I was asked by various people to post this when I'd finished a draft. This is hardly a completed version, and the same caveats apply as before. But it might be interesting for those who follow this subject.
In this article, I explain the role, situation and development of Southern state formations in relation to the Cold War and the crisis of Jim Crow, through the classical period of anticommunism. Here, following a lead offered by (Therborn, 1983), I use the term ‘state formations’ in a very specific way, referring to a constant, open-ended process of formation, de-formation, and re-formation, with no fixed terminus. This conception allows us to see the state in motion, through a series of strategic moments, not just of de-formation and re-formation, but also crucially of thwarted de-formation and re-formation. The state is thus no static object, but a strategic factor in the construction of hegemonic class rule, operating in and organising its spatio-temporal matrix.
Beginning with the spatial dimension, I open by advancing some general theses on the position of Southern states as authoritarian regional ‘sovereignties’ within a capitalist democracy, and their role in organising Jim Crow as an internal frontier. I then proceed to the temporal aspect, outlining a periodization which combines the process of de-formation and re-formation that I adverted to above with the syncopated rhythms of civil rights struggle on various planes and state responses, the flux of political representation, the interplay of institutions and the emergence and breakdown of a ‘line’ that favoured the preservation and gradual reform of Jim Crow. Each step in the periodization will raise problems deriving from the analyses which now follow.
The Specific Materiality of ‘States Rights’
Out of the vast range of human social capacities - possible ways in which social life could be lived - state activities more or less forcibly ‘encourage’ some whilst suppressing, marginalizing, eroding, undermining others. Schooling for instance comes to stand for education, policing for order, voting for political participation. Fundamental social classifications, like age and gender, are enshrined in law, embedded in institutions, routinized in administrative procedures and symbolized in rituals of state. Certain forms of activity are given the official seal of approval, others are situated beyond the pale. This has cumulative, and enormous, cultural consequences; consequences for how people identify (in many cases, have to identify) themselves and their 'place' in the world. … We call this moral regulation: a project of normalizing, rendering natural, taken for granted, in a word 'obvious', what are in fact ontological and epistemological premises of a particular and historical form of social order. ... Centrally, state agencies attempt to give unitary and unifying expression to what are in reality multifaceted and differential historical experiences of groups within society, denying their particularity. (Corrigan & Sayer, 1985, p. 4)
"My fellow citizens, we are now an occupied territory. In the name of God, whom we all revere, in the name of liberty we hold so dear, in the name of decency, which we all cherish, what is happening in America?” Governor Orval Faubus’s lament, in response to the deployment of 101st Airborne in May 1957, to enforce school de-segregation in Little Rock, Arkansas, signalled his political reinvention. From being a ‘moderate’, baited by opponents in the Democratic right as a ‘leftist’ and even a ‘communist’, typical of a takeover of the Democratic Party by the “pinks” and “subversives” as Strom Thurmond put it, he became a southern nationalist and McCarthyite.
This volte face was conducted under sustained pressure from other Southern leaders such as the stalwart anticommunist, segregationist and millionaire plantation owner, Senator James Eastland of Mississippi, and Governor Marvin Griffin of Georgia, who demanded Southern unity in the face of what they decried as a march of power to Washington. Segregationists had long argued that an assault on ‘states’ rights’ was being supported by communists anxious to usurp the resulting power of the centralized state. Senator Eastland’s charge against Faubus, not substantially untrue, was that he was a ‘border state’ governor who compromised with the Washington elites. By contrast, he boasted that he used his power in Washington, particularly on the civil rights subcommittee, to subvert the law: “Yes … [I] became the boss of the committee that had all the civil-rights bills. And ever since then, the CIO and these organizations have been yapping and yapping that I was arrogant and high-hatted with them, and so I was; and they said I broke the law, and so I did.”
As importantly, Eastland used his position as chair of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS), and later the Senate Judiciary Committee of which SISS formed a powerful subcommittee, to investigate individuals and organizations involved in attempting to de-segregate education for communist affiliation. The goal was to persuade Congress to defend states’ rights and to furnish the South with the repressive power to crush the civil rights movement. Faubus availed himself of the fruits of these investigations when he alleged that Lee and Grace Lorch, opponents of segregation who had been involved in supporting the Little Rock Nine, were communists. (Woods, 2004, pp. 72-3; Clark, 1976; Brown, 2002; Onufriu, 2007; Sieroty, 1956)
Faubus’s appeal to the discourse of states’ rights implied a particular conception of state power and its organization. For, while the statement invoked the memory of Union troops stationed in the South during Reconstruction, implying that the Federal government was at war with Southern states, we can surmise that Faubus was sincere when he later said that he “had no intention of challenging the federal union”. This is because the liberal-constitutionalist image of “federal union”, central to ‘states rights’, was of a decentralized, competitive pooling of sovereignties under a covenant. According to this juridical conceit, the states of the Union retained all sovereign powers which had not been delegated to the central state – an important aspect of the legal resistance to Brown vs. the Board of Education (Lewis, 2004, pp. 33-4)
So, to approach the role of Southern states in conserving Jim Crow, and particularly the position of anticommunist practices within this, we must first account for the particular political regime in the United States, through which the southern states had been able to develop as sites of power and resistance: the federal constitutional republic. It has been argued that a territory as vast and differentiated as that covered by the United States called for some form of federal regime. (Wood, 2004, p. 127) Yet, the administrative division of large and differentiated territories varies enormously, while federal structures are present in relatively small national states. The interpretation that treats federalism as a function of scale and differentiation is related to the liberal-constitutional (i.e. juridical) image of the central state being the sum of pooled sovereignties deriving from local formations.
I will reject this image. The state, as such, is an illusion, a “mythicized abstraction” attributing an artificial unity to an ensemble of institutions and techniques. (Corrigan & Sayer, 1985, p. 7; Foucault, 1994, p. 220) By this is meant that there is a “misplaced concreteness” (Alonso, 1994) implied by the definite article, ‘the state’, in which the state could be mistakenly comprehended as an organism, object or instrument. This reification of the state has etymological origins in the English Revolution, wherein the term ‘state’ developed as a negative, critical term in contrast with the ‘society’ of free individuals. (Williams, 1983, pp. 292-3) This state-society dichotomy is reinforced by the juridical conception of the state as a sovereign legal entity, which lends ‘the state’ its concreteness, its definite boundaries, its institutional determinacy. For in this perspective, the state is seen to be reducible to its ‘public’ core, such as a deliberative chamber, police, courts and the armed forces.
However, this is a mystification. The state covers much more than its public core; its presence is felt in a wide array of relations and institutions, some of which are formally ‘private’; its ‘strategic field’ organizes ‘sites of power’, some of which are apparently autonomous from politics. (Poulantzas, 2000, pp. 36-7) The fact that this mystification is also that to which defenders of Jim Crow habitually turned in the defence of white supremacy, makes the analytical imperative to see beyond it all the more urgent.
The materiality of ‘states rights’ must reside somewhere other than in the ‘sovereignty’ of local states, and I will argue that it rests in the specific relation of Southern states to the national state. Poulantzas, drawing from Althusser’s famous essay on the ‘ideological-state apparatuses’, argued that the state consists of a set of material practices and institutions in which are condensed the class relations prevalent throughout the social formation in which it emerges. This takes a number of forms. First of all, the state is situated within a social division of labour characterised by a fundamental cleavage between intellectual (executive) labour and manual (menial) labour, as ‘intellectual labour’ incarnate. That is, while capital monopolizes knowledge in the organization of production processes, the state monopolizes political and administrative knowledge concerning the organization of society as a whole.
Secondly, the state’s material frame of reference reproduces the spatio-temporal order of capitalist society within itself, producing at a politico-legal level the ‘effect of isolation’ that competition between dependent producers enacts in productive relations, in a sense that is “terrifyingly real”. At the same time, it incorporates isolated subjects into a corporate body, a people/nation. (Poulantzas, 1978) Thirdly, as a form of legal organization, it embodies axioms for what Corrigan and Sayer call the “moral regulation” of social life, its axioms materialized in the state’s simultaneous monopolization of public violence. It thus produces the “ontological and epistemological premises” of the social order in which it has arisen.
