Federal Troops to the South? (Was: Re: DSP on Palestine)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Thu Nov 23 11:23:33 MST 2000

Lou Paulsen:
>In the second scenario, we are strong enough to actually have some effect on
>whether the federal government sends in troops or not.  But in that case, if
>we are THAT strong, if we have that much power, shouldn't we be pursuing
>independent strategies, like organizing workers' defense guards?  I don't
>see a way around this point: if the SWP had been strong enough to force
>Eisenhower to send in troops, then it would have to have been strong enough
>to send in defense squads of its own.

This is pure fantasy. In 1957 the SWP was a tiny group of aging Marxists
that had been hounded of the trade unions. The civil rights movement raised
the demand for federal protection just as Reconstructionists had in the
1870s and 1880s.

Lou Paulsen's post is awash in abstractions. The only way to deal with the
issue is to look at the history of the civil rights movement and not
project Marxist schemas on a period that defied them more than any in
American history. When the civil rights movement emerged, it was at a time
when the Marxist left was more isolated and impotent than at any time in
the 20th century.

If you turn to any reliable history of the period, such as Taylor Branch's
"Parting the Waters", you come away with a much better understanding of the
issues. On September 7 1957 Arkansas governor Orbal Faubus ordered the
National Guard to PREVENT nine Black schoolchildren from enrolling in
previously segregated Central High School. This was part of the ineffective
move to comply with the Brown decision 3 years earlier, which was being
blocked through the south by a combination of legal maneuvers and illegal

On the morning when school opened, a mob of white racists gathered outside
to back up the National Guard troops who were TURNING BACK the students
under official instructions from the governor's office. In other words, the
state of Arkansas was VIOLATING federal law. So what do socialists advocate
in these circumstances? Organize a "workers defense guard" from the ranks
of aging Marxists in New York City to take on the Arkansas National Guard?

By interposing state troops against the federal government, Faubus had
provoked the biggest political crisis around the race question since the
Civil War. Martin Luther King Jr. and Roy Wilkins sent telegrams to the
White House to intervene. So should the socialist press have taken no
position on this?

Finally a federal court handed Faubus a contempt citation. He was to direct
his troops to defend the students rather than the mob. Instead Faubus
withdrew the guard and left the young students to fend for themselves. On
midmorning Sept. 23rd white mobs had broken the school's windows and doors
and beaten up two Black reporters.

Finally Eisenhower had decided he had enough, just as Clinton and Janet
Reno had gotten tired of the gusano mobs protecting the kidnappers, and
sent in the army. Socialists in 1957 would have welcomed this move, just as
we support the INS taking back Elian Gonzalez and returning him to his
father. We are opposed to rightwing criminals being above the law and do
not let Marxist jargon or schemas get in the way of understanding the need
for decisive police or military action when appropriate.

Of course, in a prerevolutionary situation the armed  workers might take on
both the National Guard and the army as the class struggle dictates. But
wake up: the USA in 1957 was not in that kind of situation.

Louis Proyect
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