We take our elections somewhat more seriously than they appear to do in the United States. Here the stunts are a little more subtle, less reminiscent of circuses and music-hall shows. But there is something in the American way of life after all, for if we are going to have the farce every few years of “choosing” between capitalism and capitalism, let it at least be entertaining.
And no one can deny that the American elections are that.
In America the two major parties are the Republicans and Democrats, and it has been said that the difference between the two is that one is in power and the other is out. This is true in America even as it is in this country with the Labour and Conservative Parties. Tradition plays a large part in American support for their parties. The Democratic Party is traditionally “for labour,” although in practice this means little except that they can count on some support from the Trade Unions. Traditionally the deep South, with its violent opposition to any advancement for the negroes, is Democratic, but some Democrats of the North, who consider the Party to be “progressive,” are considerably embarrassed by the reliance that the Party places on its Southern support.
Personalities are important in any election, so we should see who are the people hoping to get the votes in the present election.
The Republican candidate for President is, of course, Eisenhower. A man by experience not a politician, but a soldier, mainly useful to his Party because of his extraordinary popularity. He appears to be something in the nature of a figurehead in that, judging by his speeches, he does not show signs of having a great grasp of the problems that his government has to attempt to tackle, and his comments are usually vague generalities mixed with good will, such as when, speaking on the problems of de-segregation of schools, he said: "Here is a problem, charged with emotionalism, where everybody has got to' work hard with all of the strength he has, and I think that the more that work is done privately and behind the scenes rather than charging up on the platform and hammering desks, the better and more effective it will be.” This statement was in answer to a question as to his policy, and it will be seen that although be says quite clearly that we must all work hard to solve the problem, he does not suggest what the solution should be.
His running mate, for Vice-President, is Richard Nixon. A young man, with a reputation for ambition, and unpopular with both Parties, he would probably not have been nominated had not Eisenhower backed him.
On the Democratic side we have the Presidential candidate in Stevenson. He is the man who didn't want to be President, and who, in 1952, took a lot of persuading to agree to stand. This time it was easier. As one columnist said (before Stevenson agreed to stand in this election), it is a little difficult to play the reluctant virgin twice.
The reluctant egg-head
Stevenson has a great disadvantage in a politician in that he has a reputation for being intelligent. This is commonly known in the United States as being an “egg head.” and although in most countries intellectuals are looked upon with some suspicion, this is particularly so in the United States. In the last election Stevenson lost many votes because of his habit of using words of more than two syllables, but this time he is determined to overcome this disadvantage. In the recent Californian Primary election campaign he met "the common man ” on street cars, shook hands, kissed babies and young ladies, and spoke in a way that the people could understand. It worked, although it is said that Stevenson looked most uncomfortable in his new role. One of the minor aspects of his background that could affect the voting is that he has been divorced. Although be has not remarried, it is thought that some Catholic voters would feel unable to vote for him for that reason.
The Common Man himself
The Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate is Estes Kefauver. He is the man who wanted to be President, but has settled, for the moment, for the chance of being Vice-President. Kefauver goes in for all the gimmicks of elections—only more so than anyone else. He has put hand-shaking on an assembly line basis, and has worn more funny hats than any other American politician— his favourite being the coon-skin hat. Kefauver is a contradiction—a man who goes in for more electioneering tricks than the others, but a man who is generally liked by the public—especially in the farming areas, and disliked by other politicians. One voter explained that he liked Kefauver because you felt that if he came by when you were raking manure in a field, you felt sure that he was the sort of man who would take off his jacket and start raking beside you. On policy Kefauver is somewhat vague. One columnist described his attitude thus: “When asked precisely what he stands for, he is likely to hesitate, ponder painfully, and finally come up with some such phrase as 'a place in the sun for the farmer,' or 'the best interests of the plain people of this nation,' or ‘an even break for the average man."’ (Time, 17/9/56).
The two most important internal issues are: (1) The Farm Crisis, and (2) De-Segregation.
The Farm crisis has arisen partly from the encouragement that was given to farm production in wartime and from the unfortunate fact that since the war the harvests have been good! This means that in order to avoid swamping the market with foodstuffs, which would decrease the prices and the profits, the Government has for some years guaranteed the farmers certain prices, and has purchased surpluses which have been stored in larger and larger quantities. This has in time produced other quite serious problems, such as where to store the surpluses when all available warehouses and the holds of the “moth-ball" fleet aw packed full? This is what each party is trying to answer. The Republican answer is quite simple. Pay the farmers, they say, to take land out of production and allow it to lie fallow for a time. Thus, less land will be “in production," and consequently less food will be produced, and the Crisis (!) will be mitigated. The Democratic answer is the continuation of the present policy, except that greater guarantees should be given to the farmers.
