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Fourth International, Spring 1956


Harry Ring

Which Way for Supporters of the Progressive Party?


From Fourth International, Vol.17 No.2, Spring 1956, pp.45-49, 71.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


MANY people in America today are dissatisfied with both the Republican and Democratic parties. The bulk of them are aroused over the way these old machines turn deep-seated grievances into mere subjects of campaign oratory that are forgotten the day after election. Undoubtedly the hope is still strong among them of getting some reform in the old parties, especially the Democratic Party, yet a large section would like to see a complete shake-up and fresh alignment on the political scene. Unfortunately, they don’t know how to go about it.

In the labor movement a good number of workers are aware of the general road that must be taken. They feel that it is quite within the capacity of the American working class to build a labor party at least as powerful as the British model. Many of them are concerned about the continued cold war waged by the State Department against the Soviet bloc, about the atomic armaments race and the long-range drive toward a Third World War. They view the freedom aspirations of the colonial peoples with sympathy. They are profoundly disturbed over the bi-partisan foreign policy that has brought America into worldwide disrepute. They would like to see a clean, new, labor administration in Washington that would extend the hand of solidarity to the rest of humanity. But they don’t see what can be done specifically in 1956 to advance this aim.

Among them quite a few have gone on in their thinking until they have come to realize that in the final analysis socialism offers the only road to the society of abundance, peace and well-being that is obviously within our capacity to construct. Some of them are developed enough politically to grasp the world-shaking significance of the achievements of planned economy in the Soviet Union and to understand that the Chinese Revolution has opened up new vistas of hope for the victory of socialism on a world scale. But they are not so sure precisely how this can be turned to account in America, especially in 1956.

All these shadings, which represent in reality stages of political development, have this in common – understanding, to one degree or another, of the need to turn away from the Democratic and Republican parties and take the road of independent political action. They also have in common a difficult problem – what to do in the 1956 election?

The problem is especially acute for the groups that have worked together under the banner of the ill-fated Progressive Party. Organized in 1948 with Henry Wallace as presidential candidate, the party went into a tail-spin when this wealthy capitalist politician decided to ask for forgiveness from Wall Street for his sin of campaigning against Truman. In 1952 the Progressive Party ran a half-hearted campaign for Vincent Hallinan and Charlotta Bass. This year it will not enter a ticket in the presidential race.

A hot, even bitter debate has raged as a consequence among the various groups about the future of the Progressive Party and above all what should be done in 1956. Since the issues in dispute concern the whole problem of independent political action, the arguments pro and con are of general interest and serve admirably to point up a number of key questions that are being asked by thinking workers throughout the country. To properly follow the debate, however, it is first necessary to understand the role and aims of the powerful Communist Party faction which has dominated the Progressive Party since Wallace’s desertion.

Policy of the Stalin Cult

During the mid-Thirties when the CIO took shape, the natural logic of this powerful upthrust of the working class clearly pointed to shattering the traditional pattern of American politics. With the formation of Labor’s Non-Partisan League, labor seemed on the verge of appearing with giant force in the political arena. The Communist Party was in position to decisively affect this promising development. Had the Communist Party provided Marxist leadership for the vanguard of the turbulent CIO movement, American labor would have long ago taken the road to independent political action.

But the Kremlin wished to maintain the status quo, otherwise known as “peaceful coexistence with capitalism.” This meant subordinating the class struggle to Stalin’s opportunistic foreign policy. The Kremlin even saw the possibility of gaining the good will of the capitalists of the Western Powers by diverting potentially revolutionary socialist movements in their areas into blind alleys. A vehicle for achieving this perfidious aim was the so-called “people’s front” which the Stalinists began organizing wherever they could.

In the United States this took shape as the policy of forming a coalition with the Democrats. The working-class trend toward independence was diverted into the American Labor Party which in turn channeled it toward the Democratic machine.

Someone still under the hypnosis of the Stalin cult may believe that the Stalinists played a major role in organizing the American Labor Party as a step toward independent political action. However, let him read an official Stalinist admission. Writing in the May 1954 issue of Political Affairs, John Swift confessed that the ALP was organized so that it “enabled independent voters in New York to form a new party without thereby endangering the election of those major party candidates who in their eyes still deserved support. In practice this performed the function of delivering an even larger vote to the Democratic Party presidential, state and congressional tickets.”