Finally, as a territorial body it organises the space in a quite different pattern to that of the feudal state, in which the labourer is fixed to the land and the unity of the terrain is secured through the sovereign as the incarnation of the deity. In the capitalist state, the labourer is freed from the land, but is instantly enmeshed in a grid of spaces, sites of production and reproduction. The territory is thus divided into a matrix of serial, imperfectly ‘homogenous’ temporal spaces produced by the division of labour into abstract, equivalent units of labour-time. This matrix is continually marked by new closures and segmentations, fresh re-territorialisation, and is limited by a moveable frontier demarcating insides and outsides. The capitalist state is also capable of internalising those frontiers, creating spaces within itself for the management of the non- or anti-national – concentration camps within Europe being the supreme incarnation of this logic. (Bretthauer, 2011; Poulantzas, 2000; Corrigan & Sayer, 1985)
These practices organize every aspect of social life, from production and exchange, to education, family and sociality, ensuring the simple reproduction and extended reproduction of capitalist productive relations. What is specific to these practices, however, is the way in which they carry out this organization as a form of “moral regulation”, that is, as the symbolic organization of social life and the production of forms of subjectivity and affect presupposed by the capitalist mode of production. These practices, in sum, are nothing other than “politically organized subjection”, embodied in institutional sites of power distributed through the spatio-temporal matrix. (Corrigan & Sayer, 1985)
In light of the above, the local state in a federal formation must be seen as a “site of power” within a unified and centralised state field, an administrative space “containing certain institutions materializing certain apparatuses”, a “specific and historically determined realization of the relations of force between the classes within the totality of the social formation designated by the [national] state.” Whereas liberal theory would posit a decentralized model of power structured around inter-state competition, the above specifications would indicate that local state autonomy is “subordinate to central state authority”. (Legare, 1982)
This is not to say that local state autonomy is therefore illusory. Rather, it represents a particular distribution of power within the field of the national state. And to the extent that this relative autonomy is substantive, a consequence is that local states materialize not only the relations of forces within the social formation as a whole, but also the balance of political and class forces pertinent to the local situation that it governs. Nor is it to say that inter-state competition has no bearing on the role of the local state. On the contrary, it is precisely through the local state’s dependence on the central state (for investment and capital allocations, but also for legal powers) that such competition is expressed. Further, the localisation of these sites of power, and their appearance as “a small-scale spatial analogue of the central state”, has an important function in the state’s organization of hegemony. The division of the state into territorial units with local forms of representation is crucial in permitting the re-division of class antagonisms into geographical antagonisms. Nor is this re-division merely at the level of representation. The more powerful local states will tend to be those with the dominant class forces geographically clustered in them, and as a result will tend to be better equipped to compete for resources and support within the central state. The relations of local ‘sites of power’ to one another and to the centralized state apparatus – that is, the precise organization of their unity – will reflect spatially organized relations of class domination and subordination. Finally, the local state plays a very important role in the central state’s legitimation function, incorporating local populations into manageable processes of governance, while also permitting the displacement of crises accumulated in the central government onto local states. (Dear & Clark, 1981)
This understanding of the state more readily explains the conduct of the Federal government and southern states in relation to segregation, and the anticommunist practices deployed in its defence. Southern states were, on the one hand, dependent on the central state for the legal, political and ideological weapons that it deployed in the defence of segregation. The anticommunist arsenal, ranging from the ideological practices of the state, including loyalty oaths, the ideology of ‘Americanism’, and the representation of communism as a clear and present danger to national security, to the HUAC structure and the committees of investigation, was primarily organized in the central state. Further, only with the indulgence of the President, Congress and Supreme Court was it possible for segregation to be imposed and perpetuated. On the other hand, the regional organization of white supremacy created the vertical solidarity among whites that made the South such a solid component of the Cold War hegemonic bloc. Southern politicians seeking to defend their system were not reticent in reminding lawmakers in Washington of the South’s pronounced patriotism, militarism and vigilant policing of the sources of popular opposition to this bloc.
The geo-economic unity of Jim Crow country
Based on the above, I can make some preliminary remarks about the organization of segregation in the South, in the course of which I will indicate the general role of anticommunism in this.
Segregation involves the state operating in all of its material capacities: deploying its monopoly on administrative (political, legal) knowledge to constitute productive relations along the lines of a racial bifurcation; producing the ‘effect of isolation’ and the composition of a people/nation through the conjunction of ‘property rights’ with white nationalism and ‘states’ rights’; engaging in “moral regulation”, upholding norms relating to family, education, work and sociality along strictly racial and patriarchal lines, with violence an ever-present determining force; and constituting territorial spaces with a sharp ‘internal’ frontier separating the white national from the (black, communist) non- or anti-national. It is one aspect of the territorial activity of the state, the spatial organization of productive relations, that I now want to elaborate on.
Gramsci enjoined the study of “regional situations”, meaning “a differentiated geo-economic organism”. (Jessop, 2008, p. 102) In the study of state formations, territoriality is something that one almost takes for granted. But the spatial aspects of state formation, comprising the differentiation of the geographical terrain, the distribution of natural resources, the clustering of productive activities around advantageous nodal points, and the social, temporal and spatial divisions of labour that are possible within this space, have profound political consequences. Thus, space cannot be considered separately from the productive relations that produce its matrices.
The specific pattern of Southern state formation (and re-formation) was determined by such a “geo-economic” unity of spatial and productive relations. This regional situation, which I will briefly describe below, was one in a state of crisis and re-organization by 1945. And it is in the context not only of this conjunction of elements, but above all its crisis, that we will interpret the recourse to tightening segregation measures, as well as anticommunist repression, a process which we will see in motion in the periodization.
In the moment of their formation, local states (not just federal states, but municipalities) were created by these slave plantation and farm owners, initially both capitalist and non-capitalist , and were impregnated by the imperatives governing their reproduction. (James, 1988) The practice of ‘Jim Crow’ by these states acted on traditional patterns of racial separation, and added a new element. ‘Jim Crow’ laws did not merely politically disempower African Americans, but also intervened to suppress competitive market conditions in the purchase and sale of labour power, largely be controlling the movement of black labour and denying it access to certain – usually ‘skilled’ - occupations. In implementing such restrictions, the state also produced an isolating effect on the southern labour market, depressing the average regional wage through racialized pay differentials, while at the same time producing a material substratum for consent among white workers through the fractionalization of workers along racial lines, and the relative seniority and advantage that white labour would enjoy over black labour. (Roback, 1984; Post, 2011; Lee, 2008, pp. 7-8; Legassick, 1974; Minchin, 1999; Minchin, 1997; Vitalis, 2000; Wolpe, 1980; Honey, 1993, p. 29 & 151)
Coterminous with this development was the emergence of textiles as the major southern industry. Whereas the textile industry in the United Kingdom had developed on the basis of a proletariat completely separated from the means of production, in the United States it developed in relation to family farming. This created localised patterns of resistance which in most cases did not produce class-wide struggle, and which were contained through “paternalistic production apparatuses”. Feudal remnants, of the type associated with labour tenancy and sharecropping fused with the rationalising techniques of Fordist production.
