United States ‘War on Poverty’ during the Vietnam war

This video from the USA is called Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam – Full Speech [by Dr Martin Luther King Jr.].

By Tom Mackaman in the USA:

Fifty years since Johnson’s declaration of the “War on Poverty

8 January 2014

In his first State of the Union Address, delivered to Congress on January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson called for ending poverty, joblessness, and hunger in the US. “This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America,” Johnson said in the speech, delivered not quite seven weeks after the assassination of his predecessor, John Kennedy.

Within two years, Congress put in place a series of laws and programs that together became known as “The Great Society.” These included: the Social Security Act of 1965 creating Medicare and Medicaid, which respectively provided health insurance to the elderly and introduced federal health care coverage for the disabled and poor; the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was the first significant legislation addressing institutional racism since the era of Reconstruction nearly a century earlier; and a number of job training, urban development, educational, and nutritional government agencies and initiatives, including the pre-kindergarten educational program Head Start and the Food Stamp program.

Johnson presented his legislative agenda as a historic test of US capitalism. “We have in 1964 a unique opportunity and obligation—to prove the success of our system…If we fail… then history will rightfully judge us harshly.”

History has delivered its verdict. The War on Poverty never came close to eradicating poverty and hunger. It failed because it could not touch the foundations of class rule within the US or abroad. Relative to the wealth of the US—“The richest Nation on earth,” Johnson reminded his listeners—only a paltry amount of resources were tapped into, while Johnson’s program included tax cuts for the rich. Far greater resources were directed to the American war machine. The war on poverty was ultimately eroded by the decline of US capitalism, which came to a head in the years that followed Johnson’s speech.

The Great Society was made possible by American preponderance in the global economy. As late as 1964, the US still controlled 40 percent of the world’s industrial output. Beginning in the late 1950s, however, the US was racking up balance of payments deficits of more than $3 billion per year and “a massive outflow of gold and dollars to the rest of the world” began, according to a recent economic history. While the US economy grew rapidly in the 1960s, the Japanese and West German economies grew three times and twice as fast, respectively. The decline of US industry, at first misconstrued as a phenomenon of underutilization, was particularly pronounced in northern urban areas. Johnson acknowledged this obliquely in his speech, noting “that 4 million workers and 13 percent of our industrial capacity are still idle today,” several years after the recession of the late 1950s.

Kennedy, Johnson, and their advisers believed that the best tool for reversing the first symptoms of industrial decline was a tax cut. “Above all, we must release $11 billion of tax reduction into the private spending stream to create new jobs and new markets in every area of this land,” Johnson said, carrying forward Kennedy’s central fiscal policy. “We need a tax cut now to keep this country moving.” The United States Revenue Act of 1964 reduced the top marginal tax rate from 91 percent to 70 percent, handing over the 30 percent of the aggregate tax cut to the top 2 percent of tax filers. Corporate taxes were also reduced.

This logic, that rewarding wealthy layers with tax cuts would lead them to invest in industry, failed in the 1960s. Corporate profits grew by 65 percent over the decade. Yet corporations and wealthy stockholders increasingly diverted resources overseas—industrial investment by US corporations abroad increased by 500 percent in the 1960s—and toward financial speculation, in what historian Alfred Chandler has called the mergers and acquisitions “binge” of 1965-1969. The tradition of long-term and stable ownership of stocks was steadily replaced by a purchase strategy that centered on short-term profits.

In his speech, Johnson promised to maintain “that margin of military safety and superiority obtained through three years” of increased military spending under Kennedy in order to “defend the cause of freedom, whether it is threatened by outright aggression or by the infiltration practiced by those in Hanoi and Havana.” Yet the enormous military outlays of the Kennedy-Johnson years contributed to the decline of the US economy by driving resources away from productive use and sending ever more dollars beyond US borders.

The Johnson administration manufactured the casus belli of the phony Gulf of Tonkin Incident in August 1964, and over the next decade the US spent nearly $700 billion on the war in Vietnam. Perhaps 3 million Southeast Asians, along with 58,000 American soldiers, were killed in the failed effort to defeat the anti-colonial National Liberation Front and North Vietnam. The connection between expenditures on the Vietnam War and the depletion of the War on Poverty was drawn out by Johnson’s critics, among them Martin Luther King, who noted that the US spent “$500,000 to kill each enemy soldier, while we spend only fifty-three dollars for each person classified as poor.” By the end of the 1960s, one in every ten jobs in the US was tied to the Defense Department budget.

