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Ben Hall

Capitalism: There Can Be No Fair Deal under the Profit System!

From the Old World of Capitalism

(1 May 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 18, 1 May 1950, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Brush the dust off the old Democratic Party election handbills and there in fading letters you read of happiness to come, of comfortable homes to rise out of slums, of higher standards of living, of security from cradle to grave, of guaranteed incomes, of blissful peace and opportunity for all. A glorious vista opens before us, if only – if only we will choose liberals or “Fair Dealers” and give them a thumping majority in Congress on Election Day.

But something always goes wrong. As the celebrating echoes which greet the election of “liberal” majorities die away, we discover that we have been deceived and ask “who really won the elections?” So it was in ’44 and so it was in ’48. A little disappointed, we chase furiously after the elusive rainbow: Perhaps in ’52 – or ’56 ... Meanwhile, the dangers of tomorrow seem more ominous; its promises, always just beyond our grasp.

Since the Democrats came to power in 1932, holding on for nearly a fifth of a century, a new generation has been born and raised under a “liberal” regime. Yet the problems remain. Achievements which seemed impressive for a moment fade into insignificance before the big uncertainties of life. Will war come? What about depression, unemployment, breadlines, misery, relief rolls? There is no peace, there is no security, there is less freedom.

Are liberal promises worth more than the air which carries their radio speeches? Mull over one simple fact.

Fair Deal Democrats, despite their hypocritical criticism of the Taft-Hartley Law, accept its basic spirit and insist that the government (their government) must and does have the right to order striking unions back to work in “emergencies” by wielding the injunction club. Truman just tried it against striking miners. If a liberalized capitalism headed by energetic “Fair Dealers” can really bring a steady rise in living standards, more food, more homes, more rights, then strikes would become rare and brief accidents. Why then do the “Fair Dealers” hold an injunction whip behind their back?

The truth is: they have no faith in their own promises. They know that their capitalist system cannot create the conditions of free, normal, peaceable, friendly relations among human beings. They expect always to face grumbling and dissatisfied workingmen and they must be ready to beat these dissenters back to work. For capitalism cannot and will not bring peace and plenty, security and freedom for the people.

Liberty and security are inseparable. The people cannot be free in poverty nor secure in slavery. Where the majority is deprived of political and economic rights, a minority of rulers will steal the fruits of their labor to live in luxury while others toil. Those who hold the director’:s club will always be first in line when the goods of life are distributed.

How Can They Explain It?

And on the other hand, where the majority is relatively poor and wealth concentrates in the hands of a few, the rich will become rulers and the people will become subjects. In the words of Victor Reuther, who doesn’t grasp the full import of what he himself says: “Through the large corporations, the big business community wields not only economic but political power, since the poiver to produce or not to produce, to employ or not to employ, has social consequences and therefore political consequences.” And from an opposite source, T.K. Quinn, former vice-president of the General Electric Company, we hear: “The present third- and fourth-generation officials of monster corporations ... have a power beyond that of political presidents or governors, without direct knowledge or human contact with their tens or hundreds of thousands of employees or elective responsibility to them.” Old Deal or New Deal, the capitalists rule.

And if a liberalized capitalism can bring peace and plenty, how explain two world wars and a threatening third; how explain depressions, crises, recessions, which have repeatedly wracked our society, bringing starvation in the midst of plenty; how explain inflation, unemployment, race discrimination, imperialist oppression? How explain billions spent to pry out the secrets of atomic bombs and only pittances to explore the causes and seek the cure of cancer; how explain why we, with our marvelous machine civilization, tremble before insecurity in old age and sickness just like primitive man with his crude implements?

Liberal apologists for the capitalist system pick at each social sore. They ascribe all the agonies of society, separately, each to the selfishness or weakness of individuals, to an error of judgment here, an oversight there, a trifling lack of understanding. To such quackery belongs Fair Dealism, which may at times treat some of the lesser symptoms of social decay but which can never probe to its roots.

Regardless of how if is patched, treated, sprayed, or plated with liberalism, capitalism by its very nature will continue to push society downward. The choice before us is not whether we shall hold on to what we have, the good with the evil, or whether we shall reach out for something better. It is: shall we permit what we have, oil the acquisitions of civilization, to slip away, or shall we make an advance to socialism? Socialism or barbarism, a monstrous totalitarian barbarism – these are the alternatives.

Under capitalism, a tiny minority owns the means of production – the factories, mines, railroads – but does no productive work. The vast majority, the working class, do not own them but must work at them. They must sell their labor power to the capitalist, who will allow them to carry on production only because he seeks one dominant objective: profits. He produces everything for profits; he will produce anything for a profit: automobiles or tanks; comic books or bibles; coffins or cradles; whiskey or books on temperance. If profits cease, he will lock the factory gates and turn millions out of work. It matters not that millions need the goods of life, starve, or freeze. Only when profits are assured will he permit the belts of production to turn.

And this capitalism must endlessly seek for everexpanding markets. For by creating profits it restricts its own markets and its own ability to make more profits. Enormous accumulations of money and wealth fall to the lot of a few who could never spend all they possess in a life of lifetimes; the purchasing power of the people is limited. The capitalist seeks to invest his accumulation, to build more factories to make more profits, to sell and produce more and more.