The Stalinist role in helping to organize the Progressive Party was not different in principle. It is true that their coalition with the Democratic machine was broken – but it was broken by the Democrats, not the Stalinists, as one of the consequences of Truman’s opening up the cold war. Wallace’s line happened to coincide with that of the Stalinists – continuation of the war-time alliance. And both Wallace and the Stalinists had their eyes on the wave of militancy that swept American labor following World War II. To be noted particularly is the fact that the program of the Progressive Party did not transcend liberal bourgeois limits. In fact, at its inception the party announced it would support “progressives” on the Democratic and Republican tickets. As power politics, the whole maneuver aimed at channelizing labor militancy and directing it back to the Democratic Party in return for better standing with the machine bosses.

The correctness of this analysis is confirmed by what happened in the formation of the Independent Progressive Party in California. It is well known in Progressive Party circles that the supporters of the IPP got a half million signatures on petitions to place Wallace on the ballot. It is less well known outside of California that this enormous effort was unnecessary. California state law provides two alternatives for placement on the ballot. It can be done either by the difficult petition route chosen by the IPP or it can be done by enrolling 12,000 people as registered members of the new party. It would have been a lead-pipe cinch to register the 12,000 at that time. A number of powerful CIO unions supported the movement. The wide general support was indicated by the very fact that a half million people signed up. But the Stalinists insisted on doing it the hard way. Why?

The answer is simple. The “people’s front” policy requires the Communist Party to do everything in its power to maintain or strive for coalition with the Democrats. If the CP registered its forces with the IPP they would have had to withdraw from the Democratic Party. That would have meant weakening the coalition with the California Democratic machine.

Since the 1952 campaign the Progressive Party has been under heavy pressure from the Communist Party to abandon any perspective of independent political action and chart a course back to the Democratic Party. In July 1955 the Stalinists liquidated the Independent Progressive Party in California, establishing instead the “Independent Committee for Political Action in 1956.” The “political action” meant here is a polishing job from the left for the badly tarnished Democratic machine of that state.

In New York the CP has done such an effective job of scuttling the American Labor Party that in 1954, when the Stalinists pushed the millionaire Democrat, Averill Harriman, for governor, the ALP got less than the 50,000 votes needed to maintain a place on the ballot. The ranks of the ALP have now been instructed by the State Committee to enroll in the Democratic Party.

Dope Peddlers for the Democrats

Such organizational steps have been accompanied by a propaganda campaign in favor of the Democratic Party. Naturally this propaganda is quite different from anything directly produced by the National Committee of the Democratic Party or its leading candidates. It is aimed principally at the ranks of the Progressive Party – the ranks of the Communist Party too – and it bears in mind that this audience is pretty thoroughly convinced about the need for independent political action. Thus we see the phenomenon – rather strange unless you know the origin of Stalinist policies – of the most subtly poisoned arguments in favor of the Democratic Party coming from the Communist Party.

The intended victims of Stalinist designs in the Progressive Party have tried to resist walking the plank into the Democratic Party, but having no clear and effective program, their resistance up to now has proved feeble. For instance, the editors of the National Guardian, newspaper of the Progressive Party, have refused so far to swallow the argument that the Democratic Party is a “lesser evil.” On Jan. 10, 1955 the National Guardian called for a “national independent ticket on the ballot in the 1956 elections.” They proposed a national conference during Labor Day week of 1955 to launch such a ticket.

The Stalinists responded with a sharp scolding in their magazine Political Affairs, and the National Guardian refrained from mentioning the proposal again. It continued to demonstrate the futility of supporting the Democrats, but for the time being had no suggestions as to what independents should actually do in the 1956 elections. Finally, on Nov. 7, 1955 – the anniversary of the Russian Revolution! – the National Guardian proposed abstention; that is, simply withdrawing to the sidelines.

The Stalinists took a more positive stand – positive for the capitalist candidates of the Democratic Party. Max Gordon, writing in the Daily Worker of Nov. 22, berated the National Guardian:

“Win or lose, big vote or small, some of its writers occasionally imply, the main thing is to vote my conscience, to keep my own principles unsullied. This may be lofty sentiment, but it is scarcely the aim of politics.”

