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Emanuel Garrett

The Meaning of the Elections

Post War Social Dissatisfaction Swings Middle Class Vote
to the Republican Party

(18 November 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 46, 18 November 1946, pp. 3 & 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

THE elections held last week have been noted in endless columns of newspaper space as a swing to the right. In the sense that the election marked the finish of the New Deal era, it was that. In the further sense that the Republican victory reflected a heightened expression of the middle class vote and a relative decline in the influence of the labor vote, it was also a swing to the right. However, to equate the elections with a victory for reactionary Republican policies, in so far as they can be differentiated from reactionary Democratic policies, is a simplification that proves nothing but the incontestable fact of the Republican majority.

In attempting an estimate of the electoral swing, it must first be noted that the American people registered a protest vote. It was a registration of disgust. Just that: disgust with Truman’s bungling, disgust with rising prices, disgust with shortages.

Not even the traditionally powerful Democratic machines – the Hague machine in New Jersey, the Kelly machine in Chicago, the Pendergast machine in Missouri – could batter through this wall of disgust. Nor could PAC, despite its pretentious strut, break down the repudiation of the Truman administration.

This disgust was healthy. That it was not offered a channel other than the miasma of Republican reaction, however, is a tragedy. For if ever there were a proof that the time is ripe, the need urgent, the receptivity present for a Labor Party, a really INDEPENDENT Labor Party, it is in these very elections that are so carelessly dismissed as a swing to the right. We have heard of several instances where workers who are strongly for a Labor Party and for militant, aggressive working class politics, voted Republican, for that seemed to them the only avenue of protest.

Where in past elections, dominated by the active presence of Roosevelt, the labor vote went overwhelmingly to the Democratic Party, in this election it was dispersed. It is worth noting that of 318 candidates endorsed by PAC for the House, only 78 won. Without the beguiling hypocrisy of a Roosevelt, the policy of tail-ending the capitalist candidates in a situation that cries for independent labor politics paid off in repudiation. How then shall we evaluate the pompous declarations by PAC leaders after the elections that they have just begun to fight? Fight whom? And with what? With fake and in any case meaningless computations on how the assorted scoundrels who sit in Congress voted on a miscellany of bills? With the expiring New Dealism of Wallace’s vain effort to capture the Democratic Party? With a sanctified Roosevelt as banner bearer? And with the utterly futile choice between “good” capitalist servants and “bad” capitalist servants?

ALP in New York

In only one case did the pretense of a Labor Party poll a significant vote. In New York the American Labor Party polled over 400,000 votes. Together with the Liberal Party, which also makes some pretense at resembling a labor party, the two parties polled over half a million votes. Both of them are far from being labor parties in any genuine sense. Both of them backed the Democratic Mead-Lehman ticket, the ALP with a pro-Stalinist slant, the other with an anti-Stalinist slant. Yet, in New York, with its older tradition of political expression among the working class, even these pale imitations of a Labor Party proved how attractive a real Labor Party could be.

What did the ALP and Liberal Party campaign for? For Roosevelt! Inconceivable as it may be, that was the sum and substance of their campaign, as of the PAC campaign nationally. And in New York they were fortunate, in putting over their deception, that banker Lehman, who headed (and ran ahead of) the ticket was a man closely associated with Roosevelt.

It is, of course, a matter of speculation as to what a party that put forward independent labor candidates, spoke the truth about Roosevelt as a representative of capitalist interests and washed its hands clean of Lehman, Mead and Truman, along with Dewey, Bricker and Taft, might have done. It might or might not have bettered the size of the ALP-Liberal vote right off. That, we say, is speculation. But it is not at all a matter of speculation to say that a half million votes polled by such a party would have true national significance, and give the Republican or Democratic politicians pause. As it is, the ALP-Liberal vote remains exclusively a local phenomenon, and one confined principally to New York City.

Above we wrote that the middle class expressed itself in this election. Put baldly, but with a warning to apply caution in its interpretation, the middle class showed that, along with, seeking to rid itself of Truman, it also held labor responsible for shortages and the complications of reconversion. To a certain extent, then, it voted anti-labor. And the responsibility rests squarely on the labor leaders, just as they must bear the responsibility for failing to give the labor vote organized expression.

