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Fourth International, December 1944


The Editors

The Month in Review


From Fourth International, vol.5 No.12, December 1944, pp.355-356.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


Lessons of the 1944 Presidential Campaign Under the Two-Party System

BREAKDOWN OF THE TWO-PARTY SYSTEM Roosevelt’s re-election for a fourth term marked a further stage in the breakdown of the traditional two-party system of capitalist politics in America. The Republican party attempted its comeback through strict adherence to the hoary rules of the two party farce of tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee. The Republican Old Guard staked everything on the accustomed swing of the pendulum. They groomed their candidate and their program exactly as the “outs” are supposed to when it is their turn to replace the “ins.” Dewey, the candidate they put up, was manufactured as closely to specifications for a bourgeois political puppet as if he had been turned out on a wood lathe.

According to the Hoyle of two-party politics, when the masses are tired of a regime, they vote against it. Hence it is incumbent on the party out of office to avoid any act or declaration which might attract the ire of the public. This was Roosevelt’s tactic in the months before the 1932 election. Dewey, in keeping with this tradition, kept his mouth shut, sedulously avoided any spectacular maneuvers such as the world tours that drew attention to Willkie, committed himself on public issues as little as possible, and made himself out to be a plain man concerned about the American home and efficient honest government.

The program of the Republicans, as synthetic as their candidate, was based on no other calculation than avoiding the ire of people presumably tired of the present regime. On the fundamental questions of the day, the Republican program was indistinguishable from the Democratic.

INITIAL GROPING FOR POLITICS OF PROGRAM If the two-party system had not suffered a serious breakdown, this type of campaign should have put Dewey into office. The depression of 1929-1933, however, started the American people on the road to tie politics of program, particularly the workers. To the minds of the majority of workers, politics now means more than simply voting against the incumbents. They are concerned that a vote against the incumbents does not become converted into a return of the “depression party” and of pre-depression politics. In their voting has entered the element of being for something as well as against something. This element, when it has fully expanded and reached complete flowering, will mean no longer voting simply against an individual but voting for a program. Today it means the first beginnings of class consciousness on the political field.

Instructive in this connection is the fact that the American Labor Party and its split-off the Liberal Party registered more than 800,000 votes in New York state, double the 1940 vote. These parties supported Roosevelt, their program was the same as Roosevelt’s. The workers voted for these parties because there was no other avenue on the ballot to register their dissatisfaction with the capitalist two-party system.

The American working class does not want to go back to the politics of the era of Hoover. It wants to go forward. The experience of John L. Lewis is clear evidence. Despite his great popularity as a trade union leader, he not only failed to swing the working class back of Willkie in 1940, but in 1944, after four years more of Roosevelt, he could not even persuade the miners to back Dewey.

The politicization of the working class has been deepened and accelerated by the war. The working class is deeply concerned over the war and the peace it hopes will follow. The workers are worried over the possibility of a third world war, agitated over “reconversion,” the likelihood of widespread unemployment, and mounting living costs. The Negroes are becoming increasingly embittered over the spread of Jim Crow. No one can expect to gain a serious hearing from the workers unless he is prepared to take a stand on these fundamental issues. Dewey could not hope to win the working class unless he was prepared to go to the left of Roosevelt.

Instead, the Republican Old Guard chose to insult the intelligence of the working class by dangling a red herring before the ballot box. Roosevelt, they claimed, was under the influence of Communists because he was supported by the Political Action Committee, which in ‘turn was influenced by Stalinists, who in turn – claimed the Republican propagandists – are revolutionists of the type of Lenin! The absurdity of these allegations could only make the Republican propaganda ludicrous in the eyes of every worker consciously turning to politics.

The vote in the industrial areas of the nation, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, etc., showed that the working class, holding the balance of power, gave Roosevelt his fourth term. This is admitted by virtually all commentators.