He should have said “capitalist politics” for it is certainly the aim of Marxist politics to keep the principle of independent political action unsullied. As an attorney for the Democratic Party, Gordon argued that workers consider the Republican Party to be “the stronghold of reaction” and the Democratic Party to be “the vehicle for winning concessions for labor.” To avoid “isolation” from these workers, he contended, it is necessary to get into the Democratic Party. He urged the National Guardian to review its position on this “tactical problem.”

The argument is, of course, specious. Insofar as a tactical problem is involved, the solution for a socialist wishing to avoid isolation from the workers is to stay with them on the job and in the union, not go looking for them in the Tammany Halls or at the $100-a-plate dinners arranged by the National Committee of the Democratic Party. For one who really opposes the Big Business political machines, the only principled course is to explain in the union hall or around the lunch pail that the best vehicle for winning concessions for labor is independent political action, since it exerts the greatest possible pressure on the class enemy.

Of course, it’s not the rank and file unionists who might vote Democratic that the Stalinists leaders are concerned about keeping in touch with when they insist on the need to get into the Democratic machine. They want to get next to the labor bureaucrats who are in the Democratic machine. These bureaucrats will be found rubbing elbows with the Democratic Party bosses, a political hobnobbing from which the Stalinist chieftains have been “isolated.” That’s what all the talk about ending the “isolation” boils down to. By delivering labor votes to the Democratic Party, the Fosters hope to become once again socially acceptable in these capitalist political circles.

How much more effective the Communist Party is than the Democratic Party itself in working up support among independents for the Democratic Party can be judged by Gordon’s concession that the labor movement “at a particular stage, will learn from its own experience the need for an independent party.” Having thus assuaged the feelings of those who want independent political action in 1956, Gordon insisted, of course, that in 1956 the only practical course is to get behind the Democrats. The great opportunity in the 1956 election of helping the labor movement to learn from its own experience through the explanations of an independent candidate does not come under the Stalinist concept of “practical” politics.

This Stalinist huckster of Democratic wares even tried to turn into its opposite whatever experience the ranks of the Progressive Party have gained about the need for independent political action. Reaction, he argued, tries to isolate “militants from the ranks of the workers” and “for a time it succeeded – in part because the entire Left erred along the lines of the Guardian position.” The “error” he refers to was supporting Wallace instead of – Truman.

The Stalinist leaders have even attempted to provide basic “theoretical” justification for such arguments. This is not because they believe in it themselves, but because they are aware that a considerable section of those to whom they are trying to sell the Democratic Party demand a weightier explanation than is offered in the Gordon-type sales talk.

An instructive example is the article by Celeste Strack in the November 1954 Political Affairs. In answer to Tabitha Petran, who had contended in the National Guardian that a major crisis in America will breed mass radicalism thereby putting independent political action on the order of the day, Strack argued that a crisis will also spawn a drive toward fascism and that means, in accordance with Stalinist politics, “the need for maximum unity to avert a repetition of the German, Italian and Japanese experiences is correspondingly great. The left would not contribute to such unity if it viewed the immediate issue as socialism.”

There you have class-collaborationist politics in all its nakedness. Prosperity? – the workers aren’t ready for socialism. Depression? – socialism would disrupt “unity” against fascism. This is not the lesson of the German, Italian and Japanese experiences. It is a guarantee to repeat them.

The magic word “unity” expresses the essence of Stalinist politics; that is, a certain kind of unity. Not the unity of the working class in struggle against the capitalist class which is progressive and absolutely indispensable. Not the unity of the Negro people, of other oppressed minorities and of the middle class with the workers on a correct program which is essential for success in this struggle. The kind of unity the Stalinists mean is “unity” with the capitalists. It is a variation of their cry for “peace” where there is no peace – in the class struggle.

One example will illustrate the bad meaning given these good words, “unity” and “peace,” in Stalinist propaganda. William Z. Foster in the October 1955 Political Affairs looks for a rising “peace” movement that “will embrace not only workers and other democratic elements, but also important sections of the bourgeoisie, and even of monopoly capital itself.”

