From International Socialist Review, Vol.21 No.3, Summer 1960, pp.67-69, 85.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
NEVER has the need been greater than now, in the 1960 elections, for socialists to conduct a campaign for their own program and in their own name against the bipartisan program and machines of US capitalism, the Democrats and Republicans. Yet, of the three main socialist organizations in the country – the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation, the Communist Party, and the Socialist Workers Party – only the SWP is vigorously fighting in the electoral field.
The last few months have been rough on the illusion that the Democratic and Republican parties can somehow be used as instruments of struggle for civil rights, for civil liberties and against nuclear war.
The SP-SDF and the CP have been, each in its own special way, both the victims and the perpetrators of policies based on this illusion among radical workers and youth.
But how does the policy of supporting “good” capitalist politicians stand up when we examine the conduct of the Democratic and Republican parties and all their major spokesmen during the events of the last few months?
In April and May we witnessed a worldwide wave of mass demonstrations, strikes and revolutionary uprisings aimed at a whole string of despotic regimes, firmly linked to US imperialism as “free world” allies. The movement swept through South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and Japan. The Cuban revolution in the same period deepened and reverberated throughout Latin America, despite the all-out campaign of slander, economic pressure and military threats from Washington. And in the North and South of the United States a new generation of youth, with the Negro students of the South leading the way, made its dramatic entrance onto the stage of social and political struggle against racism, witch hunting and preparations for war.
In these events the bipartisan cold-war bloc in the US Congress acted as one with the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department in lining up solidly with reaction and counter-revolution against the revolutionary masses. Not a single leader of the Democratic or Republican parties favored an economic boycott against South Africa to compel the white-supremacist regime to stop the massacre of workers and youth fighting for their elementary human rights.
Not a single one of them favored the just cause of the South Korean students against the US-backed dictatorship of Syngman Rhee; instead they joined in making pious statements “deploring,” in effect, the fact that our gallant “free world” ally had been caught red-handed stuffing ballot boxes, murdering political opponents, strangling all freedom of speech and press and filling the jails with trade unionists and students.
The bipartisan cold-war bloc joined to a man in the chorus of lies against the Cuban revolution. On this question, which directly touches the vital interests of Wall Street’s colonial empire in Latin America, the capitalist politicians do not permit themselves even the slightest leeway of “criticism”: they are all as one in trying to whip up a frenzy of hatred against a valiant people who have dared to take their fate into their own hands.
And where is the Democratic or Republican contender for the presidency who has walked a picket line with the Negro students fighting for equal rights? Nor did one of them at least have the guts to differ publicly with the foul racist attack of Harry Truman against the Negro student lunch counter sit-ins.
Look at the way the two capitalist parties acted in the cold-war crisis brought about by the collapse of the Summit Conference in Paris. The Paris blowup put a spotlight on the aggressive military and espionage policies of US imperialism. The cynical mendacity of Washington in demanding nothing less than the “right” to invade Soviet territory with impunity shocked the entire world.
Facts emerged in clear view: It isn’t the Soviet Union that has built a ring of military, naval and aircraft bases for launching a nuclear bomb attack around the borders of the United States. It happens to be exactly the other way around. The Soviet Union doesn’t have troops stationed at the US borders in Mexico and Canada. The troops and the nuclear-armed aircraft of the US are instead poised at the borders of the Soviet Union. These facts have begun to dawn on millions of people in the US.
But when the provocations of Eisenhower and the State Department around the U-2 incident led to the collapse of the Summit Conference, was there a single voice in the Democratic “opposition” party that dared to utter the truth and call for a basic change in US foreign policy? Not one. The Democratic contenders for the presidential nomination lined up with their Republican colleagues in a common oath never to be divided by the “aggressive” Russians.
Then came the most despicable fraud of all: the Republicans and the Democrats agreed to “debate” the U-2 incident during the presidential election. What is to be debated, however, is not basic foreign policy. That would be giving aid and comfort to the Enemy. Such debates are conducted in secret, in the Pentagon, the White House and the State Department. What the American people will be allowed to hear is a censored squabble over whether “bungling,” “mis-timing” and inter-departmental slip-ups didn’t hurt the effectiveness of the cold-war, bipartisan foreign policy.
