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Socialist Appeal, May 1935, Volume 1 No. 3, Page 12B-18
Transcribed and Marked Up by Damon Maxwell in 2009 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

The Socialist Campaign In The 34th Ward

By W. B. Waltmire

Our campaign in the 34th Ward of Chicago needs no defense. Results speak for themselves. Yet because certain comrades insist upon condemning without a thorough knowledge of the facts, it may be just as well to set forth the truth about the campaign. Thanks to the editor of the Socialist Appeal, we have been invited to do just that.

As the occasion for our remarks, permit us to analyze an article written by Albert Goldman in the March issue of the Appeal [A Socialist Election Campaign], it is headed “Socialist Election Campaign” and written by the author apparently without any thorough knowledge of the facts. Because it is filled with so much misinformation and colored by so much wishful thinking we cannot do better than answer the charges point by point.

CHARGE 1. “He (Waltmire) was interested primarily, if not only, in winning office and was not at all concerned in making Socialists.”

ANSWER: In support of this allegation, the writer quotes from a speech made before a general membership meeting of Local Cook County in which we said; “In our ward we wanted votes; in the 5th ward they wanted members”

The literal text is doubtless correct (though we have only memory to consult ), but the meaning implied is hopelessly perverted. To be sure, during the heat of the campaign our primary aim was to gain office. Does it follow, therefore, that we were not concerned in making Socialists. Certainly not! The fact is more people got a Socialist appeal through the literature visits of our precinct captains during the two months of the campaign than could have been reached in two years following political methods generally used by party branches.

CHARGE 2. We are accused by indirection of having solicited votes on the grounds that the candidate was “good”, “honest”, “a church member”, “a preacher”, and not because he was a Socialist.

ANSWER: In support of this charge. Comrade Goldman refers to the campaign in the 5th Ward where Comrade Maynard Krueger was the candidate. Here, he thinks a real Socialist campaign was waged. As proof he compares the 614 votes which were cast for Comrade Krueger with the 5,245 for Comrade Waltmire. Krueger supporters may be considered, he concludes, as having voted, not only for the immediate demands contained in the platform, but for the idea of Socialism.

This is mere speculation on Goldman’s part. Who knows without doubt what was in the voter’s mind when he marked the ballot? The conclusion is a creature of wishful thinking. For political purposes we emphasized clean government. The people know we need honesty and integrity in governmental affairs. We undertook to supply that need. One precinct captain remarked: “We searched the ward to find an honest man who would run. We found one. We can’t help it if he’s a preacher.” Is it anti-Socialistic to be a good man, an honest one, or even a preacher?

If the Comrades in the 5th Ward through poor campaign strategy failed to take advantage of the political possibility of clean government, it is not our fault. Moreover, without presuming to judge harshly, one cannot but suspect that one of the reasons for a small vote in the 5th Ward was not the candidate, his honesty or his professional standing, but the organizational methods used to put his claims before the voters. We used recognized precinct organization methods (without the chicanery of the old parties). The American people understand such political work and such work is essential to progress in the political arena.

CHARGE 3. “They admit that not one additional member was recruited into the party by Waltmire’s campaign but think that of slight importance.”

ANSWER: We admit nothing of the kind. Five members have been added to the local in the 34th Ward as a result of the campaign. Several more are ready to be admitted in the near future. No one need doubt our ability to build a party branch in the 34th Ward. We expect to take into membership those who should join as quickly as seems feasible.

But the main thing is the kind of members you get and the ability to hold them after they join. The 5th Ward Branch had about 75 members before the campaign and recruited some 25 more. But in all they were able to muster only a very small vote at the polls. No doubt these comrades are good people and well versed in the theory of Socialism. But do they understand the game of politics? The party has numerous intellectuals who will not soil their hands with tedious political work. Such persons admit that they do not want to “go from house to house soliciting signatures on petitions.” We had scores on the Northwest Side who never came near our campaign duping the whole two months. Is it any wonder that in the last four years nearly 6,000 members have been added to our party branches and yet today we rarely boast a paid-up membership of 500 members?

This is not to cast reflection on the faithful comrades either in the 5th or the 34th Ward who came forward with money and much valuable time to aid campaign work. The party could soon be a political power to reckon with in Chicago if we had branches made up of such persons. Better five members who will solicit votes for the party than twenty who will drink tea for it.

CHARGE 4. “Of course I can point to the fact that the 34th. Ward is an old Socialist stronghold containing a radical working-class population ”

ANSWER: We wish the allegations were a fact, but it is not. The 34th Ward is largely composed of sections which lie outside the boundaries of the old 15th Ward, which elected a Socialist alderman before the war. It is composed mainly of 1ower middle class groups and was formerly a Republican stronghold. It probably has more possibilities than does the 5th Ward, but by no means presents an easy field for Socialist endeavor. Our contact with the average working-class and lower middle class family in this territory has taught us that they are in many respects more suspicious of Socialist ideas than University-trained youth.

