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Fourth International, April 1949


Editorial Review

The Filibuster: A Decisive Test


From Fourth International, Vol.10 No.4, April 1949, pp.99-100.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The ignominious defeat of the Truman administration at the hands of the filibuster reveals once again that the issue of civil rights is the crux of the political and social struggle in the United States today. Whoever grasps this nettle feels the sting of ail the crucial problems of our day: class rule, the fate of the two-party system, the future of the labor movement.

Since the Civil War, the South as the citadel of reaction has been one of the main bulwarks of social stability under capitalism. The rise of the labor movement as a first-rate power in the class war, weakening the popular base of capitalist rule in the North, has thereby enhanced the importance of the political monopoly held by the Southern Bourbons. Enfranchisement of the Negroes in the South, through the enactment of civil rights legislation, would bring a new force into the political arena on the side of the organized workers, tipping the social scale in its favor, altering all class relationships.

It is not accidental therefore that the issue was “fought out” in the Senate, the legislative body created by the class-conscious authors of the Constitution, in their elaborate system of checks and balances, as the safeguard against such sweeping social changes. Camouflaged in parliamentary doubletalk, the remark of Senator Vandenberg that “the rules of the Senate are as important to equity and order in the Senate as is the Constitution to the life of the Republic” contains the gist of the matter. It is conceivable that the House of Representatives, elected on the basis of population, can be made to reflect the will of the popular majority. Difficult under any conditions, this is impossible in the Senate, chosen with parity representation for all states, so long as the South remains a bastion of reaction. The danger inherent in civil rights legislation lies in the breakup of the political monopoly of the Southern Bourbons which would undermine the special function performed by the Senate.

Only political infants or liberals could have expected that the Democratic Party could lead the battle for such a profound change. The whole issue was distasteful to Truman and his lieutenants. The consequences of an all-out struggle terrified them. True, they had written a radical civil rights plank in their election platform but this was only in extremis to garner the Negio vote and save themselves from what seem’ed an inevitable defeat.

The organization of Congressional committees showed they had no intention of deepening the split with the Dixiecrats, thus shifting the balance of power within the Democratic Party, in favor of the trade union bureaucrats. What they wanted was a compromise which, without changing anything fundamentally, would have the appearance of fulfilling their election promises to the Negro people.

Hence the timid and cowardly character of the “fight” to break the filibuster. No sooner had it begun than Truman packed his bags for a tropical fishing trip entrusting the leadership to Lucas who had no heart for the whole business. It was a setup for the Southerners who could filibuster at their leisure without night sessions or any other inconvenience. A “phoney” fight – sneered Senator Wherry, GOP promoter of the Dixiecrats. And he was right. At the first hint of a “compromise,” Lucas and Co. threw in the sponge. Of course there was no compromise. The Dixiecrat-Republican coalition had won hands down. Instead they forced the Democrats to drink the last bitter dregs of defeat by passing a rule that made cloture more difficult than ever. Thus ended the “great battle” for civil rights. The “unpleasantness” over, Truman returned to his desk to get down to the “important” business before Congress. As was to be expected, the debacle of the Truman Democrats in the cloture quarrel gave rise to a rash of outraged statements by Negro leaders, labor leaders, liberals and social democrats. The Republicans had “betrayed.” Truman had run out on the fight, etc., etc. In reality, the Republicans and Truman remained true to the class they represent, a higher loyalty than all the election promises in the world. Nobody had betrayed but these leaders themselves. One and all, from Walter White to Walter Reuther, placed sole reliance on Truman whose concern with civil rights during and especially after the election was the most transparent hypocrisy.

The Negro leaders, as J. Meyer so graphically depicts elsewhere in this issue, went into raptures over the token recognition shown to a few of the “Talented Tenth” during the inauguration festivities. Despite numberless “betrayals” in the past, they did little to warn the Negro people, let alone to mobilize them in mass struggle to force the capitalist politicians to make good on their election promises. There was plenty of lobbying, to be sure. But the real lobby, the only one respected by Congress besides the lobby of Big Money and Big Business, the millioned might of the people in the factories, the unions and the Northern Negro ghettos, was never summoned to action.

Far more treacherous however was the attitude of the labor bureaucracy. Behind their passivity toward the filibuster issue, even more flagrant than their passivity in the struggle to repeal the Taft-Hartley Law, is an explicit or tacit deal with Truman. The civil rights bills could wait until the rest of the “Fair Deal” legislation was acted upon. These super-slick strategists didn’t want to antagonize the Southerners before the votes were taken on the “important” bills. If a token fight on civil rights had to be made, its only purpose would be to demonstrate to the Negro people how long and difficult and complicated such a struggle would be. This strategy always worked under Roosevelt. Why not now again under Truman? But times have changed. The Negro people are more conscious of their own interests; the Southern Bourbons less dependent on federal subsidies.

The emasculation of the rent control bill in the House by the continuing Republican-Dixiecrat alliance showed that far more than civil rights was involved in the filibuster. Northern Big Business and Southern Bourbons have openly joined forces for mutual advantage under the political leadership of the GOP. Unquestionably, Big Business would like to rid itself of the international embarrassment it suffers from the oppression of the Negroes in this country. But the addition of a new social force in the struggle against a powerful labor movement at home is more persuasive for them than all moral considerations. For the Southern Bourbons, the alliance signifies the only means for the preservation of its political monopoly and privileges. And these are more decisive than all the sentimental traditions of its long association with the Democratic Party.

Nevertheless, it is significant that the Southern Democrats have not broken with the Democratic Party nor have they been expelled by it. Capitalist commentators are quick to point out that alliances have always been fluid and changing within the two-party system. Operating on this basis, the main strategy of the Democratic high command is to mend the fences within the party. They have no desire to explore the untracked wilderness of a liberal capitalist party where the labor movement is not counter-balanced by the Southern Democrats. On the other hand, they see nothing fatal in Southern Democrats crossing party lines at will, so long as the bureaucracy keeps the trade unions loyally chained to the Democratic Party regardless of doublecrosses, disappointments and defeats.

Its defeat on the rules controversy demonstrates that Truman’s popular front, like all popular fronts, weakens and not strengthens the fight against reaction. The Republican Party has temporarily surmounted its crisis through its alliance with the Dixiecrats. With the help of Truman, the Dixiecrats, defeated in the November election, hold the balance of power in the new Congress. The labor movement is left to pick up the remnants of the “Fair Deal” program.

The task of the workers and the Negro people, the creation of a party of their own, postponed and thwarted by their leaders in order to elect Truman, now returns with greater insistence than ever. The impotence and bankruptcy of popular frontism has been adequately demonstrated.

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