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Sam Adams

A Class Party of Labor the Next Step

The Struggle for Independent Labor Political Action

(May 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 18, 1 May 1944, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The American working class has the reputation of being one of the most militant in the world. This reputation is not unearned, for the history of labor in this country is replete with events of glorious working class struggle for improvement of its economic position.

But the militancy of American labor has been limited by the fact that its actions revolved primarily around struggles for immediate demands such as working hours, conditions of labor, and wages. It was not until the crisis of 1929, and the subsequent evils of unemployment, that the demands of labor acquired a social importance far beyond those put forward at the turn of the century and following.

There is an important lesson in this fact. The present-day demands of the American working class are not dissimilar from those of an earlier epoch, but these same demands have a new significance today. For example, wages, working hours and conditions of labor continue to be points of dispute between the capitalists and the workers. Wh then, do the demands of the present period have a greater significance than they had forty, fifty and more years ago?

The reasons are not difficult to determine. The economic demands of the workers in a period of the upward growth of American capitalism were easily met, after great resistance, by the bosses because of constantly expanding American industry and production, and the consequent enrlchment of the capitalist class, Even though the ruling economic class fought desperately against granting concessions to labor, their eventual capitulation to the workers did not mean any actual surrender of their riches. On the contrary, the economic history of the country shows that the continual expansion of industry enabled big business in this country to grant wage increases, a reduction in working hours and an improvement in working conditions, at the same time increasing their own profits.

Thus, actually, the workers never received a higher share of the increasing total production of industry. The improvements which labor won after desperate struggles declined in relation to the increasing productivity of the individual worker and the working class as a whole. On the side of the capitalists, however, their profits and wealth continually rose, decade after decade.

But we are living in a new epoch of capitalist society, a period of world disintegration and decline, a decay which afflicts the United States in the same way as the other capitalist nations of Europe are affected.

The crisis of the ’Thirties illustrated the depth of the decline of this period. Almost ten years of New Dealism showed that it was impossible for capitalism to emerge from its crisis and return to a state called “normalcy.” It took an abnormal and wealth-destroying phenomenon like the global war to overcome unemployment and to start the wheels of production operating in earnest.

The normalcy of present-day economic prosperity, however, is completely artificial since it is based solely on the requirements of war and of a military machine of huge proportions. What capitalism was unable to do in peacetime, namely, provide employment and sustenance to the mass of people, it does in war by government intervention and direction of economy.

Government Stepped In to Stay

This is something new for capitalism, new on the scale on which it operates today. In reality, however, this kind of government intervention already began in 1933 and lasted until the war broke out. It is certain now, and it is admitted by the capitalists, their professors and politicians, that even in the post-war period, and even in victory, the best that can be hoped for is the same kind of “normalcy” that existed under the peacetime New Deal.

Economic demands of the workers, therefore, now assume a political importance they did not have before. Every demand made by the workers now becomes the extreme concern of the government and its many agencies. This is due not only to the war; everyone will remember that it was true during the New Deal days! You do not merely ask your boss for a raise; your demands are referred to the government and its agencies. Collective bargaining today is not solely a relationship between boss and workers, but between these two and the government.

Whatever the post-war prospects will be, and they are not at all promising for the overwhelming majority of the workers in this country, increasing governmental intervention and interference in the day-to-day life of the people is a certainty. For this very reason, a new stage of political development has come upon the country.

But What Is the Government?

The government, however, is not an abstract thing. It is made up of people, it represents certain ideas, it develops certain practices. The government summarizes and reflects the class politics in this country. It is capitalist politics, dominated by two capitalist political parties which are completely under the control of the big business-monopolistic capitalists. The government is capitalist and serves the fundamental interests of capital.

No matter how impartial these parties pretend to be, it is common knowledge that on those matters which are really important, the big capitalists decide the policies and the candidates.

There is no vital distinction between the Republicans and Democrats. Usually, their differences are merely election fights for power. The fact that one party has some “liberals” in it is not important because it can always be shown that the other party has its share of the same kind of “liberals.”

The Republicans have their Wall Street manipulators. But so do the Democrats. The Republicans have Colonel McCormick, Senator Nye, General MacArthur, Governor Bricker, Girdler, Weir and Pew. But the Democrats have Dies, Byrd, Rankin,’ Tydings, Connally, Stettinius and Wilson. And while the Democrats have a Wallace, the Republicans have a Willkie.

