Joseph Hansen

Lewis Shifts Parties – But Not Basic Line

Support of Willkie, Like Support of Roosevelt, Is Betrayal
of Interests of the American Working Class

(2 November 1940)

Source: Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 44, 2 November 1940, p. 3.
Transcription/HTML Markup: 2019 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2020; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

In coming out in support of Wendell Willkie for the presidency of the United States, John L. Lewis did not betray the working class to any greater extent than if he had come out again for Franklin D. Roosevelt as he did in 1932 and in 1936. That is what must be understood clearly first of all.

What is most noteworthy about Lewis’ espousal of Willkie’s cause is that it is an astonishingly naked display of the absolute bankruptcy of the American trade union bureaucracy before the crucial political problems facing the working class.

What shall the workers do about the war in which the United States will soon become a military participant? Should he support it er struggle against it? How shall he struggle against it? What shall the worker do about the increasing militarization of the United States which has now registered some sixteen million men for induction into the army? How shall the workers secure military training but not at the price of being enslaved by the reactionary officer-caste? How shall the workers win trade union conditions in the armed forces?

Lewis does not even pose these questions. He mentions that Roosevelt’s program is bankrupt, that the New Deal failed to solve a single one of the problems from which the country was suffering in 1932. And then Lewis says, “If not Roosevelt, whom do I recommend ... why, of course, I recommend the election of Wendell L. Willkie ...” Of course! As if the program of this utilities magnate were something different from Roosevelt’s program!

Lewis Names Them Only to Betray Them

What about unemployment? Are the desperate unemployed, 9,115,000 of them according to Lewis’ figures, to continue to march meekly between Republican Hoovervilles and Democrat social investigators forever? “Why, of course,” says Lewis, “I recommend the election of Wendell L. Willkie ...”

And the 45,000,000 people, according to Lewis’ figures, who are going hungry in the United States – what should they do? Continue to go hungry under another Wall Street regime, comforted by the thought that they loyally followed Lewis’ advice as they did in 1932 and in 1936?

Lewis addresses the Negroes, that is, the Negroes in the Northern States. How his heart bleeds for their votes! He does not even mention the Negroes suffering in the Southern States under the lash of the Bourbon whip. Why didn’t he mention them? Because they are prevented from voting and hence don’t enter into the calculations of a capitalist politician? Willkie’s attitude toward the Negroes is the same as Roosevelt’s – hound them, persecute them, segregate them.

Lewis stumped for Roosevelt, handed over to the Democratic campaign hundreds of thousands of dollars out of the union treasury in order to make sure that Roosevelt gained office. And he did this, in 1936, after four years under Roosevelt of injunctions and court decisions against labor, strike-breaking, tear gas, thugs, National Guard bayonets.

Voting for Either One Is Voting for War

Now Lewis asks labor to support Willkie, whose program against labor is identical with that of Roosevelt’s. Lewis could not have given more treacherous advice if he were in the direct pay of those who shot down the CIO strikers in the Memorial Day massacre at Chicago.

Lewis’ speech in support of another four years of capitalist dictatorship is a curious monstrosity in reasoning. He speaks against war with a shudder as if he really hated it. He mentions the fact that war “kills off the vigorous males who, if permitted to live, might question the financial exploitation of the race.” Lewis then proves that Roosevelt’s policy is directed towards military participation in the world war now raging – despite the fact that Roosevelt like Lewis “hates war.” After listening to Lewis, and his advice to vote for Willkie’s war program, which is the same as Roosevelt’s, the laboring man should understand one cold fact – if he did not already know it – that war under capitalism is inevitable. All the pacifism of Lewis in the face of that fact means nothing but treacherous blindfolding of the working class and sending them like cattle into the slaughter. Voting for Roosevelt or Willkie would not even change the date Wall Street decides upon for “killing off the vigorous males” who might question Wall Street’s dictatorship.

