Review of Why Negros Should Oppose the War by C.L.R. James

Review of Why Negros Should Oppose the War by C.L.R. James

C. L. R. James in Why Negroes Should Oppose the War presents his argument why they should avoid the war eloquently enough to convince the reader that capitalism is the root of The United States’ gross mistreatment of blacks. The author brilliantly manages to weave socialist doctrine in with historical examples while maintaining a sympathetic tone for blacks. Just the right amount of historiography in the essay gives the author credibility. His tacitly and well-placed opinions can be misinterpreted as facts if one does not read carefully. The author craftily manipulates the audience implicitly to persuade readers of his socialist agenda using the tribulations of Africans in capitalist societies.

The essay begins with an illustration of the injustices of black treatment in the United States. From the very beginning, the author is questioning why blacks should fight for freedom in a country where they have little freedom. The author argues that if the Negroes fight in WWII, they are not fighting for freedom, but for the politicians and their goals. The power and emotion behind his words entice the reader to be angry – angry at the United States and the Allied powers for their hypocrisy. Someone who read this in 1939 would find his arguments and his commentary reasonable. However, I have the benefit of hindsight and know how ludicrous some of his opinions on Adolf Hitler are. In 1939, in the middle of the Third Reich, many Jews were treated exactly like the blacks in the United States as the author mentions but with the considerable difference of concentration camps or Shutzstaffel (SS) atrocities during the war. There was very little knowledge of Nazi concentration camps in 1939 and the US had not yet entered the war so I do not hold this against the author but nonetheless, it is important to realize that Hitler did worse to Jews, Africans, gypsies, and non-Aryans than the United States ever did. I am not condoning US treatment of blacks or saying the US should be viewed favorably just because we did not treat blacks as poorly as the US. Even though the US may be the lesser of the two evils, the US has no justification. It remains the most repulsive period in United States history. I am merely stating that his argument does not hold as well today as we have more knowledge on what really occurred in history. In 1939 however, his argument had a lot more strength.

An event I felt that the author purposely left out was the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Did the author purposely leave out a major event that occurred just three years before? Maybe he could not think of a counterpoint and addressing the event would weaken his argument? The 1936 Berlin Olympics was a major social victory for African-Americans. They were allowed to represent the United States and compete for their country whereas only Aryans were allowed to represent Germany. Despite this, a counterpoint I would have made had I been the author would have been to mention the irony of how Jesse Owens became a national hero in the United States even though his ethnicity did not grant him equal rights. Also, I could have mentioned Luz Long, a German competitor who befriended Owens in front of Hitler or how Owens was able to ride German buses. Either way, not mentioning such a major international event that transpired just three years ago weakens his argument.

As far as Hitler’s quote about how Hitler learned how to persecute Jews from the Americans... I really have no idea if the author really believes Hitler meant what he said literally or whether the quote was tongue-in-cheek to anger the US. However, I will give the author the benefit of the doubt as Mein Kampf, which explicitly outlines his views on racial purity, Aryan superiority, and his hatred for Jews, blacks, Russians and Leninists, et al. had not been widely circulated in English in 1939. I just find it humorous that the author, despite being a staunch supporter of Trotskyism and Leninism, is in essence weakening US support against Nazism, which demonstrates that he despises capitalism more than Nazi fascism, the basis of his concluding arguments.

I love the conclusion of his argument. I love how the author led the reader through all his historical and social commentary, building up his credibility. Once his credibility is established and after the reader is well aware of all the wrongdoings of the Allied powers, he surreptitiously equates the Allied powers with capitalism. Hence, he is arguing that capitalism is responsible for how the US, UK, France, and the Boers (Dutch) treated blacks. If he flat out said that capitalism was to blame for the racism, he would not have very many supporters. If he author starts attacking countries with racist practices, then somehow manages to attack an attribute of the given countries by blaming capitalism, the author’s argument would seem more convincing. However, his argument is a logical fallacy. He is saying that all racist countries are capitalists. Therefore, capitalism is the root of racism. His elaborate argument structure manages to convince people that capitalism is the reason why all social tensions exist, coinciding with socialist doctrine. Nobody in my discussion group noticed that he held off attacking capitalism until the very end, after his credibility was firmly established. They did not realize that he “switches targets” from Western countries to capitalism. This is because the author understands that subconsciously, we synonymously think of capitalist countries as Western countries. We do not give the association a second thought and consequently, the author is strategically able to redirect his criticism towards capitalism. The author understands his audience and as a result, can exert a certain amount of control over his audience to support his socialist cause.