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David Coolidge

How Labor Can Surmount
Its Obstacles in the South

(11 November 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 45, 11 November 1946, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In this, our last article on the South, I want to continue the discussion started in a recent Labor Action. We discussed the question of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in the South. We took the position that in the scientific and theoretical sense the bourgeois-democratic revolution was completed in the South with the overthrow of the slave regime and the triumph of Northern industrial capitalism. The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution are the juridical expressions of this triumph. To these should be added the equal rights amendment of 1875.

Not only was the triumph of INDUSTRIAL capitalism a victory over the slave economy but also a triumph over Northern COMMERCIAL capitalism which was allied with the slaveocracy. Since this time Southern economy has essentially been an integral part of American capitalism. The South is not “semi-feudal” but completely capitalist. The peons, where peonage exists, are not slaves and the tenant farmers and share-croppers are not serfs or peasants.

The basic conflict today in the South is not between Negroes and whites, but between the protagonists of the plantation system and the advocates of industrialization; between the land and the factory. This attempt to supplant the domination of the planter is not new. But where formerly his main antagonist was the “poor white,” today it is the modern industrialist.

In the designation “plantation system” is included not only the big cotton planters but also the tobacco, rice, sugar cane, and lumber growers. Also there are the extractive and chemical industries. It is in these enterprises that most Southern toilers are employed. Virtually all of the Negroes are employed here with the exception of those in service occupations or who are employed by Negro business. These are the occupations which are the most laborious, undesirable, lowest paying and often the most dangerous and unhealthy. Negroes are today virtually excluded from the manufacturing, processing and fabricating industries.

What Is the South?

It is this peculiar complex of social relations in the South which has misled so many persons into the position that the big task today is what they term “the completion of the bourgeois-democratic revolution.” The Communist Party has been the chief exponent of this notion. At one time the Stalinists developed the notion that the Negroes are a nation and organized their political propaganda around the slogan of “Self-Determination in the Black Belt.” By a process similar to the gerrymander, they carved out an area in the “Black Belt” whose population was overwhelmingly Negro. It was for this area that they advocated separation and independence.

Although the Stalinists still contend, if only in a whisper, that the bourgeois-democratic revolution has not been completed in the South they do not say what its economic system is today.

It must be emphasized that the two main groups in the South: the planter group and the industrial group, are two capitalist groups contending for capitalist profits. For this reason each group seeks political domination. The political demagogues such as Bilbo and Talmadge are in the main the political representatives of the planters (and of the power companies). It was their predecessor demagogues, Tillman, Blease, Vardaman and others who after the Civil War became the champions of the “poor whites.” Their chief weapon was the threat of “Negro domination,” and the doctrine of “white supremacy.” With this the “poor whites” who had formerly been the enemies of the planter group were won over against the Negro. What is known as a “liberal” in the South, is found in the ranks of the industrializers: the Arnalls and the Peppers. It is in this group also that one finds the individuals and groups who are willing to tolerate or collaborate with union organization.

This group is for better educational facilities for the Negroes and “poor whites.” It will support the abolition of the poll-tax and a slight improvement of the conditions under which Negroes live. This group is well-aware that the kind of industrial and technical progress which they advocate for the South cannot be attained, at least for the present, without an increase in bourgeois-democratic rights for all the working class. This is the real meaning of the struggle which goes on between the two groups. Both Northern finance-capitalism and the most reactionary Southern landlord know that increasing industrialization and increasing mechanization of agriculture will transform the social scene in the South and bring it into more conformity with the North.

Negroes in the South and the country at large have a far better grasp of the problem facing them than do most of the theory builders. It is interesting that the Negro slave militants did not develop nationalist, separatist or colonial “Back to Africa” movements. They had no notions about a “49th State.” They acted as human beings have acted in all of history and struggled for freedom and for those rights and privileges which were the lot of other people in the population of the country in which they lived. Negroes continued this struggle after emancipation and that in fact is the struggle they carry on today. Garvey discovered this when he attempted to give an answer to the dissatisfaction of the Negro with his condition by organizing the extremely chauvinistic Back to Africa nightmare of the twenties known as the Universal Negro Improvement Association.

The AFL discovered how Negroes are thinking today when at its first Southern organizing conference at Ashville, this Jim Crow trade union federation provided for the seating of all Negro delegates on one side of the hall, as is the custom in the South. The Negro delegates refused to be segregated and all delegates took seats according to their individual preferences. For its recent convention the United Mine Workers attacked the “race problem” correctly. This union purchased 900 Pullman tickets and brought the Southern delegates, white and black, to Atlantic City together in Pullman cars.

The last question is the often-heard statement that the South is “fascist.” This kind of very dangerous loose talk is the kind which has been spread around from time to time by the Stalinists. In 1930 the AFL was “outright fascist.” Later there were the “right social-fascists” and the “left social-fascists.” Later of course fascism became merely a “matter of taste.” Today, it is the Republican Party which is fascist. Dewey is the head of the fascists and his group is “the same people who burned the Reichstag.”

The South is not fascist. To call the South fascist is to say that the distinguishing feature of fascism is terror, intimidation, “lawlessness,” and lynching. If this were true we would have to say that fascism did not begin with Mussolini and Hitler and that it is still with us after they have been destroyed. Even if fascism were merely an extreme form of terroristic regime, the South could not be called fascist. Fascism is an economic and political movement of monopoly capitalism which atomizes the working class and other exploited poor. It destroys the organization of the people first of all. How can one say that we have fascism in the South? This has to be kept in mind, lest when fascism does come it will not be recognized; clothed as it might well be in the garments of the Founding Fathers.

We have tried to set forth in this series of articles certain relevant ideas in connection with the South; certain considerations which must be faced by the CIO, AFL, Negro and white workers and revolutionary socialists. We say again that the beginning of a solution for the South is the organization of the Southern toilers into mass unions. From the side of the Negroes there will be no great difficulty. But there will be some difficulty with white workers who have been indoctrinated for decades with race superiority notions.

This will be fully exploited by the white ruling class and the organizers of the AFL. These same AFL organizers will advise the Negroes against the CIO because it is “controlled by communists.” It must be the function of the CIO to dispel the fears of the white and black workers by a skillful process of welding them together in the same organization and locals; by showing them that it is possible and necessary for the white and black workers to work together, live together and struggle together. Through such experiences they will learn to vote together, eat together; attend school together, live together and organize as a class for economic and political action across the lines of race and color.

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