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The Militant, 3 January 1949

M. Stein

Post-Election Trends and Perspectives in U.S.

(26 December 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 1, 3 January 1949, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


(The following extracts are from the report by M. Stein, SWP Organisation Secretary, on The Election Results and the Tasks of the SWP, delivered at the 20th Anniversary Plenum of the SWP in New York, Dec. 26.)

There were a number of significant features which make the last elections a landmark in American history. One was the emergence of the Progressive Party – the first such attempt to create a third capitalist party since the LaFollette movement in 1924. A second was the Dixiecrat split from the Democratic Party. A third was our own party’s entry on the national political arena for the first time.

But the role played in the elections by the working class as a class stands out like a mountain peak in the total picture. To be Sure, it did not act through the instrumentality of its own party and its own candidates. Instead it used as its vehicle a minority capitalist party.

In our resolution on the Wallace party, we characterized it as a splinter capitalist party. We can with some justice say that the Democratic Party, as it appeared in 1948, was a minority capitalist party. A much larger minority than the Wallaceites, but a minority. It represented a small minority of the capitalist class, which was united as a class around the Republican Party and its candidates. It was united around a common program of Taft-Hartleyism. It was united in its confidence of a Republican victory – and treated with contempt the Democrats and their candidate.

The working class, by its intervention in the elections through the instrumentality of this minority capitalist party, upset the entire picture. It imposed on the ruling class a coalition it did not seek. It imposed a policy of appeasement of labor it had discarded at the end of the war – and hoped it was done with.

We, of course, do not condone class collaboration politics, and the workers acted without our approval. It is our task though to analyze why it happened, and what is even more important, to understand what can result from it.

For it is the hew class equilibrium established by the elections which represents the objective situation which must determine our tactics for the next period.

There is nothing especially new about class collaboration or coalition politics. It has become the pattern in Europe where capitalism in its death agony could no longer rule in its own name and was compelled to resort to coalitions and “peoples’ front” combinations with the powerful but treacherous workers’ parties.

Here in the United States we have seen the special American version of coalition politics under Roosevelt. That too, like its European counterpart, was imposed on the capitalist class by a devastating economic crisis. What gave it its peculiarity here was the fact that the working class had no party of its own. The coalition then took the form of a deal with the trade union bureaucracy on a common program. From this deal, capitalism gained a lease on life. It staved off complete bankruptcy, gained time to prepare for war, and carry it out to a victorious conclusion.

The trade unions, in this deal, gained in strength, Wage concessions, social reforms. The bureaucracy gained in power and revenue. This coalition broke up at the end of the war.

Post-War Capitalist Offensive

After the war the capitalist class – once sure of its power bolstered by lush profits, felt cocky enough to launch a drive against the working class, to deprive it of its acquired power.

The drive against the unions on the economic front proved very costly. It resulted in bitter strikes out of which the unions emerged with their organizations intact, and even with some wage gains.

Then came the political offensive, culminating in the Taft-Hartley Law Against this political offensive, the unions proved powerless. They had no party, no spokesmen in Congress. The trade union leaders were too cowardly to use the economic power of the unions for political strikes and too capitalist-minded to launch labor’s own political party.

When the elections came, there was little choice but the “lesser evil.” But the important thing is that labor took this course as a class. By so doing, it gave such a demonstration of power that it startled the world by upsetting all predictions. More than that, it upset the plans of the bourgeoisie.

The New Deal coalition of the 30’s was imposed oh the bourgeoisie by a grave economic crisis. The 1948 coalition was forced on the capitalist class when it least needed it from the economic point of view. It will never again sit on top of a more favorable economic conjuncture than 1948. It had everything pretty much as it would have wanted.

But where it miscalculated – and so did we – was in not properly assessing the consciousness and the power of the working class. We made the mistake in thinking that the Republicans would win as a consequence of working class apathy in the elections on the one hand and a greater Wallace vote on the other. For the revolutionary vanguard, such a mistake in properly estimating the workers’ moods and the compulsions which made them take the course they did is a cause for blushing under ordinary conditions. It can prove disastrous under revolutionary conditions.

The Power of American Labor

We have been cognizant of the power of American labor. We have talked about it. We have written about it. But we were caught by surprise when we saw just how it expressed itself in life. And we will be caught by surprise again and again unless we take yet another factor into account, namely, that the political power of the working class is a demonstrated fact today and is part of the consciousness of all classes in society.

What is most important from our point of view is that it is part of the consciousness of the average workers. The worker in the factory felt oh the morning after the election that he put it over, that he is the man who can bring victory or defeat to a candidate. It is this new consciousness of power which must now become our point of departure in summoning the workers to greater and bolder deeds.

