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David Coolidge

Some Economic Facts About the South

(9 September 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 36, 9 September 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

We resume this week a discussion of the kind of area the South is and what the conditions are which the labor movement is called upon to face in that section. What we have been emphasizing in this series of articles is that the South is not merely a place where, for some unknown or unknowable reason, there is a poll-tax, ignorance, poverty, lynchings and Bilbos and Talmadges. We are trying to show that there are social, political and economic foundations for the Bilbos, just as there are these same foundations for the Tafts. There are economic reasons for the Southern mobs, just as there are economic reasons for the Northern labor spies and capitalist goon squads.

Social, political and economic phenomena of the South are as much a part of capitalist development in the U.S. as are similar phenomena in the North. These phenomena, as they manifest themselves in the South, must be approached just as one approaches the analysis of social phenomena in the North: with the same method of analysis and with the same analytical instruments. Lynching, poll taxes and ignorance arc no more a part of the “nature” of the people of the South than are corrupt urban political machines, Jim Crow and acceptance of trade unions a part of the "nature” of the Northern people. With these observations we can renew our discussion of the kind of place the South is and why it is what it is.

Assessed Valuation of Southern Property

The poverty of the South can be dramatically exposed by comparing the total assessed valuation of property in a few Southern states with the assets of some Northern corporations. The figures are taken from A.G. Mezerick’s book, The Revolt of the South and West. The figures given are the “total assessed valuation of every bit of property inside each” state named. The figures for the states are for 1937; for the corporations they are for 1935. Both have increased in the past ten years but the ratios have not changed in any significant way. For simplification, I have “rounded off” the amounts.

All the property in Texas was assessed at approximately three billion dollars, which was about equal to the assets of the Prudential Life Insurance Co. and considerably less than the assets of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. and the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. Texas has the highest assessed valuation of any Southern state equalling that of Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Florida combined.

The total aggregate assessed valuation of ALL PROPERTY in the nine states of Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas (the lynching states) was less by five billion dollars than the combined assets of General Motors, Pennsylvania Railroad, U.S. Steel, Metropolitan Life and American Telephone & Telegraph,

The Consolidated Edison Co. (electric light and power) in New York City had assets greater than the total assessed value of Mississippi, South Carolina and Arkansas.

It must also be remarked that these huge Northern corporations are also worth more than a combination of Western states. Many of the Western states have assessed valuations greatly below the Southern states. For instance, U.S. Steel has larger assets than the total assessed valuation of all property in Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and North Dakota.

It has to be emphasized, however, that there is one very significant difference between the Southern and Western states; that is the difference in population. The five Western states mentioned above have a total population that, is millions less than five Southern states.

Industrial Property Taxed Lightly

It must also be mentioned that while the assessed valuation of property in a Western state may be lower than in a Southern state, the per capita income in the average Western state will be far higher than in the Southern state. For instance, the assessed value of all property in Mississippi was more than twice that of Nevada but the per capita income in Nevada was $960 while in Mississippi it was only $195 per capita. Again, while in Wyoming taxable property was not great, this state spent $1,820 annually per classroom while Texas, the best Southern state, spent only $1,395. Mississippi, of course, was low with $448.

In order to reveal the full significance of these statistics we must take into consideration the probability that industrial property in the South, particularly Northern industrial property, is not taxed as high or as rigidly as in the North. This will also apply to a state like Montana, the home of the Anaconda Copper Co. That is, it is probably true that if industrial property in the South was taxed as in the North, these states would show a higher assessed valuation and there would be available greater resources for education and other state-performed functions.

Furthermore, legislatures and city councils which paid more attention to the levying and collection of corporation taxes would at the same time be legislatures which were more mindful of low wages, ill health and bad housing conditions. Therefore, the escaping of tax payments by Northern corporations operating in the South is only one more means at their disposal for further impoverishment of the South.

No matter how much improvement can and should be made in the South in the way of increasing the income from corporation taxes, this would not materially change the figures given above nor the relative weight of the wealth-producing potentialities of the two sections. From Texas to the Atlantic south of the Ohio is a vast agricultural and raw materials area. North of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi is a vast industrial area. There has been discovered no way to get as much wealth from capitalist land as from a capitalist factory.

This situation which we have described in this and in previous articles has much to do with making the South what it is politically, socially and culturally.

It is a situation which demands the intervention of the Northern working class, or there can be no substantial improvement. The Southern workers and toilers are too poor and too backward to go it alone. And when to the general backwardness of the toilers is added the all-pervading racial tension and hatred, it should be easy to realize that the solution must begin with the extension of the trade union movement to the South, especially the industrial union movement.

Our analysis gives the reasons why “Operation Dixie" today must be a proletarian operation. It is only the Northern working class which can bring relief to the Southern workers and toilers. This is particularly true in the case of the millions of Negro toilers, who are the most oppressed, the most exploited, the most degraded,. and upon whom the greatest insults are heaped. If the Northern proletariat, black and white, does not understand this, it only paves the way for its own harassment by Northern capitalism. Negro proletarians in the North need to remember that, despite Northern Jim Crow, they are in position to wage a struggle against it.

They are active members of powerful labor organizations. They have a higher standard of living than either the Negroes or the “poor whites” of the South. They are culturally at a higher level than the great mass of white Southern toilers. They have essentially the same political freedom as the white workers of the North.

The white workers of the North need to remember that they have profited by the degradation and exploitation of the black toilers of the South particularly. All of the Northern working class is a beneficiary of the special exploitation and robbery of the Southern toilers, black and white, by Northern capitalism. Much of the wealth and profits extracted from the low-paid labor of the Southern worker goes to pay the wages of the better paid Northern worker.

In another article I will show how the political representatives of Northern capitalism obey their master’s voice in the Southern states and cities.?

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