MIA: History: ETOL: Documents: International Communist League/Spartacists—PRS 3
Communist Party Internal Discussion
Report to the District Negro Commission, 1956
Source: Prometheus Research Library, New York.
Transcription/Markup/Proofing: John Heckman, Prometheus Research Library.
Public Domain: Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line 2006/Prometheus Research Library. You can freely copy, display and otherwise distribute this work. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive & Prometheus Research Library as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & editors above.
As an SWP militant, Dick Fraser intervened in the Stalinist movement, seeking to win its best elements to Trotskyism. As part of that work in Seattle in 1956 he wrote the following document, which was distributed by SWP supporters in the Communist Party. As Fraser commented in a 1 October 1983 letter to Jim Robertson, “I wrote it for one of our fractions in the CP, who had the two members of the District Negro Commission....I don’t know if it will be of any value to the Labor/Black operation, but it would probably be nice for your archives.”
Parts of this document are duplicative of “Resolution on the Negro Struggle,” section VI, “The Communist Party”. To avoid repetition we have excerpted the beginning, followed by section 3 (“The question of Civil Rights legislation at the 84th Congress”), where Fraser exposes the CP’s West Coast newspaper, the People’s World, for covering up the anti-civil rights conspiracy in Congress, and the conclusion.
The undersigned members of the District Negro Commission in consultation with rank and file members of the party have drafted the following report for the consideration of the District Negro Commission. This report does not represent the opinions of the Negro Commission, but only the views of those who have signed this document and the opinions in whole or part of those they consulted with.
Due to the fact that this is a pre-convention discussion period we have decided to mimeograph and circulate this report among the general membership as a contribution to that discussion.
Report to the
District Negro Commission
The surprising front page headline of the People’s World of Sept. 21, entitled “How Integration Won in Louisville,” forces us, now that the election campaign is over and the pre-convention discussion period has begun, to review critically the effects of the turn of the party toward the Democrats upon our relations with the Negro community.
The support by the P.W. of the Louisville Plan for “voluntary integration” (which the Negroes call “voluntary segregation”) is only one of a series of gross violations of the principles and tradition of militant struggle against Jim Crow which various party leaders and even the National Committee have committed us to.
The following examples of this tendency will be examined in detail:
1. The support of the Louisville Plan.
2. The question of the Louisiana “Right to Work” law.
3. The question of Civil Rights legislation at the 84th Congress.
4. The support of the “moderate white supremacists.”
5. The question of prejudice.* * *
3. Civil Rights in Congress. The history of congressional legislation since the Supreme Court decision of 1954 [Brown v. Board of Education] reveals that one of the important factors in the unanimity of the decision by a court which included both Republicans and Southern Bourbons was that it provided a formula for keeping the issue at least temporarily off the floor of Congress.
This was highly desirable to the Republicans because Eisenhower had categorically promised during the 1952 campaign that he and his party would fight the Southern filibuster and get rid of Rule 22.
It was completely acceptable to the Democrats because every time the Civil Rights issue is debated it threatens to tear their party apart.
Chief Justice Warren’s formula was further acceptable even to the Bourbons in principle because it lacked implementation and the clear perspective was to turn enforcement over to the Southern states themselves.
This attempt to remove the Civil Rights question as a whole from the responsibility of the legislative branch of government and to turn it over to the courts was fairly successful for the first three years of the Eisenhower administration. An occasional futile face-saving gesture on the part of the few ADA [Americans for Democratic Action] congressmen did not make a ripple in the sublime peace between the capitalist political factions around this question. Even the occasional outbursts of indignation and resentment in which Representatives [Adam Clayton] Powell and [Charles] Diggs expressed the feelings of the Negro people failed to de-rail the congressional conspiracy of silence on the Civil Rights question.
The Democrats in the North and West followed the policy of concentrating a great deal of propaganda and some action on the state level around the Civil Rights question. The object of this apparently over balanced campaign on the state level of politics was to establish in the minds of labor and in the Negro community that the Democratic Party stood for Civil Rights in spite of the fact that this party was united in a conspiracy to keep the question off the floor of the national Congress, and to keep it out of the 1956 election campaign.
