J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

(20 January 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 3, 20 January 1947, p. 7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

I want to make a few observations about the case of Senator Bilbo. It is possible that some of them may have been made here before and others in the course of the present campaign. But the whole Bilbo case is of singular importance in its indication of political realities and trends in the United States today. It is particularly necessary to do so because of the crass stupidity with which some liberals and radicals are treating the question.

First of all, the Senate has not changed its mind about Bilbo. Bilbo is, today as yesterday, and as he has been for 50 years, a corrupt scoundrel. The Senate got along with him.

What has happened is that the people of the United States began to feel that Bilbo was a disgrace to any democratic assembly. They began to say so in ever-increasing numbers. The Senate began to feel that its own prestige was becoming endangered. So that it attacked Bilbo where it knew all along that it had him. But the real change of sentiment is not in the Senate but in the people of the United States.

Courier Campaign

Secondly, a substantial amount of credit must go to the Pittsburgh Courier. It started or at the very least was in on the campaign from the very beginning. For months now every article in the paper had below it the slogan, “Bilbo must go.” It missed no opportunity to plaster the Senator, to expose his anti-Negro attitude.

But the Courier, while frankly concerned with Bilbo as an enemy of Negroes, did not neglect the wider aspect: “He is an enemy of American democracy.”

It is true that PM and the Post also took part in the campaign. But these are liberal papers which take part in the exposure of abuses for the special purpose of fighting socialism and the independent action of the working people. The Courier is in a different class. It is militantly pro-Negro because it wants Negro grievances removed. It suffers from many illusions, but its exposure of Negro abuses must not be confused with hysterical publicity-seeding articles in the Post and PM. And whoever thinks that this is unjust should try the experiment of asking Samuel Grafton of the Post please, please, to write a few articles on the Negro question.

Washington Jim Crow

My reference to the Courier is not for historical purposes or to exchange compliments. Not at all. The Negro people can initiate campaigns on Negro issues and by skillful politics and mass weight set the public opinion of the nation moving in the right direction.

The Courier is now engaged on another campaign – the abolition of Jim Crow in Washington – “the nation’s capital.” Precisely. Washington is today the capital of a large part of the world – they take orders from the U.S. or come and beg for favors, from France, from Italy, from everywhere. The Jim Crow in Washington can be as terrible an embarrassment to the U.S. government as Bilbo was becoming to the Senate. It is a campaign that is well worth support.

Furthermore, let us not underestimate the effect of this attack upon Bilbo and his disgrace. To many millions of Negroes in the South, Bilbo is the symbol of the reactionary forces which oppress and exploit them. In the fight against Bilbo they saw and will see a mobilization of national sentiment on their behalf. The Senate has done its best to depoliticalize the disgrace of Bilbo. This will not fool the people to any serious extent.

First we had the intervention of the CIO and the AFL into the South. Now we have the united attack upon Bilbo. To people immersed in many political activities these are merely important episodes of the general struggle. To millions in the South these are not episodes but the central facts of their social and political perspectives. They are stirred. And that is precisely what the Senate politicians and the others do not want. I would not be in the least surprised to find that some of Bilbo’s warmest supporters and the leaders of the Democratic Party are happy that Bilbo is gone. He was a liability to the system they wish’ to preserve. He drew too much attention to it. But they will find that the forces now unloosed are not going to be so easily stifled. What has happened to Bilbo is a victory for us. It stimulates the people who are most affected by Southern corruption.

All the more reason, therefore, to stamp with both feet on this kind of writing and thinking. It appears in the CIO News of January 6:

”Senator Theodore ‘The Man’ Bilbo isn’t much of a man, after all, to his colleagues in the Senate of the United States.”

Frankly, this is disgusting. Workers and sharecroppers who read this can get only one impression: that the Senate didn’t like Bilbo any more. Now that is exactly what we have to avoid. We have to avoid it because the Senate, having been driven by popular opinion to take action in its own defense, will now try to extract as much credit as possible for itself from its action.

Keep Aims Clear!

But we have to denounce this stupid chatter in a CIO paper because under no circumstances can we allow the victory over Bilbo to be blown up beyond its real proportions. For Marxists, for revolutionaries, campaigns such as the ousting of Bilbo and the attack on Jim Crow in the nation’s capital are important not only for what they actually achieve. They are of far more significance in that they educate the people, give them a chance to express their grievances, to feel their strength, to realize that they can take action and achieve an end. These, for us, are only stepping-stones to the day when the people, confident of themselves by repeated struggles and defeats and victories, will overthrow the whole wretched system.

We participate in all these struggles, but our special function in them is to keep before the people the general interests of the workers as a whole. We have to be vigilant about this because in every such struggle there are always an immense number of noisy (and sometimes very active) people whose special function is to hide, obscure and confuse these general aims. For revolutionaries, politics is above all the education and organization of the people to solve their problems themselves.

Last updated on 28 November 2020