From Fourth International, Vol. I No. 6, November 1940, p. 147–148.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The Democratic Party has been kept in power by a much smaller majority of the popular vote than in 1932 or 1936. Roosevelt received 55 percent of the ballots in 1940 compared to 62 percent four years ago. This trend away from the Democrats resulted from a shift in the allegiance of the middle-classes – the upper sections, including part of the farm vote, returning to Republicanism, the lower sections remaining with Roosevelt.
Willkie was the coupon-clipper’s choice, the wealthy woman’s darling. His single bloc of electoral votes came from the mid-Western agricultural belt; Roosevelt, on the other hand, owes his victory to the industrial workers. Setting aside the Southern states guaranteed by the Democratic dictatorship over that area, Roosevelt’s strength derived from his support in the industrial states and centers. This was strikingly demonstrated in the key state of New York where his margin of victory was less than the total vote cast for him by the American Labor Party.
After his failure to solve a single important social problem, after all his blows at labor, what has enabled Roosevelt to maintain this amount of influence over the working masses? There is first the spreading economic boom generated by the war-trade and the militarization program, which has given employment and fresh hope to millions of workers. The unusually large vote cast for Roosevelt in Connecticut and other armament centers reflected this.
Then the mounting tide of patriotism has already caught some workers in its sweep. Roosevelt’s spokesmen concentrated their campaign around the nationalist issue. Roosevelt was really running, they claimed, not against Willkie, but against the dictators. The Republicans were depicted as agents and appeasers of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.
Third, Roosevelt, the author of the New Deal reforms, appeared as the chief guardian of the relief check, Social Security and the labor laws against reactionary attack. Most of the workers have yet to realize that Roosevelt’s War Deal means the death of his New Deal. Fourth, the bulk of the workers saw no effective alternative to the Democratic candidate. They detested and distrusted the Republican machine of the Girdlers, Pews, and Fords; they had no point of identity with the corporation president who was its candidate; nor could they detect any difference, save for the worse, in the domestic or foreign platforms of the two capitalist parties.
The decisive factor was the despicable role played by the official labor leadership. The Republicans tried to make the third-term a main issue against Roosevelt by invariably referring to him as “the third-term candidate.” This strategy evoked no response from the masses. This demonstrated that the workers don’t give a damn for “the sacred traditions” of American politics. At least their most advanced sections would have been equally willing to scrap the “two-party tradition,” if they had been given the lead. But labor’s representatives barred the road toward independent political action.
Ninety percent of labor officialdom, with Tobin, Hillman, Murray and Green at their head, rode herd for Roosevelt. John L. Lewis was the notable exception. In 1936 Lewis used Labor’s Non-Partisan League as the rope to lead the industrial workers into the Democratic corral, holding out the prospect of a Labor Party in 1940, if Roosevelt failed to fulfill his promises.
Roosevelt’s manifest failures presented Lewis with a perfect opportunity to launch the long-awaited national Labor Party movement, or at least to lay the basis for it. When Lewis was scheduled to announce his position over the radio two weeks before election day, the ears of the whole people were listening. Tens of millions of workers eagerly awaited his words.
Lewis lambasted Roosevelt. Good! exclaimed the progressive workers, true! Then Lewis broke the news that he was returning to his first love, the Republican money-masters. What a deep, cruel disappointment to the workers! Even those who were not yet inclined to quit the Democratic Party would have rejoiced if Lewis had taken a bold and independent stand against both capitalist parties and candidates, instead of crawling back to the Republican camp.
It must be said that Lewis remained true to himself in thus betraying the political interests of the American workers. He has always been an opportunist bureaucrat. The dirty deal he made with Willkie and Girdler in 1940 was no different from his agreement with Roosevelt in 1936, or the strikebreaking contracts he has concluded with the coal-operators in the past.
This time, however, Lewis could not deliver the goods. The workers refused to be sold, like himself, to the Republicans. They repudiated Lewis. Even his miners refused to follow him, as the anti-Republican vote in the coal-districts proved. The industrial workers can no longer be driven back to Black Republicanism. Their leaders dared not urge them forward to independent political class action. And so most of them clung to the Democratic Party, choosing what seemed to them the lesser of two evils.
A call for an independent Labor policy and party would have transformed the whole electoral situation. It would have aroused great enthusiasm and sympathy throughout the working population. It could have opened out new perspectives for organized labor and all the unprivileged, preparing the way for a labor power that would be more than political merchandise offered for sale to the highest bidder among the capitalist competitors.
The two capitalist parties worked overtime in this election to monopolize the entire political activity of the country, as the giant corporations already monopolize our economic life. This is evidenced in the increased restrictions piled upon minority political groups to prevent them from appearing on the ballot.
Our party was unable to run more than two candidates, Grace Carlson for Senator in Minnesota, George Breitman for Senator in New Jersey. Carlson, who appeared on the ballon as the “Trotskyist Anti-War Candidate” received 5,743 votes with 100 precincts yet to report. In the Twin Cities, her vote of 2,782 topped that of all the other minority parties. Returns for George Breitman were not yet available at the time we went to press.
Handcuffed to Lewis, the Communists, particularly its CIO leaders, were dragged along with him toward the Republican camp. The Stalinists gave the same kind of left-handed support to Willkie this year as they gave to Roosevelt four years ago. The extremely small vote for the Socialist Party indicates that the semi-patriotic and pseudo-Socialist pacifism peddled by Norman Thomas can inspire no one, including his retinue of middle-class admirers. Thomas did not forget to wish Roosevelt “all the success in the world” after his victory. Roosevelt returns to office with full freedom to execute his imperialist war program. Hitherto he has been compelled to restrain himself in many directions. From now on there are no important internal factors preventing the Big Chief from taking to the warpath. The moves of the administration (immediately after election day) to increase the national debt limit by twenty billions and to allot half of the arms production to Great Britain, demonstrated the determination to extend its intervention in the conflict.
The coming period will witness the swift unfolding of the administration’s War Deal. Roosevelt, the preserver of peace, must come forth as the leader of war; Roosevelt, the democrat, must act as the dictator of a war machine; Roosevelt, the friend of labor, must keep labor in its place; Roosevelt, the “Good Neighbor” President, must use the Yankee fist against the Latin American nations.
Instead of peace, unbounded prosperity, and liberty, the Democratic victory holds in store war, misery, reaction.
To warn the workers of these prospects, to explain their inevitability, and to help them take the necessary counter-measures against the War-Dealers – such is our task now that the elections are over.
Last updated on 26 February 2016