The mounting pressure of the Negro protest and discontent could not be denied, however, and in spite of all that a bi-partisan anti-Negro Congress could do, it spilled over onto the floor of the House of Representatives. It took the form of rather innocuous proposals by the administration for a bi-partisan committee to “investigate” violations of Civil Rights and work through the president. It further set up a bit of legal machinery to enhance the prestige and authority of judicial actions against violations of Civil Rights. There was reference neither to FEP [Fair Employment Practices], segregation nor lynching. Nevertheless even this very mild Civil Rights bill placed both capitalist parties in the same dilemma as before the Supreme Court decision: the great majority of congressmen of both parties were committed in advance to promises to the Negro people, yet the capitalist bosses of both parties were committed to the maintenance of the status quo in the South as a fundamental condition of their profits and the political stability of capitalist rule.
The only condition under which the Democrats could permit the Civil Rights bill to reach the floor of the House was if they could be assured in advance that it would be killed in the Senate. The only way that the Republicans could agree to kill it in the Senate would be to keep it off the floor, because Eisenhower’s promise to fight the filibuster was still fresh in the minds of at least a considerable section of the Negro leadership.
Consequently, it was with great deliberation and planning that the bi-partisan opponents of Civil Rights engineered the elaborate series of maneuvers to kill the Civil Rights bill in the 84th Congress.
The object from the beginning must have been to make the Judiciary Committee be its grave. And the plan could never have worked without the concurrence from the beginning of the so-called “liberal bloc” in both houses.
Following are the maneuvers which were necessary to carry out this betrayal of the Civil Rights struggle. Steps in which all factions played their assigned parts:
A. Delay in the House until closing hours of the Congress.
B. Uncontested referral from the floor of the Senate to the Judiciary Committee.
C. Locking the bill in the Judiciary Committee.
Delay in the House. The role of all major characters in the Punch and Judy show is demonstrated by the action of the House Rules Committee. On June 21 after innumerable delays of which this episode is representative, the House Rules Committee was committed to clear the bill for a hearing on the floor of the House. Those that played the role of “Civil Rights supporters” had a clear majority on the committee. But 20 Southern congressmen appeared to testify against the bill. Under cover of this semi-filibuster, the Civil Rights supporters absented themselves from the Committee until there was no longer a quorum. At this point Rep. Colmer (Dem. Miss.) called for a quorum, and Chm. Smith (Dem. Va.) declared the hearing adjourned. This automatically postponed it for another week at a time when minutes were precious.
The capitalist press said that the Civil Rights supporters had been “caught napping.”
Referral to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The extra week’s delay in the House permitted other legislation to precede the Civil Rights bill in the House and so it was not finally passed there until July 23. It was abundantly clear to the most casual observer that it was unimportant what happened in the House by this time. It was understood that the bill was headed for the Senate Judiciary Committee where it was scheduled for oblivion. The New York Times of July 20 reported that the debate in the House was “carried on, despite the intensity of the fight, with a large measure of good humor...the whole struggle was exposed in argument as being a futile operation...it was evident the House Members had made it a vehicle for putting themselves in the record for their own campaign.” In other words, the Civil Rights bill was being used as a political football by the liberal congressmen.
So the bill was cynically voted on and passed on July 23. Then it went to the floor of the Senate. The only possibility of keeping the bill alive would have been an objection from the floor to its being referred to [James] Eastland’s Judiciary Committee. But some strange coincidence took Senator Hennings (who was largely in charge of strategy for the Civil Rights Senate consideration) off the floor of the Senate at the strategic moment, and according to the NY Times (July 24) he “was not on the floor to object....Someone of the civil rights group was caught napping, and the bill went quickly and firmly under the jurisdiction of the Eastland panel.”
