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World Politics

Where Is Wallace Going?

(5 May 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 18, 5 May 1947, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

We have witnessed in the last few weeks a sharp decline in Henry Wallace’s career as an important capitalist politician. That may seem a rash thing to say, but we feel that a consideration of his present position will buttress our statement.

Wallace came to prominence in national politics As a follower of the Roosevelt New Deal, the basic purpose of which was to reinvigorate an American capitalism badly shaken by the depression. It proposed to achieve this objective by a series of reforms within the framework of capitalist society: concessions to labor in order to forestall serious discontent; work relief for the unemployed; subsidies to farmers to cut down their production in order to avoid the periodic surplus of goods which glutted the capitalist market; financial reforms to protect capitalist economy from the damage done by its more irresponsible members; and an aggressive foreign policy to expand the power of U.S. imperialism. Because of the still-present ability of U.S. capitalism to grant concessions and to reorganize itself on the basis of internal regulation and external expansion and because of Roosevelt’s extraordinarily dynamic personality, this program gained a large measure of support among, the masses of people.

In this situation the previously unknown Wallace was catapulted to fame; he was in charge of the program of agricultural restriction (plow under every third acre and every third pig). When this program was viewed from the standpoint of the needs of humanity, it was seen as simply absurd – and tragic, too. For here in a period of terrible want, when millions in America and other countries did not have enough, the government deliberately encouraged the farmers to produce less. No policy has ever exposed the social wastefulness and inhumanity of capitalism more than did this Wallace-led scheme.

Wallace’s Rise To Fame

Wallace, nonetheless, became a national figure; in that rhetoric peculiar to his fuzzy mind, he talked in radical terms, popularized such slogans as Sixty Million Jobs without ever seriously inquiring into the ability of American capitalism to provide them on a permanent basis, and thereby became the darling of the liberals, sections of the labor leadership and the Stalinists.

In this country the leaders of the small farmers have always talked In radical language. The Populist movement which developed in the late 19th century and gradually died out in the early 20th, represented the desperate attempt of the small farmers to resist the growing octopus of finance capitalism which was depriving them of their economic Independence and in many instances even of their land. Populism, a vague conglomeration of agricultural reform, trust-busting and radical rhetoric, was the farmers’ protest against the,railroad, the bank and their government. Populism never come to grips with the more basic economic conflict between employer and worker developing In the city; It represented the last wail of a dying, rather than the strong voice of a developing, struggle. Historically, it was obsolete almost before It began; It could be replaced only by the socialist movement.

Wallace is a product of this populist tradition – a product, however, not of its vigor and youthful strength but of its decay; For all his verbal radicalism, file served in the cabinet of the Roosevelt administration which was the most consciously and persistently imperialist in American history. For all his verbal radicalism, he served in the cabinet of the Roosevelt administration which strengthened the hand of the banks and the railroads while the aid it gave the farmers was transient and ineffective.

When Roosevelt died, it seemed for a while that Wallace might take over the leadership of the New Deal movement. He did not. His failure was not merely due to his personal inadequacies, serious as those are; more fundamentally it was due to the fact that New Dealism had reached the end of its rope. Roosevelt’s death was in a sense a great blessing to his reputation; he did not have to face the post-war difficulties, most of them still to come, which the hapless Truman inherited and which would probably have sharply harmed his reputation. Already Roosevelt had begun that transition characterized as the turn from New Deal to War Deal; and in that transition, the diffuse political elements which Roosevelt patched together at the beginning of his Presidency began to scatter. The capitalist political wing which was the basic axis of his regime – personified by such figures, as Baruch, Jesse Jones, Stimson, Knox, Morgenthau, Knudson and Stettinius – felt that the heat was off and turned rightwards to the policies which Truman is now more or less carrying out. The labor leadership, for all its servility, was increasingly left out in the cold. The Stalinists changed their line again. And the liberals, as usual, were befuddled.

In the Post-Roosevelt Era

Where did that leave Wallace?

As a capitalist politician, he had declined. He had failed to get the Vice-Presidential nomination from the Democratic Party in 1944. He had no hold on either of the political machines. The capitalist parties did not view the situation as desperate enough to require the leadership of the Wallace type; they much preferred Truman or Taft. Wallace therefore had no alternative but to turn to the fringe elements – the liberals, the Stalinists and the semi-Stalinists.

This move to retain some degree of popular support and political prominence was to prove Wallace’s undoing as a capitalist politician. In our opinion, it would be a gross simplification to speak of Wallace as still representing any section of the American capitalist class. He is now a mere political adventurer who bases himself on the coalition of certain liberals and Stalinists who want the U.S. to adopt a pro-Russian foreign policy. As such he will be relegated increasingly to the rank of a front man, a stooge. Not that he will be a stooge of Stalinism in the sense that Marcantonio is. But if he is to maintain any existence at all as a political figure he now has no alternative but to play along with the Stalinists for the time being.

His opposition to the Truman Doctrine, supported to one degree or another by every capitalist politician, was the last step in the development described above. It lost him his last remnant of support In the non-Stalinist labor leadership. His weird and cowardly behavior – cutting out sections of a speech criticizing Russia because he was booed by Stalinists at Madison Square Garden – has marked him as one of those credulous creatures made for Popular Frontist politics and little else. As this international situation continues to become worse, Wallace’s policy of “appeasing” Russia will isolate him still further from the main sources of capitalist political power. He will have the alternative of being spokesman for the Stalinists and those whom they dupe or of breaking with them and sinking to oblivion as another political hack. It is his Ironic predicament that his only possible source of future support and public prominence will also be the force that will most completely cut him off from the political ambitions he so obviously nurses.

These few remarks are not intended as a thorough, analysis of Wallace, who is certainly one of the strangest birds to flit across the American political scene in many years. Two interesting and illuminating articles on Wallace have recently appeared. One by Dwight Macdonald (April issue of Politics) is a brilliant piece of journalism which tears Wallace apart as a personality and would-be thinker. The other by David Bazelon (April issue of Commentary) is more of an attempt at political analysis along Marxist lines. Between the two of them, however, one does gather a great deal of information about Wallace.

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