Toward the end of the long hot summer of 1967—a summer which saw riots in more than thirty-two cities and the death of nearly one hundred Negroes—Vice-President Humphrey was asked to comment on the assertion that the United States had spent $904 billion (or 57 per cent of the nation’s budget) on military power since 1946, while spending only $96 billion (or six per cent) on social programs in the same period. “The fact is,” he said “there has been a ‘sickness’ in the world in these post-World War II years which we have not had the luxury of ignoring.” Apparently, however, we have had the luxury of ignoring the sickness created by the simultaneous growth and decay of our central cities. The question posed for us by the events of this past summer is whether we can now afford the price.
In 1910, a large majority of our population lived in rural areas; today, about three-fourths of our population lives in urban areas (and since 1950, 1.5 million Negroes have moved to Northern ghettos). Yet the United States Congress remains a basically rural body. In the House, 225 out of 435 members come from towns with populations of 50,000 or less, and in the Senate the ratio is 56 to 44. It is, therefore, no great cause for wonder that the needs of our cities should simultaneously have increased and been neglected. Until recently, indeed, we did not even possess a precise inventory of those needs. Largely through the efforts of the AFL-CIO, however, the Joint Economic Committee of Congress has now drawn up such an inventory, projected to 1975.
The study, entitled “State and Local Public Facility Needs and Financing,” is not the product of academics removed from reality, utopian civil-rights activists, or labor leaders with a vested interest in higher wages; it represents the findings of experts in the various fields surveyed. The projected costs it estimates do not include the cost of the additional teachers, doctors, policemen, etc., who will have to staff the new facilities once they are built. Nevertheless, these estimates do give us a rough idea of our unmet needs, some notion of what it will take to meet them, and the benefits, in terms of long-range employment opportunities, of doing so.
To begin with education: based on the U.S. Office of Education’s figure of 27 pupils per classroom, 107,000 new classrooms are needed to handle present overcrowding, and another 200,000 to replace existing facilities that ought to be abandoned because they are unfit. Altogether, 750,000 new classrooms will have to be built over the next ten years if we are to cope with the present backlog, future deterioration, and expected increase in enrollment. This means an expenditure by 1975 of $5.3 billion, as compared with $3.7 billion in 1965—and for elementary education alone, the cost over the entire ten years totals $42 billion. So far as higher educational opportunities are concerned, if the growing demand for them is to be met, state and local governments will have to spend $13.9 billion for academic facilities during the next decade, and another $6.1 billion to provide housing and related facilities for the students. Thus outlays in this area will have to climb from approximately $1.2 billion in 1964 to nearly $2.5 billion in 1975.
Then there is housing. The federal government’s major vehicle for providing multi-family moderate income housing is Sec. 221 (d). (3) of the National Housing Act. Under this program non-profit sponsors receive 100 per cent mortgages at low interest rates, and yet in the six years since the passage of that bill only 40,000 units have flowed from it. If we were to build 40,000 units per year in New York City alone, it would take more than twenty years to reach the number of deteriorating buildings occupied at this moment.
Next, transportation. Congress finally recognized the problems created by mass transportation in 1964, when it adopted the Mass Transportation Act. As a result, grants are now available to state and local governments in connection with capital outlays for mass transit facilities. But in order to meet the needs estimated for 1975, spending for highways, roads, streets, bridges, tunnels, airports, marine facilities, mass transit, etc., will have to climb to nearly $18 billion in that year.
Similarly with health facilities. In 1965 we spent $500 million on them; in the next decade $13 billion will be required if the health needs of our people are to be adequately managed. Moreover, in such public-health areas as sewage and waste disposal, capital outlays will have to rise from $385 million and $625 million respectively in 1965 to $1.1 billion and $1.2 billion respectively in 1975. So too with public water supply systems. In 1965, state and local governments spent just over a billion dollars in capital outlays on such systems. The needs estimated for 1975 will require $2.25 billion.
Writing in the March 1967 issue of The Federationist, AFL-CIO economist Nathaniel Gold-finger cogently sums up the significance of this inventory of American needs. Pointing out that the labor force will increase at the rate of 1.5 million per year in the next decade, Goldfinger goes on:
A logical policy would be to see to it that these two needs—the growing need for jobs and the pressing need for public facilities—are brought together in a planned program.
