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Ernest Erber

First in a Series: “To Our New Readers”

How Has Labor Action Affected
Your Political Ideas?

(5 August 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 31, 5 August 1946, pp. 3 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

This article, and those to follow in this series, are directed primarily to the 5,292 subscribers who became readers of our paper as a result of the drive conducted last April in preparation for the expanded 8-page Labor Action.


It is natural that most new readers of Labor Action should still have many questions about and objections to the ideas it represents, even after three months acquaintance with the paper.

To a person totally new to the ideas we hold, much of what we say sounds strange and, like all strange things, is not easy to accept. Some of our views are objected to because they seem extreme. Still others are dismissed as being a mere “pipe-dream” that will never come true. And toward the whole there inevitably remains, to greater or lesser degree, a certain amount of “show me” skepticism, if not outright suspicion.

We say that this is but natural because we are familiar with the manner in which the thinking of the average person is shaped. Everyone likes to pride himself upon the fact that he “makes up his own mind.” But few people realize how extremely difficult this is and how seldom it happens. The views which the vast majority of people hold on public questions are thought out for them.

From the day we start going to school (and even before) and throughout a lifetime of reading newspapers, hearing radio commentators, and just generally absorbing ideas through the various channels of what is called “public information” we submit our minds to a process of shaping, hammering, gouging, pruning, grinding and coloring that makes them fit the pattern of thought that accepts things as they arc as the best possible arrangement.

“Ours is the best system of government.” “You have got to have rich and poor.” “Someone will always be on top.” “Without the rich people to run things we would starve.” “Wasn’t this country built up under the present system?” “Aren’t American workers the best paid in the world?” “Without profit there would be no production and no jobs.” “Everybody with money in the bank or an insurance policy is a capitalist.” “This is the country of opportunity. Every boy can become president.” “There are no classes in America. Here every worker can own his own business some day.” “Even if things are not so good, radical changes will ruin everybody.” “Radicals are screwballs.” “Radicals are only people who are jealous of the rich and want to get on top themselves,” “Radicals cause trouble.” “Radicalism leads to violence and bloodshed.” “Americanism is good enough for me.” “We want no foreign ‘isms’ in this country.” “If people don’t like this country, let them go back to where they came from.”

How the Ideas Arose

Are not the above ideas, in one form or another, accepted by the vast majority of Americans, including the majority of the workers? Of course, they are. How did they get these ideas? Did each person sit down and think them out for themselves? Or did each person, when he heard them, at least sit down and say to himself, “I wonder whether this is so or not” and then decide that these ideas are right? Or are these ideas so logical that everyone with any intelligence cannot think otherwise?

Far from it. As we will show in this series of articles, the ideas held by the average American worker are compounded of misinformation, lack of political education, prejudice and bad logic. And, above all, they are opposed to his own best interests.

How did he get them? He just acquired them by FORCE OF HABIT because the majority of the people he came in contact with had them, just like men just naturally wear ties and women just naturally powder their noses. But how did the majority happen to hold just THESE ideas? Because these are the ideas that are logical and natural to that class of people who set the pattern and whom the majority tries to imitate – that is, the well-to-do and rich. Ever since there have been classes in society, the poor, seeking to get ahead, have used the rich as their model. The more examples there are of poor people actually getting ahead by individual effort (as often happened in the past periods of American history) the more do the poor seek to pattern their lives, including their ideas, upon the rich.

(This tendency existed even among the chattel slaves of the South, who had as much chance of becoming slave-owners themselves as the camel getting through the needle’s eye. Those slaves who worked in the master’s house and were given his cast-off clothing sought to imitate his manners and his way of thinking, even to the extent of sharing his contempt for the slave class by looking down on the field hands as an ignorant and uncouth lot. When a slave revolt was being hatched, the word would be passed around among the slaves, “Don’t trust those working in the master’s house. They will betray you.”)

Trying to imitate the rich in their way of life is not easy for the working man (or his wife who seems especially attracted to this notion) because his income as a wage earner forces him to worry most about paying next month’s rent or, at best, the next payment on a second hand car. But it’s cheap to imitate the rich in their way of thinking. All one need do is spend 3c or 5c to buy a daily newspaper full of capitalist ideas, either disguised in the form of news stories or straight stuff in the form of editorials and feature columns. If one cannot afford to call at the store patronized by the DuPonts, Morgans and Rockefellers to buy a rod and reel for $75 or a “casual jacket” for $45 or a $35 hat for the wife (latest creation by Madame Featherhead) as advertised in the paper, one can always share the DuPont’s notion that Socialism is a fantastic idea or the Morgan’s wisdom that industry cannot operate without capitalists, or the Rockefeller’s advice to the labor movement to stay out of politics and, above all, to stay away from radicals. Even if one cannot afford to buy the clothes to look “respectable,” one can always at least hold “respectable” ideas.