Locking the bill in Committee. The basic device by which the bill was locked in committee was this: those senators playing the role of Civil Rights supporters, although they had a majority on the Committee, agreed not to report out this particular bill except by unanimous vote of the entire committee.
To obscure this particular piece of treachery on the part of the “liberal” Democrats sitting on the Committee and to attempt to camouflage their role as the “caught napping Civil Rights supporters” on the Senate floor, Senator Lehman on July 24 moved to discharge the bill from committee. This was brushed aside on technical grounds by Senate Majority Leader [Lyndon] Johnson and defeated.
This conspiracy against the Civil Rights bill in the 84th Congress deserves to be placed beside that conspiracy by which the question of popular sovereignty, through the Dred Scott decision, opened the door to the nationalization of slavery in the last years before the Civil War. Lincoln’s contention, which he proved in public debate, was that a conspiracy against free choice by the people had existed from the beginning between Stephen Douglas (Dem. Ill.), Pierce (the outgoing Democratic president), Buchanan (the incoming president) and Taney (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court). The object of this conspiracy was to make a niche in Douglas’ Kansas-Nebraska bill into which the Dred Scott decision could be placed.
The analogy which Lincoln made in his speech “A House Divided” is particularly applicable to the present case. He said: “We cannot absolutely know that all these exact adaptations are the result of preconcert. But when we see a lot of framed timbers, different portions of which we know have been gotten out at different times and places and by different workmen—Stephen (Douglas), Franklin (Pierce), Roger (Taney) and James (Buchanan), for instance—and when we see these timbers joined together, and see they exactly make the frame of a house or a mill, all the tenons and mortices exactly fitting, and... adapted to their respective places, and not a piece too many or too few—not omitting even scaffolding—or, if a single piece be lacking, we can see the place in the frame exactly fitted and prepared to yet bring such piece in —in such a case, we find it impossible to not believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all understood one another from the beginning, and all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn up before the first lick was struck.”
The scuttling of the Civil Rights bill was such a structure of “framed timbers...gotten out at different times and places and by different workmen”—Howard (Smith), James (Eastland), Tom (Hennings), Lyndon (Johnson) and Herbert (Lehman). And when we see these timbers joined together so perfectly in the construction of a series of maneuvers which succeeds so smoothly in getting rid of the one piece of legislation which could upset the political equilibrium of the country and expose the capitalist politicians as fakers, we are quite as justified as Lincoln in believing that the whole thing must have been cooked up before hand and that “all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn up before the first lick was struck.”
This is to be expected from the capitalist politicians. It is quite in keeping with the traditions. But when the People’s World conceives it to be its job not only to support the treacherous “supporters of Civil Rights” up and down the line, to become a partner in their betrayal by covering it up from the left, then conditions in the leadership of the party have indeed become grave.
The P.W. history of the Civil Rights fight in Congress is:
Mar. 29: “Civil rights bill pushed in House”:”A civil rights bloc of Congressmen Wednesday launched a drive to pass a far-reaching bill striking down discrimination....”
Apr. 16: “Demo Senator tells Ike: Stiffen stand on civil rights”: “Thomas C. Hennings...,chairman of the Senate Civil Rights Subcommittee, charges that the Administration program...offers only a fraction...” etc.
Apr. 23: “Key test for civil rights bill Tuesday”: “Rep. James Roosevelt..., a leader of the House civil rights bloc, warned today that fast action is essential...” etc.
June 13: “Civil rights bill showdown today”: more accurate would have been the substitution of “sellout” for “showdown.”
The P.W. is building up the liberal Democrats as determined fighters at this stage. As the conspiracy unfolds, the P.W. serves as a left covering for the betrayal.
When the transfer of the bill from the House Judiciary to the House Rules Committee took two months instead of two days, the P.W. claimed that it was because “Southern members of the House Judiciary Committee wanted to file a minority report, and they took their time in writing it.” The P.W. does not mention that the majority holds all the basic rights if it chooses to exercise them.
