W.E.B. DuBois joined the socialist party in 1911, only to resign in 1912 to support Woodrow Wilson’s presidential candidacy. He also felt that socialists’ racist attitudes kept them from adequately addressing what he called the Negro Problem, or the future status of African-Americans living in the United States. Dubois delivered this speech to a group of Harlem socialists in January 1913.
According to DuBois, the Negro Problem is causing socialists quite a dilemma in the U.S. Because White men have left African-Americans out of capitalism, they will also try to leave them out of socialism. Socialists are willing to let Black men be excluded because they refuse to admit the equality of Black men to White men. They argue that the Negro Problem should be dealt with after socialism happens.
Dubois finds flaws in the socialists’ argument. Socialism cannot ignore the needs of ten million people and still be considered socialism. Besides, if socialism would clear up the problems caused by racism, the socialist movement should deal with racism outright as part of its agenda. Socialism by definition is supposed to help the majority of laborers overturn their oppressors, and most socialist agree that socialism can still happen if laborers comprise a minority of the population.
What is really happening is that socialists are working toward wealth redistribution among White men. They assume that the White men will redistribute their wealth again to include the African-Americans when the goals of socialism have been achieved. History gives us a clear indication that this scenario would never happen.
The core belief of socialism is that no one class is exploited or left out of receiving their fair share of profits. Unfortunately, the socialists in the U.S. are attempting to establish socialism by leaving out African-Americans.
Because African-Americans make up one tenth of the population, or one fifth if the popular determinants are used (the one drop rule), socialism needs African-American support if it is ever to become a reality. Not only can twenty percent of the population not support the rest with its labor, but African-Americans are also getting savvier every day.
Socialism dirties itself and its ideals by fighting to keep a group of people oppressed. The true test of the validity of socialism will come in seeing how it addresses the Negro Problem. In the South, left-wing radicals are attracting racist followers and creating racist agendas. If American socialism excludes African-Americans from its platform, those left-wing radicals from the South can be convinced to join. If socialism sticks up for Black rights, it will surely lose potential support.
To conclude, Dubois re-emphasizes that socialism without including the ten million African-Americans living in the U.S. under deplorably racist laws cannot produce true socialism.