For an Independent Presidential Slate in 1968
For an Independent Slate in ’68
Editorial in the Independent Socialist, Issue No. 3, September 1967
Published by the Independent Socialist Clubs of America
From the time we were children, and before that, we have had it beaten into our heads that it is impossible for us to change “what is.”
Newspapers, radio commentators, major party politicians, poverty officials persevere in repeating the old saw that “you can’t fight City Hall,” that if you want to change things you have to go through “channels” and rely on “people in the know,” the people already in power. We have found, however, that while it is hard to fight City Hall, it can be done. The presence of thousands of activists in Chicago this week is, if nothing else, notice that we need not endure what we are told we must always endure: wars like the Vietnamese war, police despotism in our neighborhoods, rampant racism and poverty. Our presence in Chicago is underlined by the activity of growing movements all across the nation which have harnessed the energies of many more thousands in fighting against the crackpot “realities” of our society.
Why We Are Here
We came to Chicago to decide what course of action offers the most hope for extending our movement to the millions of Americans whose allegiance must be won if we are to make the most of the beginning we have made, if we are to build towards a future in which the New Politics will be the majority politics, and hence, a ruling politics in America. Only by attending that end can we accomplish the things for which we strive. The destruction of innocent Asian peasants and American soldiers (and the threat of nuclear holocaust which goes with it) will not be ended by the power structure which started it. Nor will racism and poverty be overthrown by real estate interests (or their politician friends) who benefit from segregated slums. The only hope for peace abroad and justice at home is the ability of ordinary people—people who do not benefit from war and racism—to run their own lives. But to run their own lives they need the political power to run American society—to wrest the great American machine from the uses of destruction and turn it to the purposes of improving all of our lives.
The New Politics says that this is possible, despite all the bad advice from those who are now on top. Our presence here says this is possible. Our problem is: how to build a movement which will multiply the numbers we now have in Chicago into a force which can rally enough support in America to turn that possibility into a reality—to transform oppression into the power of the oppressed.
We are today a long way from that final victory. Even an independent Presidential campaign in 1968, so very important as a means of winning new sections of the American people to our banner, will not itself accomplish that final victory. But the building blocks of tomorrow’s victories are the decisions we make today. It is this which makes our deliberations so important.
Marches Are Not Enough
Remember the peace marches last spring? Remember the hundreds of thousands who poured into the streets of New York and lined Kezar Stadium in San Francisco to protest the war? As this is being written, only several months later, American planes are bombing the center of Hanoi. Those marches last spring were the largest anti-war demonstrations held during war-time in our nation’s history. Johnson answered those marches by escalating the war.
Remember the long years of sit-ins and demonstrations, followed by the beginning of massive resistance by Blacks in the ghetto—just weeks ago? Johnson’s answer to those uprisings was…call in the Army! (What was good enough for the Vietnamese was good enough for the Black ghetto.)
Marches, demonstrations, and armed resistance are not enough.
They are not enough because they are not part of a movement which challenges the Establishment politically, a movement which can actually threaten the power of those who now rule. The absence of such a movement—opposed to both Democrats and Republicans—is one reason why Johnson can answer us with escalation instead of real concessions.
We do not have such a movement because we have thus far failed to do in politics what we do in the community. When we want something in the community we do not depend upon the people in power to get them for us. The old politics says: if you want an improvement in your living conditions, depend on the goodwill of the landlords and the city officials. The New Politics, having learned better from bitter experience, spurns that advice. It organizes marches of the tenants, demonstrations by the antiwar movement, sit-ins by the welfare clients.
We do this with one glaring exception. When election time comes, millions of Negroes and antiwar Americans vote for the Democrats. With this act the give away with their right hand with they have won with their left in demonstrations and marches. In relying on the Democrats, Negroes, trade unionists, poor people, and students block off the real approaches to political power. To understand why this is so, will bring us far along the road to understanding why independent political action is necessary if the New Politics movement is to continue to move forward.
Our Weapon…And Theirs
The masses of people who have an interest in changing their position in society have one great weapon at their disposal: the power to mobilize their great numbers in open political struggle. This is the weapon that trade unionists, Negroes, and peace activists employ on strikes and demonstrations. IT IS THE WEAPON WITHOUT WHICH THERE WOULD BE NO NEW POLITICS MOVEMENT TODAY. It is in marked contrast, however, to the weapons of the vested interests. The banks, real estate groups, and big business fight their battles with wealth. The wealth inserts itself in many ways: the use of patronage, landholdings, and the status acquired through exercise of economic power—a respect for which has been drilled into much of the American population, including many of the economically underprivileged.
