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Martin Abern

Hoover’s Message to Congress
Demonstrates Capitalist Bankruptcy

(December 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 36 (Whole No. 95), 19 December 1931, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On December 8, President Hoover delivered his annual message to Congress. Every worker should be acquainted with its contents. It ought to prove to every intelligent and thinking worker that in Hoover and the ruling capitalist system, of which he is the official spokesman, there is nothing but contempt for the working class and an insistence to continue the exploitation of the mass of people, no matter by what extreme means. The capitalist class has laid down its law: maintain profits; for the workers there will be the crumbs from the laden tables of the rich. Hoover, as the leading executive and governmental expression of the capitalist class, makes public the law of his class.

A Bankrupt Capitalism

While Hoover’s message is a salvo to capitalism and a hope for its preservation, nevertheless, the speech demonstrates the bankruptcy of capitalist society and its eventual break-up. American capitalism, pride and leader of the world’s imperialist nations, is no longer, as is already even more clear in the case of the other capitalist nations, an historically progressive force. It cannot any further guarantee to the mass of wage workers, from whom it must extract its profits, a minimum of subsistence and existence.

The economic crisis, with its outstanding effect, permanent mass unemployment, has deepened capitalism’s contradictions. It has reduced the standard of living of the employed workers, and it has taken away any standard at all for the unemployed, whom it is pushing toward slum proletarianism, dependent upon local relief, charity, etc. Bourbon American capitalism, of course, is not yet ready to accept the “dole” or unemployment insurance even as an aid to its own continued existence. But working class pressure will achieve that as a demand and gain of a militant working class. Albeit, when a ruling class cannot ensure the existence of those whom it needs for exploitation, that class is historically outlived. A change is due and is being prepared, in this instance, by the only force that has nothing to lose but its chains and everything to gain – namely, the modern industrial proletariat.

What does Hoover’s message tell us about the world economic crisis? That the crisis exists – which every worker knows and feels. Unemployment is heavy and burdensome – he endorses charity methods to alleviate the situation. And wages – must go down! We take up here some of the more outstanding points in the message.

The World We Live In

We are living in an epoch of wars and revolutions. Economic crises only hasten the development of imperialist war or its development on a higher scale, that is, the proletarian revolution, Hoover cites as a fear, and we as a sign of hope, the fact that “within two years there have been revolutions or acute social disorders in nineteen countries, embracing more than half the population of the world.”

Though “the economic depression” says Hoover, “has continued and deepened in every part of the world”: “ten countries have been unable to meet their external obligations; and “in fourteen countries, embracing a quarter of the world’s population, the former monetary standards have been temporarily abandoned.” Hoover explains it all away by saying that “business depressions have been recurrent in the life of our country and are but transitory.”

Marx and Engels Corroborated

But Hoover does not explain why these cycles of depression, of economic crises, occur and recur at greater frequency, at greater depth, with sharper dislocation of the productive forces and at such tremendously greater sacrifices and misery upon the part of the working masses. The reasons do not concern him and his kind, so long as the profit system itself, continues.

Marx and Engels, however, decades ago pointed out the inevitability of these very developments of today, and proved that the contradictions inherent in mass production and individual distribution, of production not for use, but for profit, would finally bring about a collapse of capitalist economy; and that only the proletariat, through the organization of its economic and political forces, could reconcile this capitalist contradiction by the establishment of an economic system af social ownership and management of the means of production and distribution.

Hoover’s Internationalism

Hoover’s concern, nevertheless, is with a possible destruction of capitalist society. For this reason, the great nationalist and American, Herbert Hoover, becomes international-minded long enough to point out that unless America intervened in Central Europe, particularly in Germany, “it was apparent that without assistance these nations must collapse”.

But of Soviet Russia, first fortress of the international proletarian revolution, there is not even a mention. There is, therefore, the continuation of the policy of bitter hostility toward, and encouragement of a unity of the forces of reaction against, the Soviet Republic.

And what about so-called domestic policy? What of unemployment, of wages, of working conditions of the mass of people, of the exploited and persecuted Negroes, of the Mexicans?

The Facts and Results of Mass Unemployment

We are told that “the emergencies of unemployment have been met by action in many directions; that “public and private agencies were successfully mobilized last winter to provide employment and other measures against distress. Similar organizations give assurance against suffering during the coming Winter.”

But the claims are even greater. “The Public Health Service,” maintains Hoover, “shows an actual decrease of sickness and infant general mortality below normal years. No greater proof could be adduced that our people have been protected from hunger and cold ...”

These statements are appalling. What are the facts? Has anyone disproved the existence of ten or more millions of unemployed in the United States? How does Hoover explain away the fact that, particularly in the industrial centers, hunger and want are apparent everywhere, that men, women and children dig in garbage cans to find something to eat? It is a fact that millions, under the best of capitalist circumstances, remain permanently in the army of unemployed, due to elimination from industry by the machine and technical development. Starvation and poverty while granaries overflow; overproduction of other commodities is overwhelming. That is the social economy of capitalism. How are these to be cared for?

