American liberalism did not spring up overnight with the advent of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal. Its roots go back to the American Progressive Era and the European Social Democratic movement which had already surfaced in Germany before the turn of the 20th century, and later spread to Russia and much of Western Europe by the time the United States was girding itself for World War I. The rhetoric was changed by the time the New Dealers adapted the ideas to the American system; indeed, most liberals have tended to think of themselves more as Reform Capitalists than as Social Democrats or Democratic Socialists like their European counterparts. They are concerned about "making capitalism work better," making it more "humane and responsive to the public interest," rather than with ushering in the socialist millenium. I have no doubt that much of the liberal rank-and-file, and some of its political leadership, has come to accept this rhetoric on its face value. In an age when many of us can't seem to remember what happened beyond last night's Tonight Show, it is insensitive to fault people for historical myopia. But the intellectual leadership of the liberal left, the ideologues who set the tone for a movement over the long run, have been avowedly socialist all along, and have been calling for liberals to abandon their "reform capitalist" rhetoric in favor of an open socialist position.
"I am a democratic socialist," says Nat Hentoff, author and columnist for the Village Voice. "Capitalism, even the mixed capitalism that exists today, is impossible to justify if life is to be sustained and regenerated.…This country must begin to develop that human-service, socialistic society whose citizens, under political democracy, act in free will for their own best interests and those of the rest of the world."
John Kenneth Galbraith (whom I have always regarded as a fair novelist, but a less-successful nonfiction writer), a long-time critic of capitalism and proponent of democratic socialism, is regarded as the High Priest of Economic Affairs by even the more moderate liberal politicians—those constituting the "soft center" of American politics, as Norman Mailer puts it.
One by one, the intellectuals of the left put themselves firmly in the socialist camp. Gloria Steinem, Jack Newfield, Max Lerner, Paul Kurtz, Margaret Mead, Noam Chomsky, Christopher Lasch, Michael Harrington, Norman Cousins—those who may be considered the trend-setters of left-wing politics in America—have jettisoned the rhetoric of "mixed-economy capitalism" in favor of undiluted socialism. They attribute the failures of liberalism to the elements of capitalism remaining in our economic system, not to any shortcomings in the socialistic reforms already achieved. They are all rather panicky over the fact that the American public is growing disillusioned with welfare state reforms—primarily because of an intolerable tax burden and a corresponding decline in the quality of governmental services—and, because of this, the pace-setters of the left are afraid of a middle class exodus to the political right, toward capitalistic solutions to our social problems.
Because of this mounting fear on the left, its intellectual wizards are determined to speed up the reel of history, to abolish the remnants of capitalism in our system and totally socialize the nation before the middle class becomes too uppity. They are determined to prove that pure socialism, as opposed to the hybrid capitalist-socialism they have already bestowed on the country, will work if allowed to rule unhampered. If they can find some way of eliminating all opposition to their utopian pipedream, they are convinced they can save humanity from itself. It would be more "humane" to wipe out the opposition democratically, of course, through the electoral process. But some of this contingent, following the lead of Michael Harrington and his "benevolent dictatorship," are no longer concerned about the niceties of constitutional democracy. In desperation they have decided, what the hell, it's time to take off the gloves and slap some sense into "reactionary fascists" who still believe in private property and the profit motive. If they refuse to listen to reason and vote for progressive reforms, then…well, what else can you do when the survival of humanity is at stake?
Modern liberalism in America can be traced to the progressive era which first began to take form in the late 19th century. The basic creed of progressivism is best summed up in Herbert Croley's The Promise of American Life (published in 1909), which became the political bible for writers like John Dewey, Walter Lippman, Jane Addams, Van Wyck Brooks, Randolph Bourne, Charles Beard, George Soule, Bruce Bliven, and others who constituted the "voice of the New Republic" after 1914. Croley's program called for a steady march toward "democratic collectivism" in the economic, social, and cultural life of the country. The nation could no longer afford the Ethic of competition and private gain, said Croley. The "Promise of American Life" would be fulfilled, "not by…economic freedom, but by a certain measure of discipline; not by the abundant satisfaction of individual desires, but by a large measure of individual subordination and self-denial." Croley specifically recommended an acceptance of economic and political centralization as the best means of organizing a modern society, particularly the regulation of large corporations in the "public interest." He also proposed the use of progressive taxation to redistribute wealth and profits. Herbert Croley did not consider himself a socialist, preferring the label "mixed-economy progressive."
