ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Swimming Pools, Storm-troopers and Black Power

SUMMER brings music festivals, and it brings violence in the backyards of American cities. The ghetto riots of last month in Chicago's infernal West Side slums may of course be described as 'one of those things, because their frequency has by now tarnished their novelty. And the death of as few as two Negroes plus several thousand dollars worth of wreckage — not to speak of some 500 wounded and jailed — may indeed look trivial compared to what the Americans are accomplishing every day in Viet Nam. Newspaperman said it all started with the police officers turning off a fire hydrant one sweltering afternoon, thereby causing annoyance to a bunch of teenage street-bathers. Indeed, they were faithful reporters, perhaps a bit too faithful, so they refused to see anything other than the 'incident' itself. The search for causes of ghetto riots must be relegated to the realm of other specialists, alias academic sociologists, whose ego is nowadays kept satisfied by the marvellous institution of paperbacks. 

But, to be sure, the Mayor of Chicago did go beyond the mere 'incident' and prescribed the granting of ten $ 1,000 swimming pools to the ghetto, so that the urchins won't have to open the hydrants to cool off their heat. One wonders if this honourable mayor also ever went to a sociology class at Chicago, or possibly Harvard! But on a somewhat less sophisticated plane, one's thinking would tend to be different. For unless the only alternative to rioting by these Negroes is infinite animal faith, then the choice is perhaps sufficiently predictable: at least some swimming pools are better than none or nothing. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate in West Side Chicago will keep shooting up above the present 15 per cent mark, and the number of storm-trooper cops per Negro will also move along in harmony. Already it took a 4,000- man army to 'cope with' some 5,000 slum-dwellers on the West Side. Yet the idea of adorning the city's summer landscape with a bigger police force would not perturb too many smug, first-class citizens had it not implied additional government spending at a time when waste has been officially dubbed as a dirty word. After all, isn't the economy the foremost national objective which is being exemplified by Johnson's welfare operations in Viet Nam?

King's Dilemma

Of course, this is a stale story. What, however, appears to be new is some tactical rethinking about the future of the civil rights movement. On the one hand, terrorism is capable of achieving more than the swim pools. It seems to consolidate the entire black community — so much so that even some discarded 'black bourgeoisie* are reported to have delighted in part-time 'bricking' in these riots every day before driving back to their 'integrated' suburban homes for evening cocktails with white neighbours. On the other hand, it is often held that substantial political reform is attainable through action which threatens white supremacy without terrorizing it. Such action, a la Martin Lather King, would generally mean avoidance of race riots, evidently at the expense of the much needed communal solidarity and hence an organizational base in the ghetto. This has always been Martin King's dilemma, but the dilemma was probably never as acute as it is now. He must contain the ghetto-dwellers by letting them vent their steam. He must also keep the 'liberal whites' (on whom he banks a lot for funds and goodwill) from being terrorized, especially at a juncture when the Democrats in the White House have already watered down the spirit of the late President and brushed aside his 'nigger-loving' brother. Will Martin Luther King, faced with such an aggravating dilemma, decide to reach the heart of the ghetto more directly than anything else? Langston Hughes, the Negro poet-writer, once said: The black underdogs have always called Martin a son-of-a-..., but nonetheless, he is our s.o.b. It has been quite some time since Hughes uttered those endearing words; King must now run faster to remain where he was.

US 'Welfare Imperialism'

In our civilized world, one nation must have another for mere survival. Now that the bitterness between Quebec and English Canada is growing thinner, the whole country has to look across its southern border to pick up a new adversary. It has suddenly dawned upon the whole nation, as it were, that another chapter of American 'welfare imperialism' is being presently written on Canadian soil. This act remained 'invisible' so far because no bombs needed to be dropped in order to facilitate it — although, of course, a reluctant Prime Minister had to be hurriedly kicked out to make room for the installation of US warheads in Canada. At the moment, however, protests against American penetration are coming mainly from the economic nationalists. Eric Kierans, an ex-professor of economics, is one of them. Some time ago he expressed his concern over the 'basic laws of economics' which are grounded on the maximum profits hypothesis. When management decisions are taken by "hundreds of businessmen, acting independently and in their own interests" are replaced by a foreign government's directives, said the ex-professor, "foreign investment becomes synonymous with political interference and economic imperialism. Many of us, who believed, firmly in the basic laws of economics, have the uncomfortable feeling that they are becoming more irrelevant with each passing day."

The author of a recent best-seller and an ex-Minister of Finance, Gordon, is another economic nationalist whose book is causing some stir here. Gordon's economic nationalism is different from that of many others in that he would like to reject the pet idea that "foreign ownership and control of Canadian resource per se create no special problems." His nationalism is also more aggressive in that he wants that US subsidiaries in Canada to be subject to the same kind of audit as the regular Canadian companies are. Despite, however, such awareness of foreign domination, the communique issued after the conference between the US State Department and the Canadian Department of External Affairs stipulates that US subsidiaries "should behave in their normal manner." The American guidelines are therefore a further push in the direction in which the American capitalist empire has already been moving.  

Little Capital Export

The 'normal' functioning of US subsidiaries in Canada may be briefly illustrated by a special report published in the well known American magazine, Business Week (April 20, 1963):

"The goal in the multinational corporation is the greatest good for the whole unit, even if the interests of a single part of the unit must suffer. One large manufacturer, for example, penalizes some of its overseas subsidiaries for the good of the total corporation by forcing them to pay more than necessary for parts they import from the parent and from other subsidiaries."

The consequences of this clearly stated goal, which requires the numerous branch plants not to seek maximum profits for themselves but to maximize their contribution to the parent companies' profits, are pretty obvious for the Canadian economy: It is destined to serve as "an automatic export market for American equipment and materials at prices favourable to the US parent companies." The whole mechanism almost invariably raises the unit cost of Canadian manufacturing and is subsequently passed on to the Canadian consumer who would much rather buy Canadian and buy more cheaply at that. The point is glaringly evident in the case of automobiles. But what is no less significant is that direct capital export by the parent companies has been relatively quiet small: the subsidiaries reinvest mostly out of profits and borrowings from local financial institutions. The repercussions on the balance of payments may also be imagined. Despite substantial gains in her trade with other countries, these mounting imports from the US compel Canada to import additional American capital in order to bridge her current-account imbalance.

Every now and then we hear of counter-guidelines exhorting US subsidiaries to explore ways of expanding their export sales and curtailing imports. But they seem to be more of a face-saving gesture at home which the Americans appreciate and agree not to take seriously.

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