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T. Stamm

Scottsboro March on Capital

(April 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 24, 29 April 1933, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Legally, the Scottsboro Case stands as follows: an appeal is being taken by the defense from the death verdict of the Decatur jury; the trial judge has continued the cases of the other defendants on the ground that a fair trial under the present circumstances is impossible; and, irony of ironies!, he places the blame for the prejudiced atmosphere on Liebowitz! The I.L.D. has applied for a writ of habeas corpus for two of the boys on various legal grounds.

With the temporary lull on the legal front the mass protest movement alone occupies the center of the stage in this great class drama in which we are fighting for the democratic rights of the Negroes and the unity of the black and white workers. In the forefront of the protest and defense movement stands the march on Washington scheduled to arrive there on May 8.

The March to Washington

The march was first projected by the Harlem petty bourgeois newspaper, The Amsterdam News. Riding the crest of the first wave of the spontaneous protest of the Negro masses this paper issued a call for fifty thousand to march on the capital. With the entry of the I.L.D. on the scene, the initiative in organizing such a demonstration passed into its hands. Since then the Amsterdam News has shown that its first burst of enthusiasm was not sustained by the determination necessary to carry out this mass action and the I.L.D. is undisputed leader of the march, as, indeed, it should be. If the I.L.D. is the undisputed leader of the march then, leaving objective conditions aside for the moment, the responsibility for its success or failure as an organized mass demonstration rests squarely on the I.L.D. A successfully organized and militantly conducted march can raise the protest movement of the masses to greater heights. It can inspire the terrorized masses of the south to struggle for their democratic rights and draw, them further into united mass action with the white workers. And since the whole movement is being conducted under the banner of militant mass action, which the whole working class knows, in this instance, to be the banner of Communism, a successful march must increase the prestige of Communism in the eyes of the masses.

Conversely a poor organized march with no spirit, the morale of which is low will react on the movement unfavorably. The spark of enthusiasm and contagion will not be struck. The I.L.D. would lose prestige and the prestige of Communism would also suffer.

It is from this point of view that we criticize the preparations for the march. The call asks all participants to supply their own food and the organizations sending representatives to provide transportation for them. It is not a little matter to ask workers to suspend their activities, pull up their stakes, so to speak, and march to Washington at the risk of serious fighting with the police and armed forces of the state. Workers will ask: how are we to be fed, transported there and back, and defended if attacked? The preparations do not answer these questions in a way to encourage workers to participate in the march.

The Scottsboro Bill

One purpose of the march is to present a bill to Congress. This bill, the Civil Rights Bill, provides for the enforcement of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. This raises the fight for the democratic rights of the Negroes to a higher political plane. It dramatically focuses attention on one of the burning problems of the American revolution. Before the eyes of the entire nation the Communists will lead a march on the citadel of American imperialism to demand that capitalism declare itself openly on the question of those provisions in its constitution which “guarantee” to the Negro masses political equality with the white population.

Such a march can acquire a tremendous force and significance if it is a culminating point in a mass movement. That is the weakness of this march. It is not the highest wave in an organized protest movement. Preceding it there have been no united front conferences of working class organizations from coast to coast: There has been a burst of protest against the Decatur verdict. This is the basis for the! organization of a protest movement, but it cannot replace the protect movement itself. And it is a fatal error to try, even with the best and sincerest of motives, to make it a substitute for an organized protest movement.

But the march is projected. The party and the I.L.D. must bend every effort to organize it and rally the masses of workers behind it. In the first instance this means the organized workers. The approach must be made to the trade unions. No time must be lost.

The S.P., the A.F. of L. and the Negroes

The terrific pressure which the party is bringing to bear qn the S.P. leadership over the Mooney and May Day issues is the direct result of its turn from the ultra Leftist policy of the united front fromb elow to one which comes from below to one which comes question. If the party means it seriously it will apply that pressure now on the A.F. of L. and S.P. bureaucracies to enter a united front movement to get the Scottsboro boys out of jail.

Here is the weapon with which to strike at the reactionary restrictions against Negroes in the A.F. of L. unions. Here is the weapon with which to strike smashing blows at the whole system of Jim Crowism. Here is a means of forging the unity of the white and Negro masses in struggle.

Great opportunities lie before us. To realize them we must bend every effort to organize the movement and set the masses in motion. The key to the problem is the united front. Concretely now, that means the open approach to the S.P. and A.F. of L. for united front conferences. This the party must do without delay, openly before the eyes of the working class. No back door negotiations with the Clarence Seniors! No hiding behind Frank Palmers and Mustes!

In this work the Left Opposition will do its loyal best as it has done for years in the Mooney movement. The delegation sent by the New York Branch of the League to place itself at the disposal of the Scottsboro Action Committee for work in the movement was assigned the task of distributing leaflets in Harlem calling on the workers to attend a monster Mooney-Scottsboro mass meeting Our comrades’ are going on the march to Washington. And everywhere the Left Opposition is calling on the party to issue the call for united front conferences and approach the S.P. and A.F. of L to build the defense and protest movement.

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