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The New International, November 1943

Notes of the Month

The Election Results


From The New International, Vol. IX No. 10, November 1943, pp. 291–293.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


By-elections are not decisive political events, especially where only local candidates are to be chosen, but they are important nevertheless in disclosing the national trend.

This year the Republicans continued to roll up victories at the expense of the Democrats in one state after another. The anti-Administration party now hat control of a majority of the state governments; out of the forty-eight states it now has the twenty-six in which four-fifths of the total popular presidential vote was cast in 1940. Adding to the victories gained in last year’s congressional elections, the Republicans won in New York and elected their governor in New Jersey and normally Democratic Kentucky.

In New York, the CIO and the ALP backed the Democratic loser; in Philadelphia and Hartford the unions backed the Democratic loser; in Detroit, the powerful UAW also saw the candidate it endorsed and financed go down in defeat; and in New Jersey, where the Democratic candidate for Governor was Vincent Murphy, Mayor of Newark and secretary of the New Jersey State Federation of Labor (AFL), who had the support of the AFL, the CIO, the Railroad Brotherhoods, the CIO Political Action Committee, the Stalinists, Frank Hague, and outgoing Governor Edison, the Republican nominee, Walter E. Edge, nevertheless won the contest by 100,000 votes.

“President Roosevelt and Willkie,” wrote Victor Riesel, labor editor of the New York Post, “the two political leaders most anxious to discover whether labor could make good its boasts and swing decisive blocs of votes – learned this gloomy day that labor had failed to deliver.”

There is a peculiar kernel of truth in this statement, but it is too simple for a clear and complete picture of the situation. It begs the important question of why labor “failed to deliver.” Mr. Riesel, in spite of his education in the school of The New Leader (or because of it) sheds no more light on the question than is to be found in the substitute-for-an-explanation which is given by every superficial commentator. In his own words, “for some reason the rank and file members of all unions – AFL and CIO – are not following their leaders into any political camp.” But what is the reason?

Growth of Discontent

In the first place, it is universally acknowledged that the discontentment with the present Administration In Washington and its local representatives and defenders is widespread. If an analysis is confined to the vast majority of the people, namely the workers and the lower middle classes, there can be no question of scope and depth of this discontent. Every month the weight of the war burden falls more heavily upon labor and the middle classes that are being driven to ruin. Rationing goes from one muddle to another. The cost of living continues to rise in spite of all official promises to the contrary. The Administration brings all its strength to bear against most urgently needed and long overdue wage increases. Government intervention into and regimentation of one sphere of life after another grows continually and becomes ever more onerous and obnoxious. And all the while, profits flow into the coffers of the big capitalists in a broad and shimmering golden stream.

The resentment, the demands for relief and the struggles of the workers are no longer directed exclusively against their immediate employer. How can they be when the government has gradually taken over the direction or control of almost every sphere of economic life! It is against the government, at least as much as against the mine operators, that the miners have found themselves compelled to strike four times in a row, and it is from the government that they finally wrested a concession. The strike vote being taken by half a million railroad workers is directed not less against the government than against the banks and railroad magnates who pass themselves off euphemistically as “management.”

It is the government, not only in theory, but also in instructively accumulated daily experiences, that is primarily responsible for reducing the economic and political standards of labor. It is now the wise employer who says to labor: “I would like to give considerate attention to your demands, but all such questions are now settled in Washington, and that is where you will have to take your grievances and proposals.” And labor has been given plenty of lessons in the meaning of visits to Washington and the results of such visits.

Labor and the New Deal

At one time, Mr. Riesel forgets, “labor” (he means the labor officialdom) was able to “make good its boasts and swing decisive blocs of votes.” Example: the 1932 presidential election, in which Roosevelt won his first term. Whatever the New Deal represented in fact, in the minds of the workers it meant a program and a fight to put an end to the plague of unemployment and insecurity and to achieve higher economic standards at the expense of the thunderously denounced “economic royalists”; it meant political progress in the form of greater democratic rights and influence for the common people. Roosevelt was, to them, the leader of a popular crusade. Roosevelt offered what seemed to the masses a real and progressive alternative, a radical change, from Hoover’s status quo. He was not in their eyes just another politician cooking up a few minor issues in order that the In should be the Out and the Out the In. Therefore labor and the middle classes voted almost unanimously for Roosevelt, and voted with the greatest enthusiasm and hope. Labor did “deliver.”

