Hal Draper

Backroom Deal Compromises Fight
Between “Wallacemen” and CPers

(9 August 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 32, 9 August 1948, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

PHILADELPHIA, July 2. – This is the story of the “underground” opposition at the Wallace convention.

Most of the dissent that openly hit the floor (and the newspapers) came out during the discussion of the new Progressive Party program. But the dissenters who made the record at this session and who there put forth the anti-CP motions embarrassing to the machine in control were not THE opposition.

By “THE opposition” we mean the group, headed by Tugwell, of non-Stalinist New-Dealer captives with a more or less prominent position in the movement and in the public eye, whose open opposition would have meant a major break in the ranks. This group, who look upon themselves as the real “Wallaceites” in the Wallace party – as distinct from the Stalinist and fellow travelers who think of Henry as their tool – kept their mouths pretty much shut during the debate on program, for reasons we shall see.

The delegates who did speak up on the programmatic disputes were, for the most part, rank-and-file delegates acting on their own – innocent mavericks. [See separate story on this phase of the convention. – Ed.] The apparatus merely rode over their oppositional motions. The situation would have been much more serious for the CP if the bigger conflict smoldering beneath the surface had come out into the open.

Organizational Control

The one point in the convention where it almost did break out in full strength was not in the discussion on program but in the Saturday morning discussion on the party constitution. This took place in what was expected to be a routine session, so that few reporters were even on the floor. A subsurface crisis was precipitated which was not resolved until the next day, in back rooms. Even what happened publicly on the floor has not appeared in the press in any detail.

The issue involved was clearly that of CP organizational control of the new party through a method of rigging the National Committee to be elected. The proposed constitution (Article 3) provided for a National Committee consisting of two from each state, plus additional committeemen for the larger states in proportion to their electoral-college representation.

No objection was raised to this part of the setup, since it is obviously more democratic than the old parties’ system of equal representation from each state regardless of size – even though it was equally obvious that it works out to strengthen CP control, in view of the fact that it is in the larger states (New York, California, Illinois, Michigan, etc.) that the CP has the firmest grip on the reins.

But Article 3 also includes the following joker: “The NC, composed as provided above, shall elect forty additional members at large upon nomination by the respective functional divisions ...” – these divisions being the Labor Division, Women’s Division, Youth Division, etc. In addition, the article places the nine national officers on the NC (and of the nine officers later elected by the convention, six are long-standing CP party-liners).

John Abt, the Stalinist machine’s whip on the Rules Committee, justified the forty members at large on the ground that it was necessary to insure proper representation for “labor, youth, etc.,” but the opposition rightly understood that here was the main channel through which the NC was being packed. They pointed out that according to another provision of Article 3, 50 per cent of the NC constituted a quorum for the transaction of business and that the total membership of the body would be about 180; in a quorum of 90, the 40 members at large were not only enough to swing a majority but would almost BE a majority.

Opposition Defeated

The fight was led off by James Martin, co-chairman of the Maryland delegation, a New Dealer who has been in high government positions, who carefully restrained his words to dry technical considerations as if there was nothing involved except some routine details. But he made a motion to recommit the section to the Rules Committee for revision. A delegate from Michigan, George Carpenter, also criticized the article. But blood was drawn when Scott Buchanan, a prominent member of the Massachusetts delegation, rose to say:

“This article allows for minority control of this party. If we [that is, the PP] want to do that, I think there’ll be some of us walking out of this party.”

These two sentences were his full speech, and were greeted by a loud chorus of boos and hisses (the only occasion on which a delegate was booed at the convention).

The motion to recommit was voted down, and a second attack was launched by a delegate from the Illinois delegation, Leonard Stein, assistant to the dean at the University of Chicago, with a motion to delete the sentence about the 40 ringers and a request for a rollcall vote on the question. It was Stein who made the point about the size of the quorum in connection with the fact that the 40 “will be appointed rather than elected democratically.”

Fitzgerald (UE president acting as chairman of the convention) ruled this motion out of order. This must have stuck in the delegates’ throats: when Stein mildly asked the reason, he received a substantial burst of applause. Fitzgerald gave the specious ground that the INTENT of his motion was the same as that of the Martin motion just voted down! Thereupon Stein, sticking to his guns, appealed the chair’s ruling; an aye-no voice vote was so indecisive that a hand vote had to be taken before the appeal was sustained (by at least a 4–1 majority, however, in spite of the lung power displayed in the voice vote).

Sidelight on the above: Immediately after the vote, Stein (with his floor microphone shut off so that he could be heard only a few feet away from the chairman, where he stood) repeated his request for a recorded vote. Fitzgerald answered: “You missed your chance,” although Stein had never been given a chance.

Remain Loyal

What did not come out on the floor was the fact that the CP’s original proposal (made in the Rules Committee’s preliminary discussions by Hugh Bryson, secretary of that committee and head of the California Wallace party and of the Marine, Cooks & Stewards Union) was that the number of NC ringers be SIXTY. This number was whittled down to 40 when the captive Wallaceites protested, and, it is reported, were backed by C.B. Baldwin, Wallace’s campaign manager. The opposition, expecting the constitution to come up Sunday, were caught unprepared when it was taken up a day in advance, before Baldwin (and perhaps Wallace himself) could be mobilized to apply some pressure on the CPers to change their tactics.

Buchanan, questioned after the vote about his walkout threat, made clear that he was not walking out but referred in general to what might be done by “some people” if such tactics accumulated. Martin, interviewed, said that in his opinion the business of 40 “functional” members at large on the NC was a “hierarchic action-committee kind of representation,” obviously referring to the Stalinist “action committees” in the Czech coup.

