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James Burnham

Their Government

(26 May 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 36, 26 May 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The speech on the 1940 elections delivered by Earl Browder to the Ninth National Convention of the Young Communist League, and immediately issued as a pamphlet, carries the very impressive title, How the People Can Win. Nowhere, however, is it specified what it is that the people can win, nor what people are going to win it, whatever it may be.

The speech was reported in the general press as advocating the re-election of Roosevelt. This is not strictly accurate. Week by week, the Stalinists grow more modest in the “demands” that they put to the American ruling class. The ruling class doesn’t like socialism, so they give up socialism. A labor party might stir up class divisions, so they abandon the labor party. A popular front is rather advanced for the United States, so Roosevelt and his special brand of “democratic front” will do as a substitute. But even Roosevelt is a bit leftish for these days, so the Stalinists will be content with whatever the “New Deal wing” of the Democratic Party has to offer.

Browder as Democratic Elder

A candid reading of Browder’s speech might easily suggest that Browder is making a bid for a place on the Democratic Party’s national committee. More than half of it is devoted to explaining how the Democratic Party can win the 1940 election. Jim Farley is doubtless studying it carefully between stops on his tour. Jim, after all. Is hardly more than an amateur in these questions; and, besides, does not have the benefit of the private Kremlin cables.

“The progressive and democratic majority” in this country, which put Roosevelt into office, “is a coalition between the Democratic Party and the independent radical one-third of the electorate”. The Democratic Party can win the next elections if it continues this coalition through defeating the Garner-Glass-Wheeler combination in the convention. “The radical one-third of the voters,” for whom Browder so authoritatively speaks, “find it necessary, therefore, to wish for and work for victory for the Roosevelt wing in the Democratic Convention”.

Here, then, is set the task of the Stalinists and all other men of good will for the next period: to wish for and work for victory for the Roosevelt wing in the Democratic Convention. You can see now why any attack against the Roosevelt relief slashes is obviously the work of the U.S. Fifth Column.

Looking the Gift Horse Over

But what is it that “the people” are going to. win by dutifully returning the Democratic Party to office? and what have they won by keeping it there during the past six years? Search most minutely, and you will have a hard time finding any answer to these seemingly appropriate questions in Browder’s speech.

The people, one would imagine, want to end unemployment and to get jobs. But not a word does Browder say about unemployment and jobs, not a single word. Can it be that “the people” to whom Browder is talking already have their jobs?

Browder can hardly, at this date, pretend that the New Deal has ended unemployment. Nor does he feel called upon to claim that it is going to. Browder’s policy is firm: it is not going to be affected by a little item like ten or fifteen million unemployed.

You might think that “the people” would be interested in the campaign against the democratic rights of labor that is now advancing on a national scale. But there is no mention of it in Browder’s speech. Indeed there is no mention of any economic or social issue, save for a housing program which Browder discusses not to advocate but only to argue that such programs help and do not hurt capitalism.

In fact, the outstanding point of Browder’s speech is not his brazen, shameless acceptance of outright capitalist politics, but the appearance in this speech of the sharpest criticisms in several years of Roosevelt and New Dealism. That these criticisms directly contradict his conclusions does not, of course, bother so old a hand at dialectics as Browder.

He goes out of his way to stress the “retreats ‘ of the New Deal, which “unquestionably weaken and demoralize the mass support of the New Deal, and open the way for reactionary demagogy”. He objects to “the weakening and partial withdrawal of governmental intervention in economy, the retreat made by the New Deal under the pressure of monopoly capital’s attack”. These are strong words from Elder Statesman Browder, not heard for many a moon.

Browder Names His Price

But the tone gets really sharp in discussing foreign policy:

“We cannot fail to note and criticize those mistakes, weaknesses and inconsistencies in the Administration’s execution of these policies in practical life. Gravest of these was the unforgivably stupid and criminal surrender to the Chamberlain ‘non-intervention’ policy toward Spain, brought to a climax by the indecent haste with which Franco was handed unconditional recognition ... Thus did the Roosevelt Administration gratuitously smear itself with complicity in the fascist aggression and destruction of democracy in Spain ...; by this act the Administration weakened and undermined its own prestige and moral authority ...”

Thus does Browder echo Stalin’s speech to the Soviet Party Congress, criticizing democratic imperialisms to cover up overtures to Hitler; thus does he attempt to safety-valve growing discontent among his own following with the pro-Roosevelt policy; and thus does he reveal the real crux of his own proposals.

“Thus, it becomes a necessity of American national security to ... create a solid foundation for the inevitable cooperation between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R.”

This is what it all boils down to; the rest is so much hogwash. Give the Kremlin an alliance, says Browder, keep a pro-Soviet orientation in the State Department, and forget the rest; forget unemployment and wages and democratic liberties. Never mind the candidate or even the party. Give me that, and only that. On that basis, I’ll go along.

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