From Fourth International, Vol.11 No.3, May-June 1950, pp.67-70.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The latest program of salvation offered to the American people as protection against the crimes and catastrophes of modern society is the Welfare State. The 1948 elections showed that the vast majority of the nation singled out the Negro people in America as faring very ill and badly in need of welfare. But since then Congress has shown itself an unrelenting enemy of Negro rights. Now Truman’s administration is preparing to go to the voters again in the 1950 elections, seeking to place the blame on the Southern bloc. But many Negroes recognize the responsibility of the administration for the fiasco on civil rights.
These events have posed the following question very sharply: If the Welfare State is the answer to the modern social crisis, what has the Welfare State to offer the American Negro?
First of all, let us note one contribution the Welfare State itself has made to Jim Crow. The Roosevelt-Truman Welfare State organized the nation in arms along Jim Crow lines. By sending this Jim Crow army to every quarter of the globe, the present Welfare State stamped American race prejudice upon the consciousness of the whole world.
Jim Crow is a burden on the US itself. This is admitted in the brief submitted to the Supreme Court against Racial Covenants by Tom Clark, then Attorney-General, and Philip B. Perlman, Solicitor-General of the United States, who quoted a letter from the acting Secretary of State in 1946 to the FEPC:
We are reminded over and over again by some foreign newspapers and spokesmen that our treatment of various minorities leaves much to be desired ... Frequently, we find it next to impossible to formulate a satisfactory answer to our critics in other countries.
Nevertheless, the Roosevelt-Truman Welfare State makes clear to the whole world that, whatever may be its political needs, it will preserve military Jim Crow as a permanent part of American democracy. When you take all these circumstances into consideration it becomes clear that the Roosevelt-Truman Welfare State has struck harder blows against the Negro people than any government since the Civil War.
Not only that. Today the US government says that persecution of the Negro harms the country at home and abroad. Yet it continues with its criminal course. Thus what it is saying in reality is that while the government is willing to abolish Jim Crow, the American public will not permit it to do so. The practiced liars of the Kremlin and the Cominform could have invented no more vicious frame-up of the people of the United States.
The Truman Welfare State and its supporters claim that the problem is so deep-rooted they have to be perfectly sure that the great mass of people is with them before they, as a Welfare State, can act. The people gave them that authority and mandate by their support of Truman’s civil rights program in 1948. But, rejoins the Truman Welfare State, the state cannot act without legislation by Congress: that is the democratic process. And it adds, in the words of the President, “I am doing my best.”
Every important member of the administration knows this is a tissue of lies. From the beginning of its politics on the Negro question the Welfare State has carefully charted its course of deception.
To prove this, let us take first the attitude of the Welfare State to the South. President Truman prepared the way for the 1948 election campaign by the report of his Civil Rights Committee. This Committee recognized that to judge progress in the South by the number of lynchings alone is utterly false.
The almost complete immunity from punishment enjoyed by lynchers is merely a striking form of the broad and general immunity from punishment enjoyed by whites in many communities for less extreme offenses against Negroes. Moreover lynching is the ultimate threat by which his inferior status is driven home to the Negro.
The report repeats this over and over again.
As a terrorist device, it [lynching] reinforces all the other disabilities placed upon him. The threat of lynching always hangs over the head of the Southern Negro: the knowledge that a misinterpreted word or action can lead to his death is a dreadful burden.
Here then is a social system unique in the modern world, for in a totalitarian state, the government reserves to itself and its organized party and institutions the terroriza-tion of the masses. Not so in the South.
... In certain states the white population can threaten and do violence to the minority members with little or no fear of legal reprisal.
In such a social system, it is to be expected that, as the report emphasizes, a “jury is no protection.”
This is what is new about the Welfare State. So intense is the concentration, national and international, upon the unending persecution of American Negroes that the state must parade as champion of the oppressed. That is its welfare side.
However, even in its documents, the Welfare State does not analyze the basic economic and political causes and consequences of the regime of terror in the South, as for instance the Socialist Workers Party has done in its resolution (see Page 90). To do so, the Welfare State would have to expose the capitalist forces behind Jim Crow and the reliance of the Democratic Party upon the white supremacists. That would disclose the other side of the Welfare State as the protector of the capitalist system and its interests.
These two sides emerge as soon as you look carefully at the recommendations of the report on Civil Rights. The report proposes federal organizations to enforce anti-Jim Crow laws in general. But, it continues:
There are civil rights problems unique to certain regimes and localities that can best be treated and solved by the individual states.
Thus right from the beginning the propagandists of the Welfare State hand over to the state governments of the South the responsibility for changing a system of which these governments are the chosen guardians and protectors. Smoothly, the treacherous recommendations continue:
The states should create permanent civil rights commissions to make continuing studies of prejudice, to publish educational material ...
The aim is a partnership between the Welfare State and these gangster regimes.
Such commissions, with their fingers on the communities’ pulses, would complement at the state level the activities of a permanent Federal Commission on Civil Rights.
