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Tim Wohlforth

Periodicals in Review

(Fall 1960)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.21 No.4, Fall 1960, pp.126-127.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Again the Youth

Since writing our last column on the response of the radical and liberal press to the new activity on the campus we have come across two articles that must be commented on. The first is the editorial in the second issue of Studies on the Left entitled: Civil Rights and the Birth of Community.

After reading the editorial we re-read it three times to be sure the authors were in earnest. Were they not possibly satirizing tongue-in-cheek the academic world which they both are part of and in rebellion against? Upon the fourth reading we are convinced the editors really meant it and thus are only unconsciously satirizing themselves.

Thousands of young Negroes in the South defy white terror and for what – so that they can hold up their heads in equality? No.

Our young academicians say they seek a “new sense of community!” So the mass struggle of the Negro people becomes a community welfare project to these budding sociologists. No matter that most of the students involved were attending colleges away from home and therefore in communities strange to them. No matter that the communities in which these struggles were held were torn asunder by the most profound conflicts – between white and Negro; between the older conservative and the younger militant Negro. Oh well, we lose patience!

What really excites the editors is not the possibilities that the Southern struggle opens up for a real breakthrough in the fight for equality. It is rather the opportunities it affords for academic analysis.

“Now the sociologist and historians have an opportunity to study social change ... The economists can analyze ... the Southern economy ... The political scientist can dissect the two party system ... The sociologists and psychologists can study leadership ...”

The vision of these poor Negro students asking for a cup of coffee only to be pounced upon by an army of professors accompanied by graduate students carrying the professors’ briefcases is too much for us. We need a cold beer at some working-class bar outside the university gates.

* * *

The other article is somewhat more refreshing – The Students Take Over by Kenneth Rexroth in the July 2 Nation. In this extremely well written piece Rexroth once again shows his ability to grasp the mood of a generation far removed from his.

“In the thirties they were joining up, giving one last try to the noble prescriptions of their elders. During the McCarthy epoch and the Korean War, they were turning their backs and walking away. Today they are striking back. This is news. Nobody else is striking back. Hardly a person over thirty in our mass societies believes it is possible to strike back, or would know how to go about it if he did.”

However, for all his admonitions to members of his generation to refrain from imposing their views on the new generation he can’t quite take his own advice. He sees the current student battles as “non-violent direct action,” thus imposing his own pacifist ideology on the new generation. What he ignores is that precisely what is unique about the new outbursts is that they are not pacifist in ideology. The day when most protests against war were conducted by the small pacifist groups has passed. Many students are now in motion and it is not a disciplined pacifist motion. It is a genuinely militant struggle much like the strikes of the thirties were, though on a much smaller scale. The exact political nature of the movement has not been settled. The new generation will test all programs, including Mr. Rexroth’s, in the course of the struggle itself.

The New Revisionism

Relatively little attention has been given in the American radical or liberal press to an extremely important political development in Europe – the extreme rightward shift in the programs of the Social Democratic parties. The Antioch Review, a liberal academic quarterly staffed heavily with former Social Democrats, has performed a needed service, therefore, by devoting a large section of its Summer 1960 issue to a symposium on The Crisis of European Socialism.

The symposium consists of a series of articles on English, French. German, and Italian socialism. With some important exceptions a general political pattern emerges from these articles. The German Social Democracy is typical. The article bv Edineer and Chamlers. Overture or Swan Song: German Social Democracy Prepares for a New Decade, gives us this picture of the recent congress of the German party:

“A gigantic sign, proclaiming ‘Geh mit der Zeit’ (‘Be up-to-date’) dwarfed the sole red flag, the symbol of tradition, which has stood on the rostrum of every Party convention since the founding of the SPD. Over feeble opposition, one after another time-honored principle of German socialism was jettisoned. Anti-militarism? The new program pledges support to the military establishment. Anti-clericalism? An attempt to retain the traditional demand of separation of church and state was overwhelmingly defeated; instead, the program calls for a ‘partnership’ between the churches and the SPD. Anti-capitalism? The SPD endorses ‘free competition and free entrepreneurial initiative’ as ‘important elements of Social Democratic economic policy.’”

The Dutch and Austrian parties have adopted a similar non-socialist program. The Nenni Socialist party of Italy, at the extreme left wing of the Social Democracy and not affiliated with the Second International, has also been swinging to the right seeking rapprochement with the rightist Saragat socialists and entrance into a capitalist government (if either will have Nenni). The French party of Mollet went so far to the right in tailing De Gaulle that an offshoot was formed, now known as the PSU, which at least retains a socialist program. It contains rather disparate elements and its future is uncertain.

The pattern in England is similar, even though the result is different. The attempt of Gaitskell to jettison the socialist plank from the Labour party program is but another reflection of the rightward trend in the BLP’s fraternal parties on the Continent. That Gaitskell failed proves not that the BLP has been unaffected by this trend but rather that its ranks and some of the unions resisted the trend to a greater extent than did the Continental parties.

