CLR James 1944

Which Way for PAC

Source: New International, December 1944, pp. 390-393, C L R James under the name J.R.Johnson;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

An Opportunity For Labor

For the first time in American history, against all the traditions of the Founding Fathers, a President of the United States has been re-elected “again and again and again.” When so strong a tradition is so ruthlessly broken, we may be sure that something more than tradition is at stake. The type of personal cult which so many well-meaning people, and others not so well-meaning, have built up around Roosevelt has deep social roots. Roosevelt, they say, is the man of national unity. And they are perfectly right. But it is the very imminence of national disunity which gives such power to the idea of Roosevelt as indispensable. Above all, he acts as political broker between capitalism and the working class.

During the course of the pre-election campaign, and even more significantly, in the choice of the vice-presidential candidate, it became more than ever clear that America, today, is politically not one America but many Americas, the America of the organized working class, of the Wall Street bankers, the Southern oligarchy, and various other groups, organized and unorganized. Nowhere was this so much reflected as in the Rooseveltian party itself. PAC is the organized recognition by labor that it has to fight for its place in the Roosevelt camp.

Within the limits of the political machinery of the United States, Roosevelt’s is as much a coalition government as Churchill’s. But as Churchill is learning in the House of Commons today, votes of confidence do not conceal the deep social conflicts which exist between opposing classes. Thus, every step which Roosevelt makes today, whether it be the appointment of a new Secretary of State or an expression of opinion on the FEPC, is subjected to the most careful scrutiny by every element in society. Any one of these may be the occasion for the vigorous conflict between the classes which have placed a vote of confidence in him.

Each section of the social classes which support Roosevelt is of course hostile to his avowed opponents who center around Dewey and the Republican Party. But now that the election is won, each section knows that what matters are the contradictions and antagonisms within the Roosevelt camp itself. Thus while all followers of “the indispensable” united for his re-election, each section unites to defend itself and urge its claims against its enemies within the coalition. The greater the ferocity of the conflicts within the coalition, the more necessary becomes the allegiance to “the leader.”

But both these processes are merely aspects of the economic and social contradictions which are tearing capitalist America apart. War or no war, all these divisions can be summarized and have their root in one basic fact — the class struggle between American capital and American labor. Like the other elements in the coalition, American labor has supported Roosevelt. But like the others, it has felt the necessity of organizing itself both from its experience of the past and the tremendous conflicts it foresees in the future. Despite all its defects, this is the essential political significance of the PAC. Before the election its main purpose was the election of the “indispensable.” But now the other aspect comes to the fore. Labor has been used through the PAC. There is now the possibility of labor using the PAC.

The Dual Role of the PAC

It is perfectly true that the PAC consists of a series of committees, dominated by Hillman & Co. and used by them for the purposes of capitalist politics; more precisely, the politics of the Democratic Party. Their conception of its function is in the full tradition of American bourgeois politics. They conceived of it as a means of getting out the vote for Roosevelt. They conceived of it as a means of defeating reactionaries, such as Martin Dies, and by reactionaries they mean those capitalist politicians who have no reason to disguise their hostility to the labor movement. But the organizers of the PAC conceived of it also as a means of bringing pressure to bear on the administration to make good its promises to labor and as an organized counter-balance against the reactionaries within the administration itself. And finally they conceived of it as a means of repressing any tendencies toward a break with Roosevelt and the promotion of an independent Labor Party. Such being their ideas, their organization of the committees naturally corresponded. The members were appointed from above. Mass activities were limited to routine election chores by those workers who rallied around it. The leaders were careful to disclaim any intention of forming a “third party.” For these reasons the Workers Party, before the election, opposed these activities of the PAC, which were essentially capitalist politics.

But whatever the subjective intentions of the PAC leaders, these lieutenants of capital within the labor movement, they functioned within the environment of American capital in crisis and the response of the working class to that crisis. That is the perpetual disrupter of their plans to keep labor disciplined. The PAC was based upon the CIO, drew its strength from the CIO and in the minds not only of the workers but of the masses of the American people as. a whole, it is indelibly linked with that militant organization of the mass production workers of the United States.

Whatever the misuse that was made of the PAC in the last election, it is an expression of the present stage of development of the American workers. In the existing situation it was used by capitalist politicians for capitalist purposes to help win an election. That is agreed. They propose to use it for the same purpose in the future. That is agreed, too. But politics does not consist only of elections, and elections do not take place in a vacuum. The capital fact about the PAC is that it is based upon the CIO. Its future therefore depends not only upon the intention and maneuvers of the leaders of the Democratic Party but upon the development of the CIO itself. The development of the CIO in turn depends upon the developing class struggle and the increasing politicalization of the workers which must result from it. The future of the PAC therefore will be the result of a conflict between the bourgeois politics of Roosevelt and Hillman on the one hand and the political needs and aspirations of the workers on the other. We refuse to abandon this outpost to them in advance. They propose to keep it narrow and limited in scope and purpose, but drawing its strength from the masses of the organized workers. We propose that the masses of the organized workers realize where the true strength of the PAC lies and that they take it over and transform it into an independent Labor Party, of the workers, by the workers and for the workers and the American people. In other words, the PAC is a battleground for the class struggle, and the terrain of the struggle is not no-man’s land but a labor organization. We say again: We shall not give it up; we shall fight for it.

