This article was originally published in Socialist Voice No. 4 (Summer 1977).
The foreign policies of Nixon-Ford-Kissinger and Jimmy Carter are fundamentally the same. The bounds of decision for capitalism are narrowing as the social crisis of our era intensifies. Nevertheless, within these limits there are significant differences in the way that presidential administrations seek to defend American capitalism. To understand how Carter approaches the tasks of imperialism in a world tipping at the edge of revolutionary upheaval is essential for serious Marxists.
Carter’s perception of the world is colored by what we described in our articles on the New South as the controlled political revolution that took place in the fifties and sixties. Although his arena has broadened considerably, his political outlook, his perception of what works; remains the same. Because there are substantial differences between the recent development of the American South and the revolutionary upheavals generating today, Carter’s policy in the long run can only add to the problems that imperialism faces. A review of the New South outlook measured against the world reality will shed light upon the forms that the crisis will take.
The South since the Second World War has gone through an enormous urban and industrial expansion. The shift of economic power from plantation and small-town capital to the urban bourgeoisie was mirrored in the reform movements, voting rights campaigns and electoral reapportionment efforts that became vehicles, once the CIO red scare was ended in the late forties, for the rise of urban bourgeois and middle class power. The civil rights struggle crested during this transformation. An uneasy political combination sits atop the new situation. In addition to the urban white upper classes (interpenetrated with the national bourgeois interests) there is the liberal black middle class which holds in check its restive base, the black working class whose aspirations were whetted but not fulfilled by the upsurge of the civil rights movement and the new alignment of class political forces.
The process of modernization and concentration of capital affected the agricultural sectors as well and therefore allowed transformation of much of the South. Previously recalcitrant “Dixiecrat” sections of the white bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, seeing the impossibility of continuing segregation, also saw that tokenism seemed to work and accepted the new reality. The schism was ended. After all, the urban businessman was the focus of the “white side” of the biracial boards set up in city after city to maintain the new social change. The unions were far from radical and tailed these developments, speaking very softly and carrying no stick at all. The black threat was no threat to property and prosperity, it appeared. In startling contrast to the past, today no leading bourgeois figure openly proclaims racism. Giving the black upper strata a little recognition and others a little “piece of the action” or some hope seems to have cooled the revolutionary cauldron. So they believe.
The relative prosperity of the post-war imperialist boom is what enabled the tokenist alliance to endure for a historical period. Beneath the quiet that pervades the political scene at this time, the New South actually rests upon a precariously perched balance of forces held together by evaporating prosperity and the very looseness of the coalition of class forces that leads it. The alliance needs considerable flexibility to survive given the volatile class and race bases upon which it rests, and only the grease of money provided by the wisp of prosperity enables it to function without tearing itself apart. The white working population is no longer simply rural but dangerously proletarian; the preponderantly urban black massed are even more conscious and demanding. The product of this ephemeral New South is the politician who plays the delicate game of balance with the expertise of a perfect opportunist. As we wrote in Socialist Voice No. 2:
Carter is a classic New South politician. Based in Atlanta, he blends a policy of adjusting to necessary changes in Southern society with a basic loyalty to the old order. He was hardly a staunch advocate of the civil rights movement, but he did not support the white plebeian backlash. As Governor of Georgia, he established firm links with the more conservative black leaders (like Martin Luther King Sr.) in pursuing a policy of racial moderation. But of course he had mixed his tokenism with deft appeals to racism as when he ran for , Governor in 1970. He tolerates the existing docile unions in the South but is hostile to labor organizing (as in his own peanut operation) and has always fought to maintain “right-to-work” laws.
With his head in Jehovah’s austere heaven and his heart seeking the approval of the jaded, sophisticated Northern Playboy, Carter epitomizes the contradictions of the New South bourgeoisie. This opportunist, sensitive to all pressures and counter pressures appeals to blacks while seeking to safeguard “ethnic purity.” He dutifully cajoled labor leaders wherever he campaigned, but as one Southern capitalist, Robert E. Coleman, chairman of Riegel Textile Corporation, commented (New York Times, August 15, 1976):
As a politician, his first concern is getting elected so I don't take too seriously all his campaign promises to labor. It is inconceivable to me on his whole record that he could be anything but what he says he is, a businessman who recognizes the need for a reasonable profit.
