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Arne Swabeck

The Second Roosevelt Election

(December 1934)


From New International, Vol.1 No.5, December 1934, pp.134-135.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


VIEWED superficially the November 6 election returns would indicate a glorious victory for bourgeois democracy. Apparently President Roosevelt sits on the top of the world. Certainly his administration is strengthened by the verdict of this national plebiscite on his popularity. His party has had its face lifted and many of its representatives who held firm to the President’s coat-tails were carried along by the side.

With sixty-nine seats in the Senate, a gain of nine, and a representation in the House of 322, an increase of thirteen, with several new governorships, numerous conquests of minor offices and extended means of patronage, it is confirmed in power. But this does not at all reveal the real significance of the elections. The trends that are still hidden below these surface indications are of far greater importance.

These elections were proclaimed far and wide as a test of the “New Deal”. It was taken to the country, so it was said, and it found an overwhelming approval. Is that really the case ? Can the outcome of a parliamentary election be considered a sufficient verdict of a set of policies affecting in a fundamental sense the future course of American capitalism? Hardly. For a real test of the “New Deal” policies it is necessary to view the whole of the economic and political relationships existing since these policies were inaugurated. In the first instance must be noted the disputes over code regulations and collective bargaining agreements, the conflicts of company unions versus trade unions and the widely extended strike movements – in a word, the issues of the class struggle. And there need be little doubt that when taken as a whole, the test does not at all signify the overwhelming approval indicated on the surface of the election returns. It is this apparent contradiction that needs be explained.

The fact that these were the first national elections held since the recent changes in the national economic structure and its new relationship to the political state began, invests them with unusual importance. At the economic base these changes took shape in rapid form. The sweeping reorganization climaxed by the N.R.A., the strengthening of the main pillars of the structure to prepare American capitalism for new world conquests stimulated the process of transition. But the ideological regroupments that were bound to follow came at a much slower tempo. On the working class side they are manifested so far chiefly in the growing consciousness of union organization and the great, militantly fought strikes; but this has not yet crystallized into political consciousness or form. Due to this situation a political equilibrium was still possible in which, motivated by different and in some respects opposite reasons, the decisive sections of the big bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie and the working class found themselves united in the elections behind the Roosevelt administration. In this is summed up the enormous contradictions of the highly advanced technology and political backwardness of the masses still existing within this mighty empire.

However, within its framework the process of class differentiation is already expressed in the trends hidden below the surface of this unanimous election verdict. It is possible to demonstrate ton the basis of the returns: firstly, that, monopoly capitalism is entrenching itself and strengthening its fences of reaction; secondly, that the middle class, the largest single voting bloc, is moving Leftward and only partly adhering to the political leadership of the big bourgeoisie; thirdly that the working class has entered a process of radicalization leading it toward a separate identity as a class. In other words, behind this apparent election unanimity the real process of ideological regroupments and class differentiation is beginning to take form.

We do not propose to dismiss the Republican party from consideration. But for the purpose of this analysis it is of less consequence inasmuch as from a fundamental class point of view it offers no distinction from the Democratic party. Its defeat undoubtedly became so much more smashing due to its present position of negative criticism when action is expected. The proposed overhauling or liberalization of the GOP is not due to give any further stability to the traditional two-party system. It is much more likely that this tradition will be broken up into new third party formations, or labor party formations, or both, not to speak of a coming Fascist crystallization. However, it is not the purpose of this article to make an attempt to delve into the future prospects of political constellations nor to probe into the possibilities of social reformism as such.

