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International Socialist Review, Summer 1965



The Vietnam Protest Movement and the Johnson “Consensus”


From International Socialist Review, Vol.26 No.3, Summer 1965, pp.67-70.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The opposition of the American academic community to the foreign policy of his administration has irked and annoyed Lyndon Baines Johnson no end. It runs counter to the myth that his administration rests on the solid foundation of a broad “consensus,” based on the results of the 1964 presidential campaign, when he ran as the candidate of “all the people.” Enlisted in his corner were the most disparate elements: big business and labor, Negro leaders and white supremacists, Dixiecrat reactionaries and northern liberals, coexistence radicals and cold war conservatives.

With the ineffable Goldwater as his opponent Johnson was able to coast to a landslide victory without resort to serious discussion or debate of basic policy questions. A tiresome repetition of vote-catching platitudes sufficed to corral the support of the overwhelming majority, a great many of whom cast their ballots for Johnson as the “lesser evil” candidate. This is the ramshackle “consensus” upon which Johnson set out to blueprint his version of the “Great Society.”

“His objective,” writes William Shannon, editorial board member of the New York Times, Feb. 15, 1965, “is to keep intact the broad-based coalition that elected him. This involves holding the confidence and good-will of influential businessmen and of modern conservatives without endangering the support of the trade unions, the Negroes, the low-income voters and the liberal intellectuals who together comprise the hard core of the Democratic party’s strength. As a Southerner who was once suspect among dominant Northern elements of his party, Mr. Johnson is jealous of his liberal reputation.”

“His strategy,” observes Shannon, “is to hold liberal support at the cheapest possible price in terms of dollars.” This involves generous hand-outs to the greedy rich and minimum concessions to the disinherited of the “affluent society.” “Supporters of ‘Great Society’ programs,” says Shannon, “are beginning to complain that the Administration is making very little money available to back up its impressive rhetoric.”

Lyndon B. Johnson took office under conditions most favorable to the preservation of the “broad-based coalition” that elected him. The economic boom kept churning up ever greater profits to feed the insatiable maw of big business. The labor leaders kept a tight checkrein on the ranks in line with the restrictive wage “guidelines” of the administration. The conservative Negro leaders, bowing to Johnson’s “civil rights” program of gradualism and tokenism, urged moderation in the struggle for equality. The avoidance of conflict over “controversial issues” became the sine qua non for the continued existence of Johnson’s “consensus.”

The Utopian vision of creating the “Great Society” within the boundaries of the United States without regard to what happens in the rest of the world is of a piece with Stalin’s Utopian “theory” of building socialism in a single country. Both assume as a basic prerequisite the maintenance of the status quo. But the epoch in which we live is pregnant with social change. We are living, as Lenin long ago affirmed, in the epoch of wars, revolutions and colonial uprisings. Events have fully confirmed Lenin’s prognosis.

American prosperity, which casts a superficial aura of class peace and “national unity” on the “affluent society,” rests on the exploitation and oppression of less favored lands and peoples. Only the wealthier nations of the capitalist world can afford even those feeble measures of reform, political and economic, which enable them to maintain some semblance of social stability. But these are only the favored few. The overwhelming majority of mankind eke out a miserable existence under conditions of grinding poverty, unremitting toil, and savage repression. For them there is no hope of achieving a decent standard of living, let alone a “Great Society,” except through the road of social revolution.

Because of its awesome military, political and economic power, American capitalism is today the bulwark of the world capitalist system. While it uses its preponderant power to exploit its dependent and satellite states it must assume primary responsibility for curbing or crushing any social eruption that threatens the stability of the world capitalist order. It is cast in the role of world policeman because there is none other capable of playing that role. To maintain the status quo in a world in which the pressure of rising discontent continues to mount to explosive proportions is like trying to hold back the tide with a broom.

But no ruling class in history ever abandons its power, its privileges and its prerogatives, without a violent struggle. It is a common complaint among advocates of the theory of “lesser evil” politics to bemoan the fact that Johnson today is carrying out the Goldwater line in the field of foreign policy. The illusion that it could be otherwise is based on a refusal to take cognizance of objective reality. Given the position of American imperialism in the world capitalist system no occupant of the White House, committed to the preservation of the so-called “free enterprise system,” can act otherwise than as gendarme to bribe, bully, blackmail or to club into submission any revolt against the existing capitalist order.

