From New International, Vol.4 No.12, December 1938, pp.355-358.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Why the Digest Poll Collapsed in 1936 – The Significance of the Fortune and Gallup Polls – The Development of Class Differentiations as Shown by the Elections – A New Stage in United States Politics – The Old New Deal Closes as the New New Deal Begins – Reaction Prepares Its Lines for More Serious Days Ahead – The Political Perspective for the Working Class – Lovestone Hitches on to the Roosevelt Applecart
FOR DECADES The Literary Digest was as much a fixture of American civilization as bathtubs, cocktails or peanuts; and for many years its prestige and circulation depended more and more exclusively upon the great Presidential polls whereby, in campaign after campaign, it correctly predicted the outcome of elections. The collapse of the Digest poll of 1936, which showed Landon carrying the country by a comfortable margin, and the subsequent burial of the magazine itself, when taken together with the rise to fame of the Gallup and Fortune polls, are events of by no means trivial significance.
The Digest poll depended for accuracy upon the great size of its sample, which totalled several million. But the method of conducting the poll – broadside, from lists drawn up largely from the Digest’s own subscription records and from Telephone Directories – brought it about that the overwhelming majority of the sample was taken from the middle classes, a very substantial part from the upper middle classes. This method could yield accurate results so long as, and only so long as, the people as a whole divided in the elections in approximately the same percentages as the middle classes. The correctness of the Digest poll in the elections preceding that of 1936 was, in fact, a proof that this was just how the people were voting. Put it another way: the Digest method could allow for sectional differentiations in voting percentages, since the poll was calculated in terms of individual States, but it could not allow for class differentiations. It could predict the proletarian vote accurately only if the proletariat voted in the same way as the middle and upper middle classes voted.
The Digest poll failed in 1936 because the proletariat did not vote in the same percentages as the middle classes, and because the lower middle classes voted differently from the upper middle class. The voting in 1936 was, broadly speaking, along class lines.
The Fortune and Gallup polls use samples only a small fraction the size of the Digest sample. Nevertheless, the Fortune poll predicted the 1936 result with only a minute error; and the Gallup poll, though it did not indicate the full extent of the Roosevelt sweep in electoral votes, showed him winning by a substantial majority. Dr. Gallup, whose “Institute of Public Opinion” conducts his public polls, is the head of one of the largest and most successful advertising agencies in the country. His method of conducting polls was developed as a service to his clients; and they – huge and vigorous corporations – want to know the facts. Fortune is a magazine specifically designed for “business leaders”.
Acquaintance with the Fortune and Gallup methods shows that in order to get accurate results they have been compelled to postulate a modified Marxian analysis of society. Their results depend not upon getting millions of answers, but upon a careful selection and weighting of answers (gained by direct interview and not by mail) according to a number of categories – Negro and White, old and young, rural and urban, first voter and old voter, employed and unemployed – but especially according to economic divisions as established by income level. This last does not correspond exactly to the Marxian way of dividing classes; but when corrected by reference to such of the other divisions as rural and urban, Negro and White, employed and unemployed, it does so roughly.
There is no reason to believe that the Gallup and Fortune methods would have yielded different results from those of the Digest poll in, say, 1924, 1928 or 1932. The fact that they did in 1936, and that their results were far more accurate, is, precisely, convincing evidence that the voting in 1936 was divided along economic class lines. This evidence was further confirmed by independent analysis of the election returns themselves.
However, the 1936 experience was not by itself conclusive in establishing a major and enduring trend. The result might have depended upon special and temporary conditions. Secondly, the middle classes as a whole, as well as the working class, in 1936 voted for Roosevelt, though not by so overwhelming a percentage. A decisive test required a situation in which a large shift in one of the class votes would not be accompanied by a corresponding shift elsewhere. This test was provided in last month’s elections.
Retaining and refining its 1936 methods, the Gallup survey predicted a Republican gain in the House of at least fifty and probably seventy-five or more Congressmen, about a dozen new Republican Governors, and the reelection of Lehman in New York (Gallup’s was the only important poll to predict the last). The prediction was sufficiently accurate within plausible limits of error. The Republicans did slightly better than Gallup foretold (and it may be remarked that in general all the surveys seem to underestimate the strength of developing swings among large masses of voters).