CHARGE 5. “If the people who vote for a Socialist do not do so because he is a Socialist but because they do not know that he is a Socialist, of what earthly use can that be for achieving the Socialist goal?”

ANSWER: The answer is “none whatever.” But the charge is based on a false assumption: namely, that we hid our candidate’s red convictions. This is pure idle talk, divorced from the facts. On every occasion we stated our Socialist connections. To be sure we did not ask voters to join the party before supporting our candidate and accepted votes gladly regardless of party affiliations.

But, had we desired to hide our connections, it would have been impossible. The red hunters and the Democratic party saw to that. The legionnaires charged us, through the Hearst press, with being dangerously radical. The precinct captains in the Democratic made a special point of peddling the story that our candidate was “communistic”. Rest assured that our votes came from those who knew we were radical.

CHARGE 6. “The idea that we should, first be elected to office and then teach Socialism to the masses is so utterly absurd that It should not even be discussed.”

ANSWER: Exactly so. But this is not the idea which we used though a few in our group urged it after discovering the prejudice in people’s minds against the term “Socialism.”

There is this to be said, however. It is not a wholesome thing for Socialists to allow themselves to be overtaken with a defeatist psychology Some imagine “The greater the defeat the more simon pure the socialism.” This is pure bunk. Defeat is no badge of honor.

Socialism cannot be introduced without a well-organized public opinion supporting the Socialist ideal. Whether that support is won at the ballot box or through revolutionary action of Soviets (as in Russia) is not so important as that it be won. One thing seems evident. If we cannot get people to vote for our program, there is little hope of getting them to take up arms on behalf of our cause just now. It may be too early to decide definitely what course we shall finally have to pursue to gain the Socialist commonwealth. But there can be no harm in getting as many votes at the ballot box as possible while historical events shape themselves in the American scene. Good Socialist representatives elected to office will certainly advance the cause meanwhile.

CHARGE 7. “A casual analysis of the campaign literature distributed by Waltmire and Krueger are said to bring out the sharp differences in the two campaigns to the great detriment of Waltmire.”

ANSWER: Then more than a “casual” analysis should be made. It might shed some needed light. To begin with both four-page leaflets were written by some one other than the candidates. The Krueger leaflet was compiled by a former Hollywood publicity man (presumably a Socialist). The Waltmire material was compiled by an old time member of the Party who knows the advertising and publicity business. No great difference so far.

The front pages of each of the folders were very similar. Each had the picture of the candidate, the ward in which he was running and other relevant material. The Krueger leaflet asked you to “Be Practical” and “Vote Socialist”. It described the candidate as a teacher in the University of Chicago, a vice-president of the American Federation of Teachers, one who “knows the people’s needs” and “will fight for their rights.” The Waltmire leaflet urged voters to choose “forceful, intelligent representation in the City Council” and claimed that “the fighting pastor” of the Humboldt Park Community “has fought for fuller and better lives for the working class” and on such a basis should be elected.

The material on the two inside pages differs somewhat in approach to the voters. The Krueger leaflet proceeds on the thesis that the reader is primarily interested in the size of his income and offers him a chance to vote himself an income of $5,000 a year by electing Socialists to power. It then goes into an argument designed to convince the voter that under the profit system this will never come to pass, notes that the New Deal is not Socialism, and finally calls for the abolition “of the scheme under which we are now trying to live” and “The substitution socialism which means the end of profits and the beginning of plenty for all.”

On the other hand the Waltmire leaflet takes the psychological rather than the logical approach. It assumes the prospective voter wants to know something about the personal life and background of the candidate. This it supplies and then proceeds to point out that there is no cure for the sufferings of the people “under the present system of private ownership of the factories, bank credits, etc.” Rather, we are informed, it is the candidate’s conviction that “the present wages and profit relationship should be exchanged for a collective one in which the food, clothing, shelter and other physical necessities of life shall be produced sufficient for every man and owned .for the people by non-profit and non-political government corporations.” Further, “machines should be harnessed to the needs of all, not the profits of a few who own. This is for him – Socialism.”

The back pages of each leaflet gives the immediate demands. Krueger’s leaflet calls it “the Socialist Platform in this Aldermanic Campaign” and Waltmire’s refers to “Immediate Measures”. They are similar to many respects but comrade Goldman does not like “cheaper milk” and “cleaner alleys.” Well, if Comrade Goldman were to live in the section of the city where our branch is located, he would want both. Filthy alleys breed disease and death for workers’ children. Without an adequate playground system, much of the child’s playtime is spent in these alleys! They need to be cleaned up and awe trust good Socialists will not object.

As for “cheaper milk” we asked for it on the good Socialist principle of “A Municipal Milk distribution system, owned by the City.” It is very essential too, as most working-class children have far less milk than they need. Many children growing up in this section are stunted, in height weight and physical vitality for lack of it. The sitting Alderman boasted that we lost plenty of votes by including that demand in our platform. If Comrade Goldman had his way, perhaps our votes would have been larger.