The labour force was thus maintained as a predominantly white body by the state, and subject to routine familial and political intervention and surveillance by the employers, while African Americans were habitually relegated to the least advantageous segments of the geo-economic space. In effect, they were being separated not just from the means of production, but also from the resources essential to their own reproduction – not just as a labour force, but as a class force. This process of accumulation-by-dispossession was thus politically structured as the imposition of an internal frontier, similar in its territorial-organizational aspects to the creation of ‘homelands’ in apartheid South Africa. Significantly, the emergence of urbanization and the mill towns played a key role in the development of a spatially rigid segregation. In this sense, segregation can be understood in part as a set of policies designed to cope with the problems posed by the proletarianization of the southern labour force, and the uneven process of industrialization and urbanization. (Burawoy, 1984, p. 36; Kayatekin, 2001; Carlton, 1994; Lee, 2008, pp. 7-12; Legassick, 1974; Davies, 1976; Massey, et al., 2009)
By 1945, the southern geo-economy was experiencing a profound crisis. It continued to lag behind the rest of U.S. capitalism. Its ability to produce and realize surplus value, moreover, had been shattered by the effects of the cotton recession from the 1920s. The Depression, the accompanying political turn to the left in the U.S., and the workers’ rights enshrined in the New Deal, had produced new forms of working class militancy such as the textile workers’ general strike in 1934. Despite the relative lack of unionization by the 1940s, some industrial centres of the south – including Birmingham, Alabama; Laurel, Mississippi; Memphis, Tennessee; and Atlanta, Georgia – had experienced union growth during the war. The CIO unions were therefore optimistic about the prospect of using New Deal reforms and their own enhanced political and economic clout to force Southern industry to unionize. (Irons, 2000; Roscigno & Danaher, 2004; Barlow, 2003, pp. 35-6)
Different forms of state action were deployed to remedy the crisis. Local states engaged in extensive economic intervention, significantly by subsidizing planters. In the post-war era, they pursued a path of ostensibly broadening the region’s industrial base, but within an overall policy of retaining the region’s comparative advantage in low labour-costs. To this end, Southern states almost all supported the Taft-Hartley Act, and implemented right-to-work laws mandated by it. State troopers were used to protect strike breakers, and in North Carolina a strike court sentenced unionists and their supporters to hard labour. They also tightened up the legal and spatial restrictions of Jim Crow. Employers in labour-intensive industries such as lumber, and the anti-New Deal businesses represented in the Southern States Industrial Council, lobbied for the introduction of regional differentials in the minimum wage, allowing them to reduce the cost of labour. If the development of relatively large regional and inter-regional firms and the scalar expansion of textile plants led to many employers being prepared to accept a moderately increased wage bill for the sake of productivity, the overall emphasis was on keeping wages low. (Wood, 1986, pp. 159-61; Schulman, 1991, pp. 79-87)
The central state, pursuing a modernizing agenda, implemented New Deal programmes, and later war-time national mobilization, which subsidized the mechanization of plantations, while at the same time encouraging urbanization through the spread of New South businesses. The effect of this was to address the crisis at the expense of the South’s traditional forms of social control. New Deal reforms had encouraged liberals to organize for the abolition of the poll tax. While none of the anti-poll tax bills passed in Congress, numerous states did repeal their own poll tax. The reforms also undermined the paternalistic model of industrial relations as tenant farmers became day labourers, and the industrial working class expanded. During the war, a quarter of the rural population of the South had left the plantations and farms for jobs in northern and southern cities, thus further eroding the basis of segregationist power. The great exodus of African Americans to the cities also produced a spatial re-organization of southern segregation, so that its level of operation shifted from the state, county and city level to the level of the neighbourhood. However, the turn to the right in the central state also undercut the basis for challenges to white supremacy. During the war, the federal government had supported unionization in the South. But this support was withdrawn after 1945, leaving unions to struggle against local states and employers. Further, the emergence of a national ‘Red Scare’ in 1947 provided Southern states with the weapons needed to face down immediate challenges to white supremacy. (Honey, 2004; Lee, 2008, pp. 7-12; Engerman & Gallman, 1986, p. 851; Johnson, 2010, pp. 96-8; Wood, 1986; Massey, et al., 2009; Massey & Denton, 1993)
Cold War anticommunism arrived in the South as a politics of crisis management. Just as its class relations were being re-organized, and the material basis for segregation and thus the cheap labour on which the region relied was disintegrating, Southern states were gifted a series of political, ideological and legal means by which to disarm popular, labour and radical challenges. Just as the spatial grid of plantations and mill towns which had formed the basis for segregation was being unsettled, with new industries re-territorializing the region’s productive and commercial surfaces, Southern states were in a position to ensure and rigidify the segregation of those spaces with a new arsenal of statutes, state codes and city ordinances. Opponents of segregation could be red-baited, cowed, divided, beaten and imprisoned. But the turn to anticommunism cannot be seen purely as a façade. It was an integral part of a system of representations, a discursive formation that was rooted in Southern political traditions. It is to this representative dimension of the state that I now turn, before proceeding with the periodization of Southern state action in the Cold War period.
Representation in the Southern state
“What is the State? It is the Democratic party . . . Whenever there were political questions involved, . . . we looked to the interests of the party, because they are the interests of the State.” —Judge Thomas J. Semmes, delegate at Louisiana’s constitutional convention, 1898
It is impossible to address the crisis of Jim Crow without saying something about the position of representative democracy in the capitalist state. Here I will talk about representation in two related senses: 1) the party political representation of classes and class alliances; 2) the semiotic and discursive representation of class conflicts and ‘race’, as well as of their party political representation – the representation of representation. (See (Jessop, 2002; Hall, 1997; Foucault, 2002)).
A capitalist state is “in a minimal, non-evaluative sense, always a régime of national representation”. This is true in both of the senses mentioned above. The ‘nation’ – construed as the adult population, with varying types of (racist, sexist, ideology- or class-based) exclusion in operation – is either given party political representation in a parliamentary-democratic system, or is ostensibly represented through its incarnation in an authoritarian dictatorship. This regime also discursively represents the people/nation to itself as a particular kind of (historically produced) unity, and further represents its own representation of the people/nation. (Therborn, 1977; Poulantzas, 2000, p. 65)
The form of representations made by the Southern state, and the Democratic Party, during the Cold War was neither straightforwardly democratic, nor dictatorial. In Therborn’s typologies, among the range of bourgeois regimes available, the US in the period of Jim Crow can be characterised as ‘democratic exclusivist’ in that the adult franchise co-existed with a cluster of exclusions structured around race (on the basis of poverty, illiteracy, criminality and so on). This sort of regime is to be distinguished from democracy in its normal sense, pertaining to a fully elective parliamentary regime with no exclusions among adults. In this sense, capitalist democracy was achieved by the majority of core OECD economies by 1920, but not in the U.S. until circa 1970 when the federal government enforced the spirit of the Fifteenth Amendment and the letter of the Voting Rights Act. The consolidation of democracy in the non-exclusivist sense, as the sina qua none of normal, stable capitalist rule in the United States, was largely the result of the outcome of World War II, the subsequent Cold War (in which the conflict between the democratic legitimation function of the state and the practice of white supremacy was intensified under global surveillance of the ‘leader of the free world’), and the break-up of the colonial system resulting in the Vietnam War. (Therborn, 1977; Dudziak, 2000)
The point here is to situate the Democratic Party’s representative role in the South in relation to the typology of ‘democratic exclusivism’. If the state constitutes, in its institutions, a “material condensation” of the balance of political and class forces in the social formation in which it has taken root, then the ‘line’ that emerges at any given moment is the result of an interplay between the institutional ensemble, its spatio-temporal matrix and the class antagonisms which cut across both. These factors determine the calculable range within which it is possible for given classes to assert their interests within the state.
This ‘strategic selectivity’ of the state, as (Jessop, 2008) describes it, has a peculiar form in the South. The local state, I have said, incarnates the balance of forces both within the wider social formation and within the local situation pertinent to it. It does the latter to the extent that it enjoys autonomy, which derives from the distribution of power within the national state. The type of ‘democratic exclusivism’ practiced in the South thus emerged from a constellation of forces involving: i) the spread of capitalist property relations in the agrarian south and the expansion of a planter capitalist class; ii) the defeat of Republican and Populist forces through a combination of political terror (the disorganization of dominated classes) and co-optation of populist themes on a racist basis (‘transformism’); iii) the political exclusion of African Americans (and many poor whites); iv) the assertion of unchallenged Democratic Party dominance within the southern state as the necessary form of the political dominance of planter capitalists; v) the Northern reaction against immigrants, and the spread of new white supremacist doctrines concurrent with a colonial turn, leading to a new concord with the South. (Weston, 1972, pp. 1-15; James, 1988; Hahn, 2006; Jacobson, 2001)
In this sense, the ‘Democracy’ was co-extensive with the state’s organization of planter rule, and its disorganization of the dominated classes through racial oppression and the incorporation of white workers into the polity on the basis of a discursive formation organized around racial-populist and, often, ‘progressive’ thematics. The major Democratic-allied institution of parapolitical terror, the Ku Klux Klan, upheld this discourse and the ‘progressive’, ‘liberal’ candidates – William Jennings Bryan and Woodrow Wilson – that expounded it. The most effective Southern politicians tended to be those, like Senator Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi or Senator Huey Long of Louisiana, who combined paternalistic reformism with a commitment to Jim Crow, and who used a popular vernacular or affected grammatical errors such as Governor George Wallace of Alabama. (Jeansonne, 1994; Morgan, 1985; Lowndes, 2005) The people/nation was thus represented to itself as an “Anglo-Saxon democracy”, its relation to its party representation one of transparent race embodiment, its unity assured by a shared collective history projected back over an indefinite period. This was in contrast with a north-eastern, industrial Republican bloc numerically bloated by recently arrived immigrant voters. By reason of the same logic, African Americans were effectively non-nationals, and their (‘alien’, ‘Bolshevik’) allies, anti-nationals. (Horsman, 1981; McVeigh, 2009, pp. 90-1)
The southern state also represented the people/nation through its legal axioms and its application of scientific-technical (administrative) knowledge. (See (Scott, 1998)) The people/nation emerges in this sense as a series of data, represented in statistics purporting to show, for example, a higher rate of illegitimacy, sexual disease and criminality among African Americans. Jim Crow can thus be seen as a form of governmentality (Foucault, 1994) which applies racial knowledge in its techniques, produces racial subjects, and whose index of legitimacy is its ability to continually reproduce and protect the white nation from its internal enemies.
