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The New International, April 1939


George M. Whiteside

Utopia from Oklahoma


From New International, Vol.5 No.4, April 1939, pp.109-110.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


AT LONG LAST the much-abused “little man” of the American hinterlands, as well as his equally abused city cousin, has discovered a savior. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that the savior has re-discovered himself, and that his faithful following of many years, composed chiefly of the petty bourgeoisie of city and country, declassed intellectuals, muddled wish-thinkers of every description, and just plain nuts, with now and then a new addition to the fold, are once more rallying loyally to their Messiah and his latest scheme for the painless conquest of Utopia – and, incidentally, for boosting the subscription figures of the American Guardian of which he is editor and publisher!

This rejuvenated Messiah, as the reader may have guessed, is none other than our old friend, the one and only Oscar Ameringer of Oklahoma City. And though he modestly styles himself as “Dean of the American labor press”, one will search in vain through his newest scheme (which is basically little more than a rehash and unification of his many previous ones) for any indication that he looks to labor for its realization. Quite the contrary. “The American Foundation for Abundance” proposes to put its program into effect by the mutual cooperation and support of all good men, regardless of class; in fact, the program itself, as well as the propaganda for it in the-pages of the Guardian, carefully avoids so much as mentioning the fact that there are such things as classes and conflicting class interests in our society. Nay, more. All who enlist under the banner of the AFA must pledge themselves in advance, in the membership application, to “support” only those political candidates, “irrespective of party”, who agree to sponsor and vote for the “National Abundance Bill” if elected – and who “are certified as trustworthy by the trustees of the AFA”! Shades of Joseph Stalin! The three “trustees” solemnly choose themselves for the job, charter themselves and the “Foundation” under the laws of Oklahoma, calmly proceed to formulate program and policies, and to appoint “regional managers”, “organizers”, etc., without so much as a “by-your-leave” from the poor saps who have paid three dollars a head for membership in the organization. Yet all these men (don’t laugh!) are “democrats” and vigorous exponents of “democracy”.

But it is in the “Program” itself, and in the official propaganda for it, that one encounters petty-bourgeois reformism and rotten liberal opportunism carried to the nth degree. Every literate American already knows that in the United States there is an abundance of “natural resources, machine equipment, labor power and scientific knowledge”, if properly utilized, to provide plenty for everyone. Hence the problem facing the American masses today is not one of what, but how; not merely an abstract recognition of the possibility of “Abundance for All”, but a consciousness of the concrete policies necessary for its attainment coupled with a determination to carry them out in action. And it is precisely on this decisive point that the AFA glaringly reveals, not only its intellectual and political bankruptcy, but the wholly demagogic nature of its proposed “solution” as well. With “potential plenty” as a bait, Ameringer & Co. seek to trap the confused masses into a movement that is even more rottenly reformist and opportunistic than those of the ordinary Social Democratic and Popular Front variety. Consequently, the final disillusionment and demoralization of those who fall for Oscar’s latest brainstorm promise to be even greater, with an inevitable result that it will be a dozen times more difficult ever to rally them to a genuine Marxist program and to militant, aggressive class action. The illusions of class-collaborationism, abstract democracy, and narrow nationalism, are the bane of the revolutionary movement and the chief obstacles in its path; yet, except for its bait of “Potential Abundance”, the AFA “plan” offers literally nothing else.

It naturally follows that the position of Marxists toward the “plan” as a whole, as well as that of the working class generally, can only be one of sharp opposition. Its petty-bourgeois illusions and “classless” approach to a problem that can only be resolved on the basis of the class struggle must be ruthlessly exposed and branded for what they are, a shameless betrayal of the workers. Its narrow nationalism, as opposed to world-wide class solidarity (and even in its propaganda the AFA’s only recognition of the international aspect of the problem has been a gingerly and discreet sanctioning of “national defense”!), must be brought to light and revealed to the masses for the patriotic trap it is. The AFA is brazenly publicized as the only movement that can head off revolution and thus sidetrack the bitterness of the class struggle. (The February 24th special edition of the Guardian carries as an eight-column streamer across the top of the front page, in red letters, the typical Ameringer slogan: “The Best Bulwark Against Revolution is Three Square Meals per Day.”) At the same time, the organization’s founders blatantly herald their “program” as the only one that can stop the growing menace of fascism. But nothing is truer than the Marxian axiom that an organization must be judged, not by what it says about itself, but by what its program and policies lead to in practice. And measured by this infallible criterion, the program and policies of the AFA, just as those of any other Popular Front, big or little, can only help to pave the way for fascism.

