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Albert Goldman

An Exchange on the Socialist Attitude
to the Bilbo Problem

A Letter from Albert Goldman

(24 February 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 12, 24 March 1947, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

February 24, 1947

Dear Comrades:

Your editorial, The Balance Sheet on Bilbo, in the January 13 issue of Labor Action correctly presents most of the important points involved in the hypocritical fight of the Republicans in the Senate against seating Bilbo. In my opinion, however, it is weak on one point and altogether wrong on another.

The failure to point out more clearly that the Republicans ducked the question of the undemocratic character of Bilbo’s election is the weak point. The Senate committee brought out an unfavorable report only on Bilbo’s dealings with the war contractors. It took no position on the fact that Bilbo’s election was the result of barring Negroes from the polls. More important is the wrong position of the editorial in advocating that Bilbo should have first been seated and then expelled. The Senate rules are such that to keep Bilbo out requires only a majority vote of the Senate, whereas to expel him, after his being seated, would require a two-thirds vote. Under the circumstances, therefore, to advocate that Bilbo first be seated is in effect to help Bilbo keep his seat. For no two-thirds majority could be mustered to expel him.

Bilbo’s Election a Violation of Democracy

It is not our business to do anything or to advocate anything which would practically assure Bilbo a seat in the Senate.

It is not our business to insist on such refined democratic procedure as to help a man like Bilbo get into office. And even if we should pay attention to the Refinements of democratic procedures the fact that Bilbo’s election was a gross violation of elementary democratic procedure far outweighs the questionable violation of democracy in refusing Bilbo a seat before expelling him.

The two arguments which you present in favor of your position do not appear to me to be very weighty. You want Bilbo to be given the right to be present in the Senate to have the opportunity to present his defense. He had all the opportunity in the world to present his defense to the press before getting into the Senate. His friends in the Senate would have ably defended him.

Other Considerations Overweigh Arguments

Second, you are afraid that refusing Bilbo the right to have his seat would set a precedent for barring radicals or socialists in the future. The editorial should of course warn the workers of that possible danger, but it can easily be pointed out that a socialist or radical will be barred for totally different reasons.

Even if your two arguments have some validity, they are outweighed by far by the fact that we should do everything in our power to keep Bilbo from getting a seat in the Senate.


Albert Goldman

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