These are the two faces of the Welfare State. While it denounces the evil of Negro persecution, in the very same document it assures the South not to take all this chatter seriously for it does not intend to impose anything that the Southern rulers do not agree to.
What has happened since the Civil Rights Report is merely the working out in life of the published program of the Welfare State, the document on which the President went to Congress and then to the country. The people may not yet fully recognize this but the politicians and plutocrats on the inside understand it very well. The South knows that, against the changed attitude of the country to Negroes, it can have no better protection than the Truman Welfare State.
But perhaps at least outside of the South the Welfare State attempts to improve the welfare of Negroes? Complete illusion! The Welfare State plays precisely the same vicious role in the North as it does in the South. Let us review the record of Roosevelt and Truman on the one issue of housing.
In 1947, as we have seen, the Welfare State presented a brief to the Supreme Court on Negroes and housing. The Welfare State knows that Jim Crow is growing. Says the brief:
Since 1920 the trend toward use of racial exclusions in new developments appears to have been steadily upward ... and also in extension to previously untouched cities.
This trend, we are told, was “resumed after World War II.” And what of the future?
If this trend continues unchecked almost all new residential sections of our cities will be barred within ten or twenty years from occupancy by Negroes and, to an increasing degree, by other groups.
Here it is impossible for the Welfare State to close its eyes to the fact that the real estate and financial interests are responsible. The brief tells us that the whole policy is “rooted in ignorance, bigotry and prejudice.” But prejudice is “nurtured by the opportunities it affords for monetary gains from the supposed beneficiaries and real victims alike.”
Here again we see the “welfare” side of the state-talk. But what does the Welfare State do? Loren Miller, a Negro lawyer of Los Angeles, who has worked for years on restrictive covenants gave the facts in his report to the NAACP Convention of 1949.
When the Federal Housing Authority was first established under Roosevelt, it issued a manual containing a model race restrictive clause to be inserted in documents as a condition for any loans or mortgages. The NAACP fought the issue and, after a hard fight, the condition was withdrawn. Then in amendments published in the manual of 1947, the terms “race” and “race restrictive covenants” were omitted but so rephrased that the FHA could continue with its policy of refusing to insure loans for Negroes in “white communities” or to guarantee mortgages for projects designed for mixed occupancy. Thus this agency of the Welfare State, with all the authority of the Federal Government behind it, set the pattern throughout the country for confining Negroes in the ghetto. Once more after vigorous protests the FHA made modifications.
On December 2, 1949 Philip B. Perlman, Solicitor General of the Welfare State, announced, with the special blessing of President Truman, that the FHA would refuse to finance any new houses or apartments whose occupancy was restricted on the basis of race, creed or color. That was the new face of the Welfare State. Immediately, a howl arose from the Southerners and the real estate interests. The very next day Franklin D. Richards, FHA Commissioner, announced that “It will be an exceptional case where a property cannot receive Federal mortgage help.”
This is the real trend, not the spectacular legal victories in the Supreme Court and the well-publicized but rare examples of mixed housing. There is a steady growth of Negro communities. The children have to go to schools nearest their homes – Negro schools. Negro teachers are given “equal opportunities” by being appointed to these schools. The same occurs in police precincts, fire stations, in relief headquarters, in YMCA’s, in churches. There is being created among the Negroes themselves a vested interest in Negro segregation.
Thus, at the very period when public sentiment threatens the reactionary practices of the real estate (and financial interests, the Welfare State rushes to their rescue. It uses federal money to finance their Jim Crow projects, assists them to evade the law, and uses the prestige gained by its public denunciations of Jim Crow to bluff and bamboozle the great body of the people. It would be impossible for the capitalist interests to perform on their own account what their Welfare State has done for them.
The Welfare State did not fall from the sky. Its real policies are not some tricks invented in back-rooms by dishonest politicians, which can be corrected by substituting more honest politicians. Truman is not more honest, or if you like, more dishonest, than Roosevelt. We have to push aside foolish speculations as to the sincerity of this or that government official. Great social forces are in action here, pushing along government, institutions, parties and men. It is with these forces that we must reckon, analyzing their origin, their movement, their limitations, and, above all; their conflicts.
Negroes have arrived where they are in the United States and the Welfare State of US capitalism is what it is, because of certain fundamental laws of capitalist development. Nowhere are they so superbly stated as in the famous Chapter XXI of Marx’s Capital entitled the Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation. There Marx recapitulates the great law of centralization and its results in economic and social life. Capitalism tends inevitably to a system of social, i.e., mass production. There develops
... on an ever extending scale, the cooperative form of the labor process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labor into instruments of labor only usable in common, the economizing of all means of production by their mde as the means of production of combined, socialized labor, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world market, and this, the international character of the capitalist regime.
This is the movement which formed the industrial concentrations of Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Youngstown, Los Angeles. This is the movement which in periods of economic expansion such as the two wars, brought millions ol Negroes from the South and knit them into industrial units with whites. The Negroes became part of the vast cooperative social process of production. This is the ever-extending basis of a potential socialist society created by capitalism itself. But capitalism reigns and by every effort in its power holds on to its control of the economy and the government, and all its perquisites such as the housing system it has developed. Thus arises a violent conflict be-tween the progressive movement of the proletariat in production and the attempt of the capitalists to exploit that movement for their own benefit. So Marx continues:
Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolize all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation.