Strongly influenced by Croley's ideas, Van Wyck Brooks published a series of widely-read articles in various journals from 1915 through 1917 directed primarily at writers, journalists, and other architects of public opinion. He declared it was time for intellectuals to assert themselves and start devoting their talents to the achievement of social reforms. His writings reflected an open antipathy for businessmen, and he excoriated them for alienating intellectuals from American life. Van Wyck Brooks diagnosed the central disease of the time as "insane individualism," "a historic obsession with self-reliance and personal achievement." He was especially bilious toward other writers linked with "the enemy camp," particularly Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mark Twain who had been "seduced by the Ethic of individualism." Unlike Croley, Brooks used the word socialist to describe his own political orientation, thereby advancing this indigenous American movement a step closer toward the European tradition.
American-style progressivism suffered a devastating blow in the wake of World War I. The public was too busy finding release for the bottled-up frenzy of the war years, and the entire mood of the nation drifted away from "social consciousness" toward the footloose hedonism that characterized the 1920's. Indeed, the entire left wing in America was in disarray during this period. The Socialist Party, which had its roots in European Social Democracy, and the IWW which espoused a Bakuninist style of syndicalism had both failed to make significant inroads into the American trade labor unions. The left wing was left with a loose coalition of radicals and liberals—the radicals oriented more toward European socialism; the liberals more toward American progressivism—all of whom were more or less influenced by Karl Marx.
With both groups on the ropes, staggering from the rampant lack of concern for social issues during the 1920's, it was inevitable that a merger of sorts would be forged between these two broad left-wing camps. There was power in numbers, and only a more closely-knit coalition could provide the left with the manpower necessary to launch a viable political movement in the United States.
A coalition and a catalyst. The coalition was already taking place in the twilight days of the 1920's. The catalyst was to be provided by the crash of the American stock market in 1929.
THE COALITION EMERGES
The great irony of the presidential campaign of 1932 is that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was actually elected as the more conservative of the two candidates. Repeatedly throughout the campaign, F.D.R. denounced Herbert Hoover for deficit spending and he vowed to roll back taxes by a fixed amount each year—sometimes referring to across-the-board tax cuts in the 25 percent range. His fundamental campaign theme was economy in government which had strong appeal among the nation's farmers and Midwestern merchants. He rebuked Hoover for his "arm-twisting method" of slowing inflation and stabilizing the economy, and accused him of concentrating too much power in the hands of Federal planners.
According to F.D.R.'s closest advisors at the time, their Presidential candidate was basically unprincipled and untutored ideologically. Heywood Broun described him in 1932 as "the corkscrew candidate of a convoluting convention," meaning that he was willing to bend and twist himself in any direction to present himself as "all things to all people." Leading reporters assigned to F.D.R.'s campaign portrayed him as "an amiable and ambitious but incompetent and wobbly governor who was dangerous" because of both his lack of experience and his blatant political opportunism. If he had a real program of his own designed to pull the country out of the depression, it lay so well concealed in his mind that not even his closest associates were aware of it. On the other hand, Herbert Hoover had already established impeccable liberal credentials during World War I as Food Organizer in the Wilson administration. Progressive Democrats had unsuccessfully attempted to draft him as their party's presidential candidate in 1920.
The most revealing insight into the mind of F.D.R. in campaign year 1932 comes from Rexford Guy Tugwell, a leading member of the so-called Brains Trust and, along with Adolph A. Berle, the most important architect of the New Deal. He served as Under-secretary of Agriculture from 1933 to 1937. In his book In Search of Roosevelt, Tugwell takes a pompous pride in having "educated" F.D.R. in the virtues of collectivism:
Roosevelt knew only a little about the competing ideas seething then in the less formal literature of the social sciences. My specialty, if I had one, was the study of social invention—especially, of course, in economic life. I had always been enormously interested in the creative intelligence—how things were made and ideas shaped, how novelty was possible and where it came from. And I had a good deal of work behind me; but not more than Adolph Berle, who was my junior by several years but had been a prodigy of early learning.