But the course of the New Deal came to an end long ago.

The trend it represented – bourgeois reformism – has been reversed by its original protagonists, and particularly by Roosevelt. Wage-freezing, job-freezing, strike-breaking, the Roman iday of the war profiteers – these are neither the language nor the realities of the New Deal of 1932. Labor’s enthusiasm Roosevelt is almost entirely dissipated. If it grants him its support at all now, it is given grudgingly, without deep conviction, with all sorts of reservations and criticisms, and principally out of fear that the Republican alternative would be altogether intolerable.

That is why “labor” in this election did not ”deliver.” Millions still voted for Roosevelt’s party and Roosevelt’s candidates. But not all the millions who “voted for them a decade ago. Some took the traditional American way of rebuking “their” Administration without running the risk of ousting it altogether (this being a by-election), namely, they voted for the Republicans. Others rebuked it by their indifference, namely, they stayed away from the polls in much greater numbers than they otherwise would in such an election.

The Republicans won because the principal reactionary forces were behind them. They won because the disillusioned and battered middle classes lashed out blindly against the Administration party, as they always do in a crisis when that party offers them no hope and thereby drives them on, to the path of conservatism and even reaction. The Republicans won because labor has lost its enthusiasm and conviction in favor of yesterday’s New Dealers: It is upon these factors that the Republicans count for victory in 1944. All this is as much as to say that “labor.” will “fail to deliver” in 1944 as well, and later too, that is, that labor will not be the united and decisive political force that it can be, unless it has a progressive and radical alternative and a clear-cut banner around which to rally. It thought it had one in 1932; in 1943 it didn’t even think so. Take the contest between Bullitt and Samuel for Mayor of Philadelphia – a miserable affair if there ever was one. Of the multitude of burning political and social issues of the day, not one of them was dealt with, in the platform or campaign of either candidate. Leaving aside the only issue that was posed in the Detroit election – the question of the treatment of the Negroes, on which the victor, Jeffries, took an outright reactionary position, but on which the CIO-supported loser, FitzGerald, took a wretched, mealy-mouthed, apologetic stand what was there in that contest that could arouse a crusading spirit among the discontented and militant-minded Detroit working class? Virtually the same can be said of the contest in New Jersey between Edge and Murphy, who could hardly present himself as the paladin of progress while riding around on Boss Frank Hague’s shoulders; or of the contest in New York between two such outstanding zeros as Haskell and Hanley, or Hanley and Haskell, or whatever their pseudonyms were.

Radical Alternative Is Needed

An alternative is needed, and it must be genuine, radical, fundamental.

Roosevelt does not meet a single one of. the requirements. Even those who put all their hopes in resurrecting that mildest of reformers who was Roosevelt are doomed to disappointment on two counts: in the first place, whether he was once suitable to labor’s needs or not, Roosevelt the New Dealer is dead, and there are no miracles in politics; in the second place, if the miracle of the resurrection could be accomplished, the Roosevelt of the first New Deal days would be as much an anachronism, as much a bankrupt, in the crisis which is gathering in fury for this country, as the Hoover of 1929 was in the crisis that burst over his head.

Labor alone can put forward the alternative. The first prerequisite is its declaration of independence as a class in the form of a national Labor Party. This does not mean the organization of a sideshow of the Democratic Party, like the ALP of New York. It means an independent Labor Party which challenges the two parties of decrepit capitalism, not for a few thousand votes here and there but for not less a prize than government rule, charge of the destiny of society. A Labor Party which does not set itself the aim of a labor government is next to nothing at all. It acknowledges in advance its own unworthiness, its own impotence, its own dread of organizing the nation along its own ideas. It pledges itself to the mean role of servant of other parties, or at best as partner of the very parties it challenges before the people on the ground that they do not deserve support.

Could labor “deliver” the votes if it organized itself independently on the political field? There cannot be any serious doubt about “that, provided one condition is fulfilled. This condition is the adoption by the Labor Party of a comprehensive, bold and militant program.

It is utterly erroneous to think, even in the United States, that it is labor’s “radicalism” and “selfishness” (read: independence) th’at alienate popular support from it. This might be true in the United States under the conditions of comparative prosperity, peace, security and progress that prevailed, for example, before the First World War or during the first postwar prosperity. But those conditions are of the past. There is already a crisis in the United States and there is every indication that it will grow in depth and breadth. There is already a universal fear of the post-war period and a skepticism toward all the official plans for dealing with it. Millions feel deeply that the “old order” brought them insecurity, growing inequality, and the scourge of war, and that it will bring them nothing else in the future.

