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Fourth International, Winter 1955


M. Stein

The Political Situation in America Today

Report on the 16th Convention of the Socialist Workers Party


From Fourth International, Vol.16 No.1, Winter 1955, pp.3-6.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The following extract is from a report made by M. Stein to the New York Local of the Socialist Workers Party in December 1964.

THE 16th National Convention of the Socialist Workers Party, held in Chicago in December, was highly successful. The several hundred delegates and visitors from all over the country demonstrated in their three-day discussion of the key economic, political and trade union questions facing the American working class that the party has developed qualitatively since the 1952 convention.

The adaption of the general line of the main resolution on the political situation in America marked an important turning point in the orientation of the party. I will deal mostly with that.

What is a general line and how do we arrive at it? A general line is simply the determination of the party’s tasks for the coming period in the light of of the objective situation and the party’s relative strength or weakness. This requires first of all a scrupulous, realistic, cool-headed analysis of the objective situation both internationally and at home. Secondly, it requires a sober appraisal of the relation of class forces and the party’s size, influence and possibilities for action as compared with its enemies. There is no room for wishful thinking in arriving at a general line.

We must begin, as we always do in accordance with the Marxist method, with the world situation – not as we would like to see it, nor as Eisenhower or Knowland, or Malenkov or Mao Tse-tung would like to have it, but with the actual power relationships. Our resolution, characterizes the major relationship on the international arena between the capitalist world on the one hand and the Soviet Union with its satellites plus China on the other as one of stalemate. This means that at the present conjuncture the power balance between these two giant combinations is close to equal.

Even though the United States has increased its might, stockpiling large numbers of atom and hydrogen bombs, extending its military bases, and even scoring some counter-revolutionary successes, as in Iran and Guatemala, all this has been largely canceled out by the Soviet development of atom and hydrogen bombs, by the superiority of planned economy over capitalist anarchy, and by the tremendous potential of the colonial revolution, above all China.

China, symbolized in the past by the rickshaw and the most terribly exploited labor, China that lay prtostrate under the imperialist boot, is today giving the imperialists stern lessons in etiquette about their relations with the Asian peoples.

The power stalemate is best indicated perhaps by the inability of the two blocs of countries to resolve a single disputed question except through compromise. That is why Austria and Germany, for instance, remain divided. The Korean war was fought to a stalemate, ending in an uneasy truce. The war in Indochina ended with a similar carving up of the country.

The revolutionary forces in the world lack a leadership capable of forcing a final and definitive settlement of accounts with world capitalism. But the capitalist system, lacks the power to force a military showdown with any hope of victory at present. Consequently the immediate threat of a Third World War has receded.

Whether Washington and Moscow reach a formal agreement, marking the interim of a temporary truce, is immaterial. Formal agreement or not, their basic policies will remain essentially unchanged.

An easing of world tension, a deal, mo matter how it is painted up for diplomatic and propagandists purposes, does not. mean of course that the frightful destructiveness of the new weapons has made war a thing of the past as an instrument of policy. Not at all. The fact is that although the outbreak of war has been delayed, the powers continue to jockey for the most favorable position as if little had changed. That is because they understand very well that the capitalist system inevitably gravitates toward war and that it is only a question of time.

Line-up Already Set

The line-up of powers is already determined. It is true that it is not only the US that is enjoying prosperity. The Western European countries have also registered a rise in productivity and an increase in living standards since the end of war. When this comes to an end, as it inevitably will, the inter-imperialist rivalries will grow keener. But they will not lead to an inter-imperialist war as was the case in the past. No combination of capitalist powers is capable of waging. war successfully against the United States, and they all know it. Thus it is certain they will combine for war against the Soviet bloc, Stalin’s thesis to the contrary notwithstanding.

What is important for us at the present stage is that the threat of war has receded for the time being. This has a specific meaning for us in the United States.

