Saturday, April 1, 2023

50 Years Ago: Looking back on Lyndon Johnson (2023)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Even Presidents of the United States cannot live forever. Within weeks of each other, two who in their time supervised a great act of organised mass destruction died, quietly at their homes.

A final human touch, this; and human touches are among the expectations which people have of their leaders, at the same time as they hope for elements of the superhuman. Lyndon Johnson specialised in folksy speeches; during his time as Vice President he gave out ballpoint pens to the people of West Berlin and he was always one of the world’s champion handshakers. In his superhuman role he promised to unravel the tangle of Vietnam and to fashion America into what he called the Great Society — something which, unsurprisingly, is still awaited. (…)

Johnson’s conversion to a crusader against “racial injustice” was as abrupt as his elevation to the Vice-Presidential candidacy. As a Senator he was never in any doubt about where he stood when voting on laws which were aimed at curbing the excesses of the racists of the South. Between 1940 and 1960 he voted on such issues 39 times, always as one would expect a good, solid, prejudiced Southerner to vote. He was six times against abolishing the poll tax; twice against anti-lynch laws; twice in favour of racial segregation in the American forces. And so on. And on. And on.

When he became President, Johnson applied all that he had learned about political arm-twisting, and used all the power of patronage he had built up during his time as Senate leader and Vice-President, to push through Congress the anti-discrimination laws which had baffled Kennedy. Johnson did not necessarily like what he did but, as he once shouted at a Senate subcommittee “. . . this is happening!” He was giving way to the inevitable, to the progressive grind of modern capitalism which the South has resisted for so long. As a simple Senator for Texas Johnson could, indeed he must, pander to the racial bigots and killers of the South, no matter what that meant in terms of negro terror and suffering. When he was in the White House he was acting for American capitalism as a whole and, again with no thought for human suffering, he was forced to do things simply because they were happening.

(Socialist Standard, April 1973)

Editorial: Ending the Profit System (2023)

Editorial from the April 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

The capitalist system of production for profit is well past its sell-by date. It has developed the forces of production, even if at the cost of immense human suffering, to the point where they are sufficient to adequately provide for the needs of every man, women and child on Earth.

Capitalism has become an impediment to further human progress. It always was based on the economic exploitation and deprivation of the majority, but, having outlived its usefulness, it has become a threat to all humanity. It has already caused two world wars and the ever-present threat of another, and now threatens disastrous climate changes due to global warming.

Capitalism developed the forces of production by extracting a surplus from those who produce wealth. Under the pressure of its own uncontrollable market forces, most of this surplus was accumulated as capital invested in plant and machinery that expanded society’s capacity to produce wealth.

Production for capital accumulation was never a rational aim for human society. That would be production to satisfy the material needs of its members – production directly for use, not for sale and profit.

If we had to design from scratch a human society that would best serve the interests of all its members, it wouldn’t be one where natural resources and the instruments to use them were owned by just some members of society while the rest worked for them. It wouldn’t be a society in which this privileged minority was forced by economic laws beyond anyone’s control to use its profits to accumulate more and more capital. It wouldn’t be a society where wealth was produced purely for sale, and where the majority were forced to find paid employment to get money to buy what they needed. It wouldn’t be a class society and it wouldn’t be capitalism.

It would be one where the means of life — natural and industrial resources — would belong to no one but be available for society to use to satisfy the needs of its members. One where things would not be produced for sale and only provided to people who could afford to pay for them, but for sharing amongst all society’s members according to their needs.

Of course, society is not designed. It evolves. Some in the past did imagine such a communal society but they were before their time. Now, however, the forces of production have developed to the point where a society of common ownership and distribution according to need has become possible.

To end the profit system, all that is now lacking is the will to do so on the part of the vast majority who do all the useful work in society. To make the change, they will need to organise to win political control, dislodge the owning class, abolish class ownership, and allow the aim of human society to become the natural one of satisfying its members’ needs in the best possible way.