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Irving Howe

If Senator Bilbo Goes –

Does the Bilbo System Remain?

(30 December 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 52, 30 December 1946, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The subject for today is Bilbo – Theodore G. Bilbo, United States Senator from the state of Mississippi. Admittedly a most unpleasant subject, but still one it would be well for us to think about.

You have of course read about the current hearings, held first in Mississippi and then in Washington, D.C. We shall not here pile up all the evidence of his role as agent for war contractors, his nepotism, his personal profiteering.

– All this and more we are ready cheerfully to acknowledge. Knowing Bilbo for what he is, we are quite ready to believe almost anything about him.

What System Does Bilbo Represent?

Bilbo is admittedly involved in shady practices. It is possible, though not at all certain, that he may even be removed by the Senate, and in that way the Democratic Party may be spared a particularly embarrassing spokesman. But here we must ask the central question:

If Bilbo Goes, Does Bilboism Remain?

For let us remember that what is most reprehensible about Bilbo is not merely his personal shadiness; not merely his incredible ignorance; not merely his sewer-minded vulgarity; in a word, not merely his personal characteristics. They are disgusting enough, of course, but there is something even more important.

Bilbo represents a pattern of society and a way of life: Bilbo is the Southern antl-Negro and anti-labor politician in his ripest and vilest form. Bilbo is the system of discrimination brought to its filthiest fulfillment. Bilbo is the system of lynching and race hatred and poll taxes and cheap labor and poor schooling and union-busting and Ku Klux Klanism brought to its most revolting, pus-like, vermin-infested, dung-heaped but still classical conclusion.

If you want to see what happens to a society which is filled with hatred for and fear of a people whose skins are another color; if you want to see what happens to a society which makes of such people victims of terror, constant butts of humiliation, and exploited, cheated cheap labor on whose sweat and misery there is constructed the edifice of wealth, superstition and power –

Then look at Bilbo. He is American capitalism in its most revolting self-portrait; he Is the realisation in practice of those beautiful phrases: liberty and justice for all; this nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal; land of the free and home of the brave.

And so we ask again:

If Bilbo goes, does Bilboism remain?

Will not the whole structure of cheap labor, of Negro discrimination, poll taxes, terror, segregation, inured and irrational hatreds and fears continue? Will not the entire pattern remain even if Bilbo is ousted.?

Of course, we favor driving Bilbo from public life. But the way in which the Senate Investigating Committee is approaching the matter is a fraud. They are for his hide on the pretext of his personal cheating. But suppose Bilbo were on honest man, would that make Bilboism any the less hateful.

WE are out to smash Bilboism as a system, as the pattern of capitalism in the South where it Is crudest and in the North where It is just as persistent even if more subtle.

But the Senate Committee, while it may discredit Bilbo the individual, dares not attack Bilboism the system. For then it would have to indict the whole southern delegation, the bulwark of the Democratic Party. It would have to indict

So let us remember: if Bilbo goes, pleasant as that will be, it does not put an end to Bilboism. And so long as Bilboism continues, our struggle is not yet at an end.

Capitalist Parties Buttress Jim Crow

Now one word about the Northern Democratic leaders.

Some of them, who call themselves liberals, have expressed their disgust at Bilbo. Very well. Yet they remain in the same party with him; they attend the same party caucuses that he does; they meet with him and his ilk to nominate Presidential candidates. The Northern capitalist politicians, whatever their personal inclinations and liberal pretensions, are intimately tied up with the Southern Jim Crow machine. The whole structure of American capitalist economy and political life buttresses Jim Crow; and the two major parties, Democratic and Republican alike, are two of its most powerful pillars.


This, then, is what we think you should remember about Bilbo. Take a good look at this specimen of American statesmanship, this contemporary spokesman for what was once Thomas Jefferson’s party. Examine this befouled and debauched version of the Southern gentleman.

And then remember: Not only Bilbo is the enemy; Bilboism itself must be wiped off the earth.



This is the enemy. We socialists say Bilbo is the most terrible representative of a system itself rotten and decayed. Let us summon our hatred of injustice and let us burn this filth of Bilboism off the skin of the land.

And then let us use the plenty and riches of this land to build a new society of peace and equality, of plenty for all, of the brotherhood of all men, where the children of tomorrow will play in the streets and the fields unaware of the deforming hatreds that now poison our lives.

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