Election Year – Paul Mattick

Source: http://aaap.be/Pdf/International-Council-Correspondence/International-Council-Correspondence-2-05a.pdf

International Council Correspondence, Vol. II (1935-1936), No 2 (January 1936)


It has long since been recognized that one capitalist kills many, but under the Roosevelt regime the matter has been subject to fantastic complications. The small capitalists on their way to extinction attribute to Roosevelt the design of bringing all private property under state control. A part of the big bourgeoisie feels called upon to exert an oppositional pressure in order to force the Administration more in its own direction. These attacks from the side of certain capitalist strata furnish occasion for the bureaucratic-liberalistic elements to support Roosevelt in his “fight against the money bags”. Meanwhile, the truly dominant capitalist element goes calmly about its affairs, and while on the one hand eliminating the scurvy competition, at the same time hits upon measures for providing the government with instruments for use against the workers. The middle class, the workers and the small capitalists are continually confusing friend and foe, and the horde of political hacks here at work not only lives on this general confusion, but makes it still greater. The apparently liberalistic, class-conciliating Roosevelt program, once enacted into law, is promptly declared unconstitutional and practically given up. The Supreme Court has apparently more power than the Administration and Congress put together, which willingly bow to its dictatorship. The Administation has in this way kept a large number of its promises, without being obliged to suffer the disappointments of seeing them realized. The comedians of the “New Deal” play their parts splendidly; their demagogy serves skillfully to veil the fact that what passes for enmity between the Administration and the Supreme Court is merely a matter of one hand washing the other.

The Supreme Court takes its stand on the Constitution, which in general has now become quite popular. All the reactionary elements rush to the defense of that venerable document, which can be twisted to serve any interest of monopoly. Governor Landon, the most colorless of the presidential candidates and whose animal seriousness remains in full force regardless of all his wheeling the baby carriage, says quite correctly that “the american constitution was devised exclusively for protecting the interests of minorities against unreasonable majorities”; a trait which it shares with all constitutions, and no other sort of constitution is even conceivable. Any change of the constitution can only be a legal modification for assuring more intensified exploitation and is of interest to no one except the exploiters. Whatever the bourgeoisie may have in mind doing with their constitution cannot be other than a matter of indifference to the workers.

The greater the degree in which the control of economy has to be centralized and the greater the degree in which Capital and State are merged into a unity, the more vigorous must be the protest of the forgotten men and the more sharply rages the struggle for the influential posts in the governmental machine; though the same tasks and possibilities are given to and imposed upon each of the competing groups, until this competitive struggle sinks out of sight in the framework of the Totalitarian State. The struggle among the political trucksters for the State positions becomes mixed up so much with the actual conflicts of the various capitalist groups of interests that none of the participants really knows any more that he is actually saying.

The Roosevelt Administration, being hell-bent for relection, promises each of the special groups what is of use to the group, without regard for the fact that the party thus becomes involved in irreconcilable contradictions. To the liberal elements it promises the continuation of the deceptive, class-conciliating policy; to the workers, freedom to organize and social legislation; to the farmers, the continuation of aid to agriculture; and at the same time it calms the reactionary element with the promise of keeping the taxes as low as possible, of balancing the budget, of allowing business more elbow room, etc. These promises are no sooner made than they are tagged by the Republicans as Fascism or Communism, tho this does not prevent the Republicans from going before the voters with practically the same program, in a somewhat different form. For the competitors are clear on the point that both, Democrats and Republicans, as in the past, so also in the near future, can only perform the same work; that in spite of all modifications determined in conformity with party needs, in the final analysis they are after all obliged to follow the economico-political necessities which automatically promote the interests of those whose interests are being promoted even today. As concerns the workers, it’s Tweedledum and Tweedledee; they have no reason to be concerned about the question of which of the competing parties stands sponsor for the capitalist economy.

The chances of Roosevelt’s reelection are very good. The present Administration has some decisive capitalist groups on its side, in spite of the strong capitalist propaganda against individual phases of the Roosevelt policy. Roosevelt still has behind him, without doubt, a large part of the farming element and of the middle class, and certainly the mass of the workers. This happy position of the Democrats spurs the Republicans to undertaking against Roosevelt a campaign of demagogy the like of which has rarely been seen even in the corrupt political struggles of this american scene. From the general confusion this demagogy has created a state of absolute idiocy. No one knows any more today what is right, left, up or down. Fascists fight against Fascism, communists against Communism. Politics has apparently reached the level of Gertrude Stein.


