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Julius Falk

McCarthy and McCarthyism

The New Look of America’s Post War Reaction

(February 1954)

From The New International, Vol. XX No. 1, January–February 1954, pp. 26–38.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

McCarthyism has become the political issue of the day in America. Even the most cynical sophisticate who reflects for a moment on such a grotesque fact cannot fail to be amazed at this degradation of political life in the United States. The newspaper accounts of the present conflict of McCarthy-Cohn versus the U.S. Army has the quality of parody. An alleged Communist dentist drafted into the army, who, at most, could have kept the Kremlin well-informed on the national state of G.I. cavities becomes a cause célèbre, the basis for McCarthy’s usual accusation, this time directed at the army, of “coddling Communists.” The senator’s wild accusation is then “substantiated” by the sensational exposure of another allegedly dangerous and coddled Communist in the Pentagon, this time a 60 dollar-a-week “code-clerk,” who, it is now apparent, knew as little about codes as she does of communism, the Communist Party or why she was supoenaed.

The skit-like quality of McCarthyism is by no means monopolized by McCarthy. The former conservative president of Harvard, Dr. James Conant, upon his appointment as American High Commissioner to Germany, was opposed by Senator Mundt because, “he is too bookish a fellow.” As Stuart Chase sardonically noted in a recent letter to the New York Times, “Anyone who can read” can be made an object of suspicion. These McCarthyist techniques and accusations are not limited to the political arena. McCarthyism has spread from Washington like a plague of insects carrying a noxious disease, penetrating every area of social and cultural life. Recently two teachers were fired for having the audacity to read in class belle-lettristic essays by D.H. Lawrence. The principal remarked that it was a disgrace and that Lawrence was probably a Communist.

The arts have been victimized no less than our educational institutions. Recently a 2,300-year-old play by the Greek playwright, Aristophanes, The Ecclesiazusae was sharply cut in its performance for fear that the censored lines were too pro-communistic.

These, of course, are but a minute sampling of atrocities committed in this flowering age of McCarthyism. What removes them from the stage of pure burlesque is not only the criminal injustices perpetrated against personal victims and artistic sensibilities, but that they are symptomatic of substantial changes taking place in the American political system. They are the indices of a falling barometer.

How is it possible for the shift in American politics to assume such unprecedently crude, clumsy and universal manifestations? This is the question which disturbs American liberals and confounds Europeans.

McCarthyism is a peculiarly American phenomenon. It is the warped product of the growing disproportion between the capacities of American capitalism and the momentous problems which confront it. It is not the inevitably begotten fruit of capitalism in the abstract but is revealed by its specific features as the natural product of American capitalism. We doubt that any European bourgeois class would emulate the methods and techniques of McCarthyism under similar circumstances. It is not a matter of the superior morality or virtue of European capitalism; its history is bloody; the actions of French imperialism in Indo-China and North Africa, the brutality of British imperialism in Kenya, the memory of nazism embraced by the German bourgeoisie and fascism in Italy unmasks their affected moral indignation. The European bourgeoisie is perturbed by the fact that they, too, are being victimized by American McCarthyism; and they are confounded by what appears to them as its needless elements of irrationality, grossness and stupidity.

The perplexity of European critics of McCarthyism stems from their failure to understand that every reaction assumes specific forms reflecting the character, background and psychology of its ruling class. The fascist reactions in Germany and Italy for example, while fundamentally identical, assumed different forms in each country. The racism and anti-Semitism most peculiar to German fascism were, in a sense, not an essential part of fascism but a reflection of the training, history and temperament of German capitalism. We cannot compare McCarthyism with fascism as parallel reactions; our comparison with fascism is merely designed to illustrate that while a reaction in post war America would have been propelled by any type of bourgeoisie, the level on which this reaction manifests itself reflects the special development of American capitalism.