The concern of Hoover over the children is enough to cause one to shed tears. But evidently president Hoover does not bother himself with the facts. The United States Health Service has recently declared that more than six millions of the school children are suffering from malnutrition, making them easy victims of many serious diseases. Hospital report an alarming rise in types of physical trouble due to undernourishment, and all schools are reporting a marked decline of mental alertness among the pupils and a marked appearance of physical lassitude. Is this what Hoover means by “proof of protection from hunger and cold?”.

But of course, this representative of Wall Street declares himself “opposed, to any direct or indirect government dole” or unemployment insurance. Insurance and protection are only for the bosses.

Hoover Is for Wage Reductions

On the questions of wages, Hoover now openly espouses the wage-cutting campaign and forgets his verbiage of same time ago for the maintenance of the existing wage standard. He says, in apologia for the employers, that “a large majority of them have maintained wages at as high a level as the safe conduct of their business would permit.” There is now full sanction to proceed with wage cuts in all directions, and the railroad barons are acting rapidly to effect such wage cuts.

Capitalist spokesmen and apologists try to excuse their acts against the working class, against those yet employed and those jobless, by maintaining that the cost of living, of commodity prices has gone down and that therefore wage cuts are in order. But even this argument is false to the roots.

Significant Figures

Ethelbert Stewart, Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, says that from December 1925 to June 1931 the workers cost of living had been reduced 15.5% while the employers had reduced the total wages paid workers in the manufacturing industries during that same period almost 40%. Thus, even according to U.S. Government figures, wages have been reduced already 25% below the fall in the cost of living. Stewart’s own statement is that a similar situation prevails in other industries.

Mary Anderson, Director of the Women’s Department of the U.S. Department of Labor, confirms Stewart’s declarations, stating that “since 1929, while the cost of living has declined 12%, the income of factory workers has gone down 37%.”

The above figures, we think, expose Hoover’s claims regarding unemployment, wages, and the conditions of existence of the mass of workers in the United States. But if president Hoover deals blows against the working class, he is gentle as a lamb and soft as silk with his colleagues and bosses, the employing class.

To take but a single example, it is necessary, president Hoover says, that the railroads “should have more effective opportunity to reduce operating costs by proper consolidation.” With wage cuts on the order of the day for the railway workers, Hoover proposes to help along by throwing more men out of work. Operating costs are reduced; profits are assured. All’s well with the railroads. Other questions in Hoover’s Congressional message are dealt with that concern every working man: the advocacy of “certificates of residence” for aliens, a revival of the campaign for the registration of the foreign-born, aimed mainly at the radical workers; the endorsement of a huge army and navy policy; there was a failure to mention the problem of the Negro masses, and many other matters. We shall have occasion to return to Hoover’s program for capitalist salvation and against the working class.

Functions of Government and Taxation

One further point of some interest remains. This refers to the Hoover-Mellon policy of increased taxation for maintenance of the government’s functions. The day of “cheap government” is gone forever under capitalism. Modern imperialist development requires an ever-increasing force of oppression and suppression of the working class: a huge military equipment, army and navy, police, courts, and other agencies of a wide description. The increasing sharpness of the class struggle, strikes, mass unemployment, movements in the colonial and semi-colonial countries, etc., call forth these forces of suppression of the masses to a greater degree right along.

The employing class recognises that it must pay to maintain its governmental apparatus of oppression, capitalist propaganda, etc. Within the ruling class there is an effort to pass the burden of governmental costs from one group onto another, and also to shift even these burdens to the extent possible onto the exploited working class. This is done through taxation, direct and indirect, the largest bulk of which comes from the finance-bourgeoisie. To an extent the bourgeoisie does succeed in foisting taxes upon the workers, to make them carry a burden in addition to their exploitation directly by the employer. But while such taxation is a sort of factor, the working class need to recognize that their basic and daily problem lies in the extraction of unpaid labor, of surplus value, from them by the employers. The official Communist Party exaggerates the taxation of the workers and develops a petit-bourgeois outlook. But the economic crisis has naturally effected the revenues of the government, always increasing in cost, and now the bourgeoisie must pay more to their government to help maintain “law and order”, that is, suppress and oppress the working class.

Building A Movement Against Capitalism

Hoover’s message of reaction and challenge against the working class must be taken up by the workers. In the immediate sense, there is need to mobilize and organize the working masses in a common struggle for the six hour day and five day week with no reduction in pay; for immediate relief; for unemployment insurance; for the extension of long-term credits to the Soviet Union as a measure of relief for unemployment; for the recognition of the Soviet Union and against the anti-Soviet phobia of Hoover and the U.S. government.

Fundamentally the problem remains the same: the education and organization of the working class for the militant struggle for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of the rule of the workers, a Soviet Republic. To this end the Left, Opposition directs its tasks.

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