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The New International, November 1944

Notes of the Month

The PAC and the Elections


From The New International, Vol. X No. 11, November 1944, pp. 355–357.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The 1944 presidential elections, from the standpoint of bourgeois politics, was [sic] no unusual event. It recorded the conflict between two capitalist political parties which exhibit as yet no fundamental differences, although beneath the surface there are reflected divergent tendencies of considerable importance. These tendencies uphold the thesis of the “Europeanization of American politics.” That is, the political scene in America begins to reflect more rapidly and sharply the increasing difficulties of bourgeois economy and therefore the growing realization by the bourgeoisie of the true nature of the impending class conflicts. Thus, while the reformist imperialist bourgeoisie, in the broadest sense of the term, still dominates the American scene, opposing tendencies of totalitarianism are becoming stronger, more vocal and organized. On the other side of the fence the working class is also developing a greater class consciousness, although at a considerably slower pace.

The conflicts within the bourgeoisie over the methods to pursue in the conquest of the world, while as yet beclouded and provisional, will clear up within time. The lines will then be more readily discernible, and the divisions which now exist embryonically will be unmistakably marked. They will cross party lines. They may take the form of two realigned bourgeois parties distinctly differing on fundamental questions relating to the future of capitalism. Its concrete manifestations are not decisive.

The 1944 campaign, however, was not yet fought on such a clear basis. On the surface, it was a silly campaign. Roosevelt became the “indispensable” man, the man of experience. The Democratic Party slogan was: Don’t change horses in the middle of the stream, which led one wit on the West Coast to make an experiment, successfully concluded, of riding two horses into a stream and then changing steeds without a mishap. On the other hand, the Republican campaign was about the same, but on a somewhat lower order. They wanted a younger man in office, an efficient man, a man who could choose collaborators who would not quarrel publicly with each other. As for the rest of the campaign, it was a verbal contest as to who could better execute similar policies.

While there was no doubt that Roosevelt’s campaign was more skillful, that the isolationists and fascist fringe groups hurt the Republican cause, one factor decided the outcome, and from the standpoint of working class politics, this was the paramount feature of the whole election. That one factor was not only of interest, but of fundamental importance for the whole future of the class development of the American workers. It was the emergence of the CIO’s Political Action Committee as an organized force of the labor movement intervening with tremendous power to guarantee the victory of Roosevelt as President for another four years.

What the New Factor Meant

This single new factor is what distinctly marked off the 1944 presidential campaign from previous contests. The CIO’s Political Action Committee emerged as a bona fide organization of labor participating in the campaign. Analogies have been made to previous activities of the labor movement in bourgeois parliamentary efforts, but even the best of these (Labor’s Non-Partisan Committee) are only analogies. In this campaign, there was truly something new added to labor’s role. Certainly the policy which dominated the course of the PAC crossed lines with previous policies pursued under Samuel Gompers and William Green. That is why it can be said that the CIO’s reasoning approximated that of the AFL: Reward your friends and punish your enemies.

The CIO translated this general concept, under which the AFL never endorsed either party, into the support of the Democratic Party and the machine controlled by Roosevelt. In a few instances it did come out in support of Republican candidates (Oregon). However, in supporting Roosevelt and his machine, the CIO declared that its decision arose from the conviction that Roosevelt was labor’s friend, that the Democratic Party represented progress, that the future of labor was integrally bound up with a Roosevelt victory. Conversely, Dewey and the Republican Party represented reaction, and a victory for them meant a defeat for labor. On the basis of this general thesis, the CIO, through the PAC, allied itself with the Democratic Party. In some instances, it actually went into the Democratic organization and either took it over or played an extremely important role in its decisions.

The PAC really went into the election campaign in the the same manner that precinct, ward and city political machines go to work. It roused the voters, rang doorbells, spent a small fortunate for election literature. These were merely the techniques by which it roused the labor vote. Behind the concrete activities, however, lay a power which gave strength to the PAC. That power was the CIO and its many unions, and very often too, AFL unions which joined the campaign for Roosevelt in a united effort with the CIO. In the foregoing respects, then, the PAC went further than the AFL ever did in an election campaign. The AFL never put itself out in the manner of the CIO. While its political “consciousness” was often as acute as that of the CIO, a “consciousness” determined by the bourgeois thinking of the labor bureaucrats, it never believed it to be the duty of labor actually to go into a campaign and fight it out on the same ground with the professional politicians and their organizations. The CIO leaders who organized the forces of the unions and mapped its campaign, did so with great deliberateness and thoroughness and with a consciousness of purpose already described above as a conviction that a GOP victory meant a defeat for labor.

Reactions to the PAC

Having related what the PAC accomplished in practice for Roosevelt it is necessary to cite’ one additional feature of its work. The PAC demonstrated the political power of organized labor. It demonstrated its power in support of a bourgeois party and a bourgeois candidate; but it also showed what great potential power labor has in the American political arena. The election was proof that if labor had expended the same energies, forces, money and organization for the building of an independent political party of labor, with a militant working class program and a will to struggle for political power, it could have succeeded. This is the great lesson of the campaign.

