The Brexit vote and new wave of racist police murder in the U.S.
During the week leading up to the June 23 Brexit referendum, media representing the largest capitalists that benefit from the U.S.-dominated world empire pulled all the tricks out their bag to ensure that the proposal for Britain to leave the European Union was defeated. They claimed that Brexit would bring financial panic and a deep new world recession that would otherwise be avoided.
The leaders of all the major parties in Britain, including the Conservative leader and prime minister David Cameron, Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn (1), who was lukewarm in his opposition to Brexit, and the leadership of the liberal Social-Democratic Party, were united on their opposition to Brexit. Only the far-right racist United Kingdom Independence Party and a few small leftist groups supported it.
What was the Brexit vote about?
The Brexit movement was dominated by the racist anti-immigrant right with neo-fascist components, much like the Trump campaign is in the United States. There was a much smaller left-wing movement that also favored Brexit. The problem was there was no way to distinguish between votes for anti-immigrant, racist Brexit and the leftish “lexit” movement. (2)
Unfortunately, there are many on the left who echo Brexit by explaining that there has to be some limit on immigration, since otherwise wages in Britain and other “white” European countries will plummet. Such people are not thinking like working-class revolutionaries but like bourgeois (3) trade unionists who want to assure high wages for “our British Workers” at the expense of “foreign workers” who are not “white” or are from Poland. (Polish workers in Britain these days do not qualify as “white.”)
Voters were given two choices. One was to vote for the British nationalist “Trumpist” movement’s position based on nostalgia for the days when “Britannia ruled” and everybody in Britain was English, Welsh, Scottish, or “at worst” Irish, and there were many relatively good paying jobs in industry and mining. In bygone days in industrial Britain, the high demand for the commodity labor power made it possible to organize powerful trade unions that limited the competition among the sellers of that commodity, resulting in relatively high wages for British workers.
The other choice was to vote for the order that has “given the world 70 years of peace”—among the imperialist robber countries, that is—but has also led to the progressive decay of the industrial economies of the imperialist core countries—especially Britain. In U.S. terms, it was comparable to voting for Hillary Clinton—the status-quo presidential candidate—or the anti-immigrant, racist, fascist-infested Donald Trump candidacy.
As the day of the vote approached, the “establishment” prepared to celebrate. Polls under the weight of the media campaign were shifting toward the “anti-Brexit” position. The assassination of Jo Cox, a strong Brexit opponent and Labor MP, by a neo-Nazi a short time before the referendum seemed to put wind in the sails of the anti-Brexit camp. In anticipation of another great victory for the “pro-European Union position”—which really means pro-U.S. world empire—world stock markets climbed relentlessly while U.S. government bonds and the dollar price of gold slumped.
Or, as the financial press likes to say, with Brexit headed for defeat the appetite for risk was increasing. The defeat of Brexit in Britain would then signal the coming victory of the pro-status quo, conservative Hillary Clinton in the November U.S. presidential election over her anti-immigrant, nationalist-racist challenger Donald Trump.
Just before the polls closed, the media reported that a last-minute poll showed a further swing toward the anti-Brexit position. It was, it seemed, a done deal, and the anti-Brexit supporters prepared to celebrate their great victory! But that was before the votes began to be counted. As the returns came in, the mood of victory among the conservative supporters of the status quo turned to horror. Against all expectations, Brexit was victorious at the polls. (4)
What happened? It seems that many young people—comparable to Bernie Sanders supporters in the U.S., though they most certainly didn’t support the racist Brexit campaign—couldn’t get themselves to vote for the status quo by voting against Brexit. Many of these young people disgusted with what was being offered to them by both the pro- and anti-Brexit positions simply stayed home. Could something like that happen in November in the U.S. causing the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency?
The markets react
In the two days following the Brexit vote, stocks plunged, while U.S. government bonds and the dollar price of gold soared. For once the financial speculators had fallen victim to their own cleverness. The media were now full of stories assuring, contrary to whatever they said before the Brexit vote, that very little would actually change. It was explained that the vote was only advisory. Perhaps Britain would stay in the European Community after all. Or even if Britain did leave, it wouldn’t happen for at least two years, and by then some other arrangement would be devised, perhaps a free-trade agreement between Britain and the EU that would change very little in practice.
World stocks quickly recovered. But interest rates on long-term U.S. government bonds sank to record lows, and the dollar price of gold continued to climb through the following week. The following week, world stock markets were further buoyed by the prompt selection of Tory Teresa May, who had opposed Brexit, as the new British prime minister to replace Cameron.
The Brexit vote in Britain was followed by the police murders of two African Americans. Videos of the murders of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota went viral on the Internet. The Castile killing was streamed live on Facebook by the victim’s quick-thinking girl friend.
The latest police murders, one in the former Jim Crow and slave state of Louisiana and the other in historically “liberal” Minnesota in the U.S. North, promptly unleashed a wave of street demonstrations and highway shutdowns. These police murders were followed by the assassination of five Dallas police officers and the wounding of others during a peaceful demonstration in that city against the police killings.
The officers were shot by African American Micah Johnson, a former Army reservist. Johnson apparently had wanted to become a police officer himself as a boy. He was not part of the BlackLivesMatter movement. The former soldier who carried out this act of individual terrorist despair had ironically been decorated for his service in the “war against terror” in Afghanistan. He was executed within hours by the Dallas police using a high-tech robot-delivered bomb.
In contrast to Johnson’s prompt execution without benefit of trial, the police officers who murdered Sterling and Castile have not even been arrested but are on “paid administrative leave.” If you are an African American and kill a police officer, you are promptly executed—and you can be killed by police for a lot less than that, or for nothing at all as the cases of Sterling and Castile and almost 600 others this year alone demonstrate. But if you carry a badge and kill an African American without any justification whatsoever—even while being streamed live on the Internet—you get a paid vacation at taxpayers’ expense. This is the state of “race relations” in the United States in 2016.
