Burnham Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

James Burnham

Their Government

(14 April 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 24, 14 April 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The present session of Congress is giving us a new, and very revealing chance to test out the theory of Labor’s Non-Partisan League, John L. Lewis and the Stalinists as to how labor should intervene in politics. The results of the test are just the same as followed before in the history of this country and in the thousands of examples that could be drawn from other nations.

The advance of the L.N-P.L. policy over the older “reward your friends and punish your enemies” theory made famous by Gompers is to be found in the effort to build up an independent political organization comprising primarily workers and especially organized workers. At the same time, however, much of the Gompers theory has in other respects been retained.

The leadership of L.N-P.L. has resisted and fought any attempt to transform the League into a fully independent political party, that is, into a Labor party. They have restricted it, on the whole, to a labor appendage to the New Deal.

The tactic of L.N-P.L. has been to throw organized labor support to candidates on old party tickets who are held to be “progressive” and “friends of labor.” This has usually, though not always, meant supporting the candidates of the Roosevelt wing of the Democratic party.

Such candidates are not, of course, labor candidates. They are capitalist candidates, running as representatives of and on the ticket of a capitalist party, a boss party. The tactic of L.N-P.L. means, therefore, the organizing of labor support for certain selected boss candidates.

Ingratitude’s Sharp Tooth

The L.N-P.L. tactic is advertised by the League’s officials as the only “realistic” method of labor politics. How, then, does it work out, from the point of view of the interests of labor? Let us judge it by results.

The results were clear enough long before the present year started. In 1936, the tactic led to support for Martin Davey in his campaign for the governorship of Ohio. The tactic was “successful” and Davey was elected. He rewarded labor, a few months later, by calling out his troops to smash the Little Steel strike.

Exactly the same thing happened in Iowa. Kraschel was elected governor with the help of L.N-P.L., and last year proved his friendship for labor by smashing the Maytag strike.

These sobering experiences did not, however, discourage the realistic officials who direct the destinies of L.N-P.L. Last November they went right ahead with the same theory and the same tactic.

In Illinois, for example, they swung labor behind Scott Lucas, the bright young Roosevelt candidate for the Senatorship. Victory! Lucas was elected by a big majority, and took his seat in the august Senate chamber.

From that day until this, Lucas has in debate and vote lined up on the most reactionary side of every measure that has come before Congress. In his very first month, he played an important role in keeping the W.P.A. deficiency appropriation down to $725,000,000. Needless to say, he is a prominent member of the economy bloc whenever it is a question of cutting off funds that might benefit labor or the unemployed.

An even more impressive example is that of Alben W. Barkley, Senator from Kentucky. Barkley is leader of the Democratic party’s forces in the Senate. He is Roosevelt’s own man, and got the post of leader only through Roosevelt’s insistence. He was up for election last Fall, and was dutifully given L.N-P.L. support. He won hands down.

Last week it was Barkley himself, in person, who arranged the deal in the Senate Appropriations Committee whereby the $100,000,000 figure for W.P.A. – the figure that means starvation for hundreds of thousands of persons – was reported out to the floor of the Senate.

How Can Such Things Be?

Is there some mystery here? Why are “labor’s friends” always stabbing labor in the back? Is everybody nowadays a “traitor”?

No, there is no mystery. The explanation of these incidents – and they could be multiplied indefinitely – is simple: in politics, class interests come first. In fair weather, when things are going smoothly, everybody can be friendly. Promises are cheap enough. But when the situation gets hot, when class lines are drawn sharp by a strike or a war or a revolution or a showdown between business appeasement and adequate relief, then a politician has got to fall into step with the class which he represents. This does not make him a traitor: he would be a traitor if he did anything else.

These “friends of labor” are political representatives of boss parties and through those parties of the boss class. It doesn’t make any difference who supports them at the polls or how much they promise. In every crucial issue they are and have got to be loyal to their class. And being loyal to their own class, the boss class, means striking blows at labor.

They are not traitors to labor. The traitors to labor are the Lewises and Browders who tell labor to support these representatives of the enemy and hide from the workers the results which follow and will always follow from this tactic.

Labor will advance its own interests in politics only when it forges its own party. The only real labor representatives in politics will be those from labor’s own party and labor’s own ranks

Burnham Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 17 January 2016