However, the spread of Democratic influence in the North throughout the 1920s, partly due to the sizeable number of immigrant Catholic workers, and the strategic shift of the national Democratic Party’s social base to incorporate organized labour during the 1930s, introduced what, in my periodization, I will consider the first real fissures in the ‘Democracy’. The decline of cotton industries after WWI had stimulated a wave of mass migration of African Americans to the industrial north, which didn’t stop until the 1960s. The exacerbation of class antagonisms throughout the South during the Great Depression resulted in the Communist Party USA making its first breakthroughs among class conscious black workers, sharecroppers and cash tenants. And the emergence of monopoly capital demanding a centralisation of national state authority, further de-stabilized the system of Jim Crow representation. (Barlow, 2003, pp. 35-6; Kelley, 1990, pp. 34-56; Solomon, 1981) During the post-war era, when the alliance between the Democratic Party, monopoly capital and organized labour was consolidated, the balance of power gradually shifted away from the South.
The modes of representation adapted accordingly. Southern planter and textile capital mobilised through the state to outflank liberals, using the anticommunist dispensations of the Cold War to witch-hunt ‘integrationists’. Southern politicians known to occupy the Democratic Party’s ‘progressive’ wing reacted to the crisis of the South by moving sharply to the right: Strom Thurmond, Orval Faubus and George Wallace became standard-bearers of a New Right rooted in the protection of ‘states’ rights’ and a commitment to reverse the interventionist, welfare legislation that had empowered the opponents of segregation.
It is not that the old representational strategies were discarded, nor that anticommunism was in itself a novel factor. Anticommunism had long been interpenetrated with regional and national forms of nativism and white supremacy. (Kovel, 1997, pp. 14-22; Heale, 1990, pp. 60-96; Foglesong, 2007, p. 58) But while liberal, paternalist policies of the sort associated with Wilson had once been seen as the most effective retort to radicalism and socialism, they were now regarded as handing the communists a more effective weapon of struggle than communists themselves were capable of devising. The elements of the old discursive formations were rather re-articulated, given a new unity under the dominance of anticommunism, which was the sign and sanction of a Southern party of order. This form of representation corresponds to a form of governmentality, of statecraft, which can be called crisis management.
Prolegomenon: De-formation initiated. Fissures in ‘The Democracy’ (1944-5)
The ‘all-white’ primary contests in Southern elections had been one of the key means by which African Americans were excluded from politics in Jim Crow states. In fact, as the paladin of liberal anti-racism Gunnar Myrdal pointed out, the organization of Southern politics excluded a large number of whites, favouring an effectively oligarchic form of politics empowering landowners, industrialists, bankers and merchants, with a share of this de facto political power enjoyed by inter-regional and Northern firms with investments in the region. (Piven & Cloward, 1979, p. 188)
But by the Second World War, the conditions for the erosion of this system were established. The growing economic base of African Americans had created opportunities for political and particularly legal mobilization. At the same time, the Democratic Party’s social base had undergone a radical shift. Under FDR, the Democratic Party established a base in the industrial working class for the first time. Some of the platform of progressive legislation intended to consolidate this base, had to address the problems of black workers. “However discriminatory its administration,” Klarman writes, “the New Deal at least included blacks within its pool of beneficiaries”. The incorporation of black advisors, albeit without direct political authority and some concessions in the way of racial quotas within the Public Works Administration housing projects, indicated the influence that a growing number of northern black voters could exert. (Mickey, 2008; Marable, 2007; Hine, 2003; Klarman, 2004, pp. 110-1) As we will see, this shift was permanent, and would be a decisive factor in Truman’s pivotal 1948 presidential candidacy during which the Cold War consensus was established.
The legal opportunity to attack the ‘all-white’ primary had come from the precedent set by the conviction of Patrick Classic for falsifying primary returns. The NAACP saw a chance to force the Supreme Court to uphold the legal rights of black voters. As usual, local judiciaries were obstructive. The Texas federal grand jury held a hearing at which only four witnesses were allowed to testify, and could not be convinced that any constitutional provision was being breached. But the judgment of the Supreme Court in the conviction of Classic proved that the primaries were not merely matters of voluntary association, but rather constituted a “delegation” of state power to the parties running the primaries. In this sense, the Democratic Party’s action, in excluding black voters from participating in primaries, was “the action of the state” – and was thus unconstitutional. (Hine, 2003, p. 238)
This decision should not be treated as a logical deduction from precedent. Rather, as Klarman emphasises, the Supreme Court had to make a decision as to what forms of involvement in the constitution of ‘civil society’ the state of Texas should be deemed responsible for. Past Supreme Court decisions had upheld white primaries. The sudden turnaround owed itself more to the political context than to legal logic. FDR’s reconstitution of the Supreme Court judges was one factor. The court’s discarded the traditional ‘non-intervention’ (ie from a specific intervention in favour of property rights) in favour of the radically ‘interventionist’ state that was emerging under FDR. But a more pressing factor was the transformation of political alignments during World War II. The ‘war for democracy’ produced an ideological opportunity-structure which civil rights activists could leverage against the racist one-party system in the South. More than this, it provided an organizational opportunity. National mobilizations have historically provided a critical aperture for democratising movements, and the enhanced leverage that African Americans could exert during World War II, (and perhaps again during the Vietnam War) was evident in the way in which Roosevelt bowed to pressure to implement a Fair Employment Practices Commission to address racist discrimination in employment and prohibit discrimination in the thriving defence industry, and Congress debate the repeal of poll taxes. (Klarman, 2004, pp. 198-9; Sitkoff, 1978, pp. 216-7; Therborn, 1977)
Black civil rights activists, presented with this opportunity, did not prevaricate. The National Progressive Voters League was founded in Arkansas to mobilise a “newly enfranchised” electorate. The ensuing increase in black voter registration across southern states, rising from a quarter of a million in 1944 to a million in 1952, provoked efforts to circumvent Smith vs. Allwright that presaged ‘Massive Resistance’. For example, Governor Olin Johnston of South Carolina convened the state legislature in order to throw out all laws pertaining to party organization, the implication being that the Democrats could run their operation as they saw fit. This subterfuge was outlawed by the Judge Waring of Charleston in 1947, which signalled the beginning of the end of the all-white primary. (Davis, 2000, p. 17; Bartley, 1999, pp. 7-8) Yet, the increase in black voter registration still left the vast majority of African Americans un-registered. The gains that were achieved, moreover, were significantly reversed in the years after 1952.
The year after Smith vs. Allwright, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) became a standing committee of the House of Representatives. In the years that followed, the ‘Popular Front’ left would disintegrate, and the Democratic Party would consolidate its new popular base. Challenges to southern segregation would wilt under the pressure of constant state surveillance, investigation and intervention. For the next decade, despite Truman’s cautious adoption of some civil rights reforms, no serious blow would be landed to the system of white supremacy. (Marable, 2007, pp. 17-27)
Part I: De-formation resisted. The Dixiecrat revolt and the defeat of the ‘Popular Front’ left (1946-8)
The state, Corrigan and Sayer punned, states. But it does not state with a single voice. Rather, it contains an “amalgam of separate and often competing institutions, bureaucracies and political parties”. It thus produces not a unified discourse, but “several discourses that are adapted to the various classes and differentially incarnated in its apparatuses according to their class destination”. (Corrigan & Sayer, 1985, p. 3; Schrecker, 2002, p. 25; Poulantzas, 2000, p. 32) The consolidation of an anticommunist politics at the inception of the Cold War thus did not involve a single set of directives, ordinances, representational strategies or alliances. Rather, from the interplay of institutions (both those belonging to the ‘public’ core of the state, and those understood as ‘civil society’ but properly operating within the field of the state) and the class struggles condensed within them, allowed a ‘system of alliances’ to emerge under a general ‘line’. This anticommunist ‘line’ unified a majoritarian bloc while dividing and disrupting oppositional, subaltern forces, shaking loose vulnerable elements and either co-opting or penalising them. The name of this type of class-democratic politics, and of the state’s central role in organizing it, is hegemony. (Poulantzas, 1978; Gramsci, 1971)
And the moment of 1946-8, from the ‘Iron Curtain’ speech and ‘Long Telegram’, inaugurating the Cold War, to the 1948 presidential election campaign producing a surprise victory for ‘Vital Centre’ liberalism, was a hegemonic moment. It represented the shattering of the ‘Popular Front’ Left, the ascendancy of anticommunist politics as the horizon of acceptable dissent, a temporary settling of accounts with the South broadly in the latter’s favour, and the emergence of a stable coalition of classes and fractions under the dominance of Fordist monopoly capital.