Complications for the Federal Reserve
All this along with the candidacy of Donald Trump, who has been climbing sharply in the polls, and the Brexit is complicating the job of the U.S. Federal Reserve System. At one end of the political spectrum, these events are further radicalizing young people of all races and nationalities. This increases the chance that many of these young people will refuse to vote for the status-quo candidate Hillary Clinton, much like many young people refused to vote for the status quo in Britain by voting against Brexit.
At the other end of the spectrum, the “white backlash” vote for Trump, swelled by Micah Johnson’s terrorist act against Dallas police officers, will be further increased. The result is as the latest polls indicate that chances have increased that Trump might just pull off a Brexit-style upset in November.
The betting on Wall Street in light of these events is that further moves by the Fed to raise its target for the federal funds rate will have to be postponed until Hillary Clinton is safely elected to the U.S. presidency. While this reduces the chance of recession in the coming months, hence the rise in stocks, it also means the move to “normalize” monetary policy has received a further setback.
Since the end of the Bretton Woods monetary system in 1968-1973, deep recessions have followed periods of falling currency values in gold terms—rising U.S. dollar price of gold—while “normal” recessions have followed periods of steady or falling U.S. dollar gold prices. The financial markets are saying that chances of an immediate recession have fallen, but the danger that the next recession will be severe when it does arrive have increased.
The growing political instability in the United States and Britain—considered the two most politically stable nations in the capitalist world—is being drawn into a positive feedback loop. A renewed dollar devaluation against gold threatens to undermine the dollar system, the financial bedrock of the Empire. Chances are increasing that sooner rather than later the U.S. world empire will enter into a spiral of mutually reinforcing political and financial crises that will signal the demise of the whole world order that has ruled since 1945.
The early Cold War and the two-party system
As the U.S. moved to consolidate its world empire won as a result of its lopsided victory in World War II, the old differences between the “isolationist” and the “internationalists” disappeared. Former isolationists and internationalists alike were united on the need to crush the Soviet Union and prevent the extension of the Russian Revolution in any form into the rest of Europe.
The U.S. ruling class was also determined to defeat anti-imperialist movements in the colonial and semi-colonial countries led by radical left-wing forces closely aligned with the Soviet Union. These included the huge peasant uprising—the greatest peasant war in world history—led by the Chinese Communist Party headed by Mao Zedong, a similar movement called the Viet Minh headed by Ho Chi Minh in Indochina, as well as a worker/poor peasant-based revolutionary movement in Korea led by the Korean Workers Party headed by Kim Il-sung.
In order to do this, the U.S. used Japanese troops occupying both Korea and Indochina at the time of Japan’s surrender. After the Japanese troops went home, the U.S. agreed to return Indochina to the French colonialists—in the name of fighting “Communist aggression.”
In South Korea, U.S. troops replaced the Japanese troops. The U.S. was determined to strip defeated Japan of its colonial empire and annex it—along with Japan itself—to the emerging U.S. world empire. In China, the U.S. made a deal with Chiang Kai-shek and his Guomindang forces hoping in vain that they would be able to defeat the revolutionary forces led by Mao.
In India, where the anti-colonial movement was led by the far more conservative Congress Party, which represented India’s national bourgeoisie, the U.S. aimed at luring what would soon be an independent India into the U.S. orbit. Instead of India being a captive market for Britain as India was as a colony of Britain, an independent India would be more open to trading with the U.S., whose industry could produce far more commodities of a given quality at lower cost prices than could British industry. This was part of a more general U.S. policy of dismantling the British Empire and absorbing the countries colonized by Britain in Asia, Africa and elsewhere into a neocolonial relationship with the U.S.
Apartheid comes to Palestine
Beginning with World War I, Britain had used Jews fleeing anti-Semitic persecution in Eastern Europe to colonize Palestine at the expense of the native Arab population. Though Eastern European Jews were themselves the victims of the most vile racist oppression in Europe, they inevitably carried with them the racist assumptions they had learned in Europe. This included the idea that the “white race” was superior to the “colored” races and had the right to colonize regions of the world inhabited by “non-white” people. Denied the right to be “white” in their Eastern European homelands, the colonizing European Jews would function on behalf of Britain as “white” colonialists in Palestine.
Britain’s policy was to use the racist European Zionist colonizers against the native Arabs following the age-old policy of “divide and rule.” Eager to ease Britain out of Palestine, the U.S. encouraged the Zionist colonists to establish an “independent” Israel that would be more closely aligned to the U.S. than Britain. Most of the native Arab population was driven out in 1948 and those who remained became second-class citizens. A form of apartheid was literally built in to the DNA of Zionist Israel from the very beginning, and this was in no sense a violation of early Zionist principles as some present-day liberal Israelis believe.
The Holocaust had greatly reduced the number of white European Jews, while in the Jewish communities outside of Europe and its U.S. extension the Zionist movement had virtually no presence. However, the ouster of the native population of Palestine—the Nakba, or catastrophe—and the resulting wave of anti-Jewish feeling in a region that traditionally had been far less affected by hatred of Jews than Europe meant that virtually the entire Jewish population of the Arab world moved to Zionist-colonized Palestine—now dubbed “Israel.” This helped make up for the depleted white Jewish population of Europe by swelling the numbers of Jews available for colonizing Palestine.
The Zionist leaders, who were racists to their bones, were not altogether happy with this, because from their point of view they had to make do with what they saw as inferior Jews who were “colored,” not white like “real Jews.” But this was the price they had to pay for the Holocaust, which had made Israel possible in the first place.
In South Africa, the country that gave the world the word “apartheid,” the far-right Nationalist Party—which included many people who had admired and supported Nazi Germany because of its extreme racism—came to power and established full legal apartheid by deepening the already existing white racist rule over the native Africans. Naturally, South Africa established especially close ties with Zionist Israel.
