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The New International, June 1944

L. Smith

Michigan Commonwealth Federation

A New Party and Its Problems


From The New International, Vol. X No. 6, June 1944, pp. 172–178.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The formation of the Michigan Commonwealth Federation is a signal advance for the labor movement of the entire state and a signpost for the labor movement of the whole country. Its declaration, published after its founding conference on March 4 and 5, and attended by over 250 delegates, most of them union members, reads: “... the party shall never endorse a candidate of a rival party.” This statement of policy, which excludes support by the new party to the candidates of the Democratic-Republican Parties, is the biggest step yet taken by any group representative of the labor movement toward independent working-class politics. The significance of this move is made clear by the denunciations of the Communist Party and the repeated public disavowals of the top leadership of the CIO.

While the movement for a Labor Party has been pushed back and at least temporarily defeated by the CP in New York and Minnesota, in Michigan it has arisen under the leadership of a group of second-rank union officials who are under the direct influence and pressure of the most advanced and militant section of the labor movement in Detroit.

Fighting Spirit in Detroit

The most explosive situation in the country exists in Detroit. Since the entry of the United States into the war, the big corporations, aided by the War Labor Board, have withdrawn one concession after another from the unions, reducing collective bargaining to a mockery. A deliberate anti-union drive, spearheaded by the Ford Motor Company, is under full sail.

At all Ford plants, committeemen are suspended, placed upon probation, or discharged without regard for the union; contract provisions are violated and ignored; workers are re-classified or shuffled from plant to plant or department to department, and find themselves at the same work at reduced wages; dozens of persecutions, important or petty, are invented – speed-up on the job, withdrawing of chairs from the departments, timing of workers who go to the rest rooms – all aimed at a war of nerves against the unions and the destruction of the morale of their membership.

So serious and universal has this condition become that the officers of the United Auto Workers Union announce publicly that “In entire sections of the industry ... collective bargaining is being denied our workers.”

Not a day passes without reports of new “unauthorized” walkouts, stoppages, and demonstrations by CIO and AFL members in reply to the ever-increasing assaults upon their union rights. In every case they are knifed by the brass hats of the labor movement. It would require pages merely to list the walkouts of the last six months.

What the employers are out for is simple. In Windsor, Canada, just across the border from Detroit, a backlog of grievances led to a plant-wide walkout in the Ford plants authorized by the local union. Ford seized this opportunity to revoke its contract with the union and was compelled to backtrack only after the strike continued with one hundred per cent effectiveness. The incident, however, exposes the real aim of the Ford company, the destruction of the union and the restoration of open-shop rule.

The same tactics are employed in Michigan. The policy of the top leadership of the CIO in the face of these employer provocations is worse than a do-nothing policy. They have nothing to tell the ranks except to “uphold the no-strike pledge” and to threaten those militant workers who refuse to adopt this head-in-the-sand recipe with expulsion from the unions and dismissal from the shops. But despite these threats and the advice of their treacherous leadership, the rank and file of the unions, realizing that the labor movement is in danger, reply to the offensive of the bosses with the only means at their command, industrial guerrilla warfare.

One example is local 600, UAW, at Ford Raver Rouge, the largest local union in the world, with a membership of over 90,000. A short time before the Windsor strike, the workers of the Aircraft Division of the Rouge plant staged several walkouts and a demonstrative barricading of the plant gates in protest against the dismissal of a number of workers and their committeemen. R.J. Thomas and the Communist-supported president-elect of the local, Grant, united to break the strike, employing methods which are becoming commonplace in the UAW. They gave the go-ahead signal to the company by announcing that no worker who actively participated in the stoppages would receive the aid of the collective bargaining machinery of the local union. As a result, more than 150 union men and committeemen were discharged or suspended.

A mass meeting of 1,500 members of the Aircraft Division voted almost unanimously for the revocation of the no-strike pledge in defiance of the regional director of the UAW, who declared the motion improper and out of order and walked out of the hall.

In May, 6,000 workers in four Chrysler plants covered by Local 490 struck for the reinstatement of sixteen men who had been discharged. The local executive board supported the strikers. George Addes, R.J. Thomas and Walter Reuther united in denunciation of the strikers, called upon the workers to ignore the picket lines, and instituted charges against the officers and executive board of the local. In the face of these obstacles, the men returned to work upon the advice of the local leadership. The Thomas-Reuther-Addes international leadership put the local into the hands of a receiver after removing the local executive board and officers from their posts.

