Friday Dec 13

BOOK REVIEW The Civil Rights History of Greene County, Alabama from a Rank-and-File Perspective: It’s More Than Race By Monty Thornburg and Toby Terrar Red Star Publishers, New York, 2019

Civil Rights History, Socialism and Trump

On the weekend of July 27-28, 2019, the citizens of Greene County, Alabama are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the South’s first significant voting rights victory. In that election in July 1969 the Greene County majority, for the first time in the twentieth century, were able to exercise the right to vote. They elected their candidates for probate judge, county sheriff, county supervisors and two county education board members.

The direct outcome of the election over the next decade was a robust socialist program of jobs, county-owned factories, education, housing, nutrition, recreation, and health care that had not been seen since the Reconstruction and New Deal eras. For the first time in the twentieth-century, there was an in-flow of migration to fill the full-employment economy, rather than an outflow. The majority turned around the starvation economics promoted by the absentee landlords and merchants. The latter included the Morgans, Vanderbilts and Rockefellers and their corporations, which had dominated the Black Belt through their vote graft.

As part of the celebration, the Alabama Civil Rights Museum Movement, Inc. (ACRMM) has sponsored the publishing of the above-titled book about the history of the voting rights victory and the positive results for the county in the following decade. It summarizes the life and wisdom of Greene County public school teacher, Robert Brown (1924-2018) and through him, the twentieth-century civil rights movement starting with the 1930s New Deal period.

The history related in the book is still relevant. President Trump was voted in mainly by working people because he promised to abate the neo-liberal, globalist politics that sent their industrial jobs abroad. In 1969 the Greene County majority did likewise. International class struggle influenced both the earlier and later development. As the book documents, the World War II victory in Europe resulted in the Soviets having influence in the developing nations. Flowing from this the northern industrialists pulled back on their support for the racist foundation of their southern allies, when as early as 1947 President Harry Truman’s Committee on Civil Rights declared that race discrimination was harming foreign commerce. The U.S. government’s effort to contain and manage the story of race in America was a component of the government’s broader Cold War policy of containing communism.

Not surprisingly, the racist old guard, led by George Wallace advertised on highway billboards about communist influence in the civil rights movement. For his part, Martin Luther King baited the federal government by exposing himself to well-publicized harsh treatment in order to gain concessions. He turned the dominant divide-and-conquer mass strategy used against white and black workers, into dividing and conquering America’s racial orthodoxy.

The communists influenced more than race. Like the Soviet workers of the era, Greene County’s majority boasted in the 1970s of their planned full-employment economy, with its built-in labor scarcity. With their political dominance they made an iron curtain to keep out the capitalists. They did not wait on the capitalists to trickle down jobs or steal them. With his trade barriers, Trump is taking a cue from worker economics. The ideology of those like Senator Lindsey Graham misses this point. He maintains that the liberals are communist. But Trump’s attack on neo-liberal capitalism reflects worker demands for the full-employment system. His friendships with North Korea, Russia and Syria while attacking NATO and the CIA have their basis in working class isolationism, which gains nothing from imperialist aggression.

Far from worker influence, the liberals from Bernie Sanders on down, distance themselves from even the anti-communist Democratic Socialists of America. Larry Holmes of the Workers World Party argues that American workers in voting for Trump were ahead of the progressives. He writes in Lessons for the Class Struggle:

“The working class is not shocked by the fact that a billionaire is a liar and a cheat and a robber baron, because they all are….. The last thing you want to do is to try to maintain this phony-baloney mask of capitalism being so great and let’s just bring it back to being decent and civil. What crap!.... The globalists and neo-liberals like the Clintons are as much against the oppressed as the rightwing. They just do their dirty work behind the scenes.”

From the perspective of Robert Brown, the 1969 voting-rights victory has a lesson. Using biblical language, he summarized that that the rank and–file saw the weakness of the “monster” that forced the youth out of the county and helped cripple it. He thinks this deserves not to be totally forgotten.

Dean Richards is a Secondary School Teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

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