Under such conditions, it is not a radical change that millions of people fear, but the attempt to preserve what is old and discredited, or the attempt to fiddle around with a patch here, an emergency repair there, a coat of whitewash somewhere else. It is well to remember that under similar conditions, during the Hoover days, Roosevelt couldn’t speak radically enough to suit the masses; that he actually put into effect a program in many respects more radical than that contained in the election platform of Norman Thomas (a fact perplexedly acknowledged by Thomas himself!); that the outraged denunciations of his program as “socialism” and even “communism” left the masses cold to the denouncers and warm to the denounced.

In other words, they denied the allegations and denounced the allegators!

The Outlook of a Labor Party

A Labor Party that confines itself to the pettifoggery of the old reformist parties, which ended in such disaster in Europe; that pledges itself only to fixing a leaking pipe when it is the floodgates of social crisis that must be dealt with; or plastering up a hole in the ceiling when the whole roof of capitalist society is collapsing, will doom itself. It will only succeed in driving millions of people – not only the middle classes but even the working class – into the arms of reactionary demagogues of the fascist or semi-fascist variety. The ultra-modern demagogues know enough about the crisis of the old order, capitalism, and about the moods and aspirations of the masses to speak boldly about a new order.

A Labor Party which speaks bluntly in favor of labor, of the need of organizing society in such a way that this most important and useful class shall have the decisive say, need have little fear about gaining the support of the workers.

A Labor Party which presents and fights for a program boldly directed against the monopolists, the big banks, the blood-profiteers; which does not propose merely to talk against the “economic royalists” (talk alone rallied millions to Roosevelt’s support!) but to act against them as ruthlessly as the interests of the masses require it, need have little fear about gaining the support not only of labor but of all the “little people” in the country.

A Labor Party which says that the present government did not hesitate to intervene in the most arbitrary way in the lives of the people in order to prosecute a bloody war, and that it will not hesitate, when it constitutes the government, to intervene in the most arbitrary way in the property interests of big capital in order to prosecute a war against poverty, unemployment, planlessness, inequality – is assured of the support of the great masses in the coming crisis.

A Labor Party which says boldly and courageously that it will put an end to the bestiality and shamelessness of Jim Crow, an end to any attempt to divide the workers and the nation as a whole along racial lines (and similarly, along religious or national lines), is assured of the support of some fifteen million Negroes in the country. Why, even with his timid and shamefaced half-a-kind-word attitude toward the Negroes, FitzGerald received the support of virtually every Negro in the city in his Detroit mayoralty campaign.

Labor has nothing to fear or to lose from the immediate organization of an independent party of its own and the adoption of an aggressive program of attack upon the capitalist reaction all along the line and of social reconstruction for peace, security and plenty. Every conceivable argument against it, especially the so-called “practical” arguments, however valid it may appear to be, falls to pieces in face of the fact that if labor does not take this path, victory will not possibly or probably, but surely, go to capitalist reaction. All modern history shows that where labor does not step forward in its own name and under its own banner to solve big social problems in a situation of crisis, these problems are “solved” nevertheless, but solved by capitalist reaction, solved in a barbarous way, solved at heavy cost to labor’s economic and political position.

To think, as some myopic labor bureaucrats do, that the masses of the people will vote for Roosevelt and “democracy” for the next ten or twenty years, in crises and out, until these bureaucrats get ready to form a “Labor Party” that will very quietly, smoothly and ever-so-bureaucratically shift the masses from “middle-of-the-roadism” to a more “radical” party and program, is criminal stupidity.

As the crisis grows and sharpens, the masses will simply turn by the millions to a reactionary alternative if they are not offered a genuinely radical and progressive alternative. Anyone who has not learned this most important lesson from the tragedy of the European people in the last ten, fifteen or twenty years is either incapable of learning anything or else has his head solidly stuck in a barrel of concrete which may well be broken open for him by ... fascism.

The working class as a whole cannot, however, afford to learn its lesson from such a brutal experience. Too much is at stake. Mr. Riesel and all his kind to the contrary notwithstanding, labor can “deliver.” But it must first deliver itself from political bondage to the parties and politicians of capitalism. In this country, now, the most important step in this direction is the formation of an independent Labor Party.

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