For all the adjectives he uses, Stevenson, the foremost “critic” of Eisenhower’s handling of the Summit Conference, isn’t saying a thing more than: I can run this cold war better than Ike; I can lie quicker and more skillfully than he can – so I ought to be the Democratic candidate for President.
This is all that the “peace forces” in the Democratic party have done. Yet the Communist party is enthralled once more with Stevenson. A headline in the May 29 Worker reads: “Stevenson’s Blast on Ike Gains Wide Support.” And on page four of the Midwest Edition: “Stevenson Urges Change in US Foreign Policy.” Read Stevenson’s speech, however, and you discover that he proposes nothing of the sort. He proposes only to carry out US foreign policy more effectively than Eisenhower. Is this something to cheer about? Or should we not understand and explain that if their common foreign policy were to be carried out more effectively it would bring the human race that much closer to destruction?
It is, of course, completely possible for two wings of American imperialism to differ on what is the best foreign policy for capitalism. Under such conditions socialists, in our opinion, never become partisans of one capitalist policy versus another. They advance their own foreign policy for the country, utilizing the debate for that purpose. But in this instance there hasn’t even been a real breach in the bipartisan line-up behind Wall Street’s cold-war foreign policy. Nor has the Democratic party dared as yet to seize the issue of peace for an all-out demagogic campaign – as it has done so often in the past. The CP nevertheless is sinking its forces deeper into the Democratic party mire – today in the “Boost Stevenson” committees. And tomorrow? Will Kennedy or Symington be too much for them to swallow? Past experience with the CP in relations to cold-war politicians like Harriman and Wagner has shown that once embarked on the opportunist path in the Democratic party, nothing is too much for them.
The Communist party leaders justify their policy with the argument that it helps promote the cause of “peaceful coexistence.” According to this conception of peaceful coexistence, first introduced by Stalin and “perfected” by Khrushchev, the class struggle and the socialist revolution have become antiquated as means for fighting imperialist war and bringing about a lasting peace. Lenin’s analysis of imperialism, which proved that the imperialist drive towards war was not a matter of evil choice but stemmed from the inexorable laws of capitalism to expand, subjugate the colonial people, and crush all attempts of the working class to free itself from exploitation, was also declared “outmoded” by Stalin and Khrushchev.
Instead of the Leninist concept of struggle for peace the Stalinists introduced the theory and practice of seeking salvation from war by appealing to the “peace-loving” elements in the warmaking capitalist class. Thus the Communist parties are transformed from revolutionary workers organizations fighting for socialism into agencies for finding “peace-loving” capitalist politicians and then helping them to ascend to supremacy within the capitalist parties.
This very policy has led to such devastating defeats and demoralization in the past few decades that It may appear to some that there is no point in debating it again. But it is far from pointless. The stakes are nothing less than the survival of the human race. A revolutionary class struggle policy is the only way to link the advanced sections of the working class to the great social revolutionary movements in the world today. And only these movements have prevented capitalism from pushing the world into the abyss of war. The militant students of Japan are striking more powerful blows for peace than a hundred Paris conferences – even if they were held – could dream of accomplishing.
There are many independent radicals who agree with Khrushchev’s “peaceful coexistence” policy. Yet it is instructive that among these there is a growing number who refuse to go with the CP in its policy of supporting capitalist politicians. We differ with these socialists about many questions but we believe that their position is of vital importance to the future of the socialist movement. We think that their support of independent socialist electoral action, including support of the SWP candidates, despite differences they have with some of the points in the party’s program, will lead to a re-examination by them of the source of the CP’s ruinous policy.
Such a re-examination would disclose, we believe, that there is a profound difference between peaceful coexistence as the policy of the Soviet Union under Lenin and Trotsky’s leadership, and the Stalinist concept of peaceful coexistence. In the first case, the Bolsheviks simply recognized that negotiations, trade agreements, concrete diplomatic and military arrangements, etc., between a workers state and capitalist countries was not only permissible but necessary. Trotsky was one of the main teachers of the socialist movement on this question, conducting many a battle against infantile “leftist” misconceptions on this score.
