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International Socialism, Winter 1968/69


Joel Stein

USA: Elections


From Survey, International Socialism (1st series), No.35, Winter 1968/69, pp.8-9.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Joel Stein writes: There was a time, in the nineteen-fifties and early sixties, when there were crises. The Suez crisis, the Hungarian revolution, the Summit and U-2 incident, the various Berlin crises, the Cuban crises. Dramatic incidents which shocked a world locked in the dull slumber of imperialist peace and stability, challenging that world of illusion and occasionally showing the possibility of mass struggle.

Today there are no more crises. There is a permanent crisis, a permanent tension pervading world society. Almost every nation on earth, East and West, backward and developed, blends in an image of constant crisis and struggle. Events occur, the French mass strike, the American aggression in Vietnam, which highlight this tension, which show that today the impossible is possible, socialist revolution or nuclear holocaust But the slumber is no more; the crisis is the normal event.

There is, aside from the tragic working-class support for George Wallace, nothing particularly significant about the US presidential elections. What little excitement it had was borrowed from this general atmosphere of permanent crisis. It promises no solutions to the problems facing world society nor to those facing the dominant world power. Like the elections following the French strike, its outstanding characteristic is its absolute irrelevance to the real problems. Like the elections in France, the elections in America will now be used to show that ‘nothing has changed’. In fact, each shows only the inability of rulers everywhere to find a way out of the new problems, their reliance upon the old, tested, and failing methods of the days of slumber, in this case ‘consensus politics’.

All three candidates, despite Wallace’s demagoguery, reflected to various degrees the general trends of US society. The growing stagnation of US capital (only 37 per cent of capital formation is now privately financed) is supported by an expanding government expenditure, essentially in arms. The growing difficulties of profit production within the US dictate a rigid militarist stance abroad, epitomised in Vietnam. Urban conditions, unemployment, workers’ living standards, stagnate and deteriorate. Workers are militant in the shops, Black people in the streets, students wherever they can be.

All this dictates an expanding state apparatus as the ‘answer’ to all problems. Repression and the police have become the staples of the American Way of Life. But the monolithic requirements of a police apparatus contrast with the organisation of US capital through its corporate structures, political parties and state apparatus, a perfect reflection of the diversity and homogeneity of US monopoly-state capital.

Capital longs for one thing aside from profit, the base upon which profit rests, capitalist stability, the ability of capital to control the general situation. It despises above all else competition and risk. It longs for stability at the expense of the working masses who must endure all of capital’s blunders to guarantee its power, investments and profits.

Inflation, social unrest, workers’ shop militance show that the rulers are not in full control. And the shrinking profit sector of the economy makes, this growing unrest more and more unpalatable. But the rulers remain reluctant to turn to repression against all sectors of the working masses. Wallace does not yet have the support of the American Krupps. In Germany, the bourgeoisie traded economic instability for the totalitarian control of the Nazi Party which held the workers in line. It traded economic instability for political instability, for the arbitrary rule of Hitler’s SS and fascist thugs who terrorised the country and carried war policies to a suicidal point.

The American rulers genuinely abhorred Wallace. And a Wallace-Lemay victory might well have sparked a major world crisis as Europe could have flocked to dump its dollars and wonder if the world was coming to an end. But the turn to Wallace is still possible; and reactionary policies have a dynamic of their own. Around the Wallace campaign flocked the already organised para-military right Minutemen, White Citizens’ councils, John Birchers. His big backing came from Texas oil and middle-sized Southern and Mid-Western capital most immediately threatened by instability. H.L. Hunt, the Bircher oil billionaire, was mentioned often as a backer. These thugs, together with many organised thugs in police uniforms, rallied to the Wallace banner. They are an available base for a repressive army.

