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Fourth International, January-February 1948


World in Review

The 1948 Presidential Election Under the Two Party System


From Fourth International, Vol.9 No.1, January-February 1948, pp.6-7.
Transcription & mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Political Choices – Past and Present

1948 is election year and surely in the nearly two hundred years history of the republic, the American people have rarely faced a presidential election with such difficulties and problems surrounding them. In 1856 and 1860, when grave political choices had to be made between Presidential candidates, the internal conflicts of the United States were taking place within a world framework comparatively stable, economically progressive, and confident in the march of progress. The struggle in the United States was a struggle to rid the country of burdens and forces which were hampering it from aiding and participating in the confident development of capitalist civilization which marked the second half of the Nineteenth Century.

The North and West (where lay the future) was confident of the future of the country. By 1860 a new party, the Republican Party, had emerged with a program, leaders, and vast stores of energy and devotion in millions of aroused people. In their difficulties the people were offered a choice, and a way out. Today the situation is entirely different. Gloom dominates official society. Far from gaining confidence and moral stability from the outside world, the internal crisis is inextricably entangled with the fate of bourgeois society collapsing on a world scale.

Apart from the exploiters and the political cliques which do their bidding in Congress, the great body of the people have clearly indicated their deep, if unorganized, conviction that the old parties offer no way out. Most observers agree that the popularity of General Eisenhower as President has been the most striking feature of popular sentiment to-date. Yet the grinning General achieved his rating without having committed himself to a political plank or program of any kind. And precisely here was his strength. To the great mass of the petty-bourgeoisie in particular, this “unpolitical” successful man of action represented the rejection of the politics of the old parties. It is doubtful whether his popularity would have been any less, if he had been groomed as a candidate for the Democratic instead of the Republican Party. He symbolized a rejection not only of Taft and Dewey but of Truman as well. Max Lerner, Editor of PM, that eminent liberal, author of tomes on economics, politics, and sociology, announced that he would vote for Eisenhower and confessed himself in a quandary when the General, for whatever reasons, withdrew or announced his withdrawal.

Perpetuating a Fiction

The Eisenhower boom is complemented by the candidacy of Wallace which assumes importance and takes the spotlight to become the second link of the unfolding chain of 1948 electoral politics. Eisenhower symbolized the rejection of the old politics and the old leaders. Wallace appeals to labor and the people against the old parties. That these should so far have been the only distinctive overt political expressions of the crisis shows the grave weakness of American politics and American social thinking – the absence of the class criterion as the dividing line in politics. In a world where the rule of the capitalist class has brought civilization to the edge of total disaster, the fiction of non-class politics is still assiduously preserved in the United States.

It is the great ideological curtain of the American bourgeoisie. But it is wearing very thin. And more than ever the task of Marxists in this election, is to assist the proletariat in tearing this thread-bare veil of non-class politics to ribbons. Nothing is more pitiful than the concerted attempt of the Democrats and the Republicans to find differences which can justify the fiction that political life consists of the choice between them.

Bi-partisan is not a bad term. It is the political symbol for tactical divisions among the ruling class. The American nation today sees three great problems before it. The most immediate is the high cost of living and the inflation. The second is the relation between capital and labor which has shaken the country to its depths during the period since the war. The third is the disintegration of society on a world-scale and the drive to world-conflict.

What Unites the Bourgeoisie

The bourgeoisie knows that high cost of living and the inflation are a class question. The one thing certain about inflation is that it signifies an inflated profit for the capitalist class as a whole and a terrible deflation of the standard of living of the people. Behind this is the expectation shared by millions at home and throughout the world, that this inflation is leading to an economic crisis which may put the 1929 depression in the shade. Now the bourgeoisie as a class has differences. But the American bourgeoisie at the present moment is unified by this: that it is impotent to prevent the economic depression and lives in deadly fear of it. There it is, in the last analysis, as helpless as it was in 1929. The struggle between the Democrat and Republican parties therefore resolves itself into a contest, each trying to place the blame for present inflation and future depression on the other, as a means of gaining votes in the coming elections. This has been shown once again by the reaction of both parties to the drop in prices on the commodity market. President Truman has been urging a ten-point program of government controls. The Republicans have proposed and carried a program for voluntary controls which have been ridiculed equally in the press of Wall Street as well as in the labor press. The ominous drop in commodity prices has in the political sense meant nothing to either political grouping. Arthur Krock in the New York Times, February 13, summarized the situation as follows:

If prices do not rise again toward a scale higher than that from which they began to drop a few days ago, and especially if they are stabilized at about 20 per cent below their peaks for the duration of the Presidential campaign, the Republicans will be in clover. For this, year’s political purposes, at any rate, they will have made their case against the necessity of the controls Mr. Truman continues to urge. And they will have associated themselves with the lower prices which are getting a welcome from the American consumer.

If prices do rise again and pass the point from which they have lately receded, the President will have the better of the argument about his ten-point program. Probably in this situation he will gain the further advantage of being able to prophesy what he could do about prices without having to prove it, for there is no present prospect that any likely economic development before the election will persuade the Republican leaders to agree to his program.