The Democratic Party is a political agent of these established interests. It is a party in which power is exercised through the use of wealth and by the activity of patronage leaders and machines to whom politics itself is a business. It is amenable to the control of the power structure but not accessible to those who struggle by other means. It is amenable to the control of those who stand for the war in Vietnam and the status quo in the ghetto, but not to the opponents of those evils.
These facts explain why, despite the great numerical force of millions who are oppressed, their voice is scarcely heard, except as statistics in the Gallup Poll or as victims of police brutality. A vote for the Democrats is a vote for their own oppression. Unfortunately, this applies even when the Democrat is a “liberal” Democrat. Because the liberal Democrats—even the best of them—do far more to make the Democratic Party seem like the “party of the people” than they do to actually make it into one. Bobby Kennedy criticizes the war but promises, at the same time, to support the war-making president for re-election. John Burton, a very leftwing California Democratic assemblyman, criticizes the war and the slums but refuses at this critical time to sign a petition for an independent antiwar presidential candidate (while at the same time he pledged to combat crime by training more police!). There are rare Democratic Party mavericks, of course, but these are exceptions which prove the rule.
For many years, sincere reform groups from New York to California, numerically strong reform groups, including large numbers of trade unionists, have tried it. They have even won primary victories. But the Democratic Party remains the same and the reformers become, over the long run, captives of and apologists for the system they set out to fight. They started out with good intentions. They did not intend to reinforce the trend towards war and social injustice but they wound up doing so.
The clever plan of getting the Democratic Party to “work for us” rather than for the power structure has only one thing wrong with it: it hasn’t worked, and won’t work. It has been tried out sixteen ways to Sunday, by experts and amateurs, professionals and enthusiasts, and it simply doesn’t work. There is a very practical reason why it doesn’t work. Whatever noises the liberals may make in the party, as long as the men who run the party machine know that the left has nobody to vote for but Democrats, they know they have the left in their hip pocket. It is then only the elements to the right that they really have to woo. They don’t have to make real concessions (the kind that hurt) to people who are going to have to vote for them anyway. They face right, and the whole center of gravity of American politics moves right. That’s one reason why the right calls the tune. KEY TO THIS PATTERN IS THE FACT THAT THE LEFT REPRESENTS NO POSSIBLE THREAT TO THE ESTABLISHMENT AS LONG AS IT HAS NO INDEPENDENT ALTERNATIVE OF ITS OWN.
At Their Mercy
Without a national movement which declares its independence of and opposition to the major parties, therefore, we leave ourselves at the mercy of our enemies. We depend upon the party of the power structure to reform itself. We would never think of following the advice of those who advise us to be submissive in our own communities, to try to “persuade” slumlords to alleviate their slums. We would never think of joining a real estate association as a means of cleaning out the rats and the cops. No. We form our own movements. The “persuasion” we use is the force of our organized numbers. The Democratic Party is the party of war-makers and slumlords, yet to it there is as yet no organized opposition. That is why Johnson nationally, and the Democratic Party locally, can answer our resistance with escalation. We have no weapon to threaten them, no weapon to fight them, no political movement with which to replace them.
One of the ways in which Democratic Party politicians work to keep us from getting that weapon is to point to the danger of the right-wing in American politics. Only by “sticking to the Democrats,” they argue, can we save ourselves from Reagan and his cohorts. In this sentiment, many sincere liberals concur. If, in fact, sticking to the Democrats were the right way to fight the right, then the New Politics movement would be in a serious dilemma. But why, if this is the case, has the growth of the right occurred under Democratic Party administrations, both nationally and in states like California? Why is it that increasingly Democrats adopt Golderwaterite programs, as Johnson did in Vietnam? How do the Democrats who want us to get behind them to “fight the right” explain why the fact that, increasingly, Democratic politicians create the kind of reactionary public sentiment in which greatest extremism flourishes? Is it not a fact that Johnson’s own hawk-like policies make respectable the arguments of Republicans who want to go even further? (In 1966, Ronald Reagan rode into office on the wave of rightwing feeling which was created in large part by Governor Brown’s unremitting attacks upon antiwar liberals and his use of police on the Berkeley campus.)