The state’s intervention was crucial at each stage. President Truman’s loyalty oath programme, ordered in 1947, constituted the widest ranging government investigation to date, urging that all state employees be interviewed and tested for loyalty. The result was that hundreds were fired for presumed disloyalty on the basis of anonymous evidence which could not be refuted from people whom the defendants could not cross-examine. By 1950, up to 40% of American workers were either under investigation or subject to loyalty oath. (Robin, 2004, p. 15; Greenberg & Watts, 2009, pp. 18-19)
HUAC’s investigations were being given wide latitude by the Supreme Court. Unfriendly witnesses who refused to testify were cited for contempt, and the Court did not favour them. In the hugely symbolic case of the Hollywood Ten, a number of screenwriters and directors who refused to testify, citing a violation of their First Amendment rights. Several of the witnesses actually ended up in prison. The legal and political situation was thus so arranged that the committee could stage its rituals of unmasking, exposure and censure unimpeded. Even the disapprobation of the White House produced a belligerent response, accusing the administration of failing to obviate the necessity of the committee by informing people of the danger of communism. (Greenberg & Watts, 2009, pp. 18-19; Schrecker, 2002, pp. 65-6; Clark, 1976)
HUAC’s central target, the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), which had been the most dynamic sector of the Popular Front left, attempted to rally its old allies against Truman’s escalating contest with the USSR. However, it was compromised in a number of ways: i) by the sudden swerves in its political strategy and alliances as it subordinated domestic policy to the survival of the USSR, culminating in the jettisoning of Popular Front alliances and a restoration of ‘Marxist-Leninist’ orthodoxy after WWII, just when it needed its old allies; ii) its support for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, after years of campaigning as an ‘anti-fascist’ organization; and iii) its uncritical support for the USSR despite its territorial aggrandisements. If communists campaigned for ‘peace’ and the cessation of Cold War hostilities, the counterpoint of the American state was that it waged war for ‘freedom’ and that the communist promise of peace was hollow in light of the overland expansion of the Soviet Union. (Lieberman, 2010, p. 32; Otanelli, 1991, pp. 159-206; Isserman, 1993)
The result was that the CPUSA was increasingly isolated at the moment of the state’s escalating war on the party. Anticommunist legislation was thus effectively used to isolate the party in its spheres of influence, such as in the left-wing trade unions. Here, the Taft-Hartley Act played a critical role. Although aimed at obstructing union organization as such, it also required that union leaders file an affidavit stating that they were not in the party. Such measures were used not only by the state but by anticommunists within the trade unions. (Schrecker, 2002, pp. 59-62; Rupert, 1995)
Alongside HUAC, one of the major organizational loci for anticommunist repression within the national state was the FBI, a division of the Justice Department with a history of leading parapolitical actions and engaging in actions of dubious legality in the pursuit of ‘aliens’, ‘radicals’ and ‘subversives’. The Bureau was formed in anticommunist struggle, its political culture inflected with the nativist chords of post-WWI reaction. Its role as a political intelligence addendum to the White House arose from the centralization and rationalization of state authority in the ‘Progressive Era’. The FBI’s role was to provide federal agencies involved in the suppression of communism with a flow of information, with ‘field notes’ from investigations given a particular spin in the FBI’s internal ‘assessment’ to lend weight to shaky charges. Like HUAC, the FBI considered the government’s stance on communist subversion overly lenient, and used its strategic position to force the administration into adopting a harder stance. (Schmidt, 2000; Schrecker, 2002, pp. 28-30; Walker, 2011, p. 115)
In the South, anticommunist rhetoric and action focused on the threat posed by union organization and civil rights agitation to the sustainable reproduction of the region’s class and political system. Thus, Georgia Governor Herman Talmadge alleged that the CIO’s gains in the South were being driven by a ‘subversive’ campaign to organise and African-American voting bloc that communists could then use against the South. Operation Dixie, although focused on an overwhelmingly white textile industry and thus not directly challenging white supremacy, was treated in a similar way. The collapse of the organizing drive owed itself largely to the effects of the rivalries and anticommunist purges produced by the Cold War crackdown. But even relatively moderate civil rights reform, such as the Fair Employment Practices Commission was deemed “a communist inspired conspiracy to undermine American unity”.
Here, it is tempting to treat anticommunism as a ruse, a proxy for the ‘real’ goal of protecting white supremacy. In fact, the ‘real’ goal was rarely concealed, except inasmuch as ‘separate but equal’ was in some sense an adequate subterfuge. The insertion of communism as a quilting element in a chain of equivalents linking welfare, unionization and civil rights reform to ‘subversion’ did no more than take the institutions of the central state at their word. If the pressing domestic and international issue was communist subversion, working through the traditional organizations of labour and the Left, it followed that the same could be true in the South. And, as we will discuss further, much of the information to support such judgments came from federal bodies such as the Justice Department, or HUAC, which assisted the struggle against the Southern Council for Human Welfare (SCHW), a civil rights organization formed under the impetus of New Deal reforms, by declaring it a “deviously camouflaged Communist front organization”. By 1948, the lineaments of the national anticommunist consensus had been fully absorbed and weaponised by Southern state leaders, who alleged that Truman’s moderate civil rights reform agenda was being driven by international communist pressure. (Lewis, 2004, pp. 22-3; Clark, 1976; Roediger, 2008, p. 193; Davis, 1999, pp. 86-93)
Both the defeat of the ‘Popular Front’ Left, and the temporary truce with the South, were crystallised in the 1948 presidential election. In it, Truman’s bid as a Cold War liberal was challenged from two wings of the Democratic Party. Henry Wallace, representing the social democratic, anti-racist, and anti-anticommunist wing, stood as a candidate for the Progressive Party. Strom Thurmond, a former New Dealer who was committed to defending white supremacy as the local form of class compromise, and ‘states’ rights’ as a particular form of distribution of power within the state allowing the South to preserve its perceived advantages, stood for the States Rights Democratic Party. While Wallace’s remit was to realign Democratic politics to the Left, and oppose the rush toward hostility with Russia as a “position of ruthless imperialism”, Thurmond’s role was to articulate the efforts by conservatives within the ‘Democracy’ to marginalise progressives and New Deal liberals, not just in the Southern party but – by upsetting Truman’s re-election bid – in the country as a whole. (Frederickson, 2001; Barnard, 1985, pp. 95-6; Yarnell, 1974, pp. 32-3 & 87-90; Kovel, 1997, pp. 43-9; Schrecker, 1999, pp. 158-67)
Democratic strategists relied heavily on anticommunism to coordinate Truman’s manoeuvres against his opponents and to reconcile a series of highly antagonistic subject-positions among his intended base. They attacked Wallace using the prevailing wisdom that the Soviet Union was engaged in a conspiracy to subvert the ‘free world’, and was operating thus through dupes, agents in disguise, and fellow travellers. The Democratic strategy, outlined in the ‘Clifford memorandum’, sought to “identify [Wallace] in the public mind with the Communists”. Its efficacy was such as to compel liberals and moderate socialists to take sides against Wallace’s ‘appeasement’. While Norman Thomas accused Wallace of condoning “human slavery under Stalin”, and the radical pacifist A J Muste described him as “the instrument and captive” of the CPUSA, the ADA attacked his willingness to work with communists. (Yarnell, 1974, p. 87; Lieberman, 2010, p. 52)
The Dixiecrats were not possible to red-bait, but Truman could and did argue that their racist politics undermined America’s international standing, a case his administration was also to make to the judges considering the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education. Most southern voters remained stolidly Democratic. The Dixiecrats were strongest where white workers were the most disenfranchised – Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina, three states that retained the poll tax. They also reaped the most votes in the plantation counties. And though they hardly received more votes in total than the Progressive Party (both fell just short of 1.2m), the geographical concentration of their support ensured that they carried four core Southern states - Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina. (Johnson, 2010, p. 113; Woods, 2004, p. 37; Goldzwig, 2008, pp. 61-70; Mayers, 2007, p. 297)
The outcome showed that the Dixiecrats were well-organized, well-placed in relation to their ability to take hold of local state machineries, and already had a substantial popular base from which to build. Their politics of ‘states’ rights’ and explicit defence of a segregationist system in crisis accessed a traditional, nativist, countersubversive ideology. Yet, the idea that a conspiracy to subvert the Solid South was afoot, was given a spurious concreteness by the national Red Scare and the policies of anticommunist repression aimed at exposing, denouncing and punishing the conspiracy in myriad daily rituals. Anticommunism attributed the factors undermining Jim Crow to a seemingly plausible, coherent agency, replacing multi-causal with mono-causal explanation, displacing critical scrutiny from its injustices onto those mobilising against the injustices. It also reinforced the South’s claim to Americanism – indeed, to a purer and more militant Americanism than any which prevailed in other regions. (Crespino, 2007, pp. 50-1)
Aside from bolstering the South’s representative strategies, anticommunism also provided some techniques of statecraft. Whether the body involved was SISS, HUAC, the FBI or the local state police, the Red Scare transposed the normal state representation of the population as data in a field of calculable (scientific-technical) intervention, into an alternative representation as ciphers, cryptographical data available for interpretation through a set of investigative techniques, bureaucratic-legal rituals of inquisition, quarantine (‘blacklisting’) and correction through punishment.