PAC Is a Stage in a Process

In estimating the possibilities of the PAC the class-conscious workers must see it as a manifestation of a developing pattern, a pattern which began with the formation of the CIO as the mass response of the American working class to the crisis of 1929. The bourgeoisie, in its characteristic manner, jumped in front with its New Deal and its NRA to channelize in its own direction the inevitable mass organization of the working class. The American workers, however, should bear in mind today that it was only by their own independent efforts and a series of prolonged and bloody struggles that the CIO was formed. Here on the industrial plane we had the bourgeoisie trying to use the developing strength of the workers for its own glorification and for its own ends; in the result the working class used the bourgeois overtures and the bourgeois legislation only as a means to the formation of its own independent mass industrial organizations.

In estimating the possibilities of the PAC, we have also to remember the mechanism by which the CIO was organized. The masses of semi-skilled and unskilled workers made use of the only organization that existed at the time, the AFL. It is true that the AFL was a workers’ organization. But its leaders were bitterly hostile to the particular type of organization which the masses needed and wanted. Such was the power of the mass movement that it split off from the AFL that section which was most sympathetic and most responsive to its requirements and used it as the basis for the organization of the CIO. On the surface it would appear and no doubt is actually true that John L. Lewis split with Green and subsidized the new organization, rallied organizers and did all the things which we know he did. But fundamentally we have to see that all the actions of John L. Lewis would have been meaningless and in fact would not have been undertaken at all were it not for the needs and aspirations of millions of American workers for that type of organization and their readiness to fight for it.

As inevitably as they moved toward mass industrial organization, today the American workers are moving toward political organization independent of the bourgeoisie. Therefore, to look at the PAC independently of its relation to the developing working class movement and the social crisis in the country would be to make an error similar to analyzing the actions of John L. Lewis and the organization of the CIO without taking into account the terrific drive of the masses which initiated and sustained the whole process. It is quite possible that the PAC may not be the nucleus around which the independent Labor Party will be formed. That is a historical question. The point is that the PAC is what we have now. Secondly, despite its close association with bourgeois politics, it has the extraordinary advantage of being rooted in the great mass organization of the working class. Without the workers, PAC is nothing. That therefore is its potential strength. The decisive factor is not the present bureaucratic composition of the PAC and the corruption to capitalist purposes of the strength and prestige of the CIO. The decisive factor will be the political force of the working class in its response to the social crisis, just as the decisive factor in the formation of the CIO was the upsurge and power of the masses.

If even the PAC does not turn out to be in the coming period the road to the independent Labor Party, yet the struggle around it must leave results in political organization, education and experience which will be a valuable contribution to that actual independent Labor Party which will ultimately he formed. Historical perspective and the needs of the hour point to the necessity for a vigorous and systematic struggle for the conversion of the PAC into an independent Labor Party.

Not Only the CIO

Political action by the working class is a higher and more comprehensive stage of development than its industrial organization. Politics, we say, is concentrated economics. It involves the question of state power, of who will rule. All possible allies are needed. For this reason the PAC, in its own distorted form and for its own limited purposes, recognized that the force of labor alone was not sufficient and organized the Citizens Political Action Committee in order to draw sections of the middle classes and the Negroes to the support of labor. As usual, however, when labor leaders play bourgeois politics, they weaken the incomparable strength of labor by the very bourgeois methods which they adopt. Labor, politically organized, must lead the country. That is to say, it must present itself to all sections of the oppressed and exploited as that force which alone is able to solve their problems. But whereas bourgeois political parties find it necessary to disguise their capitalistic interests by presenting themselves as above classes and representing the interests of all the people, labor politics demands exactly the opposite. To gain strength and recognition, labor must present itself to the nation as representing the strength and the interests of labor, that is to say, of the great masses of the working people.

The struggle for the transformation of the PAC into the Labor Party therefore demands the political unification of labor with the PAC as its instrument. The Railroad Brotherhoods and the AFL undoubtedly have labor elements which feel that their interests are organically connected with the interests of the capitalist class. Such have existed and do exist in most capitalist countries but they are in a minority. Among the PAC’s first aims should be the broadening of its basis to include all the organized workers in the country. Agitation and propaganda must be directed toward making the great masses of the workers feel that although the PAC rests at the moment on the CIO, it must and can become the political representative of all groups of organized labor in the country. Great masses of workers usually act on what is immediately before them. At the present moment, the struggle of the workers revolves around such questions as the abolition of the no-strike pledge, the breaking of the Little Steel Formula, the withdrawal of the labor representatives from the capitalistic War Labor Board. Every industrial struggle of national scope is a political struggle, particularly in these days when the interests of capital are not only indirectly but directly maintained and protected by the government in Washington.