Carter’s contradictions affected his campaign in the form of his oft-noted capacity for talking out of all sides of his mouth. This was inevitable for such a consummate New South candidate, representing a basically contradictory class equilibrium which can hold together in its present fashion for only a historical moment.
It is by no means an accident that Carter put together an administration composed of seemingly disparate elements, hard liners like Schlesinger and Brown, soft liners like Warnke – and that he always seems to speak with many tongues. As C.L. Sulzberger, the New York Times savant remarked, there is “... an impression the United States government is a centipede none of whose feet knows what the others are doing until they get into the creature’s mouth.”
This is the inevitable result of a campaign composed of diverse elements all designed to accommodate and appease a variety of bourgeois forces who wish to collaborate but are under the pressure of irreconcilable “constituencies.” It is a loose and permissive design molded in the New South, a product of the lessons learned by a supposedly simple ol’ country boy who rode to Presidential power by yoking both George Wallace and Andrew Young to his cart. Accommodation of opposing forces on all sides of the line m situations of upheaval, under the leadership of “business” is Carter’s method. The “success” of the New South proved that through such tactics he can contain a revolutionary world, Carter believes. This is the line that American imperialism is promoting.
In Socialist Voice No. 1 we outlined the policy which the Kissinger State Department was being forced to take in the face of a regenerating international revolutionary wave. In addition to an alliance with China based upon every reactionary status-quo force in the world, Kissinger’s strategy buttressed local sub-imperialisms in each area: Israel, Iran, Brazil, etc. His policy towards Russia was ambivalent, reflecting the contradictory nature of state capitalism's relationship to the U.S. It was necessary both to establish a detente with the second strongest imperial power so that both could benefit from their rights of dominance, and to insure that the second power would be kept in its place.
The last thing Kissinger ever wanted was to make any concession to revolutionary forces. His Metternichean world view was based upon forging if not a Holy Alliance then at least a balance of powers which would have enough interests m common to stymie revolutionary upsurges. The Russians, naturally, did not favor so absolute a maintenance of the status quo, but in the face of revolutionary challenges to the whole festive board of imperialism, they held to their part of the bargain and defended the table.
Kissinger & Co. appreciated Moscow’s “restraint” and restraining hand in dealing with the rebellious movements. On the other hand, Moscow frequently aided the rebels in order both to gain immediate influence for the USSR and to prevent national bourgeois-democratic revolutions from becoming proletarian socialist ones. Although Kissinger complained of Moscow’s growing influence, his fears were tempered by the fact that, in the words of his lieutenant Helmut Sonnenfeldt, “The Russians are lousy imperialists.” The hard-won gains of Russian diplomacy in the Mideast and Southeast Asia always seemed to dissipate. In fact an enormous flap occurred in 1976 when the Kissinger-Sonnenfeldt concern over Russia’s weakness came to the surface. Afraid that Russia could not police its own territory, that Rumania and other East European countries were pulling away, the U.S. had to help create a more “organic” relationship between Russia and its satellites. Revolutions like those in Hungary and Czechoslovakia send hackles up the spine of any good Metternichean.
Where he deemed the working class a decisive factor, Kissinger always took a hard line. He adamantly opposed popular front governments, indeed any European government that included the Communist Parties. Suspicious of the CPs, Kissinger was even more worried that their gains would en-courage moves by more militant layers and would stimulate upheavals within the working class that the CPs could not contain.