Why does this Democratic liberal accommodation to rightist extremism happened? Are not the Democratic liberals the very same politicians who are most distraught at election time about the insidious rightwing? (Remember how terrified LBJ was about Barry Goldwater in 1964.) The answer lies in looking not only at differences between Democratic Party liberalism and the rightwing but at the things they have in common. Only a very foolish person would agree to the silly notion that there are no differences between the two. But only a very reckless one would ignore the fact, so clearly exhibited in Vietnam and in the recent ghetto uprisings, that when the American power structure as a whole is threatened, Democratic Party liberals and rightwing reactionaries stand together. Even the liberal Senators in the Democratic Party who are now sharply critical of Johnson’s war policies say unanimously that they will “stand behind the President” of the U.S. declares war against North Vietnam.
Democratic Party liberals sincerely feel sympathy with the underdog: they are not bound by the outlandish ideological oddities which prejudice Barry Goldwater against concern for the underprivileged. Nor are they bound by a narrow preoccupation with the commercial success of American corporations. But they are bound by ideology and by their party to the needs of the American power structure as a whole (and in that power structure, corporations play a decisive role.) That comes first, and the needs of the oppressed second.
When those two needs conflict, Democratic liberalism tends either to adopt rightwing solutions to the crisis which causes the conflict, or to propose untenable compromises which are carried away by a dynamic rightwing program. An example of the first, the adoption of rightist solutions, is LBJ’s Goldwaterite policies in Vietnam. An example of the second is the “loyal opposition” role of Kennedy and Fulbright on the Vietnam War. As public frustration over the war grows, the “solution” of vague negotiations and “critical support” of Johnson seems less and less like a real alternative. The alternative becomes, more and more, either support the war effort or real opposition to it. Senator Fulbright implicitly acknowledged this polarization when he announced his refusal to vote to rescind the Tonkin Resolution which President Johnson uses as the rationale for his Vietnamese policies. The public recognizes this polarization by the increasing extend to which it favors—as revealed by the polls—the alternatives of getting out of Vietnam, on the one hand, or intensifying the conflict, on the other.
Kiss of Death
The Democratic Party is the kiss of death for those who wish to check the ominous growth of the right in this country, for those who are concerned about the rise of rightist demagogues like Reagan, for those who fear the unleashing of racist virulence and war terror. The real choice before America is more and more between defense of this society and the struggle by oppressed people to remedy their discontent. The first means greater and greater repression. The second implies a basic change in the power structure of this society. That broader choice becomes concrete: Black repression or Black liberation; American control over Vietnam or an end to imperialistic foreign policy; sustained poverty for the benefit of the corporative economy or popular control over American technology.
Public recognition lags behind reality, but shows signs of catching up. As frustration grows over the inability of our society to deal peaceably and justly with its problems, public sentiment gets more impatient in demanding clearcut and viable answers, as in the opinion polls about the war.
If the public is not offered a clearcut leftwing alternative it will accept what the rightwing offers it. Leftwing alternatives cannot come from the Democratic Party, which as a defender of the power structure either capitulates to the right or offers the “moderate” solutions which create public frustration in the first place. Leftwing alternatives can come only from a movement of the masses of people who do not have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and therefore are free to fight it, and by fighting it, start to reverse the swing of the right. If we depend upon the Democrats and fail to organize our own political opposition, the rightwing will be confronted by no alternative. Rightwing solutions will create the context for public debate, as in 1964. The rightwing will win by default, as it did in 1964.
More Than Programs
All this points to one thing: An independent presidential campaign in 1968. If we are ever to win acceptance of our programs, we must present more than the programs themselves. We must demonstrate that there is a political force in America which is dead serious about implementing those programs.
The war in Vietnam shows the difficulties which arise when our program is not channeled into a challenge for political power. The American power structure uses the existence of Communism as an excuse for its own reactionary aggressions.
Democratic Foreign Policy
How can the New Politics movement respond to this problem? In their own hard experience in fighting against the American power structure many New Politics activists have learned the vital importance of democracy and civil liberties—not merely as abstract formula—but as irreplaceable weapons in the fight for economic and social justice. These activists, therefore, do not respond to the “anti-Communist” rationale of the State Department by supporting “the enemy of our enemy”, Communism. To do that would be to go from the frying pan into the fire.
Instead, these activists propose a third alternative: that America adopt a foreign policy of self-determination for all and massive technological aid to the revolutions against Western domination. A democratic foreign policy of opposition to the capitalist status quo is the best possible answer to the threat to democracy posed by authoritarian elites.
