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Arne Swabeck

Huey Long – Workers’ Enemy

Share-the-Wealth Can Only Mean Share-the-Poverty
as Long as the Capitalist System Endures

(April 1935)

From The New Militant, Vol. I No. 19, 27 April 1935, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

From the state of Louisiana, where he boldly boasts of holding in the hollow of his hands “the finest collection of law-makers money can buy,” Huey P. Long has now definitely entered the scene of national politics. He has the old line capitalist politicians worried. They stand aghast, watching with anticipation and fear the prospects of traditional party lines again being broken down and this time by a high pressure demagogue.

But – and this is important – Huey’s grandiose promises to “Share our Wealth” and his demagogic appeals addressed to the common people have made deep inroads also in the politically unconscious working class layers.

Out for Bigger Things

Undoubtedly Huey Long’s hat will be in the ring for next year’s presidential elections. He is a candidate for leadership in the formation of a new third party. It is reported that he has already, together with Father Coughliu and Governor Olson of Minnesota, accepted an invitation issued by Milo Reno, tor the Farm Holiday Association, to attend a conference, to be hem in Des Moines, Iowa, May 7, to consider the formation of such a party.

Huey Long is the most spectacular and probably also the strongest of the candidates for leadership of such a party. Fortified already by his undisputed control of the state of Louisiana, he is reaching out for immediate political control of other southern states and apparently enjoying the undivided support of such a staunch defender of the “rights of the people” as Governor Talmadge of Georgia, who declared martial law in his state during the national textile strike and put the strikers wholesale into concentration camps.

This example is typical of the make-up and political coloring of the Huey Long forces. They are taking on the form of a movement. 27,431 Share Our Wealth Clubs with a membership of 4,684,000 have been organized, he claims.

Long as Roosevelt Supporter

Huey Long began his national political career as a Roosevelt supporter. To the Chicago convention that nominated him for President in 1932, Roosevelt spoke, declaring; “Throughout the nation men and women ... look to us for guidance and for more equitable opportunity to share in the distribution of national wealth.” To the delegates these words were just empty rhetoric, noble sounding sentiments that did not at all have to be taken. seriously, least of all literally. But Huey Long noted the power of the phrase, snapped it up as his own and is now making this the central point of his program while campaigning against the government of “alphabet wreckers and spoilers.”

He proposes to cut down all large fortunes by a capital levy tax to a point where no one person may own more than from three to four million dollars and have a yearly income of not more than one million dollars. The surplus of all these big fortunes is to go into the United States Treasury. This is to be done by the simple process of issuing a questionnaire for all the plutocrats to list their fortunes at their own appraisal and to state in what sort of holdings they wish to retain their three to four millions.

By his calculation he has arrived at a surplus already available on paper of $165,000,000,000 to $175,000,000,000. This surplus he will distribute to all families owning less than $5,000, free of debt, so that each family may have at least that amount. This he says will take no more than $100,000,000,000, leaving a handsome balance to spare. By means of the balance he proposes to provide for the reduction of the hours of labor so that all may be employed and have a yearly income for each family of not less than $2,500. In addition he will also provide for a college education for all youth, for old age pensions and he proposes to care for agricultural production in the manner specified in the bible.

Huey Long himself claims that his proposals originate from the unfulfilled Roosevelt program. Similar to the Roosevelt New Deal program, the Long proposals have as their base the maintenance and strengthening of the system of capitalism but with a supposed increase of the purchasing power of the masses of the people. However, the Huey Long edition appears in a much more radical dress. “I believe in capitalism,” exclaims Long, “but you cannot stimulate it unless there is buying power. You’ve got to have a foundation under the house, and that is a more even distribution of wealth.”

Huey’s Discovery

Oh yes, capitalism is again to have its “abuses” corrected. To substantiate his claims, the Kingfish refers very profusely to what he sees as the present social injustices and economic maladjustments. And surely, there is in the present situation of mass misery, deprivation and despair on the one hand together with the enormous concentration of wealth on the other hand, sufficient material for the unscrupulous demagogue to appear as the Saviour Angel. But it did not require a Huey Long to make this discovery. Nor is he the first demagogue that has appeared on the political scene.

The Roosevelt program for increasing the purchasing power of the masses has so far brought us to the promised magnificent social security for some of the unemployed at $50.00 a mouth maximum which in turn allows all present wage standards to be torn down to that level. Where would the Huey Long program lead to? Needless to say, in this proposed redistribution of wealth we have a repetition of petty bourgeois utopias advanced elsewhere and at other times.

Ownership Determines Distribution

That wealth exists in this country in abundance is well known and was known before Huey Long said so. But the distribution of this wealth proceeds according to the social relations of society. These are capitalist relations, resting upon the capitalist ownership and control of the means of production. In the Kingfish’s plan these relations would remain, only the wealth would be redistributed by cutting down on the big fortunes and adding to the small ones or giving to those that have none. But this is impossible under capitalism since the ownership and control of the means of production determines the form of distribution of all wealth. So far this has meant and can only mean ever greater riches for the parasites and ever greater impoverishment for those who toil, who have nothing but their labor power to sell – and to sell only when the bosses see fit to buy.

What is the cause of this condition; what is the cause of this unequal distribution of wealth? The cause is to be found in the ownership and control of the means of production. This system secures the right to exploit labor by leaving in the hands of the capitalist class also the ownership of the surplus value produced by the laborer over and above what he receives as wages. This is how profits are acquired. Moreover, under the conditions of mass production, and in order to continue the process of production. In other words, sufficient only for their bare upkeep when they have jobs. Of course, the abundance of wealth available could easily guarantee to each family, as Huey Long proposes, a yearly income of $2,500. But this is equally impossible under the profit system and it can be obtained only when the profit system is abolished.

For Maintenance of System

Huey Long proclaims in grandiose style for the redistribution of wealth; but he is equally vociferous in his proclamations for the maintenance of the present social relationship. His program assumes the continuation of the right to exploitation, however, with an increase of the purchasing power of the masses so that returns to bondholders in the form of unearned incomes may continue; so that dividends on watered stocks may be paid and the now of profits taken out of the exploitation of labor may proceed uninterrupted. There are no other sources for profits to come from.

What is this but the stabilization of the system of exploitation? To stabilize the system of exploitation means to stabilize the economic power of the class that owns and controls the means of production. Furthermore, it is well to remember that political relations are governed by this economic power which is another way of saying that those who own are also those who rule. They use their economic power to build up their political state, to build up their government and to reinforce it by courts, by police and by military forces, always ready to be used against the workers when on strike or in other forms of struggle and on a whole serving for the purpose of keeping the masses in subjection. This government, Huey Long proposes to entrust with the redistribution of wealth.

They will not consent to any redistribution of their wealth acquired by exploitation without a fierce struggle. They will not even permit the workers to organize into unions so as to obtain a living wage without the most stubborn resistance. They will not yield their economic power, as represented by their accumulated wealth, or give up their privilege to exploit labor without a life and death struggle. Nay more, they use this economic power to determine who can be elected to the public offices and to dictate the program of those BO elected aud its execution as well.

A real redistribution of wealth and a real program of social security can be carried out in no other way than by the overthrow of the system of capitalism. That is not at all the purpose of the Huey Long third party movement. Only the working class revolution can accomplish that.

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