It will be seen that neither of these policies attempts to deal with this basically farcical, as well as tragic, problem of capitalism. What a problem it is to have so much surplus food! Simple—make sure you have less in future. These are the policies propounded by those who are fond of saying that Socialism would not work because there would not be enough to go round under Socialism. If America attempts to sell off the surpluses at cheap prices abroad, they are liable to precipitate a crisis in another country (as was threatened recently in South America).
Recently the Supreme Court in the U.S. gave judgment that segregation of white and coloured children in American schools was contrary to the Constitution. This provoked riots in the Southern States recently when the school year commenced and some coloured children tried to take their places in white schools. The Southern States are in most cases determined to avoid compliance with the Supreme Court ruling, and are in many cases attempting to devise laws that will achieve the same end (i.e., segregation) in an apparently legal manner. On this subject both parties are most cautious in making statements. At the recent Democratic Conference the following statement was adopted; “Recent decisions of the Supreme Court relating to segregation have brought consequences of vast importance to our nation as a whole and especially to communities directly affected. We reject all proposals for the use of force to interfere with the orderly determination of these matters by the Courts . . . (the Supreme Court's decisions) are part of the law of the land." An attempted addendum that “We pledge to carry out these Supreme Court decisions,” was rejected.
Earlier in the campaign the Republican Party also was loth to commit itself on the racial issue. However, within the last few weeks they have been more outspoken. Some commentators have suggested that this is due to the fact that the Republicans have resigned themselves to the fact that the Democrats are firmly entrenched in the South, and that even if the Republicans courted the Southern votes with opposition to de-segregation, they would not have much success. It is interesting to observe, however, the reasons given for support for advancement of the negro. Nixon, speaking at Louisville on the 27th September, was reported in the New York Herald Tribune as follows: “The U.S. cannot afford the cost of discrimination. The loss of negro intellectual resources fully developed amounts to $15,000,000,000 a year in terms of the gross national product, now running at a $400,000,000,000 rate." (28/9/56). Thus, no mention is made of any ideals of freedom or justice for the negro population—merely the economic loss suffered by the country's capitalists.
Generally, the Republican Party in this election is, as Ike says, “relying on their record," which is “prosperity." This means, of course, prosperity for big business, for, as Stevenson says, “There are ugly patches of poverty and insecurity which still deny dignity, even decency, to the lives of almost one-fifth of all American families."
Stevenson’s answer to the problem is that if his party was in power things would be different, but when we examine the proposals that he makes for changes in policy, it is clear that his programme differs in no essential manner from that of the Republicans.
So this is the much vaunted “two Party system" that is recommended by British and American politicians to countries with more complicated party systems, such as France and Italy, and to totalitarian countries such as those behind the iron curtain! From the point of view of the ruling class, there is much to be said for it. Given two parties that oppose each other but whose policies do not differ fundamentally, the people are likely to spend their political energies arguing the toss between the two, without realising that there is a practical alternative to the system of capitalism.
What has a Socialist to say about these parties and their personalities and policies?
What is clear in America, as in Britain, is that for the worker (and this includes the many who like to consider themselves “middle class") there is little to choose between the parties, and the only arguments are as to which can run capitalism in the more efficient manner.
A Socialist examines the record of those parties which have claimed to govern in the interests of the mass of the people. Any objective analysis of the past shows that all these attempts have failed. Why have they failed? Is it for lack of good will, corruption, lack of knowledge or intelligence or honesty? These factors crop up continually in politics where there are rich plums for the successful, but the reason for consistent failure by all contenders to save Capitalism is that the nature of Capitalism itself is that it is a class society, which can only be run in the interests of the ruling class, the Capitalists.
Some Election Slogans
Do you want the threat of war to continue and possibly become a fact? Do you want the continuance of poverty while food surpluses pile up and goods accumulate which the poor cannot afford to buy? Do you want a continuance of the insecurity which means that even if you have a job now, you may be unemployed tomorrow if there is a slump? Do you want to ensure that the housing problem will remain unsolved? Do you want to make sure that your children will have a life much like yours, with all these problems that will crush the humanity out of them, make them automatons, and take the joy out of life?
In a word, do you want Capitalism?
Of course, these aren’t the words that are used to ask for your votes. But this is what, in fact, is offered you at each election, and what is being offered to the American elector now.
To the voter in America or elsewhere we say—there is a real alternative. With your help we can establish Socialism. Without it we, along with you, will continue to have all the problems of Capitalism, whichever party is in power.
Socialism will be a world-wide society in which the means of production will be held in common and used for the benefit of the whole of society. It is profit and property which cause wars and poverty. It is Socialism that can make these problems things to read about in history books.