Lewis discloses his absolute bankruptcy as a labor leader through his failure to draw the necessary conclusions to the following description he makes of the impasse in which capitalism today finds itself:

“The Administration spokesmen forget to say what will happen to economic America when the 25,000,000 men now under arms in foreign nations and the 70,000,000 citizens who service the armies, are returned to peacetime pursuits. The manufacturers of America will then have to compete in the remaining world markets with the quantitative production of foreign nations, whose workmen will occupy the relative economic and social status of chattel slaves.

“Where will our country then sell its goods? Surely not in Europe, nor in the Baltic or Mediterranean areas. Surely not in Africa or the Orient. Surely, it is obvious that South American markets will be penetrated by the cheap labor products of the world commercial adversaries of the United States of America.”

The Workers Must Draw the Obvious Conclusion!

Lewis in these words touches upon the insoluble contradiction in which capitalism in its death agony finds itself. He does not elaborate on this theme nor follow it to its inevitable conclusions. To do so would be to expose himself in the eyes of the workers as an agent of the bosses, trying to lead the workers to the polls to vote for their mortal enemy.

The capitalist produces not for use, but only in order to sell and make a profit. If there is no market then the goods pile up in warehouses, the factories close their doors, the workers starve while the capitalists set about to slaughter entire populations, blow up billions of dollars worth of national riches in their fight for markets.

The national wealth flows into the hands of an ever narrowing circle of corporations completely dominated by a handful of capitalists who perform, no function in production whatsoever. At the same time the industrial machine becomes so complex, involves such an intricate organization, requires such a vast number of workers for its operation, is so highly productive, that it is completely ripe for the next stage of society’s development, the socialist system of production for use instead of profit.

Doesn’t Lewis See the Danger of Fascism Here?

Surely it should be obvious to Lewis that Wall Street, in order to compete with the capitalists who are now locked in military conflict for domination of the world market, will attempt to crush the American trade union movement, thus reducing the American workers to the “economic and social status of chattel slaves.”

It was this contradiction of capitalism – dynamically expanding productive forces in a narrowing world market ... which faced Italian capitalism after the last world war. The capitalists there succeeded in imposing their “solution” – that is, fascism, which started its horrible and bloody task by smashing the labor movement.

It was this contradiction of capitalism which the German imperialists staved off by installing Hitler. They wiped out the last remnants of the labor movement in Germany.

It happened again in Spain.

In France and England, the capitalists, faced with this same contradiction, instituted a military form of capitalist dictatorship which regimented the labor movement and took away overnight all the gains which had been made through decades of painful struggle.

Now the labor movement in the United States faces the same terrible and inescapable problem. Yet Lewis demands that labor shut its eyes and vote for one of the two candidates whom Wall Street has set up to act as its executive officer in Washington.

What is involved in the coming period is nothing less than the fate of the entire trade union movement in the United States. American capitalism has reached the cross roads. With the complete failure of the New Deal it now has no alternative but some form of capitalist dictatorship that will stamp out in blood the last vestige of the rights of labor.

What must be done? What is needed now, is not political cowards coming out for Willkie or Roosevelt, but courageous and far seeing trade unionists who can stand up and face the issues squarely. What is needed is a new leadership that understands it is either Fascism or Socialism and who will come out militantly and boldly with a real labor program. Anything less then that means the doom of the labor movement in the United States.

Lewis could have done a tremendous service for labor if he bad laid a plague on both the rotten and perfidious houses of Wall Street. Lewis could have given a great impetus to the widespread sentiment for an Independent Labor Party if he had come out and said what is obvious: that both Roosevelt, and Willkie are riding the armored tank into war, that war under capitalism is inevitable, and that the only thing io do about it is launch the struggle to put a workers’ and farmers’ government into power in Washington.

The militant trade unionists must begin using the speech of Lewis as a club to smash all the pretentions of the henchmen of Lewis as serious political leaders of the American working class. They must begin organizing an independent Labor Party with a labor program. They must no longer hope that Lewis or his ilk will do this job for them. We must roll up our sleeves and do the job ourselves.


Last updated on: 13 November 2020