> On Top of the Heap – of Rums

But the market under capitalism cannot keep up with its ability to produce. Thousands of capitalists, producing without knowledge or regard for one another and without the desire or ability to coordinate their production with the needs of society, periodically throw enormous quantities of goods out for sale. Buyers cannot be found. Profits cannot be made. Production stops. We are in the throes of a crisis.

Soon, vast monopolies shunt aside small manufacturers and dominate wide sectors of the national economy. Through monopoly controls they force prices upward and skim off the richest profits for themselves. Knocking and creaking and slipping, this capitalist machinery worked for a long while. Each breakdown was followed by a new and rapid rise.

By 1914, the big capitalist countries had virtually divided all the world’s markets among themselves, but none were or could be satisfied. They were driven first into one war and then into another, fighting, killing, decimating, annihilating over the division, redivision and further redivision of the world’s resources, markets, and fields of investment. From this merciless battle for world-wide imperialist supremacy, the United States finally emerged as the only really victorious capitalist country. All the nations of Europe, the victors with the vanquished, lay in ruins. In the birthplace of modern capitalism, industry was despoiled; people were starving; homes were crumbling.

On this pile of destruction the United States has climbed as world capitalist master; and if thus far the American people have not felt the full impact of capitalist decline, it is only because the rest of the capitalist world is in ruins. While Russia rules over one half of the world, the remaining half, still capitalist, is dominated by one giant capitalist power: the United States. But if capitalism still remains supreme in the United States, Europe shows us our future.

Mortal illness struck at capitalism in the United States in the crisis of the ’30s. By destroying goods and raising prices and creating artificial shortages, the New Deal made production profitable once again for the capitalists and output rose. But only for a while.

When production dipped again, we were saved from another depression only by the outbreak of a war in Europe whose destructive horrors brought lush markets for American industry. And when the United States finally entered the war, it became clear that the blind quest of individual capitalists for profits--was defective as the regulating pendulum for a nation facing the difficult and complicated tasks of war. In the pursuit of destructive, murderous imperialist aims, the government extended its authority to every sphere of life; it became the main “market” and “consumer” of the products of capitalist industry; it guaranteed profits, it dictated quotas, prices and assigned machinery and raw materials. If the profit drive cannot suit the needs of the capitalist class itself in time of war, how can it serve the people in time of peace?

And today in the post-war period, we enjoy a relative prosperity only because industry finds blank spaces of war destruction to fill in, is primed by huge Marshall Plan expenditures, and is guaranteed future “preparedness” markets here and abroad. Even so five to seven – million men look for work in vain.

Results of Fair Deal Liberalism

Could the Mississippi be harnessed to turn fans, for cooling the heated brow of an uncomfortable billionaire on a hot July afternoon? Could the auto assembly lines and mighty presses be redesigned to run off platinum-lined ivory bath tubs to satisfy the caprice of a few luxury-loving magnates? A crazy thought? Of course. But on just such crazy principles does modern class society operate.

The powers of nature, science, and human industry, which can bring unprecedented abundance and comfort for all, are harnessed for small ruling groups, their luxuries and their wars – in Russia, a bureaucratic totalitarian class; in the United States, a privileged capitalist class. And each of these two classes stand as candidates for emperor of the world. If they remain, in power they will “settle” the question with rockets and atom bombs, while the bloodstained victor, if any, holds court in a heap of rubbish and dust.

And what do “Fair Dealers” propose? That the American flag and not the Russian wave over the graveyard of civilization. A new world war will blot out the sun of culture? Then let us prepare ail the more carefully, they say. Atom bombs threaten all human life? Then quickly, they say, let us add to the growing pile. Hydrogen bombs could destroy all life? Hurry then and be the first to invent them. Meanwhile, reforms are pigeonholed. But war preparations continue without stint.

Worn-out liberalism, lukewarm reformism, confused progressivism, all the qualities which go to make up the feeble character of our “Fair Deal” can raise energy and steam only for its war. And at home, if initiates a war against civil liberties, invading strongholds long defended by genuine liberals as a sacred ground of liberty.

It has erected a huge secret police apparatus which pries into the private lives and peers into the minds of its citizens. It persecutes dissenters and radicals on the pretext of looking for “subversives” and spies. It fires government employees and teachers because of “thought crimes” – holding unpopular views; it burns magazines on science; it censors scientists; it reaches out into the factories to grab militants. By these “liberal” measures of defense of “democracy,” it endorses in principle the barracks-bureaucratism of totalitarian Stalinism which it intends to fight.

Cold-war diplomacy pushes the political methods of the two contestants along parallel lines. Such are the results of “Fail-Deal” liberalism seeking to preserve capitalist domination.

The fate of mankind, perhaps for centuries to come, now hinges on the ability of workingpeople to take control of the machinery to which they alone transmit the hum of life; to set aside all ruling classes; to open the floodgates of production not for destruction or privilege but for the needs of society. A government of working-people must end capitalism and take the road to socialism, to a society without classes, without exploitation, to a society of freedom, peace, and abundance for all.

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