The employment impact of these construction activities is substantial. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated that each million dollars spent in this way creates approximately one hundred jobs for the year—about forty jobs at the construction site and about sixty jobs in industries supplying building material, equipment and services, including unskilled and semiskilled jobs badly needed in an automated economy.
Moreover, to this must be added the indirect impact—that is, the impact felt as the result of the wages and salaries paid to these workers. As these wages and salaries are spent, retail sales are increased and still more jobs are created—in stores and warehouses and in companies producing consumer goods. This adds another 50 to 100 full-time jobs.
This would mean that a billion dollars spent on public facility construction is worth 100,000 jobs directly created on the construction site and in the production and distribution of equipment and material, plus somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 more jobs as the result of increased sales to consumers. [Italics mine—B.R.]
Here, then, is what the AFL-CIO rightly calls “the foundation for a nationwide program . . . based on federal financial and technical assistance to the state and local governments, including federal grants-in-aid and guaranteed loans, as well as direct federal aids.”
Not the least important consequence of such a program would be to make jobs available to the unemployed poor. Thanks largely to the agitation of the civil-rights movement and a book by Michael Harrington called The Other America, this nation instituted a War on Poverty several years ago. It would only seem reasonable that the first task of an assault on poverty would be to create jobs for all those who are able to work. This apparently self-evident proposition was not, however, one of the assumptions behind the Johnson War on Poverty. That war was implicitly based on the notion that poor people are poor because there is something wrong with them, and it has accordingly proceeded to set up a bedlam of community-action programs under the delusion that the poor can be helped to organize themselves out of poverty. (Even if this were possible, it is hard to see how it could be accomplished at an expenditure of fifty dollars per poor person—which is all the Office of Economic Opportunity has been allotted by Congress after administrative costs are subtracted.)
To be sure, community-action programs have their value, but they do not employ the unemployed; nor do job-training camps do any good when they train young people for jobs which simply do not exist. On top of all this, the War on Poverty as presently conceived involves no strategy for lifting the employed poor out of poverty—those, that is, who are so underpaid that they live in poverty even while working; nor can it help the 13 per cent of the poor who live in families headed by women who should not work, or the 25 per cent of the poor who, being over sixty-five, cannot work. Only a high minimum wage and some form of guaranteed income can help people in those three categories.
Let me emphasize that I am not here suggesting that the War on Poverty be scrapped, but that it be widened and intensified so that it may more adequately attack the problems it now claims to be attacking. And I want to stress the problems of Negroes, for it is no secret that the inadequacy of our programs for dealing with the needs of our urban population, and of the poor among them in particular, places a special burden on the American Negro. One grows weary of citing the same hideous figures time and time again—figures which show that life in the ghetto has been getting worse rather than better in the last ten years, that housing is worse, that schooling is worse, that the job situation is worse. I will try on this occasion to bring it all home through a less familiar set of horrifying statistics.
In 1930, according to analyses made by Drs. Paul M. Vincent and James D. Haughton of the New York City Board of Health, pregnant Negro women were twice as likely to die in childbirth as pregnant white women. In 1964 the mortality rate of Negro women in childbirth was more than three times that of white women.
In 1940, fourteen times as many non-white mothers had their babies delivered by midwives as white mothers. In 1960 the figure was twenty-three times as many.
In 1950, the infant mortality rate for non-whites was 66 per cent higher than for whites, but in 1964 it was 90 per cent higher.
Thus we are confronted in 1967 by a nation which has neglected to meet the basic needs of its entire population and which has most grievously failed in providing for the needs of Negroes. It is beyond the resources neither of human ingenuity nor of the national treasury to formulate and act upon a plan for doing what is necessary. It remains to be seen whether it is beyond the resources of the national will.
The goals are clear. First: full employment. Second: a $2 minimum wage. Third: a guaranteed annual income for those now dependent, through no fault of their own, on welfare.