This alliance was natural, because with the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of legal Jim Crow in the U.S. South during the 1960s, followed by the end of “Southern Rhodesia” in 1980 in Zimbabwe, Israel and South Africa were the only two states left with an officially racist ideology. Though the alliance of the state that claimed to represent not its citizens but the Jewish people as whole with a country ruled by a party full of Nazi sympathizers seemed outrageous—and indeed it was—it was in full accord with Zionist principles.
South Africa’s special importance to imperialism
South Africa was of special importance to U.S. imperialism because during most of the 20th century it was the world’s largest producer of money material—gold bullion. As a result of apartheid, the union organization of Black miners was virtually impossible, and African miners had to sell their labor power to the mine owners at a price that was below the value of their labor power.
This kept the rate of profit artificially high in the gold mining industry. As a result, the market prices of most commodities had to rise further above their prices of production before the rate of profit in the gold bullion-producing industry fell below the average rate of profit causing capital to withdraw from the production of gold bullion. As a result, the post-Great Depression, post-World War II “long cycle” of economic prosperity lasted longer than it would have if the South African miners had been paid the full value of their labor power.
We can’t forget, however, that the original apartheid regime, nicknamed “Jim Crow,” arose in the U.S. as a result of the defeat of Radical Reconstruction. Jim Crow was fully legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896 in the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson separate—apartheid—but equal ruling. It remained the law of the land until the Supreme Court reversed itself in 1954.
In the South, therefore, legal apartheid remained the law of the land during the entire New Deal, World War II and early Cold War. Naturally, the U.S. was more than willing to work with the new apartheid regimes in both Palestine—”Israel”—and Africa. These regimes were based on the same principles that prevailed in the U.S. South, which were also the principles of the southern branch of the Democratic Party. The apartheid regimes were also reliably “anti-communist.”
The Cold War and Jim Crow
However, the pressure of the Cold War was also undermining Jim Crow. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 finally overturned Plessy v. Ferguson because Soviet and Communist “propaganda” was creating great difficulties for U.S. imperialism as the anti-colonial wave swept the “non-white” colonized nations. If Nazi Germany had defeated the Soviet Union and World War II had ended in a compromise peace between Nazi Germany and the U.S., Jim Crow would almost certainly have lasted a lot longer than it did. But even as it was, Jim Crow managed to hang on for another full decade.
The Soviet response to the launching of the Cold War
In the post-World War II era, the U.S. world empire made it virtually impossible for the Soviet Union to take advantage of rivalries between the imperialist countries that had been central to Soviet foreign policy from the revolution through World War II. In response to the launching of the Cold War, the Soviet Union used its political and military power in Eastern Europe to encourage the merger of the Social Democratic and Communist parties and place the resulting “united workers’ parties” into state power. The result was the emergence of rather weak workers’ governments in Eastern Europe largely dependent on the Soviet Union for survival, though the situation varied from country to country.
In the Balkans, however, a more radical revolution had occurred. The Communist Party of Yugoslavia had put itself at the head of the resistance movement—called the “partisans”—which led the struggle against the brutal Nazi occupation. In 1948, the U.S. succeeded in splitting Yugoslavia from the Soviet Union. Before the Soviet-Yugoslav rift, a civil war had raged between the monarchist pro-British government of Greece and a revolutionary partisan movement led by the Greek Communist Party similar to the partisan movement in Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia and Bulgaria were moving to create a Balkan federation, which would also have included Greece if the Greek revolutionaries had won. It looked as though a second “Soviet Union” might emerge in southeastern Europe with a leadership that was generally at the time seen as to the left of the Soviet leadership.
Determined to defeat the growing revolution in the Balkans in 1947, the Truman administration threatened the Soviet Union with war if the revolution in Greece was not halted. This was at a time when the U.S. had a monopoly on the atomic bomb. Under this virtual ultimatum in 1948, the Soviet government broke with Yugoslavia and its Communist Party leadership headed by Josip Tito. The Yugoslav Communists were denounced by the Soviet Communist leadership headed by J.V. Stalin for carrying out the collectivization of agriculture too slowly and for overall revisionism.
The U.S. quickly took advantage of this situation. The Truman administration offered Yugoslavia an alliance against the Soviet Union, and under the circumstances the Tito leadership accepted. As part of this new alliance, Yugoslavia cut off all aid to the embattled Greek revolutionaries. The possibility of a Balkan Federation of Socialist States was dead. The Greek revolution was defeated by the reactionary monarchist government aided by the U.S. and Britain, ending the possibility that socialist revolution would spread to Western Europe.
As a result of these developments, the Yugoslav revolution entered a downward spiral that ended in the early 1990s with not only the overthrow of what remained of the socialist government of Yugoslavia but the dissolution of Yugoslavia itself. The clock was turned back not to before 1944, the birth of socialist Yugoslavia, but before 1918, the birth of capitalist monarchist Yugoslavia. Today, the Balkans are more thoroughly “Balkanized” than ever.
McCarthyism and its relationship to fascism
The Cold War launched by the U.S. capitalist ruling class was fought not only abroad but also within the U.S. (5) An anti-communist witch hunt was launched that began in the Congress of Industrial Organization—the CIO—but then spread to virtually all other sectors of U.S. society—government, Hollywood, the schools, and even the churches. This wave of repression gained the nickname “McCarthyism” after the Republican senator from Wisconsin Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957), who took the witch hunt to its greatest extremes, though McCarthy himself only joined the witch hunt in 1950. Other prominent witch hunters included then Congressman Richard Nixon (1913-1994), who joined the witch hunt before McCarthy and went on to serve as president of the United States between 1969 and 1974.
The purge of Communists from the CIO unions was followed by the U.S. Communist Trials of 1948. Leaders of the Communist Party were convicted of conspiring to teach and advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government. The charges based on the Smith Act—which had in 1941 been used against the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (6), was in obvious violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment specifically prohibits Congress from passing laws that abridge freedom of speech. The Communist Party was not charged with attempting to organize an insurrection but merely of conspiring to teach and advocate the overthrow of the current system of government, something that is fully guaranteed by the First Amendment.
