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E.R. Frank

An Answer Tracing Main Political
Developments in Labor Movement

(17 January 1949)

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 3, 17 January 1949, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The important social developments and trends which led up to and were responsible for the Truman victory are traced in rounded fashion in the resolution The Election Results and the Tasks of the SWP to be printed in the February issue of Fourth International. All our readers are urged to study the document for an explanation of the events and the precise nature of the political period we are now in.

Comrades Long and Ellis believe my article in the Nov. 15 Militant implies a leftward swing of sizable proportions on the part of the American workers and that this is not borne out by the facts. Perhaps these questions can: be clarified if we concretize our concepts.

The Truman election victory, taken as a whole and placed in the proper perspective of the developments since the war, can be viewed as nothing else but signifying a definite left shift in American politics. Let us recall the important stages of recent American history (in sequence): The labor movement in the United States has been in a coalition with the liberal wing of the capitalist class since the advent of the New Deal. This meant that the bureaucracy mobilized the labor ranks behind the capitalist program – but always receiving in return a smattering of secondary concessions.

After the war, the capitalists moved abruptly to break this coalition. First came the gigantic strike struggles. Rebuffed on this front, the capitalists struck politically and began hurling labor back all along the line. With the carrying through of the Taft-Hartley Law, the labor battalions were in full and ignominious retreat. In November 1948, the working masses – unexpectedly to the capitalists and to us as well – intervened in the elections as a class and put across their candidate. Thereby, they forced the capitalists back into the coalition which the latter had broken after the war and reinaugurated a period of New Dealism in American politics.

Further than that, they not only forced the capitalists, against their will, back into a coalition, but under a far superior relationship of forces for labor than had ever existed in the Roosevelt era. The Peoples Front bloc of the labor bureaucracy and the New Deal liberals within the Democratic Party boasts of greater influence than it ever approached in the past. It is imbued with self-confidence and the knowledge of its own strength. This is a new stupendous development, or more accurately, the consummation of what the labor bureaucracy and the liberals had been groping towards throughout Roosevelt’s lifetime. Taken in its totality – and that is the only way for Marxists to view it – it unquestionably spells out a left shift in the American political scene.

It is true, as our correspondents point out, that the total vote was not spectacularly large, even less than in 1940, etc. But all these interesting and important aspects are secondary to the emergence of the working class as a solid class bloc voting in a more cohesive and conscious manner than ever before, and by its action, altering the position of the classes on the political chess board. Previously, it was never entirely clear whether the trade union bureaucracy was mobilizing the vote behind Roosevelt or just moving in behind his coattails. Today, both the labor bureaucracy and the working class, are conscious that they are the king-maker.

Character and Limits

Naturally, we don’t approve or condone class collaborationist, Peoples Frontism and the politics of the “lesser evil.” Naturally, the Truman victory provides the Democratic Party with a new lease on life, temporarily strengthens illusions in the efficacy of class collaboration politics and has already unmistakably retarded the agitation and movement for a labor party. Moreover, the workers are not presently engaging in broad class actions, but fire in a mood of watchful waiting to see how far Truman will go in fulfilling his promises.

If is necessary therefore to understand not only that a left shift has taken place but also its specific character and limits; that, the workers’ political consciousness has not yet advanced leftward beyond acting politically as a class and better understanding its class power in the nation. (The resolution takes up in detail a number of tactical consequences of this specific conjuncture.)

Why is it important, nevertheless, to stress the significance of the left shift? Because behind the newly forged Peoples Front bloc of the labor bureaucracy and the liberals stands the might of a politically organized working class – not organized into its own class party as yet, and certainly not organized behind its own class program as yet, but organized for political action, nonetheless.

And that gives promise that as the workers become disheartened and disillusioned with the Democratic politicians, they will not simply sink into apathy or disperse ip all directions, but will move forward in massive formation to the next political stage. Now, this has nothing to do with tempo. It does not imply either a rapid or a slow development of the working class towards a break with the Democratic Party or renewed militancy in the economic field. It is a question of the main trend.

Comrades Long and Ellis in discussing the labor bureaucracy write: “A class political leadership of the workers has yet to be built ... Actually today the workers are without political leadership.” Correctly understood, the first sentence is true. The second is absolutely false. We must, indeed, build a revolutionary political leadership or the working class movement will in the end know only defeat and disaster. And to that task we have dedicated our efforts, our energies and our lives.

But we socialist revolutionists are not contesting for leadership of a working class that is leaderless. Conditions are far different today than in the Twenties when radicals were struggling for leadership of a working class that was in the main unorganized not only politically but economically. Today, the combination of the labor bureaucracy and its liberal allies is the political leadership of the American working class. They are a mischievous, treacherous, good-for-nothing leadership, but they are the leadership just the same.

And this leadership, after the Truman victory, stands at the pinnacle of its power and authority – and knows it, and the Trumanites know it too. The Murrays and Reuthers and Greens are our rivals in the struggle over the minds and souls of the American workers and we will never win over these workers arid fulfill our revolutionary mission until we have exposed the full perfidy of these reformist leaders to the broad ranks.

The letter goes on to state: “They are neither leaders nor capable of becoming leaders of a leftward swing ...” This is erroneous. The American labor bureaucracy demonstrated only a few years ago in the 1945–46 strike wave that it is quite capable of making left shifts when the workers are surging forward, in order to maintain its hold on the mass movement.

We should not imagine that their present operation within the framework of the Democratic Party will necessarily be maintained for all time. Our task would be easy indeed, were that true and were the labor bureaucracy that inflexible. No. These scoundrels are quite capable of executing all sorts of left maneuvers and even propagating the most radical-sounding slogans under the stress of social necessity and mass pressure.

They are quite capable, in the event of a social crisis, brought on by one cause or another, when the masses are going left and demanding radical solutions of moving their whole Peoples Front bloc right out of the Democratic Party and setting up a Third Party or even a labor party on the British model. It is instructive to recall that their blood cousins in England, Bevin and Morrison, assumed leadership of the 1926. British General. Strike, no less, in order to maintain their positions and the better to behead the struggle.

All this demonstrates, of course, not only that we must wage an implacable fight against the labor bureaucracy but that we must understand the power of our adversary, that we must watch the trends and shifts attentively and without prejudice, and that we must be alert enough to adjust and alter our slogans in accordance with the changing reality.

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