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Albert Parker

What’s to Be Done About Civil Rights?

(28 March 1949)

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 13, 28 March 1949, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

What is to be done about the civil rights fight now that the Southern Democrats have succeeded in strengthening their filibuster powers?

The N.Y. Times, a conservative capitalist paper that parades as “liberal” on the civil rights issue, does not have an answer to this question, but it has plenty to say about what should NOT be done. In an editorial on March 16 it warns the Negro people not to get the idea that it will “take a revolution to correct abuses” and to beware “against pulling down the whole structure in order to get at the faulty parts.” The Times wants the Negro people not to go “out of bounds” in the civil rights fight, to be patient – even if it takes another 300 years before they win equality.

Another self-styled “friend of the Negro people,” the New Leader, a paper which speaks for Social Democrats, New Dealers and a part of the labor bureaucracy, on March 19 editorially congratulated the Negro leaders on the “fine statesmanship”,they displayed in not demanding a “fight to the finish on the floor of the Senate.” Why? Because then the rent-control law would have lapsed and everyone, including Negroes, would have suffered as a consequence. “It is too great a sacrifice to pay for such a victory. It will be better to get our social legislation now and deal with bi-partisan reactionaries two years hence.” These are the words that Uncle Tom would have spoken if he had lived long enough, and unlike the New Leader, Uncle Tom never pretended to be a “democratic socialist.”

The NAACP, through its secretary, Walter White, promises the fight for civil rights will go on. “We shall go to the people – the people who expressed their approval of civil rights legislation at the polls last November – and let them know how the majority of the senators, both Democratic and Republican, have defied their mandate. We shall urge them again to remember at the polls how their senators voted on this crucial issue.” That’s fine, but how much good will that do? The NAACP leaders are against the formation of a Labor Party. How will it help to replace Democrats with Republicans, or Republicans with Democrats, when both parties knife civil rights? Doesn’t the Democratic 81st Congress, which replaced the Republican 80th Congress, once again prove the futility of such a course?

The common note in all this advice is.a plea to sit tight for at least another two years. If such advice is followed, the Negro and white workers who want and need civil rights laws will end up in the same blind alley that it led them to this year. That’s why we say: Don’t wait, the time to begin fighting is now, and the way to fight is by militant mass, action!

The trouble with the fight up to now is that there has been too much “fine statesmanship” about it, that is, too much hat-in-hand lobbying and reliance on capitalist politicians like Truman. This method couldn’t work and it didn’t work. Now is the time for the rank-and-file to be heard, now is the time for applying pressure through mass demonstrations and struggle, now is the time to show that our patience is thoroughly exhausted.

Now – not two years from now – the fight can begin in real earnest by the convocation of a United Labor and Negro Congress for Civil Rights, to be held in Washington next door to the Congress, attended not only by the official labor and Negro leaders but also by the representatives of all the labor and Negro organizations pouring into the capital from all parts of the country to express their wrath and their determination to fight without quarter until they obtain the passage of the civil rights bills promised by both capitalist parties.

This is the exact opposite of what the “fine statesmen” advocate, but it is the only thing that capitalist politicians will have respect for and listen to. The Times would call such a move “revolutionary” but it is only by such mass action that the civil rights fight can be won.

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