From International Socialist Review, Vol.19 No.2, Spring 1958, pp.35-37.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
A NEW and heartening sign of the fraternal mood that has been growing in the radical movement in America the past two years is the effort recently launched among various socialist forces to put up a united slate wherever possible in the 1958 elections, as part of the essential preparation for the 1960 Presidential campaign.
In New York the initiators of this latest effort at joint action include the National Committee of the Socialist Workers party, some prominent former leaders of the American Labor party, the editors of the National Guardian, and the sponsors of the Socialist Unity Forum. A.J. Muste, of the American Forum for Socialist Education, wished the project well, although, as he indicated, electoral activity is out of his field. The Communist party, at this writing, has not said whether it will participate, but such prominent leaders as Albert Blumberg and Simon Gerson have shown interest.
In Chicago similar forces have made even greater progress, uniting behind the candidacy of the Rev. Joseph P. King, president of the Washington Park Forum and pastor of the International Church. The Rev. King is running on a socialist platform in the important Second Congressional District.
In Seattle, Jack Wright, a well-known figure in local radical labor circles, recently finished a vigorous campaign on the Socialist Workers platform. His supporters included Vincent Hallinan, Terry Pettus and Local 158 of the International Molders and Foundry Workers. The People’s World, which ordinarily reflects the views of the Communist party, broke a thirty-year tradition of that party by joining in the campaign and offering editorial support to a “Trotskyist” candidate.
A still more ambitious project is now under way in California – to unite in the June primaries behind Dr. Holland Roberts. Dr. Roberts, head of the California Labor School that was padlocked by government witch-hunters, is seeking office as Superintendent of Public Instruction, a state-wide office. It is hoped that agreement can be reached on a socialist platform that will unite all California forces who want to break from the
Democratic and Republican parties. Such a campaign should offer California socialists an excellent opportunity to demonstrate what the McCarthyite atmosphere and the indifference and neglect of capitalist politicians have done to the American educational system and why it’s high time to elect socialists to office in the United States.
These actions follow the preliminary demonstrations of the capacity to get together, despite differences, in the 1957 elections in New York, Detroit and San Francisco.
Three highly encouraging things are to be noted about the new look in the American socialist movement:
- It has already been demonstrated that an important sector of American socialists are able to get together to defend and advance their common political interests against the two parties of Big Business.
- This has not occurred at the cost of anyone feeling forced to hide or give up particular views on problems of special interest within the socialist movement.
- The discussion of important differences has proceeded in a friendly fashion reminiscent of the atmosphere that American radicalism knew in the days of Debs.
One of the clearest manifestations of this occurred March 1 in Los Angeles when Vincent Hallinan, 1952 Presidential candidate of the Progressive party, and James P. Cannon, founder of the Socialist Workers party, shared the platform at a banquet and meeting aimed at boosting efforts for a United Socialist Ticket in 1958. The speakers indicated their reservations about each other’s particular views but welcomed the new atmosphere of friendliness and stressed the need for solidarity in furthering points of agreement. The audience, representing a cross-section of all socialist tendencies in the area, responded with extraordinary enthusiasm.
The tendency of American socialists to seek ways and means of getting together in joint activities and friendly discussion has not gone unnoticed in the capitalist camp.
The latest evidence of this is an editorial in the March 8 Saturday Evening Post.
The Madison Avenue propagandists singled out for attack the American Forum for Socialist Education, which has performed an important service in helping to thaw out the long-frozen relations among socialists in this country. The main criminals in this nefarious enterprise, it would seem, are the “top pacifist chieftains,” A.J. Muste, of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and Russell Johnson, of the American Friends Service Committee. The Saturday Evening Post considers it a plot, hatched by Communist conspirators, through which the Rev. Muste hopes to snare gullible socialists into participating in public discussions.
The Madison Avenue advertising experts evidently wanted to do a good deed by alerting prospective socialist victims to the Rev. Muste’s plot. However, they could not forego attacking socialism. They claim that Hitler’s Nazis were “socialist-minded” and that Hitler’s program was “as socialistic as that of many leading socialists today.” So, they ask, “why shouldn’t some Nazis or their successors be admitted” to the American Forum? Why has Muste barred fascists? Isn’t this “discrimination” ?
No doubt such million-dollar huckster publications as the Saturday Evening Post have their reasons for frothing somewhat like Hitler at the thought of American socialists uniting in anything, even a public forum where they can discuss their differences. However, on the opposite side of the class line, the reaction has been different to the attempts of radicals to break down factional barriers, at least insofar as this has become apparent to the militant workers in the form of greater socialist electoral activity.
This seemed to us the main significance of the New York and San Francisco vote given the Socialist Workers candidates, in response to the appeals of the National Guardian and such figures as Vincent Hallinan and Muriel McAvoy.
It now appears that socialists can expect an increasingly favorable response to independent electoral activity. The latest evidence of this comes from Michigan. There socialist campaigners, who have been circulating petitions to put the Socialist Workers party on the ballot, report the best response in many years.
Despite the stiff electoral requirements imposed on minority parties, despite unusually bitter weather, the 15,000 needed signatures were obtained in record time; some 22,000 had been filed as we went to press, and the goal of 30,000 was within sight.