Everyone pays lip service to the goal of full employment, but the fact is that there is much resistance to it in Washington. Oscar Gass has succinctly described the thinking behind that resistance:1
American public men are quite united in concern to avoid a depression of 10 to 15 million unemployed. But they are almost equally united in sharing a leery attitude toward full employment. . . . Under full employment, wages are pushed up; prices are pushed up; the value of fixed income declines; profits come easily; businessmen lose their sobriety; innovation is neglected; the international competitive position is weakened. . . . Consequently, . . . men of authority in Washington take only a limited interest in the reduction of unemployment below the present 4½ per cent. They are more concerned with the danger of “overheating” the economy.
The problem of changing such attitudes poses an enormously important challenge to economists who disagree with that line of reasoning. A non-economist may, however, be permitted to observe that if the long hot summer of 1967 proves anything, it is that “the danger of ‘overheating’ the economy” may turn out to be as nothing compared with the dangers of our present employment policies. For those latter dangers include not only violence but an answering repressiveness that could end by threatening the very fabric of American liberties.
A series of federally financed public-works programs for the creation of the physical facilities detailed by the Joint Economic Committee would be an obvious step in the direction of full employment. In helping to build these facilities, the poor would be working at something that would enlist their seriousness and their hope; the young would be trained for jobs that actually existed, and they would know they had a chance to grow and improve with those jobs. (Another step toward full employment would be the creation of a whole new hierarchy of non-professional workers to help the professional perform some of the services he now performs by himself. Social-work aides could, for example, act as companions to older people, and could interpret the need for family planning to overburdened mothers.)
The immediate passage of a $2 minimum wage would do as much as the entire poverty program in helping the poor to rehabilitate themselves. Yet even a $2 minimum wage would only guarantee an income of $4,160 for a year’s work—roughly $2000 less than what the government has computed to be a “modest but adequate” urban family budget. We should not be satisfied until every American family has at least that “modest but adequate” income. For now, however, increasing the minimum wage to $2 an hour would be a responsible and reasonable step in the right direction. There are those who say that doing so would result in the elimination of precisely those jobs which now provide at least some opportunity for unskilled Negroes, young people, and others who are not qualified to compete in an automated economy. This is true, and it explains why the proposal makes sense only within the framework of a national commitment to generate a large number of new jobs.
In our culture, a man’s judgment of himself is inevitably related to his role in the production of goods and services. He is someone because he does something on which society sets a value. So the idea of a guaranteed annual income is a good one only for people who are incapacitated from working either by age or physical disability. Full employment is the answer for everyone else.
In the meantime, there are the burnt-out neighborhoods of Detroit and Newark to be dealt with. In a recent article in Newsday, Daniel Patrick Moynihan calls for the immediate rebuilding of those neighborhoods—an action that in my view should be taken by means of a National Emergency Public Works and Reconstruction Act which would not only be a good thing in itself but would create employment for unskilled and semi-skilled workers living in the riot-torn ghettos.
The Freedom Budget for All Americans proposed last year by A. Philip Randolph is, I believe, more advanced than other anti-poverty and full-employment proposals in that it sets priorities and timetables, and indicates how the necessary money can be made available. To many of us the really galling and ironic fact is that we could abolish poverty and attain full employment while still maintaining the present proportion of military expenditures to social programs. In any event, the Freedom Budget is based on the assumption that an expenditure of only 6 per cent of the national budget would suffice to realize specified goals.2 The key to this projection is an economic growth rate of 4½ to 5 per cent. According to Woodrow L. Ginsberg, the research head of the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO, such a growth rate is “highly feasible,” given a burgeoning population, an improvement in output per man hour, and the will to utilize all our manpower. “It would not,” says Ginsberg, “strain our productive capacities and is reasonable in the light of early postwar experience as well as in most recent years.”
As to financing, the economists who drew up the Freedom Budget (men like Leon Keyserling and Vivian Henderson) estimated that if its provisions were enacted, the federal government would receive an additional eight to ten billion dollars a year on the average during the next decade even without raising the rates which existed in October 1966. This sum, amounting to some 400 to 500 billion dollars more for the decade as a whole, would more than cover the cost of the increased federal outlays called for by the program.