But this is only apparent and represents, no doubt, a transitory stage of the socio-economic development. The truth seems rather to be that as yet the american scene is lacking in real honest-to-god fascists, tho it has a variety and profusion of half-fascists perhaps surpassing that of any other equal area of the globe. These here in the U.S.A who would seem to be the nearest of spiritual kin to the fascists – such as the Klu Kluxers and other haters and baiters of everybody and everything “foreign” – are after all mostly lacking in one very important element: they lack the reforming, the real crusading zeal of the foreign fascists. In other words, the nearest approach to fascist material in this country is really too reactionary to qualify as such. It has all the prejudices of the fascists, but still one besides, and this one is fatal to the spiritual unity of its makeup. Our pseudo-fascists, that is, are still too strongly and strictly attached to the past and everything by which it is symbolized – laissez-faire capitalism, the Constitution, etc. They are not content with preserving capitalism ueberhaupt, but want to preserve it in the one particular form to which they have always been accustomed. This is a purely petty-bourgeois phenomenon – a pseudo or half-fascism – and limited, of course, to the more benighted strata even of the petty-bourgeoisie. It is looked upon with contempt by the more or less educated elements of this class; and it can hardly appeal to any great number of the workers, if only because these latter have suffered too much from capitalism in its present form. In short, the american “fascists” are still half-baked; they haven’t yet suffered enought to have their conservatism broken; they have fallen in with only the negative emotions and fetishes, but no thoughts worth mentioning and no ideals. They are oriented exclusively toward the past, and insofar as they have a vision of the future it is nothing more than a distorted image of the stage on which their grandfathers strutted. They would seem to be well represented in contemporary public life by the present governor of Georgia, “Ol’ gene” Talmadge.

At the other pole we have half-fascists of a quite different sort who have taken over only the more intellectual or pretentious part of the fascist program; planned capitalist economy, “share the wealth”, “Epic”, incomes of $2,000 up per year for everyone who will work, confiscation of idle mills and factories, etc., etc. These people may be found in (or recently out of) all the political parties, inclusive of those adhering to one or the other of the Internationals, tho with the possible exception of the G.O.P., which at least to all appearances is still living in the good old days of William Mc Kinley, and doesn’t know or refuses to recognize that the world has ever moved since. The best and most typical representative of this category of half-fascists was no doubt the late Huey Long, who lacked, however, the fanaticism of a Hitler and the marxian (or labor) background of a Mussolini. But all in all, these people are probably doing more to promote the prospects of fascism in America than are the pure bigots of the first category, because they are more intelligent and tend to invest the popular reformist illusions with a halo of respectability.

Then, of course, there is still a third type of half-fascists, of which the Republican Party itself furnishes the most illuminating examples. They have really no respect for either half of the fascist hodge-podge; they are interested in fascism only as the lesser evil, and will wait for communism to develop before reconciling themselves to such concessions as “planned economy”. They genuinely despise the mob emotions associated with fascism, but many of these people (Hearst, Hoover, et al) are themselves adepts in arousing those emotions for the protection of their own interests – appealing particularly to the prejudices of the petty-bourgeois rabble – and have to be reckoned with in case of a real contest.

But as yet there is no fusion of the types into a single individuality such as makes the true fascist leader. And the circumstance that such a personality has not yet appeared on the american scene is only a further indication that the crisis here has not yet reached the critical point. Meanwhile the confusion will no doubt remain as great as at present; the incipient fascists will continue to fight among each other, the “communists” will go on with their projects for forming the “Farmer-Labor” party and make themselves more and more indistinguishable from the fascists and other bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties, and the pot will continue to call the kettle black.

Of one thing, however, we need not entertain any doubt, and that is that here is a much closer bond of spiritual and material affinity at least among the leaders of these various categories of still only half-fascists than might appear from their calling of names and their mutual incriminations and recriminations in the course of a presidential campaign. This is sufficiently indicated by the fact that Talmadge – that staunch upholder of the Constitution – is one of the strongest friends and admirers of the late Huey Long, while Huey in turn was at least until the last year or so of his life one of the greatest admirers of Roosevelt and his break with Roosevelt had nothing to do with any disregard of the Constitution. In reality, none of them cares a hang for the Constitution except insofar as it serves the interests of the american bourgeoisie and as a symbol of its power. The great object is that of preserving capitalism; if that object can be promoted by the constitution fetishism, well and good; otherwise, the Constitution will go by the board. Talmadge is just as willing, not to say eager, to violate some parts of the Constitution – particularly the “Bill of Rights” – as Roosevelt is inclined to disregard oters. The difference is largely a matter of opinion as to which parts it is most advisable to disregard or to violate at the present stage of development. The real quarrel which most of the bourgeoisie has with Roosevelt is that he is too much inclined, in its view, to conciliation and the dispensation of relief for keeping down discontent. The bourgeoisie in general feels that such a policy involves a needless drain upon its income, that the unemployed are being “spoiled” and taught to expect to much, that at least for the present its slaves can be kept in subjection more economically by the army and the police, which are being paid for the purpose anyhow.


The Republican front is less unified than one would be led to think from the way it shouts. And the Democratic Party, also, is innerly disintegrated. The fact that the various administrations tend more and more to fuse with the ruling capitalist groups and are less and less susceptible of being regarded as the executive organ of all capitalists, – such a situation splits even the old parties and leads to intensified efforts to found a new party.