In the meantime, the tried and failing methods will continue, and perhaps inadvertently will lead us to destruction on their own. Johnson had to work hard to get excited enough to oppose Nixon actively. No one could really think of what the differences between Humphrey and Nixon were. Nixon conveniently chose something called Spiro T. Agnew as his vice-presidential candidate. This thing, which will soon be Vice-President of the United States, is a small-time suburban politician and swindler who accidentally became Governor of Maryland. Aside from involving itself in some corrupt deals, it followed the Baltimore rebellions after the assassination of King with a racist denunciation of the Black middle class for responsibility for the riots and ‘consorting with revolutionaries’. It gathered them in a room with television cameras and denounced these all-too-grateful ‘Community Leaders’ for their ingratitude. Agnew also distinguished itself in rivalling George Wallace for crude racism. It is also said that Nixon chose Agnew as life-insurance; no one but Agnew’s business partners would like to see him in the White House.

We can look forward to a Nixon Administration which will suffer inflation, demand price-wage stability, denounce rioting and China, and defend any petty looter in the world who promises that he is anti-Communist. A Nixon who will witness the increasing disintegration of US world hegemony and US society and will turn slowly, or rapidly, to more repressive and less successful means for stabilisation. In other words, the primary difference between the Nixon and Johnson Administrations will be in the number of letters in their names. Wallace’s campaign became national on the basis of support of millions of blue-collar workers. One can easily see that Agnew could have appealed to these workers if their sentiments had been simply racialist. In fact, of course, Wallace’s largest support did come from white workers living on the edge of the ghetto. In Newark, New Jersey, home of a particularly massive uprising, for example, he received almost twenty per cent of the vote in the Italian working-class area at the edge of the ghetto. The Wallace movement was also, it should be noted, genuinely American in that those who voted for him were the White Americans at the bottom of the heap, Italians and Poles, most concerned with passing as the most tried and true Americans.

But Wallace’s support came from workers en masse who wished to buck the union bureaucracy and their Democratic Party allies. The union bureaucracy in the big industrial centres, the mid-West mainly, auto and steel country, stand directly in the way of workers’ struggles for better working conditions, militant defence of workers’ jobs and interests. Workers throughout the country, particularly in the East, border states and mid-West are disgusted with the Democrats, supported by the unions and Establishment politics generally. Wallace’s demagogic appeal won a massive response. If many of those who spoke for Wallace did not vote for him, it shows only better that, while ready for a break with the Democrats, they are still seeking a movement which can genuinely speak to and fight for their needs. However, Wallace did poll 16 per cent of all union votes.

The millions of workers who have now shown their disgust with the Democratic Party, vocally at least, are not at all committed to Wallace. He can offer them nothing. Four years is a long time. In that period, the left must attempt to organise a political movement which can relate directly to the needs and struggles of the working class. If it fails to do so. Wallace will win greater working-class support by default. Either the left begins to actively work with and support workers’ struggles, to galvanise them into a political movement controlled by workers, or Wallace will accept the workers’ vote in ’72.

The minor parties of the left, the Peace and Freedom Party and the Freedom and Peace Party, had no significant effect on the elections (although Paul Jacobs, Peace and Freedom Party Senate candidate got 1.3 per cent of the vote in California). Where they won support it was only from middle-class people disgusted with the war and racism They made no attempt to appeal to the needs and struggles of workers, or rather, only sporadically and as an afterthought.

But the break with the Democrats by millions of workers shows that an independent working-class political movement is possible. The workers are searching for new answers to their problems, for a national political movement which relates to their needs, a programme for full employment and better working and living conditions. Such a movement must organise nationally and locally. It must work together with workers in their job struggles and community fights. It must encourage the development of independent rank-and-file and shop stewards’ committees and a link-up between these on all levels; it must support fights for union rank-and-file control.

Ironically, it is not in the performance of the left that we can see the possibilities for an independent working-class political movement in the US today. It is rather in the support which Wallace received. He was the one who went out and looked for it. But the left must see its possibilities. The alternative is growing racial polarisation and a popular working-class-supported movement for reactionary repression ... ultimately, of the workers themselves.

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