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E.R. McKinney

One-Tenth of the Nation

The Yergan Matter

(5 April 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 14, 5 April 1948, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Council on African Affairs, which is a sort of Stalinist luxury front for catching soft-headed or senile Negro intellectuals, has been having some difficulty with its executive director, Dr. Max Yergan. The difficulty has been brewing for some weeks and expresses itself in a conflict between Yergan and that chief of Negro Stalinist stooges, Paul Robeson. Before that there had been some unpleasantness on the People’s Voice when the Stalinists controlled that weekly paper through Yergan, its treasurer and chief stockholder.

It seems that Dr. Yergan, who used to be a YMCA secretary in Africa,is, according to the Stalinists, mixed up on the question of imperialism and particularly imperialism as it relates to Africa. Last February, Yergan presented a statement of policy on imperialism which the Stalinists, through the party mouthpiece, Robeson, claimed was “conciliatory to the present position of major colonial powers.” The Yergan statement of policy was rejected and a policy committee was set up. The chairman of the new committee was Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois. Many people will be surprised to learn this. They remember Dr. Du Bois when he wore, no man’s collar but his own; when he had intelligence as well as courage; when he could not be made a stooge for anybody.

The Du Bois committee reported last week. The report which was adopted, of course, puts the Council on record “to fight aggressively for the liberation of African peoples.” “To combat the new imperialist offensive now threatening Africa.” “Not to shirk this task because it entails criticism of American state policy.”

In true Stalinist fashion there is no concrete indication as to how the Yergan position differed from the Du Bois statement. One can only guess that Dr. Yergan is on the verge of breaking with the Stalinists. Perhaps he is being influenced by Dr. Channing Tobias, who, it seems, has escaped the Stalinist net. Perhaps Yergan has learned that Stalinist Russia is also an imperialist nation which is doing a little wholesale threatening.

This Council on African Affairs is of course merely one of the numerous Stalinist farces. This is far worse than most of them because the council isn’t really an organization, but only a staff and an office. What its real function is in the Stalinist totalitarian, GPU set-up is anybody’s guess. Knowing the Stalinists, however, one can be certain that it is not what it purports to be.

After the adoption of the Du Bois-Robeson (Communist Party) policy statement, the Council “sharply condemned Dr. Yergan for serious laxity and mismanagement in the council’s financial affairs.” After this was over,the council re-elected all officers. Dr. Yergan was re-elected as executive director. This is the self-same man who had not only compromised with imperialism but had mismanaged the council’s financial affairs and also had placed police guards at the February 2 meeting of the council. It seems clear either that the Stalinists cannot get rid of Yergan or do not want to put him out. They may feel that they can use him some more. Or perhaps he knows things which they don’t want told.

Where Tragedy Lies

The tragedy of all this is not Max Yergan nor Paul Robeson but W.E.B. Du Bois. It is a tragedy that this man who was looked up to almost with reverence by more than one generation of young Negroes has seen fit in his old age to become an apologist for a totalitarian regime which in brutality and oppressiveness is equaled in history only by the Nazis.

We wonder what goes on in Du Bois’ head these days. He has been steadily retreating from his former clarity, force, intelligence and irreconcilable opposition to tyranny for several years now. We knew all this but we never dreamed that this man who once could see so clearly and who was the peak of independence, could end as Stalinist’ stooge; a little weak hatchet man doing a job for the Stalinists on some former favorite who had fallen into disfavor.

Last month William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was 80 years old. That is a long time to live and then at the end walk into the Stalinist trap.

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