The post-war decline of world, capitalism has accelerated the movement of industrialism in the United. States from the northern into the southern states. The falling export trade in cotton, tobacco, sugar and rice, in a word, the crisis of southern agriculture, has created, a huge, cheap labor market in the South. Mindful of this, industry (chiefly textile) has come into the South to cut the cost of production (wages) that it might better meet the keenness of national and imperialist competition. This is the background for present day politics in the South.
Quite naturally such far-reaching changes in the economic life of the South have expressed themselves in its political life. Great unrest has gripped the masses. In state after state the old, “respectable” lackeys of the landlords within the Democratic party have been swept out of power by factions within the party basing themselves upon this discontent. Thus have the sons of the antebellum aristocracy, broken by the Civil War, been succeeded in the politics of the South by the Fergusons, Bilbo, Talmadge, Blease and Long. The succession has not been uniform, but it has been a steady tendency riding upon the underlying economic currents.
Since space and title permit only a brief treatment here of one of these political movements, that of Huey P. Long in Louisiana, let us examine it. What were his methods? What has he done? How does he effect the revolutionary working-class movement in the South; and now, since a national force, how will he affect the revolutionary working-class movement in the United States?
Long is a product of the poor-white farmers in northern Louisiana, where he was born. Having a clever mind and being ambitious, he worked at odd jobs, attended, for a while the University of Oklahoma and later finished law at Tulane University, He went back to Winn Parish and began to practice law. He soon entered politics and was elected to the Louisiana Public Service Commission. While holding this office, he fought for the right of common carriers for the small oil producers as over against the large oil companies. Thus, we see quite early the nature of his politics. Not against capitalism, but against the big capitalist corporations, for the small capitalists. This shows it to be a middle-class movement.
Unsuccessful in his first attempt to the governorship of the state, he was successful in 1924. As governor he launched a gigantic road and toll-free bridge building program. This served two purposes: Money for contractors and strengthening his support from labor through jobs, thus making a base for his political machine. His free school books also gave added support in the rural sections of the state. A new state capitol furnished a feeling in the backward masses that he was doing things. His efforts in behalf of the Louisiana State University have led to further support from the middle-class and the more “prosperous” farmers. How was this financed? Mainly by an “occupational” tax and an increased franchise tax on corporations. Here again a Populist attack on Wall Street middle-class reformism.
But all of this was for the purpose of making complete his power in the state. On none of these jobs did union wages prevail. The Louisiana Federation of Labor is pitifully weak and in its stronghold, New Orleans, has only 4,000 members in all unions. Long has vetoed or has had vetoed all specifically labor reforms: ratification of Child-Labor Amendment, union labor on all state work, old age pensions etc. Factory inspection is chaotic and politicalised. Accident and labor health laws are haphazardly enforced with the workers still getting the short end of the horn. A third of Louisiana’s population, Negro and white, are on the relief rolls.
The state now has the second largest per capita debt in the country, the state debt being increased by Long from $11,000,000 to $150 million. Since the vast majority of the workers of Louisiana both Negro and white, own no property, the recent bill giving $2,000 tax exemption on all property again helps the middle-class and the large real estate owners. Many of the wealthiest men in the state are the most ardent and loyal supporters of Long.
He has used every trick known to capitalist politics to dominate the state, from bribery and intimidation to fraudulent control of elections. Civil liberties mean nothing if they stand in his way. His opposition comes from corporation lawyers, old guard respectables in the Democratic party, sincere liberals in the intelligenzia and professional class, the Old Regular faction in New Orleans led by Mayor Walmsley, parts of organized labor, and the Socialist and Communists.
Now that he is in the United States Senate and has started his “Share Our Wealth” movement he becomes a national figure and a threat to the working-class movement in this country. He has an unquenchable thirst for power. All of his attacks upon the Roosevelt administration have been calculated to capture the inevitable disillusionment that will fill the masses with the failure of bourgeois reformism. All of the objective conditions are present in this country for a fascist movement. The subjective ones are obviously not present to a sufficient degree. Long knows this and is biding his time, but at present has only the intention of capturing national power legally. Successful in this, the fascism would come after he had attained power, bailing to capture the Democratic nomination in 1956, then may follow his new party and an open fascist role.
His demagogic “Share Our Wealth” program “gives” something to all the elements of discontent in the country, both in the working class and in the lower middle-class. For both he is going “to limit poverty” so that everyone will have “not less than $5,000 free of debt” . How? By limiting “fortunes to such a few million dollars as will allow the balance of the American people to share in the wealth of the land.” To the aged “$30 per month to persons over 60 years of age who do not earn as much as $1,000 per year or possess less than $l0,000 in cash or property.” For the industrial worker the sweet assurance “to limit the hours of work to such an extent as to prevent over-production.” For the farmer and the religious, he is going to “balance agricultural production with what can be sold and consumed according to the laws of God, which have never failed.” Platform 6 is a hurried after-thought that says, “to care for the Veterans of our wars.” This is an old fascist stunt, on the road to power. Veterans make good storm-troops.
Platform 7 shows the provincialism of the Savior. It reads: “Taxation to run the government to be supported, first, by reducing big fortunes from the top, thereby to improve the country and provide employment in public works whenever agricultural surplus is such as to render unnecessary, in whole or in part, any crop.” He thinks only of the unemployed farmer but not at all of the unemployed industrial workers. This is a great weakness for a potential fascist leader. If Long took all of the $85,000,000 income of all of the 46 millionaires in the country last year, it would not keep up unemployment relief on the present low standards for more than two weeks! But such is a program that will capture the politically undeveloped workers and farmers in this country ... unless ...
Unless we in the Socialist party carry on in this race with time, a mass propaganda and educational program among the workers and farmers, a program based upon clear, keen, socialist analysis of social, economic and political conditions and events, a Long or a Coughlin will win. Unless we lead the workers and unemployed in strikes and relief demands, a Long or a Coughlin will capture their feeling of hopelessness. Unless we build up militant sharecroppers’ and farmers’ unions on sound revolutionary socialist principles and action, they above all will be caught in these fascist nets as in Germany. Unless we develop a revolutionary spirit and organizational structure, unless we teach fundamental revolutionary Marxist theory to our Party comrades, many of them will be captivated into these filthy chains. Unless we relentlessly expose the futility of the Roosevelt reformism to the masses from sound revolutionary Marxism, such as to convince the masses of the correctness of our position, a Long or a Coughlin will mislead them and gain their support. Unless we show the Negro masses and all other races what fascism will mean to them in this country, they will be lost in the deluge along with the whole working class if these movements come to power. Let us strike fascism when it first shows its head, let us build a revolutionary Socialist party, let us turn the tide for the workers of the world in their march to international socialism.
(The author, Comrade Whitten, is Secretary of Local New Orleans, Socialist Party.)
Last updated on 08 February 2009