A SIGNIFICANT SAMPLE POLL An interesting sample poll sent in to The Militant prior to the election by a worker in an auto plant reveals graphically the political trend of the working class. Of 58 workers polled, one voted for Browder, eight for Norman Thomas, seven for Dewey, 42 for Roosevelt. When asked whether they would have changed their vote from Dewey or Roosevelt to a Labor Party had it been in the field, 42 replied yes! This significant sample poll reveals the perfidious role of such labor leaders as Sidney Hillman.

Hillman and his stripe, who organized the Political Action Committee ostensibly to enable labor to play an active. role in politics, exerted every effort to corral the labor vote for Roosevelt, alleging that Roosevelt has shown himself a “friend of labor.”

True enough, labor made tremendous gains during Roosevelt’s incumbency. But these gains were made against bitter opposition on the part of Roosevelt, as can be easily proved by a most cursory glance at his labor record, beginning with his strike-breaking activities during the great union organization drives of 1934-37 to his present-day maintenance of the Little Steel wage-freezing formula.

Roosevelt’s program is continuation of the government role in labor disputes which has made the past four years some of the most difficult in the history of the labor movement. Roosevelt’s program is continuation of wage-freezing in the face of sky-rocketing living costs, continuation of the no-strike restrictions, continuation of government interference on behalf of the bosses in every matter vitally affecting the unions. Roosevelt intends to continue placating the Southern Bourbons who constitute the backbone of the Democratic party. Roosevelt intends to entrench Jim Crow still more solidly in the armed forces and in those areas of the country which previous to his regime were relatively liberal in this respect.

Hillman, Murray and the rest promised that support for Roosevelt would ensure consideration for labor’s interests during the next four years, Lewis made the same promises in 1936 when he organized Labor’s Non-Partisan League to help re-elect Roosevelt. In 1937, during the Little Steel strike, Roosevelt gave labor its reward by pronouncing a “curse on both your houses,” by which he meant the house of labor. The Little Steel strike was lost and labor took a serious setback.

It can safely be predicted that we will not have long to wait until Roosevelt hands labor a similar reward for its support in 1944. Already the War Labor Board has turned down the demands of the steel workers, again upholding the Little Steel wage-freezing formula. In the first major crisis affecting labor we can expect Roosevelt to come down with a mailed fist. And when that happens the misleaders of labor will undoubtedly complain, why no worse could have been expected from Dewey! The character of the Hillman-Murray labor “victory” in the election will then become manifest. In Congress there will not be one single representative of the labor movement to take the floor and defend labor’s interests. That labor does not yet have such a representative despite its great activity in the election, despite its power at the polls, is the best measure of the perfidy of the trade union heads.

FOREIGN POLICY FOR AND BY WALL STREET On the field of international politics where American labor has vital interests, Roosevelt will continue the same reactionary program that has marked his regime from its inception. General Franco could never have come to power in Spain had he not been aided by the policies of the State Department under Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s tenderness toward fascism has continued ever since, achieving notoriety in his dealings with ex-fascist officials in Italy and the most reactionary elements of French politics. Already Roosevelt has appointed a stooge of the House of Morgan, E.R. Stettinius, Jr., as Secretary of State. Just as the liberals, exemplified by the Nation, complained of Roosevelt’s policy in Spain and then in North Africa and Italy, yet trembled lest Roosevelt not be re-elected for a fourth term, so we can expect them to complain more than once in the days to come that in foreign policy nothing more reactionary could have been expected from Dewey!

Roosevelt’s continued program of reaction in both domestic and foreign affairs, however, will inevitably impel the working class farther along the road of political action. If the working class intervened in the 1944 election to halt the political pendulum from swinging back to the two-party system, they will now begin intervening to establish independent political action. Since this road is the road to complete class consciousness, we can expect some stormy developments in the period now opening up.

Just as Lewis proved impotent in herding the workers behind the elephant, so Hillman and the rest will presently prove impotent at keeping the workers behind the jackass.

The building of an independent labor party is now on the order of the day.

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Last updated on 4.9.2008