A second strike was precipitated, this time against the international officers, when over 4,000 workers in the Chrysler Highland Park plant struck under the slogans: “Fight for the boys who fight for you. The company fired part of your leaders. The International UAW-CIO fired the rest.”

These events led Thomas to declare: “The UAW-CIO faces one of the greatest crises in its history.”

Communist Party and MCF

The rank and filers are becoming more and more aware that they cannot fight their employers without at the same time fighting against their “own” union top officialdom. In the last local elections in the Detroit area, one administration after another was overturned as the members of the UAW sought some method of protesting against the union misleadership, found their local officers closest at hand, and voted the out-factions in and the in-factions out.

It is this conflict between a traitorous leadership which insists upon capitulation to the employers and a militant rank and file which is looking to return to the fight against the monopolists, that sets the background for the formation of the Michigan Commonwealth Federation.

The plethora of “wildcat” walkouts demonstrates the desire of the rank and file to take up the class struggle on the industrial field. The more advanced elements in the ranks seek to translate this desire into political terms through the MCF. The same forces within the labor movement which favor capitulation, the Communist Party and the R.J. Thomas leadership of the UAW, are quick to take up the fight against the MCF.

The most vicious and irreconcilable enemy of the MCF is the Stalinist-Communist Party.

Earl Browder, reporting to the national committee of the Communist Party in January, declared: “Among the big bourgeoisie, the monopoly capitalists, there are those who will be our allies.” The followers of the MCF have declared war upon these allies of the CP and the latter has taken up arms against the MCF. At the state convention of the CP of Michigan in April, the official line was laid down: “The MCF must be isolated and destroyed.” And in the May issue of The Communist, N. Sparks, in customary CP fashion, lumps the MCF in the same pile with the American fascists and the reactionary Southern Democrats.

In attacking the MCF, the CP aims to defend its alliance with the monopolists; all political organizations, including the MCF, which even in the tiniest degree tend to fight against the big capitalists, are now labeled “fascist” by the Communists, who in 1940 defended Stalin’s alliance with Hitler.

But a Labor Party has not always been “fascist” In a radio speech on March 5, 1936, Browder sang a different tune. “The House of Morgan is the real ruler today,” and we must “break the power of Wall Street.” “Tweedledum and Tweedledee are still twins,” said Browder, “even when one wears the cold mask of Hoover and the other the professional smile of Roosevelt.” “We Communists propose,” he continued, “... in every town and city, in every state, and on a national scale, to form a Farmer-Labor Party.”

Times have changed, and with changing times came changes in the policies demanded by the ruler of Russia. Browder echoes Stalin’s latest biddings to the American working class. J.P. Morgan? “I as a Communist am prepared to clasp his hand,” says Browder in 1944. A Labor Party? “Fascist.” Reactionaries become progressives with a wave of the same magic wand which transformed Mayor Frank Hague of Jersey City from the bitterest enemy of the organized labor movement into a progressive “Win the War” Democrat ... with CP support.

Supporters of the MCF fully recognize that the CP is their mortal enemy, an enemy whose policies are in no way adapted to the needs of the working class but which merely put in American terminology the newest decisions of the reactionary bureaucratic ruling class of Russia headed by Stalin.

R.J. Thomas and the MCF

While the CP is easily detected as a foe, R.J. Thomas and his supporters appear more conciliatory and reasonable; nevertheless they are united with the CP on this question. The leaders of the MCF refuse to recognize Thomas as an opponent – a more subtle, less decisive one than the CP, but an opponent nonetheless. They hail him as a potential friend.

The MCF News reports that Thomas, at the PAC convention on April 21, “branded the Republican Party as reactionary and disloyal and described the Democratic Party as chaotic.” The News overlooks one simple fact in this roundabout attempt to make a pro-Labor Party spokesman out of Thomas: in his own way he supports the Democratic Party.

