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George Clarke

Norman Thomas – A “Socialist”
the Capitalists Like

(27 September 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. XII No. 39, 27 September 1948, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Many years ago Ben Hecht wrote a story entitled The Champion from Far Away. In it he describes how the fight promoters took a “bum” from his job digging graves in a cemetery and started him on a spectacular career in the prize ring. Amidst great fanfare and publicity, they toured him around the country winning victory after victory against “setups.” At last came the great finale where our hero is matched against the real champ. Naturally he gets “murdered” since he has neither punch nor boxing skill. The promoters, however, who had deceived the public but not themselves, put their money on the champ and made a big killing.

This build-up technique is not, we know, restricted to the crooked game of pugilism. It is well known in American politics. The current campaign gives us another demonstration of this ancient but not-so-honorable art in the job being done for Norman Thomas.

We see the amazing spectacle of the confused and doubletalking “socialist,” representing a small and dwindling party whose better days are behind it, lifted out of obscurity, splashed over the front pages of the nation’s newspapers and popular weeklies and featured without charge oh a host of radio programs.

This press and radio build-up for Thomas is neither accidental nor the result of the Socialist Party emerging as a mass force in American politics. It is a highly conscious and deliberate move. The tip-off. came when. the New York Times last May hailed the nomination of Thomas as a “healthy” sign.

What is behind this build-up of the political “champion from far away”? Primarily the Wallace movement. The more conscious elements among our capitalist rulers had become alarmed by the millions of followers Wallace is attracting by his demagogic attacks on the bi-partisan program of war and Big Business domination of America and the world.

It was becoming obvious to them that the reactionary snarling at the Wallace movement, far from weakening let alone destroying it, was actually augmenting its size and influence. They needled a man not so besmirched, somewhat radical in appearance and language who while standing at the left of American politics would actually attack Wallace from the right. The candidate for that role was Norman Thomas.

The State Department in this case is following the same policy it pursues in Europe where it has poured money and influence into resuscitating the “Socialists” who are supporting the world ambitions of American imperialism against socialist revolution on the one hand and Stalinism on the other. In Norman Thomas they have an eager-beaver who supports his counterparts abroad and zealously aspires to that role at home.

The speech delivered by Thomas on Sept, 19, printed in full in the N.Y. Times and relayed over the press wires indicates how shrewd is the judgement of the Big Boys in showering him with publicity. Thomas succeeds in making a speech that covers almost a full page of the paper without once attacking the bi-partisan drive towards World War III. He has no criticism to make of the policy of the State Department which props up the murderous Greek Monarchy, the reactionary and corrupt government of Chiang Kai Shek, the nest of international intrigue and reaction in the Vatican and now the would-be man-on-horseback, General de Gaulle.

To give the devil his due, it should be noted that Thomas has at times criticised the “excesses” in Greece and China, freely advising the Wall Street gang that America’s pretensions to spreading democracy abroad were being injured by supporting reactionary governments.

This is the respectable advice of a loyal opposition. The capitalist rulers appreciate Thomas’ criticisms because it costs them nothing and permits them to maintain the fiction of democratic rights at home. What counts for them is the fundamental class position. For or against the imperialist war? For or against the imperialist Marshall Plan? Thomas is in their camp on both questions he supported the second World War, today he supports the Marshall Plan.

Genuine working class opposition to imperialism, that is socialist internationalism utterly alien to Thomas, receives no such gentle treatment. Woodrow Wilson punished Eugene V. Debs for opposing the First World War by throwing him into jail. And Franklin Roosevelt meted out a similar penalty to Farrell Dobbs and Grace Carlson for their opposition to the Second World War.

The practical proposals made by Thomas to stop the headlong drive towards World III should be placed on exhibit as the prize specimens of a politician who has made a career out of muddleheadness, confusion and downright stupidity.

Thomas outshouts the most leather-lunged of the warmongers by his demand that the United Nations should brand Russia as an ‘aggressor’ and then strengthen its powers to deal with the aggressor by a “reform” that would eliminate the veto. What practical conclusions do such proposals entail? Prepare for war! Establish military bases all over the world! Arm to the teeth!

But Thomas just doesn’t cotton to such simple logical reasoning. He emerges from his warlike plans with hold your hat! with the pacifist proposal of disarmament, a dreamy, deceptive proposal which never has and never will stop a capitalist war.

All these with the exception, naturally, of disarmament, are being taken by the State Department. If they still hesitate to abolish the veto in the U.N. and declare Russia an “aggressor” it is only because the military preparations are still incomplete and the time not yet ripe to take the diplomatic steps which will precipitate the shooting war. But they are working hard on the matter and, if not halted by a socialist revolution, will in time oblige Mr. Thomas.

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