In the early 1950s, leaders of both the Communist Party as well as their “Trotskyist” rivals in the SWP saw McCarthyism as a form of “incipient fascism.” From the perspective of the early 21st century, what can we say about the relationship between McCarthyism—or the “witch hunt”—and the fascist movements that swept first Italy and then Germany after World War I? This question is of more than academic interest in light of the racist anti-immigrant movements sweeping the imperialist world today, which includes the victory of Brexit in Britain and the candidacy of Donald Trump in the U.S.
First, we can say that there is really no such thing as a specific fascist ideology, though individuals or small organizations do exist that aspire to build fascist movements. For example, Italian fascism—the movement that gave the world the term “fascism”—was not anti-Semitic until the late 1930s when Mussolini’s government, bowing to the rapidly growing power of its ally Nazi Germany, passed anti-Semitic legislation. However, anti-Semitism—the Nazis proudly used that term—was from the beginning central to the ideology and program of German “National Socialism,” as the German fascists called themselves.
What the ideology of the Italian Fascists and the German Nazis had in common was extreme nationalism and chauvinism, contempt for non-white colonial peoples, anti-Marxism and above all anti-communism. However, there is nothing specifically fascist about extreme nationalism, racism, anti-Marxism and anti-communism or even anti-Semitism. All these ideologies have been used by non-fascist reactionaries. Both Mussolini and Hitler also made use of populist and socialist demagoguery. But populist ideology itself is hardly “fascist,” and neither Italian fascism or German “National Socialism” were of course genuinely socialist.
Mussolini—unlike Hitler, who was a reactionary racist German nationalist since he first became interested in politics as a boy—had been a leader of the Italian Socialist Party before he adopted a pro-war social-patriotic position during World War I. Soon thereafter, Mussolini founded Italian Fascism. Both Mussolini and Hitler were willing to make use of any ideology as long it advanced their drive toward dictatorial power. We cannot, therefore, simply look at the ideology of Joseph McCarthy or any other political figure in order to answer the question of whether they were or are in fact building a fascist movement.
Historical 20th-century fascism was the organization and mobilization of large sections of the impoverished middle class and backward workers who did not identify with the organized workers’ movement to wage civil war against the entire workers’ movement. Once in power, the fascists did not compromise with the workers’ organizations but instead replaced these organization with their own organizations that served as an industrial police designed to prevent the reemergence of any type of independent workers’ organization whatsoever.
In order to examine the relationship between McCarthyism and European fascism, we must first compare the economic and political situation the United States was in during the McCarthy era with the situation that Italy and above all Germany faced during the rise of Italian Fascism and German Nazism.
What were the economic and political circumstances in which the “classical” fascism of Mussolini and Hitler arose? First, we should begin with the general condition of the world capitalist economy as a whole in the period following World War I compared with the economic situation after World War II. World War I had been preceded by one of the most vigorous periods of expanded reproduction in the history of capitalism. This long cycle of expansion set in after 1896—the year “populist” William Jennings Bryan ran for president on the Democratic ticket and was defeated—right up to the eve of the world war in 1913. In complete contrast, World War II was preceded by a collapse in the process of expanded reproduction unique in the history of capitalism.
The halt to expanded reproduction began with the super-crisis of 1929-1933. It was then extended another five years as a result of the World War II war economy. While gold—money—was scarce after World War I, after World War II the world was flooded in gold—idle money capital. U.S. banks were awash in cash reserves. The pre-World War I “credit system,” had been replaced by a “cash system” as a result of the Depression and World War II itself. During the Depression, private debts had been paid down or had been liquidated by bankruptcy. The same was true of intergovernmental debts that had been so disruptive in the years between the end of the World War I and the rise of Adolf Hitler to power in Germany.
In the U.S., the dangerous inflation of consumer debt that had marked the 1920s had been completely reversed by first the Depression and then the war economy. During the Depression, consumer debts were either paid down or liquidated by bankruptcy. The World War II war economy that followed took the process even further. For example, under the war economy, automobile production for civilian purposes—that most dynamic sector of the mid-20th-century U.S. economy—was not simply curtailed as it was during the Depression. It was halted completely. As a result, no new debt for the purchase of new automobiles was incurred while the war raged. Existing consumer auto debt could be paid down under the war economy because virtually every potential worker or soldier was receiving a paycheck.
A similar contraction of debt occurred in the corporate sector. During the war, the production of means of production—as opposed to the production of means of destruction, which soared—was sharply curtailed. Industry largely produced war goods that were paid for by the U.S. federal government in cash. This followed the decade-long Depression during which capital spending was sharply curtailed by the Depression itself. During the Depression, corporate debts were either paid down or liquidated through bankruptcies while little new debt was incurred.
Leaving aside the expansion of the debt of the federal government, which could easily be handled because of the disappearance of most private debt, the U.S. economy at the end of World War II was operating on a cash basis. This situation was about as far removed as was possible from the condition of the debt-ridden economy that characterized Germany in the period leading up to Hitler’s rise to power.
What about the situation of the U.S. within the world imperialist system after World War II compared to the situation of Italy and Germany after World War I? Again, the circumstances were about as far apart as possible. Italy, even before the “Great War,” had been a weak imperialist power, while Germany had been completely stripped of its modest colonial empire and burdened with costly reparations.
The U.S., in contrast, emerged from World War II with an expanding world empire. In this respect, too, the situation confronting post-WWII U.S. imperialism was the opposite of post-World War I Germany. Therefore the conditions that bred Italian Fascism and German Nazism were simply not present in the post-World War II United States.
This did not mean, however, that capitalist reaction was absent. Instead of replacing the traditional Democrat-Republican system with a one-party system centered on a personal dictator along Italian and German lines, post-World War II reaction in the U.S. worked within the traditional Democrat-Republican structure.