In the United States capitalism came into its own relatively recently; its industrial revolution is less than a century old. America has no pre-capitalist history as is the case with Europe. It had no Old Order to combat, not only physically but intellectually. Feudalism was already a thing of the past when capitalism was consolidated here. It didn’t have to depend as much on its wits, it did not need to develop trained diplomats and felt no compelling need for men of learning to represent it in struggle against competing capitalisms or the Old Order. In short what America developed were many politicians but few statesmen. Capitalism here grew rich on its native resources, relatively independent of European capitalism and divorced from the refinements of European culture. It became a hard-headed class of practical men, pre-occupied with compounding their wealth, distrustful of “bookish fellows” or anything smacking of intellectuality.

The European bourgeoisie, given its heritage, achieved varying degrees of sophistication, unknown to modern American capitalism. Europe developed a certain tradition of literate statesmen while the United States has specialized in the manufacture of a special breed of web-footed politicians. Whatever fine traditions existed in the early period of post-colonial American capitalism have long since been lost.

The current administration is a clinical example of the backwardness of American politics; McCarthyism is is its sick offspring. In what other age could one find an administration so totally lacking in subtlety and sophistication? In what other period have the forces of pedestrianism and philistinism established such a tight stranglehold on official political life? In what other administration can we fail to find an interesting personality?

In the president’s chair sits a smiling, bumbling trout fisherman and golfer whose favorite reading material, he genially informs us, are cowboy stories. In the vice-presidency is a miserable huckster, a cheap publicity salesman whose pose as a modem Clay is marred only by the fact that he can neither think, write nor speak with the intelligence of the great compromiser. His recent speech, supposedly a rebuke to McCarthy, but more like a gentle pat, is required reading for any person willing to inflict upon himself a study of platitudes in American political life. Note the following passage from the speech by this “anti”-McCarthy McCarthyist, the vice-president of a nation of 160 millions and the international trouble-shooter of the most powerful nation in the world. It is the only passage that resembles a rebuke to McCarthy, and should be read for its typical richness of thought, imagery and prose style:

Now I can imagine that some of you who are listening will say “well, why all of this hullabaloo about being fair when you’re dealing with a gang of traitors?”

As a matter of fact I’ve heard people say, “After all, they’re a bunch of rats. What we ought to do is to go out and shoot ’em.” Well, I’ll agree they’re a bunch of rats, but just remember this. When you go out to shoot rats, you have to shoot straight, because when you shoot wildly it not only means that the rat may get away more easily, you make it easier on the rat.

But you might hit someone else who’s trying to shoot rats too. And so we’ve go to be fair.

On the nation’s top advisory council, the exalted cabinet, sit some of America’s most noted nonentities. It is truly the Executive Committee of American Babbitry: a collection of business men who were no less convinced than their golfing president that what the nation needed was an added touch of good-old American business techniques applied to national and international affairs. Many of them have already retired from politics, and returned to the business of making money. And what of the American legislature which has become a circus of and a haven for stumpers, sheriffs, narrow and malicious inquisitors? Does this Congress have any rival for plain old fashioned dullness and obtuseness? And on every level of local and national politics charges are exchanged – and substantiated – by the two parties against each other of graft and corruption.

This primitivism of a type which has no parallel in European politics provides the necessary bacteriological culture in which McCarthyism can fester.