But negotiations and concrete pacts are one thing and the political subordination of the working class parties to the political parties of their class enemies – for the sake of diplomatic deals – is something quite different. That is not peaceful coexistence – it is peaceful suicide.
The special illusion dispensed by the SP-SDF has fared no better than those of the CP. The Social Democrats accept the premise of the whole cold-war lie: that the US is crusading for freedom against totalitarian tyranny. The function of socialists, according to the SP-SDF, is to be critical (constructively, of course) of how Washington conducts this “crusade for freedom” and to work in the two capitalist parties for more “progressive” and “liberal” methods in fighting the Soviet Union.
It is, however, this very premise of the cold war that is now beginning to be questioned by the American people and particularly by the new generation of youth. The stream of lies and brazen provocations emanating from Washington during the recent crisis has shaken large sections of the population from complacent acceptance of the cold-war mythology. Doubt and distrust is heard in many quarters. Young people are asking: If they lie so automatically about spy planes, and then justify lying as the highest form of patriotism, maybe they are also lying when they claim that the US is fighting for freedom, truth and justice among men? Maybe there is something to the charge that they are really fighting to police the world for the almighty American dollar.
Isn’t it monstrous, then, for people who claim to be socialists, to continue to subscribe to the Big Lie and cover it with the good name of socialism at this time?
That is just what the recent convention of the SP-SDF has done. It refused even to demand that the US government disarm. Instead it adopted what the New York Times described as a “liberal platform” on this issue. It decided furthermore not to put up candidates in the 1960 Presidential elections. The reasons for this were given by Norman Thomas in the spring issue of the Socialist Call:
The first two reasons are certainly weighty considerations – as the SWP can testify. But the difficulties are not insurmountable in all the states – not if socialists believe what they say and take seriously the task of saying it not merely to themselves but to the working people and youth of the United States.
The third reason is of a completely different order. The opposition of the labor bureaucrats to independent socialist campaigns is not a valid reason for abandoning the electoral field. It is rather one of the chief reasons for socialists to enter the elections.
The official union leaders have foisted a political policy on labor that has left it wide open to the onslaught of reactionary, union-crippling legislation and reduced the organized working class to political impotence. They have imprisoned the unions in the party of the racist Dixiecrats; the party of the union-busting, open shop, corporate interests; the party that authored the notorious Kennedy-Landrum-Griffin Act; the party whose chief assumed the responsibility for dropping the first atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the party that launched the cold war, massacred millions of Koreans in Truman’s authorized “police action”; the party that organized and inspired the witch hunt, perpetrated the crude frame-up and the cruel murder of the Rosenbergs, and sent Morton Sobell to prison for thirty years.
Should socialists cringe before the displeasure of labor officials whose political ties are not with the working class and the Negro people but with these capitalist enemies of labor?
The SP-SDF thinks so, and the Communist party is completely at one with them in this respect. But we doubt that the rank and file of either the CP or the SP-SDF will carry out this policy with anything but revulsion; and many will break with it in the course of the campaign – even before they enter the voting booth.
The SWP has entered the campaign with its candidates, Farrell Dobbs for President and Myra Tanner Weiss for Vice President, with the aim of arousing sentiment for a break with the capitalist political policy of the labor officials. The SWP candidates will call for the formation of a labor party, democratically based on the unions and the mass organizations of the Negro people. They will spread the socialist platform on all the great issues to millions of people.
The hour-long television debate Dobbs had with a McCarthyite in Los Angeles, in which the standard slanders against socialism were refuted one after another before an audience of hundreds of thousands, is worth all the effort it took to launch the campaign. Many youngsters listening to that program got their first real view of socialism from a veteran union organizer and socialist leader.
The 1960 election campaign has exceptional significance for us because for the first time in many years a new generation of radical youth is stirring to life and gaining its first political experience. It would be a historic crime to allow these precious replacements to be dispatched into the political graveyard of “work in the Democratic party.” If the SWP campaign did nothing more than to save this promising cadre of radical youth from such a fate it would be performing a service of incalculable value.
Last updated: 29.1.2006