It has long been our opinion that a good section of the American working class has been ready to support independent political action. The main obstacles have not been among the workers but among leaders of limited vision. The deepening “recession” is bound to start new layers of workers thinking about the big questions and issues of our time. This sentiment can snowball so that even the blindest will be unable to avoid the conclusion that the American people are tired of the two parties of Big Business. The beginnings of this new factor in American politics, we think, showed up in the Michigan campaign.
A response, such as this one reported by The Militant, indicates the thinking:
“I’m over 70 years old and I’ve seen too many depressions and wars. I’m all for you. Seems to me we’ve been needing socialism for a long time.”
The red-baiting often encountered in such campaigns was largely absent. A socialist circulating a petition board reported that an unemployed worker asked: “Are you a communist?” Before she could reply, he said, “I’m a communist, too. Gimme that pencil.” And the entire group who were listening followed his example,
A young veteran declared,
“I’ve been out of the army for over a year now, and I’ve been out of work for most that time. I’d sure hate to go back into the army, but a man’s got to eat. I hope you people can do something.”
This reaction displays the political instinct of a militant worker. Surely no more effective way is available to put pressure on the government for adequate relief and speedy anti-depression measures than building the socialist movement into the powerful force it should be in American politics.
The downturn in the economic situation thus makes 1958 an auspicious year for a United Socialist Ticket. Curtailment of production, mounting unemployment, short pay checks and the threatened loss of partially-paid-for homes and household necessities are powerful incentives to take a hard look at the capitalist system. Add to this the continued insistence of the Republicans and Democrats on preparing for atomic war and you get the ingredients for a most dynamic wave of radicalism.
A United Socialist Ticket can have another beneficent effect besides directly fostering the growth of socialism. The attraction of such a ticket for unionists and union locals with a militant tradition can spur some of the top union bureaucrats to make the break from their suicidal coalition with the Democratic machine. It may inspire some of the shrewder union leaders to at least follow the example of their British cousins and organize an independent labor party. Such a result, of course, can hardly be expected immediately, for it would require major events, such as those that laid the basis for the CIO, to induce the American trade-union brass to follow the trails blazed by the pioneers. But the pressure and the example would be there just the same. To start this process working would constitute a great success for the American socialist movement.
The National Committee of the Socialist Workers party took the initiative in trying to work out a platform on which all socialist tendencies might agree for the purpose of putting up joint candidates in 1958 against the capitalist machines. The Committee proposed five planks which were published as an advertisement in the February 3 National Guardian. These included:
- Offering the socialist alternative of enduring peace to the imperialist war policy of the two parties of Big Business.
- Presenting socialism as the only permanent solution to capitalist depressions.
- Advancing the socialist goal of full equality and brotherhood for all races and nationalities.
- Counteracting the capitalist lies about the socialist attitude toward democracy by demanding the deepening and extension of democratic rights.
- Standing for independent political action, urging the unions to break from the parties of Big Business and build a labor party to represent the political interests of the working people.
These general planks were broken down tentatively into more specific points to put the program in gear with current political realities.
The first response to the proposal, to judge from letters published in the National Guardian and The Militant, were quite favorable, disagreement being expressed only on a couple of the proposed specific points. Other sources likewise indicate that considerable interest has been aroused in the radical movement over the proposed platform. There is every reason to believe that agreement is fairly general on the main points. This should make it possible to deal with the secondary points without too great difficulty.
However, two exceptions to the general approval have to be noted. The Social Democrats and their peripheral groups have displayed no interest. This is somewhat strange, for the proposed platform includes what has been a main issue for these organizations; that is, the need for political freedom throughout the Soviet bloc.
Two possible explanations can be offered for this aloof attitude:
- The Social Democrats are content with their sectarian isolation.
- The extreme right-wing Social Democrats, who determine policy, are not interested in supporting workers in the Soviet bloc who want political freedom while retaining their socialist gains.
The other exception is the Fosterite leadership of the Communist party. The platform proposed by the Socialist Workers party included the demand that the bipartisan, cold-war, imperialist foreign policy of the Democrats and Republicans be replaced “with a socialist policy of friendship and aid to the countries of the Soviet orbit” as well as the colonial peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America, who are fighting for their freedom. It also included a demand to end the atom-bomb tests and to dismantle the stockpiles of atomic weapons.
It would therefore seem odd that the Fosterite leadership, which claims to put the struggle for peace first on the agenda, should find the proposed platform unacceptable. The explanation for this, very likely, is that they still wish to continue the policy followed by the Communist party for almost a quarter of a century of supporting Democratic candidates.
If the opportunities for united socialist electoral activity are seized now, this year can mark a major turning point in the process of converting American socialism into a mass movement. What is done in 1958 can pave the way for an effective Presidential campaign in 1960, with candidates of all socialist tendencies supporting one another in a nation-wide effort.
This way the socialist alternative will begin to appear realistic, not simply to the present pioneer radicals, but to millions of American working people. Such a perspective ought to appeal to the imagination of every genuine socialist in this country.
Last updated on: 29 April 2009