As president, John F. Kennedy sought to cheat history by advancing the Alliance for Progress gambit designed to counter the spreading influence of Castroism in Latin America. The scheme held out the promise of using Yankee power and money to promote agrarian and social reform under democratic regimes responsive to the needs of the people. The scheme died aborning. Even the feeblest gestures toward reform threatened to open the floodgates of social revolution. The result was a series of right-wing military coups, aided and abetted by the Central Intelligence Agency, with the blessing of the White House.

In a recent television interview, Richard Bissell, former director of plans for the CIA, frankly stated it was US policy to support police-state dictatorships – providing they were “anti-communist” – “not because we are rightists,” he affirmed, “but because there were no alternatives to chaos.” This same line was clearly enunciated by Thomas C. Mann, now Under Secretary of State, who was named by Johnson after his inauguration, as chief administration adviser on Latin American affairs. It was the line applied by Johnson in directing the massive military intervention against the popular revolt in the Dominican Republic that overthrew the repressive military junta. Mass action for democratic rights and social reform is stigmatized as “chaos” and equated with “international communist conspiracy,” to justify a policy of brutal military repression. Such is the “new” Johnson “doctrine.”

In this day and age, the policy of naked imperialist aggression cannot win popular support unless all voices of critical dissent are stilled. The “brainwashing” propaganda of the administration and its apologists, so crassly at variance with the known facts, is an insulting affront to the intelligence of even those who want to believe. For the critical-minded it engendered an attitude of cynical contempt and rejection of the gross distortions and flagrant falsifications of government spokesmen that led, inevitably, to outspoken opposition.

Academic Outcry

The growing opposition to US foreign policy is most widespread among students on campus across the nation. It culminated in the April 17 student March on Washington to End the War in Vietnam with some 20,000 participants, double the number anticipated by the organizers of the march. Opposition ferment among campus students could not help but affect the entire academic community. As a corollary the teach-in movement spread rapidly from one campus to another and led to the national teach-in debate in Washington on May 15, attended by some 5,000 and broadcast over radio and television to a large viewing audience across the country.

The opposition of the academic community was undermining Johnson’s prized “liberal reputation” and threatened to upset the coalition “consensus” fabricated during the election campaign. The great “I am” in the White House was plainly irked. He first decided to ignore the barbed shafts of criticism directed at administration policy in Vietnam, to pretend it didn’t exist. It didn’t work. Then administration “truth teams” recruited from the State Department and Pentagon were dispatched to campus “hotbeds,” to quell the opposition movement. It was a disaster! Leading spokesmen of the opposition were then subjected to the smear treatment and stigmatized as “extremists” in the hope of witch-hunting the movement into silence. It backfired.

To salvage his “liberal reputation” and prop up his tottering “consensus,” Johnson hastened to enlist the aid of his labor lieutenants who head the AFL-CIO. As always, they proved ready, able and willing, to play the role of political hatchet-men for their “friend” in the White House. George Meany, AFL-CIO president, rushed into the fray flailing his forked tongue at “those in high places, those in the academic world, who are either a little woozy upstairs or are victims of Communist propaganda – those students who fall for the leadership that is imposed upon them by local cells of the Communist Party.” Truly it has been said: The harshest sound is the braying of an ass!

Tagging along behind Meany came another stalwart labor champion, David Dubinsky, president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, screeching like a hoot owl at “these self-styled liberals [who] never get tired raving against our Government for attacking Communist military installations in North Vietnam ...”The labor statesmen were rewarded for services rendered by a telegram from the White House thanking them “for saying to the world that this nation of ours, the United States of America, speaks in unity with one voice from one heart.” But two chicken-hearted jackasses hardly constitute a “consensus,” the Texas corn merchant to the contrary notwithstanding.

Jay Lovestone

Never in history has the world witnessed so servile a gang of craven lickspittles as the present crop of labor statesmen who head the American union movement. These are sell-out artists of the first water, devoid of even a single spark of solidarity with the oppressed and exploited workers of the world. Jingoism is their creed and treachery their stock-in-trade. When it comes to serving the reactionary interests of US imperialism, of advancing the counterrevolutionary aims of their capitalist rulers, they truly speak “with one voice from one heart.” And of the whole lot of cynical blubberheads who play toady to the bloated profit-hogs in Washington and Wall Street probably the most revolting are Meany and Dubinsky. For lurking in their shadow is the sinister figure of Jay Lovestone, recently elevated to the exalted post of international affairs director of the AFL-CIO.

