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International Socialist Review, Winter 1964


Problems of the New Administration


Source: International Socialist Review, Vol.25 No.1, Winter 1964, pp.3-4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


KENNEDY’S fatal end is being linked with that of the martyred Abraham Lincoln. Their successors in office also bear certain resemblances to each other. Both have the same last name and come from the South. More politically significant is the fact that both Johnsons took over, along with the powers of the Presidency, tremendous problems which their predecessors had been grappling with but were not able to settle.

Although Kennedy promised a far more vigorous and effective administration when he entered the White House in 1961, he had made little progress by the end of 1963. As Walter Lippmann wrote after the assassination on December 4: “The big hopes and promises of the New Frontier are at a standstill.” In his first weeks the new President is likewise striving to produce the impression of energetically disposing of unfinished business. But before him are the same roadblocks that slowed down and frustrated Kennedy.

Lyndon Johnson has inherited four major problems. Ironically, the foremost at home is a continuation at a far more advanced stage, of the crucial problem that confronted and confounded Andrew Johnson at the close of the Civil War. What is to be done about the long-postponed yet increasingly insistent demands of the Negroes for freedom? Andrew Johnson of Tennessee was afraid to offend and overturn the Old South by giving political power and economic sureties to the freedmen. He drew back from the drastic step imperatively required by the tasks of the times. His critics said “he acted more like a Pharaoh than a Moses.” After being almost impeached by the Radicals, Johnson was refused renomination. In order to assure Negro rights, revolutionary measures had to be instituted all the way from military occupation of the South to the denial of votes to secessionist leaders. This new birth of freedom did not last long, as we know. Capitalist reaction joined with the restoration of white supremacy to wipe out the achievements of Black Reconstruction.

Now, a hundred years later, another Johnson, this one from Texas, faces an even more irrepressible Negro revolt. He, too, is a moderate caught in a situation that calls for radical actions. Moreover, he heads a white power structure that has grown more rigid and reactionary than it was a century ago. Is it, then, realistic to expect that the rulers of today will be more ready and able to redress the grievances and meet the demands of the Negroes than their nineteenth century forerunners were?

In his first message to Congress Johnson requested passage of the civil rights bill which has been in committee cold storage all year. This bold warrior did not dare specify prompt action this year. The Kennedy administration had already agreed to weaken the provisions of the measure. And, even if some bill is enacted in some form next year in view of the forthcoming national elections, it does not provide adequate federal enforcement of civil rights statutes and still less does it try to remedy the intolerable conditions against which the Negroes are protesting.

Liberal and some Negro leaders alike have been urging a moratorium on the civil rights struggle to give the new president a chance to show what he can do. They overlook two things. First, that the pending inadequate civil rights legislation acquired priority in national politics today solely through the pressures generated by mass actions and demonstrations. Second, that postponement of further actions of this kind goes against the very spirit and dynamism of the Freedom Now movement which is opposed to gradualism, tokenism and watchful waiting.

It takes no exceptional skill in prophecy to foresee that the new occupant of the White House, as well as the old, will find Freedom Now fighters not only in the streets of the South and the North but close to his doorstep clamoring for the jobs and justice Kennedy promised but failed to provide.

* * *

THIS brings us to the second big problem before the new administration. It is inseparable from the first. As the prime sufferers from economic insecurity, the Negro masses want jobs as well as justice. Where are these to come from? For twenty years our economy has been kept going by massive injections of military expenditures. Even so, the United States has the highest rate of unemployment of any major industrial country except Canada.

Why should anyone be out of work in the richest and most productive country of the world? Only because the system of producing for profit necessarily also produces unemployment as an essential byproduct of its operations.

The record of the past three years casts an ominous shadow over the coming decade. Although his time in office coincided with a boom, all Kennedy’s efforts failed to reduce unemployment. The chief cause of this impotence is the technological revolution sweeping through factories, offices and farms. In this banner auto sales year unemployment increased about 10 per cent in Michigan in February. Seventy-eight per cent of Detroit’s Negro youth has no work – and you need seventeen years seniority to be sure of your job at Ford’s in Detroit. The same processes of displacement are going on in steel, coal, longshoring, agriculture and elsewhere in the economy.

