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Fourth International, August 1948


World in Review

Break-Up of Two-Party System and the 1948 Election


From Fourth International, Vol.9 No.6, August 1948, pp.163-164.
Transcription & mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The towering political development of the 1948 presidential election is the breakup of the Democratic Party. This has ploughed up in roughshod fashion the political soil of the United States. The two-party system which has dominated American politics since post-Civil War days is disrupted, and new significant political realignments are now appearing.

The unnatural alliance of Southern Bourbons, Northern political machines, and the labor movement is falling apart. These antipathetic social forces were held together during a specific period of American history by the granting of concessions to the labor movement, huge subsidies to the farm interests and the cement of patronage. But American imperialism emerged from the war with a $250 billion internal debt and with the necessity of laying out additional billions as subsidies, loans and for military expeditions to prop up shaking regimes throughout the globe and save the disintegrating system of capitalism. The old New Deal policy of throwing small concessions to the working people became a luxury that hard-pressed American imperialism could no longer afford. The period of the “cold war” with Russia became likewise the period of the Taft-Hartley Law, witch-hunts, spy scares, labor injunctions, union-busting and lowered living standards at home. But the first serious sharpening cf the social crisis at home witnessed the splintering of the Democratic Party. The Wall Street rulers, after isolating and disgra.cing the New Deal remnants in the administration, demonstratively kicked Wallace out of office. Goaded on by the Stalinists, and taking heart from the ground swell of opposition developing in the ranks of the American people over high prices, lack of housing, the Taft-Hartley Law, violation of civil rights and the danger of war, Wallace decided to take advantage of the vacuum existing in the present-day political scene and launch his own middle-class party, lavish in promises of reforms while proposing to preserve intact the capitalist system. The launching of this postwar edition of the New Deal evoked – in the absence of an authentic labor party – widespread response from poor people throughout the country, especially the thrice-oppressed Negro masses, workers suffering from high prices and even numerous middle-class elements.

This noteworthy development in turn thrust the Democratic Party into a crisis. In danger of losing its support among precisely those sections of the population which had guaranteed its victory since 1932, the Truman administration, in a panic, began making numerous gestures and offering glib promises, especially to labor and the Negro masses. Because its foundations were shaken and its cause more desperate than during Roosevelt’s lifetime, Truman was compelled to go even further than Roosevelt in promising the Negro people their civil frights. To labor, the Democrats promised repeal of the Taft-Hartley Law.

But these steps, in turn, rather than resolving the crisis of the Democratic Party, sharpened it. By now, the Southern plantation aristocracy, already alarmed by the growing proportions of the postwar Negro movement for equality, become panic-stricken with the thought that Truman’s demagogic utterances on civil rights would endanger their already shaky rule in the South and make impossible the preservation of Southern “lynch law” and “white supremacy.” After numerous threats and blackmailing attempts, the most extreme of the Southern Bourbons likewise staged a walkout from the Democratic Party and are setting up a scarcely concealed “Dixiecrat” fascist movement.

These splits in the Democratic Party both from the left and right, far from enhancing the position of the trade-union bureaucracy in the Democratic rump, have further weakened its influence and thrust the bureaucracy, in turn, into the most serious crisis since the advent of the New Deal. For 15 years, the bureaucrats of the AFL and CIO were able to line up their union memberships behind the Democratic Party through the medium of such counterfeit labor political organizations as Labor’s Non-Partisan League, the PAC, etc.

But after the war this policy became increasingly difficult to pursue. The memberships, while not sufficiently class-conscious and determined to put a stop to the bureaucrats’ policy of supporting the two-party system of capitalist politics, were nevertheless voting against this policy negatively. They were showing increasing apathy toward coming out to vote for union-supported capitalist candidates. After the passage of the Taft-Hartley Law, this apathy turned to sullen resentment and lack of trust of all capitalist politicians. Under the circumstances, the labor bureaucrats have been long hesitating to come out openly in favor of Truman. They are attempting to concentrate on electing “good” Congressmen to office.

But the existence of Wallace’s Third Party in the field and its forthright attack on the worst evils of capitalism, is making it obvious that the labor bureaucracy cannot for long continue its bankrupt politics of supporting the two-party system. In the absence of a genuine labor party, millions of voters are bound to turn to Wallace.

The bureaucrats fear that this repudiation of their policies at the polls may at the next stage endanger their positions in the unions themselves. That is why the most perspicacious and socially conscious of the bureaucrats, especially in the CIO, are seeking an alternative policy. It is in this light that Reuther’s recent call for a new party must be viewed.

Reuther does not want a labor party. He is attempting to set forces into motion for the creation of a new party, similar to Wallace’s in its People’s Front character, dominated like Wallace’s by liberals and middle-class politicians, but anti-Stalinist, with a program similar to the Americans for Democratic Action. His call for a new party ir, certain, however, to inaugurate a fierce debate inside the union ranks. This debate can be of inestimable significance in furthering the political education and understanding of the union ranks and thus strengthening the nascent left wing and enlarging its support for the creation of a genuine labor party, based upon and responsible to the unions and with an effective program for militant labor action.

This labor party development will undoubtedly be spurred on by the fact that the Socialist Workers Party – the Marxist vanguard of the American labor movement – has for the first time emerged on the national scene as an effective party participating in the presidential elections and popularizing its program for a Workers and Farmers Government among hundreds of thousands of people previously unaware of the existence of the SWP.

The SWP candidates are calling upon all working people, especially the active unionists, to cast an SWP vote in this election, as they are the only candidates who are fighting for the creation of such a mass labo’r party in this country. This SWP campaign will undoubtedly act as a spur to the creation of a labor party movement, which in turn will revolutionize the present political lineups.

At the same time, the SWP campaign serves to popularize a clear-cut class program among great masses of the working population on the major social questions of the day: war and peace, inflation and prices, civil rights and full equality for the Negro people and other minorities,

the nationalization of industry and the reorganization of the economy on planned socialist foundations; as well as sharply demarcating the party and program of genuine socialism from all varieties of middle-class panaceas, including Wallace-Stalinist People’s Front demagogy and Norman Thomas “milk and water” reformism.

These crucial questions are basic to the founding of a labor party armed with a policy that can meet the pressing needs of the American working class. The SWP campaign for a Workers and Farmers Government thus lays the ground-work for the hammering out of a correct program for the emerging mass labor party movement.

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