Foster, of course, is trying to encourage CP ranks by making out that pacifist sentiments have become so widespread as to give pause to monopoly capital. This would seem to justify the Stalinist line of exerting pacifist pressure through the Democratic Party. But to put the workers in the embrace of a political machine of monopoly capital instead of in uncompromising struggle against it, is to help prepare another world war.

The real barrier to another world war is advancement of the class struggle. This has been proved in life once again – this time definitively one would imagine – by the revolutionary battles of the colonial peoples, especially the North Koreans and Chinese, which have forced Wall Street to postpone its timetable for war again and again.

As these citations indicate, the basic pattern of the CP’s propaganda in behalf of the Democratic Party is fairly simple. First, the views of the ranks of the Progressive Party are kept in mind and admitted to be correct in principle. “Yes, the workers will come to learn the need for an independent party.” BUT – and this is the next step in the pattern – right now, it’s not practical. “Reasons” are advanced for its not being practical. The workers are still voting for the Democrats; they aren’t ready for an independent party yet, etc., etc. Thus there is danger of the vanguard getting isolated from the masses by rushing too fast down the road of independent political action. Then comes the proposal for an action that is practical, according to the Stalinists; namely, retrace whatever steps have been taken on the road to independent political action and register Democratic.

That this is a violation of principle is not mentioned. Instead a glowing picture is painted of the practical advantages. You “avoid isolation,” “avoid sectarianism,” avoid “splitting” the democratic-minded forces, avoid becoming a martyr to “lofty sentiment” that is “scarcely the aim of politics.” It sounds like the toothpaste ad that tells you how to avoid dental yellow; and like the toothpaste ad the Stalinist propagandist goes on to stress the positive advantages of his product. You serve the cause of unity against reaction. You serve the cause of peace against the warmongers. You help the peace-loving powers on a world scale. All this is principled isn’t it? Therefore how can you object to registering in the same party as the Southern Bourbons?

The Resistance to the Sales Campaign

The resistance to this pressure, as we indicated, is not united around an effective common program. As a result the demoralization is considerable, a phenomenon that finds its practical reflection in those who walk out of the Progressive Party in disgust. The National Guardian’s, proposal to abstain in the 1956 election has not served to counteract the demoralization. The noted Negro historian Dr. W.E.B. DuBois has attempted to give the same position a more attractive formulation. After a scathing indictment of the Republican and Democrats in the March 26, 1956 issue of the National Guardian, he declared: “I can stay home and let fools traipse to the polls. I call this sit-down strike the only recourse of honest men today so far as the Presidency is concerned.”

While under certain circumstances the boycott of a phony electoral system is justified, this does not hold true for America today. The foolish thing is to stay home and let the dishonest men monopolize the ballot. The honest men should seek to get on the ballot in order to better present the case for independent political action; and, where they are barred from the ballot by anti-democratic laws, they should organize write-in campaigns.

The editors of the Monthly Review, a magazine of some influence in Progressive Party circles, have not yet taken an editorial position on the elections. In 1952 the editors rode horses in opposite directions, which was a convenient way of demonstrating independence, if not consistency, of thought. Editor Leo Huberman announced that he would vote for Hallinan and Bass; editor Paul Sweezy announced he would vote for Stevenson as the “lesser evil” candidate.

So far this year only Huberman has indicated the direction of his thinking. In the March 1956 issue of the magazine he wrote that he intended to vote socialist. He was faced, he said, with choosing between one of the four existing socialist parties which he listed as the Communist Party, Socialist Party, Socialist Labor Party, and Socialist Workers Party. For various reasons he considers all of them inadequate. In actuality, we note, Huberman’s choice is narrowed down to the Socialist Workers and Socialist Labor parties, since they are the only ones of the four he lists that will present a ticket in the 1956 campaign.

A persistent voice in the Progressive Party for independent political action has been that of Clifford P. McAvoy, a leading non-Stalinist in the American Labor Party and its standard bearer in a number of New York elections. In the Oct. 10, 1955 National Guardian, McAvoy called for rejection of the policy of “enrolling in or dabbling in the internal politics of the machine parties ... in 1956.” “Let us have an end now,” he urged, “to coalition with advocates of cold war, enemies of labor and the Bill of Rights, friends of Jim Crow.” Since then, McAvoy has continued to insist on the need for opponents of the two-party system to work out practical means for actively participating in the 1956 election.

