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George Clarke

SWP Campaign and Its Great Significance

(8 November 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 45, 8 November 1948, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The number of votes for Farrell Dobbs and Grace Carlson will not be known for many days and perhaps weeks. The capitalist electoral machinery is deliberately designed not only to keep working class parties off the ballot but to withhold their votes from public view until interest in the elections has subsided.

Yet it is possible now, before the votes are tallied and made public, to assess the significance and the achievements of the first Trotskyist presidential campaign in the United States. Precisely because this was our first national campaign these achievements will not be truthfully reflected in the votes received by Dobbs and Carlson. The Socialist Workers Party entered the campaign unknown to the great working public which is accustomed to voting not only for well-established parties but even along traditional lines from generation to generation.

Arena of National Politics

Our first and primary objective, therefore, in this campaign was to smash our way out of the obscurity of a narrow circle of radical workers into the wide arena of national politics. In this aim we succeeded beyond our fondest hopes and expectations. Millions of people heard about the Socialist Workers Party and the program of Trotskyism for the first time – more people than in all the past twenty years of our movement combined.

The miracle of this achievement was coldly presented each week in the Militant scoreboard listing contributions to our campaign. These figures represented stint and sacrifice by members and supporters of the Socialist Workers Party, but their total was puny by comparison with the vast funds at the disposal of Republican, Democratic and Progressive Party, not even excluding the Socialist Party and the Socialist Labor Party.

We can thank Lenin for providing us with the secret weapon. which forced open the doors of the press and radio monopoly when we were too poor to buy our way in. In the early days of the Russian Revolution, Lenin was asked by a capitalist politician what he would use for an army if Russia were invaded by the imperialists. He replied: “We shall use your army.”

We used the press and the radio of our capitalist enemies to write and broadcast our message of anti-capitalism. And let no one think that even an inch of this newspaper space or a minute of radio time was placed at our disposal as an observance of the traditions of democracy or the spirit of fair play. In almost every instance, we were obliged to struggle with the radio monopolies to conform to the law which was written to prevent discrimination by one capitalist party against another but not to give fair treatment to minority parties. We had to exploit every pretense of impartiality by the capitalist newspapers to gain publicity.

Achievement of Rank and File

And in the final analysis, these victories were not the work of professional publicity experts or radio specialists – of whom we had none – but the achievement of the rank and file of the party. We could not have approached the organs of public opinion if the Trotskyist workers had not won us political legitimacy by months of tedious labor in gathering petitions to put Dobbs and Carlson on the ballot.

Through this campaign, the Socialist Workers Party has won recognition not merely as another party, but as the extreme left wing of American politics. This Was no simple task in a time when confusion and lies blanketed the land like a heavy fog. The Norman Thomas Socialist Party and the stagnant Socialist Labor Party were represented as advocates of a socialist society. Wallace and the Stalinists were constantly designated as “the left wing.”

But in the course of the campaign it became clear to ever larger numbers that socialism could not be championed by a respectable middle class liberal who is cheek by jowl with the war policies of Wall Street, nor by unreconstructed sectarians who oppose the trade unions and scorn the class struggle. So too it became increasingly clear that the “left wing” must be more than a New Deal party which seeks to reform capitalism in alliance with those who serve the reactionary interests of the Kremlin rulers.

Our main programmatic aim was to hammer home the need for a Workers and Farmers Government as the principal answer to war, poverty, depression and reaction. We did not speak vaguely of the advantages of socialism over capitalism but of the instruments and methods whereby the working class could join battle with its oppressors and achieve a world of peace, freedom and plenty.

Our candidates were the living symbol that our party alone was jn earnest in the struggle against war. Not by theory and argument alone did we refute the anti-war pretensions of Henry Wallace and Norman Thomas but by the record and by contrast. We showed Wallace as the drummer-boy of World War II and the quitter who promised to run out on the struggle when the new war started. We showed Thomas as the betrayer in World War II of the traditions of Eugene V. Debs and the supporter of bipartisan war policies now.

And we showed by contrast how Dobbs and Carlson had kept their word even at the cost of personal liberty. We proudly proclaimed that our candidates had been imprisoned for socialist internationalist opposition to capitalist war because above all where peace is concerned words are cheap and plentiful – it is deeds that count.

The Trotskyist campaign was an open challenge to the spreading reaction, to the witchhunters and the redbaiters. We defied the inquisitorial blacklist of Attorney-General Clark and challenged him and Truman to bring their charges into the open where the public could see and judge. In the process, our presidential campaign became the focal point of the struggle for civil rights. Many who were supporting the witchhunters for office, joined with us ih the struggle against witchhunting.

The 1948 Presidential campaign marks the third and biggest performance of the Trotskyists on the national political scene. In 1934, Trotskyists leading the Minneapolis truckdrivers blazed the trail for the triumph of the CIO in the mass production industries. In 1941 Trotskyists preserved the banner of socialist internationalism on the eve of the war in a courtroom in Minneapolis. In 1948 millions of American workers saw the Trotskyists as the spokesmen for working class independence, for uncompromising struggle and for revolutionary socialism.

Truth Is Making Its Way

The truth is making its way. Labor leaders, bitterly opposing our program, recognize us as the revolutionary left wing of the working class movement. Thomas socialists and renegades no longer challenge our claims but fight against our Marxist principles and Bolshevik intransigence from the ideological ramparts of the capitalist enemy. Stalinist workers, tired of corruption, lies and betrayal, are beginning to see in us the inheritors and modern representatives of Lenin’s Communism.

The star of Trotskyism rose higher than ever in the 1948 campaign. It was a promise that in the months and years of struggle for labor emancipation ahead of us, Trotskyism will become the brightest star in the firmament of the working class movement.

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