As the CP thunders “Isolate and destroy the MCF,” Thomas more tactfully argues: “Now is not the time for a Labor Party.” Thomas’ formulation is neither a conciliatory gesture toward the MCF nor a promise for the formation of a Labor Party. His mildness in contrast to the intransigence of the CP is explained on entirely different grounds. The Stalinists support Roosevelt and oppose a Labor Party in return for Roosevelt’s concessions to Stalin. Thomas supports Roosevelt and opposes a Labor Party because of Roosevelt’s concessions to labor. The Stalinists are principally concerned with extracting concessions from labor for Roosevelt ... that is the price they are willing to pay for the alliance with Stalin (Teheran). Thomas, however, is concerned with extracting a few concessions from Roosevelt for labor. In return for these concessions, which become fewer and farther between the more loyal labor is to Roosevelt, Thomas surrenders labor’s political independence.

The difference between the Communists and the Thomasites came into the open at the last UAW convention, where the CP-Addes group demanded full unqualified support to Roosevelt while the Reuther faction insisted upon a conditional wait-and-see policy.

While the CP loudly and enthusiastically proclaims support to Roosevelt, Thomas permits himself the luxury of an occasional criticism or a politely worded “demand” upon the President ... but he gives his support despite these protestations. The wait-and-see policy, of course, fooled no one, least of all Roosevelt, who, if anything, has become even more anti-labor since the last UAW convention, coming out for a draft-labor act. Nevertheless the CIO has already thrown its support to him for a fourth term.

Although different considerations motivate him, Thomas solidarizes with the Communists in practice. “Now is not the time” is a more tactful way of saying: now is the time for full support to Roosevelt and his friends in the Democratic Party. This policy, implemented on the industrial field by the no-strike pledge and the disciplining of union militants, is expressed on the political field by the organization of the Political Action Committee of the CIO.

On a national scale the PAC is a determined foe of the Labor Party movement. Sidney Hillman, national chairman of the PAC, hailed the dissolution of the Farmer-Labor Party of Minnesota into the Democratic Party as an “outstanding demonstration of progressive unity.” In Michigan, Thomas and the CIO carry out the same policy by bending their efforts to revive a discredited, defeated, and impotent Democratic Party machinery. Thomas and other CIO leaders were elected as delegates to the Democratic national convention at the state convention of the Democrats.

Thomas wants labor “in politics,” not for its own program and platform but for that of the Roosevelt wing of the Democratic Party. When he declares, as he did at one of the PAC conferences, that “Labor seeks a voice in government, not the domination of government,” he summarizes the political role he would asign to the CIO as a loyal adviser and collaborator of so-called liberal capitalist politicians. Somebody will “dominate” government; if not labor, then the big capitalists. Unless labor aims to “dominate” government it has no method of carrying out its own political program. The duplicity of this approach to politics was exposed at the Wayne County PAC convention where resolutions in favor of a guaranteed annual wage were adopted but a proposal to endorse only those candidates who are pledged to support such a program was defeated.

At the Democratic state convention, Frankensteen delivered the keynote address stating: “give us a liberal platform and we will take care of the MCF.” Like Frankensteen’s speech, the “now-is-not-the-time” formula is designed more for the ears of the Democratic politicians than for labor. “Not now,” you see, but maybe later ... You’d better give us something or we may do something rash ... It is intended as a prod at the ward heelers ... but that something rash never comes. That is as certain as it was guaranteed that the CIO would support Roosevelt for a fourth term despite the wait-and-see policy.

At the Wayne County convention the supporter’s of Reuther and Thomas united with the supporters of the MCF to keep the CP out of control of the PAC executive board. Some supporters of the MCF delude themselves into interpreting this move as a display of sympathy by Thomas for a Labor Party. Not at all. The Thomasites in this bloc realize that while the CP favors 100 per cent capitulation to Roosevelt they can only offer 2, 50, or 90 per cent.

Not to recognize Thomas as an antagonist of independent political action, or worse, to imagine that he is a friend and consequently to pacify and conciliate him instead of fighting against him would be suicidal for the MCF. Likewise for Walter Reuther, who boasted boldly that “the policy of the CIO is not to become the tail to the kite of any political group” at the April PAC convention in Detroit where the CIO became the tail to the Democratic kite. Reuther’s chief role in the UAW is to make radical speeches like this one in favor of the ruinous old line policies.

