Breitman Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

George Breitman

Southern Revolt Sharpens Democratic Party Crisis

(15 March 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. XII No. 11, 15 March 1948, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Democratic Party today is like a ship in a storm that has already sprung one bad leak, is on the verge of springing others and never wilt be the same, even if it should succeed in reaching port. In fact, we may be witnessing the beginning of the end of its power as a major national party.

This capitalist party has suffered from internal dissension, conflicts and crises since at least, the end of the Civil War. That is natural, because it has appealed to and won the support of diverse and even antagonistic groups. But never before in its modern history has it been hit simultaneously by serious disaffection from its extreme tendencies on both sides.

One section has already split off from the party, and only a rash man would predict that this will be the last such split. Henry Wallace may return to the party in the future, despite his denials about the possibility of such a move this year, but for the time being he has taken a sizable chunk of the Democratic vote with him.

Differs on Foreign Policy

Wallace’s main differences with Truman are over tactics on foreign policy, but he is also able to exploit the mass discontent with the administration’s domestic policy. The effectiveness of his demagogy on these issues was made evident in the Bronx congressional election last month, when Boss Flynn’s machine worked hard to bring out the registered Democrats, only to have a great number of them vote for the Wallace-endorsed candidate.

The Wallace strength is enough to damage Truman’s chances beyond repair in several important states, if not in most of them. To counteract this, Truman has had to start waving the New Deal flag again in order to try to hold on to the labor vote, and to issue a mild “civil rights program,” going beyond any of Roosevelt’s promises in this sphere, in order to win the allegiance of the Negro vote in the North.

Instead of helping, this has produced a new crack in the party structure, and now the Southern Bourbons, poll taxers arid cracker politicians are staging a revolt of their own.

This isn’t the first time. Some of them tried the same thing in the latter years of the Roosevelt regime. But it wasn’t so serious a matter for the party then as it is now.

First of all, the Southern Democrats knew they needed Roosevelt to win national elections for them and were fairly sure that he could do so. Secondly, the Democrats at that time controlled not only the White House but also Congress, and a serious split would have cost the Southern Democrats a good deal of the power and patronage accruing to them from the important committee chairmanships they held as a result of seniority and the undemocratic electoral practices of the South.

Little Confidence in Truman

Today, the Southern Democrats have little confidence in the ability of Truman to lead their party to victory in Congress. Furthermore, the Republican congressional victory of 1946 made the Democrats a minority, and they consequently feel that they don’t stand to lose as much through a possible party split as they would have under Roosevelt.

Even more important, they bitterly resent the “civil rights program,” passage of which might set into motion mass forces in the South that could unseat them for good. They realize that Truman, deep down in his heart, is no more a friend of the Negro people than they are. But they know he is in a tough situation, requiring him to pay lip service to the Negroes’ demands and to sign such legislation as the anti-poll tax and anti-lynching bills if the Southern Democrats cannot prevent their passage in Congress.

Under the circumstances, the Southern Democrats appear willing to gamble on sacrificing the national interests of their party rather than to permit any changes in the Southern status quo. Besides, they have learned from experience that they can get along on most issues with the Republican Party as well as they can with their own Northern comrades.

Southern Democrats Determined

Already they are taking steps to strengthen their hand in this intra-party fight, even to the point of preparing local measures to withhold part of the Southern electoral votes from Truman. This may be only a bluff but it is a sign that the Southern Democrats have taken the offensive and are engaged in a cold war with the administration. They appear determined now not merely to regain their former dominant position in the party. but if possible to take it over altogether, as their forefathers, the slaveholding aristocracy, did before the Civil War.

A compromise is still possible, of course, but that might ruin the Democratic Party in the North just as effectively as would a split in the South.

These troubles have produced a growing coolness to Truman’s candidacy in recent weeks. Numerous Southern party leaders have laid down the ultimatum that Truman must go. At the same time the labor leaders and liberals of the Americans for Democratic Action stripe have refused thus far to come out openly for Truman.

Possibility of Eisenhower

Serious attention is being given to the possibility of persuading Eisenhower to accept a Democratic draft on the theory that he won’t antagonize anyone because no one knows what his position is and in the belief that his candidacy might also heal the breach with Wallace, who is known to have a high regard for this particular brass hat.

The situation had become so alarming by last week that Truman, immediately after returning from his Caribbean jaunt, felt it necessary to change his strategy and try to head off a possible Eisenhower boom by proclaiming his own candidacy. But this move did nothing to solve the dilemma tormenting Truman and the Democratic high command – how to successfully woo the labor and minority vote in the North without further antagonizing the Southern Democrats.

What keeps the Democratic ship afloat? It’s true that it still commands the support of the local machine bosses like Flynn. Hague, Kelly, etc. But their power is not what it used to be if the Bronx election is any kind of index, and the party would sink like a rock if that was all it had to depend on.

More important than the local machine bosses – are the leaders of the AFL, CIO and Railroad Brotherhoods. Ordinarily not distinguished by over-activity in any field, today they are bailing away like mad to keep this capitalist craft from going under. To tell the plain truth, if it wasn’t for the hope that the Murrays, Greens and Whitneys can pull it through, the Democratic Party might very well disintegrate by the end of this year.

It would be hard to imagine a more contemptible spectacle. Here is a party that has been swindling and oppressing the American people for decades, a collection of corrupt machine bosses and Southern Bourbons whose only devotion is to Big Business, a gang which is just as responsible as the Republican Party for the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, to mention only recent history.

Here it is in its worst straits, ready for well-deserved oblivion, on the verge of a collapse that would necessarily make it easier for the workers and poor farmers and minorities to construct a party that would really represent their interests.

Bureaucrats to the Rescue

And at this point – when a really golden opportunity exists to end this monstrosity forever with a minimum of effort – the labor bureaucrats come rushing to its aid like the U.S. Cavalry in the movies, flinging the workers’ money around in a desperate attempt to save it and reserving its most vicious attacks for those who want to desert it. That’s what is known as “labor statesmanship.”

Some of the labor leaders, more aware than others of the deep-going rank and file dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party; try to present this policy in a more “radical” cloak. A good example was the resolution adopted March 3 by the International Executive Board of the CIO United Auto Workers at a meeting in Chicago.

The Board voted to support the national CIO policy in rejecting Wallace’s third party “as a political maneuver contrary to the best interests of labor and the nation and as an obstacle in the way of the establishment of a successful and genuine progressive political party in the U.S.A.,” which the UAW leaders are presumably willing to help build some time after the 1948 elections.

Whom do they think they are going to kid with this kind of stuff? Instead of finishing off the Democratic Party when it is in a bad way, first they propose to rehabilitate it by striving to give it a victory in November, and then after it is strengthened, they are going to try to replace it with another new party sometime in the distant future. That’s what passes for “practical politics” in the more “progressive” circles of the labor bureaucracy.

The real duty of all genuine labor fighters is not to prop up the Democratic Party in the period of its collapse, but to utilize this very collapse to launch an independent Labor Party which could emerge at once as a major party on the American political scene.

Breitman Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 2 October 2020