No matter how backward we may justly consider the great majority of the AFA’s present supporters, or realistically discount the highly exaggerated claims of its press-agents that it is “sweeping the country like wildfire”, etc., it is nevertheless true that the Guardian has over 43,000 subscribers scattered throughout the country, most of whom will rally, as they are already rallying, to this latest “call” of their self-appointed Messiah, that the AFA even now has branch organizations in 37 states (small and insignificant though they may seem to many of us as yet), and that it is already appointing “regional managers” and “organizers”. Nor does all of its support come from the petty bourgeoisie and unorganized workers. The organization, and especially its ideology, is gaining ground with worker and unemployed elements, even to the extent of penetrating some of the lesser but bona-fide labor organisations. It would likewise be a mistake for us to kid ourselves with the consoling idea that Townsendism, Ham and Eggs, Epic, and other suchlike schemes are dead. For in the “great open spaces” west of the Mississippi, all of them, or but slightly revised versions of them, continue to thrive and flourish like the proverbial green bay tree. And precisely because it is so much more “all-inclusive” than any of them, the AFA is also potentially much more dangerous as a mass movement. Marxists cannot afford themselves the luxury of the attitude that it will merely enjoy a “brief little hour of glory” and then sink into oblivion. That is something we cannot knew. Simply because its program rightly sounds fantastic and absurd to us is insufficient reason for assuming that it will not “catch on”, permanently, through the vast stretches of Oscar’s beloved “hinterland” at least, unless it is actively combatted and undermined at the start. And those of us who know the confused psychology of the masses of those “hinterlands” are painfully aware that the time may be ripe, perhaps even rotten ripe, for just some such all-embracing crackpot scheme as that of the AFA.

In short, the Marxists simply cannot afford to merely shrug their shoulders and attempt to pass up the AFA as of no consequence. The question posed by its existence and growth must be faced, as must also its proposed “solution” to the larger question of potential abundance. The launching of the movement by Ameringer (who is nobody’s fool) just at this time, and the readiness of large sections of the population (no matter how backward) to fall for it, are definitely “straws in the wind” that it is at least highly dangerous for the revolutionary forces to ignore.

There is even some reason to fear that the AFA itself, especially in view of its kindly solicitude for the lesser crackpot movements toward whom its only criticism thus far has been the gentle admonition that they “fail to go far enough”, and in view of its wholly bureaucratic set-up and entire absence of internal democracy, may eventually become part of the mass movement of a purely American brand of fascism. For it needs to be recalled that successful fascist movements have been no strangers to radical phraseology and beautiful ideals. It also needs to be realized that there is no reason to assume that American fascism will merely copy the same outward forms that were utilized by its cousins in Europe. The odds are almost overwhelming that the native movement will do nothing of the kind. Nor is it as fantastic as it may seem at first to predict that the “purely American brand of fascism” may well march to power with paeans to democracy upon its lips – or that the AFA, if it does not eventually become that movement itself, may nevertheless succeed in organizing a mass base that may later be utilized for that purpose.

Though the foregoing perspective may seem absurd to many of us at the present time, there is at least nothing absurd about the self-evident fact that the program and policies of the AFA are practically without parallel for wholesale blatant reformism and unprincipled opportunism. And herein, of course, lies its present and immediate danger from the standpoint of the revolutionary movement. In short, whatever may be our subjective attitude toward the AFA and its ultimate importance, it presents us now with an objective threat and a challenge. For Ameringer’s beloved “hinterland”, and his deluded petty-bourgeois followers of town and city, do have power, a tremendous lot of it (though it would probably be more nearly correct to say they wield a dangerous “balance of power” in these United States), and the importance of this fact can only be minimized by Marxists at their own risk and at the risk of the revolution itself.

It is difficult for one who is unfamiliar with the AFA program and propaganda to actually realize its purely Utopian character, or its definite threat to the revolutionary movement.

As Ameringer ambiguously asserts: “We are neither for nor against capitalism – we want $50.00 a week for every American family.” To be sure, his propaganda teems with indignant attacks on the “godless scarcity system” – but oddly enough (or is it odd?) nowhere is this “godless scarcity system” identified as the capitalist system! But in order to boost “our” present national income from its 68 billion dollars a year to the 138 billion that “our” resources make possible, the second plank of the AFA’s program proposes “to re-purchase (no explanation as to why the “re” – G.M.W.) the banks and all industries of a public utility character”. All taxes would be abolished and replaced by a “National Fixed Overhead to be included in the fixed prices of all goods and services”. The proposed $50.00 a week minimum, including 3% interest on the unpaid balance and 5% of the principal yearly to the former owners, would be paid by “the distribution of bi-monthly checking accounts through a national, publicly-owned and operated banking system”. And over all: “To secure the realization of this program by the election of enough members to Congress in 1940, irrespective of party, pledged to sponsor and enact the National Abundance Bill which embodies these aims, so that this program of Abundance-for-All may be inaugurated in 1941.” (The pledge to “support” only such candidates as “are certified as trustworthy by the trustees” is a part of the AFA membership application.)

Do the “trustees” themselves, comprising, in addition to Ameringer, Michael Shadid, M.D., of the Community Hospital at Elk City, and William Edward Zeuch, Ph.D., also of Oklahoma City really believe that the means they ballyhoo can actually accomplish the professed aims of the organization? Nonsense. All three of these self-appointed “trustees” are intelligent men. But it’s a great combination none-the-less! Oscar, as the typical demagogic “man of the peepul,” supplies the necessary “local color” and “common touch,” while Doc and the Professor provide the no less desirable “intellectual tone.”

The March 10 issue of the Guardian, quite appropriately, quotes the following juicy tidbit from Herr Hitler’s Mein Kampf: “If you wish the sympathy of the broad masses then you must tell them the crudest and most stupid things.” Another book, by no means Marxist, nevertheless supplies a very fitting reply to these demagogues: “They are condemned by the words out of their own mouths.”

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