MCF Leaders, Thomas, CP

Thomas and the CP are a powerful force in the CIO in Michigan but their opposition to the formation of a Labor Party can be defeated. Not easily or automatically, it goes without saying, but by a sustained and consistent fight for the MCF. Leftwing workers can have confidence in victory because all evidence demonstrates that Michigan union men are looking for a new program and a new leadership. How else explain the wave of walkouts, the overturn of local administrations in the last UAW elections, the powerful vote – 156 out of 379 – at the PAC convention for the MCF motion to endorse only candidates pledged to the annual wage? Above all, what else explains the enthusiastic response to the call for the March 4-5 study conference of the MCF.

But the leaders of the MCF, hesitant, vacillatory and unable to maintain an independent policy in action, have been frittering away the strength of the Labor Party movement at the very time when it needs clarification and consolidation.

It would seem almost axiomatic that the first task of the MCF is to campaign within the unions for support That is where the main base for the new party lies. The temporary state committee, however, seems to think differently and in one of its first directives announces:

“The state committee wishes to stress the fact that this is a broad party of common people and urges all members considering the formation of clubs to lay the greatest emphasis on geographical dubs which enroll ‘all the neighbors.’”

Anxious to avoid any semblance of “factionalism” and to avert a conflict with Thomas within the unions, the MCF heads apparently hope to build their new party in the neighborhoods, achieve some successes, come to Thomas and say, “We told you so. Now will you support us?”

At the March 4 5 conference of the MCF, Matthew Hammond, chairman, insisted over and over again that “this movement has no connection with any factions in the unions,” as though it were possible to build a labor party without a pro-labor party faction within the unions. Hammond ignores the fact that one year ago, he and others were the pro-new party faction at the Michigan State Convention of the CIO and that without that faction there never would have been an MCF. And without a faction organized for a thrust against R.J. Thomas and the political ideas he represents there never will be a powerful MCF.

In the first place they do not recognize the need for a class Labor Party but seek a “party of the common people.” Second, they stand on a platform of “Win the War,” and thereby destroy the connection which must exist between labor’s political struggles and its struggles in the mines, and shops. Third, they support Roosevelt and thus undermine the platform of an independent labor party. Fourth, they seek to compromise with the enemies of the Labor Party and capitulate to the PAC supporters of the Democratic Party. These policies must be understood, abandoned, and replaced with their direct opposite if the MCF, is to become a potent political arm of labor.

Party of the “Common People” or Labor Party

To avoid a “narrow” labor base for the MCF, its leaders favor not a Labor Party but a “broad” party of the common people. This line of reasoning determined the name of the new party after proposals for “Labor Party” and “Farmer-Labor Party” had been rejected at the original conference.

The State Committee, in the same spirit, reserves the right to limit the total vote of all bloc affiliates to 45 per cent of the total vote aimed at the coming state convention, a proposal obviously aimed against “union domination” in the hope of encouraging middle-class participation in the party. The identical false considerations will inevitably dictate the watering down of the MCF platform and program.

But there is not and cannot be any political party which genuinely fights for the common people other than one which is clearly and unambiguously a Labor Party. The concept, “common people,” includes sections of the population with frequently divergent aims, who may follow labor on decisive issues but who nevertheless have points of contact and agreement with the possessing classes. While the interests of the working class are completely and consistently in opposition to those of the big capitalists, the middle-class sections of the “common people” have a divided loyalty; on the one hand, they themselves are oppressed and exploited by the big monopolists while on the other, they themselves are small-time employers of labor or sellers to labor. All the common people can fight against the big capitalists provided they ally themselves with a labor party and a labor program. If labor dilutes its own program and party, hoping to catch the common people, it thereby dilutes its fight against the big capitalists and will lose the support of the non-labor sections of the population. It was an attempt at compromise of this kind by the German Social-Democratic Party that enabled Hitler to win over the German middle class and crush the labor movement.

Let us suppose that a neighborhood is terrorized by a gang of racketeers and the inhabitants band together to drive out these extortionists. They appeal to property owners in the neighborhood for financial and other assistance to procure weapons of all kinds for the fight.

“Yes, yes, I am with you,” say the property owners, “but no violence lest my property be destroyed or damaged.”

“All right, we will compromise,” say the reasonable leaders of the “common people.” “Support us and we will oppose the gangsters (but without violence. We will firmly impress upon them by resolutions, petitions, and letters that we intend to pay them tribute no longer.”

But the property owner and all concerned soon discover how impotent are words and appeals before the guns and bombs of the gangsters.