What the witch hunt aimed to do and largely succeeded in doing was to crush all opposition to the Cold War within U.S. society starting with the newly established industrial unions of the CIO. During the pre-war New Deal days, the Roosevelt administration was seeking to use the Soviet Union to destroy Nazi Germany. This obliged the administration to tolerate the CPUSA to a certain extent. But under conditions of the Cold War, the U.S. ruling class was determined to end once and for all the influence of the U.S. Communist Party in U.S. domestic politics beginning with but not ending with the CIO.
The witch hunt began in the National Maritime Union—NMU—and the Transit Workers Union—TWU. Both of these unions had been led by men who had been close to the CPUSA. Bowing to the pressure of the developing Cold War, the NMU and TWU leaders broke with the Communist Party and moved to kick all known members or sympathizers of the Communist Party out of leadership positions.
Initially, the NMU leaders claimed that they did so because the Communist Party by taking class collaboration to extremes during World War II had violated trade union principles. The Socialist Workers Party, which was also active in the NMU, agreed with the NMU leadership on that score. This, however, did not prevent the leaders of the NMU from extending their growing anti-communist witch hunt to the SWP as well.
The witch hunt soon spread to other CIO unions. In the electronics industry, the United Electrical Workers—which was led by people closely allied with the CPUSA—was split creating the anti-Communist and pro-Cold War International Union of Electrical Workers, or IUE. What was left of a greatly weakened UE along with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union—ILWU—were expelled from the CIO.
The ILWU was the U.S. union that most effectively stood up to the witch hunt. Led by Harry Bridges (1901-1990), the ILWU emerged out of the AFL gangster-ridden International Longshoremen’s Association as a result of the 1934 San Francisco general strike. Bridges, who was a close friend of the U.S. Communist Party—a fact he proudly affirmed—refused to join the anti-Communist witch hunt. An attempt to deport Harry Bridges or otherwise drive him from the leadership of the ILWU also failed. To this day, the ILWU maintains its position as the union representing waterfront workers on the U.S. West Coast.
But the ILWU was the exception. Both a greatly weakened UE and defiant ILWU were expelled from the CIO by the Democratic Party leadership of the CIO. In 1947, the Taft-Hartley bill, which amended the so-called Wagner Act that established the NLRB system, was passed. Taft-Hartley both severely restricted the right of unions to strike, and made it possible for state governments to pass so-called right-to-work laws. These laws have nothing whatsoever to do with the right to a job. What they do is ban the union shop. “Right-to-work” laws were quickly adopted by the Jim Crow states run by the “Dixiecrat” wing of the Democratic Party and more recently by many states in the North, including the state of Michigan, the historical center of the CIO. But that is a later story.
The anti-union Taft-Hartley bill was vetoed by the Democratic President Harry Truman, but Truman’s veto was overridden by a super-majority of Jim Crow Democrats and Republicans that dominated the U.S. Congress during the early post-World War II years. In addition to restricting the right to strike and allowing anti-union “right to work” laws, Taft-Hartley made it illegal for members of the CPUSA or any other organization that the U.S. Justice Department alleged aimed at overthrowing the U.S. government by force and violence to hold union office. In practice, this included members of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party.
This provision of Taft-Hartley was so brazenly unconstitutional that the Supreme Court finally admitted it in 1965, removing it from the books. This last point illustrates a common practice found throughout U.S. history. Congress with or without the support of the president—in this case without the support of President Truman—passes a brazenly unconstitutional law essentially shredding the Bill of Rights. Many decades later, the U.S. Supreme Court finally admits that the Congress passed an unconstitutional law, effectively repealing the law. But before this happens, the unconstitutional law is enforced for decades and achieves the intended purpose of the ruling class. In this case, the purpose was to remove the best and most dedicated leaders of the trade union movement and thus politically behead the unions.
Government control over the unions that the original NLRB or Wagner Act established—falsely called “Labor’s Magna Carta” by the leadership of the U.S. trade union movement—through Taft-Hartley began to show its fangs. For many years after the passage of Taft-Hartley, the Democratic Party promised to repeal the law. However, in time as the unions grew weaker this promise was forgotten.
In 2008, the Democratic Party won majorities in both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate as well as winning the White House. By then, the Democrats were long free of their Jim Crow wing. Did the Democrats finally repeal Taft-Hartley, which among other things would get rid of state “right to work” laws giving union organizing a much needed boost? The repeal of Taft-Hartley wasn’t even raised. As far as I am aware, the Bernie Sanders campaign has also failed to raise the issue of repealing Taft-Hartley. And if the Wall Street darling and presumed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton—assuming she wins the presidency—introduces legislation to repeal Taft-Hartley, it will be one of the biggest surprises in U.S. political history.
Here we get to a critical difference between fascism and the witch hunt—McCarthyism. Both the Italian and German fascists, as well as the Franco regime in Spain, smashed the existing union structures completely, replacing them with organizations run by the fascist party that claimed to represent the interests of both labor and capital. In Germany, this took the form the German Labor Front, a Nazi Party organization that played a key role in the founding of Volkswagen.
In contrast, “McCarthyism” aimed to tame the unions by first purging them of anybody who went beyond “business unionism”—in the name of fighting communism—and greatly restricted their right to strike and organize. Unlike the Italian, German and Spanish fascists, the U.S. witch hunt didn’t take the unions head on. With the economy booming and profits at record highs, the U.S. faced only minimal economic competition. Great Britain, heavily indebted to the U.S., represented only weak political competition, while military competition from Britain was out of the question.
As a result, the U.S. ruling class was in a position to share a portion of its bloated super-profits with the emerging labor aristocracy of the CIO unions as well as the more limited traditional labor aristocracy of the AFL unions. (7) The witch hunt, though it began in the unions, spread to virtually all areas of U.S. society. This included Hollywood—the black list—the schools, even churches.