More immediate problems arose in Africa. Kissinger had dealt with the Middle East by attempting to stitch together a covert bloc between the reactionary ruling classes of Israel and the Arab states. During the Angolan revolution it became clear that similar tactics were needed in southern Africa or the whole region would be lost. The local subimperialism, the Union of South Africa, rests upon an apartheid structure which had been able to extract huge superprofits for itself and for American capitalism, its senior partner, out of the labor of super-exploited blacks. After Angola, it became necessary for the Vorster regime to yield face-saving concessions to “moderate,” i.e. pro-Western, black African leaders in order to maintain itself. In Rhodesia, white domination could not be saved, so the rulers would have to be bought off and the country gradually turned over to a friendly black bourgeois government, if that could be arranged.
The “front-line” black African nations, neo-colonialisms all, were also worried. Capitalism’s profound crisis is most deeply felt by the poorest and most exploited countries, and as a consequence all of Africa was in upheaval. Moreover, the revolution in a country like South Africa with its large, modern black working class presented a distinct threat of proletarian revolution which is a danger to every bourgeoisie, large or small, white or black.
The aim of American foreign policy, therefore, became to establish a loose (and of necessity, somewhat covert) alliance between the black African states and South Africa. This required gradually dappling the white capitalist political and economic hierarchy of South Africa with some black faces, a tokenist integration. A real overthrow of apartheid was out of the question because it would necessitate the end of bourgeois rule in the area and enormously weaken the imperialist world economy by eliminating the South African superprofits. The black states, in their turn, needed to have apartheid cloaked before they could deal. Thus the tokenist approach necessitated the creation of a black middle class in South Africa itself, a class with a stake in the imperialist system. It would have to be created, for too little in the way of such a layer exists today.
For Kissinger, these were risky steps. A man of the status quo, he in no way reflected the elements of the bourgeoisie who were able to run with the revolutionaries in order to catch up with and incorporate them. He might in dire circumstances lower himself to do this if forced, but that would have been a strategy essentially alien to his whole traditional and reactionary world outlook.
Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, is a “man of the people,” an opportunist who seeks to ride the waves of change under the illusion that he can steer them his way. He knows that accommodations have to be made in order to insure stability on a new level. He had seen the Old South’s blockade strategy fail in the late fifties; that’s what Griffin Bell, his buddy now in the Justice Department, tried, and they all now “know” that it doesn’t work. So he is prepared to take certain chances and allow the waters to flow a bit now in order to be better able to dam the mass current later on.
Kissinger, for example, was far closer politically than Carter to the likes of Solzhenitsyn. Kissinger was no less a reactionary-nationalist than Solzhenitsyn, but he was not going to play any games with the Russian dissidents and risk encouraging the forces of destabilization. Solzhenitsyn was no threat, but there is a dangerous logic in showing friendship to any oppositionist lest the masses gain confidence and assert themselves. Thus Ford’s famous refusal to see Solzhenitsyn. Kissinger, Ford and the multitude of businessmen who want to trade with the USSR are now critical of the Carter administration for its “rhetoric” about human rights in the Soviet bloc; such talk might “incite” upheavals.
Carter is also concerned that his administration’s own rhetoric might get out of hand. His object is certainly not revolution but a “controlled revolution,” meaning a new stability. Therefore the Carter forces, despite their “commitment” to “human rights,” openly attacked Congress for refusing to allow them “flexibility” in awarding loans to the murder and torture regimes which so tastefully ornament Western “democracy.” Similarly, when the New York Times rashly took his morality line on South Africa seriously and credited him with advocating “black majority rule,” his State Department quickly responded that he favored only “majority rule” – meaning a handful of token blacks to “represent” and incorporate the black masses.
Carter’s opportunism is most apparent in his line of overt warmth to the Russian dissidents, at least those that are upper-class pro-West or at best reformist. Andrew Young makes Carter’s policy perfectly clear. A former civil rights leader and now the government’s token black, Young is the perfect embodiment of the role of the black middle class in the New South Placed in charge of trial balloons for the administration, he is given ample prestige but no real power and serves to shield Carter from direct attacks on foreign policy. Indeed he serves Carter as a lightning rod, drawing away attack from Carter personally and yet attracting and de-energizing new forces. Embarrassment over his barbs directed at Washington's racist and imperialist allies have been tolerable so far. The European leaders may resent it but seem to be able to take words in their stride since they approve of Carter’s essential plan to incorporate black anger at home and abroad. Thus they “strongly protest” Young’s “behavior.” Young’s every word might not reflect Carter’s every word, but he perfectly reflects the New South opportunism of both of them. In a recent interview in Newsweek magazine. Young outlined the New South world view.