“What chance can the ‘common people’ have,” concludes the property owner. “I’d do better to remain in safe neutrality.” Through their compromise the “common people” not only lose their ally but are beaten by the gangsters as well.

Let labor organize and fight resolutely, uncompromisingly, and intelligently against the Sixty Families, and the rest of the “common people,” seeing the possibility of victory against a common foe, will cast in their lot.

This question, the attitude of labor toward its potential allies, will be discussed many times in the MCF, but regardless of any theory, one fact remains: the MCF will be a party based on the mass labor movement or no party at all.

Thus far its main support is from labor. The original sponsoring committee, “The Committee for the Promotion of a Farmer-Labor Party,” was composed mainly of unionists. The first MCF conference was dominated by delegates and members of the CIO and AFL. The main strength of the MCF is in the industrial areas of Michigan.

The officialdom of the MCF is constituted by a group of local union officers headed by Matthew Hammond, president of local 157 UAW, and chairman of the MCF and Paul Silver, president of local 351 UAW and Organizational Director of the MCF. These people, finding their unions unable to make any serious gains in the face of the government opposition and facing the weakening and possible destruction of their unions together with the whole CIO movement, turn to politics as a way out of the impasse.

However, they only partially approach the truth. Yes, an effective fight against the employers is impossible today unless the workers go into politics. But effective political action by labor is likewise impossible without a conscious battle in every phase of political and economic life. If politics is confined to pure and simple election activities – politics in the narrow sense – it is as impotent as pure-and-simple trade unionism. The Labor Party must demonstrate in every-day life the connection of its program with matters that concern workingmen most directly. The most vital of these problems press for solution inside the union movement.

Supporters of The New International, Labor Action, and the Workers Party, proponents of a consistent policy of independent political action by labor, advocate that the labor movement turn the helm and embark upon a clear course of class struggle on the economic and the political field. Toward this end we propose, on a nation-wide scale the adoption of new policies, a hew fighting leadership by the union movement and the formation of a fighting Labor Party. We support the MCF as one step in this direction.

The leaders of the MCF on the other hand have no all-sided program in harmony with the requirement of today. This is excluded by their slogan “Win the War,” which they hold with Thomas and the C.P. Hammond and Silver can unite in a bloc for common electoral activities but they are unable to join together, with other progressives in their own international union, to fight in an organized and systematic fashion for new policies. At the last UAW convention they were lost inside the Reuther caucus and as the 1944 convention approaches we hear no word from them.

A few days after Thomas had publicly assailed the strikers of the Rouge Aircraft Division and laid them open to disciplinary action by the company, Silver eulogized him at a PAC conference and promised to vote for him at the coming convention. He laid it on so thick that Thomas replied: “I am glad to have the support of my friend Paul Silver, but what has that got to do with the subject under discussion (politics).”

Ben Garrison, president of Ford local 400 in January and a sponsor of the MCF, declared in a report to the membership of his local, after detailing the attacks by the management upon the union, “in the face of many more unfavorable attitudes which the company will undoubtedly take in the future, I call upon the workers in the plant to uphold the no-strike pledge.”

In none of the literature of the MCF is there a serious criticism of the top officialdom of the CIO or of their policies in the unions and in the political field.

We can only conclude that the Hammond and Silver group, which leads the MCF, looks upon the new party not as part of a program of renewed class struggle but as a substitute for such a program.

Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party

Closely associated with the leading core of the MCF is a group of educators and professionals following the more or less socialistically inclined liberal policy characteristic of the Socialist Party. This group has the illusion that it is helping to lead and influence the movement when it is actually being led by the nose. They function inside the MCF in the same way as in the labor movement as a whole. In the union movement they have no independent policy and consequently are able to push themselves into minor posts and avoid any conflict with the trade union tops. In the MCF they seek a forum where they can be permitted to sneak in an occasional radical-liberal speech and into whose program they will be allowed to insert a few egregoius socialistic formulations. For these privileges they refrain from pressing for any point of view of their own and in fact have no consistent program of their own to propose.

The MCF, in its official literature, points out the need for independent participation in elections. It must recognize the need for independent class UNION policies.

Regular readers of The New International will be interested in the attitude of the Socialist Workers Party and the Militant toward the MCF. On the eve of the March 4 MCF conference, the Militant editorialized as follows:

“There is danger that in their impatience to get on with the formal organization of a labor party, the militants will be led into taking precipitate and premature action which may result in an abortive formation and compromise the entire labor party movement.”