But would the program, or another like it, be inflationary? A look at our economic history may be helpful here. The two periods of serious inflation in recent times were World War II and its reconversion aftermath, and the Korean war era (1950-51 specifically). Those inflationary movements could have been checked much more effectively by higher taxes during World War II, a less precipitate ending of controls following the war, and by a prompter imposition of controls during the Korean war. But let us leave these matters aside. Nobody said during those wars that we should cut back on our military expenditures because they were causing inflation. What we did during World War II and the Korean war was to concentrate on what we needed most and cut back on what we needed least. Today the President is attempting to raise taxes to pay for the war in Vietnam while cutting back on the war against poverty. It is a question of priorities, not of inflation, and in the present case the priorities are being set in an immoral and costly fashion.
Even before the Vietnamese war our national economic policies and our campaign against inflation served to redistribute income in the wrong direction—to hurt those who needed help the most, and to help those most who did not need our help at all. Then, in the period 1962 through 1965, instead of investing in massive social programs, we cut taxes to stimulate the economy. Yet by 1966 there had emerged a growing recognition that the investment boom in plants and equipment had become excessive and now constituted the main inflationary danger. And so taxes were raised. No doubt a large part of our increased output and job opportunities resulted from the tax cut, but we could have been better served had a different balance between tax cuts and increased federal spending been achieved. If it should prove impossible to carry forward the priorities of the Freedom Budget without tax increases, we should increase taxes by whatever amount may be necessary. But the burden must be placed where it can easily be borne instead of being hung on the necks of the downtrodden.
We do, then, have a fairly good idea of what our national needs are; we have the makings of a viable program for dealing with them; and we have the financial resources. But do we have the final, and indispensable, element—the political will?
The administration proclaims that we can continue to pursue the war in Vietnam and still make progress at home. Yet the President asks for an across-the-board tax increase of 10 per cent to pay for the Vietnam war—an increase which will exacerbate the injustices of an already regressive tax structure, and which bespeaks a twisted idea of our national priorities. Reporting on the atmosphere in Washington in the aftermath of the Detroit and Newark riots, Daniel Patrick Moynihan writes:
The mood of the administration in Washington is one of paralysis. There is no political will for the Executive Branch to move in any direction and nothing but fear as to what direction Congress will take if it should seize the initiative. . . . The result has been a curious process of backward reasoning. First: “We can’t do anything [for lack of money].” Second: “We don’t do anything.” Third: “We shouldn’t do anything.”
And Moynihan adds: “We cannot do anything without the President, and the President seems determined to do nothing. Worse, he is denying it.”
The surprising fact of the matter, however, is that the President’s paralysis and the Congressional backlash do not seem to represent the prevailing national mood. The August Harris Poll on post-riot attitudes found that while a few more white people (between 5 and 8 per cent) were resorting to racial stereotypes than in 1966, a large majority (more than 60 per cent) of whites supported federal programs to tear down the urban ghettos (84 per cent of the Negroes favored this) and wanted large-scale government works projects to provide jobs for all the unemployed (91 per cent of the Negroes favored this proposal).
But even if the political support is there, only political organization can activate and make it effective. The Negroes are the only group in our population that is presently in significant motion. This poses serious problems because Negroes by themselves do not have sufficient political power to bring about a social revolution. As a minority, they can participate in it as a powerful and stimulating force; or they can provoke a counterrevolution. In either case the decisive factor will be the political direction in which the majority decides to move. Thus, as I have argued many times before, Negroes have no constructive alternative to acting in concert with other minority groups, with liberals, with intellectuals, and with the labor movement. In other words, there is no alternative to coalition politics.
“Twice in this generation,” William V. Shannon recently observed in the New York Times,
the leaders of American life outside Washington reached agreement on a major issue and forced the federal government to act. In 1947-48 the issue was the Marshall Plan. Business and civic leaders rallied to support the rebuilding of Western Europe submitted by a Democratic President to a conservative and potentially balky Republican Congress. In 1963-64, religious leaders of all faiths powerfully reinforced the civil-rights movement and compelled President Kennedy [and Johnson] to ask for a far-reaching civil-rights bill and Congress to enact it.