While Johnson’s limited reform agenda was made possible by the immense wealth of the US, it came to be seen as politically necessary because of the combativeness of the working class. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, strikes had gripped key industries, including steel, auto, electrical, airlines, and shipping, while teachers and government workers had begun to demand rights as workers. Even more alarming to the leadership of the Democratic Party was the mass struggle of black workers and youth against Jim Crow segregation in the South and urban poverty in the North, conditions overseen by the Democratic Party’s southern wing and its big city political machines.

Yet working class militancy did not subside with the limited reforms of the Great Society. The pacifist character of the civil rights struggles gave way to the massive urban uprisings of the late 1960s; millions of Americans moved into opposition against the aims of American imperialism in Vietnam; and in the early 1970s the largest strike wave since that of 1945-1946 swept the country.

The failure of liberal reformism in the Great Society, the wage strikes of the 1970s, and the continuing decline of the global standing of US capitalism, set the stage for a sharp shift in class relations.

The diversion of resources toward financial speculation and the personal gratification of the rich became the core domestic policy of both major parties. Vast sections of industry were shuttered from the 1970s onward, devastating cities and entire regions. Successive administrations and Congresses gave tax cuts to the wealthy and advanced the deregulation of industry after industry. In the 1980s, this was joined with a relentless campaign against the organized sections of the working class.

The ruling layers that grew fat of off these processes began to view any government expenditure on social programs to be an intolerable subtraction from their personal enrichment.

By the late 1970s, both parties championed the rolling back of the reform policies of the 1930s and 1960s, but it has been the Democratic Party—precisely because of its association with past reforms—that has proved the most effective in waging these attacks. The federal program commonly known as “welfare,” formerly Aid to Families with Dependent Children, originated under Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the New Deal, was expanded vastly by Johnson in the Great Society, and was destroyed by the Democrat Bill Clinton in 1996. Barack Obama has now taken aim at the central reform of the Great Society, Medicare, through his falsely named health care “reform.”

Now, 50 years after Johnson vowed to put an end to poverty, both Democrats and Republicans are enacting policies that ensure its increase in a nation in which 50 million people, 1 in 6, live below the official poverty level. The abortive “war on poverty” has long since been replaced with a social and political war on the working class in which vast amounts of wealth have been transferred to the top of society, as chronic mass unemployment and social misery at the bottom are proclaimed the “new normal.”

The last half century has demonstrated irrefutably that it is impossible to eradicate poverty within the framework of the profit system. That urgent task can be achieved only through independent political mobilization of the working class in mass struggle to put an end to the rule of the financial and corporate oligarchy, and reorganize economic life on socialist foundations.

Racism, sexism and the 50-year campaign to undermine the War On Poverty: here.

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29 thoughts on “United States ‘War on Poverty’ during the Vietnam war

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  4. 50 years ago: First US demonstration against Vietnam War

    Handbill for Vietnam War protest

    On April 17, 1965, the first mass US demonstration against the war in Vietnam was held in Washington, DC, organized by the liberal Students for a Democratic Society. In line with their orientation to appealing to the Democratic Party and the Johnson administration, march organizers prohibited banners demanding the immediate withdrawal of US troops.

    Protesters carried signs calling for a negotiated settlement in the war of national liberation being waged by the Vietnamese workers and peasants against US imperialism. They picketed in front of the White House before marching to the Washington monument to listen to speakers, including Democratic Senator Ernest Gruening of Alaska and liberal journalist I.F. Stone.

    Gruening, one of the two US senators who voted against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, called for a cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam. The marchers later walked to the Capitol to deliver a petition to Congress.

    The protest march was far larger than organizers expected, reflecting the radicalization of layers of students as US imperialism escalated its intervention in Vietnam. SDS had supported the election of Lyndon Johnson in 1964 as the candidate of “peace” against Republican Barry Goldwater.

    In 1962 the organization, which evolved out of the League for Industrial Democracy, a right-wing social-democratic grouped backed by a section of the trade union bureaucracy, adopted a reformist platform authored by Tom Hayden calling for the formation of a “New Left.” It explicitly rejected the revolutionary role of the working class in favor of middle class radical protest.



