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Jack Ranger

“Honeymouth Ellis” Arnall,
Liberal Dixie Demagogue

(3 March 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 9, 3 March 1947, pp. 3–6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

TODAY even the radio comedians know that in the state of Georgia there are two governors, that each pretender has no difficulty in obtaining legal sanctions for his pretensions from “his own” judges, and that, a few months after former Governor Ellis Arnall was defeated in the recent election by the late Gene Talmadge, the politics of that benighted state are at the usual wool hat Jim Crow level to which the world has become accustomed since about 1870.

All of Arnall’s widely heralded reforms were of such a superficial character that they could not endure his ouster from office. Nevertheless, many good people still look upon Arnall as some sort of hero, a progressive, a politician who represented, or gave promise of some day representing, the interests of the people. Nothing could be further from the truth.

One need not be concerned that Arnall fools the liberals. That is the fate of the liberal, to be fooled anew by each charlatan who comes down the road chanting liberal talk. One is concerned that Arnall has managed to fool some workers and even some Negroes, or more specifically, Negro leaders like Walter White. A brief recital of Arnall’s life and career will help to set the record straight.

His Family Background – Born Into Merchant Family

Ellis Arnall was born in 1907, into a wealthy family of mill owners and merchants. The Arnalls have been big shots in the South since the Civil War. The grandfather was a merchant and mill owner, and a member of the Alabama legislature. Young Ellis himself worked in the Alabama House as a page boy during legislative sessions. Arnall’s father owns the Krazy Kat Super Stores in Newman and nearby Georgia towns.

Ellis had a good education, for a member of the Southern upper bourgeoisie. A Baptist, he began his college career at Mercer, a denominational college in Georgia. Later, he switched to a school with more, academic pretensions, the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee. He took his legal training at the University of Georgia, receiving an LL.B. degree in 1931. Arnall was an outstanding success in school. There are two stories told about his early political ambitions, one story having him, at the age of 12, announce his ambition to become a governor. The story is probably true.

Two years after he finished his law course, Arnall entered politics as a candidate for the Georgia House of Representatives. Twenty-six years old at the time, he won handily over five opponents. Talmadge, who knew a slicker when he saw one, called Arnall , in, discussed with him, and made Arnall floor leader of the Talmadge forces.

He served in the state legislature from 1933 to 1937. The aspiring capitalist class of Georgia had no difficulty in recognizing him as one of its own. The Georgia Junior Chamber of Commerce handed him its distinguished service award.

Arnall’s actions soon made it evident that he was not just a Talmadge man, but that he had vast ambitions of his own. In 1937 Governor Ed Rivers, a rival demagogue to Talmadge, sought to tie Arnall to the Rivers machine by appointing the young man as assistant attorney general. Two years later, Rivers made Arnall. the attorney general, it being Rivers’ hope that Arnall could succeed in blocking any anti-Rivers laws which Talmadge, his successor, might pass. As attorney general, Arnall knew how to keep in the public eye. He distinguished himself chiefly by prosecuting a few petty asphalt contractors.

Arnall Runs Against Gene Talmadge For Governor

With the next gubernatorial election scheduled for 1943, Arnall in 1942 announced his candidacy. He conferred with President Roosevelt, who supported him, as did other liberal politicians in and out of the state.

Arnall’s opponent, Talmadge, ran on the usual program, an epitome of Southern bourgeois culture – white supremacy, state’s rights, and old-time religion. Arnall’s program consisted of vague promises floating around the general slogan: “Reforms vs. Dictatorship.”

Political observers in Georgia say that Talmadge would have been reelected in 1943, except for a grave mistake. During the campaign he fired two educators at the University of Georgia for “favorin’ mixin’ the races.” As a result, ten Georgia schools were suspended from their national accredited status, a serious matter for the Southern bourgeoisie whose children were being educated in the state. Undergraduates from the university marched from Athens to the state capitol, bearing an effigy of Talmadge. The school vote swung to Arnall, and he beat Talmadge in the primaries, 162,889 to 117,731.

Arnall As Politician: A Skillful Campaigner

To understand some of Arnall’s later moves, it is very important for the reader to recall that in Georgia the primary IS the election. The South is a one-party dictatorship.

Arnall is a good campaigner. Early in his career he adopted the habit of dropping people folksy notes, “a custom found useful by Jim Farley,” as one columnist noted. Arnall subscribed to all 238 small county newspapers in Georgia. Just before the primary, he, wrote people, congratulating them on the birth of a. son, a promotion to a new job, the purchase of a manure spreader.

He is a master of Southern campaign oratory. Reporters who followed his progress call him “Honeymouth.”

He has been compared to other Southern liberals, New Deal style, like Claude Pepper of Florida and Lester Hill of Alabama, who have their difficulties “when confronted with FEPC bills and other things that touch on white supremacy.”

“It would be a useful thing if every one of our large-hearted liberals put up on the walls of their house in a golden frame the wise police texts: ‘Pacify the liberals with a promise that the first-step will not be the last.’ ‘Offer them superficialities and hopes for the future.’” – Lenin

According to reporter John Chamberlain, “Arnall’s lack of special-interest identification enabled the school crowd, the women, the young and the growing host of Talmadge’s enemies to line up behind him without fear that they are being used.” Arnall was inaugurated in January 1943. A clever politician, psychologist and ballyhoo-artist, Arnall made an immediate stir in Georgia which drew the eyes of the nation’s liberals to him. In his first 24 days as governor, he piloted ten bills through the state legislature, embodying his campaign promises. He called it “revolution,” but the bills were of a sufficiently innocuous character so that even Talmadge’s supporters could back them. Indeed, the measures were all passed unanimously. An enthusiastic biographer, writing in Current Biography for August 1945 said that “Arnall succeeded in removing every dictatorial statute of the Talmadge period, without dissent in the legislature.”

