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Fourth International, March-April 1952


George Clarke

Truman and Eisenhower


From Fourth International, Vol.13 No.2, March-April 1952, pp.35-37.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The big question that dominates the political scene in 1952 is this: Will there be an old-style two-party election contest in the Fall, or will there just be a national plebiscite – with a dummy opposition to keep up appearances – to ratify The General as President-Commander-in-Chief of the nation?

As if by magic, this possibility of a dramatic break with that holy-of-holies of American politics – the two party system – is generally accepted by the politicians on both sides almost like an act of God against which the hand of man dare not be raised. No one has even suggested that Congress or the Supreme Court or the people – oh! terrible thought! – might even be consulted for their opinion on this strange departure from the “American way of life.”

The Politicians Maneuver

Harry Truman, guardian of 20 years of Democratic power, of billions of present and future spoils for his comrades, announces his abdication many months in advance. Adlai Stevenson, the only other plausible banner-bearer for the party cannot find it in his soul to challenge Eisenhower and declines the nomination. What remains? To choose from among a coonskin cap, a “New Deal” Economic Royalist, a Dixiecrat, a senile Veep for the “fall guy” who will enter the ring for no other reason than to preserve the fiction of a two party election.

The party politicians are unanimous on one point: Eisenhower as candidate must mean Eisenhower as President. Their only hope is that he will fail to win the nomination. From the time Eisenhower’s candidacy was first projected there has ensued a complicated game of devious maneuvers and stratagems to spirit away the “White Horse” before the General could get close enough to mount it. The crucial moment, all are agreed, is not in November where the people presumably make the decision. It is in July at the Republican Party Convention.

Taft’s frantic efforts to convince the Republican bosses that they will be cheated of the fruits of victory if a general without real party loyalties or ties were elected have their counterpart in Truman’s disingenuous maneuvers. His first announcement that he was prepared to extend the Democratic nomination to Eisenhower, if the General wanted it, broke up the previously developing unity around Taft and divided the GOP into two hostile camps. Obviously if Truman would support Eisenhower then so would millions of Democratic voters. Then there would be no need for a bitter anti-labor campaign and a demagogic stirring of the discontent against the Korean war as was certainly to be expected of Taft.

Truman’s second move of withdrawing from the race, followed by Stevenson’s declination, has made the confusion worse confounded – this time by strengthening Taft as against Eisenhower. Anyone, it would appear, even a Taft, could defeat such nonentities as Kefauver or Harriman. What reason is there then, opine the Republican party bosses, to permit a general to deprive them of the emoluments of office for which they have been hungering for the last 20 years? If the maneuver succeeds and Taft is actually nominated, then Truman or possibly even Stevenson is in a position to yield to the “call of the people,” and to attempt by a combination of anti-Big Business demagogy and a pro-war anti-isolationist program to return the Democratic Party to power in November.

The outcome of these political gyrations and intrigues is of less importance, however, than the powerful social forces which have set them into motion. How else explain Eisenhower’s sudden emergence as the central figure on the political stage? How explain that the future of Truman and the Democratic Party is now so utterly dependent on the choice made in the Republican convention? It is obvious that the new pressures and trends in American politics will not vanish if Truman were re-elected or even if Taft should win. On the contrary, these social forces will determine the course and character of any new administration, more indirectly perhaps than under an Eisenhower regime, but no less decisively.

Old Alignment Disappearing

A new alignment of forces has been shaping up in the past several years. With the advent of the “cold war,” the axis of social stability has been gradually shifting away from the Truman-labor-liberal coalition. The dominant economic factor has become the war economy; the dominant political factor the preparations for the world counter-revolutionary war. These new trends have been eroding the foundations and the very reason for existence of the Truman administration.

Long ago, the outstanding New Deal “planners” were shown the gate in official Washington. The “Welfare State” returned as an election slogan in 1948 but it died the day after the votes were counted. Full employment has continued virtually since the end of the war but not by virtue of any elaborate program of social reforms or any major concessions to labor. Since 1948, but more especially since the beginning of the Korean war, it has been expenditures for military purposes and for the foreign aid program which have primed the national economic pump.