The actual election returns this year leave no doubt at all about what happened. Disregarding the Solid South, which is a special problem, the middle classes swung over in substantial majority to the Republican column, while the working class remained by an even more decisive majority with the Democrats. The only exceptions to this national trend were New Jersey and to a certain extent Pennsylvania. In New Jersey the chief Democratic candidate was Mayor Hague’s man Ely, and resentment against Hague split the proletarian vote; in Pennsylvania the bitterness left over from Kennedy’s unsuccessful fight in the Democratic Primaries and the revelations of the corruption of the Earle Administration had the same effect. Even in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, however, it is probable that a majority of the workers voted Democratic. In the South, where its one-party system obscures actual elections, a similar phenomenon took place in the Primaries. The middle-class vote in the South has undue weight because of the disfranchisement of the Negroes, whose ranks include a substantial number of the Southern workers. However it is clear that in such States as South Carolina and Georgia, it was the middle classes that defeated Roosevelt’s “purge”, and that the purge was supported by the bulk of the voting workers.
MARXISM DEFINES CLASSES according to property relations toward the major instruments of social production. This does not mean that at every given moment such classes actually function as differentiated and organized social groups, consciously pursuing their own aims and interests through adherence to an explicit program and recognized leadership. Marxism does, however, predict that under the pressure of the conflicts of capitalist society and through the spread of revolutionary propaganda, the classes will be separated out, will become differentiated and organized and “conscious” in the sense of accepting explicit programs and recognized leaderships embodying class aims, and that, further, the decisive social battles will in the long run be fought out roughly along such class lines.
Now what the 1936 and 1938 elections show is that the classes in this country are leaving childhood behind and are beginning to mature. More particularly, they show that this development is far more advanced than any political commentators of any camp have yet realized. The United States is compressing into a comparatively few years stages whose unfolding required, in the case of several of the European nations, generations.
The organization of the classes normally takes place first on the economic field, when the workers come to understand that their economic interests are not identical with those of the bosses, and that they must consequently band together to defend their special interests as workers. This began in the United States in the Nineteenth Century, but it was only during the past few years, with the rise of the industrial union movement called into action by the economic and social crisis that it reached major proportions. Overnight, the American working class went from infancy to childhood.
But this development of the class on the economic field under crisis conditions in turn had at once to move on toward the more advanced political development. This latter process was, moreover, additionally stimulated by the New Deal. The New Deal, in its program and to a considerable extent even its actions, contained a large part of traditional social-reformism. In Europe such programs and actions were taught and administered by Social-Democratic and Labor Parties and by Labor coalition governments. There were no such parties or governments in this country. The New Deal, in its own curious way, again compressed into a few years, thus serves as a kind of equivalent to the much longer, more drawn out stage of European social-reformism. Correspondingly, the phases of class development are compressed. The bourgeoisie has its experiment in the social-reformist administration of capitalist society at the very time when the world decline of capitalism and the world crisis are rapidly removing the underpinnings of reformism in all countries. The working class has its social-reformist experiences without having built a reformist party of its own.
The same points may be approached from another direction: In France the Popular Front took shape as the union on a reformist program of the working-class parties with the great “middle-class” Radical-Socialist Party. There were no such parties in the United States, but the same social forces nevertheless operated under similar conditions, and the United States equivalent of the Popular Front was simply the New Deal Roosevelt Democratic Party. In France the bourgeoisie, faced with the continuing economic impasse and the approach of war, whips the middle class into line, out of alliance with the working-class parties, and thereby breaks up the Popular Front. In the same months, with the same problem, the middle classes in the United States are swung back into the Republican Party, and Roosevelt’s Popular Front heads for collapse.
The general conclusion is that the political stage which the United States has reached is far more advanced than appears from any surface manifestation. In spite of the formal persistence of the old two-party framework, the failure of a new party or parties to take the field on a big scale, the apparent setback to the local Labor parties in Minnesota and New York, nevertheless underneath this framework the class political differentiation has set in, class lines are being ever more clearly and sharply drawn. It is an ironic reflection that it is the work of the experts hired by the same corporation executives who in every public speech assure us that “America is different from Europe”, “The US is not a country divided into classes”, which furnishes some of the most unequivocal evidence for this conclusion. Once again we may observe that in the time schedule of American politics it is later than we think.
IT HAS BEEN A COMMONPLACE much loved for generations by the political commentators to picture United States politics as swinging with a pendulum-like motion. After some years on the Republican side, the pendulum swings over to the Democratic; then back again, and so on, with nothing much really changing in the shifts. The wiseacres were gratified to be able to find a re-assertion of the old law of the pendulum in last month’s election. They had been a little fearful that the New Deal was going to live forever. Now they could again believe that “the normal” was triumphant; the party in power was shifting out of power and things would get back to where they started from.
The pendulum metaphor was never very illuminating, but it is the grossest of falsifications when applied to what happened this year. An analogy from motion in an expanding spiral would be much more appropriate. In swinging around again toward the Republican side, the process has also been pushed forward, and there is not at all a return merely to the old position. This is shown unmistakeably by all of the evidence.
