Saturday, September 18, 2010

Black Reds: Hubert Harrison

Snipped from Hubert Harrison:
He was described by activist A. Philip Randolph as “the father of Harlem radicalism” and by the historian Joel Augustus Rogers as “the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time.” Biographer Jeffrey B. Perry writes that, among the African-American leaders of his era, Harrison was “the most class conscious of the race radicals and the most race conscious of the class radicals.”
Harrison worked low-paying service jobs while attending high school at night. For the rest of his life, Harrison continued to study as an autodidact. In 1911, Harrison began full-time work with the Socialist Party of America and became America’s leading Black Socialist. He lectured widely against capitalism, campaigned for the party presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs in 1912, and founded the Colored Socialist Club (the Socialist’s first effort at reaching African Americans).
He supported the socialistic, egalitarian, and militantly radical Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). He was a prominent speaker along with IWW leaders Bill Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Carlo Tresca, and Patrick Quinlan at the historic 1913 Paterson Silk Strike of 1913.
His outdoor talks and free speech efforts were instrumental in developing a Harlem tradition of militant street corner oratory. He paved the way for those who followed, including A. Philip Randolph, Marcus Garvey, Richard B. Moore, and Malcolm X.
In contrast to the approaches of Booker T. Washington, who relied on white patrons and a Black political machine, and W. E. B. Du Bois, who focused on the “Talented Tenth of the Negro Race”, Harrison’s appeal was aimed directly at the masses. His class- and race-conscious radicalism, though neglected at some periods, laid out the contours of much subsequent debate and discussion of African-American social activists.

from "What Socialism Means To Us
(addressing a black audience)
...To-day, fellow-sufferers, they tell us that we are free. But are we? If you will think for a moment you will see that we are not free at all. We have simply changed one form of slavery for another. Then it was chattel-slavery, now it is wage-slavery. For that which was the essence of chattel-slavery is the essence of wage slavery. It is only a difference in form. The chattel-slave was compelled to work by physical force; the wage-slave is compelled to work by starvation. The product of the chattel-slave's labor was taken by his master; the product of the wage-slave's labor is taken by the employer.
...Under the old system the capitalist owned the man; today he own the tools with which the man must work. These tools are the factories, the mines, and the machines. The system that owns them owns you and me and all the rest of us, black, white, brown, red, and yellow. We can't live unless we have access to these tools, and our masters, the capitalists, see to it that we are separated from what we make by using these things, except so much as is necessary to keep us alive that we may be able to make more — for them. This little bit is called wages. They wouldn't give us even that if they thought that we could live without it. In the good old days the chattel-slave would be fastened with a chain if they thought that he might escape. Today no chain is necessary to bind us to the tools. We are as free as air. Of course. We are free to starve. And that chain of the-fear-of-starvation binds us to the tools owned by the capitalist as firmly as any iron chain ever did. And this system doesn't care whether the slaves who are bound in this new way are white or black. To the capitalist system all workers are equal — in so far as they have a stomach.
Now the one great fact for the Negro in America today is Race Prejudice. The great labor problem with which all working-people are faced is made harder for black working-people by the addition of a race problem. I want to show you how one grows out of the other and how, at bottom, they are both the same thing. In other words, I want you to see the economic reason for race-prejudice.

In the first place, do you know that the most rabid, Negro-hating, southern aristocrat has not the slightest objection to sleeping in the same house with a Negro — if that Negro sleeps there as his servant? He doesn't care if his food is prepared by a Negro cook and handled by a Negro waiter before it gets to him; he will eat it. But if a Negro comes into the same public restaurant to buy and eat food, then, Oh my!, he gets all het up about it. But why? What's the difference? I will tell you. The aristocrat wants the black man to feel that he is on a lower level. When he is on that level he is "in his place". When he is "in his place" he is liked. But he must not be allowed to do anything to make him forget that he is on this lower level; he must be kept "in his place", which means the place which the aristocrat wants him to keep. You see, the black man carries the memory of slavery with him. Everybody knows that the slaves were the exploited working-class of the South. That put them in a class by themselves, down at the bottom, downtrodden, despised, "inferior."

Do you begin to see now that Race Prejudice is only another name for Caste Prejudice? If our people had never been slaves; had never been exploited workers, and so, at the bottom of the ladder, there would be no prejudice against them now. In every case where there has been a downtrodden class of workers at the bottom, that class has been despised by the class that lived by their labor. Do you doubt it? Then look at the facts. If you had picked up a daily paper in New York in 1848 you would have found at the end of many an advertisement for butler, coachman, lady's maid, clerk or book-keeper these words: "No Irish need apply." There was a race-prejudice against the Irish then, because most of the manual unskilled laborers were Irish. They were at the bottom, exploited and despised. But they have changed things since. Beginning in the seventies when Jewish laborers began to come here from Russia, Austria and Germany, and lasting even to our own day, there has been race-prejudice against the Jews. And today when the Italian has taken the place which the Irish laborer vacated — at the bottom — he, too, comes in for his share of this prejudice. In every one of these cases it was the condition of the people — at the bottom as despised, exploited, wage-slaves — that was responsible for the race-prejudice. And it is just so in the black man's case, with this difference: that his color marks what he once was, and even though he should wear a dress suit every evening and own an automobile or a farm he can always be picked out and reminded.

...As long as the present system continues, the workers will be despised; as long as the workers are despised, the black men will be despised, robbed and murdered, because they are least able to defend themselves. Now ask yourself whether you haven't a very special interest in changing the present system.

Of course, you will ask: "But haven't white working people race-prejudice too?" Sure, they have. Do you know why? It pays the capitalist to keep the workers divided. So he creates and keeps alive these prejudices. He gets them to believe that their interests are different. Then he uses one half of them to club the other half with. In Russia when the workingmen demand reform the capitalists sic them on the Jews. In America they sic them on the Negroes. That makes them forget their own condition: as long as they can be made to look down upon another class. "But, then", you will say, " the average wage-slave must be a chump." Sure, he is. That's what the capitalist counts on.