Owing to the past uninterrupted advance of the forces of production and the widening sphere of capitalist exploitation, capitalism, and together with it the parliamentary state, acquired a lasting stability. In the United States the institutions of parliament enjoyed an unusual prestige due to the widely extended right of franchise and the generally accepted idea that the son of the humblest citizen can become president and that this sovereign citizen can change conditions to suit himself by his power to cast a ballot on election day. Parliamentarism as a state system became the “democratic” form of the rule of the bourgeoisie which needed the fiction of a national representation to represent outwardly an organization of a “national will” standing outside of classes, but in reality functioning as an instrument of oppression and suppression in the hands of the ruling capitalists. It performed a certain progressive function as the weapon of developing capitalism. The American workers would fight their exploiters militantly on the industrial field but politically they would support, except for certain temporary interruptions, the perpetuation of the capitalist two-party system and remain under the sway of bourgeois ideology. The bourgeois politician set himself the task of balancing the various forces against one another. It may be said about President Roosevelt that he has raised the bourgeois parliamentary system to its highest point of perfection and accomplished this under new and more difficult conditions than heretofore. Today it appears as if the political state stands out more distinctly as the arbiter between the classes. In reality, it is, if anything, more completely an instrument in the hands of capitalist economy, which has assumed new functions in support of monopoly capital, and supervision of industry and class relations. In other words it is more distinctly an instrument of oppression and suppression in the hands of the ruling class. But American capitalism does not exist separately and independently. It is inextricably bound up with world capitalism as a system and the decay of this world system shows its disintegrating tendencies also in the American structure. American capitalism faces today the problem of emerging from its crisis at the expense of the other competitors in the world market and at the expense of its own working class. It does not yet need to resort to Fascism as a form of state, but it needs a government that can resort to strong measures to overcome the dislocations in its economy and resort to certain reform measures to appease the brewing mass discontent. It needs a strong government in the sense of one able by demagogic means at its disposal to rally the necessary popular mass support.

Roosevelt, or the Roosevelt system, has been characterized openly as the savior of American capitalism, as the lone barrier against radicalism. Before the November 6 elections many of his liberal friends and advisers put the question in voices of anxiety: Will he go to the Right, or will he go to the Left? It is now reported that he himself thinks he is still a little Left or Center – that is, the bourgeois Center. Where he actually stands, in the opinion of the bankers and the industrialists, they have demonstrated by the confidence bestowed on his regime by the election of his supporters.

The Roosevelt program resorted at first to measures of the contemplated economic recovery and secondly to measures of social reform legislation. In governmental circles the terminology of the past of inspired lofty principles of abstract bourgeois democracy has become replaced by a terminology of economics. The “New Deal” is called planned economy. But it is an attempt at planned economy under capitalism, not based upon the supplying of the needs of the masses of the people in particular, but based upon capital investments in the branches of industry where the rate of profit is the highest. The enormous government expenditures, while aiming at the desired stability of purchasing power of the masses, had for its primary purpose the objective of lifting the loads of the crisis sufficiently to forestall a collapse of capitalist economy and set the wheels of industry into motion so that the flow of capital and the increase in the total aggregate capital, under new forms of intensified exploitation and an already vastly reduced standard of living of the masses might serve to check the tendency of the falling rate of profit. The increase of commodity prices was designed to help restore the profit inducement and together with the code regulations to safeguard “fair competition” and strengthen monopoly capital. Thus the program as a whole had for its primary purpose the restoration of the confidence of capitalism in the process of capitalist reproduction. The collective bargaining clause, which was made a part of the NRA, was thrown in for good measure to create a complete equilibrium, or to create the conditions for an “All American Team”, as President Roosevelt expressed himself before the American bankers’ convention.

Second in order followed the Roosevelt program of social reform legislation. For the present, however, this is to be limited, in addition to the already accomplished relief expenditures, to a state-controlled system of unemployment insurance to be financed by local contributions and not out of taxes. It is a social reform program inaugurated by capitalism without the assistance of a social reformist party. It cannot be denied that this is one of the unique American ways made possible by the strength still possessed by American capitalism and expressing as well the political backwardness of its working class.