It is shown, in the first place, by what we have already discussed. The pendulum motion meant that the people of the country as a whole, in all and each social strata, swung first to one side and then to the other. But this did not happen last month. The classes are now separating out, and function in politics as more or less autonomous forces. The middle classes swung over to the Republicans (the majority of the bourgeoisie voted Republican even in 1936), but the working class stayed with the Democrats. The pendulum conception can in no way represent this far more complex phenomenon.
Secondly, the inadequacy of the pendulum metaphor is shown by the fact that there was no return on the part of anyone to “traditional Republicanism”. Traditional Republicanism, the one side of the old pendulum, is indeed gone forever. No one even mentioned tariffs; it is hard to remember that this was a major issue of every campaign until 1932. No one in any party any longer talks about old-style laisser-faire, or about the Harding-Coolidge brand of “normalcy”. No one even bothered to complain very loudly about “abandonment of the gold standard” or abrogation of the gold clauses; though what has been done by the New Deal to money makes William Jennings Bryan seem like an orthodox economist and would have dropped an old-fashioned Republican dead in his tracks with apoplexy. These matters belong to another epoch, back into which no pendulum-swing will ever return us.
Thirdly, we may observe the character of the campaign this year, not so much the avowed programs as the unofficial but decisive campaign that was carried on among the people. We find that in many crucial States the burden of the Democratic campaign was carried not by the old party machine and party bosses, but by labor and its organizations. This was the case in New York, Michigan, and Ohio outstandingly, and to a considerable extent in Pennsylvania, Illinois and the Far West. It was the ALP, not Tammany, that held the Madison Square Garden rally for Lehman. It was Labor’s Non-Partisan League that made the speeches and got the vote out for Murphy in the Michigan cities.
On the Republican side we discover the emergence of a new type and generation of candidate (Dewey in New York, Taft in Ohio, Stassen in Minnesota) and, more important, prominence given to a new type of issue: pensions (in the West and New England), anti-unionism (the Far West, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio), anti-Semitism (New York, to a lesser extent Minnesota, to some extent nearly everywhere). These issues share two significant features: they are designed to appeal particularly to the middle classes; and they are reflections of conditions of growing social and economic crisis.
The law of the pendulum is consoling, because it leads its believers to imagine that things are pretty much what they always have been, that nothing is drastically changed, that we are headed back toward a political re-stabilization in the old manner. The facts, alas, are uncomfortable. They show that everything is profoundly changing, that things will never again be as they were, that American politics is headed not for re-stabilization but to deep and whirling turmoil.
THE NEW DEAL AS A major social experiment is now drawing to a close. Though its demagogy will continue in the mouths of Roosevelt, Hopkins, Ickes and their labor bureaucrat colleagues, and though it may still fight a few skirmishes, even win a minor victory or two, it is no longer capable of further serious advance. It has been spectacular while it lasted. It served its purpose, brought United States capitalism through an economic and psychological crisis that in 1932 and 1933 threatened to drive irrecoverably and immediately onto the rocks. But the old New Deal is now economically and politically stymied. Its recovery methods, which never touched the roots of economic decline but only plastered the surface with governmental deficit financing, are reaching an exhaustion of efficacy, like a powerful drug to which the organism, after repeated doses, has grown inured. Its political magic which by the strength of its mass appeal held Congress restive but bound within New Deal hands is losing its charm, and other incantations now come through more strongly to Congressional ears.
The close of the New Deal as a new and major social experiment is well understood by the shrewdest of the Washington correspondents. They express it in this way: We are now about to enter into “the Fourth New Deal”. The Fourth New Deal is to be a program of national security or “hemisphere defense”, which will involve not merely the question of armaments and diplomatic negotiations, but the correlated questions of the rearrangement and reorganization of national life and economy – industrial mobilization and coordination, alteration of taxes and the relief program, etc.
The old New Deal was designed to meet a crisis. Its departure does not signify that the crisis is over – rather is it intensified – but that that New Deal was not a lasting method for solving the crisis. The conflicts continue; the unsatisfied needs and aspirations of all classes remain. Profits are still low in the eyes of the bosses. The middle classes are more than ever squeezed from every side. The workers continue and will continue to confront unemployment, insecurity, and lowering wage rates.
The conflicts and the needs give rise to demands, and demands formulated in new terms, since the older formulations and answers, including the New Deal, have got nowhere. The bosses require higher profits, and to get them they must begin bearing down harder on labor and must cut down the expenses of relief. The workers have got to have more wages and relief even to maintain themselves adequately and humanly in existence. The middle classes scurry back and forth, and run breathlessly toward each new will-o’-the-wisp that lifts on the horizon.
