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Fourth International, May 1948


World in Review

Presidential Campaign Notes


From Fourth International, Vol.9 No.3, May 1948, pp.72-74.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


To all outward appearances the handful of multi-billionaires who run this country face no serious problems whatever, let alone any grave threats, in the coming presidential elections. The only thing that seems to be in question is the identity of the individual who will succeed in winning the Republican nomination and therewith the Presidency. The odds are likewise heavily in favor of a Republican sweep of both houses of Congress. Only a sudden and unexpected change could prevent this party of avowed reaction from returning to the seats of power in Washington after a lapse of 16 years.

This Republican victory would set the seal at home on Wall Street’s unbroken chain of triumphs in the three postwar years. Just as the US remains economically the only solvent capitalist country among the major powers, so, too, it will then be the only major power where capitalism is able to rule openly in the name of its most reactionary party.

Behind them the American monopolists have ten years of lushest profits in history, with each year’s booty surpassing that of the year before. They have succeeded in raising profits not alone in industry but also in agriculture to heights previously unknown under capitalism. The big and middle farmers who are enjoying this unprecedented prosperity provide a substantial social prop for the monopolists and add considerable wind to the swollen sails of reaction.

Even before the presidential elections Wall Street has embarked upon a rearmament program unknown in peacetime. The budget plans which are being jammed through Congress already surpass in cost the armament programs of the Western European states (Germany, Italy, England, France) plus the United States itself on the eve of World War II. The second violent explosion of American militarism which lies directly ahead promises to throw into the shadows the one which the world witnessed only a few short years ago. Concurrently, never has the military clique in the US wielded the power in peacetime in all spheres, diplomatic as well as financial and economic, that it already wields today. The militarists intend to remain firmly in the saddle and they will be aided by a Republican victory.

This brief list far from exhausts the scope and resources of reaction, but it suffices to indicate the vastness of its power. Not only is American capitalism the strongest single power ever to emerge in the world. It actually surpasses the strength of all the others combined, towering over the whole planet so as to dwarf its rivals, even if we discount its temporary monopoly of the atomic explosives.

Paradox of Power and Crisis

It therefore seems paradoxical, if not irrational, to speak of a political crisis in connection with the coming presidential elections. Nonetheless that is the reality. The American bourgeoisie is heading for a political crisis that threatens to surpass in its acuteness the critical period of the presidential elections held on the eve of the Civil War against the Southern slaveocracy.

Ironically enough it was the disintegration of the Democratic Party that signaled the crisis at that time, just as it does today. But here the historical parallel ceases. The Democratic Party on the eve of the Civil War represented an entirely different correlation of class forces from the decaying Democratic Party of our day. The disintegration of this party in the Sixties signified the irreparable break of the coalition between the Southern plantation owners and the rising industrial bourgeoisie of the North. On the other hand, the disintegration of Truman’s party signifies the beginning of the death agony of bourgeois democracy.

Capitalist democracy is not sustained by such things as a constitution or political parties, or free elections, and so on. All these are, so to speak, only the mechanical details. Capitalist democracy is sustained in the last analysis by the ability of one or more avowed capitalist parties to win the support of the labor movement as a whole or in, any case of its majority.

Once this labor support is lost, however, parliamentary rule becomes impossible for the bourgeoisie. To be sure, they are still able to maintain themselves as a ruling class through the medium of such disguised capitalist parties as the Social Democracy in Europe or the Labor Party in England. But this expedient of indirect rule is both unstable and temporary. The capitalists tolerate such an expedient only so long as their own forces are not yet reorganized in order to set in motion totalitarian, fascist gangs. There are and there can be no exceptions to such a course of events once the crisis of capitalist parliamen-tarianism sets in. The entire history of Western Europe in the interval between the two imperialist world wars bears this out irrefutably.

Peculiarity of US Development

The peculiarity of the development of the political crisis in the United States lies in this, that the dominant capitalist parties are losing their labor support before ah independent labor party has appeared on the scene and in the absence of mass workers’ parties of any other variety, either the classic reformist, the Stalinist-reformist or the genuinely revolutionary. We find the crisis of bourgeois democracy unfolding even though the long maturing political crisis of the American labor movement has failed as yet to find its first organizational form.

The break of the labor movement with the Republican Party took place many years ago. This party of labor haters and chief promoters of the Taft-Hartley Slave Labor Law stands in approximately the same relation to American labor as do the British Tories in relation to the British working class.

