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Emanuel Garrett

Political Perspectives of American Labor

Real Labor Party Is a Prime Need!

(9 September 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 36, 9 September 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

In a recent issue of the CIO News, there appears a special supplement prepared by the CIO’s Political Action Committee. The greatest part of this supplement consists of a lengthy boxscore of the voting in the late and unlamented 79th Congress. Twelve issues are selected for the Senate, and twelve for the House. How each of the Senators and Congressmen voted on these twelve issues (they are not the same for the House and Senate) is presumably an indication of how labor’s vote should be cast in the election. Why twelve and not thirteen, fifteen or fifty were selected as the test issues is best known to those who compiled the record. There is something suspiciously pat about twelve issues selected for each body, something too carefully designed for convenience. However, we accept it as is and conclude that PAC put in a lot of effort ... proving nothing! Worse than that, it is dangerously misleading.

Consult the record: this senator has so many minuses, that one so many pluses. These are things worth knowing. But, presented in the way PAC does, it is utterly futile. Senator Mead, according to the compilation, is a fine fellow; he voted “right” on all twelve issues. But the fact remains that Mead is a servant of capitalism, a capitalist politician. He is NOT, and cannot be a representative of labor. As a New Deal liberal, he believes it necessary to uphold the capitalist system through “palatable” means. To say that, he is a capitalist politician does not answer all questions. Nor do we intend it to. It makes perfect sense for him; there is no reason why he should not be, for it is the system under which he and others who live by expropriating the labor of others, prosper. Accordingly he voted right for capitalism on the imperialist war, and wrong for labor. The point, however, is this: it does not make sense for labor. The capitalists govern through their representatives in the state machinery which is fashioned after the image of their economic system. If some are more ruthless than others in dealing with labor, it is merely a difference among the rulers as to what method is most suitable in effecting their purpose. By the same logic, labor requires its OWN representatives, its own government. And therein is the fatal weakness in the PAC strategy.

Let us pursue the point for another moment. Mead voted “right” on these twelve issues. How would he have voted, however, were the chips down? Would he have voted for a bill nationalizing industry under workers’ control had there been labor representatives to present such a bill? Quite obviously not. He voted right oh cloture rule for the FEPC and anti-Poll Tax bills, but we do not recall his summoning a genuine campaign to set the Bilbos back on their heels. Mead’s party, the Democratic Party, is also Bilbo’s. And the liberals in the Democratic Party joined with the “liberals” in the Republican Party to make a deal whereby Bilbo ended his filibuster and FEPC went out the window.

Or take another illustration. There are a number of congressmen who, we assume, are believed to have had favorable scores. That is, they didn’t vote according to CIO policy on all of the twelve issues, but on most of them. Some get a plus on, let us say, ten issues, but neither a plus nor a minus on two others because they didn’t vote.

This Is Politics, Not Baseball

There’s a Representative Gordon Canfield (N.J., R.) who voted right on the Case Bill, the Patman Housing Bill, the Elliott Rider to the NLRB (CIO opposed this rider which has limited appropriations to the Labor Board), and four OPA amendments. On an amendment to the USES that was opposed by the CIO he didn’t vote. On two issues – the rule for vote on the anti-labor Hobbs Bill and the un-American Committee Appropriation – he voted wrong. Were he a baseball player, he might have retained his big-league standing on percentage points. But we are here dealing with something vastly more important. Is a vote on FEPC worth more than a vote on the Case Bill, and vice versa? A ridiculous question, and a ridiculous way of approaching political action whether in whole as it pertains to the entire set of congressmen, or in part as it pertains to a single one.

What then is the purpose of all this careful listing and combing of records? PAC is preparing to go into the next campaign. No one really knows whether Kroll, the new head of PAC, can get out the labor vote as did Hillman. The interpretation generally given is one confined to the mechanics of machine politics. Read the press, and you find PAC discussed in terms of ability to ring doorbells, coordinate a machine, and so forth. All that is fundamentally inconsequential in this situation. Politics and orientation are the proper basis upon which to judge the merit of ringing doorbells. The successes that PAC had in the past were a demonstration of a growing desire in labor’s ranks to show political independence. Unfortunately, PAC was and is entirely dependent on capitalist politicians. PAC was originally created to get the labor vote for Roosevelt, and it succeeded. PAC’s approach remains the same today – reward our “friends,” defeat our enemies. The very use of the word “friend” indicates the fallacy. So and so is a “friend”; if he knifes us, he will do it gently, administer ether first – as Roosevelt did. What we need, however, are not “friends” but men and women chosen from our ranks who are ONE with us.

In the recent primary elections a number of PAC supported candidates were beaten by machine candidates. Columns of newspaper and magazine space have accordingly been devoted to proving that labor’s efficacy has decreased, the labor vote routed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nor is it necessary that we prove how here and there a PAC supported candidate polled a big vote, how an outspoken reactionary was driven to cover. For it is really beside the point.

PAC has not appeared before the people as a Labor Party. As a Labor Party, based upon the unions, presenting itself as a class, a working class instrument, it could rally the overwhelming majority of labor. That much it has proved – it has demonstrated that hundreds of thousands of workers seek an avenue of political labor action. And by the same token, it has declined in some cases to the extent that labor has critically judged its choice between two capitalist candidates – one with a Democratic or Republican Party label pure and simple, the . other with a Democratic Party label adorned with the PAC emblem.

Is It Too Early for a Labor Party?

We think that the American working class is ready for a Labor Party, given concrete direction. We think that American labor is overcoming its weakness of divorcing economic action from political action; that is to say, more and more workers are beginning to relate the need of political action with their long-established economic militancy. It would be almost impossible for it to be otherwise. Consider this past year. Every economic issue that arose catapulted labor into political thinking. The strikes? Government intervention was immediate. Strike gains? Stolen in Washington through price increases. The railroad situation, the price situation, every issue pointed directly to political action.