What lies behind that rightward drift (in some cases stampede) in Social Democratic policy? Again the Antioch Review articles are helpful. Norman Birnbaum’s article on Britain The Year Zero of British Socialism states: “Since 1948 the major Western European countries within NATO (Benelux, France, Great Britain, The German Federal Republic and Italy) have become increasingly prosperous.” The other articles in the collection also bear this out.

European society has been moving to the right under the impact of a level of prosperity unknown in the past. All the social and political by-products of this capitalist prosperity that we are so well familiar with in our own country now plague Europe.

For instance Birnbaum pictures Britain thus:

“The skilled working class ... is experiencing ‘embourgeoisement’ in its style of life – if not in its position in the process of production ... Television teaches the entire working class how to consume ... The children ... developed their own, teen-age, consumption market, and it is they who are at present almost totally depoliticised ... Violence seems to be increasing: the police, once the cynosure of Europe, have become guilty of brutality ...”

Meanwhile the ruling class is also changing its technique of rule in a way patterned after the US:

“The coordination of economic and political decision by the interpenetration of business, finance and government; the strengthening of cabinet rule at the expense of the authority and integrity of Parliament; the manipulation of public opinion through control of the mass media of communications, and – not least – the provision of adequate access to the elite or its well-rewarded ancillary services for talent from below.”

This process has found political expression in the solid majorities achieved year after year by the Christian Democratic parties in Continental Europe; by the Tories in England; and the coming to power of De Gaulle in France with only token opposition.

Faced with a general rightward trend the Social Democratic parties are seeking to win the elections through mimicking the approach of the capitalist parties. Birnbaum states Labour offers “a vision of Britain’s future not much different from that of the Tories – a nation of cozy families, their younger members seeking ‘opportunity’ while everybody else acquired furniture and automobiles.” Even as an opportunistic tactic this may not prove effective, for many may feel they can get the benefits of capitalist prosperity better under the direct rule of the capitalists rather than the rule of those who only pretend to be capitalists.

While it may be that a middle class appeal will not sweep the Social Democracy into power, it is just as certain that a militant working class approach may produce an even smaller vote under the above described conditions. To a vote-seeking politician this may be crucial; to a revolutionary socialist other factors are far more important than winning or losing a particular election. Revolutionary socialists are interested in the final victory of the working class. We seek to educate the working class realizing in the long run that in certain conservative periods this means relative isolation from influence and power. Birnbaum, though far from a revolutionary socialist, hints at this when he states of the Gaitskells: “Their capitulation to the present in fact precludes their dealing effectively with the future.”

The present stability of Western Europe is even more precarious than that of the United States. When economic discontent again releases the forces of social protest, there is one political tendency whose bankruptcy will be more than proved – the Social Democracy.

The reaction to these serious trends in European socialism by American Social Democrats is quite revealing – in fact pathetically so. The Spring issue of that “official organ of the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation” which is seen about so infrequently that we sometimes suspect it is an underground publication, the Socialist Call, sings paens of praise to the “New Revisionism.” Herman Singer is especially pleased with the way things are going in Europe and Norman Thomas for his part, expounds the American counterpart of the “New Revisionism” by urging socialists to join the Democratic party. Echoing this point of view is Stanley Plastrik of Dissent (Winter and Summer 1960 issues). To him the attempt to remove the nationalization plank from the BLP platform is unimportant, though he admits “sympathy” for the left (Don’t strain yourself, Mr. Plastrik!). It all brings to mind Trotsky’s statement to the effect that Norman Thomas considers himself a socialist by mistake. The Gaitskells, Mollets, Willie Brandts, and Thomases seem hell bent on clearing up that mistake once and for all!

Random Notes

Our nomination for the “Articles We Never Finished Reading Dept.” this quarter goes to Wm. Z. Foster for his Browder Again Tries to Destroy the Communist Party in the June Political Affairs. (It comes just before Recovery After the Anti-Revisionist Struggle by James S. Allen, an article we never even started). The image of this broken old man destroying anything was, almost too much for us. When we came to the following sentence we simply had to stop: “In his early years Stalin was a brilliant Leader.” ... We think the following characterization of the capitalist newsweeklies is quite apt. It comes from a misanthropic newsletter of the publishing field called Quest: “Time is the established behavior magazine and comfort station for the American middle class. US News is the hardhitting magazine for big shots. Newsweek is for everybody and nobody. Newsweek is where readers go when they become fed

up with the pontificating of Henry Luce and his trained seals.” ... The June 25 issue of Business Week must have frightened many a businessman who opened it to find a two-page map of the major revolutions that have taken place this year – almost all directed against the US in one fashion or another. It makes this rosy prediction: “Undoubtedly more changes, of the violent type particularly, are coming. Spain, Portugal, Indonesia, South Vietnam, Taiwan, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, and others harbor dissident elements awaiting the chance to break loose.” ... For your reading list we suggest: Elijah and the Wilderness by jazz critic Nat Hentoff, an account of the Negro nationalist movement, to be found in the August 4 Reporter; Wife of the “Happy Worker” by Patricia Cayo Sexton in the August 6, Nation; Sitdowns – the South’s New Time Bomb in the July 5 Look, which verifies much of what we have been saying about this struggle.

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