CHARGE 8. “Absurd it is to say that the Socialist Party is a political party only to the extent that it succeeds in winning votes. The Socialist party is and must be a political party throughout the year, and not only during election campaigns.”

ANSWER: True, it is absurd to claim that the Socialist Party is merely an organization designed to win votes on election day. We have never taken that position either publicly or privately. But, when it engages in an election campaign, that is its primary task for the moment. Meanwhile Socialists should busy themselves, taking part in the class struggle through unemployed groups, militant union activity, etc. Members of the 34th ward Branch have done that and will continue to do so. Local 1 of the Chicago Workers Committee is our special child. And we are in favor of strikes or anything else which will advance the cause of Socialism.

The error that many Comrades make is in thinking that by engaging in the day to day struggles on the economic field that the workers will follow them on the political arena. This will not necessarily follow. We know very prominent Socialists who get a wide hearing in union halls unemployed groups and liberal clubs who can’t get votes. It is not because they are too radical, either. It Is because the mind of the American worker must be trained to think socialistically in the politic al realm as well as the economic. This mistake is also the error of many communists in their party work. We know of many workers who think communist or socialist in the economic ideology and still act “Democratic” in their politics. Our task is to show these people the logical political implications of their economic thinking.

CHARGE 9. Comrade Goldman thinks “endorsed by the Socialist Party” on the Waltmire leaflet “a very curious formulation” that it “conceals Waltmire’s membership in the party mare than it reveals it” and that it was in effect “a slap in the party’s face.”

ANSWER: It is nothing of the kind. One party branch debated the propriety of that phrase for a whole hour, but would not spend a single minute in helping in the campaign. “Hours for debate but not one moment for action,” toward a Socialist goal. That was evidently their idea of the class struggle.

What utter folly. And now Comrade Goldman wants to continue the foolish argument. What was said was this: “Having been endorsed by the 34th Ward Branch of the Socialist Party, I promise to represent the people as set forth in the general program of the Socialist Party.” That was a campaign pledge of faith to the party. Had we elected our candidate he would have been bound by that pledge to serve the Party’s best interest in the City Council.

The term seems objectionable to some. But it is a matter of opinion on phraseology. We could not use the term “nominate” as some desired, because only persons who sign your nominating petition “nominate” the candidate for office. We could have used the term “sponsored” but to the average mind there is no distinction, We asked several “rank and file” workers and all agreed that the phrase “endorsed” meant that we were the candidate of the Socialist Party. The party must want a slap badly if such phraseology offends.

CHARGE 10. The attitude that “we must get results no matter how we get them” is self-defeating. It leads some into the camp of Upton Sinclair. In the end it will land us “in the hell of fascist concentration camp and the chopping off of our heads.”

ANSWER: Yes, the attitude that we must get results no matter at what cost might lead to Epicism as in California, Huey Longism as in Louisiana, or Nazism as n Germany, where many Socialists joined Hitler’s ranks in the hope that from it socialism would come. Only we did not take that attitude, and never expect to. Had we taken such a course we might have been in the City Council now, but Socialism would not have been one whit nearer thereby.

Fascist concentration camps are a very real menace in America, as everybody who pays much attention to present trends must realize. They are not so likely to arise however from political reformism as they are from radical indecisiveness at critical moments in the course of human history.

These camps become all the more potential realities while we argue fine points of Socialist theory and keep ourselves out of fume with mass sentiment.

What the Socialist Party (and for that matter every other Marxian party) needs to do is to hitch the ultimate Marxian solution to the mass temper and ideology of the hour. The masses feel – they do not think. We have got to supply leadership and ideology through which those feelings may be expressed – or else some one else will.

In 1917 the Russian masses of workers and peasants felt the oppressive yoke of hunger and war. They longed desperately for bread and peace, Lenin and the Bolsheviks offered to furnish that and thus gained their allegiance. Had the Bolsheviks spent the summer of 1917 gaining converts to their party, probably they would still be a despised group of underground revolutionaries rather than the dictators of Russia.

As our situation is different, our course of action must be new. Violent revolutionary theoretical talk is not in line with mass thinking, at the present moment, We are not in a war (although drifting there rapidly). The Democrats still furnish some bread. And so we need not sound notes that fitted particular historical settings and situations two decades ago. Inner party councils should hammer out solutions to the problem of linking mass sentiment with party tactics.

Meanwhile the principle involved in the 1917 Russian situation is our principle for today. We go to the masses with what they feel and desire. And through that we lead them to what they need – and, ultimately, to the Socialist society. And this will involve good leadership as well as correct party programs and organization.

Moreover, as long as the ballot can be used, even under difficulties as it is today, it should be used. That is why we look forward to bigger and better Socialist election campaigns. And that is why we ought to begin now to organize for work on the political field. And if that method proves ineffective, or is withheld from us in the future, we shall still have to go forward until we do gain the Socialist commonwealth by the best means at our command.

 
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