Actually, the Arnall reforms were piddling fool-bait. For instance, one law called for the creation of a “non-political” board of regents for Georgia’s University – (as though any such organization under capitalism could be “non-political”). Another law proposed to abolish the pardon racket by establishing a three-man clemency commission (as though three bureaucrats could not be corrupted). A third law proposed to eliminate the use of chains and shackles in Georgia’s prisons.

A fourth law, his move to lower the voting age to 18, had a clear personal motive. Georgia’s, youth had shown themselves opposed to Talmadge. Arnall returned their support by lowering the voting age.

The move that really warmed the cockles of the liberal heart, however, was an Arnall Special, passed in 1945. This law repealed the poll tax. A poll tax is a tax which citizen’s must pay before they are eligible to vote in the general election.

The big joker in ArnaIl’s law was that it did not apply to the primary – which, as we have seen, is the REAL election in Georgia and other Southern states. But even had the law applied to the primary, it would still be meaningless, unless the oppressed black and white workers were so organized as to assure that the law would be respected in practice.

Arnall’s Attitude to the Labor Movement

Arnall never made any attempt to encourage Georgia’s working class, to urge union organization, to break down the barriers against the Negro, to change Georgia’s county unit System of voting, which gives rural counties a legislative weight out of all proportion to their population and works against the city workers.

No. Arnall based himself upon an entirely different class, the capitalists. To attract business to Georgia, he relaxed the laws regulating corporations, and pointed out the resources offered by the state to manufacturers.

His widely-heralded effort to gain lower freight rates in the South has come to naught. Following the I.C.C.’s Class Rate Decision, the railroads and the northern states immediately tied the case up in the courts, where smart transportation men say it will remain for years.

But back to Arnall’s meaningless repeal of the poll tax. This move was greeted with the most rapturous phrases by the liberals. Said a writer in the New Republic: “Arnall has done more to extend the franchise than any other American since women were given the vote.” Another liberal wrote:

“He has succeeded in lifting his state from the benightedness of Tobacco Road to a position of runner-up to North Carolina for the title of ‘most progressive southern state.’ His, reforms read like an agenda for half a century of liberal crusading, but they are all on the books in operation.”

The New York Herald Tribune congratulated him and urged similar action in the seven other poll tax states.

Such a lot of praise for a little man whose chief asset has been a great talent for representing the interests of the bourgeoisie in such a way as to “send” the liberals.

Arnall’s True Portrait: The Jim Crow Artist

Actually, Arnall is just a cracker with a coat of varnish.

When the U.S. Supreme Court in April 1944 nullified the “white primary” in Texas, Arnall disavowed the high court’s ruling giving the Negro the right to participate in the primaries. Said Arnall, “the court’s decision is a blow to liberalism.”

As the sketch in Current Biography makes clear, ‘’Arnall upholds the traditional Southern system of segregation.”

Says Arnall:

“Segregation is conducive to the welfare of both the white and colored races. We of the South do not believe in social equality with the Negro. The important thing for the Negro is not social equality but economic equality, the right to work and earn a decent living.”

Arnall is going to help him get this right, by striving to keep him a social pariah.

Arnall has sternly opposed the government’s gesture to guarantee such economic equality through an FEPC, a law for fair employment practices and against barring a person from a job because of his race, creed or color. Arnall rejected the mild FEPC as “unworkable,” and as “an irritant to harmonious race relations.”

As John Chamberlain observed in Life Magazine:

“Somehow Arnall manages to run with the possum and hunt with the hounds in balancing a concern for New Deal rights with the white primary and segregation of the races. Arnall’s concern with the common man is more of the head than of the heart and he is a. little contemptuous of people like Pepper and Wallace who ‘get themselves tagged.’ Arnall combines old things in a curious mixture that makes him SEEM new. Every facet of his political character is in an ancient southern tradition.”

Arnall is only a New Dealer with a southern accent. New Dealism, which is already dying in our generation, was that new style of hypocrisy in fhe long capitalist depression which the recent war interrupted. To make meaningless concessions to the workers, to keep the machinery of oppression intact, to encourage divisions among the oppressed, to talk liberal and act reactionary, to occasionally bait the rich publicly while acting in their interests at all times – that was the New Deal.

As I write this, word comes that Governor Herman Talmadge, one of Georgia’s governors, has signed a new white primary law which makes the Democratic Party in effect a private club whose acts are not subject to review by federal courts. By this means, the primary law sought to get around the Supreme Court ruling that Negroes are entitled to vote in all primaries.

Also comes word that President Truman has just offered Arnall the job as chief of the Justice Department’s anti-trust division, the position which Wendell Burge vacated a few days ago.

Though Arnall supported Henry Wallace at the 1944 Democratic National Convention, Truman and Arnall have no difficulty in reaching an understanding. Earlier, Truman had offered the ex-governor the solicitor generalship. But Arnall has high ambitions and wants a job more fitting to his talents.

Says Mrs. Arnall: “Politics is sham and hypocrisy,” to which her politically successful husband murmurs, “She’s absolutely right.”

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