The war planners in the Pentagon hold all the trump cards in the economy. Their billions of investments in new plant construction and in orders for certain types of military equipment stemmed the downturn to depression in 1949. Three years later, given the tremendous increase in production capacity and productivity, business again faces the danger of overproduction. And once again the economic fate of the nation will soon hang on the timing of the decision of the Pentagon clique to freeze military models and begin their mass production. In this process Truman’s role has been increasingly limited to that of mouthpiece for the Pentagon, to its go-between with Congress to extort the necessary appropriations.

War Is the Main Business

So it is with the nature of the affairs of state which have undergone a similar alteration. It has become a rare occurrence in the past years for the President or Congress to seriously preoccupy themselves with proposals for social security, public housing or new TVA developments except to cut existing appropriations. The big issues are now those projected by the General Staff in its strategic operations: the North Atlantic Alliance, the rearmament of Germany, the peace treaty with Japan, the war in Korea, etc. They arc such questions as require speedy decision, a minimum of parliamentary red-tape and Congressional palaver. Under such circumstances it becomes an obstacle and an irritation to have to deal with a civilian concerned always with the needs of his party machine, with an eye on votes in the next election and who is still tied, if not very firmly, to an alliance with the labor bureaucracy.

All the troubles that beset American imperialism in its drive to conquer a world erupting with colonial revolutions, shaken by social crisis, reluctant to join in a suicidal war – the loss of China, the stalemate in Korea, the difficulties of western European rearmament – all are laid at the door of the Administration. No one in ruling class circles, it is true, has a different program. But that doesn’t make this kind of propaganda less plausible, less insidious: Truman and Acheson are beyond their depth in affairs such as these: they are too weak to bully Stalin into terms, not strong enough to make war and win it quickly. In the mind of the middle class, still fascinated by the power of the atom bomb but devoid of any conception of the real relationship of forces in the world, the Truman regime is weak, capable only of pilfering the public treasury and of conciliation with the “labor bosses.” The very slogan of the Administration “peace by strength” undermines it most. How can there be a show of strength in the world if there is nothing but weakness at home?

Even the alliance with labor, although continuing in attenuated form, no longer has the force it had in the past. The government is less capable of acting as shock absorber to cushion the clash between labor and the corporations. Government boards have lost their magnetism. They have ceased to be the court of last resort. The corporations resist what they consider unfavorable decisions without second thought. Even the cowardly labor bureaucracy is less hesitant about strikes than in the past.

The big test came with the last Truman effort to create a new agency of class collaboration in the Wage Stabilization Board. But the retreat of Truman and Wilson when the union representatives walked out in early 1951 deprived the board of effective power to reduce the standard of living. Now Wilson’s walkout and the opposition of the steel barons to the Board’s recommendation in the current steel dispute has virtually blown up the WSB. The only means left at Truman’s disposal are increasingly those of direct intervention – the Taft-Hartley injunction, the anti-labor seizure of the railroads or the “pro-labor” seizure of the steel mills. This is government by decree, bonapart ism in action and by virtue of this fact far more suited to an Eisenhower than to a Truman.

McCarthy Dominates the Scene

Meanwhile the political center of gravity in the country has moved far to the right. McCarthy has not labored in vain. Infinitely more than Truman, he is the true domestic representative of the worldwide anti-communist crusade being prepared by American imperialism. Despite technical setbacks, McCarthy has won practically every fight in his witchhunt campaign. Truman has either retreated or adopted McCarthy’s proposals. Not a single prominent New Dealer remains in the administration. The State Department has been anathametized and purged from top to bottom. Marshall escaped into retirement only by the skin of his teeth. Acheson stays in office partly because of Truman’s curious standards of personal loyalty but mostly because he made the program of the China Lobby his own, recognized Franco and offered to send an Ambassador to the Vatican.

