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Fourth International, December 1942


The Editors

The 1942 Elections


From Fourth International, vol.3 No.12, December 1942, pp.356-359.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.


The outstanding feature of the biennial elections this November was the defeat sustained by Roosevelt and his Democratic Party. The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives was reduced from 85 to 8. Nine Republicans replaced eight Democrats and one Independent in the Senate. The Republicans ousted Democrats from the governorship in four states, including two of the most populous and important, New York and California.

From coast to coast the trends in the elections were unmistakable. Candidates bearing Roosevelt’s colors or stamped with a liberal and New Deal label were marked for defeat. Among the casualties were such standard-bearers of Roosevelt as Hague’s Senator Smathers of New Jersey, MeNeeley of West Virgina, Lee of Oklahoma, Governors Van Wagoner of Michigan, Olson of California, Hurley of Connecticut and the Farmer-Labor candidates of Minnesota. Contrariwise, the more reactionary and conservative the candidates, whether they ran on the Republican or Democratic ticket, the greater were their chances for election. Among those placed in office were “Poll-Tax” Representative Howard Smith of Virginia, Senators Wayland Brooks of Illinois and Ferguson of Michigan, ex-President of the US Chamber of Commerce and now Senator Hawkes of New Jersey, Governor Baldwin of Connecticut, attorney for the union-busting Sikorsky Corporation, Governor Stassen and Senator Ball of Minnesota. Representative Hamilton Fish of New York and many other targets of Administration supporters and its liberal following emerged victorious.

Roosevelt was delivered a smashing blow in his home state of New York. Dewey, the defeated Republican candidate in 1940, was elected Governor by 610,000 votes, ending a 20 year Democratic rule of this key state. This followed upon the defeat administered to Roosevelt within his own party organization, which nominated Farley’s choice Bennett for Governor against Roosevelt’s candidate Mead.

Where Republican candidates were defeated, as a rule they ran more closely to the Democrats than the other way around. The Republican Party carried states containing nearly 80,000,000 of the national population of 130,000,000. These states have an electoral vote of 292, much more than is needed for a presidential majority.

The Significance of Roosevelt’s Defeat

The war, it might well have been expected, would serve to enhance the power of the Commander-in-Chief and consolidate the classes around him in national unity. Yet the opposite occurred in the first elections after Pearl Harbor. The election results clearly demonstrate that Roosevelt’s power has sharply declined and his prestige suffered since his election for the third term by such a great majority in 1940.

What does this mean? For 12 years Roosevelt has been the political mainstay of American capitalism, the immovable center around which all other political forces in the capitalist camp have revolved. Roosevelt’s re-election for the third term, breaking a tradition of over 150 years standing, showed how irreplaceable he had become in the political life of the capitalist regime in the United States.

Roosevelt’s admirers attribute his prolonged rule to his extraordinary personal abilities and political dexterity. They turn the real relations upside down. Roosevelt’s personal qualities only made him fitted to occupy the exceptional position, to play the particular role, to acquire and to exercise the predominant power he has so long maintained.

Roosevelt took the presidency when American capitalism had been plunged into its most severe crisis, which produced a tremendous sharpening of relations between all classes. The conflict between the ruling monopoly capitalists and the workers threatened to overturn the political stability and social structure of the country.

Roosevelt shouldered the task of overcoming this crisis and reconciling the conflict of interests between the classes. Thanks to a series of favorable conditions (the temporary upturn in world economy from 1933 to 1937, the wealth of the United States, the political immaturity of the working class, the pre-war boom, etc.), the Roosevelt of the New Deal became the super-arbiter of American politics, He was the dead center of the raging storms which shook American society throughout this period. There was no important issue or occasion, no vital sphere in which Roosevelt did not act s pacifier and stabilizer, the infallible though temporary resolver of contradictions.

First and foremost, Roosevelt moderated the conflicts between organized capital and organized labor. The political savior of American capitalism was at the same time regarded as the foremost friend of labor. He was the incarnation of the policy of class collaboration.

That was the guiding line of his New Deal program and his pre-war administration policies.

Roosevelt was not only the moderator between capital and labor. As the acknowledged political head of the official labor movement he was likewise the arbiter between contending factions within labor officialdom. Lewis, Green, Murray, Hillman, Tobin and virtually every other trade-union leader have at one time or another hailed Roosevelt as their chief. When these officials squabbled amongst themselves, Roosevelt stepped in to reconcile their differences. He intervened in the struggle between the AFL and the CIO; within the AFL for Green and Tobin against Hutcheson; and within the CIO for Murray against Lewis. And in the Minneapolis case he intervened to protect the autocracy of the AFL bureaucrats against the militant leaders of the Minneapolis teamsters.