But if the working class is not fully cognizant of the meaning of the PAC, which diverted labor’s efforts into reactionary channels, if the same labor leaders who organized and directed the campaign remain bogged down by their own political backwardness and bourgeois concepts, the most articulate sections of the American ruling class do understand what a grave potential danger the PAC really is. When the PAC began its campaign, it was not taken very seriously. But once the campaign got going, once the tremendous power of organized labor made itself felt in the most important urban centers and in the crucial states, the politicians of both parties, the more direct leaders of the bourgeoisie and the most important newspapers of the country began a campaign of their own for the scalp of the PAC and its supposedly vulnerable leader, Sidney Hillman.

The drive against the PAC reached its height in the period immediately following the convention of the Democratic Party, after the unsuccessful efforts of the CIO to get Wallace renominated for Vice-President and its subsequent agreement to take Truman. The Republicans thought they could win the election by popularizing the bogey that the CIO ran the Democratic Party. “Clear it with Sidney” wasn’t really as funny as the Republicans made it appear. As a matter of fact, the Republicans worried no little about the activities of the PAC. And the Roosevelt machine, while it had succeeded in holding off on the demands of the PAC on Wallace, was smug because it realized fully what a powerful support it had in such a large section of organized labor.

How fearful the American ruling class is about the future of the PAC was amply illustrated by the post-election editorials in the press. Grudgingly they all acknowledged the great power displayed by the PAC. They were compelled to admit that labor was a distinct factor to be reckoned with politically. But above all they exhibited great fear that the election which demonstrated the enormous political power latent in the labor movement may hasten a new party of labor into existence. It went to considerable length to caution labor against such a step, which was described as divisive and against the tradition of the two-party system. Instead it described the broad and democratic character of both capitalist parties, which permitted labor an important place in their ranks. Labor, said these spokesmen for capitalism, should not organize a party of its own but remain in the fold of the Republican and Democratic parties.

This alone should have proved to labor that the next step for it to take was exactly opposite to the advice gratuitously given by the yellow press. Unfortunately, as subsequently transpired, the CIO leaders accommodated themselves to this reactionary advice.

From the point of view of the working class, the activities of the PAC were reactionary. It mobilized the workers, used up their energies and spent their money in the interests of capitalist candidates, representing capitalist parties and programs. Our criticism of the PAC during the campaign was based precisely upon this consideration. The PAC, in its efforts on behalf of Roosevelt, did not advance the interest of the workers, but retarded them by its political program. But that particular stage in the life of the PAC is over for the time being. The important question that remains is: what next? Shall the PAC continue its existence? Shall it continue to pursue the policies it has heretofore? Shall it turn in new directions?

What About the Future?

These questions, which were in the minds of many before the recently held convention of the CIO, are in part answered by the decisions taken there. The CIO has now decided to retain the PAC (the Citizens PAC, too) and to use it in future elections as a pressure group on both capitalist parties. Thus the question of whether the PAC will remain or dissolve has been settled. But the more important question of the future of its work is only partially answered.

It is partially settled because the political situation in the country promises to become very tense. The dose of the war will leave an endless number of vital problems unsolved. These problems of bourgeois economy will be of the deepest concern to a working class fully aware of the danger of mass unemployment which will begin with widespread cutbacks resulting from the cancellation of war contracts. It knows from its experience during the war that whatever concessions it receives will come as a result of struggle and the capitalists’ fear of the workers’ movement. It also knows from its experience with the New Deal that these concessions will not solve anything fundamental. Roosevelt’s domestic war program was a heavy blow to labor. Its support to him despite that was based on fear that a Republican victory might bring about a worse situation in the country. Yet there is wide dissatisfaction with Roosevelt and his Administration. So strong is it that had it not been for the PAC and its energetic campaign, there is good reason to believe that Roosevelt would have been beaten.

A post-war period of economic stress and strain will only intensify the latent tendencies within the labor movement for independence from capitalist politics and capitalist political parties. One must not forget that in addition to its other accomplishments for good and bad, the PAC was the greatest single factor hindering the development of labor’s political independence and its own party. As a pressure group upon the Republican and Democratic Parties, the PAC will not find easy sailing in the next several years. Despite its firm announcement that it is against a third party and will oppose such a development, the tendencies within the labor movement for independence will gain strength precisely because many workers have learned this lesson from the present campaign: labor has the power, numbers and finances to fight for itself on the political field as an independent force with an independent political party of its own.

The progressives and militants in the labor movement have one great task before them from now on. They must remember that the PAC has already outlived one period. Two roads remain before it despite its decision: it can take the road of independent political action, or it can continue the present policy of tying itself to capitalist politics, which in essence means support to the political representatives of the economic rulers whom it fights on the economic field. The militants and progressives in the labor movement must therefore fight for transforming the PAC from an instrument of the bosses to a political instrument of the working class, i.e., to transform the PAC into a Labor Party.

How can that be done? Well, the PAC is now organized on a union basis and presumably reaches down to the very roots of the labor movement, the local unions. Its clubs can be immediately transformed into Labor Party clubs. It can begin on a city, county and state basis to enter the political struggle against the political machines of the capitalist parties. It can lay the basis for the extension of this political activity on a nation-wide basis. There is no reason at all why, beginning now, a Labor Party could not become a factor of immeasurable importance in the 1948 presidential election in advancing the true political interests of labor.

Naturally, this would require a struggle against the political philosophy which dominates the present leadership of the PAC and its activities. It would mean a sharp break with capitalist politics and its organizations. But the existence of the PAC and its accomplishments in the recent campaign demonstrate to the hilt that labor has the strength and organization to do the job. The PAC is here to stay. What is necessary is to change its organization form, its outlook and direction.

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