Workers Are Learning

Does this mean that the bulk of American workers see eye to eye with the DuPonts, Rockefellers and Morgans? Far from it. Most certainly, further from it today than ever before in this country. Despite the best efforts of the capitalist-owned press and radio to convince the working class that unions are bad for them, the overwhelming majority of wage earners (15 million) belong to unions today. There was a time, however, when the workers swallowed the capitalist propaganda against unions hook, line and sinker. Many a union organizer was beaten up and run out of town by the very workers whom they had come to help because these workers had no understanding of unionism other than that which the capitalist press fed them.

However, workers discovered over the years that they could not live on editorials denouncing labor organization. They needed higher wages and union security on the job. They quit sharing the ideas of the DuPonts, Morgans and Rockefellers on the question of unionism. They had listened to the capitalist side of the question. Now they began listening to the union side. They made up their minds that unions were necessary. ON THIS QUESTION THEY FREED THEIR MINDS FROM CAPITALIST CONTROL.

Today, there are few capitalist papers that come out against the idea of unions. Not because they have come to change their minds on the matter. But they see that it is useless to try to influence the workers against the idea of unionism after the long experience which has taught the working class the benefits of organization. Furthermore, the capitalist editors realize that if they were to continue to preach against unionism as such they would only antagonize the workers who read their papers and make them so hostile to it that the papers would lose all influence over the thinking of workers.

As a result, the capitalist press has shifted its tactics. They say, “Unions are all right but they must be properly run.” Then they go on to tell the workers how the unions should operate. They tell them that strikes are bad. They tell them that the unions have too much power for their own good. They tell them that what is good for the employer is good for the union and that capital and labor must work together. They tell them that unions must keep out of politics; above all, the unions should not entertain the idea of forming a Labor Party of their own. They tell them that the worst enemies of unions are, not the capitalists, but the radicals. They tell the unions to beware of radical ideas. And so on and on. The capitalists have learned that they cannot prevent the existence of unions so they must seek to control them through controlling the thinking of the workers.

Once they have decided that it is necessary to put up with unions, what is the big danger, from the capitalist point of view, which they must guard against? The big danger to capital is that the workingclass will not remain satisfied with economic organization but will also organize its own political movement.

Has the capitalist press succeeded in prejudicing the mind of the workers against “radicalism” and “reds”? Of course they have. One need but go door to door with Labor Action trying to sell subscriptions to see what a thorough job they have done and keep doing. The treatment given workers who stuck their necks, out and thought for themselves on the question of trade unions in the past is now reserved, with extra doses, for those workers who think for themselves on the question of the profit system, of capitalist ownership of industry, of workers’ control production, of workers control of prices, of a Workers Government, and Socialism.

Today unions are accepted and being an active union man is considered “respectable.” But since no “respectable” man is a radical, the average worker shies away from that which is labelled “Socialist” as did his father from the message of unionism. Every new idea makes headway only when the ground is ripe for it. In another article we will discuss why the political thinking of the workers has lagged so far behind their trade union understanding. However, we have full confidence that the next few years will see this gap closed up and the socialist thinking of the American workers take real shape. Today, however, the thinking of the American workers on social and political questions takes place under a thick crust of prejudice and miseducation, the result of years of capitalist poisoning of his ideas. Though some workers are completely steeped in such capitalist thought and think on these things just as does “the boss” while others have reached various stages of progressive liberation from such capitalist ideas, everyone living in a capitalist society like ours has his thinking influenced to some degree, even if only slightly, by the capitalist environment.

Is it any wonder then, that even you, the subscribers of Labor Action, who have had enough independent intelligence to subscribe to our paper, should still regard it with skepticism, unbelief and misunderstandings to one degree or another? That is why at the outset of our article we began by saying that this is but natural and that we understood the reasons for it. However, we have full confidence that the events unfolding in the United States and the world, today, together with our analysis and explanations will clear up these matters and along with it clear up the accumulated results of years of capitalist propaganda.

(Next Week: The Workers Party – Who Is Behind It and Why It Will Succeed)

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