Max Shachtman


The Results of the Election

(December 1928)

From The Militant, Vol. 1 No. 2, 1 December 1928, p.3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The victory in the election of the Republican Party and its candidate, Hoover, signifies the still growing power – accompanied though it is by sharpening contradictions – of American capitalism, and the grip of the main Party of the bourgeoisie on the masses. This power was sufficient for the Republicans to break through the. “Solid South” for the first time since the Civil War, aided by those irresistible economic forces which have been undermining the social-political basis of the traditional Democratic Party for the past decades.

The election of Hoover is undoubtedly a victory for the bourgeoisie. But to become fascinated by the “atmosphere” of this victory, to be overcome by the dominance of its reality, and to see nothing else, is to fall victim to the hopelessness, fear and petty-bourgeois defeatism which characterises the Nation, or the New York World. Unfortunately, such a tendency exists in the Party and is even given expression in the official Party press. In the article by John Pepper, Class Analysis of the Elections, Daily Worker, November 10, 1928 he says “The New York World is right in stating that the victory of Hoover was ‘a conservative landslide,’ that it was the result of ‘a deep-seated aversion to change.’ It was a vote for the present ‘republican prosperity’.”

This is the attitude which tips its hat politely in ten lines to the increased vote of the Communist ticket, stands in breathless awe before the colossal strength of the bourgeoisie, and assumes that it has thereby given a “class analysis” of the results of the election. It is an attitude which we have encountered many times before, which sees only the strength and forward strides of the enemy on the one hand and the miserable weakness, powerlessness and backwardness of the workers on the other.

Fortunately, an analysis of the elections gives us no cause to adopt such a viewpoint. Let us consider the fortunes of the arch-demagogue Smith.

To speak unconditionally of the “defeat or Smith” is to overlook completely the nature of his popular vote, which was larger (for the defeated candidate) than the vote – with the exception of Coolidge’s 1924 vote – for any previous presidential candidate (victorious or defeated) in American history: more than 16,000,000 votes for a Party does not bespeak its destruction. From the new voters who “chose” the president this year, Smith received at least as much support as did Hoover. While Smith received a relative set-back in the Bourbon reactionary South, he made big gains in the industrial North, particularly in the cities where the industrial proletariat is concentrated. Smith had a majority of 55,000 votes out of a total of 6,795,000 votes that were cast in the following fourteen key centers: New York, Newark, Boston, Cleveland, St. Louis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and Detroit. Smith inherited, to a far greater extent than Hoover, the sentiment of the agrarian “revolt” of the Northwest which rallied so futilely around La Follette in the last election. Neither can a serious politician overlook the fact that in the very heart of the tex-tile crisis, Massachusetts, Smith defeated Hoover, carrying, in particular, New Bedford and Fall River; that Smith made powerful advances particularly in the sphere of those coal districts where the class struggle and the industrial depression has been most severe – Pennsylvania, Ohio Illinois and Indiana.

Smith’s big urban vote, his vote in the seething agrarian sections, his vote in the smaller industrial centers, are undoubtedly expressions of the growing discontent of the workers and farmers (as well as of the petty-bourgeoisie) with the rule of finance capital, the eight-year orgy of corruption, brass-browed reaction and imperialist foraging of the Republican wing of capitalism. Votes which would otherwise have been cast for the socialist and even the Communist Parties went this time to Smith on the basis of the belief “that he has a good chance to get in.”

The fact that this discontent was expressed, with reactionary consequences and implications, largely through the Democratic Party, is an index to the tremendous backwardness of the political consciousness of the masses.

Does this mean that our thesis regarding the growing radicalization of the working class is false? Does it imply that “the masses are becoming more radical – by going over to the Democratic Party!?” Nothing of the kind.

Firstly, the vote for Smith was a vague, hesitant, partial, confused result and an inaccurate reflection of the growing radicalization.

Secondly, hundreds of thousands and millions of proletarians, whom the process of radicalization affects most deeply, and the most exploited sections of the Negroes, were either disqualified from voting by the class chicanery of capitalist election machinery, or else neglected to vote (foreign-born workers, unemployed and migratory workers, workers terrorized in company towns, etc.)

Thirdly, bourgeois elections are never a completely accurate indication of the sentiment of the masses. The possibilities for gaining the adherence of the mass for day-to-day struggles on concrete issues are practically always far greater than the possibilities of gaining support in elections. For example: not all the workers who responded to the call for a general strike in England are supporters of the Labor Party, but are even members of the Liberal or Tory parties; thousands followed our leadership in the miners’, the Passaic and the New Bedford strikes, but only hundreds, or even only dozens, voted for our ticket; thousands support our Party in the needle trades unions and fight the yellow socialists there, and turn about on election day and vote for the latter “because they have a good chance to get in” among other reasons.

Fourthly, the sharpened temper of the masses and their growing class consciousness and readiness to struggle is revealed with far greater clarity in such movements as the Sacco-Vanzetti fight, the strike movement which is developing – at present in isolated forms – throughout the country, and dozens of other phenomena which have often been indicated by us.

What were the results for the Party? The gain in the Party vote and the increased participation of the Party members in the election fight are undeniable. Only a sober estimate of it will enable the party to go forward in such work, and in other fields as well. This cannot be done, however, by the smug and temporarily convenient method, of unqualified and uncritical self-praise. One is the method of clarity, the other the method of self-delusion.

