From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 14, 15 July 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
ST. LOUIS, Mo. – A tiny and many-colored flame of the Third Party movement flickered dimly here last week, fanned by the desires of three prominent politicians.
Unable to obtain a satisfactory deal with the Republican Party after his public bid for it, John L. Lewis, CIO chieftain, threatened to form a Third Party if the coming Democratic convention didn’t select Senator Burton K. Wheeler as presidential nominee. Lewis spoke before the Townsend national convention which cheered his blistering attack on President Roosevelt and his threat of a Third Party.
Previously, Dr. Townsend, leader of the old age pension movement, had criticized both major parties and offered to join hands with labor in forming a new party, if the Townsend plan wasn’t accepted by a major party.
Third actor in the drama was Senator Wheeler, who announced his intention of running against Roosevelt at the Democratic convention and threatened to bolt if his isolationist position wasn’t accepted by the Democrats.
Since there is little likelihood of any of those IFs being realized at the Democratic convention, it appears that the plan of these three politicians might have to be placed into effect.
Apparent to everyone present at the convention was the fact that the whole series of Third Party threats was pre-arranged by Lewis, Townsend and Wheeler.
Townsend sounded off in a keynote speech to the convention. His entire talk was aimed at discrediting the Republican and Democratic parties – and paving the way for the Lewis speech. Lewis received a better reception and much greater ovation from the convention. Although he criticized the Republican program somewhat, his main barbs were directed at Roosevelt. Failure to provide adequate old age pensions, failures to solve or try to solve the unemployment problem an conscious effort to
drag America into war: these were the Lewis charges against the Roosevelt administration. Lewis demanded that the Democratic convention repudiate Roosevelt and choose Wheeler instead. Since Roosevelt controls over 75% of the delegates to the Democratic party convention and Lewis knows this, his demands can only be interpreted as a maneuver Wheeler, speaking before the Townsend convention and a “peace” rally of 2,000, warned the Democratic party against becoming a war party, and threatened to help build a new and peace party, to the cheers of his listeners who shouted “Wheeler for president.”
Despite all the bold words and brave talk of these men, it was hard to sense an air of reality about this Third Party movement. Lewis spoke as though he were representing 10,000,000 members of the CIO, Labor’s Non-Partisan League, American Youth Congress, National Negro Congress and other organizations. Fact is that Lewis is a minority in the CIO today. Politically, he hardly speaks for it, or for the other organizations he mentioned.
Wheeler, remembering the past experience he had in 1934 with LaFollette senior, in the Third Party movement of that day, is evidently much impressed by the response he has obtained to his “anti-war” speeches and believes that a new party can be blitzkrieged into existence.
Townsend appears like a smart politician who has built up some national strength on a program of reform which he has little hope of achieving and is casting about for a deal in exchange for the votes he controls.
Since all three spoke as 100% patriotic supporters of U.S. capitalism, emphasizing their belief in defending America and South America from “aggression” and in a program of “National Defense,” one can hardly expect any serious anti-war movement from the hodge-podge organization these gentlemen might form.
Although this talk of a Third Party is not decisive in American politics, its importance was recognized by President Roosevelt when he called William Green, president of the AFL, for a special conference to discuss its possibility.
Irrespective of the weight or importance of the votes which a half-baked Third Party might obtain, Roosevelt sees it primarily as an obstacle to his plan for national unity, and thus fears it.
The stand of the AFL was made public when its publicity chief, Phillip Pearle, blasted the Third Party idea as Fifth Columnist, and also significantly announced that the AFL would not take a stand for either Willkie, or Roosevelt, if he ran.
Last updated: 10.9.2012