As McCarthy grew stronger outside of the Democratic Party, its Dixiecrat and southern wing became more powerful within it. Nothing, hardly a whisper, remains of Truman’s glittering 1948 Civil Rights program. Under the relentless pounding of McCarthyism, the three main pillars on which the Democratic Party has rested since the days of Roosevelt – labor, the liberals and the Negroes – are being hacked out from beneath it. The witch hunt can chalk up a tremendous victory, for it was against the Truman administration that it was politically directed.

The defeatism of the Democratic Party leaders in the face of Eisenhower grows out of this combination of circumstances. A lesser-evil campaign, they are confident, would stop Taft as it did Dewey. But to win against Eisenhower would require a restoration of the labor-liberal-Negro alliance on the boldest and most radical pro-labor, anti-monopolist and above all anti-militarist, anti-war program. The second coming of Christ can sooner be expected.

The Business-Man’s Bonaparte

The General is the ideal chief executive for the monopolist oligarchy at this time. He is not so patently a symbol of war and militarism as MacArthur and unlike him he is not exigent of more power than the capitalists are yet ready to cede. Eisenhower is the business-man’s Bonaparte. A Republican by convenience, he is loyal to no party, no political machine. He has no program but “national unity” – and will have no other, all the bleating pleas of the liberals notwithstanding. That leaves him free at the beginning to pull his punches against labor if need be, to conceal his plans for total regimentation, so as the better to create an atmosphere of “impartiality” that will enable him to strike out with the mailed fist later on.

Huey Long once said fascism would come to power in the United States on a program of anti-fascism. Eisenhower, if nominated will clear the road for his presidency ever a garrison state by shouting the loudest for “liberty,” for “freedom” from the “special interests,” meaning of course labor and the Negro people.

The General is ideal also for the kind of war that must be fought by US imperialism. What civilian could expect to take the sudden desperate move that would roll up the curtain to World War III and still hope to rally the people behind him? Considered insane for a civilian, the move would be regarded an act of consummate strategy when executed by the general.

Labor’s Political Paralysis

One force alone could slay the rise of the military bonaparte and with him the garrison state and the onrushing counter-revolutionary war. Labor. Its great power is undamaged – but it is also unrepresented politically which leaves the field clear for its enemies, Precisely the absence of the union movement from the political arena in its own independent formation, the labor bureaucracy’s total acceptance of the “anti-communist” war drive has freed reaction’s hands and shifted the balance of power to the right. Now, in the full knowledge that Eisenhower may be a presidential candidate, that his election will bring with it a series of crippling moves against the labor movement the bureaucrats have no other plan than to support the Democratic party dummy opposition and to go down to defeat with him. Some of them, undoubtedly are even prepared to back Eisenhower openly while others are getting ready to line up at the back door of the White House after the election. Shades of the German social democratic labor bureaucracy!

The very break-up of the two-party system, which will be foreshadowed if Eisenhower heads the Republican Party ticket, will make the absence of effective union opposition in the form of a labor party more conspicuous than ever. There will be no alternative offered the workers by the bureaucrats but to waste their vetoes on the hopeless Democratic dummy or to stay away from the polls altogether. Under such circumstances, the General’s victory is assured. Yet it will be a victory over labor driven to the sidelines by its leadership. The real attempt to subjugate the labor movement is ahead, after the election, in the months and years to come. It is in that inevitable encounter, with the unions in the most disadvantageous position since the rise of the CIO, that the political treachery of Murray, Green and Reuther will become the common knowledge of the masses of organized workers. The lesson of 1952, corroborated over and again by the ordeal of subsequent events, blows and bitter struggles, will reverberate in the ranks: Regimentation, impoverishment, war – or the labor party.

That lesson will be engraved on the banner of the Socialist Workers Party in 1952. Through its presidential ticket, Farrell Dobbs and Grace Carlson, it will demonstrate that the voice of the revolutionary left wing has not been stilled by witchhunters, courts or union bureaucrats. By its courageous leadership of the existing opposition to the counter-revolutionary war and to the would-be-general-dictator of the nation it will be blazing the trail for the mighty opposition of millions of workers on the morrow.

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Last updated on: 26 March 2009