This is precisely what happens in every sphere of capitalist society and what is happening to the Negroes. Never did Negroes feel so keenly the misery, oppression, slavery and degradation of capitalism. But with their numbers in industry increasing, joining the unions, gaining confidence, strength and solidarity with white workers, they react with increasing violence against their conditions of life and labor. This, too, is an expression of Marx’s law, that, if the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation grows,
... with this too grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers and disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself.
This – in brief – is the Marxist analysis of modern historical development. The instruments of labor only usable in common, huge factories, means of transport covering the whole country, vast organizations for the distribution of goods, services and information, a disciplined, united, organized working class, constantly incorporating Negroes into this discipline, unity and organization, the internationalization of production and society; all these are the premises and preparations for a new mode of production, and for corresponding new forms of housing, education, etc.
But these new forms of life and work can be attained only through the struggle for a socialist society. Meanwhile this new form of society is being suppressed, thwarted, choked, retarded, by the old capitalist order inside and outside of production. Until this basic conflict is resolved, the crises will continue. The ultimate end must be either socialism or the descent into totalitarian barbarism.
That is the stage which we have reached, and that is the stage which has produced the Welfare State to defend the old outlived system against the advances of the new. Despite its attack upon the Welfare State, the Republican Party has nothing to offer but a promise to administer the Welfare State more cheaply. It is no more than another defender of capitalism. The working class, which grows continuously in numbers, in discipline, in unity, in organization, revolts more and more bitterly and effectively against the degradation and exploitation of capitalism. The more oppressed sections of society, conscious of the protection given them by a militant labor movement, raise their special grievances. A general and growing movement for the reorganization of society develops. Other sections of society, stirred by the prevailing social disruption, take up the cause of the oppressed.
In America no cause is so obviously just and crying for amelioration as the cause of the Negroes. Hence the tremendous support given to the Negro cause by millions who are not in the labor movement. Under these circumstances, the capitalist class can try fascism as it did in Germany, which involves the total suppression of organized labor, and, once that is accomplished, the brutal moulding and streamlining of the old capitalist system to meet the needs of monopoly capitalism threatened by socialism. But fascism (for the time being) has sustained great defeats on a world scale and is now in discredit. Hence (for the time being) the resort to the demagogy of the Welfare State.
Is it then futile to fight for the passage of civil rights legislation and to demand that Truman live up to his promises? Not at all! Conducted vigorously and without illusions, the struggle for anti-discrimination legislation is a highly progressive struggle, both for its immediate aims and its results. Negro persecution will fall only with the fall of capitalism! But that can take place only when the vast majority of the population realizes that the Welfare State provides no solutions to their problems.
To defeat the opponents of anti-Jim Crow legislation would be a great victory for the Negroes and the whole American people: a field chosen, the issue posed, and the enemy defeated. But after this victory, the workers, Negroes and all who feel only the blows and get none of the advantages of capitalism, would inevitably confront another side of the Welfare State.
President Truman in his interview with Arthur Krock of the New York Times has already warned that if legislation which seeks to compel employers to hire Negroes is passed, he would not administer it. Good. Let him not only say so, but let him do so, for all the world to see. Hard and bitter as that experience would be, there is no other road for the social development of this great country and the political education of its masses.
The Negroes are furthest ahead in the growing comprehension of the true nature of the Welfare State. They, therefore, have a duty to perform, to themselves, to the country, and to the world. They must show by the presentation of their own irrefutable experience that the Welfare State is not the friend but the double-edged enemy and deceiver of the Negro people and the world at large.
The release of a new order of production from the stranglehold of capitalism is the task of the great majority of the population, and above all, the united, disciplined, organized working class. But it by no means follows that the Negroes, as they have been trained to do under capitalism, must wait and leave the initiative to others. In the great struggles that have lifted the Negro question to the forefront today, they did not wait. Nor should they hesitate now to denounce root and branch the Welfare State and all its works.
They will find a ready ear in organized labor itself, which has had its own experience with the Welfare State in the Taft-Hartley Act and has seen the Welfare State’s corruption of mass leaders. The Negroes will find a ready ear in the millions of the middle class bowed down under murderous taxation, imposed upon them by a war-making government in the name of peace. They will find readiness to listen in the millions of poor farmers, particularly in the South, in whose name the Welfare State pours hundreds of thousands of dollars as government subsidies into the overstuffed pockets of the farming magnates.
The class struggle ebbs and flows, but mounts inexorably to conflicts of greater intensity and wider scope. The battle in this Congress around FEPC has been fought and lost. But gains have been registered – in knowledge, understanding and experience, and particularly knowledge, understanding and experience of the hypocritical nature of the Welfare State. At this stage few sections of the population can deal such mighty blows at this imposing fiction of the Welfare State as the Negro people of the United States.
Last updated on: 18 March 2009