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Hugo Oehler

Hearst’s Program and the Petty Bourgeoisie

(April 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 14 (Whole No. 110), 2 April 1932, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The middle bourgeoisie is pressed between the two great contending classes of today, the capitalist and working classes. It is finding its position more precarious us the contradictions between socialized production and capitalist appropriation increase. The deepening crisis is causing them to move, and at present they are running around in circles. American capitalism is concentrating and centralizing the industrial and financial structure to a “higher” level. This squeezes the middle-class to a greater degree between the embryo battle formations of the capitalists and the workers.

One phase of the middle-class reaction to this development is expressed through the Hearst program. The Hearst papers advocate 15 points as their program for America. It clearly reflects the contradictions of the middle class and at the same time shows that the imperialist offensive pulls in its wake this chain of papers for its own ends. The few sugar-coated measures turn out to be walls which the reformers hope to erect between the Communist forces and the working class. The burden, in preventing the building of these walls, rests upon the Communist Party by means of a correct Marxian struggle for immediate demands as against a reformist policy.

Wants Cheap, Efficient Government

Four of the fifteen measures are advocated for the purpose of obtaining a more centralized, cheap, efficient Government. They call for proportional representation in the United States Senate which would give the middle class and small industrialist a better hand at fighting the monopolies and trusts. They advocate the abolition of the electoral college. They want to end the lame duck sessions so that the new president and congress can sit right after elections. They want the modification of the Volstead Act. These measures would centralize, cheapen and make more efficient the Government apparatus. Where on the one hand, the demand for proportional representation in Congress is intended to satisfy the big capitalists, the modification of the Volstead Act, on the other hand, is designed for the workers in order to catch their votes. The A.F. of L. bureaucracy and a large section of the workers are swept behind the middle class attempt to stem the tide by these measures.

The Middle Class Demands

One plank, “Honest friendship with all nations – entangling alliances with none,” is the worn-out attempt to pull the results of the productive forces of American capitalism back into the national boundaries. This plank is hopelessly reactionary and utopian. It can only stir up the nationalism of the exploiting rulers, playing upon the “patriotism” of the working class and middle class youth, and paying the way for a nationalism that develops into dangerous proportion as the crises deepens – dangerous against the working class.

The middle class is not so dumb that they do not see the effects of the crises and trend of imperialism against the workers. And, knowing that an aroused and class-conscious working class may tip over the boat and spill all the profits, they move certain measures as reforms. These reforms have the purpose of creating, instead of a class-conscious proletariat, a contented and docile, American working class. They propose such things as a thirteen month calendar, with all holidays falling on Saturday, and a five day week. But if all holidays fall on Saturday it will cut from under the five day week. The middle class needs a docile class in order to reap profits in all their avenues of exploitation. They want a Secretary of Education, and Federal control of education. All in all, reforms from the top in order to head off the pressure of the workers from below. Far sighted middle class politicians see the writing on the wall that the blind Stalinites cannot see. The slogan for the Six Hour day and the Five Day week with no reduction of pay – a class slogan of first magnitude for immediate demands, that can be turned against the capitalist class and cement together a large section of our own class – has been snatched up and exploited by the middle class reformers because the Stalinites don’t understand the differences between a revolutionary struggle for immediate demands and a reformist utilization of them.

Jingoism Breaks Through

Three of the measures are outright jingoist planks, natural sequences of Hearst’s past Mexican campaign and his present Japanese campaign. Hearst wants the French and English West Indies as part payments of debts. He wants the Nicaragua Canal to be started at once for commerce and defense. He wants the army, navy and aviation under a Secretary of National Defense. An unbroken bridge spans Pacifism, Jingoism and Imperialism. Each serves its purpose in a different way, but all for the same end.

A Dangerous Stalinist Slogan

In the workers ranks also opportunism makes strange bed-fellows. The Social Democratic leaders played their role in this evolution in 1914. In America where pacifism wants the United States to boycott Japan for her present acts in China, the Stalinists want us to expel the Japanese representatives in America. It is true the Stalinites have not travelled the road as far as the Social Democrats did in the last war, but it was just such a way that led the Social Democrats on the path to social-patriotism – by seeing the worst imperialist, not at home, but across the border. The Marxists fight against all imperialists but FIRST and at all times against, “their own”. It is our special and political task to unmask the treacherous and despicable role of American Imperialism in the Far East, in the League of Nations, in the disarmament conference and at home.

One measure of the Hearst program calls for a five billion federal loan for public works. This measure, as well as others, has enabled him to corral large numbers of workers. Hearst is against the Bankers dole in the form of the two billion dollar credit pool, and he is against a dole (social insurance) for the workers; but he wants a dole of five billion that would be divided among the exploiters with a goodly share going to the middle class and a few crumbs for the workers.

Anti-Working Class Program

The three remaining planks we have not yet spoken of are so clearly anti-working class measures that even the blind could recognize them. Hearst wants a federal tax and excise tax to replace the income tax. True, workers must keep their eyes on the point of production and not devote too much time to beating down the cost of living. They must keep their eyes on the relation of forces between the classes. But the capitalist class can use the lever of taxes and prices and currency manipulations to further worsen the workers’ conditions. And at this stage, the sales tax, just like inflation, will take its toll among the workers.

Hearst wants selective immigration and deportation of “undesirable” aliens, etc. Yes, Hearst is longing for the “good old past”, for the docile American born worker, who was satisfied with a “full dinner pail”. The Hearst program only shows some of the many contradictions of the middle class. In resisting the encroachments of the big capitalists they make a gesture toward the workers. In fear of the militancy of the working class, they support the most reactionary measures. Between these two great classes, the workers and the capitalists, the middle class is fighting for its life.

The stronger the pressure from either side the greater the contradiction in their camp. The Hearst program is aiming both ways, but ends, – as all centre forces must end – by helping the strongest forces in the struggle; and since capitalism and imperialism is at present on the offensive, the independent middle class action, in its own special way, works against the proletariat.

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