The catalyst behind the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was, of course, the civil-rights movement. That movement, despite the malaise and shenanigans of the past year, remains the prime force for democratic social change in this country. It is true that we have not recently been witnessing the kind of excitement stirring within it that we were accustomed to for almost ten years. What we have been witnessing instead are rioting and demogogic ranting. But we tend to see only what the mass media permit us to see, and the mass media consistently tend to a preference for the dramatic over the real.
They do not, for example, stress the fact that in almost every city across the country scores of community groups are working on the problems of housing, schools, jobs, health, and police relations (in New York City alone over three hundred such groups are now active). From New York to Los Angeles, vigorous and often successful work is being done to get Negro youngsters into the building trades. And the South is honeycombed with voter-registration groups that have emerged—largely under the leadership of the Southern Regional Council and the NAACP—since the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
While a number of organizations that were concerned between 1955 and 1965 with direct mass action now show evidence of decline, the two oldest members of the civil-rights movements, the NAACP and the National Urban League, have been growing steadily since 1965. The NAACP has just had one of the largest national conventions in its history. Last year it raised $686,786 in new life memberships, a considerable increase over 1965; in the last two years, it has added eighty-seven new branches and sixty youth councils; and its membership in Mississippi alone has doubled. In the last three years, similarly, the National Urban League has added to its affiliates by a third, doubled its budget, and greatly increased its staff. The Scholarship Defense Fund, formerly affiliated with CORE, conducts workshops throughout the South. The Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP has opened new offices and expanded its services. In Mississippi the NAACP, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and former SNCC activists like Fannie Lou Hamer have banded together to elect at least sixteen Negro local officials.
But if the civil-rights movement is far from dead, it most certainly is in a crisis. Having come to the end of one historical phase of activity, it must readapt its tactics to confront a new one, and the crisis is a reflection of the uncertainties of the transition.
Let me try to compare some of the new problems with those of the preceding period.
- From 1955 to 1965 the objectives of the movement were chiefly to secure the Negro’s right to vote and to integrate public accommodations. Those issues affected Negroes almost exclusively and could be attacked simply as civil-rights problems. Secondly, because they were matters of simple dignity, of getting what the Constitution clearly said everybody ought to have, and because they yielded spectacular and emotional victories, they could sustain the interest of people who were becoming attracted to the movement. In the present period we confront the more complex problems of housing, education, and jobs, which affect not only Negroes but also whites. And, in attacking them, we are not merely raising questions about the Constitution; we are also stimulating a great national debate over economics, priorities, and planning.
- In the previous period the unity of the Negro community cut across class lines. Most Negroes, regardless of their economic or social station, were subject to the same discrimination in public places. Ralph Bunche was as likely to be refused service in a restaurant or a hotel as any illiterate sharecropper in Mississippi. This common bond prevented latent class differences and resentments from being openly expressed. But the people who have benefited most from the Negro revolution are middle-class Negroes (whose sons and daughters actually created and led the sit-in movement). The economic status of the black middle class now makes it possible for them to utilize integrated public accommodations, and American industry has stimulated middle-class progress by upgrading the educated Negro—a fact which is simultaneously appreciated, scorned, and exaggerated by unemployed Negroes. The resentment felt by this new underclass of Negroes is likely to show itself in frustration behavior—such as riots—and in other forms of hostility, not only toward whites who “have it” but also toward Negroes who have “made it.”
- In the previous period, the only expenditure the federal government was called upon to make involved the cost of police protection and enforcement. It is much easier to issue moral proclamations when there is no need to back them up with congressional appropriations. Many white Americans who joined the March on Washington and applauded Martin Luther King’s dream of freedom seem far less enthusiastic about helping us realize that dream when it means altering our economic structure.
- In the 1955-65 period, though it was the quest for voting rights and desegregation that constituted the main objectives, the dynamic around the campaign to secure them was provided by racist brutality. Nothing that any Negro leader did or said stiffened the will of the mass movement quite so much as Bull Connor’s policemen, dogs, firehoses, and cattle prods, or the bombing of churches, and the murder of children and civil-rights workers. All this both strengthened the Negro will and created a consensus of conscience in the white community. When Mayor Daley failed to respond creatively to some of Martin Luther King’s demands in Chicago last year, he proved that the dynamic of the fight for the objectives of the new period—better housing, jobs, and education—is political, not moral.