Here, then, at the present stage, are immediate issues around which can be fought the battle for the transformation of PAC into the political instrument, not only of the CIO, but of all the working class. The struggle will be directly against the Roosevelt government and against those labor leaders inside and outside the PAC whose control of labor is perpetually directed to subordinating the interests of labor to the needs of capitalist politics. To unloose the full power of labor in its struggle for its industrial demands means breaking with capitalist politics in all its forms. The same Hillman who supports the no-strike pledge is the some Hillman who keeps the PAC tied to the Democratic Party. To make the PAC independent of the Roosevelt party, that is the only way to make it into a weapon of labor against the capitalist class and the capitalist government.

PAC and the Nation as a Whole

But PAC must be far greater than merely the political arm of labor in its immediate struggles. The dissatisfaction with the Roosevelt government all over the country is very great. But, apart from the war, one of the reasons why this cannot take significant and organized expression is that the only concrete alternative is the miserable Republican Party. PAC as the political expression of organized labor has caught the imagination of the general public.. That is a basis for political expansion. By rallying together the immense forces of organized labor in this country and denouncing the bankruptcy of the Republican and Democratic Parties, organized labor can begin now to present itself to the American people as a contender for governmental power. The millions of oppressed and degraded Negroes, disappointed with both Republican and Democratic Parties; small business, squeezed and cheated by big capital and the banks, who occupy crucial positions in the Roosevelt government; the professional middle classes, who, without trade unions, have no defense against the rising cost of living; the poor farmers, who for years have been able to exist only on a dole, dignified by the title of agricultural adjustment — all of these can he attracted to the leadership of labor if labor were to say: “It is admitted on all sides that it was the PAC which won the election for President Roosevelt; we have demonstrated that in the Roosevelt coalition labor is the strongest force; we propose to exercise to the full our strength, which has been crippled by our subservience to the Democratic Party; PAC is only an index of what labor is able to do. We demand your support and together we shall be irresistible.”

That is the potential value of PAC. The idea of labor leading the nation politically can be presented not abstractly but as a concrete possibility. Under the leadership of labor, all sections of the great working community can be mobilized around PAC to work out the great problems now facing the country. Here around the PAC is the possibility of a great assemblage of the democratic forces of the nation to hammer out a program which will do for the nation in peace what the productive forces of the country have shown themselves able to do for the capitalists in war.

The Workers Party is a revolutionary socialist party. We believe that the great problem of unemployment, the Negro problem, the problems of the poor farmers, all the great problems of the country are now being intensified because of a rotting capitalist society which has outlived its usefulness. As revolutionary socialists we believe that these and other problems can be solved only by a workers’ government which, backed by the great masses of the people, will begin the radical transformation of American capitalism into a socialist society. Such a task is not the work of a day or of a year, and we believe that the first necessity of such a transformation is the organization of the working class into an independent political party of its own, with a working class program.

What that program will be is a matter for democratic discussion and solution by all sections of organized labor and those millions of the population closest to it. But we have our own program, which we intend to advocate with all the strength at our disposal. We are convinced that it is only by such a program that the United States can begin to emerge out of the perpetual crisis, waste of human life, misuse of resources, which the New Deal has so conspicuously failed to cure. We believe that this program must be of a kind which will mobilize the masses of the workers and their allies to struggle against capitalism until the socialist society is achieved. Such are our convictions and these are the ideas that we propose for the consideration of all who see the necessity of using the existing PAC as a basis for the organization of an independent Labor Party.

We propose, for example, to reorganize the whole productive system of the country. We propose as a beginning to confiscate the property of the “Sixty Families” and to confiscate all war profits coined out of the blood and suffering of the scores of millions of workers, as a means of gaining the necessary resources for the great task of producing for peace to the same and in time to a greater degree than the capitalists produced for war.

We propose the complete technical reorganization of the agriculture of this country in order to bring the productive methods and living standards of the agricultural workers and the small farmers to the level of the best-paid workers in the urban areas.

We claim that it is only with the solution of the unemployment question that it will be possible for labor to continue successfully the efforts which it is making to wipe away the oppression of the Negro people which has poisoned and disgraced American society for so many generations.

We say that it is only by such comprehensive proposals that labor will convince the majority of the nation that it is a serious substitute for the ferocious profit-seeking of the capitalist class and its venal instruments, the capitalist politicians.

That is the type of general program which we propose to struggle for in the PAC in order that it should be transformed into that independent Labor Party required by the needs of labor and by the needs of the American nation in this period of social crisis. Other sections of labor will have other programs. We propose to hammer out our differences and adopt those actions and proposals democratically agreed upon. We are confident that the developing social crisis and the needs of the workers will bring them ultimately to the point of view which we represent. But the time to gather together on a democratic basis is now. And the PAC offers the best existing possibility for the drawing together of the working class as a political force to express its own interests, its own responses to the developing situation, and the working class solution to the overwhelming problems of the nation.

J.R. Johnson.