And what of Tugwell's ideological makeup? In his own words, he and Adolph Berle were called "Reds, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, and even, on occasion, Fascists." The only label he would accept, however, was "Collectivists" which more generally described the pattern of their ideas. Tugwell, Raymond Moley, and Berle shaped an economic program for F.D.R. which they described as "concentration and control…based on coordination or collectivism as over against individualism and atomism [i.e., competition]."
As self-avowed collectivists, they were openly admirous of Benito Mussolini's Fascist plan for revitalizing the Italian economy. They scoffed at natural law theory and free economic competition, and argued for large state-controlled corporations in the Fascist model, thereby dispelling the myth that the New Deal was created to break up monopoly capitalism. Tugwell kept pressing on F.D.R. the notion that the free market of Adam Smith was gone forever, and he urged him to accept the inevitability of state-run monopolies as the most efficient means of organizing the American economy. Tugwell, more so than Berle, Moley, and Lippman, despised the business community and wanted it totally managed by the Federal Government in a joint government-corporate partnership. By the time the election of 1932 rolled around, Tugwell was able to boast: "[F.D.R.] had made himself into a good deal of a collectivist and was reconciled to the inevitability of large-scale organization; he had a beginning of faith in economic planning."
F.D.R.'s TEMPORARY BENEVOLENT DICTATORSHIP
Franklin Delano Roosevelt performed a complete turnabout after his inauguration in the spring of 1933. The man who had accused Herbert Hoover of "arm-twisting" and "economic tyranny" in his own administration suddenly asked for broad executive power to wage a war against the national emergency, "as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe." What if Congress failed to bend to the new President's will? The whole country must rise up against the legislative branch with a demand for universal sacrifice, discipline, and strong Federal action.
F.D.R. and his Brains Trusters were not the only ones flirting with the concept of a "temporary benevolent dictatorship" to deal with the national crisis. Mussolini's success in Italy had not gone unnoticed by the news media, especially the humanitarian liberals at the New York Times. As Ann O'Hare McCormick, a reporter for that freedom-loving organ, wrote in 1933: "The atmosphere [in Washington at the beginning of the New Deal] is strangely reminiscent of Rome in the first weeks after the march of the Blackshirts, of Moscow at the beginning of the Five-Year Plan.…The new capitol built by Mr. Hoover presupposes just such a highly centralized, all-inclusive government as is now in the making."
She continued: "Something far more positive than acquiescence vests the President with the authority of a dictator. This authority is a free gift, a sort of unanimous power of attorney.…America today literally asks for orders.…Not only does the present occupant of the White House possess more authority than any of his predecessors, but he presides over a government that has more control over more private activities than any other that has ever existed in the United States.…[The F.D.R. administration] envisions a federation of industry, labor and government after the fashion of the corporate state as it exists in Italy."
Lest you think the notion of One-World dictatorship is relatively new, this also flowed from the pen of the same lady: "[F.D.R.] has dramatically placed himself at the head of the world. He does not ask for a mandate as an international dictator, welcome as such a governor might be to a distracted planet, but if he gets the authority he wants from Congress…he would be in position to exercise almost as much power abroad as he wields at home.…Nobody is much disturbed by the idea of dictatorship. Mr. Roosevelt does not fit into the popular conception of a dictator, and there is a general feeling that he collects powers as he collects opinions—to be ready for emergencies rather than with the intention of using them.…Here is a new kind of rule—what might be described as the permissive dictatorship, evolved in a few weeks by a concert of powers: the President, the people, the tyranny of events."
All the above is lifted from the New York Times Magazine of May 7, 1933—the publication which publishes all the news fit to print.
Roosevelt, having learned his lessons well at the collective feet of Tugwell and Berle, promised to launch a program of government-industry cooperation (i.e., a government-managed economy); distribute massive relief funds to farmers and small merchants; accept responsibility for the welfare of millions of unemployed; inaugurate a program of far-ranging experimentation in central planning (ala Russia's Five-Year Plan); establish large public works projects; guarantee bank deposits with Federal tax dollars; and regulate the brokerage houses on Wall Street.