When the Rules Committee finally got ready to vote on the bill and the liberals absented themselves to permit another stall for lack of quorum, the P.W., instead of exposing the liberal betrayal, fulminated against the “Dixiecrats”: “The long-delayed civil rights bill may come up for still another test this coming Thursday after having been sidetracked by a Dixiecrat parliamentary sneak play last Thursday” (P.W., June 25).
No reference is to be found in the P.W. of the curious absence from the floor of the Senate of Sen. Hennings at the time the bill landed there, nor of the failure of any member of the group of spurious “Civil Rights supporters” to say one word in objection to its being sent to Eastland’s Committee. Nor is there a mention of the liberal senators’ agreement not to report the bill out of Eastland’s Committee without unanimous vote.
As a matter of fact it is probable that at the conclusion of the congressional carnival, there was probably not a single capitalist paper in the country which went to such pains to cover up the betrayal of the Civil Rights bill by the liberal Democrats as did the People’s Daily World.
While the capitalist press as exemplified by the New York Times at least reported the relevant facts, the P.W., by ignoring some (such as the “caught napping” episode) and over-stressing others, creates an idealistic picture of the “Civil Rights bloc” waging a brave though losing battle against tremendous odds: “the Senate was challenged to stay in session and pass the measure” (by virtue of the “smashing House victory” which was more accurately described by the Times as a game of political football) (P.W., July 24).
P.W., July 25: “Liberal Demo Senators blocked in fight for civil rights bill.” This was two days after they had been “caught napping.” “Liberal Northern Democrats were blocked Tuesday in an effort to save the House-passed civil rights bill from certain death in the Senate Judicial Committee headed by Sen. James O. Eastland..., leader of Senate white supremacists.” No mention of the “liberal” majority on Sen. Eastland’s Committee.
P.W., July 26: “GOP, Dixie allies dump civil rights.” In thus summarizing the scuttling of the bill, the P.W. on the following day analyzes the one element which “was not foreseen” by an otherwise farsighted Civil Rights bloc: that “the Administration would desert the fight.”
So, instead of exposing the real culprits—those liberal congressmen whose seats in Congress depend upon labor and Negro votes, but who use the Civil Rights question as a political football, betraying the struggle at every decisive turn—the P.W. makes the whole thing merely a piece of Democratic Party election propaganda. That is, the P.W. also uses the Civil Rights fight as a political football.
The new “coalition” apparently requires that we attach ourselves as a left covering to this gang of conspiratorial fakers on Civil Rights.
It is thus demonstrated that the new “coalitionism” as illustrated by the Democratic Party orientation during the past months resulted in placing the party in disgraceful positions before the Negro people. It has led us toward GRADUALISM on the question of integration, at the same time that we have a very correct article rejecting gradualism (“Enough of Gradualism,” P.W.).
It has made our policy a tail-end to the labor bureaucracy and the liberal betrayers of Civil Rights.
It has brought us into actual support of “moderate” white supremacy.
It has taken us toward liberalism in our approach to prejudice. This is no “mainstream”; it is a muddy back-wash of reaction and compromise!
We feel that the District Negro Commission has a special responsibility in addition to the general responsibility of members and leaders to demand that this preconvention discussion take a serious and critical review of our work along the lines of this report, and that the coming national convention be prepared to rectify the great harm which has been done to the party and its reputation in the Negro community as the result of the policy of the past period.
In the meantime, to begin the task of making a turn toward realistic revolutionary participation in the Negro struggle and in the support of its true objectives, the following program of action should be elaborated and implemented.
1. Truthful and factual exposure of the role of the liberals in the fight for Civil Rights.
2. All-out campaigns of support by the party directly and by our forces in the unions and other mass organizations for the heroic struggles now going on in the South: the Montgomery and Tallahassee boycotts, etc. These fighters, far in advance of the general working class, are conducting a vanguard struggle against American capital which demands that we do everything in our power to assist, support and spread their struggle.
3. A return to the practical day-to-day struggle against discrimination on the neighborhood and local union level, unfettered by whatever relations we may have with the capitalist politicians and in the spirit of the struggle of the masses.