Notebook of an Agitator: From the Wobblies to the Fight against the Korean War and McCarthyism by James P. Cannon is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for January. Cannon was a founding leader of the communist movement in the U.S. and of the Socialist Workers Party. Below is an excerpt from his talk at the SWP’s 13th national convention, July 1, 1948. It was broadcast live nationwide by the American Broadcasting System. Workers engaged in rising union battles today will value Cannon’s description of the diametrically opposed class interests of “the two Americas.” Copyright © 1993 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
American capitalism — the last solvent stronghold of an outlived and doomed world system — is trying to prop up the hated regimes of capitalists and kings and landlords by economic pressure and military force.
These are the two main elements of the present world crisis.
The Wall Street money-sharks, and the brass hats of Prussian mentality, are riding high in Washington these days. The masters of America, drunk with power, are threatening and terrifying the people of the world — seeking to dominate and enslave them — striving to transform the other countries of the world into colonies of the American empire.
Their program is a program of madness, and it is doomed to failure. The great majority of the peoples of the world do not want to be slaves of America. That is to their credit and we applaud them for it. The attempt to enslave them would be profitable only for the small group of monopolists — and the military caste, who dreams of careers as colonial administrators of conquered peoples.
But the criminal adventure would encounter such ferocious resistance that the American people at home would have to pay an enormous cost in living standards ruined by inflation, in the stamping out of democracy by military rule. And America’s young sons would have to pay in misery, blood and death. The American people would be among the first victims of the insane campaign of American imperialism to conquer and enslave the world.
To avoid this calamity it is necessary now to show the people of the world the other America. For there are two Americas — and millions of the people already distinguish between them.
One is the America of the imperialists — of the little clique of capitalists, landlords, and militarists who are threatening and terrifying the world. This is the America the people of the world hate and fear.
There is the other America — the America of the workers and farmers and the “little people.” They constitute the great majority of the people. They do the work of the country. They revere its old democratic traditions — its old record of friendship for the people of other lands, in their struggles against Kings and Despots — its generous asylum once freely granted to the oppressed.
This is the America which must and will solve the world crisis — by taking power out of the hands of the little clique of exploiters and parasites, and establishing a government of workers and farmers. The Workers’ and Farmers’ Government will immediately proceed to change things fundamentally —
Throw out the profit and rent hogs, and increase the living standards of the people who do the useful work.
Assure freedom and democratic rights to all, not forgetting those who are denied any semblance of them now.
Call back the truculent admirals from the seven seas — and ground the airplanes with their dangling bombs.
Hold out the hand of friendship and comradely help to the oppressed and hungry people in the world.
These people don’t want to fight anybody. They only want to live. There are two billion people in the world — and more than half of them don’t get enough to eat. These people should be helped — not threatened, not driven back into slavery, under the social system that has kept half of them hungry all their lives.
It is well to recall now that America was born of revolution in 1776, and secured its unity as a nation through another revolution — the Civil War — which smashed the abomination of chattel slavery in the process. Our great, rich, wonderful country was once the light and the hope of the world. But our America has fallen into the hands of a small, selfish group, who are trying to dominate the world — and to set up a police state at home.
These Wall Street money-sharks are just as foreign to the real America as were the despots who ruled the land before the revolution of 1776. They are just as foreign as were the traffickers in human flesh and blood — the slave owners — whose power was broken by the Civil War — the blessed second American Revolution. These imperialist rulers of America are the worst enemies of the American people.
American democracy, under their rule, is slipping away. The fear that oppressed Mark Twain, the fear that America would lose its democracy, is steadily becoming a reality. The Taft-Hartley Law is but the most recent instance of this ominous trend. The divine right of kings has reappeared in America — disguised as the divine right of judges to issue injunctions and levy fines against labor organizations.
Only three years have passed since the imperialists finished the last slaughter. And now they are drafting the youth for another. Militarism is becoming entrenched in America. Militarism — so long synonymous with goose-stepping Prussianism — is now to be made synonymous with Americanism, if Big Business has its way. A large section of the sturdy immigrants who helped to build this country came here to escape militarism. Now their grandsons face the same brutal regimentation here.
All this is part and parcel of the development of capitalism — the system which puts profits above all other considerations. The capitalist system has long outlived its usefulness. Capitalism offers no future to the people but depressions, imperialist wars, fascism, universal violence and a final plunge into barbarism.
To avoid such a fate, the workers of the United States must go into politics on their own account, independent of all capitalist politics. They must take power, establish a Workers’ and Farmers’ Government, and reorganize the economy of the country on a socialist basis.