Ideologically, all these programs translated into a grab-bag philosophy of American progressivism, grass-roots populism, Italian Fascism, mittel-European democratic socialism, and urban social reformism in the Jane Addams-John Dewey mold—a collectivist stew of sorts, if you will. The far left in the United States, composed of doctrinaire socialists and Marxists, was a bit uneasy over the fact that F.D.R. was modeling his New Deal too closely on Mussolini's corporate state to suit its own tastes. It preferred that Roosevelt steer the nation in a more consistently Marxist direction, and kept up a steady pressure on his administration throughout the decade to move further to the left. But, for the moment, the socialist-communist wing of the American left had little choice but to align itself with the New Deal Democrats. There simply was no other ballgame in town at the time. At least the new President was a collectivist, however impure, and sooner or later he might be guided onto the straight and narrow Marxist road.
The most important job for the American left in the early days of the Roosevelt administration was the creation of a Popular Front, a broad coalition of dissident classes and groups, to engage in a long struggle for social change. The ultimate goal would be to push the country far beyond the New Deal toward an indigenous form of socialism. George Soule, in his book The Coming American Revolution (published in 1934), warned the far left against indulging in any Leninist fantasies. The European design of fomenting social upheavals with rioting mobs, violent class conflicts, dramatic assaults on the government, and a convulsive overthrow of the old order would not succeed in America, Soule claimed. The American public was basically too conservative, too indoctrinated by a century and a half of capitalist individualism to respond to the bugle call of a Marxist revolution. "A true revolution [in the United States] would take many years, even generations in the making." The proper course for the American left was to "work through the New Deal" to fuse all disparate classes and elements into a new social order.
Soule advocated a gradual, systematic "control of production, prices, wages, investments, and purchasing power," all of which would add up to socialism over a period of time. He felt that a rigorous implementation of Keynesian economics in the United States was "by nature antagonistic to the basic requirements of capitalism," and therefore ought to be encouraged. He was confident that, as capitalism was progressively eroded by New Deal reforms, a genuine socialist party would emerge to seize power.
Soule, perhaps more than any other voice of the time, succeeded in muting the far-left call for "violent social upheaval." Louis Fraina, a pseudonym for Lewis Corey who was one of the founders of the American Communist Party in 1919, agreed that the situation in the United States was indeed unique, and he committed himself to Soule's piecemeal approach to socialism. In his view, the left should work in tandem to "proletarianize" the American middle class. This would be accomplished by a steady application of New Deal reforms designed to weaken the capitalist economy and "create crises"—crises which "only socialist programs" could solve. Other writers joined Soule and Fraina in recognizing that the only way to bring socialism to the United States was through "reform within the system," and especially by working with the Democratic Party since the great majority of Americans would never openly support a left-wing fringe party.
The Nation and New Republic quickly began calling for a "revitalized Democratic Party" of the broadest scope, encompassing all those forces—farmers, Negroes, clerks, salesmen, small businessmen, teachers, engineers, white collar professionals, managers, intellectuals, and industrial workers—"which can be made to see their interest in the abolition of capitalism." This Popular Front party would "Americanize Karl Marx" by emphasizing piecemeal, democratic reforms instead of a proletarian revolution. The New Deal, of course, would be the instrument of these reforms. The Democratic Party would dedicate itself to "a planned cooperative commonwealth, with public ownership of the basic means of production."
Max Lerner, Archibald MacLeish, and Corliss Lamont stressed the "compatibility between liberalism and socialism." Both camps, they argued, were committed to "scientific methods" in solving social problems. What was class struggle if not a synonym for the more euphemistic term "political action by enlightened persuasion?" Lerner and Frederich Schuman even went so far as to state that democratic socialism was the "ultimate goal of Marxism"—which must have come as quite a shock to the more dogmatic Marxists who assumed their "ultimate goal" was a worldwide factory full of contented workers bending to their tasks in an atmosphere of voluntary slavery. Then again, the liberals have never been too subtle in their efforts to co-opt the hairier fringes on the left. Lerner and Schuman both wanted a "liberal-communist alliance" which would "produce a new philosophical synthesis, combining the best strains of Marxism and Pragmatism." In less grandiose terms, this meant turning both Marxism and progressivism into an American form of democratic socialism, a nice feat if Messrs. Lerner and Schuman could pull it off.