In the years directly following the election campaign, the States Rights Democratic Party was wound up, and its supporters returned to the Democratic Party. The balance of opinion among Southern Democrats continued to shift to the right. For the time being, the racial status quo was preserved, with Cold War anticommunism supplying the rationale and technical repertoire sustaining its conservation.
Part II: De-formation deflected. The Liberal State, the Cold War and the stabilization of the anticommunist ‘line’ (1949-53)
The zenith of anticommunism in the Cold War era was reached in the years immediately preceding Brown vs the Board of Education. The moment for organized labour to resist had passed, and their attitude was increasingly docile. The passivity on the part of organized labour was matched by a similar complacence among professional associations. (Schrecker, 2002, p. 101) Southern segregationists were arguably the major beneficiaries of this trend. It was not just that the administrative-repressive techniques refined in Washington DC could be adapted for the South, though this did happen. For example, the city of Birmingham, Alabama, menaced communists with $100 fines and 180 day jail sentences for every day that they remained in the town. (Schrecker, 2002, p. 83) Rather, Southern politicians began to be able, through their disproportionate dominance in the elected chambers, to direct the central anticommunist apparatus to their own ends.
After 1948, HUAC had a new southern chair, the Georgia congressman John Wood. Under his leadership, it embarked on a series of “Hearings Regarding Communist Infiltration of Minority Groups”. Just as Southern panellists had dissuaded the committee from investigating the re-appearance of the Ku Klux Klan in the South after its formal post-war disappearance, on the grounds that “the KKK is an old American institution”, now they directed HUAC to investigate the KKK’s targets and victims. Initially, its stance was predicated on a ‘good Negro/bad Negro’ dichotomy, which insisted that the majority of African Americans were loyal and being badly represented by the few malcontents, such as Paul Robeson, who heaped contumelious insults on the nation. As usual, an ex-Communist, such as the black labour leader Manning Johnson, provided the testimonial basis for this dichotomy. But Johnson’s testimony, accusing the CPUSA of using civil rights as a decoy for subversion, suggesting that they aimed to provoked armed insurrection, riots and so forth across the South, corroborated the most recalcitrant southern nationalists in their belief that the source of all agitation was communist conspiracy. Similar testimonies implying that the whole civil rights movement was a communist front, equipped Southern politicians with the political and ideological rationale they needed for unyielding resistance. (Woods, 2004, pp. 36-8; Newton, 2010, p. 102)
In 1950, the newly elected Senator Joseph McCarthy made headlines by producing his infamous ‘list’ of 205 communists in the State Department. In fact, there was no list, and the number was improvised on the spot. In a less publicity-conscious mode, Senator Pat McCarran of Nevada assembled the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS), stuffed with political allies such as Senator Eastland. SISS did not develop a reputation for vulgar theatrics as did HUAC. Its rituals were more restrained, as befitted the upper chamber. Yet the logic behind its targeting of individuals was not the less convoluted, nor the less determined in its attempt to depict the workings of a communist conspiracy at the heart of government. (Fried, 1991; Bennett, 1988, pp. 293-4) Legal decisions undertaken in this period also expressed the prevailing balance of forces in favour of segregation. In the case of Briggs vs. Elliot, a three-judge District Court in South Carolina upheld the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’, maintaining that the poor quality of schools for African Americans could be remedied within the existing legal architecture. (Martin, 1986, pp. 126-31)
Anticommunist measures had a chilling effect on the civil rights movement. The NAACP, while it continued to lobby for the integration of the South, was intimidated by the scale and ubiquity of the investigations into communism. It distanced itself from supporters such as W E B Du Bois on the grounds of the latter’s sympathy for the USSR, and upheld a vigorously anticommunist, Americanist politics – rendering it “the left-wing of McCarthyism” in Manning Marable’s phrase. Just as the labor movement was de-radicalized, so were mainstream civil rights organizations. The effect was not just on whom they could ally with, but also on what sort of tactics they were prepared to countenance. For example, when the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) embarked on “Journeys of Reconciliation” (precursors to the 1960s “freedom rides”) to test desegregation on southern buses, the NAACP leadership energetically opposed the move. Thurgood Marshall warned that “a disobedience movement on the part of Negroes and their white allies, if employed in the South, would result in wholesale slaughter with no good achieved.” The CORE for its part was profoundly disabled by its fear of red-baiting. It did everything possible to distance itself from communism, and announced that it would not work with “Communist-controlled” groups. The result was that CORE saw its growth slowed to a near standstill and its organization reduced to a shell. (Marable, 2007, pp. 17-27; Fried, 1991, p. 165)
The concerted action of repressive and ideological state apparatuses (understood here not as distinct but as mutually articulated apparatuses) produced a form of moral regulation, a set of norms and social classifications, through which this anticommunist bloc was constantly constructed and maintained, its opponents divided and cowed. The rituals and hierarchies of HUAC and SISS produced the social categories of deviant, alien, subversive and, the obverse, loyal, ‘good American’, citizen, patriot. Through such means it produced consent, a consensus. But the nature of these actions, the ever-presence of politically organized violence as a determining factor, the basis of consent in political fear, undermines any attempt to understand hegemony strictly in the terms of a consent-coercion dichotomy. “Physical violence and consent do not exist side by side,” Poulantzas argued, “like two calculable homogeneous magnitudes, related in such a way that more consent corresponds to less violence. Violence-terror always occupies a determining place not merely because it remains in reserve”. (Poulantzas, 2000, pp. 80-1) The breakdown of anticommunist terror, concurrent with a crisis in the unity of the state apparatuses, was cosubstantial with a breakdown in consent.
Of course, this incorporation was not effective only through repression and ideology: the state-organized “material substratum” of consent was the welfare state and corporatist bargaining through which wages would rise in line with productivity increases. But the efficacy of the anticommunist bloc depended on the conjunction of repression, ideological domination and material concessions. This reaches its peak during the Korean War. This was not just because the U.S. government successfully persuaded most of the population that the war was exclusively the result of communist aggression, thus leaving the opposition parcelled out among a tiny cluster of communist, ‘fellow travelling’, Trotskyist and pacifist groups and intellectuals who are castigated inside and outside of HUAC for their troubles. It was that at this moment, labour was most closely integrated into the corporatist alliance with the state and Fordist monopoly capital in the context of national mobilization. It was at this moment that the AFL-CIO, drawn into the radius of the imperial state, becoming one of the means of state action with regard to overseas labour and a vital vector for the promulgation of anticommunist and imperialist ideology, in return for a relatively privileged position within a global division of labour. That this incorporation was strictly subordinate is indicated by the role of the chief executive of General Electric in organizing the mobilization, and his way of steamrollering labour. Nonetheless, the political importance of labour in this coalition did produce concessions that were essential to the management of the bloc. (Casey, 2008, pp. 75 & 200-2; Levy, 1994, p. 50)
Despite the complaints of some southern industrialists and planters, New Deal concessions had stabilizing effects throughout the social formation, north and south. The problem for the dominant classes in the South, however, was that the “material substratum” of their rule - white supremacy, organized through localized sites of power but thus far supported by the central state or at least not seriously challenged - soon became incompatible with extended (international) reproduction of monopoly capital.
Part III: De-formation resisted, re-formation initiated. Brown vs. the Board of Education and consequences (1954-60)
By 1954, the hard, conservative edge of anticommunism led by McCarthy and Eastland was beginning to disintegrate. The possibility of any ‘threat’ to American capitalism by the Communist Party USA had always been remote, but even its ability to play a constructive role in a ‘Popular Front’ left had been dismembered by this point. In addition, the anticommunist doyens began to over-reach. McCarthy would be censured by the Senate in that year, following a year of televised hearings in which he attacked senior members of the establishment including, by implication, President Eisenhower. In the months before the Supreme Court handed down its verdict on Brown vs the Board of Education, moreover, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS) led by Eastland experienced a public embarrassment arising from its investigation into the influence of communism in the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF).
The fund, set up in 1946 as a subsidiary of the Southern Conference on Human Welfare (SCHW), had assembled a coalition of liberals, New Dealers, leftists, southerners and other anti-segregation activists, with the aim of turning opinion against segregation. Its parent organization, SCHW, had been effectively harassed by HUAC. Senator James Eastland, leading the charge, directed SISS to begin investigations of SCEF in the hope of digging up involvement in ‘Popular Front’ organizations. The hearing was a failure for Eastland, inasmuch as the attempt to depict leaders such as Aubrey Williams of the National Youth Association, and Virginia Durr (known for her involvement in anti-poll tax campaigns), floundered on unconvincing testimony from an ex-Communist and state informer named Paul Crouch. Most of the Southern press was unconvinced, and Eastland himself had to admit that he not been persuaded by the testimony. The investigation had only succeeded in giving the targeted organization some positive publicity. This was not the last such failure in connection with the SCEF. (Woods, 2004, pp. 44-7)
The national Supreme Court was compelled to decide in the matter of the segregation of education by the intense legal and political campaigning of the NAACP, supported by the Truman administration which, in its last weeks, submitted an amicus curiae to the court underlining the international ramifications of any decision. (Dudziak, 2000, p. 90) The court, in finding that de jure segregation was incompatible with equality and thus unconstitutional, left unsolved the problem of de facto segregation. In effect, it left open the possibility of allowing schooling to be operated on a geographical basis, which would leave most schools segregated since neighbourhoods were segregated. (Raskin, 2004, pp. 157-8) Nonetheless, it reversed the trend since Plessy vs. Ferguson, in which the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of segregation. It struck a seemingly fatal blow to the legal order of the South’s ‘Jim Crow’ system.
