Garrett Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Emanuel Garrett

Jim Crow Georgia Offers a Lesson in “Democracy”

(27 January 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 4, 27 January 1947, pp. 3 & 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

WITH the approval of a slim majority in the state legislature, Herman Talmadge, darling of Georgia’s degenerate hoodlum gangs, has installed himself as governor in the state to succeed his father, Eugene Talmadge, who died before he could take the oath of office. Ex-Governor Arnall for several days insisted he would hold on to his position until the courts decide in favor of M.E. Thompson, elected with the late Eugene Talmadge as Lieutenant Governor. He has, however, stepped down, and M.E. Thompson has taken the oath of office as Acting-Governor.

Both sides are issuing warrants, making appointments. Thompson has instructed the Attorney General to bar Herman from making use of state funds. At this writing it is not known whether the Attorney General, a Thompson man, will do so, or whether it will matter if he does. Herman has behind him an armed band of followers who are making merry in the corridors of the Capitol, and are prepared to do all that is necessary to maintain Herman’s power.

Various agencies of the federal government are reflecting on their right to intervene. In the more than a week that has passed, however, no branch of the federal government has made a move. What is the meaning of all this? Whom do these people represent? How did it happen? What should be dope about it?

Rotten Borough and Jim Crow Voting

1,000,000 votes were cast in Georgia’s state primary last July. The million votes do not represent all those who wanted to vote; only those who were permitted to vote. These did not include Negroes! A man called Carmichael polled the largest popular vote, but, under the state unit system, Klan candidate Eugene Talmadge won the nomination.

In Georgia, as in so many other states, the Democratic primary is the real election. The other election, the “real” election, is a technicality suffered as a Constitutional nuisance. That’s been the system for years, accepted alike by Talmadge and such of his enemies as liberal (Southern style) ex-Governor Arnall. The primary system is furthermore rigged as an additional safe-guard against any accidental democratic expression of opinion by those permitted to vote under Jim Crow rules. By virtue of a rotten borough primary system, Carmichael, Arnall’s candidate, lost the nomination (election) despite his popular plurality.

Thus, we find it strange that Georgia has today only two governors. According to the logic of Georgia’s Jim Crow, Klan-ridden electoral system, Carmichael could plausibly set up headquarters in an alleyway of the State Capitol. However, we have seen nothing in the press reports about Carmichael claiming the governorship, and so we assume that he is backing M.E. Thompson. Thompson, having been chosen Lieutenant Governor in the elections, claims succession to the governorship according to the generally practiced and accepted legality of the United States.

Acting Governor Thompson is somewhat at a disadvantage. The State Capitol itself has been usurped by Herman Talmadge, Eugene’s son, who has taken possession of the governorship by virtue of having claimed it with armed force, according to the right of divine inheritance and the wishes of the Ku Klux Klan, and by virtue of having polled 697 write-in votes in the elections. (We are tempted to ask if these were not cast in anticipation of Eugene’s death, because we have seen no other reasonable explanation for the 697 write-ins for this chip off the old man’s storm-trooper block.) And it is a fact that the write-in votes did make him runner-up to the late Talmadge. That says nothing at all about Herman’s right to succeed his father. It does, however, speak volumes for the electoral system in Georgia, and the South.

An Instructive Lesson in Politics

We have, then, a situation in Georgia which can be viewed as strange only by overlooking the entire social and electoral structure in the South. Two factions of the Democratic Party are struggling for power: one, the Talmadge faction, openly flaunting its arms and seizing the governorship by an act of violence; the other, the Thompson-Arnall faction, threatening the use of the militia, but concentrating on court action.

While in the first few days it seemed to some as though there might actually be an armed struggle, it is most unlikely. When Arnall left the Capitol unguarded, before he made way for Thompson, we are quite sure that he expected Herman to do exactly what he did do – take possession. No other explanation makes sense. An armed contest would unleash forces neither side could control. There are, for example, over a million Negroes who might choose such a moment to vent their hatred against the entire system which has degraded and oppressed them. That is why we suspect the Northern capitalist press, which at first reacted with anguished horror, is now tempering its indignation, sort of growing accustomed to the idea, quite willing to let the case drag through the courts for an indefinite period of time.

However, the very situation which threatens violence, and which has already seen the occupation of the Capitol by an armed force, is a matter for serious thought. We have here a microscopic struggle for power, not between classes but between factions of one class. The capitalist prosecutors comb the books and periodicals of the working class movement to find quotations which justify the defense of a workers’ government, the expression of popular will, against the attack of capitalist reaction. Suppose, just suppose, a workers party, with a mandate from the people to operate the government of Georgia which Talmadge does NOT have, had found it necessary to occupy the state Capitol by use of its defense guards. In such a hypothetical situation, how long would the federal government have deliberated before sending in its troops? How legalistic would the capitalist press be? How many years would they wait to hear the case argued in the courts? Yes, it is a tantalizing thought.