FAILURE OF THE NEW DEAL COALITION
But it was not to come off according to plan. The reason for this was simple and practical: F.D.R.'s New Deal measures did not succeed in stimulating the economy; quite the reverse. The national income in 1934 was 10 billion dollars less than in 1931, and only half that of 1929. In the fall of 1934 unemployment stood at roughly the same level as it had two years earlier. Harry Hopkins, a former New York social worker under Governor Roosevelt who was described by Robert Sherwood as the most powerful man in Roosevelt's administration from the middle-1930's right through to the war years, confided in 1934: "Nobody seems to think anymore that the thing [the New Deal] is going to work." But the worse the American economic situation became, the more adamant Hopkins was about imposing new and more drastic reforms on the economy. "Boys—this is our hour," he said. "We've got to get everything we want—a works program, social security, wages and hours, everything—now or never."
Responding to strong pressure from the left, Hopkins spent five million dollars in his first two hours in office. Critics of the New Deal accused Hopkins of spending the taxpayers' money "like a Medici Prince." With each new failure he urged additional programs on F.D.R., pushing him ever leftward. He put four-and-a-quarter million people to work for the Civil Works Administration, as many as had served in the Armed Forces during World War I. Artists, writers, opera singers, archeologists, day laborers, and everyone else he could lay his hands on were given a Federal paycheck. Where all the money for public salaries was going to come from if he succeeded in totally destroying the private sector did not seem to concern him.
Roosevelt, himself, began to grow panicky over the cost of Hopkins' "humanistic exuberance," and publicly expressed concern that he was creating a permanent class of reliefers whom he might never be able to separate from the public dole. This attitude, however, is further evidence of F.D.R.'s lack of ideological sophistication. He never fully grasped the idea that Hopkins, Tugwell, Moley, Berle and Company were not concerned about ever diminishing the growing army of public reliefers and employees. It was their intention from the start to turn virtually the entire American work force into public employees by collectivizing, if not actually nationalizing, the major industries. F.D.R.'s wife Eleanor had a much clearer grasp of the true purpose of the New Deal, and was the real ideologue in the family. La Boca Grande, as Westbrook Pegler labeled the Queen Mother of the American left in the 1940's, served as a kind of ideological shield between the Brains Trusters and her husband lest he grow gun-shy over their left-wing sloganeering. Her job was to "strain" the rhetoric and spoon feed it to him like pablum. In many ways the old booby was an old-fashioned American patriot at heart—a willing dupe of the collectivists, however, because of his ravenous appetite for more and more power.
A temporary upswing in the economy, combined with an ineffectual Republican Presidential campaign, put Roosevelt back in office for a second term in 1936. But, less than a year later, the unemployment rolls had swollen to 1932 levels once again, and the newspapers of the country were filled with reports about "roving bands of children salvaging food from garbage cans, families fighting one another for spoiled food dumped in the streets near markets, and a marked increase in the suicide rate among the unemployed." Harry Hopkins, the intrepid social worker himself, admitted that starvation was widespread in 17 Southern States and other areas throughout the country. The WPA (Works Progress Administration) could not put anyone else to work because of lack of funds, and relief treasuries were in a state of bankruptcy. A number of social critics, including Bernard De Voto and Hugh Johnson, wrote articles and books claiming that the "current depression was worse than Herbert Hoover's." The off-year elections of 1938 put many conservatives back in Congress who, together with disaffiliated Democrats, formed a bipartisan bloc to stymie additional New Deal measures.
PLACING THE BLAME
What was responsible for the failure of the New Deal to end the depression? Certainly not the quasi-socialist nature of the reforms themselves. If anything, according to Popular Front intellectuals, Roosevelt had not gone far enough. He was not a consistent socialist. Since F.D.R.'s welfare state approach had failed to end hunger and poverty, reduce unemployment, and restore prosperity, the only logical alternative was to move more dramatically toward socialism, to speed up the evolutionary cycle so to speak and bring the revolution to America ahead of schedule. Rexford Guy Tugwell, who certainly knows how to twist a syllogism along with the best of them, put the blame on Roosevelt's "vacillation" between collectivism and individualism—the element of capitalism remaining in his reforms because of F.D.R.'s "cautious and halfhearted approaches." Roosevelt, you see, simply did not go far enough in collectivizing the economy.