It enables us to understand for one thing why the Eisenhower of today is so different from the Eisenhower of 1952. As the Republican candidate for the White House two years ago, he rejected “containment” and raised the banner of “’liberation” in relation to the Soviet bloc. Today he counsels reasonableness in foreign policy even when an American plane is shot down in a place where it had no business being or when Americans captured where they had no business being are sentenced as “spies.”

This shift in the war perspective is especially important because of the political role played by the trade-union bureaucrats. At the last AFL convention, the top union brass competed with the Knowknds, the McCarthys and the American Legion in rattling the saber and shaking their fists at the countries on Wall Street’s blacklist. Here they displayed crass stupidity – which is nothing new for them – showing that they cannot even read their master’s mind correctly; they are whooping it up for war in the wrong season. It is our special task to build a fire under these bureaucrats for their class treachery and their war-mongering.

McCarthy Setback

The delay in the war perspective was recognized by us some time ago and we explained it publicly in articles and speeches. What we did not do prior to the convention was correlate this factor with the prosperity that still holds despite considerable oscillations. These two factors – the deferment of war and the continued prosperity – preclude McCarthyism, the American form of fascism, from a feverish growth that could make it a contender for power in the immediate period before us.

Yet it must be admitted that we tended to give a contrary impression in our otherwise excellent campaign against McCarthyism during the past year, both in the press and in the first draft of our main political resolution, drawn up some months before the election, where we still made the fight against McCarthyism the main axis of our general line. While we recognized the possibility of a check being administered to McCarthy and his movement suffering a setback, we placed so much stress on the ultimate danger of fascism that it did not appear ultimate but immediate, and we failed to grasp the full implications of the censure move in the Senate as a severe tactical defeat for McCarthy.

Naturally the decisive section of the capitalist class, which decided to pull McCarthy back for the time being, has no intention of destroying him. They only want him under better control. However, that is what is important in the immediate period before us. The monopolists, as we know from the European experience, don’t like to resort to the costly fascist method of rule so long as any other alternative exists. As of now they are doing very well under Eisenhower and when this fails they have the alternative, thanks to the labor bureaucracy, of a Democratic-Labor coalition, a far cheaper way of governing than through fascism.

And it was the trend toward a renewal of the Democratic-Labor coalition that stood out in the November elections. McCarthy was pushed to the background. Where outright McCarthyites ran for office, like Meek in Illinois and Olardy in Michigan, they were defeated. In New Jersey, where McCarthy singled out Case for defeat as the Republican candidate, the action turned out to be a boomerang. Case claimed that he was actually elected because of McCarthy’s smears. Following the elections came the censure as recommended by a bipartisan committee.

Someone might say that we are now exaggerating McCarthy’s reverses, since they are all on the parliamentary arena. The electoral reverses and parliamentary blows, however, are only a barometer that helps us to interpret public sentiment in the country.

Moreover there are additional signs pointing to the drift against McCarthyism. The attempt of the McCarthyites to fill Madison Square Garden, for instance, turned out to be a failure. It takes more than disgruntled admirals and generals plus some priests and rabbis to counteract the setback dealt to the fascist Senator.

Our basic analysis of McCarthyism as incipient fascism was completely correct, as was our campaign when McCarthy was riding high and it was necessary to stress the meaning of this new phenomenon on the American political scene. It was a necessary task to educate the advanced workers on the nature of McCarthyism, its origin, and its danger to the labor movement. What was out of place was not the educational work we did but such action slogans as “Smash McCarthy-ism Before It Smashes You,” which implies an immediate danger.

I will return to the question of slogans later after dealing with the central axis of the party’s political orientation for the next period as outlined in the main resolution.

Trend Toward Democrats

The elections, which revealed the trend away from McCarthyism, also revealed a trend toward restoration of the Democratic-Labor coalition in Washington. To be sure, no sweep or landslide for the Democrats was registered at the polls, but when we break the figures down by states and cities we see a strong shift in such traditionally Republican states as Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania. In these states the Democratic candidates won by big majorities due to the solidity of the labor vote.

