Sunday, December 20, 2015

Law and Order in the U.S.A. (1968)

From the December 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

A member of the World Socialist Party of the US paints a somewhat frightening picture of politics in America

If you saw it only on television and stayed off the streets, the political situation in the United States this year seemed like a second-rate circus which had suddenly and dramatically risen in entertainment value. The star performers—Humphrey, Nixon and Wallace—were clowns at best, whose acts included the usual inane platitudes, empty promises, perpetual smiles, and abysmal ignorance of the system they defended. At worst, they were not clowns, but surrealist weasels, one of whom was seeking the power to provoke and crush insurrections, to fill the concentration camps which have already been constructed here under the McCarran Act, to complete the extermination of the Vietnamese, to bring on a chemical, biological, and/or atomic world war, and to turn the circus into a chamber of horrors whose only audience would be the eskimos lucky enough to survive the epidemics of anthracis and tularemia. 

The theme of all three performers was the same: change "our" military strategy in Vietnam and do something about law and order. Many U.S. "radicals" have been thoroughly shaken by Wallace's success among white workers, recalling that the Nazis succeeded with a similar combination of racist chauvinism and pretended hostility to big business. And indeed, his aggressive, anti-intellectual appeals to the racism and bigotry of his supporters are frightening to hear. But the actual policies that Nixon is (or Humphrey would have been) likely to adopt are no less frightening.

We should be grateful, in one way, that "law and order" became such a strident campaign issue in the election, because it gives us a chance to expose the primary aim of government. That aim is to protect the social order of capitalism. Government is the agency which maintains the control of the capitalist class over their property and their workers. It is essential to grasp the fact that a given form of government is the result of a particular social order, not the cause. Otherwise we cannot understand the true function of elections, and we cannot understand politics. Instead we will approach politics the way most workers do, and waste our time in futile and meaningless debate over the personalities of individual candidates.

The phrase "law and order: has the merit of calling our attention away from trivia like sales taxes, trade agreements, foreign aid, directly to the basis of politics itself—the structure of the society. That structure consists of two major classes: the capitalist class, who own the means for producing and distributing wealth, and the working class, who depend for their living on wages and salaries. There are groups which do not fit into either category, but the nature of the social order is determined by the relationship between these two classes.

Because the interests of the two classes are irreconcilable, they are most of the time locked in a struggle for power; and one cannot increase its power except at the expense of its opposite. The interests of the capitalist class are to conserve its right to property over industries and resources, invest capital, sell commodities for profit, expand world-wide markets, obtain cheap raw materials, control the social behaviour of non-owners and hire competent labor at the lowest possible cost. The pursuit of these interests forces the capitalist class to inflict misery on everyone else. They must break or emasculate unions. They must employ salesmen to lie and trick their way into homes and sell un-needed products, pay engineers to make cheap, dangerous cars, send police into the streets to club, stab, and shoot the people who cause trouble for them, and draft troops to deal with resistance to their power and hold onto valuable real estate.

The interests of the working class, whatever their color, are to find jobs, obtain decent living and working conditions, raise their wages, cling to their civil liberties, and ultimately, put an end to alienated work, take over control of society's wealth and distribute it for their own benefit.

The government is a class instrument, the means by which law is made and enforced. It regulates matters which concern the capitalist class as a whole, but which no one corporation or capitalist enterprise can manage by itself: interstate commerce, law enforcement, taxation, foreign investment subsidy, and suppression of threats to the capitalist system from riots or wars.

Politics for the workers is usually an exercise in futility. They choose between various capitalist candidates on the basis of a few speeches and television appearances, and hope for a law now and the in their favour. In times of social turmoil, most of them support candidates who re-assure them and promise to keep things normal. Having only a vague idea of their own interests, workers are swindled into accepting the best deal they can get from the capitalist parties. Time after time they scab on each other, smash their most militant political organizations, police and suppress the "radicals" among themselves who have begun to wake up, dilute their collective strength by using ethnic minority groups within their class as scapegoats, and fight and die in defence of the very property investments which exploit them. Then they are told that to vote for anything but a capitalist party is "unrealistic" because only capitalist parties can win elections.

The workers in short are a subject class. They are prevented from changing their position by their failure to see government as a class weapon. The schools teach them that government mediates between classes, and that they owe something to the government because it represents them. But no government, in a society made up of two classes with irreconcilable interests, can represent the interests of both classes. If it represents the interests of one class, then it is by definition suppressing the other. Either the government represents our employers, or it represents us. Either the government represents our employer, or it represents us. And since it protects our employers' monopoly over the nation's wealth, orders us to risk our lives in its defence, limits our right to strike and safeguards their right to exploit us, and maintains our cages for our "rehabilitation" in the event that we rebel against their authority, we should recognise that "law and order" in their mouths is just one more of the many frauds by which they remain in the seat of power.

Law and order means the law and order of General Motors, Standard Oil, Socony-Mobil, U.S. Steel—the law and order of the capitalist class. For the rest of us, law and order means ten thousand troops clubbing and gassing crowds of unarmed demonstrators in the streets of Chicago. More important, it means a system which enriches 10 per cent of the population at the expense of the other 90 per cent.

What capitalist politicians want us to understand by it, of course, is mothers being able to wheel their baby carriages through the park without getting raped, and smiling policemen who help little children across the street. But what their use of the tern suggests is that the ordinary methods of protecting the system are no longer working. Individual assaults on the property of the capitalist class are handled by courts and prisons; but the courts are not prepared to handle mass insurrections, nor are they equipped for things such as the guerrilla warfare that broke out last summer against the Cleveland police.

The phrase "law and order" is intended to prepare the politically ignorant majority of Americans for some extraordinary, perhaps unbelievably brutal, means to cope with dissent. The government, with working class support, may suspend what few civil liberties remain to the workers. It may draft half a million young men for continuous occupation of the major cities, and imprison the leaders of every organization which is considered subversive. It may dupe white workers into venting their discontent on black workers in a kind of domestic Vietnam. The future seems grim, and the only thing that will brighten it is the spread of socialist concepts.
Stan Blake

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