Marxists’ Internet Archive: ETOL Home Page: Trotskyist Writers Section: Farrel Dobbs

Farrell Dobbs

Truman Administration Bears
Responsibiilty fot Filibuster

White House Seeks a Deal
with Party’s Southern Wing

(7 March 1949)

Source: The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 10, 7 March 1949, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcription & Mark-up: Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Behind the sound and fury of speeches and cloakroom deals in the Senate filibuster stand these basic facts.

  1. The Negro struggle for social, economic and political equality has grown so strong, militant and effective that politicians seeking Negro votes are compelled to promise some kind of action on civil rights.
  2. The Truman Democrats, who promised such action, have deliberately strengthened the Southern Democrats and allowed them to open their filibuster unhindered, all the while seeking a compromise on civil rights legislation.
  3. No compromise law acceptable to the Southern Democrats will be worth the paper it is written on to the Negro people.
  4. The Truman Democrats can smash the filibuster and pass effective civil rights laws if they want to.

Liberal Democrats, backed by Northern Democratic big-city machines hungry for the Negro vote, forced into the 1948 election platform a plank offeringglittering promises to the Negro people. The Dixiecrat wing bolted the Democratic convention, and ran their own “white supremacy” candidate against Truman.

Truman was no sooner elected than he smoked the pipe of peace with the Negro-hating Dixiecrats. Along with the other Southern Democrats, they were given a virtual monopoly over key posts in Congress and generously showered with patronage handouts for their flunkies.

The Southern Democrats, however, raised a hue and cry against federal legislation on civil rights. The Ku Klux Klan intensified its terror campaign against the Negroes.

Talmadge rushed fascist-like anti-Negro laws through the Georgia legislature. And Senator Russell of Georgia insolently put in the Senate hopper a bill calling for deportation of Negroes from the South.

Feeders for a Deal

Meanwhile Southern Congressmen put out feelers for negotiations with the Trumanites on the civil rights issue. Hays of Arkansas suggested the poll tax fight be decided by a constitutional amendment requiring ratification by three-fourths of the states. He said he might accept federal intervention against lynchings only where a state “willfully” fails to prosecute lynchers.

Hays thought an FEPC might be agreed to if it had no legal power to prevent discrimination. But he would stand for no antisegregation law whatever.

It is an open secret that the Truman administration made overtures through Sam Rayburn, the poll-tax Speaker of the House, for a civil rights deal with the Southern Democrats thus encouraging them to fight for a better bargain.

Off-the-record talks in the House centered around possible scuttling of all civil rights promises except a mild anti-lynch law.

Congress has been in session for two months and the administration has not yet introduced a civil rights legislative program. Bills submitted by individual Congressmen are gathering dust in some musty file.

Senator Lucas, Democratic majority leader, tried to shunt aside the civil rights question and the impending filibuster fight in favor of bills dealing with tenth-rate matters. But negotiations with the Southern wing were moving too slowly and too many Truman Democrats were getting heat from home for him to get away with it. The fight could no longer be kept off the Senate floor.

On the eve of the filibuster, Truman made a public speech attacking opponents of his program without once mentioning the vicious campaign by members of his own party to block civil rights legislation.

The filibuster centers at present around a motion of the Senate Rules Committee to permit closing of debate at any time by a two-thirds vote. Vice-president Barkley presiding, can rule the Southern Democrats out of order on this particular point and be sustained by a simple majority vote. But he has permitted the filibuster free rein while behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Southern Democrats continue.

Adminstration Line

Even if the Rules Committee motion is adopted, the 22 Southern Democrats would need the votes of only 11 Republicans or Northern Democrats to prevent the halting of their filibuster by a two-thirds vote. The Committee motion, which represents administration policy, is utterly inadequate and undemocratic to boot.

Under majority rule, which is an elementary principle of democracy, 49 senators could block a filibuster. While a handful of filibusters can frustrate the will of 63 senators under the two-thirds rule.

The Truman Democrats want a compromise with the Southerners, not a showdown struggle in support of the Negro people. That civil rights program and their accounts for their stalling on the half-hearted opposition to the filibuster.

No good can come to the Negro people from such a policy. For any compromise agreed to by the Southern Democrats will remain strictly within the framework of their brutal Jim-Crow system.

What Needs to Be Done

Negroes will have full social, economic and political equality only when the full power of the nation is mobilized to stamp out “white supremacy” root and branch.

For that battle it is necessary to tie up all business in the Senate and hold round-the-clock sessions in dramatic opposition to the filibuster. Fight for the principle of majority rule on the Senate floor.

Go to the people of the country, especially the South, where mass opposition to the ruling oligarchy is growing, and call on them to put pressure on the Congress for action. Call for a mass march on Washington.

But the Truman Democrats are not fighting to strip the Southern Democrats of their power to oppress, terrorize and murder the Negro people. Instead, they have tried to woo the “white supremacy” party into a face-saving compromise on civil rights by helping to strengthen their political power in the South and in the Congress.

When the chips are down, the Truman Democrats, like all other capitalist politicians, prove that their promises to bring benefits to minority peoples and to the working class are vote-catching promises not intended for genuine action.

It is therefore necessary to find another medium to carry on the political struggle for civil rights. That need dictates the organization of an independent mass party based on an alliance of the Negro people and the whole working class.

F. Dobbs Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 9 March 2024