The capitalist groups neglected by the Roosevelt Administration and which hitherto have backed the Democratic Party set up new organizations such as the “American Liberty League” in order to represent their interests better. In the Republican Party, the “young elements” turn against the reactionary traditions of the party in order to increase its power of competition. Groups of interests cut loose from both parties and establish contact with such skeleton organizations as already exist and which are intended to lead to a new “third party”. The viability of such a new organization is, however, hindered just as much by the present relations, which are headed for dictatorship, as its formation was hitherto precluded by the previous political system. So that ever and ever again there is a new attempt to harmonize the particular tendencies within the two-party system.

Liberalism, as the intellectual expression of competitive capitalism, is incapable of maintaining itself along any other path than the one by which it is doomed eventually to be destroyed. Tho finding itself economically in contradiction to the Roosevelt regime, Liberalism is politically condemned to support it. Conversely to the usual order of things, we here find the victim serving his hangman with the last meal before going to the gallows. By means of the liberalistic propaganda, the Roosevelt regime has succeeded in winning the great mass of the workers, so that in the coming elections also the gain of the parliamentary labor parties will be at most an insignificant one, if any. The outcome of the elections will show once more that the influence of the parliamentary labor movement upon american democracy is slighter than the jokes of Mae West. The trade-union leaders, who logically function within the framework of the capitalist parties, still find it very easy to mobilize the entire trade-union movement for Roosevelt. In spite of all the previous disappointments which his Administration has brought the workers. The last convention of the United Mine Workers of America went down deep in its pockets for the Roosevelt campaign fund and decied unanimously to vote for this best representative of industrial unionism. The secretary of the U.M. of A. proudly announced: “Let our vote for Roosevelt be our answer to the money bags of Wall Street”. But they had decided only against the small and for the bigger money bags.

The demagogy put to use in present-day american politics is, as a matter of fact, distracting and hard to fathom. When big capitalists like Mellon, Raskob, Morgan, Du Pont are dragged before investigating committees in order to disclose the secrets of economics and politics; when at all conferences of the manufacturers and bankers protests are made against measures of the Roosevelt regime, – can the layman come to any other conclusion than that Roosevelt is actually carrying on in opposition to Capital? What the administration, in the interest of its reelection, has to exert pressure upon individual capitalist groups, and is compelled to favor others, that it has to draft tax programs that bring results, and that the menacing war makes it necessary to clean up the armament industry and to bring about a national coordination of the international credit policy, – such obvious things vanish behind the sensational interpretations put upon them by the press. People fail to see that is precisely the strengthening of the capitalist and military positions, not the longing for peace and a sound national economy, that lies at the basis of the activity of these investigating committees.

However, it is not the propaganda for or against Roosevelt that will decide in the last instance the victory of the one or the other party. The fact that success was attained under the Roosevelt Administration in holding up temporarily the economic decline, and in stablizing the system for a time at a certain crisis level, assures the administration sufficient sympathy so that its reelection is highly probable. The time before the election is too brief to preclude, even in view of the new worsening of the economic situation which is nowunder way, an artificial prolongation of the present stagnation. The economic breathing spell attained by way of credit inflation and intensified technical rationalization can still be prolonged somewhat and enable Roosevelt to win the race again. But behind the credit inflation looms the unconcealed inflation of the currency, the complete expropriation of the middle class and intensified pauperization of the workers. Tho open inflation is less seductive in the United States than in most countries, owing to the high degree of amalgamation between debtors and creditors, it is nevertheless within the realm of the probabilities in view of the impossibility of sharp and sudden turns in the field of economy and politics. The danger of inflation is being played up stronger than ever by the opposition to Roosevelt. With or without inflation, however, the present economic policy is speculating on better times; even today it is living on the hoped-for profits of the future. If these fail to appear, the present program is bound to capsize and will be abandoned even as a phrase. Politics will then become as brutal as economics ever is, and the “Savior of the people” must then become an “Enemy of the people”.

But all the election shouting can be of interest only to those whose thoughts are turned in the capitalist direction. As regards the parliamentary labor movement, this is bound up with recognizing in principle the capitalist system and its State, and also with the hope of deriving from the parliamentary table a few paltry crumbs. “Leaders must eat”; that is the final ground for the parliamentarism of the present-day labor movement. Even tho there are only a few parliamentary positions, still one can bring in more membership contributions with a parliamentary than with an anti-parliamentary program. Whichever way they may vote, the workers will always find in the last instance that they have only made their choice between parasites and exploiters. As for us, we attach no special importance to the question of who exploits us; the thing that we are concerned with is the doing away with all exploitation. And so we can only advise our class comrades not to vote. Or if they reject this proposal as too negative, and wish to conduct a more positive and more realistic policy, – well, of course, there is no one to prevent them from spitting in the face of the parliamentarians.