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  7. Fellow progressive,

    Happy 80th birthday to the most successful safety net program in U.S. History: Social Security. On August 14, 1935, President Roosevelt put pen to paper and signed the Social Security Act into law. Social Security remains a critically important program, and we must fight any and all attempts to weaken it.


    Before Social Security, poverty was a fact of life for elderly Americans. Today, Social Security puts food on the table, buys essential medicines and keeps the lights on for millions, most of them retirees. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that without Social Security, more than 40 percent of Americans aged 65 and older would live in poverty. With Social Security, less than 10 percent do.

    But Social Security is not just for retired workers: It is our nation’s largest and most secure disability insurance policy and life insurance policy. One in four Social Security recipients are disabled or the surviving partner of a deceased worker. In California’s 13th district, Social Security helps nearly 51,000 retirees, as well as 13,000 people with disabilities and 6,000 children whose parents have died or are disabled.

    In this way Social Security keeps millions of Americans from falling into poverty and provides a much-needed boost to those who find themselves struggling. According to data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Social Security lifted 22 million people – including more than 1 million children – out of poverty in 2013. Without Social Security, the current poverty rate would be at almost 22 percent.

    The story of black America’s middle class is also inextricably linked to the establishment and continuation of Social Security. Because lifetime earnings for African Americans tend to be far lower than lifetime earnings for whites, Social Security provides the only income for 40 percent of African American retirees.

    It’s obvious that Social Security benefits touch the lives of every single American. So why is Social Security constantly under attack?

    Because there is a small-but-growing faction of hard-line Republicans who believe that Social Security is insolvent and contributes to our national debt. That’s flatly untrue: The Social Security Trust Fund is $2.8 trillion-strong. Without any adjustments, Social Security can continue to pay benefits for decades.

    And there is another reason. Many Republicans would simply prefer to prioritize millionaires and billionaires over our most vulnerable citizens.

    We must fight these attacks on Social Security. Our most vulnerable citizens are counting on us. Will you join the Progressive Fund and stand with me to protect Social Security?


    Barbara Lee
    Member of Congress


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  11. 50 years ago: Johnson cuts social spending to fund Vietnam War

    On December 10, 1965, US President Lyndon Johnson held talks at his Texas ranch with cabinet members and other government officials in which he approved, for the first time, major cuts to social spending, including in his own Great Society programs, in order to fund the war in Vietnam and other new military initiatives.

    Present at the day of talks, in addition to Johnson, were Defense Secretary of State Robert McNamara, Deputy Defense Secretary Cyrus Vance, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Commerce Secretary John T. Connor, Agriculture Secretary Orville Freeman, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration chief James Webb, among others.

    Connor announced after the meeting that Great Society programs, including a fund to help economically distressed areas, would fall victim to as much as $200 million in cuts. Freeman said cuts to agricultural programs in his $6.9 billion budget would be “substantial,” and confirmed that the rollbacks were necessary to fund the Vietnam War. Webb said his proposals for increased funding to NASA’s current $5.2 billion budget would also suffer. Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara announced he would request $1.75 billion in new funding to develop a nuclear-capable strategic bomber called the FB-111 to replace the Air Force’s B-52 and B-58 bombers.

    The Johnson administration’s combined military and domestic spending, its so-called “guns and butter” program, was beginning to fuel inflation and accelerate the outflow of dollars from the US economy. Johnson moved to counter this at the expense of the working class.

    A day before meeting his cabinet, on December 9, 1965, Johnson delivered an 11-minute telephone speech to the annual convention of the AFL-CIO, being held in San Francisco, in which he appealed to the assembled labor bureaucrats to tamp down against workers’ wage claims in order to fight inflation, which Johnson referred to as the “price-wage spiral.” A week earlier, the Federal Reserve Board had raised interest rates in order “to reinforce efforts to maintain price stability.”



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  13. On April 18, 1966, President Lyndon Johnson proposed a significant slowdown in the expansion of social programs as the cost of the war in Vietnam skyrocketed. The budget proposal came after two consecutive months of sharp increases in the Consumer Price Index, signaling the inflationary pressures arising from increased federal spending.

    Warning that the Congress was going “too far, too fast” in funding antipoverty programs, Johnson called for an outlay for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare that was $500 million less than proposed by Congress. The administration also called for cutbacks in the budget for the Department of Agriculture. Among the cuts proposed by Johnson were reductions in the school lunch and school milk programs.