But whatever rationalizations the New Deal apologists were able to muster, there was no denying the simple facts: the economy was, if anything, in worse shape than when F.D.R. took office. The American work force was top-heavy with unskilled labor and suffered from a severe shortage of skilled labor. Ironically enough, hundreds of thousands of jobs were going begging for lack of qualified applicants while the unemployment rolls continued to hover at a catastrophic level. Public treasuries, both state and Federal, were bankrupt and F.D.R.'s promised relief checks failed to go out on time or evaporated altogether.
By 1938 much of F.D.R.'s support was severely splintered. The divisions among liberals, socialists, communists, Trotskyites—a mind-boggling array of factions within factions—grew wider once again, and the Popular Front literally started to come undone at the joints. F.D.R.'s army of intellectuals, no doubt growing a bit miffed over the direction their utopian pipedream had taken, began to drop out of politics in favor of cultural pursuits. Here they had consented to dirty their hands in the soil in a united effort to rebuild America, and the piggish American public had failed to lend a hand like good proletarians ought to. Well, to hell with that. The American citizenry had its chance and blew it. Writers like Dwight Macdonald announced they would henceforth dedicate themselves solely to the Muse. Let the public eat its collective heart out.
Others bolted to the political right, claiming they had learned to treasure freedom above everything else. "The dictators have taught us to love freedom more," Louis Fischer declared in 1939. By the time the war broke out in Europe, the coloration of left-wing ideology was more "anti-Fascist" than it was pro-anything else. The Hitler-Stalin pact disenamoured many American intellectuals of the virtues of collectivism (in any form). Individualism would experience a renaissance of sorts through the efforts of the perennial H.L. Mencken, Frank Chodorov, Rose Wilder Lane, Isabel Paterson, Garet Garrett, and other writers who had never been swept up by the New Deal euphoria to begin with. Less political writers began to attack the concept of a centrally-planned society whether modeled on socialism, fascism, or welfarism. William Saroyan remarked that the 1930's taught the artist an invaluable lesson: he must elude every attempt at external coercion, that he is inescapably a "dweller in an ivory tower" for whom "historical action was out of the question."
Henry Miller was even more to the point: "Society is made up entirely of individuals, not groups or classes. Consequently each single man should try to rise above the crowd…repudiating all gods and leaders, recognizing instead that the solitary individual must work with his own hands to save himself." Miller's path was to "turn his gaze inward, contemplating his private fate with awe and wonder, mystery and reverence, inventing his own miracles, wreaking his own havoc, in a universe bereft of revolutionary visions and utopian dreams."
And Ernest Hemingway, who had been denounced in the middle-1930's for refusing to join the Communist Party, was most succinct of all. "Ideology," said the master, "is no substitute for art." He went on to describe himself as an individualist above everything else, a man who did not believe in burying his individuality in the cause of collectivizing mankind. His personal bete noir was the high level of taxation which ate away a good percentage of his earning power.
American-style socialism, quite simply, was costing him too much money.
The left wing in America had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revolutionize the country in the early 1930's and, to put it simply, it blew its golden hour. The left failed to exploit the genuine economic and social crises ripping apart the nation when it had the chance to do so. It failed primarily because collectivism in any form is incapable of rejuvenating a moribund economy; it is incapable of providing any society with a generally high standard of living; its history in every country where it has taken root is one of continuing failures and political slavery. Collectivism is a failure because it is, in its very fundamentals, a denial of human nature. By suppressing individual differences and the drive for personal achievement, by attempting to "equalize" unequal human beings under the jackboot of political authoritarianism, socialists, welfarists, and fascists can only generate alienation and widespread discontent. If they do succeed in imposing an effective dictatorship over a society, they must of necessity create an apathetic citizenry unwilling to produce because of the lack of incentive to do so.
(Collectivism can work only if human nature is substantially altered. This is the insidious danger behind B.F. Skinner's behaviorist theories as outlined in Beyond Freedom and Dignity.)
These facts are so elemental in understanding the human condition that it is truly a wonder how so many people continue to deny them. They simply will not accept reality. They are determined to refurbish human nature in their own image…or else destroy human society in their effort to do so.
