W.E.B. Du Bois cites profits, racism as threat to democracy

I represent millions of citizens of the United States who are just as opposed to war as you are. ... Perhaps I can best perform my duty to my country and to the cause of world peace by taking a short time to explain the historic reasons for the part which the United States is playing in the world today. I can do this the more appropriately because I represent that large group of 15 million Americans, one tenth of the nation, who in a sense explain America’s pressing problems. ...

The history of the United States in the last 75 years has been one of the great series of events in human history. With marvelous technique based on scientific knowledge, with organized expert management, vast natural resources, and worldwide commerce, this country has built the greatest industrial machine in history. ...

Our industry is today controlled ... by 1,000 individuals and is conducted primarily for their profit and power. ... [T]oday large numbers of Americans firmly believe that the success of monopolized industry controlled by an oligarchy is the success of this nation. It is not; and the high standard of living in the United States and its productive capacity is not due to monopoly and private profit, but has come in spite of this and indicates clearly how much higher standards of living might have been reached not only in America but throughout the world, if the bounty of the United States and its industrial planning had been administered for the progress of the masses instead of the power and luxury of the few.

The power of private corporate wealth in the United States has throttled democracy and this was made possible by the color caste which followed Reconstruction after the Civil War. When the Negro was disfranchised in the South, the white South was and is owned increasingly by the industrial North. Thus caste, which deprived the mass of Negroes of political and civil rights and compelled them to accept the lowest wage, lay underneath the vast industrial profit of the years 1890 to 1900 when the greatest combinations of capital took place.

The fight of Negroes for democracy in these years was the main movement of the kind in the United States. They began to gain the sympathy and cooperation of those liberal whites who succeeded the Abolitionists and who now realized that physical emancipation of a working class must be followed by political and economic emancipation or means nothing. For more than half a century this battle of a group of black and white Americans ... has gone on and made striking progress. ... But the mischief and long neglect of democracy has already spread throughout the nation.

A large percentage of eligible voters do not get to the polls. Democracy has no part in industry, save through the violence or threatened violence of the strike. No great American industry admits that it could or should be controlled by those who do its work. But unless democratic methods enter industry, democracy fails to function in other parts of life. Our political life is admittedly under the control of organized wealth and while the socialized organization of all our work proceeds, its management remains under oligarchic control. ...

... In the United States today the object is to center and increase the power of those who control organized wealth and they seek to prove to Americans that no other system is so successful in human progress. But instead of leaving proof of this to the free investigation of science, the reports of a free press, and the discussion of the public platform, … organized wealth owns the press and chief newsgathering organs and is exercising increased control over the schools and making public discussion and even free thinking difficult and often impossible.

The cure for this ... is for the American people to take over the control of the nation in industry as well as government. ... But knowledge of this, of its success and of its prevalence in other lands, does not reach the mass of people. They are being carried away by almost hysterical propaganda that the freedoms which they have and such individual initiative as remains are being threatened and that a third world war is the only remedy.

Not all America has succumbed to this indefensible belief. … There are millions of other Americans who agree with … the peace movement. I bring you their greetings.

Excerpted from “The Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois,” published by International Publishers in 1968.