The Passing Show column from the January 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard
Death of a President
Who would have dreamt, on the morning of that fateful November day, that within a matter of hours, the thirty-fifth U.S. President, John F. Kennedy, would be dead, as well as his assassin and a Texas policeman? Yet this was the news which burst upon an astounded world, and sent all the capitalist politicians into huddles.
Kennedy's death was a tragedy for his family and friends, but at times like these it is as well to get the whole business into some sort of perspective and try to dispel some of the concentrated nonsense to which we have been subjected since the event. It was The Observer for December 1st which said that the shot which killed Kennedy ". . . must change the course of the world." But this is really just another repetition of the “great men make history" theory, and has precious little evidence to support it.
The more sensible remark was that overheard between two young men in a London street the following morning. “Assassinations don’t really make a lot of difference," said one. “Things go on pretty much the same as before." Probably he was not a Socialist, but he certainly hit the nail on the head, for this is precisely what the newspapers were hastening to tell us a few days later. President Johnson would continue the Kennedy policies, said Richard Scott in The Guardian of November 28th. He could have added (but of course he didn't) that these would as usual be a reflection of the needs of contemporary American capitalism. They were ably expounded by the new President thus:
. . . the unswerving support of the United Nations . . . the honourable and determined execution of our commitments to our allies . . . the maintenance of military strength second to none . . . the defence of the strength and stability of the dollar . . . the expansion of our foreign trade . . . our programme of assistance and cooperation in Asia and Africa . . .
There have been two Democrats and one Republican at the White House since Roosevelt and any one of them could have uttered those words. For American capitalism has become a giant in world affairs; its days of isolationism are well and truly over.
Rush to Pay Homage
This point was effectively, but probably not intentionally, underlined by Alistair Cooke when mentioning the huge number of foreign dignitaries at the Kennedy funeral. Reporting in The Guardian he said:
It now appears that no comparable gathering in one place of the great of so many nations has been since the royal trek to London for the funeral of King Edward VII.
In King Edward VII's time, Britain was still just about the most powerful capitalist nation in the world, although her position was soon to be challenged. She had a large empire for which the might of her navy afforded protection. There were also considerable investments abroad which brought in a handsome income. Not surprising, is it, that so many came to bow and scrape at the monarch’s funeral?
But how times have changed. The mighty of yesterday are the minnows of today, and the rush to pay homage is away from British shores, across the Atlantic.
Both Mr. Khrushchev and General Franco are reported to have condemned the murder of the U.S. president. Both these gentlemen are past masters in the art of bumping off their opponents, and are not really in a position to attack anyone else for the same thing. But as we said in a previous issue, humbug is nothing unusual for capitalist politicians, and anyway, both Russia and Spain are at pains to keep in with the U.S. at present, although for different reasons. The Soviet Union has a growing threat from China to worry about. Spain is an important area strategically, and lots of American capital is invested there.
You can tell there's an election on the way. The promises are falling thick and fast from the lips of the various party spokesmen. At the beginning of November, the Prime Minister promised British youth nothing but the best. In his words: “Education, prosperity, opportunity, leading always to wider horizons . . . ” A month later, Sir Keith Joseph made yet another promise to solve the housing problem, this time to the electors of Marylebone. Speaking in support of the Conservative Quintin Hogg, he pledged that every bit of available and suitable railway land in London would be used for houses. He held out the prospect, for example, of a housing estate on the site of the present Marylebone goods yard.
The Labour Party is not far behind with its promises to end Rachmanism and the land prices racket, and, of course, to build houses fast. And up and down the country the big poster adverts are appearing again asking for your support, urging you to place your trust in these parties once again, despite the fact that they have failed to solve your problems in the past. Alone at the next election the S.P.G.B. will put the sole proposition—“Capitalism or Socialism?" Why not give it some consideration for a change?