If prices go up! If prices go down! The Republicans wish to make their case! But on the other hand the President may prove his case without having to do anything about it. It is obvious that both sides are playing their perpetual political game. The Republicans are appealing to the petty-bourgeoisie and the rural communities. The President must appeal to labor and the ranks of the lower petty-bourgeoisie. It is a struggle for power of two partisans who have one common class basis; common bankruptcy before the threatening economic catastrophe, common disregard for the plight of the great masses of the people, and a common necessity of each party to place blame upon the other. The American bourgeoisie plays its own politics, which includes a concentrated campaign of red-baiting to stamp out the faintest approach to mobilization of the proletariat for revolutionary action. That is bi-partisan politics.

Class Politics – For Workers

There is another type of politics – the politics whereby the workers and the farmers take control of government and production under a government of their own. There is no other cure for inflation and the increasingly violent shocks to which capitalism continuously submits the economy. There is no other cure for the high cost of living. And above all no other cure for the depression which hangs like a great cloud-burst over the world. But this kind of politics is revolutionary politics, the politics of the militant proletariat.

The shabby differences on politics between the two parties on inflation and the high cost of living offer them the best opportunity to disguise their class solidarity.

The bourgeois hagglings and differences are inflated in direct proportion to the strength of their class enemy and the threat to their class position. After V-E Day, not “the public” in general, but the organized labor movement by its own direct proletarian action – the great strikes, introduced class reality into politics. This action riddled to pieces at once the pretensions of the two parties to represent and monopolize between them the social and political life of the country. In the face of this proletarian threat the differences between the parties dwindled to insignificance. The House passed the Taft-Hartley Bill by a vote of 320 to 79. 217 Republicans voted for it and 103 Democrats. Against it were 12 Republicans and 66 Democrats. The same solidarity appeared in the Senate, where the vote was 54 to 17. Even in the Senate, 17 Democrats voted for while only 15 voted against. Thus the President was confronted by a majority of his own party voting for the Bill. His veto was over-ridden. But while the veto safeguarded the right of the President to appeal to the workers as the friend of labor, his attempt to break the railroad strike by the use of the armed forces, his all-out attempt to break the Miner’s Union through the Supreme Court, and the anti-labor administration of the bill by Denham, Truman’s appointee, have in practice supplemented the Taft-Hartley Bill and demonstrated the class solidarity of Congress and the Administration against the Labor movement. For the bourgeoisie the main enemy is at home. On this question of the Taft-Hartley act both the Republican and the Democratic parties enter the coming electoral campaigns without even pretending that there are differences between them.

Foreign Policy – Old and New

Just as solid as the drive against organized labor is the class front on the drive for world-power. Here there is one distinctively new development. The Democrat Wilson was elected in 1916 on the ground that he kept the country out of war. His victory was celebrated by plunging the country into World War I. The Republican Party supported him both in his deception and his war mongering. The split came only after the war, over the question of entry into the League of Nations.

In 1940 Roosevelt and Willkie conspired to deceive the people on the plans for American entry into the war. But the increased responsibilities of American imperialism, its need to shore-up collapsing capitalism and to destroy Russia; the power of organized labor, its fear of war and distrust of the politics of the ruling class, these have combined to bind the foreign politics of the bourgeoisie into a solid front. The division over the Marshall Plan is the most transparent fakery of all the fakeries that are being manufactured for the electorate. A paper decision for five billion or six – administration by the Secretary of State, or by an Administrator of Cabinet rank – what does it matter? The bourgeoisie has committed the country to a series of adventures abroad, Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan, “loans” to China, and so on, measures whose ultimate end, unless checked, is devastating atomic war. What difference does it make to the people, one billion more or less? Or whether the administration of the plan is in the hands of Marshall or another administrator, with or without cabinet rank?

These are the parties that ask the American people, threatened as never before, to choose between them. Their competition on tax relief, for the Negro vote, all partake of the same character of rival salesmen for the same firm. On all essentials they are solid on the interests of their class. This solidarity is not accidental at all. It lies not on their heads, their appetites, their responsibility to their constituents, or their love of country.

In 1939 Leon Trotsky wrote,

“Lenin even prior to the October Revolution formulated the main peculiarities of imperialist capitalism as follows: gigantic concentration of productive forces, the heightening fusion of monoply capitalism with the state, an organic tendency toward naked dictatorship as a result of this fusion. The traits of centralization and collectivization determine both the politics of revolution and the politics of counter-revolution.”

Why They Fear the Labor Party

This is the economic and social movement which dictates the fusion of Democratic and Republican politics. This enormous concentration of capitalist power, helpless before the oncoming economic crisis, is driven to an ever-increasing political solidarity against its enemies at home and abroad. There is no force on earth that can oppose it except the labor movement. Serious opposition to it means the sharpening of the class struggle on a scale undreamt of by previous generations of the American people. The workers and the great masses of the people are ready to resist both the bankruptcy at home and the adventurism abroad. But the labor leadership and the radical intellectuals are terrified by the prospects of the gigantic struggle which any serious opposition will engender. Once the workers enter the political arena – the highest expression of the class struggle – as an independent force, all the disguises will be stripped, all the fictions destroyed. Hence the determination of the official labor leaders to confine the political struggle in 1948 within the framework of the old parties.

The country is heading for a climax in which one of the first victims will be these parties who have dominated the American political scene so long. 1948 may well be the last year in which they will be able to wear the trappings and mouth the rituals of offering “a choice” to the American people.

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