In pressing for this approach, McAvoy has come into direct conflict with the Communist Party. As against their argument that crossing class lines and supporting a capitalist party is a purely “tactical” question, McAvoy has insisted that it is a matter of principle, a principle that cannot be violated by anyone who understands that both the Republican and Democratic parties represent Big Business.

McAvoy is quite correct in this. The principle, moreover, is not something remote, applicable perhaps in the distant future. It is of burning importance right now. The civil rights issue, especially desegregation in the South, has jolted the equilibrium, of the two-party system. The Democratic Party is confronted with the impossible job of placating the extremely important Negro voters in the North and West while at the same time avoiding a bolt by the Dixiecrats. The labor bureaucrats are likewise caught in a squeeze. Negro unionists everywhere are pressing for aid to the embattled Negroes of the South. Yet if the labor fakers concede to this pressure they embarrass their Democratic Party allies.

Even more important is the effect on the thinking of a large section of militant white workers of such struggles as the Montgomery, Ala., bus protest movement. By exposing both Republicans and Democrats in the sharpest way, the civil rights struggle heightens class consciousness and furthers dissatisfaction with the two-party system.

Doesn’t this development offer exceptional opportunities to advance the cause of independent political action? Could anything be more criminal at a time like this than helping the official leaders of the Negro and labor movements in their dirty work of trying to keep the ranks tied to the Democratic machine?

The 1956 election must be utilized to aid the working people in heightening their political consciousness. But this can be done only by offering them a meaningful alternative to the perennial “lesser evil” choice.

In arguing for his stay-home-from-the-polls position, Dr. DuBois declared, “The result of the election I cannot change, but I can at least refuse to condone it.” Dr. DuBois is of the opinion that “There is no chance for any third party candidate on any platform to get his beliefs before the people.”

With all due respect to the eminent historian, this judgment is unduly pessimistic. Of course a third party candidate in 1956 will not reach as big an audience as the major candidates. The capitalist-controlled press, radio and TV will see to that. But is that a legitimate excuse to brood at home? Who will listen to such a hopeless appeal? How can it possibly lead to action of any kind toward formation of a labor party?

The Socialist Workers Party

The fact is that a militant campaign by even a small organization can break through the conspiracy of silence, This was demonstrated in 1948 and 1952 by the Socialist Workers Party which was not afraid to buck the opposition even in the worst days of the witch hunt and which won a hearing in a series of key centers and got at least a part of the time it was entitled to on nationwide radio and TV hook-ups. To cite difficulties is simply to cite problems that must be solved, not evaded by staying home. How else can the movement fight its way forward?

The 1948 and 1952 campaigns of the Socialist Workers Party, modest though they were, have prepared the way for an even more effective campaign in 1956. This campaign, we submit, offers a means for everyone who believes in independent political action to participate in the 1956 election in accordance with his principles.

It is true that the Socialist Labor Party is also campaigning in 1956. But with all due recognition for the many true things this staid organization says about the evils of capitalism and the need for socialism, its platform, on some of the most vital questions facing the working class today is not to be commended.

For example, it does not support the Soviet Union against imperialist aggression. The SLP asserts that the war danger today exists because “Capitalism and Stalinist imperialism are more than ever in desperate need of foreign markets ...” (Weekly People, March 3, 1956.) The SLP thus does not distinguish between the planned economy of the Soviet Union which is certainly progressive and the capitalist economy of the Western Powers which is just as certainly reactionary.

Trade unionists in particular will find the SLP platform difficult to swallow. Writing about the projected AFL-CIO drive to organize the unorganized, the Weekly People of Dec. 31, 1955 condemned the proposal, inasmuch as organizing the unorganized “merely puts more dues payers under the thumb of the labor fakers and thus strengthens the union-bulwark of capitalism.” A militant trade unionist favors such a drive, among other reasons as a means of combatting the labor fakers, for extending the union widens its base, and often signifies struggles that give fresh inspiration to the rank and file. Strengthening the union as a whole will in the long run weaken the capitalist class, including their agents in the labor movement. Because they understand this the labor fakers are generally reluctant to organize the unorganized, a fact which should give comfort to the SLP.

