George Novack

The Presidential Campaign

(June 1940)

Source: Fourth International, Vol.1 No.2, June 1940, pp.45-47.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: George Novak Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

REACTION AT HOME and war abroad – these sinister presences dominate the current Presidential campaign in the United States. They are organically interlinked, forming two sides of a single historical process. Domestic reaction has been fed by the world imperialist crisis now ripened into armed combat. This conflict is in turn aggravated by the constant intervention of Roosevelt’s government in world affairs in line with its own imperialist policy.

Like every bourgeois-liberal regime in this epoch of capitalist decay, the Democratic administration contained within itself from the beginning the most vicious reactionary tendencies. There nestled under the benevolent wing of the New Deal, not only liberal bourgeois reformists, but party bosses like Hague of New Jersey and Southern Bourbons like Joe Robinson and Garner, together with such direct representatives of Big Banking and Business as Giannini of the Bank of America, Moffet, Vice-President of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust of New Jersey, and Bernard Baruch. These undisguised reactionaries were not hangers-on, but confidants of the President and directors of his administration.

During his first term the severe consequences of the crisis coupled with the pressure of the masses compelled and enabled Roosevelt to hold these reactionary elements in check. Foreign policy at Washington was likewise subordinated to Roosevelt’s program of internal reforms.

Today all this has changed. Reaction rides high at Washington while the relatively passive, pacific, and limited diplomatic policy of the New Deal era has been discarded in favor of a far-flung offensive on behalf of America’s monied masters.

The Advance of Reaction

In the early days of Roosevelt’s rule the reactionary forces within and without the administration were obliged to lay low, awaiting an opportunity to knife the New Deal, and especially its concessions to the lower orders. They tasted first-blood in the Supreme Court decisions outlawing the NRA and other New Deal enactments. From these legal entrenchments they sallied forth to finish the job.

The capitalist assault against the reformist tendencies, and through them against the working masses, pressed forward until it completely conquered Roosevelt himself. Roosevelt’s desertion of the New Deal was a great political triumph for conservative capitalism. But this alone could not satisfy a crisis-ridden ruling class. The imperialist bourgeoisie demanded positive action from their executive in the White House both on the domestic and the international fronts. The successful prosecution of the War Deal required, not only that Roosevelt drop the New Deal and all struggle against the economic royalists, but that he take charge of the drive against the workers in preparation for entrance into the conflict. Thus Roosevelt’s anti-labor actions form an integral part of his present imperialist policy.

The reactionary edge of the War Deal has been felt in all spheres of American life, but most keenly by the workers and unemployed. The official agitation against “enemy aliens” and “foreign agents” has gone hand in hand with an anti-labor campaign unparalleled since the last war. The right to strike, particularly “against the government,” has been denied. Department of Justice agents infest the labor movement, spying upon and persecuting trade union and unemployed leaders. The anti-trust laws, designed to break up capitalist monopolies, have been invoked to smash the building trades and other unions. Appropriations for unemployed relief are diverted to grease the military machine. Jobless youth are solicited to join the army. And this is but a small part of the whole story.

The War Deal’s official sanction and support has lent encouragement to every form of reaction within the country. The strength of this reaction today in Congress is indicated by the overwhelming majority given by the House of Representatives on April 18 to the Walter-Logan Bill which subjects the rulings of 130 Federal bureaus and agencies to court review. This measure, instigated by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, the war-profiteering monster that pays sub-standard wages to its workers, is designed to emasculate such labor legislation as the Wages and Hours and the National Labor Relations Acts. A motion to exempt these acts from the purview of the Bill was defeated by a 73 to 24 vote.

Oppressed on all sides by this growing capitalist reaction, the workers in the key industries are casting about for ways and means to combat it. In defending themselves, they constantly clash with the official and unofficial agencies of the capitalists and their state apparatus. They begin to see that the President, his party, and the courts are not impartial referees but direct agents of their own bosses.

The Struggle Within the Democratic Party

This sharpening class conflict is reflected within the directing circles of the reigning Democratic Party. The ultra-conservative wing headed by Vice-President Garner, an elderly tight-fisted banker and machine politician from Texas, sees in the mounting reactionary tide its chance to regain complete control of the party apparatus from the centrist leaders grouped around Roosevelt. Garner has officially announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination.

The left wing of the Democratic Party is led by John L. Lewis, President of the United Mine Workers and the CIO. Sensing the discontent of the working masses, Lewis has several times declared that the New Deal failed to fulfill its promises to labor. He threatened to bolt from the Democratic Party and organize a third party in case the Democrats did not adopt a program and candidate at its forthcoming convention satisfactory to the CIO. However seriously Lewis meant these words, they reflect the worker’s disillusionment with Roosevelt and their desire to break loose from the political domination of the capitalist parties.

The acute struggles between these two opposing tendencies, expressed in Lewis’ diatribes against “the Garner

Democrats,” betokens an impending split in the Democratic ranks.

Roosevelt’s Role

In the Democratic Party Roosevelt occupies an intermediate position between two extreme factions, the right wing openly representing Big Business and the left wing officially representing the bulk of organized labor. Roosevelt has functioned as supreme arbiter in the conflicts between these antagonistic factions in his party and between these antagonistic social forces within the nation. His prestige and political power has been derived from his success in performing this function.

Roosevelt’s position at any given moment and on any specific issue has been a resultant of the pressures exerted upon him by these opposing camps and is a measure of their relative strength. Today capitalist reaction is on the offensive; the workers are on the defensive. But the triumph of the conservative wing at the convention may drive the workers away from the Democrats. Roosevelt is anxious to keep these forces united and avoid a deep rupture in the ranks of his political organization.