There is not one union member in a thousand who is aware of the existence of Jay Lovestone or of the role he plays in the labor movement. “His role in the AFL-CIO,” observes the May 15 issue of Business Week, “includes the maintenance of close contacts with labor’s own version of the Central Intelligence Agency – a trade union network existing in all parts of the world and in all factions.”

“In recent weeks,” says Business Week, “Lovestone has conducted a series of regional conferences for US unionists to outline the federation’s views on critical world tensions – and to offset some outside arguments (!) that the US should concentrate more on domestic affairs than on world.”

How did the renegade Lovestone climb so quickly to such lofty heights in the AFL-CIO bureaucracy? In the latter part of the 1920s, Jay Lovestone was general secretary of the American Communist Party. He was ousted in 1929 by the Stalin faction after having been identified as a supporter of the Bukharin group in the Communist International. Upon their expulsion from the American CP the Lovestoneites set up shop as a pro-Kremlin group hoping that the shifting winds of Moscow’s foreign policy would waft them back into Stalin’s favor. The outbreak of war in 1939 however, sounded the death knell of the Lovestoneites clique. They disbanded in 1940 and Lovestone and Company drifted over to the support of the American State Department policy.

Lovestone had close connections with a faction of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union which had been in opposition to David Dubinsky. In a deal with the leader of the faction, Dubinsky put Lovestone on his payroll as “anti-communist” specialist and foreign affairs expert. In 1943 he became international affairs director for the ILGWU and upon recommendation of Dubinsky he was named the following year as executive secretary of the AFL Free Trade Union Committee set up to fight “communism” in the world trade union movement.

With the advent of the “cold war” Lovestone came into his own. A number of his cronies went on the payroll, the most notorious of whom, Irving Brown, was dispatched to Europe as part of the Marshall Plan to split the European trade union movement along ideological lines. Lovestone now has at his disposal a huge slush fund and a proliferation of agents active throughout the world, working in close collaboration with the State Department, the CIA, etc., to further the aims of American imperialist policy. It is estimated that about one-quarter of the AFL-CIO annual income of nearly $10 million is spent in the “foreign field.”

In Latin America, Lovestone and Company operate a far flung network of labor agents through the American Institute for Free Labor Development partly financed by the AFL-CIO but, according to an article by Stanley Meisler, in the Feb. 10, 1964 issue of The Nation, “principally with money made available by the Alliance for Progress and private enterprise.”

“The institute,” relates Meisler, “does not publish full financial details, but it is known that its 1963 budget was for $1,141,509. The institute says this income came from three sources: $500,000 from government, $300,000 or so from the AFL-CIO, and $300,000 or so from foundations and business. All the government funds, according to the institute, came from the Alliance for Progress program. The institute is also close-mouthed about its private donors and the size of their contributions. But representatives of W.R. Grace & Co., Pan American Airways, the Anaconda Company, and the Rockefeller foundation are on the board of trustees, and the institute offers their names for a sampling of contributors. The United Fruit Co.,” Meisler observes, “symbol of imperialistic big business to many Central Americans, is not a supporter, but the institute has said that it would accept United Fruit money if it were offered.”

For whom do the labor jingoists of the AFL-CIO speak? Certainly not for the workers of this or any other land. The hated bureaucrats are as remote from the ranks of working men and women as the most distant speck of light in the furthermost galaxy is from the earth. When Johnson lauds their voice he applauds the voice of treason to the interests of the workers at home and abroad.

The repeated assertion that there is in this country a “consensus” in support of administration policy in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic is a patent fraud. The opposition to Washington’s war in Vietnam continues to mount. The Dominican invasion is a scandal arousing universal revulsion. The intellectuals, – professors, teachers, students, – are a sensitive barometer recording the storm signals of a social ferment already making its influence felt in Washington. In one of his speeches in opposition to US policy in Vietnam, Senator Wayne Morse made a prophetic prediction: That if the present administration continues its present foreign policy course, Lyndon Baines Johnson will leave office the most discredited man that ever occupied the White House.

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