And on its own account the Militant proposes,

“Through the medium of a referendum or a special convention the independent labor party can be launched in Michigan under the official auspices of the state CIO.”

So well attended and enthusiastic was the “unofficial” MCF conference that this policy was forgotten and not a single delegate took the floor at the main sessions to argue for this point of view. Of course, the SWP can argue, as it usually does, that on grounds of “caution” it was inadvisable to speak. The theory of “caution” is reduced to a farce when its authors, through caution, refrain from urging this very caution upon the labor movement.

The Militant policy was unrealistic and at bottom an attempt to confine the labor party movement to forms which would be acceptable to the top union leaders. Their policy in regard to the MCF is almost indistinguishable from that of the socialistic-liberals. Since the formation of the MCF the Militant has remained completely uncritical of the role played by the Hammond-Silver group in the PAC discussed convention in Detroit, criticizes the Stalinists and R.J. Thomas but not a word of criticism of the MCF leaders who capitulated to them.

For Roosevelt or for a Labor Party?

The labor movement must choose between two irreconcilably opposed lines of actions. Either build an independent labor party and oppose the candidates of the two old capitalist parties or support Roosevelt or some other “friend” of labor and his friends in the old parties. The MCF is on record for the first and the Stalinists and R.J. Thomas for the second of these two platforms.

Hammond and Silver, however, try to walk a tight rope between divergent courses. While the MCF, as a party, does not endorse Roosevelt, its leaders, acting as they please, call for his reelection. Their clever maneuvers, aimed at reconciling the irreconcilable, have led them and the labor party movement up a blind alley.

On what grounds can the MCF leaders argue in favor of support to Roosevelt? Is he not a Democrat?

“Yes, we are for a Labor Party,” they may argue, “but since we are too weak to elect our own man let us choose the more favorable of the two capitalistic candidates.”

“But,” one points out, “Roosevelt uses the army to break strikes, puts over the Little Steel formula, continues Jim Crow in the armed forces, calls for a national service act, etc., etc.”

“We know all that, and we oppose it,” is the reply, “but a Dewey or a Bricker would be still worse.”

This is the theory that we must support the “lesser of two evils” all over again.

Lesser Evil and R.J. Thomas

Once one adopts the standpoint of the “lesser evil” theory he has conceded everything to R.J. Thomas, and all the protestations about the value and necessity of an independent party are reduced to zero. Thomas carries out his line all the way, from big things (presidential campaign) to small ones (state and municipal). Hammond and Silver surrender to Thomas on the major issue and try to hold up the banner of independent politics on small matters. But if one concedes the advisability of supporting Roosevelt, why gag at supporting his stooges in the Democratic Party? Why hesitate to become a faction inside the Democratic Party and throw support to Roosevelt as the CP and the PAC do?

Having supported Roosevelt the MCF leaders have no effective reply and they wonder why the MCF makes headway slowly!

Elaine Marrin, a member of the State Committee of the MCF and a member of the executive board of the PAC, has found one solution to this dilemma. He has entered the lists as candidate for State representative on the Democratic Party ticket. Thus far, to the best of our knowledge, he remains a member of the State Committee of the MCF.

Having surrendered at least half-way to the lesser-evil theory, the State Committee cannot decide whether it is really on safe ground in advocating independent political action. The Committee is apparently unable to decide which Democrats to oppose in the coming elections and has been compelled to call a special conference one month before the state convention to discuss this knotty problem. The call for this conference, signed by Hammond, reads:

“For those offices where there are both Republican and Democratic contestants, look over the records of the two and if they seem to have essentially the same philosophy we might be able to make a good showing.”

The MCF was founded in the belief that the Democratic and Republican Parties are both instruments of the capitalist class and therefore have the same “essential philosophy.” When Hammond states it as a puzzle, not as a fact, he throws into question the advisability of forming and building an MCF.

We do not imply that the MCF must run a presidential candidate in the single state of Michigan or be damned. But it is necessary to explain that regardless of who wins the presidency the offensive against the labor movement will continue and that consequently the MCF can support neither Roosevelt nor the Republican nominee.

It would be futile to deny that the “lesser-evil” theory is alluring and easily deceptive or to overlook the fact that millions of workers will go to the polls in November and cast their ballots for Roosevelt on this basis.