The Return of the Republican Party

Immediately after the Democratic victory in the past Presidential elections, we wrote in the Socialist Appeal (December 1936):

“Those who predict the death and disappearance of the Grand Old Party are burying a lively corpse. Not only is the Republican Party still supported by forty percent of the electorate ... it has a genuine political reason for existence: it is by tradition and capacity the most direct and dependable political representative of the ruling class in our society. Like a seasoned actor, ousted by his former understudy, the Grand Old Party is but waiting in the wings, hoping that the leading man now in the spotlight will break his neck so that he can replace him as of yore. A new crisis will again put the Republicans in a position to make a real bid for power.”

So it has come to be. Thanks to the bankruptcy of the New Deal, the Republican Party, routed in 1936, has been so strengthened by the reaction that its candidate may win the Presidency. It will probably win enough seats to control Congress. The most likely Republican candidate is Thomas E. Dewey, a megaphone of conservative opinion and a conscienceless careerist utterly devoted to the monied masters behind him. Nevertheless, he is a strong contender for the Presidency and stands an excellent chance of election, especially with disruption in the Democratic ranks.

A Third Term for Roosevelt?

The bitter struggle within the Democratic Party and the prospect of a Republican victory promote the agitation for a third term for Roosevelt in defiance of American political tradition. According to his paladins, Roosevelt alone can hold together the diverse elements within the Democratic coalition and insure victory for the Democrats, even though opposed by Dewey, the strongest of the Republican candidates. These arguments carry conviction to the political bosses in the principal states who are interested above all in the profits of office. Among the supporters of the third-term movement we find such corrupt chieftains as Boss Hague of New Jersey and Kelley of Chicago.

For popular consumption it is claimed that Roosevelt alone is experienced and dependable enough to lead the nation in the present world crisis.

The main source of strength for the third term, however, comes from the war-mongers. Roosevelt is the preferred candidate of all those who want to go to war quickly, thoroughly, and without prolonged debate. The current indecision of the American ruling class concerning the date and method of its entry into the war is expressed in the struggle now going on between the “Isolationist” and “Interventionist” tendencies. This question has cut through party lines and is leading to a new regrouping of forces. Dewey in his pre-convention speeches has solicited the support of the first group. Roosevelt is drawing around himself the second.

The character of Roosevelt’s political entourage is crystallized in the person of James Cromwell, husband of Doris Duke, tobacco heiress, reputed to be “the world’s richest girl.” After having written a treatise entitled: In Defense of Capitalism and having contributed fifty thousand dollars to the 1936 Democratic campaign fund, Cromwell was appointed by Roosevelt as American Minister to Canada. Upon arriving in belligerent Canada, Cromwell brashly declared the sympathy of the United States with the Allied Powers and its intention to support them to the limit.

Cromwell has been chosen, it has just been announced by Boss Hague, to run for Senator in New Jersey. His running mate for Governor on Hague’s Democratic ticket will be Charles Edison, Secretary of the Navy in Roosevelt’s cabinet. Here is a perfect picture of the forces in the Democratic war-party. Roosevelt, Hague, Cromwell, Edison – the President, the state boss, the super-rich, the head of the navy.

Finally, the personal motive cannot be ignored. Roosevelt would like another term to rehabilitate his reputation damaged by the debacle of the New Deal. He wants to prosecute the War Deal to its end. Vain, vigorous, self-confident, he fancies himself a man of destiny sent to be the savior of American capitalism in its hour of need. Like Woodrow Wilson, he dreams of settling the fate of humanity by America’s armed might. By dictating the peace settlement he hopes to inscribe his name on history’s pages in indelible ink. At the least, reluctant to relinquish power, he wishes to choose his successor and keep a hand upon the course of events.

For on Independent Labor Party!

Whether or not Roosevelt runs for a third term, whether the Democratic Party suffers a split or remains intact, which capitalist party governs for the next four years, are political questions of secondary importance. These are matters that primarily concern the internal politics of the ruling class. Far greater factors than Presidents or parties govern the march of events these days and determine the nature of national policies. “America’s 60 Families” are committed by their economic necessities and political perspectives to participate, sooner or later, in the inter-imperialist gang-war in order to assert their domination over the world.

With Roosevelt or without him, the War Deal will develop to its inevitable end.

The one power capable of checking the mad rush of American imperialism toward war is the might of the organized working class. In this situation the political decisions of the CIO leaders, who stand at the head of the most dynamic section of that class, assume world-historical significance. Lewis’ threat to break with the Democrats and launch a third party cannot be taken too seriously in view of his past record of compromise on this issue, his social-patriotic and conservative political outlook, the proximity of the war, the pressure of the government, and the technical difficulties involved.

At the same time the most advanced workers in the industrial unions are exerting counter-pressure upon Lewis to lead the way toward independent political action. The American workers, they feel, need a fighting political party of their own as much as they need their own economic organizations. The need, the urge for a Labor Party is there. The immediate task of the militants in the mass movement is to give a clear, forcible organized expression to this inchoate sentiment.

The experience of the American Labor Party in New York and the Farmer-Labor outfit in Minnesota shows that a labor party by itself will not solve the problems of the American workers. What decides these vital questions is the character of the program, the leadership, the struggle of the party itself. But the formation of a genuine and independent national Labor Party with its own candidates in the coming campaign, whatever its immediate fortunes, would be as great a step forward for the proletarians of the United States as was the organization of the CIO. Only in this way can the American workers derive positive benefit out of the Presidential elections.


Last updated on: 4.2.2006