The elections show that the bosses are beginning to strike out more sternly and with success. As yet the workers have given no answer. Labor remains, politically, still clinging to the New Deal. Such a policy, however, if it lasts much longer, will be fatal. The New Deal is a sinking ship; no amount of pumping can salvage it. For labor to remain aboard is the counsel of sterile and suicidal despair. It will mean, in the first place, that labor will lose all of its potential allies, who are showing sense enough to jump off while there is yet time – and who can be in any case held only by a firm and bold and courageous policy. It will mean, secondly, that the workers themselves will relapse into hopeless passivity. This is already proved by what happened in Pennsylvania especially and also in Minnesota, New Jersey and Michigan. In Pennsylvania, the workers last Spring fought a stirring though misguided and vain fight for Kennedy in the Democratic Primaries. This fight was against Earle and his New Deal machine. Then, in the election, they were told to fight for Earle and the New Deal machine. How could they be expected to take any loyal and devoted interest in such a proposal? And they did not. Some of them went over to the Republicans; the rest simply sat back. It will mean, finally, that reaction will march ahead unchecked, with the workers, in the straight-jacket of what will no longer be the New Deal but only the memory of the New Deal, deprived of any political instrument for effective resistance.
The New Deal experiment is closing; and, unfortunately, everyone knows it except the workers. The workers do not because they still believe the Lewises and Greens and Browders and Waldmans whose function it is to hide the truth from the workers. The experiment is closing and a new one has already begun. The summed up lesson of the election is clear enough: The workers must finish up with the New Deal, New Dealism and all its supporters; they must strike out on their own now, and enter a new stage of fully independent class politics, setting openly and boldly its class aims as its goal, and, this time, calling on others to follow labor rather than herding labor in to following those who are in reality labor’s worst enemies. Strewn with obscuring obstacles as is the road toward independent labor politics, barred at every gate by labor’s all too friendly friends, the time is nonetheless propitious. Economically, labor is now organized in this country on a scale not merely unprecedented here but seldom equalled anywhere else in the world. Even on the political field labor is now functioning and growing conscious as an organized class. Labor is in a position to achieve major and adult status in United States politics overnight, once the step is taken. The great barrier now is psychological, is in the mind; and if, as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, the mind too has mountains, mountains can be scaled if resolve is strong and purpose unswerving.
THE STORY OF THE elections would be incomplete without reference to the policy advocated by the Lovestone group. In the Workers Age (Nov. 5, 1938) it gave editorial advice to the workers on how to vote. In New York, “support the ALP and vote a straight ALP ticket” – that is, including the representa; tives of Roosevelt’s party who headed the ticket. But let that pass for a moment. What about Michigan arid California, the second and third states mentioned by Lovestone? In the former, vote for Murphy, the Democratic candidate. Why? Because the attack on Murphy is an attack on labor itself and the Auto Workers Union and others are “conducting their own ‘Murphy for Governor’ campaign by means of their own committees, quite independent of the Democratic party and endorsing no other Democratic candidate but Governor Murphy”. In California, labor should vote for the Democratic standard-bearer Olson, also because of the reactionary campaign of the Republicans.
In that case, what is left of the “independent working class politics” which Lovestone talks about from time to time? In that case, what was wrong with supporting Roosevelt as against Landon, since “labor”, in the form of the ALP and Labor’s Non-Partisan League, also supported him? In that case, what would be wrong with voting for Roosevelt in the 1940 elections, provided “labor” gave him the same “independent” support? According to Lovestone’s new line, the answer in all three cases is: Nothing!
Lovestone, sucked deeper into the muck by his policy of ingratiating himself with the conservative, pro-Roosevelt, anti-Stalinist trade union bureaucracy, has reached the position of left wing-tip of the Democratic party. Ten years ago he directed the expulsion of the Trotskyists from the Communist Party as “agents of the bourgeoisie”. Today, he brings up the rearguard of bourgeois politics in the labor movement, drumming up a vote or two for the “good man” candidate on a capitalist ticket, for the “progressive” bourgeois politician who is better, you know, than the candidate of “reaction”.
A sardine, say the Japanese, always stinks at the head. But other parts are not immune from decay. Thus, while the editorial called for support of the SP in Massachusetts because Curley, the Democratic candidate, “is a reactionary of the deepest dye”, it did not prevent the only known spokesman for the Lovestone group in Massachusetts, a small-time labor bureaucrat named Sam Sandberg, from speaking in public for Curley and from putting signed and paid advertisements in the press in behalf of the Congressional candidacy of Curley’s henchman, Casey. We doubt if Sandberg’s membership in the Lovestone group will be affected by his little exploits. If the leader can play bourgeois politics on a national scale, he can surely play them in a little corner of New England.
Last updated on 7.8.2006