The FBI and local police department “red squads” infiltrated the CPUSA, the SWP, and any other organizations seeking to advance the rights of the oppressed. Both spies and agents provocateur were used. A favorite tactic of the FBI was to visit the work sites of CPUSA or SWP members and ask the boss whether he knew that he was employing a dangerous communist who was seeking to overthrow the U.S. government by force and violence.
The result was usually that the Communist Party or SWP member would be fired from his or her job. The FBI would then repeat the operation when the fired Communist or SWP member found another job. The same method was used by the FBI in regard to landlords causing Communists and SWP members to be evicted from their homes on top of losing their jobs. In some cases, demoralized members of the CP and SWP became informers for the FBI. Among the key jobs of these informers was to obtain membership lists, which would inform the FBI exactly who was a member of these organizations.
Naturally, these tactics took their toll causing many Communist Party and SWP members to drop out of their parties in hope they would at least be able to hold some job and rent an apartment. Any person considering joining these organizations had to take into account the harassment including the loss of jobs and apartments they would likely face. These tactics by the U.S. political police, which made a mockery of the Bill of Rights, continued well into the 1960s.
Finally, what was left of the Communist Party’s influence was to be even further reduced by Nikita Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin—who under his “cult of personality” had become the symbol of the hopes of many Communists for a better world—at the 20th Party Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in 1956. Since that year, the CPUSA has been only a shadow of what it once was. Today, what remains of the Communist Party USA is dedicated to the election of the conservative Wall Street darling Hillary Clinton to the presidency of the United States. It presents the conservative Clinton not as a lesser evil but a positive good.
The New Deal/War Deal faction wins
The conflict between Roosevelt’s American world empire perspective and the let’s make a deal with Germany and Japan to destroy the Russian Revolution and the Communist International once and for all perspective of the “isolationists” ended in 1941.The Roosevelt New Deal/War Deal faction of the ruling capitalist class had won. Democrats and Republicans alike were now united on the program of advancing the U.S. world empire.
The Democratic and Republican parties were now also united—whatever their tactical differences might have been before the war—on the need to strangle the Soviet Union and prevent the further spread of the Russian Revolution. Nor was there any difference between the two parties on the need to defeat the struggle of the formerly colonized countries for genuine independence from imperialism. The era of bipartisan foreign policy had arrived.
The election cycle of 1948
Only one major U.S. bourgeois politician, Henry Wallace (1888-1965), opposed the launching of the Cold War. Wallace was originally a Republican and then a Democrat from 1933 on. He had served as Roosevelt’s vice president from 1941 to 1945. In 1944, because he was suspected of being soft on the Soviet Union, he was replaced as FDR’s running mate by Senator Harry Truman (1884-1972) from Missouri, the state where Ferguson is located.
The vice presidency, though it has ridiculously little power under the U.S. Constitution, was in this case extremely important. This was because Roosevelt was not expected to live through his fourth term. Unlike Wallace, but like virtually all other U.S. capitalist politicians whether Democratic or Republican, Truman fully embraced the Cold War against the Soviet Union.
In the 1948 election cycle, Wallace in alliance with the U.S. Communist Party challenged Truman and the pro-Cold War Republican candidate Thomas Dewey. In order to do this, Wallace with the help of the CPUSA formed the Progressive Party, which nominated Wallace to run against both Truman and Dewey. Unlike Roosevelt, Wallace, though no socialist, openly opposed Jim Crow in the South and insisted on speaking only to integrated audiences during the election campaign. This enraged the racist Jim Crow Democrats of the South.
Though Wallace had no realistic chance of being elected president, his campaign posed a major problem for the U.S. ruling class during those first Cold War years when the witch hunt was still in its early stages. With Wallace taking a stand against Jim Crow, there was a real chance African Americans in the North—they were still disenfranchised in the South—would vote for the Progressive Party rather than for Truman’s Jim Crow-infested Democratic Party. If they did, the Progressives might have emerged as a significant “third party” in opposition to the Cold War and the bi-partisan foreign policy of the Democrats and Republicans alike. In this case, the drive to crush the CPUSA would have run into major opposition and might have bogged down.
In order to keep the northern African Americans within the Democratic Party, which in light of the Cold War had assumed a critical importance to the U.S. ruling class, Harry Truman—himself a racist—was forced to end Jim Crow in the U.S. armed forces and the federal government.
Limited though these measures were, they were enough to enrage the Jim Crow Democrats in the South. In protest, the Jim Crow Democrats organized their own pro-segregationist third party, formally called the “State Rights Democrats” but nicknamed the “Dixiecrats.” The Dixiecrats ran South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond (1902-2003) for president.
With Roosevelt’s coalition breaking up—on the left through the Progressive Party and on the right through the Dixiecrats—the Republican Presidential candidate Thomas Dewey (1902-1971) was expected by virtually all observers to be a shoe-in. But Truman’s ending of formal Jim Crow in the U.S. armed forces and throughout the federal government was more than any other U.S. president had done for African Americans since at least 1876. Therefore, African Americans who could vote rewarded Truman with their votes in overwhelming numbers in 1948.
The CIO leaders as well as the leaders of the AFL (8) were thoroughly committed to the Democratic Party—as they have remained to this day—and strongly supported Truman. As a result, the Progressive Party was thoroughly smashed in the 1948 elections, and Truman defying all expectations survived defections on the left and the right and won election for a term of his own. Truman’s single term as the elected president of the United States was to be dominated by the war against Korea.
The 1952 election cycle was held near the peak of the witch hunt when Senator Joseph McCarthy and the lesser witch hunters were running wild. The CPUSA and the Socialist Workers Party were in full retreat as the mass media of the time—newspapers, radio, newsreels, and the new media of television—were whipping up hatred against “communists” of all types. The economy was booming, which meant that many people who had been young and unemployed or underemployed in the 1930s now had “good,” often union, jobs and were able to buy their own homes including the land under the homes and associated lots. These union workers began to feel they had a material stake in the success of U.S. imperialism—for example through appreciation of the value of their homes. By 1952, reaction in the U.S. was firmly in the saddle.