But it is also true that there has been a steady drift of sentiment away from Roosevelt and the Democratic Party by millions of the American people who now have only the Republican Party to go to. Unless a Labor Party organizes the dissatisfaction of the American people and directs it along progressive pro-labor lines, some fantastic movement will direct it along a reactionary anti-labor road. This is just what happened to the German workers whose Social-Democratic Party supported Brüning as a lesser evil to Hitler and ended up with a Hitler victory. In Austria, Spain, and France the workers succumbed to the same ideas.

Does that mean that because the leaders of the MCF support Roosevelt in 1944 the MCF is doomed to destruction? No, but it does mean that unless the labor movement abandons its lesser-evil theory before it is too late, the defeat of labor in the long run by fascism is dangerously possible.

Unity Compromise

While the Hammond-Silver group advocates a fourth term for Roosevelt, the socialistic-liberal group prefers its own well-meaning but ineffectual candidate, Norman Thomas. Agreement between the two is maintained by a formula impossible to uphold and consistently violated. This agreement is now-where written or stated but is nevertheless in force.

To appease the Hammond-Silver pro-Roosevelt leadership, who want a Labor Party but who do not want to be “too fanatical” about it, it is agreed that the new party is to take NO STAND WHATSOEVER ON ROOSEVELT. And we thus witness the amazing spectacle of a new party organized immediately prior to a Presidential campaign making no reference by even a single word in all its printed material to the President.

To satisfy the anti- or non-Roosevelt forces the official policy of the MCF reads:

“The party may or may not run candidates for any post on the ballot as seems best under prevailing circumstances; hut the party shall never endorse a candidate of a rival party. Being a state party it does not run a presidential candidate in 1944.”


“The individual declares that he is not a member of any rival political party and will not support a rival party. He may vote for candidates [other than MCF candidates] for posts which the MCF does not contest.”


“The individual will not run for office on any party ticket other than MCF.”

This compromise is typical of the fake radicalism of the Socialist Party which invariably avoids posing issues clearly and sharply. The MCF is not to support any capitalist party candidates but in order not to offend anyone the NAMES of the most prominent representatives of the Democratic Party or Republican Party are kept in the shade of anonymous obscurity.

I am against extortion but I refuse to say I am against Al Capone. After all, he may have some friends among the common people. I condemn the crime but remain silent about the criminal responsible for it. That is the liberal-socialistic policy carried over into the MCF. I condemn capitalist candidates but refuse to mention Roosevelt.

As always, the advocates of a radicalism “in general” become the hangers-on in practice of a policy which they repudiate in general and in private. The pro-Roosevelt forces get all they want now out of the tacit compromise.

Roosevelt is guaranteed against attack inside the MCF while at the same time Hammond and Silver may both come out publicly as they have for the fourth term. The Detroit daily press announced that the failure of the MCF to put a presidential candidate in the field was an endorsement of Roosevelt. The literature of the MCF attacks the Republican Party and the Democratic Party but remains silent on the anti-labor measures for which Roosevelt is responsible. It criticizes the Democrats in so far as they oppose Roosevelt’s own program, attacking them for favoring the poll tax, for opposing renegotiation of war contracts, for opposing the soldier-vote bill, etc. A back-handed reference to the “little steel” formula absolves Roosevelt of responsibility. “Democratic wage-czar, Vinson, held down the hourly rate of wage earners, while the cost of living soared ...” So you see, it was Vinson, not Roosevelt, who held down wages!

The gentlemen’s agreement between Hammond-Silver and the socialistic liberals can remain intact only within the confines of their own meetings and discussions where embarrassing and extraneous matters (Roosevelt, the “liberal” democrats) can be shelved by common consent. But when the MFCers try to maintain this same agreement outside, within the labor movement it falls apart. How untenable is the agreement between the two groups was made completely evident at the first convention of the Wayne County Political Action Committee on April 21.

MCF and the Political Action Committee

The Political Action Committee of Wayne County, as everywhere else, aims to “work with progressives in the Democratic Party to get liberal candidates” and opposes the organization of an independent party. The MCF opposes endorsement of Democrats or Republicans and supports only its own independent candidates. To the uninitiated, these two policies seem to be diametric opposites, but not to Hammond and Silver. They support the policies of both the MCF and PAC.