Roosevelt mediated between contending sections of the bourgeoisie in his capacity as chief political executive of the general interests of American capital. He sought to soften the struggle between monopoly capitalists and agricultural capitalists, between the upper and the lesser bourgeoisie, between the smaller farmers and Big Business, between Southern capital and Northern capital. He was the super-boss in his own heterogeneous Democratic Party, the tie which bound together the labor and liberal following on the left wing with the ultra-reactionary Southern Bourbon and big capitalists on his right. He yoked together the corrupt professional machine politicians, Kelly-Nash in Chicago, Hague in New Jersey, etc. with his “progressive” supporters.

The war has expanded rather than contracted these functions. As Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, Roosevelt must adjust relations between the civilian population and the armed forces and settle bitter rivalries between the various branches of the armed forces themselves. Like Wilson, as head of American imperialism, he has become exalted to super-arbiter of the destinies of the world. As administrator of Lend-Lease and the colossal resources of the country, Roosevelt determines the rise or fall of political regimes and the course of many countries. He is today the court of last resort in controversies within the unstable coalition of the “United Nations,” just as he has been within the United States. Finally, thanks to Stalin’s diplomatic dependence upon the Allied imperialists, he has become supervisor of the relations between the USSR and the richest section of the world bourgeoisie.

If Roosevelt cannot get along without the support of all these conflicting forces, they in turn cannot get along without him. He is indispensable for reconciling their differences, for suppressing their irrepressible conflicts, for maintaining their present relations. Roosevelt is therefore the chief source of political stability within all these heterogeneous combinations. Anything which weakens Roosevelt’s position or authority automatically undermines the stability of these blocs, and hurls into confusion everything from the bourgeois-democratic regime in the United States to the equilibrium of the “United Nations.”

Such are the implications involved in the rebuke to Roosevelt in the elections. He is beginning to lose his social support among the masses and therewith his political supremacy. The main political prop of bourgeois democracy is beginning to crack. This collapse is still in its initial phases. Although Roosevelt remains in office he has lost control of Congress and part of his popularity among the masses. But the symptomatic significance of these developing tendencies is for this very reason all the more important. His popularity and power is rooted in the past while a new constellation of political forces is starting to take shape in the United States.

The Shift Away from Roosevelt

The election results indicate that two different sections of the people are beginning to leave Roosevelt’s camp. One consists mainly of middle-class elements; the other of industrial workers, hitherto the principal supports of Roosevelt’s New Deal. These two social forces are traveling away from the Roosevelt Democracy but at the moment in opposite directions.

The war has already dealt tremendous blows to the middle classes and they incline to blame the policies of the Roosevelt administration for their sufferings. The mounting cost of living, high taxes, tire and oil rationing, the induction of 18-19 year olds into the armed forces, the wholesale wiping out of petty proprietors of gas stations, groceries, etc.; the increasing difficulties of small business men, the lack of agricultural labor – all these and many other grievances exasperating the middle classes caused them to turn upon the Roosevelt lieutenants. They expressed their resentment for the most part by voting for Republican or anti-Roosevelt candidates. This is most clearly evidenced by the vote in the Middle Western states of the farm belt, in upstate New York, in rural Connecticut. This shift away from the New Deal signifies that the more mercurial and angered elements among the middle classes are seeking new avenues of political expression.

Votes of no-confidence were registered in a positive manner by voting against Roosevelt’s candidates and for his opponents as did the middle classes, or else by the negative method of abstention from voting at all. This latter was the workers’ favored method of protest. They exhibited their loss of faith in Roosevelt, their dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs not so much by returning to the Republican ranks and voting for conservative capitalist candidates as by refusing to go to the polls. This “outburst of apathy” amongst the workers has been commented upon by all observers. It is confirmed by the unusually small vote in almost all industrial areas – except New York.

The official labor leaders bestirred themselves to get out the vote for Roosevelt’s people, but the workers failed to respond to their call. They felt for the most part that they had nothing at stake in the elections, that there was too little difference between the Democratic and Republican capitalist candidates and conservative programs, that in these elections the ballot offered no means of solution for their problems.

This signifies that many workers are beginning to turn against their former political leadership but have not yet found a new party, a new program, a new political road through which they can hope to express their needs and gain their ends.