The Korean War
Despite the growth of conservative politics among the mass of trade union workers, the Korean War was, like the Vietnam War, extremely unpopular. However, the ongoing witch hunt/McCarthyism made mass protests impossible. Indeed, the U.S. ruling class had pretty much established the principle that opposition to an ongoing war was illegal. Any protests, it was argued, would give “aid and comfort to the Communist enemy”—the very definition of treason. The right to protest against ongoing wars had to be reconquered during the 1960s.
For its part, the Republican Party seemed to accept the basic New Deal reforms, like Social Security, unemployment insurance, and the right to have union protection—as long as the unions weren’t led by “communists,” of course, a qualification that was endorsed by the Democrats as well. So what was the difference in 1952 between the Democrats and Republicans? The answer is not very much.
‘Egghead-redneck alliance’ fails to defeat Ike
In 1952 and 1956, the Democrats nominated the racist governor of Illinois Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965) for president. Stevenson was sympathetic to the Jim Crow Democrats of the South and did not advocate any expansion of existing New Deal legislation. As a result, the Dixiecrats returned to the Democratic Party. However, Stevenson because he could speak like an intellectual was popular among college-educated white liberals—so-called “eggheads.”
But when it came to policy, whether foreign or domestic, there was hardly any difference between conservative Democrat Stevenson and “modern Republican” General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969). Because of his “war hero” status, the general was far more popular than the “egghead” Stevenson among the broad mass of people, which at this time included many World War II veterans.
Stevenson, therefore, appealed to both white liberal intellectuals and white working-class voters—dismissed as “rednecks” by liberals because their necks were often sunburned—of the Jim Crow South. White workers who had been fed racist garbage and stories of the glories of the slaveholders’ rebellion throughout their lives knew that Stevenson would not challenge Jim Crow even to the extent that Truman had done. But the coalition of northern liberal “eggheads” and Southern “rednecks” was not enough to elect Stevenson, and Eisenhower won by a landslide.
In 1956, there was a rematch. Eisenhower had negotiated a truce in the unpopular Korean War in 1953 and had no problem defeating Stevenson and his “egghead-redneck” alliance by an even bigger margin. But the growing civil rights struggle against Jim Crow in the South was soon to create new challenges to the two-party Democratic-Republican system.
The election cycle of 1960 occurred during the “double-dip” recession of 1957-1961. This enabled Democratic candidate for president Senator John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) from Massachusetts to wrap himself in FDR’s mantle and “run against Herbert Hoover” one more time. In 1960, many voters still remembered the Depression. Though the recession of the late 1950s and early 1960s was a far cry from the super-crisis of 1929-1933, it was enough to help Kennedy defeat the Republican candidate, vice president and prominent witch hunter Richard M. Nixon. Just as Roosevelt’s policies had allegedly pulled the U.S. out of the Depression, Kennedy promised to pull the U.S. out of the ongoing recession.
The main significance of the 1960 election cycle was that it was to prove to be the last U.S. presidential election held under the configuration of parties that had emerged out of the Depression decade. Jim Crow Democrats accepted Senator Kennedy, a conservative northern Democrat and son of the extremely wealthy isolationist and racist financier and later Joseph McCarthy ally Joseph Kennedy. After that, the exploding Civil Rights movement was to make continuation of the Roosevelt coalition and existing configuration of the Democratic and Republican two-party system impossible.
The election cycle of 1964
As everyone knows, President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, while on a political trip to Dallas, Texas. As a gesture of good will to the Jim Crow Democrats, Kennedy had chosen Texas Democratic senator and FDR protégé Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) to be his running mate. In reality, there was little love lost between Kennedy and Johnson, who had his own presidential ambitions. As president, Johnson realized that in light of the Civil Rights movement, the Chinese Revolution, the Vietnamese Revolution and the ability of the Soviet Union and “international Communism” to take advantage of Jim Crow by calling attention to the fact that the United States was racist made it impossible for him to govern from the White House as a Jim Crow Democrat.
Ironically, in the world of the 1960s the accidental elevation of a Jim Crow Democrat to the White House meant the end of the Jim Crow Democrats in the U.S. South. Obliged to sign the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and then the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Johnson observed that the Democrats would lose the South for a generation. The Jim Crow “democracy” that had dominated the U.S. South since the defeat of Radical Reconstruction—though not racism itself—was dead.
The shooting of the young president, with an attractive wife who was raising his own young family in the White House, gave rise to a cult of Kennedy that has lasted for more than half a century. In addition, by the time of of the assassination of President Kennedy the U.S. economy was finally emerging from the aftermath of the double-dip recession that had begun in 1957 and was entering into a new boom phase. True, there was the war in Vietnam. But the U.S. forces in Vietnam, the government explained, were only “advisers,” who unlike in Korea had no direct combat role. The bombing of “North” Vietnam by U.S. planes that occurred in August 1964 was a reaction, it was claimed, to the “attack” by the North Vietnamese navy—such as it was—on the most powerful navy the world had ever seen.
Under these conditions, Johnson and his Democrats were virtually assured victory without the help of the southern vote. The question for the Republican Party was whether they should continue along the path of “modern Republicanism” and accept the changes wrought by the New Deal or they should demand repeal of the New Deal legislation.
The GOP in 1964 was sharply divided on this question. The party’s traditional leadership favored the continuation of the “modern Republican approach.” The economy was, after all, booming and profits were at record levels. In addition, many policymakers in the government and the Federal Reserve System and most academic economists were convinced that with the help of Keynes the “business cycle” was finally beat. Unlike in the past, these economists and policymakers explained, prosperity was now permanent. Why rock the boat of internal class peace by trying to repeal the New Deal and smash the unions.