Of course another reason that the Carter crew engages in “human rights” attacks upon the Stalinist dictators is simply to embarrass them and score points in the inter-imperialist rivalry. But this just proves that Carter’s conception of a new international stabilization means that he will allow the boat to rock far more than Kissinger ever would have done. To a degree, Carter maintains the same view of the Russians as does Kissinger, since the reality of the contradiction-laden imperialist rivalry and partnership continues. Kissinger and Carter both rest upon the economic power of America’s predominant imperialism. For rationalist observers (some of whom think of themselves as Marxists), statesmen and politicians are necessarily rational representatives of the class they serve and are capable of discerning fully their unanimous class interests. But this is far from the case. Ruling class leaders have different interests within the class system and different understandings of what they are doing. They have brilliant strokes at times and do stupid and irrational things at others. They only reflect the system’s interests. They all serve the same god, but at different temples and with different rites. Kissinger was notorious for relying upon bureaucratic skills, diplomacy and the brandishing of military power, but he was equally known for his lack of understanding of all of the available economic weapons. His policy obviously rested upon America’s overwhelming economic strength, and it backed into the use of this power as the situations permitted, but his policy did not concentrate on the overt use of economic diplomatic tactics. The New South people, in contrast, know from their entire history that America’s economic strength is their chief asset. The change in the Southern economy brought about through placating opposing forces with compromises is in their blood. The “success” in deterring the black revolution in the South derived from the affluence of the U.S. economy as a whole and the huge investment sent Southward by Northern, that is U.S., capital. Young made the point clearly:
Q. Is the Administration saying it is in Russia’s interests not to suppress people?
A. Yeah, in a real sense we are. Repression causes more dissent rather than quells it, and if you keep on applying pressure, you’re creating conditions for the overthrow of governments.
Q. And yet dictators would argue that if they loosen up, they’re doomed.
A. That’s what people in the South said – that if they let blacks get the right to vote and didn’t maintain a rigid system of segregation, the blacks would run oft with their daughters and burn down their cities. My feeling is that as the Russians begin to evolve, they’re going to have more problems rather than less. The fact that we are helping them deal with these few dissenters right now will prepare them down the road to deal with a massive generation of dissent which is probably not ten years off in the Soviet Union.
Q. Does it worry you that there seems to be such a sizeable Marxist (by ‘Marxist,’ they mean Russian or State Capitalist) penetration in developing nations, notably southern Africa?
A. No, and the reason it doesn’t worry me is that I don’t think the Marxists can compete. What people want in the world is not ideology; they want goods and services. There’s no Marxist economy that's been able to deliver goods and services to the people like we have.
Q. But isn’t it true that few countries, having gone Marxist, ever go back?
A. It may be that they don’t go back, but they will all, including Russia, gradually increase their participation in a free economy. They will open a window to the West for trade. My feeling is that our most useful relationship to the Marxist world is not to take them on militarily, where everybody loses, but to go ahead and take them on economically, where I’m sure we’re better prepared to win.