- Because of the drama of the previous period, the movement received a great deal of help from the mass media; almost every day for ten years newspapers all across the nation carried news of civil-rights activity on their front pages. In the present period, however, the slow, irksome, and unspectacular work being done does not draw headlines. Much of our present activity is either ignored or relegated to small items on back pages. Perhaps this is why so many people consider the movement dead. In any case, this adds to our problem of developing and sustaining momentum.
- In the previous period, most people, if asked to identify the nation’s most compelling social problem, would have said “civil rights.” Today the answer is more likely to be “Vietnam.” This means that whereas before we were being carried along by a forward psychological thrust, we are now trying to progress against a stream of psychological withdrawal. The Vietnam war has created disunity in the civil-rights movement; it has caused many liberals to abandon the movement and concentrate their energies in anti-war activities; it has permitted reactionaries, in the guise of super-patriots, to cut back funds urgently needed for social change on the home front.
- In the 1955-65 period, a young civil-rights worker needed only two qualities to function effectively: bravery and perseverance. With those qualities alone, he could sit-in at hostile lunch counters, throw his body across the streets, integrate buses and bus terminals, and march in the teeth of police brutality and power. The questions he raised were questions of clear principle—the right to vote, free access to public accommodations, etc. Today the young civil-rights worker needs more than just courage and perseverance. The strategies of social reconstruction, of reordering national priorities, and of broad social planning require more than “soul.” They require an ability to organize, an understanding of political power and action, and an insight into the processes of social change.
- Because the chief strategy in the period just past centered on non-violent mass action, the movement tended to congeal. While there was some debate surrounding strategy and tactics, it was limited solely to the areas of public accommodations and voting. But once the questions become, as they now have, questions of economics, a wider dialogue also becomes inevitable; and there can be no meaningful discussion of such matters without basic philosophical differences emerging.
- The previous period was one of nonviolence. Even those Negroes who were not persuaded of non-violence as a moral principle practiced it as a viable tactic. Today, many younger Negroes are convinced that a violent confrontation is both necessary and inevitable. While I myself do not believe that violence can play a constructive role in solving the problems that face Negroes, society keeps providing the ghetto communities with evidence that unless they riot, they will get nothing. Yet there is also the danger that rioting will produce repressive action. This is in the nature of the very reluctant and token concessions that are being made to the Negro. Beyond a certain point there will be no token concessions left to be made, and since the larger and more basic victories will not have been won through violence, rioting will almost certainly come to reap only resistance and repression. On the other side, very little short of constructive programs for better jobs, housing, and education will prevent Negroes from expressing the rage that has been repressed for so long.
- We are no longer in a period of civil-rights revolt as such. We are now in the midst of a struggle to wrest human and economic rights out of the basic contradictions of American society. I am convinced that unless we establish social and economic priorities and organize politically in their behalf, nothing will happen. Protest demonstrations alone will not arouse the financial or moral commitment to solve the problems of poverty. To get the necessary money out of Congress for the necessary programs, we must organize within the broad coalition of American need and American social and political concern.
In sum, to reiterate a point I have made in these pages on more than one occasion in the past, the previous period was a period of protest; the present period must be one of politics.
Although the civil-rights movement cannot by itself activate the American political will, it can, if it succeeds in readjusting itself to the realities of the new period, take the lead in stirring us all into motion. To that end it will have to concentrate on three major objectives: (1) the implementation of existing laws; (2) voter registration and education; and (3) the development of an economic strategy that will unite blacks and whites in a new majority.
The segregationists have taught us a bitter lesson in the importance of the way laws are applied. For several years now, Negroes have been winning legislative victories, while racists have been subverting these victories by their relentless pressure on the bureaucracy in Washington. Thus the black man who, first, was forced to master the secrets of the judicial and then the legislative process in America, is now being forced to learn how to deal with the bureaucratic apparatus and get it to enforce existing laws.
The movement has made enormous strides in securing the Negro’s right to vote in the South. By taking full advantage of opportunities won at great cost, the movement can now help to change, not simply the plight of the Southern Negro, but the shape of American politics as well. Only half the eligible black voters below the Mason-Dixon line are registered. However, they have already begun to exercise an impact on their region, as Negroes sit in state legislatures and city councils for the first time since Reconstruction. An increase in Negro registrants will inevitably mean a growth of Negro political power.