In Michigan the sweep for governor carried even such a total nonentity as McNamara, whose only claim to distinction was that he was a candidate by accident. He was entered in the primaries by the AFL Teamsters as a factional move against Moody, the choice of Gov. Williams and the CIO. Moody’s death did not change the outcome. The candidate nobody knew and nobody really wanted won out against a relatively popular Republican politician, Ferguson. It was a demonstration of the power of the unions to get out the vote; and this applied to thte AFL as well as the CIO.

The growing realization of the trade union bureaucracy that all issues are ultimately settled politically stands out in contrast to be old Gompers policy of abstention. This realization impels them into politics. It is also the main factor that has forced them to take up in a more serious way than formerly the question of uniting the AFL and CIO.

The unions today are up to the ears in politics and this is unquestionably progressive even though it takes such distorted form as involvement in the politics of the Democratic Party. At one time there were probably as many Republicans as Democrats in the labor bureaucracy. They tended to cancel each other out, not endorsing presidential candidates except in 1924 when they backed LaFollette. The 1952 endorsement of Stevenson by the AFL marked a turning-point in this respect. Two years of Republican rule did not succeed in enticing any section of the labor bureaucracy away from the Democrats despite such lures as giving a cabinet post to the president of the Plumbers Union. In fact, that attempt boomeranged against the Republicans. This solidity signifies that the labor bureaucracy is no longer divided as a political force.

This means that a falling-out with the Democrats should help propel them toward formation of a Labor Party instead of into the arms of the Republicans as in the past. To help that process out, we must subject the bureaucrats to merciless criticism for their ties with the Democratic Party, one of Wall Street’s political machines. That in a nutshell constitutes our general line for the next period.

The labor bureaucracy, we are all well aware, does not function as an independent force. Politically it is a faithful servitor of monopoly capital. But it is under pressure from the rank and file of the unions who are potentially the mightiest independent power in America. In his summary speech at the convention, James P. Cannon dealt forcefully with this in relation to the perspective for the next two years.

The workers, as he pointed out, voted for Roosevelt four times in a row. They voted for him because they thought he had given them something – social security, unemployment insurance, the right to organize, and so on. Now they vote for the Democratic Party, not for what the Democrats are giving them but for what they expect to get. In other words, they are presenting demands.

The first and foremost of these demands is for full employment, no depression.

Can the Democrats, if they get back in power, satisfy that demand? I say let them try. An experience with a Democratic depression is what the workers can expect. This will set them on the road to independent political action. They know the Republicans, but they haven’t got fully acquainted yet with the Democrats.

Use of Slogans

But this is the music of the future. Right now the workers are striving to bring the Democrats back to power. They believe they made a good beginning in 1954 and that they can finish the job in 1956. This being the case, our slogan “Build a Labor Party Now!” needs to be adjusted; the “Now!” part falls on deaf ears, no matter how correct the general proposition is from an educational point of view.

In order to make sure that no one gets the impression that we are abandoning the Labor Party slogan, I think it would be worthwhile to take a few minutes to discuss the question of slogans and their correct use in greater detail.

What is a slogan? It is the expression of an idea in the most concise, concentrated form, preferably in a few words – sometimes in one word. A first-rate example is the three slogans of the Russian Revolution: Bread! Peace! Land!

Each word stands for a clear, distinct idea:

  1. The need to feed the hungry.
  2. The need to end the carnage of imperialist war.
  3. The need to satisfy the land-hunger of the peasants.

Together, these slogans spelled the end of an outworn economic and social system through the revolutionary action of the masses.

To be successful, slogans must meet two conditions. They must correspond to the burning objective needs of the masses; and they must correspond to their subjective desires.

A slogan does not seek to convince. It cannot because of its brevity. Like a banner raised for people who want to fight in common for something they already desire, it points to action. A slogan serves to mobilise people to carry out a definite act which they themselves want.