Who Will Do it?
Because of the great discontent caused by the Vietnamese war in the American population, such a program should receive great support. To a large degree, the activists of the antiwar movement and militant Blacks have created a receptivity to this kind of alternative to a rightist foreign policy. But today there is a great barrier to the widespread acceptance of the alternative among the American people. That barrier is the absence of a political force which can put a democratic foreign policy into effect. That policy cannot be implemented by the American power structure. It can become a reality only by the mobilization of the masses of Americans who have no stake in the status quo or the subjugation of foreign nations.
Until such a force emerges as a contender for political power, a democratic foreign policy will be viewed as an idealistic pipedream in the minds of the American people. And until Americans begin to view leftwing programs as real alternatives, and not pipedreams, aggressive rightist imperialism—in Vietnam and after—will appear as the only solution to the threats and insecurities of the modern world.
Away From Isolation
The need for a campaign in 1968 is overwhelming. Along with the need to make our programs real to the American people is the problem of winning a commitment to the New Politics from millions of people who are now uninvolved. We meet in Chicago with a feeling of optimism about the prospects of our movement. But we are well aware of the fact that it is still relatively isolated and must reach beyond its current base in the Negro and white middle class communities. As Negro militance reminds us, it is merely suicide to make alliances with groups committed to the status quo. But as the appeal of Negro leaders (inviting Negroes around the nation to come to Chicago this week) pointed out, “political alliances, without compromising one’s political or organizational integrity are crucial at this point.”
Where can we find such alliances? For many years radicals and liberals have looked for leadership to the trade unions, with little to show for it. Most official leaders of labor support the Administration’s foreign policy. Leaders and workers both have been unfriendly to militant Negro demands. But today, for the first time in many years, militant voices resound in union halls, voices of rank and file caucuses in unions like the United Automobile Workers. These caucuses protest the fact that the union leadership is selling workers short under the pressure of the Democratic Party Administration (which demands the workers make sacrifices for the war in Vietnam). Concurrent with these rank and file protests on war-related economic issues is a beginning of actual anti-war opinion, reflected by the formation of a national trade union movement against the Vietnam war organized as an autonomous division of SANE.
The Workers, Self-Interest…And Us
The job of the New Politics movement is not to repeat dogmatic slogans about either how bad the working class is or how wonderful it is. Our job is rather to ask: what can we do in practice to stoke the coals of revolt in the unions and win workers to the fight for peace and equality? Real alliances can be successful only if they express the self-interest of the participants. Everyday we see more clearly that the interests of American workers cannot be reconciled with a society dominated by a corporative economy and forced, because of its foreign aggressions, to exact sacrifice by assembly-line workers and to postpone radical solutions for unemployment. To the extend that American workers are subject to Establishment racism and militaristic inclinations, they are acting against their own interests as workers. Racist notions among workers concede with the failure of labor to defend itself against the corporative society.
An Independent Alternative for Labor
The awakening to self-interest in the union rank and file creates the potential for a force in the unions which will oppose the labor leadership and advance a program which is militant on the issues of war and the Negro struggle. That potential will not materialize immediately—it must develop out of the workers’ own experiences (just as the New Politics movement itself did not spring up overnight).
But the single most important thing we can do to hurry that evolution is to confront the American establishment with a clear alternative in 1968, an alternative which declares that the American establishment is an enemy of American workers as well as Negroes and poor people. For the anti-leadership caucuses in the trade unions, which have not yet formulated a program of political independence to aid their struggle against corporative pressure, an independent campaign would provide a much needed focus. For the New Politics movement, that campaign would be the opening wedge in a longer campaign to break out of isolation and reenlist the great force of the American working class in the fight for social change.
Martin Luther King?
The main decision that this conference must make is to launch an independent presidential campaign in ’68. This decision by itself is far more important than the names of the candidates. Yet the candidates can make a big difference in the effectiveness of the campaign, especially given the propensity of the American people to vote for men rather than issues or to blur the two. The independent slate that has been most often suggested is a ticket of Martin Luther King and Benjamin Spock, reflecting the civil rights struggles and the peace movement. As will be clear to readers of the other article in this newspaper, we ourselves would prefer that circumstances make possible a Negro candidate reflecting the militant spirit of the Black struggle and the aspirations of the Black ghettos. From this standpoint, King’s drawback is the stand he took approving the use of troops to put down the ghetto uprisings and his not-yet-quite-clear divorcement from the liberal Establishment circles. As this is written in advance of the conference, we await with great interest the news and reactions of the Black delegates to the conference on this question, without which no one can really feel in a position to decide. But we can say now, without any doubt, that if the New Politics movement calls on King to head a ticket, and if King does indeed make the fight (thereby cutting more ties to the old machines), everyone should support this ticket firmly and aggressively.
