On October 20, 1956 W.E.B. DU Bois delivered an eloquent indictment of U.S. politics while explaining to The Nation magazine readers why he would not vote in the upcoming presidential election. He condemned Democrats and Republicans for their indifferent positions on the influence of corporate wealth, racial inequality, arms proliferation and unaffordable health care. Sound familiar?
Du Bois’ views are worth recounting on the eve of next week’s California presidential primary. Today’s column consists of excerpts from the 1956 article in which he argues that fundamentally, the Democratic and Republican parties are indistinguishable, offering compelling reasons for arriving at that conclusion.
“Since I was twenty-one, I have, in theory, followed a plan, i.e., voting for a third party even when its chances were hopeless, if the main parties were unsatisfactory; or, in absence of a third choice, voting for the lesser of two evils. My action, however, was limited by the candidates’ attitude toward Negroes.
In 1956, I shall not go to the polls. I believe that democracy has, so far, disappeared in the United States, that no “two evils” exist: There is but one evil party with two names which will be elected despite all I can do or say. There is no third party. On the Presidential ballot in a few states, a “Socialist” party will appear. If a voter advocates a real third party movement, he may be accused of seeking to overthrow this government by “force and violence.” He will be called “Communist” and will be that because it advocates such things as government ownership of the means of production; government in business; the limitation of private profit; social medicine, government housing and federal aid to education; the total abolition of race bias; and, the welfare state. Any American who advocates these things today stands in danger of losing his job, surrendering his social status and perhaps landing in jail.
The present Administration is carrying on the greatest preparation for war in the history of mankind, despite the unbearable weight of our taxation resting mainly and deliberately on the poor. This Administration is dominated and directed by wealth and for the accumulation of wealth. We turn over the national resources to private profit and have few funds left for education, health or housing. Our crime, especially juvenile crime, is increasing. Its increase is perfectly logical; for a generation, we have been teaching our youth to kill, to destroy, steal and rape in war; what can we expect in peace? We let men take wealth which is not theirs; if the seizure is “legal” we call it high profits and the profiteers help decide what is legal. If the theft is “illegal,” they can fight it out in court with excellent chances to win if they receive accolades from the right newspapers.
Negroes hope to muster 400,000 votes in 1956. Where will they cast them? What have the Republicans done to enforce the education decision of the Supreme Court? What they advertise as fair employment was exactly nothing; what has the Administration done to rescue Negro workers, the most impoverished group in the nation, half of whom receive less than half the median wage of the nation, while the nation sends billions abroad to protect oil investments and help employ slave labor in the Union of South African and Southern Rhodesia? And will the party of Talmadge, Eastland and Ellender do better than the Republicans if the Negroes return them to office?
Is the refusal to vote in this phony election a counsel of despair? No. It is dogged hope. It is hope that if 25 million voters refrain from voting in 1956 on their own accord, not based on a sly wink from Khrushchev, this might make the American people ask how much longer this dumb farce can proceed without even a whimper of protest. Yet, if we protest, off the nation goes to Russia and China. Fifty-five American ministers and philanthropists are asking the Soviet Union “to face manfully the doubts and promptings of their conscience.” Cannot these do-gooders face their own consciences? Can they not see that American culture is rotting away– our honesty, our human sympathy, our literature? Our manners are gone and the one thing we want is to be rich….to show off. Success is measured by income. University education is for income, not culture, and is partially supported by private industry. We are not training poets or musicians, but atomic engineers. Business is built on successful lying called advertising. We want money in vast amounts, no matter how we get it. So we get it, and what then?
Is the answer the election of 1956? I will be no party to it and that also will make little difference. (Most) will take a large part and bravely march to the polls, and that also will make no difference Stop running to Russia and giving Chinese advice when we cannot decently rule ourselves. Stop yelling about a democracy we do not have. Yet, there is still nothing to replace real democracy. Drop the chains, then, that bind our brains. Drive the money-changers from the seats of the Cabinet and the halls of Congress. Call back some faint spirit of Jefferson and Lincoln and when again we hold a fair election on real issues, let’s vote, and not till then. Is this possible?”