Georgia Democracy and Klan’s Support

There is much else to consider in this Georgia situation. Not the least incredible feature of this situation is that M.E. Thompson represents in some small way democracy, against the whip-lash and terror of the Klan and the powerful interests which support it. In Georgia, Thompson can be a democrat. Like the man who opposed Eugene Talmadge in the primary, Carmichael, M.E. Thompson insists he is as loyal to the viciousness of “white supremacy” as the Talmadges, father and son.

Thompson was chosen as nominee for Lieutenanf Governor in a Jim Crow primary. If he had any violent disputes with Talmadge on principles, it has not been revealed. Why then the fuss? The Klan, and the powerful interests behind them, prefer one of their own kind, someone who takes naturally to the rope and faggot, someone who, even if he doesn’t object too strenuously to lynch law, won’t be too queazy in applying it.

That is how it happens that Thompson represents some small vestige of democracy in Georgia. For if any one has the right to claim the governorship, pending the only real solution of a new election, it is he.

Before we return to the mater of a new election, let us examine the people behind Herman Talmadge. The Klan’s connection is well established. The papers have referred openly to the Georgia Power and Light Company. But why have they been so reticent in naming the soft-drink corporation that has contributed heavily to the Talmadge campaign? Why the indirect references to a “coke corporation,” a “nationally famous softdrink,” etc.?

We are not saying, but we are asking: do they mean Coca-Cola? Why not name names? Maybe a few million people would like to do something about the “soft-drink” company that backs Klan terror!

New Election Is Democratic Solution

According to the rule in all states which have lieutenant governors, the lieutenant governor succeeds to the governor’s post in the event the governor dies. That Talmadge died before taking the oath of office is a legal wrinkle best argued by the Constitutional experts. As matters stand, Thompson is apparently right in claiming the governorship. But we think that the people of Georgia should have the opportunity to choose a governor democratically. A new election, a free election, is the only real solution.

We note that Thompson is not pressing for such an election, preferring an appeal to the courts for the present. Talmadge is obviously opposed to an election. All the more reason, then, for the people of the state, encouraged and assisted by every opponent of intolerance and racial discrimination in the other forty-seven states, to press for such an election. That is admittedly no small matter. For it to be a real election, it must also be an election in which Negroes can vote. That will take a bit of doing, but in the process of that doing the situation in Georgia, in which the Klan is today riding high, can be turned to the advantage of the people.

In this, the labor movement has special opportunities. We read with anger the report that an AFL official Voted for Talmadge. That man has no business in the labor movement, and certainly no right to be a labor official. And we hope that the AFL unions will make their protest clear. The AFL and CIO Operations Dixie are in Georgia. They cannot help but be involved in this struggle for power in Georgia. By entering into it vigorously they can mobilize in common action the mass of Negro and white workers. We would like to see the unions in Georgia banding together for a political campaign, demanding a new election, and declaring their readiness to put their own candidate, a candidate that will really fight Jim Crow, in the field.

Defense Guards Are an Urgent Need

There is a man fiddling in Talmadge headquarters who acquired considerable fame some thirty years ago fiddling over the body of a lynch victim. His fiddling engagements will increase if Talmadge goes unchallenged, if his Klansmen and guardsmen are not met with the organized opposition of the Georgia people, Negro and white. Talmadge’s hooded cohorts will ride against labor organizers as readily as against Negroes, Jews and Catholics.

While the contest runs its course in the courts, and the issue of a new election is debated, the situation calls for the mobilization of the Negro people and the unions to prepare their defense against the Talmadge forces. It is idiotic to rely on the federal government. It has not intervened so far; its experts are debating precedent: does the Arkansas precedent under Ulysses S. Grant apply, or does it not? The federal government acts quickly only when strikers are involved – and then not on behalf of strikers, but on behalf of just such institutions as the Georgia Power and Light Company, and the unnamed “soft-drink” corporation.

Thus, we think if necessary that the unions and the Negro people organize their own defense guards. It is simply a matter of self-protection. It Is simply a matter of demonstrating that Georgia’s people, black and white, will not let themselves be terrorized by hoodlum bands. It is simply a matter of saying that we have no taste for a certain kind of fiddling.

Top of page

Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 25 November 2020