Young has explicitly cited the “stabilizing” efforts of the Cubans in Angola. When pressed, Carter backed him up on this and used the same term to defend the “legitimacy” of the South African regime whose “major role to play” in southern Africa may have to outlast the Cubans. Both Young and Carter are aware of the weakening of the Stalinist state capitalist economies as they fall into stagnation and deeper in debt to Western banks. Shopping for technology which they cannot generate themselves, they are more and more dependent on Western imperialism. Russia cannot match U.S. economic power, despite the crisis in the West after the end of the post-war boom. Angola didn’t hesitate to protect U.S. interests. Carter has already pointed out that both Vietnam and Cuba cannot depend upon the USSR but must deal as well with the United States or collapse. This is a common understanding of the Russians, Vietnamese and Cubans by now. Whereas Kissinger and Sonnenfeldt had looked for stability in Eastern Europe through the tightening of Russia’s relationship to its satellites, Carter has a more dynamic understanding of Russia’s weakness and the danger that state capitalism may not stand up as a major prop for world imperialism. His policy is a controlled loosening of the Russian bloc in order to tie the state capitalist countries to the Western bourgeois orbit more thoroughly. In an interview with the West German magazine Quick reported in the New York Times of September 23. 1976, Carter said “It is in our interest and the interest of world peace to promote a more pluralistic Communist world.” And further: “We should remember that Eastern Europe is not an area of stability and it will not become such until the East European countries regain their independence and become part of a larger cooperative European framework.”
This “larger cooperative European framework is of course an adjunct to the entire structure of Western and Japanese imperialism. Preservation of imperialism is as much the essence of Carter’s policy as it was Kissinger’s. Carter understands that the world is far too turbulent to attempt to maintain it by a simple stitching of the tearing fabric. Carter takes bigger risks. However, this venturism rests upon an attempt to weld the major Western imperialists more firmly together than in the past. The New South would have been much easier to achieve, Carter believes, if the whole bourgeoisie had got itself together more rapidly and prevented its own internal schism. Carter’s famous “trilateralism” indicates far greater attempts to cohere the imperialist bourgeoisie of the U.S., Europe and Japan in order to carry out his new world design.
Given this New South outlook Carter and Young have faith in the power of the bourgeoisie to conduct social change in such a way as to create new bases for stability. On his recent trip to South Africa, Young hailed the “progressive business leaders” of that country. The junior imperialists such as the South Africans must be pressured as were the New Southern bourgeois, but in the end they too will come through. The New York Times summed up Young’s approach in South Africa:
He spoke of the role that business had played in the transformation of the American South serving as a partner of civil rights activists and responding to their demands. That alliance, he declared, proved that “when goods are shared with those at the bottom of the system, it doesn’t mean that they have to be taken away from those at the top.”
But despite all this confidence, the Carter foreign policy is bound to fail, because the parallel between the New South and Carter’s new world breaks down. The South was part of the United States and not a colony or even a former colony. More important was the fact that the Southern transformation was based upon the defeat of the working class through the collapse of the CIO organizing drive and the domestication of the entire union movement in the forties. Internationally, imperialism was reasserting itself after the worldwide defeat of the proletariat through the Great Depression, fascism, World War II and betrayal of the workers’ post-war uprisings by the Stalinists and Social Democrats. The resulting prosperity and stability under American hegemony even allowed colonial revolutions to take place without delivering upon the underlying threat to imperialist domination of the world. This was the situation that permitted the development of the South.
Today the situation is directly opposite. The stabilization of the moment should fool nobody. Rebellious masses are beginning to move throughout the world. The petty-bourgeois leaderships of the colonial revolutions, including even the most extreme Stalinists, have demonstrated their inability to escape from the capitalist orbit. The mass struggle has no alternative if it is to succeed but to continue through proletarian socialist revolutions to break free from imperialist super-exploitation, since world capitalism can afford no new plums for its semi-colonial dependencies. Even the triumphs of the New South, made possible by America’s domination of the world, are endangered by the international crisis. Young’s faith in the ability of capitalism to give a share (sop) to the masses is misplaced. The weakening U.S. economy is in better condition than most countries, but even here the slide downward is inescapable short of proletarian revolution.
Kissinger had already begun to realize that the status quo could not be maintained unaltered in the face of the revolutionary changes now brewing. Carter even more so, for he understands that stonewalling will only lead to a bigger disaster for imperialism. But Carter’s strategy of a controlled change – limited accommodation without fundamental overturns – cannot work. At best it will succeed for a time in Europe but it can only court additional destabilizing trouble in the rest of the world.
