Editor’s note: What follows are excerpts of a commentary NAACP co-founder Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in 1956 justifying why he would not vote in the presidential election.
On the presidential ballot in a few states…a “Socialist” Party will appear. Few will hear its appeal because it will have almost no opportunity to take part in the campaign and explain its platform.
If a voter organizes or advocates a real third-party movement, he may be accused of seeking to overthrow this government by “force and violence.” Anything he advocates by way of significant reform will be called “Communist” and will of necessity be Communist in the sense that it must advocate such things as government ownership of the means of production; government in business; the limitation of private profit; social medicine, government housing and federal aid to education; the total abolition of race bias; and the welfare state.
Any American who advocates them today, no matter how sincerely, stands in danger of losing his job, surrendering his social status and perhaps landing in jail.
The witnesses against him may be liars or insane or criminals. These witnesses need give no proof for their charges and may not even be known or appear in person. They may be in the pay of the United States government.
Preparing for war
The present (Eisenhower) administration is carrying on the greatest preparation for war in the history of mankind…The weight of our taxation is unbearable and rests mainly and deliberately on the poor. This administration is dominated and directed by wealth and for the accumulation of wealth. It runs smoothly like a well-organized industry and should do so because industry runs it for the benefit of industry.
Corporate wealth profits as never before in history. We turn over the national resources to private profit and have few funds left for education, health or housing.
Our crime, especially juvenile crime, is increasing. Its increase is perfectly logical; for a generation we have been teaching our youth to kill, destroy, steal and rape in war; what can we expect in peace?
We let men take wealth which is not theirs; if the seizure is “legal,” we call it high profits and the profiteers help decide what is legal. If the theft is “illegal,” the thief can fight it out in court, with excellent chances to win if he receives the accolade of the right newspapers.
Corporations own government
Gambling in home, church and on the stock market is increasing and all prices are rising. It costs three times his salary to elect a senator and many millions to elect a president. This money comes from the very corporations which today are the government. This in a real democracy would be enough to turn the party responsible out of power. Yet this we cannot do…
Negroes hope to muster 400,000 votes in 1956. Where will they cast them? What have the Republicans done to enforce the education decision of the Supreme Court?…What has the administration done to rescue Negro workers, the most impoverished group in the nation, half of whom receive less than half the median wage of the nation, while the nation sends billions abroad to protect oil investments and help employ slave labor in the Union of South Africa and the Rhodesias?
Will the (Democratic) Party…do better than the Republicans if the Negroes return them to office? I have no advice for others in this election. Are you voting Democratic? Are you voting for Eisenhower and his smooth team of bright (Republican) ghostwriters? Will your helpless vote either way support or restore democracy to America?
Is the refusal to vote in this phony election a counsel of despair? No, it is dogged hope…that if twenty-five million voters refrain from voting in 1956 because of their own accord…this might make the American people ask how much longer this dumb farce can proceed without even a whimper of protest…
Stop running Russia and giving Chinese advice when we cannot rule ourselves decently. Stop yelling about a democracy we do not have. Democracy is dead in the United States. Yet there is still nothing to replace real democracy.
Drop the chains, then, that bind our brains. Drive the moneychangers from the seats of the Cabinet and the halls of Congress. Call back some faint spirit of Jefferson and Lincoln, and when again we can hold a fair election on real issues, let’s vote, and not till then.
Is this impossible? Then democracy in America is impossible.
W.E.B. Du Bois was a founding member of the NAACP. This article was republished in Hartford Web Publishing.