While automation is eliminating millions of jobs, twenty-six million new young workers will enter the labor market in the next ten years. A flood of new workers comes up against fewer job opportunities – here are the explosive ingredients of distress and deepening discontent on the New Frontier, especially among the Negro and poor white youth. Johnson has set a target of five million more jobs, but, like Kennedy, is opposed to a shorter work week which might counteract some of the worst effects of automation. He has no program to deal with unemployment other than to cut the taxes of the corporations and the rich in the hope that they will reinvest in more plant facilities equipped with automatic machinery which will eliminate more jobs and workers ...

* * *

THE DEFENSE of the liberties of the entire American people, and not simply those of twenty-million Negroes, is a third area in which the Kennedy-Johnson administration has been in default. According to some American academic historians, the perfecting of democracy is the predestined mission of our capitalist civilization. This judgment is based upon weighty historical facts. But these, alas, pertain much more to the past than the present.

In its progressive periods capitalist America favored and facilitated the growth of democracy. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries our people created and strengthened many democratic rights and institutions, which we still enjoy. This expansion of freedom was halted and reversed as the monopolists and militarists have become more unrestrained in their exercise of power during this century.

Since the beginning of the Second World War, under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, there has been a steady restriction and erosion of our liberties. Over the past twenty-five years Congress has passed not a single law designed to enlarge our freedoms. On the contrary, it has enacted a still unfinished series of instruments of oppression starting with the Smith Act and culminating in the Landrum-Griffin bill, which have whittled down constitutional and labor rights.

Lest this judgment be dismissed as hopelessly biased, coming from an avowed Marxist periodical, examine a quote from an eminent English philosopher who has opposed Marxism for more than forty years. Bertrand Russell wrote in the April Frontier:

“Since the end of World War II, the way to political power in the US has been characterized by the crudest persecution of dissident opinion. The object of this persecution has been to impose upon the US an acceptance of capitalism and of the power of large industry. The corporate community finances both political parties, provides the millions necessary for both candidates in senatorial elections, owns and controls the media of communication and, in effect, exercises the power of decision making. For this reason formal political democracy in the United States is largely a sham, and ‘freedom’ is a convenient myth at the disposal of faceless bureaucrats.”

It should be noted that the Freedom Now movement stands in the vanguard, not only of the struggle for social equality and economic security, but also of the fight against the encroachments upon our democratic liberties. The few successes that have been scored in recent years against the enemies of democracy have come from the vigor of the civil rights movement.

President Johnson has been a dependable friend of the natural gas and big oil interests. Every time attempts have been made in Congress to regulate natural gas or tamper with the oil royalties racket he has worked to head them off. Politicians and political parties need campaign funds, don’t they? He has never been so ardent as a guardian of the rights of the people as he has been of the revenue of the plutocrats.

MOST serious of all is the fourth unresolved problem bequeathed to the new chief executive. That is the problem of peace. In the first days Johnson hurried to declare that the war in South Vietnam would proceed and the anti-Cuba drive would not lessen. Over and above these impermissible interventions against the colonial movements of liberation hovers the ghastly threat of nuclear war.

One reason why the world trembled and held its breath at the news of Kennedy’s assassination is the potential to destroy all life on this planet vested in the tenant of the White House. He alone can order the button to be pressed that can doom us all.

Kennedy was prepared to risk such a decision in the confrontation with the Kremlin in October of last year. The assassin’s bullet has now shifted that life-and-death power to the man from Texas. It is extremely doubtful that the world feels safer as a result.

Here, too, it is not a question of individuals but of the workings of a social and political system. Where does this supreme inhumanity that hangs over us, where does this possibility of universal assassination by nuclear devices come from? It is the deadly fruit of an outmoded system that is being pressed back by the on-rushing forces of national independence and socialism and does not relish losing much more of its power, possessions, privileges and profits. It will stop at nothing to protect and preserve these, in the last extremity.

This alone should suffice to condemn this system in the eyes of every one concerned with the salvation of the human race.

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