A salient feature of Carter’s foreign policy has been the assertion of “moral” support for “human rights,” not only in the Stalinist countries but in some of the reactionary bastions of capitalism in Latin America, Asia and elsewhere. This policy, as much of the left press has already pointed out, is a cover for support to these regimes, and Carter has already backed off from some of his demands because of the irritation expressed by the Argentinian, Brazilian and Chilean tyrants. However, this reaction and the administration’s retreat prove that the policy meant something real and was not a total lie. Carter’s policy demands a more fluid, pluralist and pseudo-democratic network of allies, but he is already discovering that it cannot be achieved.
World capitalism needs dictatorships in the backward countries because popular governments are too fragile to defend bourgeois rule from the masses. Democracy, as Trotsky pointed out, depends not upon the good will of the leaders but upon the ruling class's ability to satisfy at least some of the needs of some layers of the population. Where the bourgeoisie can provide sops and reforms to a layer of petty-bourgeois intellectuals and the bureaucracy and aristocracy of labor, then class contradictions can be deterred from exploding. “In the condition of capitalist decay a democratic regime is accessible (up to a certain time) only to the most aristocratic bourgeoisie.”
Reformism, Stalinism and social patriotism, those vermin forces of accommodation, are able to breed only where there is still enough prosperity to tie sectors of the masses to the system. Growing sections of the working classes in Europe are already beginning to see through the popular front and class collaborationist policies of their traditional leaders. In the poorer countries, the material base is eroding so rapidly that democracy can be only a momentary phenomenon. Those who believe that the electoral defeat of Indira Gandhi really means long-term democracy for India are in for a rude awakening.
Military rule (“left” or right) is the only answer for the bourgeoisie in the “third world.” At the same time, the power of the working classes is now on the rise after the French events of 1968. That is why Carter is willing to be flexible towards autocracy in Latin America and the Middle East but must take a more placating attitude towards the proletariat in Western Europe. Carter as well as Young knows that the U.S. must be prepared to deal with even the most “extreme” (but petty-bourgeois) forces; he knows from his Southern experience that these, given a stake in maintaining the system, will serve as a last-ditch barrier against the masses.
Consequently, in sharp opposition to the Kissinger line, the new administration has publicly indicated that it will not withdraw support from European governments that include. the Communists. Carter may not want popular fronts, but he is willing to accommodate to them because he knows they are coming. Because of the power of the working classes and the existence of powerful CPs, the final resort of military rule and fascism is not yet necessary for the leading capitalist countries.
In the United States itself, the labor bureaucracy does not have to be bought off further at all. The miserable class collaborationism of, say, the French and Italian Communist Party bureaucrats smells like a rose in comparison to the utterly contemptible stench of the servile AFL-CIO leaders. Carter does have to accommodate to a whole variety of interest groups, but he can afford to virtually ignore the AFL-CIO. The labor misleaders, by their absolute capitulation, earned not favored treatment but contempt. They have no alternative to him and he knows it.
Even here it is only a question of time before the American working class begins to explode. Then the bureaucrats (the Sadlowski types if not the Meanys) will also bleat as through they were real troublemakers in order to stay on top of the ranks. It is as yet too soon to tell which way Carter will move to deal with a situation that is entirely new for him: a lighting and political workers' movement on his own turf. His talent for accommodation will be at war with his class hostility to a force different from all other “pressure groups” in that it is fundamentally aimed at the destruction of private property. Should he attempt to placate it, that would be nothing but a continuation of his usual pose. For behind every Carter grin there stands the real spirit of capitalism in its decay: reaction, torture, murder and starvation. It is because the ruling class policy of accommodation is necessarily ephemeral that the working class must learn, too, that there can be no accommodation in the class war against imperialism. Or with its representative, the Imperial President, James Earl Carter, who just wants all of us folks to call him “Jimmy.”