In sharp contrast to this, the Socialist Workers. Party has defended unconditionally the great conquests of the Russian Revolution. From its foundation, the Socialist Workers Party has done its best to explain the great progressive meaning of these conquests for the future of humanity. It should be noted especially that its defense of these conquests included defending them from the corrosion of Stalinism. The Stalin cult was opposed from its beginning by the founders of the Socialist Workers Party.

As for the domestic scene, the Socialist Workers Party has a consistent record of participation in the struggles of the working people, no matter for what partial demands. This record extends from the great Minneapolis strikes of the early thirties to the Montgomery bus protest movement this year.

For Dobbs and Weiss

The candidates of the Socialist Workers Party are worthy of the support of everyone who believes in independent political action.

Farrell Dobbs, the SWP candidate for President, has an outstanding record in the labor movement. As a young truck driver in Minneapolis during the depression, he enlisted in the campaign to organize the coal drivers and yard workers into the Teamsters union. His unusual abilities made him a leader in the historic 1934 strike struggles that converted Minneapolis from an open shop town into a union stronghold.

As secretary-treasurer of the Minneapolis Teamsters union until 1939, Dobbs sparked the drive that won a uniform contract for a quarter of a million over-the-road drivers in the 11-state Northwest area.

In 1941 Dobbs was one of the 18 leaders of the Socialist Workers Party and of the Minneapolis truck drivers union who became the first victims of the Smith Act, being railroaded to prison for advocating socialism, and opposing World War II. Now National Secretary of the SWP, he was its Presidential candidate in 1948 and 1952.

Myra Tanner Weiss, the SWP’s Vice-Presidential nominee, likewise has an impressive record in the labor and socialist movement. A revolutionary socialist since 1935, she participated in the organization and strike struggles of the heavily exploited agricultural workers in Southern California. The Mexican Agricultural Workers Union made her an honorary member because of her courageous defense of Mexican immigrant workers.

In 1946 she gained prominence for her role in helping to force official action in the Fontana, Calif., case where a Negro family of four, O’Day H. Short, his wife and two children, were burned to death when racists set fire to their home. Her pamphlet on the sensational case, Vigilante Terror in Fontana, was widely circulated.

Myra Tanner Weiss was twice the SWP candidate for Mayor of Los Angeles, its nominee for Congress in California, and its candidate for Vice-President in 1952.

These two candidates stand on a platform of opposition to the preparations for World War III. They demand withdrawal of US troops from foreign soil. They call for an end to Atom Bomb tests. They demand immediate recognition of the Chinese Peoples Republic.

In opposition to the witch hunt, they call on the labor movement to unite in defense of the civil liberties of everyone under attack, regardless of political belief. They likewise urge the labor movement to rally behind the struggle of the Negro people for full equality. Their main plank is furtherance of the class struggle of the workers through independent political action. They advocate formation of a Labor Party, regarding this as a step toward the establishment of socialism in America.

Those who believe that socialism is the wave of the future can find no better means of helping its advance in 1956 than by vigorously supporting the SWP campaign.

Those who are not yet convinced that the only alternative to the wars, depressions and barbarism of capitalism is socialism, but who believe in labor’s organizing its own political party, can register their opinion at the ballot box in 1956 by voting for the SWP ticket. And all those who want to strike a blow for peace, for civil liberties and civil rights are urged to support the Socialist Workers Party. It is the best means to translate your beliefs into action in this crucial election year.

We especially appeal to the rank and file of the Communist Party who have been saddled with the infamous chore of peddling propaganda for the Democratic Party. That unenviable assignment constitutes part of the practical application of the politics of the Stalin cult. The top bureaucracy in the Kremlin has now been forced by the Russian workers to disavow Stalin as a paranoiac monster guilty of mass frame-ups and mass executions. But they are still trying to continue Stalin’s politics. And Stalin’s handpicked lieutenants, such as William Z. Foster, are doing their best to continue Stalin’s line of acting as recruiting sergeants for the Democratic machine. Break with the Stalin cult by breaking with its class-collaborationist politics! Begin pressing for the class-struggle policies of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky!

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