But other Republicans were not so sure that U.S. imperialism could continue forever along the road of the New Deal. The European countries, especially (west) Germany as well as Japan, had not only bounced back economically from wartime devastation but were growing much faster than the U.S.—or Britain. As a result, the U.S. balance of payments—and gold reserves—were under pressure.
In the early postwar years, the U.S. had financed its vast military empire as well as the reconstruction of Europe and Japan out the income earned by its large trade surplus. But by the 1960s, the surplus was shrinking and the U.S. balance of payments on current account was beginning to slip into deficit. Under the rules of the Bretton Woods international monetary system, the balance of payments deficit had to be financed by the liquidation of a portion of the U.S. gold reserves since there was no provision for the devaluation of the U.S. dollar.
A faction of the Republican Party believed that the time had arrived to begin to challenge the New Deal. The day was coming, this faction believed, when the U.S. would no longer be able to carry the costs of its world empire, fighting wars like the growing war in Vietnam, while continuing and under Johnson even expanding the New Deal legislation—Johnson dubbed his extension of the New Deal “The Great Society.”
Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater (1909-1998) of Arizona emerged as the standard bearer of the wing of the Republican Party that favored running what was in essence a propaganda campaign in 1964 to challenge the New Deal head on. The Republicans would lose the 1964 election, but by challenging the New Deal the political discourse within the U.S. would shift rightward.
But there was a problem. The New Deal legislation like Social Security, unemployment insurance, and the right to union representation, however qualified under Taft-Hartley, were extremely popular—as was Johnson’s expansion of Social Security in the form of the Medicare government-run health insurance plan for people over 65. Even conservative white workers, including southern “rednecks,” as well as most middle-class people had no desire to return to the days before the New Deal, which was essentially what Goldwater proposed.
However, if the campaign against the New Deal/Great Society could be linked with the racist backlash against the end of Jim Crow and the wave of Black militancy in the North that followed, the Republican Party could win support from a constituency that had been solidly Democratic since the days of Jefferson and Jackson.
Barry Goldwater, who unlike the traditional Jim Crow Democrats claimed to personally oppose racism, decided to buck the Senate Republican leadership and vote against the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. He claimed his vote was not because he was a racist but because the bill represented a dangerous expansion of federal power and would undermine states’ rights. Jim Crow Democrats got the message.
While Republicans faced a rout in 1964 even worse than they had experienced in 1932—he got proportionally fewer votes than Herbert Hoover did in 1932—Goldwater swept the deep South. The “solid South” had survived the death of the Jim Crow but with a difference. It was now the solid Republican South. And there was another question. The still large African American community in the South with the end of Jim Crow had gained the right to vote for the first time since the defeat of Reconstruction. What party would they support?
Next, the two-party system after Jim Crow.
1 Cameron called the Brexit referendum, which was technically only “advisory,” in a move to appease the Tories’ anti-immigrant racist base. Cameron counted on the ability of the molders of “public opinion” to guarantee the defeat of Brexit, which would then be declared “historic” by the media. The plan was to bury Brexit once and for all. The failure of the “molders of public opinion” to successfully carry out their assignment shows the decay—though not yet the downfall—of the present form of imperialist rule centered on the U.S.-dominated world empire that emerged out of World War II.
Under this system, economic competition among the imperialist countries continues within the “rules of the game” determined by U.S.-dominated international institutions such as the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The rules of the game are policed by NATO and related military “alliances.” In this way, political and above all military competition among the imperialist countries that in the 20th century led to world war on two occasions is suppressed.
The Brexit results confirm the view of this blog that the current system of regulating the growing economic antagonisms among the imperialist powers is facing irreversible decay. (back)
2 The problem is that the policies represented by Clinton in the U.S. and the anti-Brexit position in Britain are inevitably leading to the upsurge of racism, nationalism, revived fascism and ultimately new wars among the imperialist countries. If the workers’ movement becomes identified with support of the “status quo,” it will be doomed just as the status quo is doomed. (back)
3 Bourgeois in the sense of bourgeois trade unionists does not mean that such trade unionists are capitalists. Rather, it means that they accept the logic of the production and sale of commodities, including the sale of the commodity labor power. They simply want to assure the best price for the labor power of some group of workers they represent or identify with. Their slogan is a “fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work” and not “abolition of the wage system.” (back)
4 Matthew Heimbach, leader of the neo-Nazi Traditional Workers Party, which was recently involved in a violent demonstration that led to the hospitalization of seven people in Sacramento, the capital of California, hailed Brexit as the greatest event in Europe since 1933. That was the year Heimbach’s hero and role model Adolf Hitler came to power. The would-be U.S. “Fuhrer” has a point. (back)
5 The U.S. Marxist Sam Marcy (1911-1998) explained that the Cold War was actually a global class struggle between the working class and its allies among the oppressed, on one side, and the oppressor classes headed by the U.S. capitalist class and its allies among the lesser exploiters, on the other. (back)
6 In 1941, as part of the “struggle against Trotskyism,” the U.S. Communist Party supported the Roosevelt administration’s use of the Smith Act against the “Trotskyites” on the ground that the “Trotskyites” were pro-Nazi. Later on after the Communist Party itself fell victim to the Smith Act, the Communist Party admitted its error in supporting the repression by the capitalist government against the Trotskyist SWP, though the CP continued to hold that the SWP represented erroneous ideological positions within the workers’ movement. (back)
7 I will examine the economic mechanisms by which monopoly capital shares a portion of its super-profits with the labor aristocracy and the limits of this sharing when I critically review recent books by Anwar Shaikh and John Smith after the U.S. presidential elections. (back)
8 In 1955, the AFL and CIO merged under AFL Plumbers union leader George Meany (1894-1980) into the AFL-CIO. This was essentially a final surrender by CIO unions headed by UAW leader Walter Reuther (1907-1970) to the reactionary anti-communist politics of the AFL. However, the AFL did drop its attempts to carve up the industrial unions of the CIO into craft unions. The industrial unions of the CIO, though under right-wing leadership, were here to stay—or so it seemed. (back)