Hammond and Silver and a group of other MCF adherents represented their locals at the PAC convention. It is permissible and advisable in many instances for the advocates of an independent Labor Party to participate in all kinds of gatherings of workers to promote their ideas. BUT THE MCF LEADERS DID NOT GO TO THE PAC CONVENTION TO FIGHT FOR THE POLICIES OF THE MCF BUT TO SUPPORT THE COUNTER-POLICIES OF THE PAC. A battalion can enter the territory controlled by an enemy either to fight on his soil or to turn over its arms and desert.

Not a single MCF leader took the floor at any point during the convention to oppose support to the candidates of the Democratic Party. One week previously, Thomas had been elected delegate to the Democratic national convention. No word of protest from the MCFers. Ben Garrison, on the State Committee of the MCF and former president of local 400, acted as chairman of the resolutions committee reporting out pro-Democratic resolutions. Hammond was prominent as chairman of the credentials committee but unheard from in all the political discussions. Silver maintained silence at every key point in the discussions. Tucker P. Smith, publicity director of the MCF, presented a motion at the end of the convention providing for the endorsement only of those candidates who are publicly pledged to the support of the guaranteed annual wage. But seventy-five per cent of the significance of this motion was destroyed when Smith previously swallowed the pro-Roosevelt, pro-Democratic Party line adopted by the convention.

Thomas startled the membership of the MCF in a public speech at the convention, revealing that “leading members” of the MCF at a meeting in New York with Sidney Hillman had promised to support candidates endorsed by the PAC. If that is their policy, said Thomas, then I can go along with them. Even this couldn’t get a word out of Hammond or Silver at the convention. The MCF NEWS, official bulletin of the MCF, referred to this statement by Thomas and I quote the full text of this unbelievable analysis. “He [Thomas] made friendly references to the MCF.”

If a corporation executive met with a representative of the union and reported “He promised not to make any demands for the workers. If that is his policy I can go along with that,” the editor of the MCF NEWS would write “He made friendly references to the union.”

The PAC constitution provides for the removal of executive board members who campaign against PAC endorsed candidates. Although the PAC has made clear that it intends to endorse Democrats, Paul Silver and Blaine Marrin, both members of the MCF State Committee, accepted posts on the board. Marrin has already been reported as a candidate for the Democratic party nomination for state representative. The only course left for Hammond and Silver is to oppose running MCF candidates in any district where a PAC-endorsed Democrat is contesting the post. They can thus avoid opposing a PAC-endorsed candidate but they will also “avoid” fighting for the principle of independent workers’ politics. In return for this tacit support to the PAC candidates, they hope to run an unimportant candidate here and there with the benign tolerance of R.J. Thomas and even to get PAC support for such candidates. This policy is dangerously close to that of the ALP in New York, whose main aim was to support old-line candidates while it ran an occasional “independent.”

If the MCF should gain the support of the PAC for a few of its candidates in return for remaining silent on the deal with the Democratic Party it will have gained an inch and lost a mile. A poor preacher indeed who would close his eyes to a .brothel in return for the contributions of its keeper.

All these questions will be before the Constitutional Convention of the MCF at the end of July. The MCF is justifiedly supported by the best elements in the union movement and is a welcome sign that the possibilities exist for a serious development toward independent working class politics. If we have adopted a critical attitude in this article it is to help preserve and extend these possibilities and prevent their being derailed by the inconsistent policies now followed by the leadership of the MCF.

The socialistic-liberal group “privately” supports its own candidates, Norman Thomas, etc. The Hammond-Silver group “privately” supports Democratic candidates. But neither are able to present a clear policy in opposition to that of R. J. Thomas and the PAC.

If the MCF is not to travel the road of the ALP in New York and end up as a wing of the Democratic Party, a clear and consistent policy is necessary. In the unions, progressive groups vital for the growth of the MCF must be formed to fight for enforcing class struggle policies; the MCF must openly take the field as a Labor Party based upon the union movement; open or tacit support to the candidates of the Democratic or Republican Parties, from Roosevelt down, must be outlawed; the PAC policy of supporting “good” Democrats must be condemned and combated.

Labor Action, The New International and the Workers Party have long fought for just that program and it is in the growth of their power and influence that the best guarantee for the building of a strong, fighting MCF lies.

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Last updated on 17 October 2015