The first P.C. discussion of Comrade Marcy’s point of view on the slogan “Send Federal Troops to Mississippi” revolves largely around the questions of consciousness, transitional vs. immediate demands, etc. These are rather exhaustively discussed without serious consideration being given to the concrete objective effects of the use of Federal Troops in the South, regardless of the ostensible reason for their being sent there. I feel that this is a weakness in the discussion, and that this aspect of the question has a priority in the discussion. For the objective result is the final test of the principled nature of a slogan.
Concretely, it is highly probable that Federal Troops will be sent to the South some time during the coming period whether we ask for them or not. The social antagonisms are too great to be indefinitely contained by the traditional terroristic police regime, and sooner or later the troops will be called in. Any analysis of the problem should begin with this probability.
Troops most probably will be sent to the South under quite different conditions from those envisioned by the P.C.—at a time when the Negro masses are in motion. If we advocate that the Federal Government send them there, we will bear political responsibility for the consummation of the demand.
We have advocated a broad movement involving a March on Washington for the purpose of effecting the demand. This will take time. The movement will be removed from the specific current situation and will have the character of a general demand, which it really has become now: “Send Federal Troops to the South for the purpose of defending the Negroes against terrorism and establishing democratic rights.” This is how it is understood by the Negro leaders who have raised it, and it is apparent from our discussion and use of the slogan in the paper that we do also.
Under either Eisenhower or Stevenson, the most probable condition under which the Federal Government will send troops to the South will be that the Negroes hold the initiative in the struggle. As long as the white supremacists have the initiative and the lid of repression is clamped on tightly, the social equilibrium is not upset by a lynching or other terrorist actions. When the Negroes take the initiative it is a “race riot” and the public security is threatened and an excellent reason is given to the government to intervene.
When the Negroes hold the initiative it will be the function of the Federal army to restore law and order on the basis of the existing social system, and will involve severe repressions against the Negroes. There hasn’t been a “race riot” in this century in which troops were used that they didn’t do just that—and there is not likely to be one.
At such a time we might be able to stop short, and reassessing our dangerous position, reverse direction and demand that “No Federal Troops be sent to the South.” But it would be impossible to reverse the direction of a mass movement led by people who are convinced that U.S. troops could have a beneficial effect upon the South.
I do not believe that it can be demonstrated that there is a qualitative difference in our use of this slogan as compared with the Stalinists calling upon the use of troops during the Little Steel Strike. They were, after all, only calling upon the government to enforce the right to organize and bargain collectively. A right that had been written into the laws of the land. In the comparison of these two cases, I don’t think that there is a difference in the objective actions of the troops, or a difference in the kind of illusions which will be fostered, nor even a substantial difference in political responsibility.
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So far, I have considered the problem only on the assumption that troops would be sent to the South as a result of the need to protect the status quo from a powerful movement of the Negroes which would upset the social equilibrium. It must, of course, be considered from the opposite assumption as well. Although unlikely, it is not theoretically excluded that given sufficient social pressure in the North, the government might be forced to make a move with troops ostensibly to prevent a lynching, enforce a court order, or upon some other occasion which would place the troops at the inception of the move in opposition to the apparatus of the southern system. In such a circumstance there would be an appearance of conflict between government and capital, as we saw during the war when the government took over industrial plants during labor disputes.
Such an action would tend to create, at least momentarily, a relaxation of the oppressive machinery which maintains the South in its fascist-like police state. The temporary enlargement of the area of struggle thus made possible would be an immediate signal for a social explosion on both the political and economic front.
In the present stage of the struggle only the most elementary democratic demands are being pushed by the southern masses. This is only because there is an insufficiently wide area of struggle to permit the consideration of other demands. However, it is the super-exploitation of labor which is at the foundation of the southern system and the immediate result of any relaxation of the traditional agencies of repression which might follow, temporarily, the interposition of Federal Troops between these agencies and the Negro people would be a social upheaval with a tremendous strike wave as its probable focal point.
There can be no doubt about what the role of the Federal Troops would be in this circumstance. They would become strike-breakers and the conditions of civil war which would accompany the strike wave would force the army into a firm alliance with the white supremacists and the equilibrium of the traditional southern system would be restored by the use of Federal Troops.
The high probability of such a series of events is one reason that it appears most unlikely that the government would risk the consequences of this kind of “cold” occupation of the South. More probable is that the government will use the agitation in favor of sending troops to the South to do so under conditions of “public emergency.” The government can indeed claim that it is acting to protect the Negroes, but the logic of events and indeed the class character of the army will impel it to protect white supremacy against the Negroes.
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In the first P.C. discussion, Comrades Dobbs, Stein and Hansen analyze the question of slogans in general, the nature of transitional demands in general, and the question of principle involved in setting the capitalist army in motion under any conditions whatever. And in so doing they correctly take issue with Comrade Marcy’s exposition of some of these matters, although none of them touches the heart of the question.
In this respect Marcy’s document has a one-sidedness and contains a schematism and formalism which detracts from and tends to obscure a fundamentally correct position: that irrespective of the question of consciousness, the slogan is wrong; essentially because it leads to strike-breaking and other repressions.
For instance, Marcy contends that because of the class character of the capitalist state and its army, to put it into motion in any manner at all is wrong. Therefore, it is wrong to call for it to be sent to the South. This is an oversimplification of the problem and is a formalistic schema. A fact which others have observed. The real reason that it would be wrong to use this slogan is to be found in the relationship between the southern social system, American capitalism and its state. Marcy makes his excellent analysis of this relation subordinate to his schema of the state, and this is a misfortune.
Even the most elementary democratic demand which is general in form tends to transcend the limits of American capitalism. In this sense while it is true that the demand for equality put forward by the Negroes is a democratic demand in the historical sense, it is at the same time a very good example of Trotsky’s definition of a transitional demand. For racial equality transcends the southern social system and consequently American capitalism.
The South is a fascist-like police state and its social relations can be contained in no other. Therefore, any general demand put forward in the South today tends to become transitional in content for there will be no general alleviation of conditions there under capitalism. (It would be wrong to confuse a general demand with specific democratic demands which may not necessarily by themselves be anything more than an immediate demand which has at least a theoretical possibility of being realized. I refer to such demands as “justice to the lynchers of Emmett Till,” the present boycott demands, this or that individual problem of integration, specific strike demands, etc.)
Any one of the general grievances of southern workers, moreover, leads immediately to the others, so closely interwoven are the democratic, economic and racial problems there. Once the movement breaks out of the pressurized circle of the police state, around one question, all others will spring forward demanding solution. Under these conditions, the presence of the U.S. Army in the South during such a period could lead only to disastrous consequences for the southern workers. This would be particularly true if the presence of the troops was initially welcomed by the northern supporters of the movement, for this would tend to disarm the southern workers and prevent them from making whatever plans they could to defend themselves against this army in its inevitable role.
So actually, in spite of its formalism, Comrade Marcy’s statement needs but a slight alteration to fit the situation quite well: The nature of the southern social system and its relation to American capitalism dictate that the army would play only a reactionary role in the South. Furthermore, the nature of the Jim Crow system and its relation to capitalism seem to me to justify Marcy’s criterion of transitional demands when dealing with the South.
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