In his recent interview with Stalin, H.G. Wells, called the Roosevelt program socialism in the Anglo-Saxon sense. He said: “The effect of the ideas of Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ is most powerful and in my opinion they are socialist ideas.” Sure it is that this program has served to put the socialist party in a pathetic position and.condemned it to a pitiful showing in these elections. Lacking any real semblance of a revolutionary program, the reform platform it advanced for the elections could be very easily and effectively outdistanced by the Rooseveltian politicians. Any further development of the latter’s social reform legislation, taken together with the growing working class radicalization, will play its part in intensifying the internal contradictions of the socialist party. No less pitiful was the position of the Stalinist party in the election returns. In the general process of radicalization of the masses is discernible a trend towards communism. But this trend is not assimilated by the Stalinist party, neither in the sense of the new members who join its ranks and leave as rapidly as they enter, nor in the sense of furnishing a crystallizing pole of attraction in political events and least of all in influencing the trade union or strike movements. The Stalinist party lacks a realistic revolutionary policy. It repels the trend toward communism and heap discredit upon the name communism. The “self-criticism” applied to elections by the party’s Political Committee, published in the December Communist, will in no way serve to cover its disgraceful debacle. In sum and substance this “self-criticism” once more asserts the infallibility of the line, but the unit organizers, the section organizers and the district organizers failed to do this or that sufficiently. As far as the official AF of L leadership is concerned, it accepted its place on the “All-American Team” and pinned its hopes on the present capitalist controlled equilibrium. It supported, of course, the Rooseveltians in the elections and it is now attempting to make this support more real by carrying out its secret pledges to the no-strike-truce.

The banking fraternity, the directors of the Chambers of Commerce and the manufacturers’ associations accepted their place on the “All-American Team” and went to bat in the elections in a big-way. President Roosevelt started his regime by chastizing the bankers, digging up the old epithet of “money-changers” who knew only the “rules of a generation of self-seekers”. He proceeded to pillorying them by the investigations of Wall Street and sponsored restrictive banking legislation. This became popular with the mass of the voters. And, as is now clear since President Roosevelt appeared before the bankers’ convention shortly before the elections, it helped to execute the grand manoeuvre of whipping the numerous clans of small town bankers (those left over from the terrific slaughter of the crisis) into line behind the directors of the great metropolitan financial institutions. The whole fraternity is now more firmly committed to the “New Deal” policies and the Roosevelt regime sits more firmly in the saddle. But it sits there on the definite promise of recasting the NRA along lines favored by the owners of industry with less restrictions, less price-fixing and more emphasis on codes to strangle the small competitor; a treasury refinancing plan along conservative lines; a balanced budget, less government spending, lifting of bars against export of currencies and prospects of a return to the gold standard, together with just enough social reform legislation to preserve the capitalist class rule. In so far as the attitude to the working class is concerned, the directors of monopoly capital have already received their assurances in the various labor settlements, notably the automobile settlement, and the government’s appearance in its real and authoritative expression in strikes, in the form of policemen’s clubs, gas and guns and steel-helmeted soldiers. There need be no doubt that monopoly capital has become further entrenched.

The popular mass of the citizenry declared in these elections in unmistakable terms for the system of government spending. The large middle class bloc of voters showed its Leftward trend not only by this token but much more so by the examples of California, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Upton Sinclair rolled up over 800,000 votes for his diluted EPIC program. The La Follette new “Progressive” party swept the state of Wisconsin. Governor Olson, despite his abominable record in the Minneapolis strike, overwhelmingly defeated both Republican and Democratic opponents.

What of the working class radicalization ? It is not yet crystallized into political consciousness. Certainly the workers did not vote for all of the implications of the “New Deal” policies. That is too clearly shown in the militant clashes with the armed forces of the state during the recent second strike wave. But the working class still follows in the main the capitalist political demagogue. It has not yet been offered the attraction of a decisive revolutionary force. It has not yet really tested its power. What will happen when the “New Deal” begins to show its teeth more sharply and the contradictions growing out of the present efforts to save capitalism come much more to the fore to upset the present equilibrium, as they inevitably will in the very near future? New big struggles are now looming on the horizon and the American working class can be expected to begin the writing of a new page in its history.

Arne SWABECK


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