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New Party

Ben Hall

Michigan Forms New Party

(March 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 13, 27 March 1944, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(This is the second and concluding article reporting the formation of the Michigan Commonwealth Federation.)

CIO Political Action Committees

Intimately connected with election policies was the attitude toward the CIO Political Action Committee on a national and local scale. The conference arrived at no policy whatsoever. This was inevitable. Unable to reach agreement on where they stand in relation to the “friends of labor,” they could not have any unified opinion on the chief defenders of the “friends of labor” within the CIO, namely, Sidney Hillman’s Political Action Committee.

Brendon Sexton, one of the “wise” strategists at the conference, found this formula to straddle the issue: There is no guarantee that the PAC may not support some of our candidates.

But there is a guarantee that the PAC will support so-called “friends of labor” within the Democratic Party. Where does the conference stand on that? No reply. Some delegates spoke of going into the PAC local groups to capture them for the new party. But without a policy in opposition to the PAC it will be extremely difficult to shake it. Moreover the conference decided that the new party will be neutral where it does not run a candidate. The greatest likelihood is that the members of the new party in the PAC will go along with the policy of the PAC and not vice versa. He who has no policy generally finds himself towed along by someone who has.

Here again an irreconcilable divergence of opinion was revealed on the floor. The recommendations committee report proposed that members of the new party must “renounce the old-line parties.” This seemed to puzzle Tracy Doll. Does this mean, he asked, that I would be thrown out of this party if I campaigned for a Democrat in the next election? Doll is one of the leaders of Labor’s Progressive League and works closely with the PAC.

The question stunned the conference leaders. Paul Silvers stated that it was his opinion that one could not go out and campaign for Democrats and remain a member of the new party. Hammond, however, mumbled a few words to the effect that Doll could do so as an individual but not in the name of the new party. What is the policy? No one knows because there is none.

Communists, Socialists and Trotskyists

The recommendations committee proposed the following statement: “It [the new party] shall never accept into membership any individual or group belonging to a rival party or espousing principles contrary to its own policies and platform.”

A motion was made from the floor and opposed by the leadership that the reference to “policies and platform” be deleted and changed to “basic principles.” This motion was carried after one of the delegates explained that they must permit legitimate differences to exist on what their program and policies should be.

But this discussion led to a series of questions addressed to the leaders of the conference. One was: “What rival parties are referred to?” It was obvious that the Communist Party was not aimed at here because by the rules of the conference one had to sign a pledge in general agreement with the aim of establishing a Labor Party. That already ruled out the CP.

Blaine Marrin, chairman of the recommendations committee, replied: “That refers to communists, socialists and trotskyists.” But Silver had a different interpretation: “This refers to the Democratic and Republican Parties.”

Constitutional Convention

Discussion of the constitutional convention centered around two points:

  1. the date;
  2. the basis of representation.

The conference leadership proposed that the convention be held within seven months. This was adopted after several other proposals, aimed at a speedier convention, were defeated.

One of the delegates revealed the real reason for the long delay. “Let’s wait,” he said, “and see what the Democratic and Republican Parties do.”

After the Democratic Party convention and after the PAC has already chosen candidates for endorsement, it will then be possible for the leadership of the new party to run candidates in “safe” districts where they will not conflict with the so-called “friends of labor” and the PAC. In that way the possibility of rupture between the “friends of labor” advocates and those who oppose this policy in the leadership can be avoided.

The existing committee will determine the basis for representation at the forthcoming convention. What its basis will be in outline was made clear by the speeches made by the leadership on the floor of the conference. They stated that this party must not be dominated by any one group but must include workers, professionals, farmers, small business people and others.

But in Michigan the CIO dominates. Therefore, if representation is in proportion to membership all the non-labor elements might be scared off. Some method of representation which will give unwarranted influence to non-labor and middle class groups will be devised.

The Name of the New Party

The name finally decided upon was borrowed directly from the CCF: “Michigan Commonwealth Federation.” The same spurious line of reasoning employed in discussing the basis of representation was employed in this connection as well. Silver spoke at some length, complaining how difficult it was to find a name. He said, in effect: “We cannot call ourselves Farmer-Labor Party because we are not a party only of workers, nor are we only a party of workers and farmers. We are a party of the common people.”

The “common people” came into their own at this conference. One delegate took the floor to point out that the middle class sections of the “common people” could only get what they want by supporting labor and that the labor nature of the party should not be hidden.

When the matter came to a vote “Labor Party” received about half a dozen votes. “Farmer-Labor Party” received about twenty-five votes. “Commonwealth Federation” was carried by an overwhelming majority. This vote can be attributed more to the success of the CCF than to any other single factor. It is to be noted that the word “Cooperative” has been dropped. The Canadian organization is the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, but the Michigan party will be called Commonwealth Federation.

The Program of the Conference

The conference hardly began to discuss its program and platform. This will come before the constitutional convention.

But the fate of our poor socialistic liberals in this connection is very comical. They had hoped that in return for being reasonable and cooperative and of covering up for the “friends of labor” policy, they would be permitted to write the program.

All their attention was devoted to the panel on Platform and Policy. None other than Maynard Krueger was present for this historic occasion. The panel labored for hours. Their program was reported out briefly and then it was forgotten. When they complained that their report was not discussed and not even given to the delegates in mimeographed form they were told: Not enough time; and we ran out of paper.

For Consistent Labor Political Action

The conference left every important political question unsettled. Supporters of independent political action by labor must go to the coining convention and FIGHT for a CONSISTENT policy. First place is occupied by the crucial question of the attitude toward the so-called progressives in the old parties. The policy must be:

  • No support to the “friends” of labor.
  • For independent political action.

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