Fortunately the New Dealers did not succeed in bringing socialism to America in the 1930's, and their chances of succeeding now grow slimmer every year. The social and economic conditions prevailing at the time are no longer with us. The ranks of the "proletariat" are decreasing steadily, and the left is running out of fodder for the socialist revolution.
MIDDLE CLASS PROLETARIAT
By the time J.F.K. took his oath of office the United States was already a predominantly middle-class country. Where one-third of the nation was going hungry in 1932, less than 10 percent was seriously malnourished in 1960—and the figure is under 5 percent today. The left wing has failed to absorb the fact that the American working class is irreversibly middle class in every conceivable area. The income of the average blue-collar worker is high enough to turn insurance executives green with envy. Policemen, firemen, tin knockers, and wire lathers live cheek-by-jowl with lawyers and doctors in choice suburban communities across the country; their children play on the same Little League teams together; to a great extent they dine out in the same expensive restaurants on weekends; and, according to the latest studies, they are even going to the same psychoanalysts. In the 1930's the main concern of the working class was feeding and clothing itself, while today its main interests are preserving a comfortable standard of living, combatting rising taxes and inflation, reducing crime and making our streets safe to walk in. Quite simply, American "proletarians" are now card-carrying members of the bourgeoisie, thanks to the element of economic freedom the liberals have not been able to destroy.
Forty years ago the left had an even chance of forging a broad coalition with "farmers, Negroes, clerks, salesmen, small businessmen, teachers, engineers, white-collar professionals, managers, intellectuals, and industrial workers" because of the widespread discontent among all these groups. Today the socialists are left with blacks, Spanish-speaking immigrants, and (but of course) the humorless brigade of left-wing intellectuals and student revolutionaries. Most likely, by the time our landmark year of 1984 comes around, most blacks and chicanos will have worked their way into the middle class and the "revolutionary coalition" will have been reduced to a daisy chain consisting of university professors and editorial writers for the New York Post.
In 1972 the American left tried—tried oh-so-hard and so self-righteously—to portray George McGovern as a latter-day Joan of Arc capable of bringing us the "Kingdom of God on Earth" in his first four-year term. What happened, instead, was that St. George turned out to be a political prostitute of the lowest rank, a tarnished street walker with an uncanny talent for selling his soul to the highest bidder in the grand old tradition of smoke-filled rooms and clubhouse deals.
In 1976 the liberals will attempt to resurrect that old Kennedy magic through Ted Kennedy, but at this stage it does not look as though the youngest Kennedy brother has the necessary equipment to carry it off. His intellectual shortcomings prompted his own father to make unflattering comments about him, and his crass stupidity (if not criminal negligence) at Chappaquiddick is bound to hurt him in the same manner Watergate all but castrated Richard Nixon. There are just too many factors weighing against him, all adding up to serious deficiencies in overall design.
This leaves the American left with a lineup of sad and tired old warhorses—used-up relics of the New Deal like Senators Hubert Humphrey and Henry "Scoop" Jackson. Both Jackson and George Wallace have appealed to some people on the political right because of their positions on law and order and foreign policy, but underneath the conservative-sounding rhetoric they are both New Deal Democrats with a taste for economic collectivism (and outright socialism in the case of "Scoop" Jackson). It was this latter gentleman who flirted with the notion of nationalizing the oil companies during the energy crisis of 1973. There is always the chance that the left will come up with a brand new demagogue by 1976, an engaging and persuasive dark horse capable of rallying the multitudes around a revitalized socialist bandwagon. But I do not think this will be the case. The American public grows more enlightened all the time; it has grown more wary over the tactics of political demagoguery; it has been stung too many times in the past.
Jerome Tuccille has a B.S. in psychology from Manhattan College. Since 1970 he has published three books with libertarian themes (Radical Libertarianism, It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand, and Here Comes Immortality). This article is an excerpt from his fourth book, Who's Afraid of 1984?, to be published in April by Arlington House. Most recently, Tuccille was the candidate for governor of New York's Free Libertarian Party. Copyright © 1975 by Jerome Tuccille. Taken from Who's Afraid of 1984? published by Arlington House. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "The Failure of the New Deal Coalition".