    Liberals such as Senator Robert Kennedy called the proposed cutbacks “unfortunate” and insisted that the war in Vietnam could be sustained while maintaining domestic social spending. Defending a program of “guns and butter,” Kennedy declared, “We must do what needs to be done in Vietnam and what needs to be done at home. We shall fail as a society if we do not do both.”

    Meanwhile, the Republican leader of the House of Representatives, Gerald R. Ford, launched an attack against Johnson’s policies in the Vietnam War, declaring that the administration was guilty of “shocking mismanagement.” He called the recent actions by South Vietnamese workers, in refusing to unload US ships, a “national scandal” and deplored the reported shortages of bombs for US warplanes.

    In committee meetings held during the week, congressional Democrats voted to restore most of the cuts in social spending proposed by Johnson, amid growing opposition in the working class to the war and criticism of the “shift in emphasis” of the administration that threatened a retreat from his grandiose promise of “Great Society.”



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  15. In the face of growing domestic and international opposition to the bloody war in Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson used his State of the Union address, delivered on January 10, 1967, to promise that the US would “face more cost, more loss, and more agony” in a war that had already killed thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese.

    “For the end is not yet,” Johnson said. “I cannot promise you that it will come this year—or come next year. Our adversary still believes, I think, tonight, that he can go on fighting longer than we can, and longer than we and our allies will be prepared to stand up and resist.” Johnson noted that US troop levels in Vietnam were then nearing 500,000.

    To justify the bloodshed and treasure spent, Johnson trotted out the tired propaganda that in Vietnam the US was fighting the “communist aggression” of “an adversary who is committed to the use of force and terror to settle political questions.” However, as the list of US atrocities grew longer, it became increasingly apparent that it was in fact the US and its allies that waged aggressive war against the people of Vietnam, typified by the counterinsurgency methods of collective punishment—massacres of villages and mass aerial bombardment of civilian targets in the North—as the Johnson administration sought to prop up its corrupt stooge dictatorship in South Vietnam against a popular insurgency.

    In his speech, Johnson clung to his “guns and butter” politics—combining massive military spending abroad and, domestically, support for the spate of social reforms dubbed the Great Society. He pointed to reforms already achieved: the implementation of the Medicare health care system for the aged; a recent increase of the minimum wage; expanded funding for public and college education; the pre-school Head Start education program; new environmental safeguards; urban renewal and a jobs program called the Neighborhood Youth Corps; and, in a reference to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, that the US had “struck down legal barriers to equality.”

    To pay for the war in Vietnam, Johnson said he would request from Congress “a surcharge of 6 percent on both corporate and individual income taxes.”



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  25. On July 10, 1968, youth seeking jobs through President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” programs, in particular, the Neighborhood Youth Corps, began protests in New York City against cuts in the program ordered by Mayor John V. Lindsay. The mayor had announced that Youth Corps jobs that summer would be reduced from 43,000 to 26,900.

    The director of the Neighborhood Youth Corps, William J. Smith, organized NYC youth to protest the cuts. Organizers distributed leaflets throughout impoverished areas of the city urging youth to attend the rally. Black, white and Puerto Rican immigrant youth participated. Some carried signs with slogans such as “Earn or burn” and “No money, no peace.”

    The protests began July 10. After city officials refused to meet with Smith and his delegation the protests became more disorderly. Rocks and bottles were hurled at police surrounding city hall. The disturbance lasted for more than an hour. The police intervened and nine youth were arrested, two on charges of inciting to riot. About 100 protesters later gathered outside the police station where the arrested youth were taken to demand their release.

    After the protest dispersed an aide to Mayor Lindsay met with youth director Smith. Lindsay issued a statement denouncing the demonstration as disgraceful.

    The Neighborhood Youth Corps was designed to place young people in jobs, particularly during the summer when students are out of class. Its mission was supposedly to provide “underprivileged youths the opportunity to work, particularly over the summer months, in order to prevent delinquency, show the value of hard work, engender self-respect, provide hope for the future, and to instill a sense of confidence in the government.” But the experience of cuts to program funding would drastically reduce young people’s faith in the government.

    Later in the week Lindsay reported that the city would appropriate an additional $5 million for summer jobs to make up the shortfall produced by the federal cutbacks. At the same time, the city announced that it would remove Smith from his $18,000 a year job as head of the Youth Corps.



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