Labor’s break with the Democratic Party is neither so clear nor definitive as yet. It is still in its initial stages. It finds its most graphic expression not so much in the formation of the Wallace third party movement as in the widespread resistance among the workers to Truman’s candidacy.

More and more official CIO leaders find themselves compelled to disavow Truman publicly and to demand some other figurehead – an Eisenhower or a Douglas – who, they believe, would make it possible for them to once again rally the workers behind the Democratic Party. This frantic search for a popular candidate is not at all a question of the fate, of this or that individual. At stake is the entire future of the Democratic Party which must founder once it loses its labor support. Repeated here under different conditions is the experience of the British Liberal Party which found itself in a similar plight toward the close of the nineteenth century, when the British working class took its first halting steps toward the formation of the Labour Party. Democratic chieftains and their labor flunkeys will discover, as did the liberals and the prototypes of the Greens and the Murrays in England, that labor’s drift away from their party cannot be checked and will inescapably assume the shape of a complete break.

The profound political ferment inside the ranks of American labor is still obscured by the unchallenged monopoly of the capitalists on the political field. Unquestionably the survival of the two party system is the greatest single internal asset of the Wall Street monopolists. But at the same time it is a factor that aggravates the unfolding political crisis of the American working class.

Anti-Union Drive Will Awaken Labor

The pre-condition for the carrying out of Wall Street’s war program is the complete shackling of the trade unions to the governmental war machine. The degree of independence enjoyed by the unions during the last war cannot now be afforded by the capitalist ruling class. The regimentation of labor initiated under the Taft-Hartley Law even before there was talk of preparing another war is only a brief prelude to a vast program of police and military regimentation for labor and the population as a whole as the rearmament becomes full-fledged.

By their entire conduct the monopolists have demonstrated that they feel free to do as they please at home as well as abroad. Labor’s impotence in the political field is what really unties their hands. They know this. But as they continue to deal one blow after another to labor, they must drive this lesson home to the mass of organized workers as well. For the very existence of the unions along with the defense of labor’s living standards and elementary democratic rights is being jeopardized as the workers will discover, not so much by the power of the corporations as by labor’s lack of any independent organizational strength in politics.

Overshadowing every other development is, of course, the war crisis into which Wall Street is deliberately plunging this country and the whole world. This will feed the crisis of bourgeois democracy not alone because of the intolerable burdens and sacrifices that will be imposed upon the masses at home but also because of the stripping away of all the democratic disguises of capitalist rule through the increasing imposition in all spheres of police and military measures. The war crisis will tend to cut the ground from under political adventures like the Wallace movement.

Red-baiting, war hysteria, patriotic demagogy and the rest will wear thin very quickly as the workers find their organizations and living standards subjected to one ferocious onslaught after another. This will bring the political crisis of the American labor movement to the breaking point far more quickly than the power-drunk rulers and all their agents and apologists realize.

It may be said without any fear of exaggeration that never before has the situation been more propitious in this country for the advancement and spread of the liberating ideas of revolutionary Marxism. In a certain sense the opportunities afforded by the 1948 presidential elections to the Socialist Workers Party are exceptional and unrepeatable, livery seed will fall upon the most fertile soil.

Fertile Ground for Our Campaign

The Socialist Workers Party is able to appear at this critical juncture for the first time on a national scale as the sole consistent fighter against war and to point the only road to lasting peace. It is able to counterpose to the self-destructive and war-breeding system of capitalism the only program of salvation – the abolition of this system and the revolutionary reconstruction of society on socialist foundations.

It will be able to provide the political answers for which so many American workers are now groping. At the same time, it will be able to advance the best practical program for defending the unions and the living standards in the terrible days ahead.

Not the least important is the fact that these elections afford the Socialist Workers Party its first opportunity to demarcate itself politically on a national scale from all the other tendencies inside the working class, from the official misleaders and cowards through the bankrupt remnants of the Social Democracy down to the equally bankrupt and discredited Stalinist betrayers.

Most heartening and gratifying is the fact that even before the limited forces and resources of the SWP have been fully mobilized for the task of this presidential campaign, the branches in three states – New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan – have already succeeded in meeting their respective requirements for getting on/the ballot. These three states comprise one-sixth of the voting population of this country.

This is indeed an auspicious beginning. It is a pledge that other branches will overcome the many obstacles that Wall Street’s boasted “democracy” throws in the way of minority parties who seek their rightful place on the ballot. It is a guarantee that the message of the Socialist Workers Party will reach tens upon hundreds of thousands of workers who are today not even familiar with its name.

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