The ramifications of this decision were not immediately obvious. In the year following the first decision on Brown vs. the Board of Education, wrote C Vann Woodward, “neither side showed its hand fully … It was a period of wait and see.” (Woodward, 2002, pp. 151-2) In the immediate period after the court’s decision, Southern states sent delegations to the court to argue the case for “gradualism approaching infinity”. They maintained that immediate de-segregation would result in chaos. African Americans were a source of sexual disease and illegitimacy, and the integration of their children would lead to white parents rejecting the school system. Racial strife and bitterness would ensue. The intention behind these evocations was to frighten the judges into allowing the Southern states the maximum leverage in complying with the law, so that at most a token compliance would be enforced. In the second decision, pertaining to implementation, the court introduced the famous phrase “with all deliberate speed”, allowing that deliberation would be necessary as administrative problems were overcome. It did not set a date for compliance, intervene to support actively compliant district judges, or opt to approve only those plans that would result in substantial integration, but instead allowed that de jure segregation could continue indefinitely. (Wilkinson III., 1978; McKay, 1956)
As in Smith vs Allwright, the legal basis of the Supreme Court’s decision was secondary to political considerations, reflecting the imperatives imposed by Cold War imperialist politics. Thus, the charge from segregationists that they had been dealt a blow by a “political court” (Eastland quoted in (Crespino, 2007, p. 18)) was not entirely without foundation. However, the fact that Brown II effectively enabled the South to make at most token gestures toward compliance for several year, must also be judged in the same political light as an attempt to change the letter of the law while accommodating white southern (dominant class) interests. Even so, the pressure for de-segregation to be implemented as the U.S. sought to construct a global anticommunist alliance including former colonial states, continued to grow. Vice President Richard Nixon, returning from a visit to Ghana in 1957, insisted that “We cannot talk equality to the peoples of Africa and Asia and practice inequality in the United States”. (Borstelmann, 2001, p. 109)
Southern leaders considered this capitulation in the face of communist propaganda. Governor Talmadge of Georgia, writing in You and Segregation, 1955, urged no surrender to Moscow: “Who cares what Reds say? Who cares what Pravda prints?” Georgia Senator Richard Russell similarly begged: If communists support racial integration, what greater proof could there be of its immorality? (Borstelmann, 2001, p. 108)
Within two years, a clear majority of southern legislators had signed the Southern Manifesto, which accused the Supreme Court of abusing its power, and committed signatories to opposing de-segregation by “all lawful means”. Over the three years following the decision, 136 pieces of state legislation were ratified in order to facilitate resistance to de-segregation. In almost every city in the South, there was a White Citizens’ Council committed to defending Jim Crow. The reticence of the central state in implementing Brown vs. the Board of Education encouraged local states to escalate their resistance. For example, in North Carolina, the initial strategy was to devolve responsibility for pupil assignment to local school boards in order to compel the NAACP to challenge segregation on a board-by-board basis. However, within a year, the local state had adopted a more confrontational stance, deciding to shut down public schools ‘threatened’ with de-segregation and offer funding to white students who wanted private tuition. (Lewis, 2004, pp. 30-1 & 124-6)
The scale of the resistance to desegregation was in some respects analogous to the extraordinarily wide-ranging federal anticommunist programmes in the late 1940s. As C Vann Woodward describes it: “During 1957, 1958, and 1959 a fever of rebellion and malaise of fear spread over the region. Books were banned, libraries were purged, newspapers were slanted, magazines disappeared from stands, television programs were withheld, films were excluded. Teachers, preachers, and college professors were questioned, harassed, and many were driven from their positions or fled the South. The NAACP was virtually driven underground in some states.” This was a hugely effective response in the short-term, drastically reducing the rate of school de-segregations. (Woodward, 2002, pp. 165-7)
Yet while some were preparing an ‘extremist’ resistance to the integration of public schools, however, some local politicians took Brown vs. the Board of Education as a cue to begin re-formation. ‘Practical segregationists’ such as Governor J P Coleman of Mississippi preferred to avoid noisy, violent confrontations which would be bad for businesses. Rather, the approach was to find ways to formally comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling, while introducing a set of racially-laden measures that would maintain as much of the old system of white supremacy as possible. For some, the old structures of de jure racial discrimination merely had to be reinvented as a de facto system of white supremacy, coded in the language of moral and public health reform – so that de facto discrimination in welfare entitlements could be introduced in terms of disincentivizing ‘illegitimacy’. Others such as Coleman, Governor LeRoy Collins of Florida and Governor Luther Hodge of North Carolina took the moment as an opportunity to modernize, rationalize and, above all, expand the power of the local state. Through such means, they sought to control outbursts of white violence which would rebound badly in the national political terrain, and restructure welfare and family law in ways that rationalized racial oppression, parlaying it into the discourse of benevolent governance. (Walker, 2009; Crespino, 2007; Walker, 1998)
Anticommunism was of less direct use to the ‘practical segregationists’ than to the ‘massive resisters’. The former sought to represent themselves as reasonable figures accommodating difficult but perhaps legitimate demands. It made no sense for them to decry civil rights as a communist conspiracy. Long after the collapse of the CPUSA (whose membership was further depleted after the Twentieth Congress and Khrushchev’s disclosure of the crimes of High Stalinism) and the ‘Popular Front’ left, there was little of communism’s historical influence left to bemoan. As such, the efficacy of anticommunist politics and rhetoric was now in some doubt. No one was seriously breaking with the consensus, but its use in fire-fighting civil rights successes was arguably becoming visibly crude and rhetorically unpersuasive. To this extent, if anticommunism was a politics of crisis management in the Jim Crow South, its persistence only indicated the paucity of regionally available solutions and a failure in state initiative and capacity.
Part IV: Accelerated de-formation and re-formation, massive resistance, sit-ins and freedom rides (1960-65)
Under President Kennedy, Cold War anticommunism was briefly given a new lease of life, inasmuch as he entered the White House determined to roll back the influence of communism in the hemisphere, by which was meant Cuba. In running for the White House, Kennedy had sought and obtained the support of the most belligerent segregationists. Among his supporters was Governor Patterson of Alabama, a hard-line anticommunist and segregationist whose endorsement of Kennedy made NAACP leaders uneasy. Patterson was closely involved with Kennedy’s plans for the Bay of Pigs invasion. (Horne, 1986, p. 296)
In the fevered atmosphere of Bay of Pigs and the Cuban missile crisis, a revival of Red Scare hysteria might have been anticipated. In fact, the civil rights movement continued to grow, alongside a ‘New Left’ of which it was a tributary. This was in part because of the global crisis of white supremacy, prompted by insurgent anti-colonial movements often under a communist or anticapitalist rubric – the global ‘colour line’ was eroding. In the year 1960 alone, fourteen newly independent, formerly colonial states came into being: Congo, Benin, Togo, Cameroon, Somalia, Niger, Mauritius, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Chad, Central African Republic, Gabon, Senegal, Mali. (Bush, 2009; Horne, 1991; Horne, 1986; Du Bois, 2008) As a result, the escalation of ‘Massive Resistance’ in the South was met by an opposite and eventually overwhelming escalation of the civil rights movement.
The tactics of sit-ins, in which African Americans would occupy premises or seats reserved for whites, and freedom rides, in which civil rights activists would cross Jim Crow barriers on public transport, began to exhaust the capacity of Southern states to effectively respond. Either they were compelled to meet the demands of the movement, or smear and harass them, or physically assault them. Only the first of these worked, as had happened following the sit-ins in Nashville, Tennessee when Mayor Ben West was persuaded to publicly oppose segregation, while businesses negotiated the end of segregated custom with protesters. Legal harassment was widespread, certainly. In the three years following the sit-ins at the Woolworths lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, approximately 20,000 people were arrested for participating in similar protests. But the threat of arrest did not impede the spread of this tactic. Outright brutality, which was common in many Southern redoubts, was anticipated by the tactic of non-violent civil disobedience, and in fact planned for, as it would illustrate the severity of the Jim Crow system to a wider public.