The heavy vote cast for the American Labor Party in New York demonstrated, however, that the vanguard of the industrial workers is ready for independent labor political action and organization. The same key state in which Roosevelt suffered his biggest defeat was the place where the Labor Party movement attained its greatest victory. It did so under the most adverse circumstances. The Labor Party candidate, Alfange, was a nonentity, a Tammany legal light, unknown and unaffiliated to the American Labor Party before his nomination. The Labor Party proposed no program different from the most subservient supporters of Roosevelt. The ALP in the past several years has been the cockpit of a fierce unprincipled struggle for organizational control between. the right-wing labor bureaucrats and Stalinists. The ALP leaders were compelled to nominate an independent candidate at the last hour against their will and only because they did not dare support Bennett, the candidate of the Democratic Party’s right wing. Roosevelt’s labor lieutenant Hillman, President of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, one of the two principal trade union pillars of the ALP, came out in favor of the Democratic candidate.

Yet despite these colossal handicaps, the vote for the ALP gubernatorial candidate exceeded the most optimistic expectations. He received 10 per cent of the vote in New York State; eighteen per cent in New York City. It is estimated that from ten to fifteen per cent of the worker-voters throughout the country boycotted this election. In New York about the same percentage came out and voted for the Labor Party slate. The Labor Party converted them from apathy into action!

Every revolutionist, every militant worker, ought to grasp the real significance of this vote. The ALP of New York did not vote for a joint Democratic and Labor Party candidate as they did in 1936, 1938 and 1940. They voted for the candidate of their own class party. They voted against Roosevelt’s and Lehman’s express appeal to them to support Fancy’s man. It is true that these workers also voted for Roosevelt’s general war program, but that corresponds to their present stage of political and theoretical development. From the class point of view, the predominating fact is that they aspire to carry out that program through their own independent political organization. That is why all those “radicals” who abstained “on principle” from giving critical support to the Labor Party candidates displayed their inability to analyze and appraise current political developments in the labor movement.

The very factors which the petty-bourgeois pretenders advanced as proof for non-support of the Labor Party go to prove the opposite. The workers wanted the Labor Party, despite all the above-cited defects in the existing Labor Party setup. The workers of New York supported the Labor Party in the same spirit as the Russian workers support the present Soviet state. This confirms the correctness of our party’s support of the ALP candidates and should stimulate continued work for the promotion and improvement of that movement.

The official labor leadership and their ultra-left petty-bourgeois shadows may act to hold back the advancing Labor Party current. But the Labor Party idea is spreading in the ranks of the working class; it gained strength in New York. More than any other single fact in the elections, this points the way to the future.

The Socialist Workers Party was able to run only two candidates in the elections: George Breitman for US Senator in New Jersey and Grace Carlson on a sticker campaign for US Senator in Minnesota. The votes for its candidates have not yet been tabulated. However, the main aim in these two campaigns was to reach more workers than ever before with the Socialist program. This aim was achieved.

The entrance of the United States into the war immediately strengthened all reactionary forces at the expense of the labor movement. The elections will undoubtedly tend to fortify these tendencies. The Southern Bourbon bloc now holds the balance of power in Congress and, in alliance with other agents of Big Business and ultra-reactionaries like Hamilton Fish, are in a position to exert tremendous pressure upon Roosevelt and to speed up their campaign against organized labor. Immediately after the elections, Senator O’Daniel of Texas demanded complete suspension of the Wage-Hour Laws and talked about a 72-hour week. Roosevelt’s henchman, Congressman Rankin of Mississippi, also demanded repeal of the Wagner Act and urged removal of “the Communist crackpots in key positions” in the name of “the white Anglo-Saxons of the South.”

The labor leaders’ subservience to Roosevelt and his war program is bound to bear even bitterer fruits as Roosevelt more and more becomes the captive of the labor-hating, union-busting elements of Washington and Wall Street. The workers can avoid these consequences only by forcing a break with the Roosevelt war machine, by recovering the lost independence of the trade unions, and by extending the basis of independent political action. As an indispensable instrument of this struggle, which involves the very existence of the labor movement, they will have to build their own Labor Pasty.

Such a party with a fighting program will not only rally millions of industrial workers to its banner. It will also win over many of the discontented middle-class elements who are looking for new political leadership.

The recent elections was only the first stage in the political evolution of these elements. For want of a better alternative they are taking a step backward before the organized workers will help them take a step forward away from their captivity to the capitalist parties. The Labor Party is not only a political formula for the organizational independence of the industrial workers but likewise a means of collaboration between them and the progressive sections of the middle classes.

That is why the Labor Party slogan is the key to the next stage in the political progress of the American people.

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