By and large, during the last few years, considerable sections of the middle class went along with labor, sympathized with its wage demands and approved its unionization. As recently as last winter, important numbers of the middle class backed the wage struggles of the working class, especially in such instances as the General Motors strike, where labor clearly appeared as the leader of the PEOPLE! Since then, however, the labor leaders, failing to appear as the real leaders of the people, championing their interests as being best served by labor, the middle class has yielded to the propaganda that strikes, worker-agitation have put the squeeze on them through shortages and inflated prices.

There is nothing static or permanent about class relations. In succeeding in shifting the weight of lower middle class support to themselves, the monopolists, the big business interests, have won a major victory. That disillusionment will come is beside the point. The squeeze of monopolist enterprise, the inability of the Republican majority to solve any problem, any problem at all, better than the Democratic administration, will provoke shifts of opinion that can be capitalized on by an intelligent approach. But that approach, if it is to correspond with labor’s advantage, has to be a vigorously independent class political, as well as economic, offensive that will entitle labor to appear as spokesman for the farmer, for the professional and other segments of the population. The contradiction in that sentence is more apparent than real. An unambiguous CLASS policy is THE avenue toward uniting behind labor the support of the majority of the people.

What will the Republicans do with their majority? What will be the nature of relations between the Congress and the Administration? With respect to the latter, tons of ink have been consumed in predicting stalemate. The assumption is that there is some fundamental difference in policy between the Republicans and Democrats. It expresses itself concretely in that Truman has been effecting the major demands of the Republicans on prices and other issues. Even in the sphere of foreign politics, Vandenberg, the Republican, is solidly aligned with Byrnes, the Democrat.

There are, it is true, differences of inner-capitalist class policy, but they effect both parties equally well. The Democratic Party is torn as it has never before been. Wallace and Pepper seem actually to be toying with the idea of taking over in 1948 (and so much for the nonsense about third partyism!). In the Republican Party, the old Willkie wing, the Taft wing, the Bricker wing, the Dewey wing, are sparring for control. If in the flush of its majority, the Republican Party appears to be more stable internally, the contest for a presidential nominee will reveal the clash of ambitions. None of this is of any particular concern to us. Whether Dewey gains standing in his party because of his huge vote in New York, or whether Wallace pushes forward in his party in face of its lamentable showing, is a matter of small concern to us at the moment. None of these individuals, neither of the parties they represent, have anything in common with our interests.

But there may be some concrete changes that affect us deeply. With the Republican majority interpreted as a go-sign for extreme reaction, the drive against labor will grow more intense. Roosevelt, and the Democratic machine generally, relied these last years on labor support. Thus, when they knifed labor, they did it gently and with a liberal dosing of syrup. Truman found in the railroad crisis that it is bad business to challenge labor openly. Now, however, the Administration and the Republican majority both will feel emboldened to use the whip of anti-labor legislation. For example, Republican Ball of Minnesota is expected to have an important voice on the Senate Labor Committee. He is notorious for his sponsorship of bills seeking to outlaw strikes and the closed shop.

Labor will consequently have to be on guard, be prepared to defend its positions. Of course, there will not be an even pattern to reactionary plans. Republicans and Democrats, looking ahead to 1948, will not want to alienate the labor vote too catastrophically. Individual Senators and Congressmen may throw caution to the winds, but their parties will try to avoid any obvious crudeness. However, nothing could be more dangerous than to take idle comfort in that. It will have meaning only to the extent that labor is on its toes, making it pointedly clear that it will resist any attempt to strangle its organizations and rights. It is a virtual certainty that anti-labor bills will pour into Congress by the dozen. Relying on lobbying with Republican or Democratic leaders, as AFL and CIO leaders are doing at this very moment, is the high-road to, disaster.

We haven’t attempted to evaluate every aspect of these elections. There is the minor phenomenon of the passing of the old-time city machine. For the collapse of the Kelly, Hague and Pendergast machines, in addition to reflecting the general anger of the people, also marks the dotage of the old-time machine. There are other angles, many of them, that we have not even touched upon. Generally, the people as a whole, and the working class in particular, are beginning to think politically. The vote is no longer in the hands of the wardheeler. But that is by no means enough, nowhere near enough. It can, as in this election, express its backwardness.

To concretize that development in terms of benefit to labor, a Labor Party will be necessary, a Labor Party with real, CLASS, labor objectives and conduct. Thus, the principal conclusion we draw from this election is that, given any kind of impetus by the labor leaders, a Labor Party could have emerged as a powerful and vital force. And the further conclusion we draw is that the initiative for such a party will have to come from the ranks, breaking down the capitalist alignments foisted on labor by its leaders.

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