We have a rich experience with successful slogans advanced by the Socialist Workers Party. For example, some ten years ago we raised the slogan “End the No-Strike Pledge.” That was during the latter part of the war when the workers were smarting under the no-strike pledge given to Roosevelt by the labor bureaucrats at the outset of the conflict. The cost of living was rising, profits were mounting, but wages remained frozen. The party’s campaign to end the no-strike pledge meant, “Get rid of the strait-jacket and fight for higher wages.”

The slogan caught on, especially in the United Automobile Workers Union where it became the main issue in the 1944 and 1945 conventions. The party gained tremendously in the two years it pressed this slogan, winning recruits and sympathizers and prestige in tihe labor movement.

Again in 1946 when Gerald L.K. Smith toured the country with his fascist propaganda, we succeeded in mobilizing important sections of the labor movement in several cities under the slogan “Smash Fascism.” We gave this fascist demagogue a hard time and even prevented him from staging a fascist rally in the Twin Cities. The point is that it was clear to everyone that Smith was a fascist, and in the atmosphere following the war the most alert sections of the labor movement were ready and willing to mobilize against him.

When we say we cannot sloganize today for a Labor Party, it does not mean that no need exists for a Labor Party. It means that this slogan does mot coincide with the current desires of the masses for action and consequently it can be used only in a propagandistic, that is, an educational sense. For the time being we must patiently explain the need for independent political action.

Our Task

Our task is to pedagogically explain to the advanced workers what the objective situation is in the world around us and to educate them about what must be done. That means specifically to develop the socialist view and the socialist solution, explaining our socialist ideas in detail. This is not exactly a small job; in fact, its importance cannot be over-estimated. Propaganda work is one of the chief party tasks at all times and will remain so up to the socialist revolution and after it.

The difference, so far as propaganda is concerned, between periods of revolutionary upsurge and periods of reaction such as we are living in at present is mainly a difference of scope. When the workers are in motion, they learn fast through the experiences they undergo in mass actions undertaken in accordance with this or that slogan. The propaganda task of the revolutionary party then is to generalize these experiences, to illuminate them in the flight of Marxist science and thus make conscious revolutionists out of instinctive rebels. When the wide mass is not in motion that does not mean the arena closes down completely. Even in, periods of reaction, when conservatism grips the workers, there are always individuals and groups in rebellion against the status quo.

This applies particularly to the youth on the campus and in the factories. They aren’t tied down to payments on a house or television set. And they tend to think in terms of social justice and the future and what it has to offer in the way of opportunities and a cause worth devoting your life to.

Of course many of them support the present system because they have been sold a bill of goods by the paid propagandists of the press, radio, TV, the church and the schools. But they will listen to socialist ideas. They want to know and they consider it their birthright to be free to think for themselves. They are the ones we must reach with our socialist ideas, appealing to their spirit of rebellion. And we can do it because we are not saddled with the crimes of Stalinism and can point to our record, the only one in the world of consistent opposition from the beginning to Stalinist injustice and special privilege. That is one of the main reasons why we propose to pay special attention to educational activities in the period immediately before us.

All of us must learn to become better socialist propagandists. Our socialist press must strive for improvement so that its articles become more pedagogic, more convincing. And along with this we must devote ourselves to building its circulation.

That such activities offer encouraging prospects, we can judge from the experience of both the Chicago and Detroit branches in the past year where noteworthy gains were made.

* * *

I would fail to convey the militant spirit of the convention if I didn’t mention the decision of the delegates to collect a $15,000 propaganda fund. We came to the convention hoping somewhat timidly that $12,000 might turn out to be a feasible figure, although we were; aware that it would not be sufficient to cover actual needs. We felt reluctant about asking our self-sacrificing members to assume a heavier burden. But our timidity was beaten down by the delegates and the final figure turned out to be $3,000 higher than our hopes.

This was an impressive symptom of the internal health of our party and by that token an auspicious indication of the gains that we can expect to make in the coming period. I am sure that the New York comrades will, as in the past, do their part to make the fund campaign a full success.

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