August 21, 2014
A Freedom Budget for All Americans
Posted on Aug 18, 2013
By Paul Le Blanc and Michael D. Yates, Monthly Review Press
Hall insists on truthful accounts of what was felt, thought, advocated, and struggled for by activists who won and lost the various battles that made up the movement’s history. “Both the victories and the reversals call us to action, as citizens and as historians with powerful stories to tell,” she concludes. “Both are part of a long and ongoing civil rights movement. Both can help us imagine – for our own times – a new way of life, a continuing revolution.”
This spirit informs our effort in the present book to utilize the “Freedom Budget” for All Americans as a prism through which to gain a useful perspective on the history of the civil rights movement, as well as the history of the United States – and maybe its future.
The Freedom Budget that was advocated from1966 to 1968 was explicitly not a program for socialism. It was developed and advanced most effectively by socialists, however. It was seen by them as not only promising a realization of civil rights goals, and of improvements in the quality of life for all Americans, but also as a pathway that could help lead to a democratic socialist transformation of U.S. society.
The Freedom Budget could be seen as an expansion of the social-liberal orientation of the New Deal, and some of its supporters (and its critics) certainly saw it in that way. Yet there are some on the Right as well as the Left who would argue that just as capitalism necessarily involves the exploitation of labor in order to generate wealth, so will society-wide efforts to overcome poverty and inequality necessarily damage that system. This is so because this system requires, quite naturally, a certain level of unemployment, or “reserve army of labor,” and it also cannot do without devastating economic downturns, on occasion, to ensure the health of the market economy. The Freedom Budget had the potential, however, to seem reasonable and desirable to masses of people living in capitalist America. A popularly-supported Freedom Budget could have revolutionary implications, if it turns out that capitalism cannot accommodate it, if it proved incapable of realizing such reasonable, desirable goals and projections.
One key to understanding what happened in the experience of the civil rights movement has to do with the questions of organization and leadership. Masses of oppressed people, given their humanity, do not spontaneously or telepathically come up with collective plans of action based on shared analytical perspectives. This comes about through complex social and political processes: individuals and small groups develop analyses and strategies and tactics, which are communicated from a few people to more and finally many more people; and then there are the steps necessarily proceeding from ideas to implemented realities – all of which involves leadership and organization, and all of which is part of how history is made and society is changed.
The victories of the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56, for example, and of the Memphis sanitation workers strike of 1968, marked the beginning and the end of Martin Luther King’s life as a civil rights leader. Such efforts gave a poignant activist meaning to the soaring rhetoric of his “I Have a Dream” speech that electrified the 250,000 participants in the 1963 March on Washington and inspired millions of others. The fact that he and others like him (for example, Bayard Rustin) happened to be in each of these places is directly related to the existence of these powerful protests. Organizers and cadres animated by radical perspectives for economic justice were a key element in all that happened, from beginning to end.
Reform and Revolution
If the Freedom Budget had become a reality, most obviously, poverty in the United States would have been abolished. Everyone who wanted a job would have a job. Instead of economic inequality dramatically increasing over the past several decades, all people would be better off as the wealth gap narrowed and human needs were not sacrificed to amass super-profits for the top 1%. The very young, the elderly, and everyone in-between would enjoy greater care, greater security, greater dignity.
There would be universal health care as a matter of right. Quality education and educational opportunities would have been available to all people as a matter of right, without students amassing exorbitant debt in the process. There would be decent housing for all, as a matter of right, and there would be no slums. Our social and economic infrastructure – roads, bridges, public transportation, parks, libraries, hospitals – would have been improved and expanded as never before. It is likely that growing environmental and ecological concerns and knowledge would have been incorporated into the rebuilding of our economy and society. Cultural opportunities, individual creativity, and personal development would be encouraged and greatly enhanced.
Crime would have very significantly diminished with the elimination of so many of the things that cause crime. More than that, the criminal profiteering that has guided so much of U.S. foreign policy – amounting all too often to policies involving deceit, theft, and killing – would have been powerfully challenged and dramatically diminished. Violence would have been pushed back in many areas of life.
The immense power of big business corporations over our economic, political, social, and cultural life would be diminished, while the power of the great majority of the people (the 99% ) over these things would be greatly enhanced. There would be greater democracy, and the tremendous expansion of well-being and opportunities for all would mean a growth and deepening of personal freedom.
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