On Federal Troops in Little Rock
by Richard Fraser
Attachment to Socialist Workers Party Club Executive [Political Committee] Minutes No. 18, 5 November 1957. On 10 October 1957 Fraser wrote this letter from Seattle, Washington to the SWP Political Committee, protesting the Militant’s call for federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas.
The editorial on the action by the Federal government in sending troops to Little Rock, published on the front page of the Militant of September 20th, brings the dispute over this question into sharp focus.
This episode has posed the fundamental question point-blank: shall the struggle in the South be waged in abject dependence upon the government, or independently by the masses?
The entire Negro community of Little Rock, numbering 25,000, was poised and ready for action. Their eagerness to participate in the struggle at times overflowed in dramatic eruptions, as testified to by the Negro press. Moreover, this mass eagerness occurred within a favorable relationship of forces.
The Negro middle class leaders refused the masses any part in the struggle, demanding that they cease aspiring to act and to accept a passive role meekly. Having betrayed the masses’ desire for action, the leadership appealed instead to the government to solve the crisis.
The demand for Federal Troops to the South is revealed in action, not as an adjunct to but as a substitute for the organized action of the masses and is counterposed directly to it.
The editorial sees in this situation a “Valuable Precedent”— “For the use of federal troops in Little Rock constitutes a precedent for the Negro people that the capitalist politicians—much as they will squirm and try to weasel out of—will never be able to get away from. At each crucial stage in the fight for the enforcement of the rights they now possess on paper, the Negro people will be in a position to demand federal intervention if they need it….”
If they need it? Who is to determine if they need it? The editors of the Militant seem quite willing to take the word of the middle class leadership whether the Negro people need Federal soldiers—and this leadership will continue to prefer governmental action to mass action, as has been their tradition.
This perspective for the struggle is justified by the Militant in the following manner: “The resulting political pressure…can blow the Republican-Democratic political monopoly sky high.” Such a formula provides a political justification for continued dependence on the government and for perpetuation of the policy of no organization of the masses.
Spokesmen for the P.C. convention resolution have repeatedly claimed that one of its central points was the question of mass action vs. dependence on the government. The editorial in question, however, illustrates the contradictory character of the resolution which at one and the same time calls for a class struggle policy in the Negro movement, but also endorses parts of the consciously collaborationist and anti-revolutionary program of the middle class leadership.