The campaign of the Party partook too much of a sectarian-opportunist nature to be labelled a Bolshevik campaign. For months prior to the formal opening of the campaign, the Pepper-Lovestone leadership of the Party hesitated to take the step of placing a Communist ticket in the field. Despite the insistence of the Opposition for a Communist slate as far back as the February Plenum of the C.E.C. (see stenogram of Cannon’s speech there, and his article in the Daily Worker demanding the immediate decision to file our own candidates,) the Lovestone majority played arbund with the idea of setting up a fake farmer-labor party ticket or endorsing one – a repetition of Lovestone’s adventurous menshevism in 1924 when he demanded that our campaign be conducted under the banner of the “great class Farmer-Labor Party” of St. Paul (with MacDonald and Bouck) and opposed the entry of our own Party candidates. So much valuable time was lost by this vacillation that the socialist party was enabled to hold its convention, draw up its platform and nominate its candidates weeks before we did.

Other opportunist errors made by the leadership could be mentioned by the dozens. The election platform was shot through with ten cent reformism (the abolition of the Senate, curbing the power of the Supreme Court, etc.); the notorious election instructions sent out by the Party office, which would have made an honest social-democrat flush with shame, and for which Lovestone and Stachel, characteristically enough, tried to make Codkind the scapegoat; the articles in The Communist, Big Business Can’t Lose in 1928 (!) by Ben Gitlow which cavalierly dismissed the Communist Party, and the socialist party, by failing to mention them by so much as one word; the unchecked series of articles and stories in the Daily Worker on the Labor Party as a panacea, a series in which the contribution by I. Amter, the Lovestone proconsul in the Cleveland district, reached the peak of opportunism (Daily Worker, August 29, 1928); the organization of the “famous” Belmont County (Ohio) Labor Party fake – another Amter product in the midst of the Communist campaign; and so on and so forth ad nauseam.

Further: Such a corrupting atmosphere has been created by the factional regime in the Party that during the election campaign, the entire leading, staff of the Party, (a delegation of twenty!) including the presidential candidate, was sent to Moscow, for the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in the face, of needs of the campaign and the protests of Cannon and other members of the Opposition. In most of the districts, the Lovestone machine, following its naive policy of trying to manufacture leaders of the masses by decree or motion in faction-controlled committees, nominated as Party candidates not the outstanding, most capable and better-known trade union and mass leaders, but the leaders of the faction. From one error flow many. In desperation to play up Gitlow as against Foster (see stories and advertisements in the Daily Worker of that period) the Party was dragged by Lovestone-Pepper into the, shameful, stupid sensationalism of the Gitlow “kidnapping” in the Arizona desert, from which like the heroine of a similar successful exploit, he triumphantly emerged without even a trace of sunburn.

The most serious shortcoming of the campaign was the poor success in linking up with the elections the struggles of the workers in the coal fields, textile and similar fields, to mobilize these, workers, the Negroes, and the unemployed, to the extent that we could reach them, for active struggle, for demonstrations, to set them in motion – not only in the polling booths – to break through the “democratic” veneer and parliamentary cretinism of the elections with which the bourgeoisie plus the socialists stifle the real development of revolutionary parliamentary work.

Unless these questions, problems and shortcomings of the Party’s campaign are seriously under stood, discussed and steps taken to remedy the weaknesses, the Party will not avoid but repeat these errors in the future. To do as is done in the article by Pepper, that is, to review the campaign and the Party’s role in it without a single critical word, is to mislead the Party membership and lull it into a state of conceit, self-satisfaction and priggishness.

A word is necessary on the role and future of the Labor Party movement which Pepper fails even to mention. For him it is an easy matter either to “discoverer” or “disperse” a movement with a wave of the hand. In this election, the North-western remnants of the big movement that developed in 1922-24 trailed miserably behind the big bourgeois parties. Despite a previous decision of the Comintern to advocate a labor party and not a farmer-labor party, the Party has still continued its flirtations, “maneuvers” and high politics with the Shipstead-Mahoney Farmer-Labor Party gang in Minnesota. The opportunist errors of a number of the, best Communist workers in that district flowed inevitably out of the essentially false theory of a two class party, a morass but of which only weeds can grow.

The future of the labor party cannot be guaranteed by mathematical calculations. For our part, however, without wasting any sympathy on the absurd theory of its “inevitability”, we see no reason to put aside the perspective of a labor party development in the working class movement. A possible basis for a mass labor party exists and will grow in the development and strengthening of the class unions which are now being formed in the coal, textile and needle trades industries, and which, must be formed in others.

The election, finally, demonstrated that it is only the Communist Party that represents the interests of the oppressed millions in the United States aiid its colonies. The miserable attempts of the socialist party parsons and peanut-stand owners to compete for the petty-bourgeoisie and the labor aristocracy with an expert demagogue like Smith, were only an indication of how far this little yellow sect has travelled from the days when it had at least a revolutionary core.

Its departure from everything healthy and radical in the labor and revolutionary movement leaves the Communist Party an open field. Its task is to rid itself of the opportunist adventurers and corrupt factionalists who have usurped its leadership. The fundamental healthiness of our party, its proletarian composition, its basic program are a guarantee that despite the difficulties, the errors, and the shortcomings it will win the masses and fulfill its revolutionary mission.

Shachtman button
Max Shachtman
Marx button
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 8.8.2012