Let us take an example: Our slogan for a Workers and Farmers Government will appear to a worker far more practical since the elections than it did before. Our propaganda for a Labor Party will henceforth occur on a much higher plane. The question as to whether labor has the strength to build its own party is no longer a debatable one.

What Future Depends On

It is true the Democratic Party has a period of grace before it. So does the trade union bureaucracy. The workers will give them some time to deliver on the campaign promises. How long this period will last it is hard to tell. It depends on the international situation, on the duration of the economic boom. It depends on Truman’s ability to deliver the reforms he promised. It depends on our own development. But it is safe to say that the first real conflict between Truman and labor will bring up the Labor Party issue with explosive force.

The arrogant offensive of the bourgeoisie following the war sharpened the class struggle here almost to the breaking point. What prevented a real showdown fight more than anything else was the fact that the working class is politically unorganized and saddled down with a capitalist-minded leadership. This sharpened class struggle, without the possibility of an immediate conclusion, resolved itself in a deadlock. Such a position can only be of brief duration. Truman must seek to free himself from this deadlock, for he must do the bidding of his capitalist masters. The working class in its present frame of mind will on the other hand not be satisfied with mere sops. The elements of conflict are there and they are building up even now.

Signs of Discontent

I get the impression that even the trade union bureaucracy is beginning to show signs of dissatisfaction with the treatment it is receiving from Truman. Only a few weeks ago, the CIO leaders held what they referred to as their victory convention. They were treated there to a speech by Justice Douglas. His main theme was the refutation of Marxism and the class struggle as applying to the United States. That is purely a European phenomenon, according to the learned Justice of the Supreme Court: We here have a classless society.

The bureaucrats assembled ate it up. They cheered themselves hoarse for the distinguished guest and his pearly drops of wisdom. But lo and behold! several weeks later the New York State CIO met in convention. There Potofsky, who inherited Hillman’s mantle, made a very significant speech. He said, in effect, that if Truman does not come through with his election promises, the trade unions will have to take the European road and build their own party on the British model.

To paraphrase Leon Trotsky, the bureaucrats may not recognize the class struggle, but the class struggle recognizes them. And I may add, very often uses them as its instrument against their will.

At the present stage, Potofsky was only threatening. But isn’t it a little soon after November 2 to be threatening? It certainly is, unless the bureaucracy is already dissatisfied with the treatment it has been accorded since the elections.

The trade union bureaucracy, which cringed before Roosevelt during all his years in the White House, holds out a threatening finger under Truman’s nose even before his inauguration. The difference is not merely in the caliber of the two men. The difference is in the shift in class, relationships. The bureaucracy has acquired a new sense of power which stems from the power of organized labor. With power grows desire. They can no longer be satisfied with the role they played under Roosevelt.

The organizing drive decided on by the CIO convention was only in part a maneuver against the Stalinist-controlled unions. In the main, it is an attempt by the union leaders to really strengthen the labor movement and their own specific weight in the political life of the country.

The elements of conflict between the election promises and performance will come to the fore when the 81st Congress convenes. What is to be the substitute for Taft-Hartley Law? Will the burden of taxation be shifted to the monopolists? What will happen to the high prices? Will the people get homes? What will happen to Negro rights? What will happen to civil rights, generally? All eyes will be on Congress when it is in session.

We on our part must follow carefully the next session of Congress, intervene through our spokesmen in Congressional hearings, agitate for the independent action of the workers and the Negro people to force Congress to come through with the fulfillment of their election promises.

The slogan of the Congress of Labor will acquire particular potency. Only the other week the Illinois State CIO went on record for a Congress of Labor. This slogan proved powerful during the strike wave in 1946. It then declined in popularity during the period of working class passivity, but was picked up by the 1TU, which was under special attack under the Taft-Hartley Law. But what is interesting is that it should be adopted by important union bodies now so soon after the elections.

It Is a clear indication the workers, even though voting for Truman, did not give him a blank check. There is a growing awareness that whatever concessions will be gotten from the 81st Congress, must be wrested from it. The past experiences with capitalist politicians who had been hoisted to power on the workers’ backs, only to betray them, has not been wasted. The American worker’s attitude towards them is now far more distrustful and vigilant.

The easy victory monopoly capitalism won against the workers in the 80th Congress proved inconclusive. This battle will now be fought river again. The outcome of this fight will depend on the maximum mobilization of the independent power of the working class and the Negro people in a Congress of Labor that would bring together and unify the exploited and the oppressed around a common program and a common course of action.

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