But voter education is no less essential than registration. In Alabama last year it might have been possible to defeat the Wallaces if there had been unity between Negroes and the liberal-labor bloc. In the absence of such unity, black voting strength was dissipated and a racist Presidential candidacy was furthered. To avert any recurrence of such a situation, Southern Negroes, once they have registered and organized themselves politically, will have to seek out allies with whom they can form a new majority. This tactic has already borne some fruit in states like Tennessee, Texas, and Florida. Now it must be applied to the racist heartland itself.
The consequences of such an integrated political coalition would extend far beyond the South. There are, as James MacGregor Burns has shown, four parties in the United States: liberal Presidential Democrats, moderate Presidential Republicans, conservative congressional Democrats, and Republicans. It was, of course, the cooperation between the congressional Democrats and the Republicans which frustrated any basic social change from 1938 until the Johnson landslide in 1964. And one of the main bulwarks of this reactionary alliance was the one-party South, which provided a bloc of safe conservative seats and through the seniority system guaranteed the Southern caucus disproportionate power on congressional committees.
In 1964, Barry Goldwater forced a temporary realignment from the Right, and following the Johnson landslide, Congress passed more social legislation than at any time since the New Deal. But the defeat of many liberal freshmen in 1966 changed all that. The ruling alliance of the conservative congressional Democrats and Republicans was reconstituted, albeit circumspectly. It is a fairly good bet that the practical reactionaries will not again follow a Goldwater tactic in this generation. That could mean a new “deadlock of democracy,” to use Professor Burns’s phrase. Negroes would suffer, of course, since they are the first and worst victims of every social problem in this country. But so would whites. There would be no political dynamic capable of responding to the challenge of the city, of transportation, of air pollution, and so on.
If, however, Southern Negroes were to register, organize themselves, and enter into alliance with the white liberal and labor movements of the region, there could be a realignment from the democratic Left rather than from the Goldwater Right. The effect of such a strategy would be the creation of a two-party South and a consequent erosion of one of the main sources of conservative strength in the United States. Viewed in this perspective, a dynamic Negro political movement in the old Confederacy would make an enormous contribution to solving the problems of the black ghettos of the North and, indeed, of the entire society.
This leads directly to my third point: the importance of an economic program. As long as white workers think that the Negro demand for employment is an attempt to steal their jobs, or that the Negro insistence upon decent housing is a conspiracy to destroy the property values so laboriously accumulated by the white lower-middle class, just so long will there be no progress in these areas. In each case, the posing of the issue inevitably divides people who could, under other circumstances, act as allies. Put more generally, there can be no such thing as an exclusively Negro economic program, for that would counterpose the interests of a little more than 10 per cent of the society to those of the overwhelming majority. The action urged by the civil-rights movement will either be integrated or else it will be a failure. Black people must indeed organize black people, and assert their rightful power. But this power will avail them little in the absence of a political strategy and a viable social and economic program.
I do not see the civil-rights movement in the period immediately ahead scoring dramatic victories, such as those scored in the struggle to end segregation in public accommodations and to get Negroes into the voting booths. Rather, I see a process of reorganization and regrouping which may well appear tedious and gradualist but which is even more revolutionary in its implications than the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955, the sit-ins of 1960, or the March on Washington of 1963. For the movement is now faced with the task of challenging not just the prejudices of the white community, but some of the basic injustices and contradictions woven into the political and economic fabric of American society.
1 “The Political Economy of the Great Society,” COMMENTARY, October 1965.
2 One item not included in the Freedom Budget, but which should become part of all our future proposals, is the family allowance advocated by Moynihan in his Newsday article. Moynihan points out that the United States is the only industrial democracy in the world that does not have such a system of automatic payments for families who are raising minor children. He suggests a monthly “payment of $8 per child under six, and $12 for those between six and seventeen.” Everyone would receive these allowances, “not just a special segment artificially denned as below a certain income line or across a certain racial line.” Moynihan estimates that this program would cost the United States $9 billion a year.