J.R. Johnson

Capitalism and the Welfare State

(May-June 1950)

Extract from Equality under the Welfare State, The Fourth International, Vol. 11 No. 3, May–June 1950 (unsigned editorial).
Republished in Scott McLemee (ed.), C.L.R. James on the “Negro Question”, Jackson (Miss.) 1996, pp. 134–137.
Transcribed by Daniel Gaido.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for MIA.

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 result in economic and social life. Capitalism tends inevitably to become a system of social, i.e. mass production. There develops “on an ever increasing 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 use as the means of production of combined, socialized labor, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world market, and with 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 world wars, brought millions of 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 between 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 have Negroes felt so keenly the misery, oppression, slavery and degradation of capitalism. But with their numbers in industry increasing, joining the union, 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 discipline, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of 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 societyall 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 we have reached. And that is the stage which has produced the Welfare State to defend the old outlived system against the advances in the new. Despite its attack on 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 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 molding 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 themselves, to the country, 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 ...

Last updated on 19.7.2011