Bush, Camp Casey, and “The Two Americas”
The contrast was almost too wrenching.
A ragtag group of protesters in a ditch by the side of the
road. And the presidential SUV’s rolling by,
refusing to stop and talk with a mother whose son’s life was taken by Bush’s
war for oil.
Bush was on his way to a Republican
Party fund raiser at a nearby ranch. His neighbors may not all own 60,000-acre
chunks of property, like the real estate where Bush’s “Western White House”
sits. But no doubt their land holdings and bankrolls are of similar size. Because together they raised nearly $3 million for Bush’s party at
that one little Texas
Famously Bush refers to well-heeled
folks like these as “my base—the haves and the have-mores.”
To people around the world Bush’s
ranch, and his “cowboy” strutting, and the wealth and arrogance of his
supporters—like Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson calling for the
assassination of the democratically elected president of Venezuela—these
represent the Ugly America, the USA of unprecedented military power and
unprecedented capitalist corporate greed.
But there is another America.
And it is ably represented by those who have been camping in the ditches
outside Bush’s mega-ranch—Gold Star Families for Peace, Military Families Speak
Out, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and many other
groups and individuals. Significantly, civil rights activists of the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference have been at Camp
Casey, bringing messages of support
from Rosa Parks, who started the Montgomery
bus boycott 50 years ago, and from Coretta Scott King, widow of the
assassinated Rev. Martin Luther King.
They are the other America.
And Cindy Sheehan is right to say she is speaking for the majority. Polls
indicate that over 60 percent of Americans are now opposed to the war or
critical of Bush’s handling of it. Thanks to the work of trade union activists
in U.S. Labor Against the War, union organizations
representing more than 10 million Americans have passed resolutions against the
war. This includes the AFL-CIO, the newly-independent Service Employees
International Union (SEIU), and the National Education Association (a
non-AFL-CIO union that has more than 2 million members).
This glaring contrast brings to
mind a speech given by that oldtime Kansas
socialist, James P. Cannon, in 1948. Its title is “The Two Americas,” and we
reproduce it below. Especially striking is the continuing relevance of Cannon’s
point, made nearly 60 years ago: “The
colonial slaves don’t want to be slaves any more.”
The people of Iraq have been showing this in the teeth of the
most highly developed killing machine in world history, the U.S. armed forces. But over the
years, so have the people of Vietnam,
Algeria, Iran, Cuba,
Venezuela, and elsewhere in Asia,
Africa, and Latin America. People will not
accept colonial slavery any longer. And inside the USA there are powerful forces that
will speak out and help put an end to the effort by Bush and his allies, both
Republican and Democrat, to reimpose colonial slavery.
“The Two Americas” is one of the
most outstanding of the many speeches given by James P. Cannon during the
course of his life (1890-1974). His remarkable life as a revolutionary leader
spanned the era of Debsian socialism and the IWW (the centenary of whose
founding we celebrate this year), the healthy beginnings of the American
Communist movement in the wake of the
1917 Russian Revolution, then the establishment and consolidation of the
American Trotskyist movement, against all odds, beginning in 1928.
As Cannon reminds us, and as we see
in Camp Casey
today, there is “the other America.”
The majority of the U.S. population, although it is largely under the sway of
the corporate media and “white America” ideology, in reality falls into the category
that Cannon describes as the workers, the farmers, and “the little people.”
Their economic reality is not in keeping with the media-promoted ideology and
“white” cultural values. The vast majority depend on a paycheck, or the
equivalent, for survival. They may watch TV, but only a tiny
minority, linked with the military-industrial complex, own the major TV
networks and decree their programming. Among the majority of “the other America”
are people of color—Black, brown, yellow, and red, to use the racialized
terminology. Together with the oppressed sex (women) and others discriminated
against by the system (such as gays, Lesbian, bisexual, and transgender
persons), these parts of the “other America” add up to form the
overwhelming majority—a giant that has yet to realize its true strength. And
racist ideas among white workers and “little people” are promoted by the rulers
to help keep the majority from discovering and acting on its power.
Cannon’s speech, “The Two Americas,”
is also a reminder that there is more than one way to think about the U.S.
“national character.” It is not only the cruel and ugly gun-slinger all too
familiar from the many U.S.
wars of conquest.
Cannon gave this speech nearly six
decades ago, on July 1, 1948,
at a convention of the Socialist Workers Party, of which he was the historical
leader. The speech was broadcast over the nationwide network of the American
Broadcasting System, as the SWP was for the first time running a candidate for
president of the USA.
Some topical references in the speech have been omitted, indicated by ellipsis
dots (…), with the aim of highlighting the lasting relevance of Cannon’s
What Cannon said in 1948 about
America under Truman—when the U.S. ruling class was talking of “the American
century”—is just as true of today’s America under Bush, with his Project for a
New American Century: “…drunk with power,” they are “threatening and terrifying
[or terrorizing] the people of the world—seeking to dominate and enslave them.”
Of course the main focus of this
imperial “Project,” for right now, is Iraq. However, the basic aims of
the U.S. ruling class, which Cannon here describes with tremendous accuracy, is
exactly what led the American empire to wage its wars over the past half
century—most blatantly in Korea, 1950–54; in Vietnam, 1965–75, and in Iraq, in
1991, and again since 2003.
Cannon’s “The Two Americas”
We meet…at a time of the gravest
world crisis—a crisis which contains the direct threat of a third and more
terrible world war. The basic causes of this world crisis are no mystery.
The first cause is the breakdown of
capitalism throughout Europe—and Asia—and the
colonial lands. The working people want peace and bread, which capitalism
cannot give. The colonial slaves don’t want to be slaves any more—and
capitalism cannot live without colonial slaves. The working people, the poor
peasants, and the colonial slaves are in revolt against the continued rule of
bankers and landlords.
On the other hand, American
capitalism—the last solvent stronghold of the 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 dream 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
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.
[Such a government would] immediately proceed to changes 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 [six
billion, in 2005]—and more than half of them don’t get enough to eat [still
true]. 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
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 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
Only three years have passed since
the imperialists finished the last slaughter [World War II]. 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. A socialist
economy in the United States,
eliminating capitalist wars, profits, and waste, will be so productive as to
ensure a rich living for all who are willing and able to work, and provide
security and ample means for the aged and infirm.
We should also help the hungry
people of the world to improve their standard of life. Socialist America will
rapidly make that possible by helping them to secure their own freedom and
develop their own economy. Eventually, the economy of the entire world will be
united and planned on a socialist basis. This will bring universal peace—and
undreamed-of abundance for all people everywhere. The real upward march of
humanity will begin.
The American working class can open
the way to this new world. They are the majority. They have the power in America.
All that is necessary is for the working class to understand [its power]—and to
We firmly believe they will do so.
We firmly believe the real America—the
of the workers, the people—will help save the world by saving herself.
We, the American Trotskyists…summon
to her great destiny—not as conqueror but as liberator of the world.