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Farrell Dobbs

The President’s Inaugural Speech

(31 January 1949)

Source: The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 5, 31 January 1949, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcription & Mark-up: Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Truman’s inaugural ceremony was converted into a military demonstration, while the needs of the American people and the presidential promises to serve these needs were entirely forgotten.

Gasps of mingled awe and terror arose from the vast throng as monster intercontinental bombers and flashing jet fighters flew overhead. Thousands of soldiers and sailors paraded through the streets.

But no symbol was provided to remind the capitalist politicians that Negroes are still being lynched in this country. None of the floats carried a replica of a slum dwelling to stress the urgent need for quick action on housing.

Also missing from the parade was a poorly-clothed, undernourished elderly couple to dramatize the terrible plight of the aged. No one suggested standing a moment in silence in memory of the 325,000 people who died needlessly in this country last year because they couldn’t afford proper medical care.

Only as an afterthought, toward the end of his war-like speech, did the President put in ten words calling for “continued prosperity” in this country.

Who Runs Congress

His main object was to put heavy pressure on the Senate for quick ratification of the North Atlantic military pact. He didn’t say a word about the skullduggery going on in Congress to wiggle out of the election promises made to the working people.

Judging from the assignment of posts in Congress, you’d think the Negro-hating, labor-baiting Dixiecrats won the election, Dixiecrats and their fellow travellers have dictatorial powers as chairmen pver ten of the fifteen key Senate committees.

Sam Rayburn, a Democrat from the poll-tax state of Texas, is Speaker of the House of Representatives. The power to block legislation, recently stripped from the House Rules Committee, has been handed over to Rayburn as Speaker.

If civil rights legislation is to be passed, decisive steps must be taken to prevent a filibuster. Yet administration leaders in the Senate have sidetracked action against the filibuster into a committee hearing restricted to Senators only.

Meanwhile Truman’s lieutenants are dickering with the arrogant Southern Democrats for a deal to put through some little concession so the administration can save face on its civil rights promises to the Negroes and other minorities.

Double-Talk On Rights

Another election promise on civil rights is going by the boards in the House. The Democrats are continuing the witch-hunting Un-American Committee that Truman promised to abolish. As a whitewashing gesture, they have dumped foul-mouthed Representative John Rankin. The Republicans have added to the committee a former FBI agent, Representative Harold Velde of Illinois.

Truman’s pelitical blacklist is still in effect. The legless war veteran, James Kutcher, is still out of a job because of that blacklist. The Department of Justice is pushing its thought-control prosecution of the Stalinists under the Smith Act. Attorney General Tom Clark already has his hirelings eavesdropping on people’s telephone conversations. Now he wants Congress to legalize his wire-tapping so he can use it as evidence in court.

Truman’s policies are encouraging. abuse of civil rights instead of giving the people the protection he promised. The Detroit police now require newspaper reporters to sign “non-Communist” affidavits to get press passes necessary for news gathering.

Like his double-talk about civil rights, the President’s promise to repeal the Taft-Hartley Act wasn’t the real McCoy. “Responsible observers” (meaning unnamed government officials) say the president is determined to have in the new labor law power to break “critical” national strikes, especially if the coal miners should go on strike.

What about the promise to provide homes for the people? At least seven million families live in slums unfit for human habitation. The administration housing bill calls for only one million low-cost public housing units to be built in seven years.

At that rate it would take 50 years to replace the existing slums. Housing units now under construction are so poorly built that they will deteriorate into slums within 35 years. That means the slums would never be abolished.

The Democrats answer that private enterprise will build the additional units needed to clear the slums. But the Federal Housing Authority reports that of 925,000 housing units started in 1948 only a tiny fraction were priced under $10,000. People whose meager income condemns them to live in slums can’t afford to pay such fancy prices for a better home.

Typical Case

Truman’s record on another grave social problem is indicated by the experience of Charles Mittenzwei.

Mittenzwei, who just turned 65, has worked for 52 years. The other day he walked into the Federal Social Security Agency in New York and said, “I’m tired. I’d like to rest.” The clerk explained that his old age benefits would total $30 a month. Mittenzwei looked very tired and disappointed. “I guess I’ll have to go on working,” he said.

Still Congress fumbles with the question of old-age pensions, just as it does with unemployment, disability and medical insurance, because these are “controversial” issues. Truman put plenty of heat on Congress to get action on his war program, but there was not one word in his inaugural address about' the vital needs of the American people.

Over $16 billion is now lying idle in the various Social Security trust funds. Nevertheless, in his eagerness to protect the capitalists from any expense for the social security program, the President asks additional wage taxes to finance any improved social benefits to the workers.

Economists have told the House Ways and Means Committee these new taxes will take as much as $40 more a month out of the workers’ pay. The employers will simply add their share of the new wage taxes to the price of their products. In the end the workers must pay the whole bill.

Plenty of taxes are planned for the workers. But Truman hasn’t said a word to the 81st Congress about his campaign promises to levy an excess profits tax on the “gluttons of privilege.”

Imperialist Investment

The president sought in his inaugural address to conceal his real program of imperialist plunder behind honeyed promises to help the peoples of the world fight disease and obtain better food, clothing and housing. However, his actual aims are revealed in publications read mainly by the rich. Here is what they report, based on information from the “responsible observers.”

Raw materials needed to wage war exist in the colonial areas. Access to these materials is impeded by lack of transportation, inadequate means of subsistence for a native labor force, and health hazards.

For example, a railroad is needed from Northern Rhodesia to the port of Mombasa to bring out African copper. The government invites the capitalists to make private investments for profit in such projects, with a government guarantee against loss of their investment.

What an evil omen for the colonial peoples! Human lives will be squandered by the capitalists as they were when the American railroads were pushed across the Rocky Mountains years ago.

The native wage slaves will be housed in slums like those built for immigrant laborers in the bleak Pennsylvania coal and steel towns. Company stores, selling the coarsest foods and shoddiest kinds of merchandise at robber prices, will grab what little pay is left after the native workers meet their rent.

The president didn’t rest the case for American imperialism solely on sugary promises of social benefits. He reminded the world of “our most powerful weapon,” a not very subtle threat to hurl an atom bomb at those who resist Wall Street’s foreign policy.

Truman’s record speaks for itself, louder and clearer with each passing day. It is the task of revolutionary socialists to help the workers learn the political lessons of that record; to show them why they must break with the Democratic Party and take the road of independent working class political action.

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