There is no substitute for an independent presidential campaign in 1968. Running local candidates is not a substitute for a presidential campaign because it does not do what a presidential campaign would: namely, help to reverse the tendency for national debate to shift to the right; put forward the only kind of society-wide challenge to the power structure that can make the left into a real alternative in the eyes of the American people.
Restricting ourselves to local campaigns will be an extreme disservice to local movements, which are built, not on “local” issues alone but on the national issues which local people are concerned. If we do not challenge the warmaker LBJ in ’68 we will abdicate a position of leadership in local and national campaigns.
Nor is there a good (or new) argument against an independent presidential slate. There will be, of course, the argument that the people of America are “not ready” to fight the Democratic Party, that we must “build our movement” first. But THE ONLY WAY TO BUILD OUR MOVEMENT TODAY IS TO TAKE ON THE DEMOCRATS AS AN INDEPENDENT OPPOSITION.
Where Can We Begin?
How many times before have we heard that “the people are not ready” from those who are impressed by the disingenuous rhetoric of those radio commentators and old politicians (the ones who say, “you can’t fight city hall”)? And how many times have we learned that for something to happen, someone must begin it. Before the sit-ins began, Negroes were “not ready” to sit-in. Before the antiwar marches began, Americans were “not ready” to march against war.
Many people in the community are reluctant to break from the Democratic Party. But what reason can the New Politics movement have for existence if it does not challenge that feeling of submissiveness which is so much of a roadblock to freedom? The psychology that ordinary people are so weak that the must rely upon their oppressors—this psychology can be overcome only by the initiative of those who are prepared themselves to stand and fight, to say, as the New Politics movement has said, that “we can do it ourselves.”
An independent presidential campaign is but the first step towards the eventual new political party which is required if our aspirations are to be fulfilled. That in turn will only be one side of a movement which will struggle in many different ways and on many different levels to win the power which can end oppression.
The twentieth century has been cruel to human beings. We march in the shadow of the massive industrial machine which we ourselves fashioned. We answer to the call of corrupt Texas politicians, slick corporative administrators, “benevolent” Communist bureaucrats—men who mishandle our lives with an arrogance which does not seem to befit their own facelessness. Somehow, we have become robots and the robots our masters.
Much of the time we only feel but do not understand the workings of the arbitrary machine which rules us. The “system”, what we call the power structure, is everywhere. It is the easy authority of the cop on his beat, the glibness of educational experts and social planners, the bravado of four star generals. It is the cardboard morality we are taught in schools. And because we adjust to that “reality” which is forced upon us, it becomes part of ourselves.
We even talk its language—its words of respect for the great institutions like the “two party system.” It is so encompassing, this system, that we do not think of it as a system but as an eternal condition that will always be with us, like an act of fate.
Opening Our Eyes
But then, our eyes are opened. In the process of struggling against injustice, in the course of our demonstrations and sit-ins and the various ways in which victims of American society have been slowly coming to life—we see that this system depends not upon the dictates of fate but on the brute force of its police force and napalm. And with this comes another understanding—that such a system can be fought and destroyed by the organized intervention of the people themselves, at those points of self-assertion which Marx called “festivals of the oppressed”.
We know that this has happened overseas; in the victory of the Russian people over autocracy in 1917; in the resistance of East Europeans to Communism in 1956; in the triumphs of colonial peoples over Western imperialism since World War II.
We need only look at the events which have given rise to our own movement to realize how quickly the people can learn their own strength. Out of Birmingham and Watts and Lowndes County came the organizations of Black Power and the beginnings of mass activity in the ghetto. Thousands march against the war who yesterday felt only inchoate murmurings of dissent.
A Turning Point
Are there turning points in history, years when acts of boldness can help to change society’s course? If so, then 1968 is such a year and we are convened in Chicago to summon upon that courage. This is a time of enormous discontent with the fruits of oppression. We represent the movement which has grown by demonstrating that the most valuable weapon the people have is a consciousness of their own power. It is in our hands to create a new rallying point for that consciousness with a decisive program of independent political action against the major parties which stand for racism and war—an INDEPENDENT PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN IN 1968.