Like the rest of this New-Dealer opposition, they regard themselves as a loyal opposition to the CP within the Wallace movement. They obviously hope against hope that a mushroom growth of the Wallace movement will eventually swamp the CP forces, but they feel that they have to live with the latter and tolerate them (“use” them, no doubt, is the phrase in their own minds) In the meantime. Their education on the question of tail-wagging-dogs is still ahead of them.

The whole episode, however, rubbed sore the relations between the Stalinists and their naive bedfellows, with the discussion of the program due the next day. Let us take a look now at some of the programmatic disputes which were likewise agitating the combination behind the scenes of the convention.

Bury ERP Dispute

First (and best known) – and buried most thoroughly – is disagreement on the Marshall Plan. Tugwell told reporters before the convention, “It it well known that I have made speeches in favor of ERP,” but he added that it is “not important enough to fight over.” Tugwell (who wants to line up with American imperialism rather than with Russian imperialism) may be the only man in politics who thinks the Marshall Plan is not important enough to fight over – if we trustingly take his words at face value – but he is also aware of the fact that his CP friends do not hold that opinion. Certainly, disagreement on the Marshall Plan played no or little part in the disputes around this convention. (It is, by the way, revealing to find out that many of the rank-and-file innocents around the hall have been set against the Marshall Plan primarily on the basis of the reactionary appeal which crudely runs this way: Why should we shell out for those foreigners?)

Also subordinate but interesting was the clash between Tugwell and Marcantonio at the closed meetings of the Platform Committee on the question of independence for Puerto Rico. Tugwell was for “self-determination” and some form of home rule, but against independence. Without mentioning Tugwell (a concession to the forms), Marcantonio thundered:

“Self-determination is a term of the imperialist demagogues,” and later again, “it has been used by the imperialist demagogues for two centuries.”

Calling the chairman of your Platform Committee an “imperialist demagogue” (even, or especially, when it is true) does not make for inner-Wallaceite harmony, but the Stalinists were making no concessions on this – not out of principle, to be sure, but because as Russian patriots they were more interested in anti-U.S. agitation in. Puerto Rico than they were in Tugwell. Tugwell swallowed hard and took it, taking consolation only in the fact that the platform as adopted did not call for “immediate” independence as the Stalinists had proposed. No breath of this dispute ever came before the convention.

The same is true of the fight in the Platform Committee over nationalization of industries, with Frederick Schuman in opposition.

The same is true about Wallace’s ideas on “progressive capitalism,” which the Stalinist press has been sharply criticizing. One of the “Wallace Wallaceites” on the Platform Committee attempted to concretize this in the form of a proposal for labor-management-government economic planning committees to fix prices, wages, etc. But the CP machine in the committee, herded by Lee Pressman, would buy none of it. It was this project which had been attacked as “utopian” and “absurd on the face of it” by Max Weiss in the May issue of the CP’s magazine Political Affairs. This did not stop Wallace himself from maundering at length about “progressive capitalism” at his press conference on Friday.

Backroom Deal

These issues were all buried by the opposition for the purposes of the convention. It was two other questions on which they focussed and which led to a last-minute backroom deal. The less important of the two was the question of going beyond the United Nations to world goverment.

Naturally the Stalinists have no more use for this idea than have their Russian masters, unless and until they are in a position to control such world government; but they figured that as an expression of general sentiment it was harmless and a cheap sop to the suckers. The other issue was more touchy: the proposal by the Wallace-Wallaceites that the PP program lay blame upon BOTH the United States AND Russia for the deterioration of international relations.

Here they cut into sensitive tissue. It goes without saying that the CPers would rather run Foster and Ford in the campaign than yield to this. EVEN WHILE THE PARTY PLATFORM WAS ALREADY BEING READ TO THE CONVENTION (it took an hour), the Platform Committee was thrashing this out in private. A deal was reached on a 500- word addition to the foreign-policy section of the program. After the program was read as it had been mimeographed, Lee Pressman read the addition to the delegates as an amendment, without further explanation.

The compromise which bought the silence of the opposition went as follows:

  1. On world government: “the abandonment of the principle of the coercion of sovereignties by sovereignties” is described as “the only ULTIMATE alternative to war”; a “world federal legislature with limited but adequate powers” is described as a desirable “principle”; but “the unity of the great powers” is thrown in as a prerequisite just in case. The opposition felt they had won a victory “in principle” and the Stalinists knew that they had conceded nothing but language.
  2. Not a syllable about blaming BOTH sides went in. The opposition settled for a sentence which read: “Responsibility for ending the tragic prospect of war is a joint responsibility of the Soviet Union and the United States,” and another phrase about seeking a settlement “without appeasement or saber-rattling on either side.” And for good measure the Stalinists extracted an antidote to mix with this poison: “our nation ... has vastly greater responsibility for peace than Russia because it has vastly greater power for war” – and the compromise was shaken well and served.

Striking Omission

The presentation of this compromise formula to the convention (even though only those on the “in” could have understood its purpose) was prepared for by an immediately preceding but formally unrelated speech by Tugwell designed to convey to his supporters that all was well. It was also half an apologia. Not all members of the Platform Committee, he said, agreed that the program “was satisfactory in all respects,” but it was all right in the main. “I would remind you of the value of solidarity and the danger of contention,” he went on. “It is better to fight the enemy than to fight your friends. And anyone is your friend who will fight with you in the main ... Parties are what you make them; this party can be what you make of it.”

It is interesting to note that Tugwell himself, the most prominent non-Stalinist at the convention, was not named for any of the nine posts in the top leadership of the party – not even as one of the four vice-chairmen, not to speak of the chairman or two co-chairmen. This is probably the most striking omission from the slate, though this correspondent cannot say whether it was by his own request.

Last updated on 22 May 2018