And it has risen concretely in union after union. Many locals, Reading steel, Goodrich rubber, and others have declared themselves for a Labor Party. The question has arisen in the auto union, where it was unsatisfactorily resolved by the leadership’s indecision, vacillation and disorientation. Walter Reuther, for example, had an unparalleled opportunity to pose the Labor Party issue at the last UAW convention in a way which would have given an irresistible impulse to the formation of an Independent Labor Party. He had behind him the support of the militant auto workers who wanted to see the spirit of the General Motors strike continued into general and permanent union policy. Reuther, however, skidded around the Labor Party issue, and declared himself for some kind of third party.

There is currently a small vogue for third partyism. And it can serve the single purpose of heading off the development of a genuine Labor Party. We say single purpose, because a third party can accomplish exactly nothing for labor. It cannot challenge the fundamental needs of labor in combatting capitalist rule for the reason that it is not a class organization of labor. It is, in short, another Democratic or Republican Party, more liberal perhaps, more devoted to “clean” government perhaps, but that is all.

A New Third Party Plan

A National Educational Committee for a new party has been set-up, with A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, as its temporary chairman, and with the participation of some other union leaders, liberals, Socialist Party members and the like. It held a conference some time ago in Chicago, and decided to postpone concrete action until after the November elections. It is currently operating from New York, and proposes to move soon to Chicago. On our desk is its most recent release. And from this release it is clear that the best the NECNP offers is a delusion. “We need,” says the latter, “our own political party, one that will be truly representative of the interests of the majority of the American people.” Very good. BUT such a party can only be a Labor Party, vigorously pursuing a working class, anti-capitalist policy.

A little brochure that accompanies the letter indicates the dangerous shoals of third partyism. This new third party is going to be “modern.” The atomic bomb is also modern. “We live in an age and world which require ... the substitution of the principles of cooperation for those of exploitation.” Undoubtedly, but how else can it be achieved than by the revolutionary action of the masses of the world? The two old parties have “failed to meet the American challenge.” Pure gibberish, for the two old parties have met the challenge of preserving as best they can the bankrupt, intolerable system of private enterprise, whereas the challenge we need to be concerned with is that of pitting labor’s strength against capital’s rule.

The new party, continues the brochure, must be dedicated to “thorough-going democracy in industry, in government and in human relations.” Noble sentiments, but the only genuine democracy which embraces all three is the destruction of the capitalist rule and its replacement by workers’ rule. It speaks of public ownership, but tip toes around declaring itself under what system of society, and with what class content this public ownership will be effected. In fact, instead of speaking of labor leading those sections of the population whose interests labor alone can serve, it speaks in the very “unmodern” language of ancient progressivism – “grass roots” control. Why not workers’ control? That would mean something. And so on. Much of it sounds fine, and leads exactly nowhere.

The Educational Committee may eventually be converted into a party formally. But we doubt that it will ever amount to anything; certainly not from labor’s view point. It will seek to combine Henry Wallace New Dealism (though Wallace has lately disappointed the third partyites with his inner Democratic Party tinkering) with union leaders and “progressives.” We have seen such parties before, in one degree or another. Whatever role they played in the past, good, bad or indifferent, their time is past. The LaFollettes have disbanded their Progressive Party, and the last of the politically active LaFollettes was beaten in the recent primary. Presumably this new third party will be more progressive than LaFollette’s Progressive Party, but it will serve the people no better. The issues of today are posed first between capital and labor, and must so be decided.

For a Labor Party Now

This is not the only third party movement. The Stalinist Party is trying to cook one up for their own interests as agents of Stalinist Russia. Casual elements in the two big parties are flirting (only flirting!) with the idea, but on a solid capitalist basis – no nonsense about public ownership. Veterans are clearly stirred by the palpable degeneracy of the big parties, and are seeking to make a go of “clean” politics, as in Athens, Tenn. While it is a welcome sign, one that offers excellent opportunities, it can be too easily subverted into nothingness. “Clean” government is realizable only to the extent that it is a reflection of a clean society. As an objective by itself it cannot transcend the limits of ferreting out graft and corruption, leaving intact the major corruption of a society based upon human indignity and exploitation, hurtling from a war just ended to another and more devastating one.

How then shall we sum up the situation? – taking PAC, third party moves, the veterans demonstrations into consideration. We think it adds up to a developing realization among the people of this country that we must overcome our political backwardness, that the big questions of social life inquire our own political intervention, that they cannot be left to the representatives of monopoly and privilege. There is still unclarity as to what shape this political intervention should take. Direction and guidance are missing. When the leaders of the railroad brotherhoods denounced Truman, when Murray denounced Truman, it was possible to feel the eagerness to hear more, to concretize the sharp words into the reality of organization. That direction did not come from Murray nor from PAC. PAC under Kroll is the same as PAC under Hillman, an adjunct of the Democratic Party, with an occasional flyer into Republican affairs.

The situation demands a Labor Party, a party embracing the trade unions, founded on a political platform that challenges capitalist bankruptcy in the name of the working class. Were Murray or Reuther or other union leaders to issue the call, the response would be unquestionably clear. Inasmuch as they will not give that leadership, we must promote the formation of a Labor Party through our own activity and agitation in our unions. An Independent Labor Party is today an indispensable need. That is why the Workers Party and Labor Action inscribe the formation of a Labor Party .high on their program. We must enter the political scene under our own banner, and with our own program. The responsibility of revolutionary socialists is clear.

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