to have. Much of this support comes from sources motivated by the most sordid material interests.

The American plutocracy is engaged in a bitter struggle with the Soviet-Chinese imperialists for the dominant role in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, areas in which colored peoples are attempting to win so-called national independence. Soviet Russia and China have not hesitated to use the racist record of American capitalism to win favor for themselves. The dominant segment of the American plutocracy is seeking desperately to offset this propaganda by adopting a supposedly "enlightened" view on the problem of racism.

Others have jumped on the bandwagon. Among them are labor leaders whose unions that practiced open discrimination for decades; religious leaders whose churches condoned or ignored the evil for years; a press that is highly sensitive and responsive to the material interests of America's plutocracy; a rebellious youth seeking outlets for its frustrations and fears, but completely ignorant of the social forces at work; and, of course, the "Communist" and Trotskyite opportunists.

Why race tensions are mounting

But, despite the efforts of all these diverse elements, race tensions are mounting throughout the nation. The question we must ask is why?

The answer is a relatively simple one. While a great deal of effort has been made to minimize and alleviate the effects of racism, nothing -- absolutely nothing -- has been done to eliminate its cause. The basic cause of racism is not the false ideas or racial myths conceived and spread by the white supremacists. Rather, the cause of racism is the competitive, strife-ridden, class-divided capitalist system of society under which we live, and under which we desperately attempt to survive.

How capitalism operates

Consider carefully the following facts. Under capitalism the means of production -- the land, factories, mines, mills, all the necessities of life -- are owned and despotically controlled by a small minority, the capitalist class. The overwhelming majority of the people, Negro and white, own no tools of their own. In order to live they must sell their ability to work -- their manual and mental labor power -- as a commodity to the capitalist owners. The capitalist class performs no productive functions. The workers do all the socially useful work and produce everything. In return, they receive in wages the equivalent of only a fraction of the value of the goods they have produced. The rest is appropriated by the capitalists. The less the capitalists have to pay the workers in wages, the greater the proportion of wealth they can appropriate for themselves. Accordingly, the capitalists, under competitive compulsions, constantly try to increase their share of the wealth produced by the workers. Contrariwise, the workers resist the capitalists' encroachments and strive to maintain or improve their living standards. The result is a class struggle that is waged continuously in capitalist society.

Working-class unity imperative

There is but one way to end this irreconcilable struggle. That is by abolishing this outmoded capitalist system, and replacing it with Socialism -- the next higher social order decreed by social evolution. Only a united, classconscious working class can accomplish such a revolutionary change.

Obviously, it is in the capitalists' interests to prevent the working class from uniting. And race prejudice is one of the most insidious and effective devices ever invented for blinding the workers to their class interests and keeping them divided and fighting each other, instead of forming a solid front against their exploiters.

The Socialist Labor Party is fully conscious of the humiliation and sufferings of Negro workers. We fully share with them their yearnings for a better life. But candor and honesty compel us to point out that only the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism can put an end to race prejudice, and establish the brotherhood of man on a sound material foundation. By making the means of production, distribution and social services the collective property of society, we shall be able to use our collective productive genius to create abundance and leisure for all in a sane, peaceful and democratic Socialist Industrial Commonwealth.

What Socialism will mean

Under Socialism we shall cause the fields to yield an abundance without arduous toil. The factories, mines, mills, etc., will be the safest, the most modern, the most efficient, the most sanitary possible. They will be productive beyond our wildest dreams without laborious work. Our natural resources will be intelligently conserved. Our educational institutions will have the finest facilities and will be devoted to developing complete human beings. Our medical and social services will concentrate on creating and maintaining the finest health and recreational facilities conceivable. In short, under Socialism, toil, drudgery, poverty and social misery will be banished forever. Under such beneficent material conditions not only will the cause of race prejudice be eliminated, but the cause of war, poverty, unemployment and all our other pressing social problems will also be eliminated.

Organized into integrally united Socialist Industrial Unions, the useful producers will manage and direct all social production. In each shop unit every worker will participate directly, through a shop council, in making the plans to carry on production on a local level. The workers will also elect their foremen and supervisors and make such other decisions as may prove necessary for the efficient operation of the shop and plant. In each plant the rank and file will democratically elect a council or management committee to supervise plant operations.

Finally, the workers will elect their representatives to the All-Industrial Union Congress, which will plan and coordinate all social production. All representatives and administrators will be elected directly by the rank and file. To guarantee effective democratic control over all administrative bodies all representatives will be subject to immediate removal or recall whenever a majority of those who elected them decide it is necessary or desirable to do so.

To establish Socialism, the workers of all races, colors and creeds must organize in accordance with the economic and political conditions prevailing in America. First, they must organize politically in the Socialist Labor Party to demand at the ballot box that all the means of life become the collective property of society.

Secondly, they must organize a nonviolent force to back up their political mandate. That force can only be the Socialist Industrial Union -- the organization of the workers along industrial lines and on the basis of the fact of the class struggle that exists in capitalist society. So organized, the workers will be in a perfect strategic position to take possession of the industries, lock out the capitalist class and continue production in the interest of all society without interruption.

The Socialist Industrial Union will become the framework of the Socialist Industrial Republic that will supersede the outmoded and useless capitalist political State. This is the peaceful and civilized method for accomplishing the revolutionary change from capitalism to Socialism in the United States.