50 Years Ago: Law and Order in the U.S.A.

If you saw it only on television and stayed off the streets, the political situation in the United States this year seemed like a second-rate circus which had suddenly and dramatically risen in entertainment value. The star performers—Humphrey, Nixon and Wallace—were clowns at best, whose acts included the usual inane platitudes, empty promises, perpetual smiles, and abysmal ignorance of the system they defended. At worst, they were not clowns, but surrealist weasels, one of whom was seeking the power to provoke and crush insurrections, to fill the concentration camps which have already been constructed here under the McCarran Act, to complete the extermination of the Vietnamese, to bring on a chemical, biological, and/or atomic world war, and to turn the circus into a chamber of horrors whose only audience would be the eskimos lucky enough to survive the epidemics of anthracis and tularemia.

The theme of all three performers was the same: change “our” military strategy in Vietnam and do something about law and order. Many U.S. “radicals” have been thoroughly shaken by Wallace’s success among white workers, recalling that the Nazis succeeded with a similar combination of racist chauvinism and pretended hostility to big business. And indeed, his aggressive, anti-intellectual appeals to the racism and bigotry of his supporters are frightening to hear. But the actual policies that Nixon is (or Humphrey would have been) likely to adopt are no less frightening.

We should be grateful, in one way, that “law and order” became such a strident campaign issue in the election, because it gives us a chance to expose the primary aim of government. That aim is to protect the social order of capitalism. Government is the agency which maintains the control of the capitalist class over their property and their workers. It is essential to grasp the fact that a given form of government is the result of a particular social order, not the cause. Otherwise we cannot understand the true function of elections, and we cannot understand politics. Instead we will approach politics the way most workers do, and waste our time in futile and meaningless debate over the personalities of individual candidates.

(from article by a member of the WSP of the US, Socialist Standard, December 1968)