Parapolitical violence, in the form of Ku Klux Klan attacks, bombings and lynchings, were another element of the state’s response. Though formally private, civil society organizations, the Ku Klux Klans of the South were integrated into the state through covert hierarchies and networks. They thus participated in the state’s administrative and technical expertise, its monopoly on public violence, while helping to deploy it to resolve bureaucratic, population problems in ways that could be disavowed. But the use of terror, over the longer term, tended to rebound badly and lose its efficacy. The period of the “historical primacy of terror as a means of social control” in the South was being brought to a close. (Piven & Cloward, 1979, p. 182; Chalmers, 2003; Eyes on the Prize 3: Ain't Scared of Your Jails (1960-1961), 1990; Marable, 2007, p. 67; Carson, 1996; Newton, 2010)
What was important about these tactics was that they were pointed at a strategic cleavage within state power, deliberately attempting to leverage it. While conventional social movement studies focus on the communicative, ‘non-violent’ aspects of civil rights struggle, Frances Fox Piven reminds us that the key to the movement’s strategy was to activate “disruptive power”. (Piven & Cloward, 1979, pp. 181-263; Piven, 2006) The repertoires of such disruptive power, as much as their ideological forms, were propagated through a global assault on the colour line: anticolonial struggle, and particularly India’s successful fight for independence. For Martin Luther King Jr., it was Gandhi’s doctrine of nonviolent resistance that he adopted for the US civil rights movement. “To other countries I may go as a tourist,” he once said upon visiting Delhi, “but to India I come as a pilgrim.” About the specific methods of Gandhi, he cited the example of the Montgomery Bus Boycott: “We have found them to be effective and sustaining—they work!” (King Jr., 2005; Horne, 2008)
The last stronghold of traditional, Southern racial anticommunism, was perhaps Alabama. There, the least centralised state administration co-existed with the least developed industrial base. Alabama had fewer means by which to accommodate the end of Jim Crow than most states, and a greater interest in resisting it. As a consequence, its responses were more violent, authoritarian and, as figured in the speech of its Governor George Wallace, more conventionally anticommunist. The state’s Department of Public Safety, based on information supplied by the FBI, labelled Martin Luther King Jr. and his allies among the “Left-Wing Pro-Communist Groups” menacing the social order. A local Peace Commission report charged that King was responsible for sixty communist front groups, yet another that he was under the direction of the Communist Party. Wallace himself volubly rebuked the “Communist conspiracy” at the heart of the “so-called civil rights movement”. Yet here, King and his allies knew that the state’s response was dysfunctional, that the anticommunist offensive was so bound up with paranoia, so incapable of compromise or accommodation, that the mere invitation to accommodate by peaceful means was liable to provoke violence, force the federal government to react, and thus further the crisis within the state.
The Selma-to-Montgomery marches of 1965 organized principally by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in response to the repression of voter-registration, was a tactic devised in recognition of this. The first demonstration, on 7 March 1965, was assaulted by police, with tear gas and billy clubs as it crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The event, rapidly dubbed ‘Bloody Sunday’, aroused not only popular anger but also dismay on the part of border state Southern Democrats such as Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough. In amplifying divisions within the ‘Solid South’, the tactics of the Alabama state also provoked Federal intervention. Not only that, but the boldness and presence of the SCLC aroused the involvement of local black sharecroppers for the first time, despite the threats that they had with the result that the third and last Selma-to-Montgomery march was protected by a federalized National Guard and permitted 25,000 marchers to finally march the distance to Montgomery unmolested by the state or parapolitical militias. (Woods, 2004, pp. 218-24; Vaughn & Davis, 2006, pp. 201-235)
The mobilization of masses inside Jim Crow was thus intended to force change from outside Jim Crow. It leveraged the divisions within the U.S. ruling class, creating such disruption that thousands of businesses across the South de-segregated long before any legal mandate, and compelled the Federal government to act. The result, where local government did not adapt, was a profound degeneration in local state capacity, and the accumulation of further antagonisms (‘contradictions’) within and between central and local state apparatuses.
This, and the logarithmic growth of civil rights campaigns leading to the 300,000 strong March on Washington in 1963, produced two distinctive kinds of response from the central state. One was that the FBI under Hoover intensified its campaign of harassment, disruption and subversion of civil rights leaders. For example, from 1963 until his assassination in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was the target of a “systematic program of harassment … by means both legal and illegal” intended to neutralize him as an effective civil rights leader. The power previously accumulated by Hoover’s bureaucratic office in the context of providing political intelligence to the White House and leading counter-subversion campaigns, played a significant role in this. For the majority of his staff were unconvinced of any significant communist presence in the organization for the March on Washington. Yet, Hoover’s insistence to the contrary was sufficient to have reports re-written, conclusions revised and a “substantial” communist menace confected. On the basis of such fictions, and more substantial ones besides, the FBI continued to disrupt the civil rights movement’s operations, leaking red-baiting smears to the media and generally acting as a powerful alibi to an embattled south. (Investigation, 2007, pp. 1-5; Lewis, 2004, pp. 68-72) Yet, as would be anticipated by the above remarks on the consent-coercion couplet above, the very efficacy of popular organization in breaking down the traditional means of state repression and terror was also disintegrating the anticommunist consensus.
The second response was that of the executive, President Johnson. While he had initially been party to Kennedy’s strategy of continuing the course of moderate, cautious reform, the extent of disruption compelled a more radical approach. With cross-party backing, he pushed Congress to introduce a legislative programme to effectively overthrow Jim Crow, beginning with the Twenty Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing the poll tax and the Civil Rights Act, outlawing segregation, in 1964. In August 1965, a Voting Rights Act was passed, providing Federal protection for African Americans who wanted to register to vote. Although it would take some time to compel Southern states to implement these changes, the Supreme Court signalled its intent by upholding the power of Congress to protect African American citizens in this way. (Capozzi, 2006)
This response was explicitly prompted by ongoing, repeated crises in the South, culminating in Selma’s ‘Bloody Sunday’. But an implicit context was the Vietnam War, which was already prompting an antiwar movement integrally related to the civil rights struggle. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) which the former had helped build, and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) were among the organizations involved in civil rights also opposing the Vietnam War. These organizations represented a militant component of the New Left that was in formation, and which threatened the Democratic Party’s national organization. As an internal report of the liberal, anticommunist Democratic organization the ADA had put it, the Party’s support for voting rights would result in “quick recruitment by the Democratic Party, which will mean quick scuttling of the Freedom Democratic Parties and SNCC control.” (Gettleman, et al., 1995, p. 299; Neale, 2004, pp. 127-9; Dittmer, 1995, p. 294; Sitkoff, 1981)
But not only did such developments threaten the Democratic Party and its particular representational strategies (the attempt to keep segregationists on board while satisfying African American demands). The Vietnam War required a national mobilization of young men, drafted on the basis of anticommunist struggle and the protection of Americanism, as well as the acquiescence of a wider public. The fact that large numbers of Americans had fought in battles that had, for them, a great deal in common with those of the ‘Third World’, in the course of which they had developed tactics designed to overcome state resistance rather than simply be morally persuasive, presented a tremendous obstacle to this. The longer the crisis of Southern segregation went on, the greater the dilemma would become. Johnson’s intervention can thus be interpreted as an attempt to resolve the brewing crisis of authority and construct a new hegemony under Democratic Party leadership. Yet, the very attempt to do so while retaining the segregationists as a core, conservative element of the party machine, exacerbated the crisis of authority. As Cleveland Sellers of the SNCC put it, “Never again were we lulled into believing that our task was exposing injustices so that the ‘good’ people of American could eliminate them … our struggle was not for civil rights, but for liberation.” (Sellers & Terrell, 1990, p. 111)
If Jim Crow is a politics and statecraft of capitalist transition, the racial administration of accumulation-by-dispossession, anticommunism in its context is a politics of crisis management, an attempt to resolve the developing fissures in white supremacist administration through the production of social categories of subversive and anti-national. Inasmuch as the state maintained an internal frontier to separate nationals from non-nationals, to efficiently manage labour markets and constitute the white national as a corporate body represented in and by the white supremacist state, anticommunism proposed that challenges to this frontier were alien, anti-national, and subversive. It is, in Anna Cento Bull’s term, “a politics of nonreconciliation”, executed on the part of dominant classes who are asked by a superior partner in the power bloc to accommodate a popular class interest. (Bull, 2007) This politics would have been ineffectual were it not for the important role that the Southern states could play in consolidating a nation-wide hegemony in the Cold War, and thus the lenience and indulgence that the central state was prepared to display toward local states. And it ceased to be effectual as soon as Southern states moved from consolidating hegemony to exploding it.
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