Examine the long history of these two capitalist political parties and it is easy to understand why they have been called “tweedledee and tweedledum.”

Long years of miseducation, the power of the press, which is big business itself and desperately hates labor, capitalist control of the air and all channels of information, have diverted the attention of the people from the real source of evil. Thus for decades the workers of this country have been voting for political parties dedicated to the cause of capital against labor. Small-time politicians and demagogues have made a living by pretending to represent labor and its interests, only to betray the workers on the morrow of an election.

Labor’s Political Backwardness

The truth is that the labor movement, which has had such a brilliant history of economic struggles, is politically backward. An additional reason for this has been the extremely reactionary political policies of the officialdoms of the union movements. The American Federation of Labor, for years the only important union movement, had a policy, which Gompers introduced, of “reward your friends and punish your enemies.” This merely meant that at election time you voted against a candidate who HAD NOT lived up to his “promises” and for another who WOULD NOT live up to his “promises.” The American labor movement carried out this disastrous policy for decades with the net result that, at every important period, labor received one blow after another from the professional politicians acting for their capitalist masters.

The birth of the ClO in a desperate struggle against the most vicious monopolistic mass production industries of American capitalism gave hope that the labor movement would finally turn away from the game of capitalist politics. Shortly after its organization, it formed Labor’s Nonpartisan Committee, which promised to embark on the road of independent political action. But this was short-lived.

At other times in the history of this country there have been movements of the same kind and even attempts at the formation of an independent Labor Party to represent the workers on the political field. These never developed into mass labor parties representing the whole-working class of the country. But the desires of the workers, first of all, the more advanced elements, have never been entirely squelched. Periodically, the movement for independent labor political action gains ground and makes itself heard.

A New Period Is Here

We are now entering a new period of labor struggle for its own political party and for genuine independent political action. Thousands of workers are sick to the stomach from the long years of double-dealing and double-crossing which they have received from the capitalist Democratic and Republican Parties. They are beginning to reason: IN MY ECONOMIC STRUGGLE AGAINST THE BOSS, I WOULD NEVER SELECT HIM OR HIS CRONIES TO REPRESENT ME. WHY, THEN, SHOULD I VOTE FOR HIS SERVANTS TO REPRESENT ME IN THE POLITICAL FIELD?

Those advanced workers who see this terrible contradiction in labor’s conduct understand it only too well; NO union would select a corporation president, or any company official, to represent and fight for the union’s wage demands. Yet on the political field the union officialdoms advise their members to vote for the same company officials, or their choices, to represent them at the head of the government, in Congress, in State Legislatures, or the judiciary.

What American labor desperately needs is a party of its own, an independent Labor Party, with labor candidates, to fight for power against the capitalist political parties.

Can this really be done?


We think it is really an easy job, provided the labor unions of this country decide to do it. The workers of this country are the overwhelming majority of the population. The union movement, over thirteen million strong, it is the largest in the world. If it acts immediately for the organization of an independent Labor Party, such a party can be established virtually over night. It can challenge the power of big business on the political field as well as on the economic. It can throw out of office, in one fell swoop, the Smiths, Coxes, Johnsons, O’Daniels, Martins, Tafts, Hoffmans, Dies, and other representatives of one section or another of big business. It can march into political power!

Would such a party solve everything?

No, but it would be a great step forward in the emancipation of all who labor and toil in poverty for the enrichment of a few. That first step has to be taken.

There are signs of a great stirring among the ranks of labor. The labor leaders are finding it more and more difficult to call upon the rank and file to support a gang of rotten professional politicians. They are beginning to talk tongue in cheek.

Many resolutions for independent labor political action have been introduced at union conventions. These were accompanied by still other resolutions for the immediate organization of an independent labor party. In Michigan, the Commonwealth Federation was formed, marking a greet step forward. If the beginning made in Michigan should really result in a party of labor, it will have- tremendous influence upon the future course of the workers.

Yes, the American workers have a glorious, inspiring and militant tradition of economic struggles. Their political development needs to keep pace with it. Independent labor political action and the erection of-an independent Labor Party are absolutely necessary to the future well-being of the labor movement. Without such political action, the labor movement will suffer serious defeats in the coming years. It cannot permit this; it must not permit it.

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