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Discussion Article –

Against Support of Candidates in Democratic Party Primaries

(15 May 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 20, 15 May 1950, pp. 6–7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Independent Socialist League proposes the formation of an independent labor party based upon the unions and separated from the capitalist Democratic and Republican Parties. Such a step would open a road to a renewed advance of the labor movement which is now blocked by the policy of collaboration and compromise with the Truman administration in the name of “Fair Dealism.” At the same time, by organizing independently in rivalry with all parties a labor party would give a powerful impulse to class consciousness and to the class struggle, raising for immediate discussion. if not for instant decision, the role of the working class as the ruler of the state. Such would be the result, even though at the outset such a party would undoubtedly support the capitalist system and compromise with capitalist politicians.

It is now proposed that militants and socialists in the labor movement press for the nomination of labor candidates INSIDE THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY, in its primaries, in opposition to the regular party machine. The arguments for this proposal fall into two categories: (1) there is no movement for a labor party today: and (2) such fights in the Democratic Party would in reality be the class struggle, the struggle for a labor party in practice.

We contend that the first argument does not justify the new course and that the second is without merit, misleading and disorienting. The INTENT of the suggested change is to find new tactics for a CLASS policy; in this respect it diverges from the position of all those who would support so-called Fair Deal Democrats, like Truman, etc. But in PRACTICE, the application of any such policy leads militants to confuse the Eair Deal-labor alliance with a genuine working-class political program.

The labor leaders believe that they need the Fair Dealers and the vast majority of workers remain convinced that their leaders are correct. The Fair Dealers know that they need the support of the labor leaders. Such is the basis for the Fair Deal-labor alliance which blocks the road to a labor party. If at the moment the labor movement cannot be induced to break with the Democratic Party, which represents Fair Dealism, it is vain to hope that for reasons unexplained it can be lured into splitting with the Fair Deal INSIDE the party in the course of primary fights. Quite the contrary, the real struggle inside the Democratic Party sees the labor movement solidly aligned with its Fair Deal wing against conservatives.

Alliance Is Made

Hundreds of labor representatives already hold office as Democrats; such is labor’s meager reward for party loyalty. Labor leaders may raise their price; they may insist on more posts; they can and will capture a few more portfolios, sometimes in amicable agreement with the regular local party machine, sometimes after minor skirmishes with it. But the agreements and the squabbles are and will be carefully confined within the limits of loyalty to Truman’s Fair Deal administration as a whole.

To this comparatively insignificant jockeying for position, inconsequential in its effects on the Fair Deal-labor alliance, the initiators of the new tactic ascribe an exaggerated importance. Where loyal allied jostle one another for elbow room, they see the class struggle inside the Democratic Party. Frictions which have only symptomatic significance they misinterpret ’as struggles which have a weighty practical impact on the alliance.

It is true that there are two wings of the Fair Deal, that they do have antagonistic social bases, that a split between them is possible, even inevitable. But this possibility will become a reality not merely because the two wings exist but because the irrepressible developments of the class struggle will create social conditions making it impossible for the alliance to continue.

Abner Case in Point

How rivalry between the two wings on a local scale is subordinated to a fundamental collaboration within the Fair Deal framework was strikingly demonstrated in the recent Chicago primary fight when Willoughby Abner, supported by the labor movement, ran against the local Democratic machine. Abner is an outstanding militant who has been in the forefront of the fight for progressive policies in the labor movement; but the logic of the real political lineup, and the role of the general labor movement within the Democratic Party, put him forward not as a labor opponent of the Truman administration but as the best local representative of continued alliance with it.

“Abner’s voice, mind and personality,” announced ond leaflet, “can be a positive, urgent force to ... help Governor Stevenson [capitalist Fair Dealer].” The same theme is repeated in all his campaign literature. The alleged conflict between the Fair Deal and labor in such fights is illusory. Some comrades would, in general, oppose supporting laborites in the Democratic primaries but make an exception in cases like the Abner campaign. The facts hardly bolster such a contradictory position.

When the path to a labor party opens and the labor movement moves to break with the Fair Deal, it will ... break with the Fair Deal! When the alliance at the summits of collaboration proves to be fruitless or dangerous, the labor movement will hardly fight for fragments of the Democratic Party at the base. When in 1948 sections of the labor movement threatened to break with Truman, they threatened to break with his party and form a new one. They looked not to primary fights within the Democratic Party but to a split from it.

Truman’s turn to the left stilled these critical moods but the lesson remains: once the labor movement turns toward a new policy, we will witness not a running series of primary fights inside the Democratic Party but a speedy separation from it.

Why should we meanwhile, advocate that the labor movement become further involved in primary fights inside the Democratic Party? The actual result of such a policy can only be to de-emphasize our efforts toward- educating labor to break with that party, and to de-emphasize the Labor Party slogan, until our position in favor of it becomes only a ceremonial bow in its direction — regardless of what is intended. The new proposal points to digging into the Democratic Party; our job, as a socialist vanguard, is to point to a breakout from it.

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