Whether the Ides of March have cast their baleful spell upon McCarthy or not, McCarthyism will remain firmly implanted in American bourgeois life. In this fact lies the weakness of the term. For McCarthyism represents no thought out social philosophy of a particular senator from Wisconsin, but can best be understood in its broadest sense as the excesses of the post-war reaction. This reaction preceded McCarthy and will continue should he be eclipsed; it was induced by the fear, panic and paralysis of the bourgeoisie in the face of Stalinist expansionism, already assuming dangerous proportions under the Truman administration. It was during the Fair Deal reign that the foundation of what is popularly known today as McCarthyism was solidly established. The loyalty oaths, the subversive lists, Congressional inquisitions, Executive Order Number 9835, all familiar activities of the Truman administration, planted the seeds of the now lush political jungle in America in which McCarthyite cavemen conduct their barbarous, and sometimes cannibalistic rites. It was under the Truman administration that the character of the present Supreme Court was finally shaped with the selection of four political backwoodsmen to the nation’s highest judicial body; men who have used every shabby argument to keep the offensive against democratic liberties free of legal and constitutional booby traps. It was under the Truman administration that the whole political atmosphere in this country became poisonous and intellectually asphyxiating with but the feeblest protest from left-wing Democrats and the approval of the Democratic Party as a whole. It was Truman who suggested personally and publicly, that neighbor spy on neighbor, reporting suspicions to the FBI. It was under the Truman administration that the denial of the right of a member of the Communist Party to teach became an accepted doctrine of Democrat and Republican alike. These activities of the Fair Dealers were carried out with hesitation and even with reluctance. Let us give the devil his due, even when it is so little. But conscience could not compete with what seemed in their eyes political expediency; with what liberals thought was a necessary liberal compromise with their abstract democratic values. However, our analysis while taking their conscience into account, gives prime importance to the cold fact that their concessions and capitulations mark the first phase of McCarthyism in America.

This first phase provided McCarthy with the political tenor and precedent from which he could proceed with the wisdom, cunning and logic of a shrewd and brutal politician.

This poisoned atmosphere was to the arch reactionaries as oxygen to life. It gave hope and courage to elements in the antediluvian political spectrum ranging from the American Legion and the Grant Wood Ladies to the professional race-baiters and fascists; the semi-repressed xenophobes of the mid-West were revived by the foul air, America Firsters and ex-Bundists felt their oats once again, the Texas oil millionaires whose wealth is in direct proportion to their ignorance became the social and financial benefactors of the scum of American society. These are the cadres of the current phase of McCarthyism carrying through with inexorable logic the aforementioned policies of Truman, and, tragically, winning wide popular support through demagogic passion and vigor.

McCarthyism as it now exists cannot be defined with a single phrase. It has no organization which it can call its own, but is a force which operates within and outside of both major parties. It has nothing which can properly be called an ideology. McCarthyism is a reaction which is more easily recognized by its specific acts and techniques. Nevertheless, for all its lack of formal organization and programmatic detail, McCarthyism is a social reaction with sufficiently visible characteristics and effects to mark it as something unique in American politics.

We have already mentioned in passing one fundamentally different characteristic of McCarthyism as compared to previous reactions: its durability. Its impact has been made on every phase of political and social life in America and those conditions, primarily international, which facilitated the growth of McCarthyism show no signs of soon disappearing or even receding. McCarthyism is fated to remain as a symmetrical political parallel to the permanent war economy.

The beginning of the cold war signified the beginning of the end of the traditional bourgeois democratic values as we knew them in the Thirties. This does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that we are on the brink of fascism or that totalitarianism is imminent or that McCarthyism has no limits beyond which it cannot successfully trespass in this period. It is simply a recognition of the more than quantitative difference between the era of hard won rights the American people enjoyed in the Thirties and the wretched state of political freedoms today. It is the American form of retrogression, a reflex to the last imperialist war and its aftermath – the cold war and the sweep of Stalinism over half of Europe and Asia. In Europe retrogression was manifested in the loss of national dignity, increasingly enforced dependence on the United States and political stagnation. McCarthyism’s corrupting impact on democratic rights is America’s throwback and no less revealing of the futility of bourgeois opposition to Stalinism.

A victory of the Democratic Party in the coming Congressional elections would, at best, tend to level off the present McCarthyite reaction, but reasonable people, above all, among the Democrats, cannot foresee in a Democratic victory a return to anything resembling the bourgeois liberalism of the Thirties.

The whole political scene in the United States has so pronouncedly changed that even our terminology has been affected by it. Individuals and groups are referred to as “liberals” or “standard-bearers of liberalism” who just two short decades ago would have been considered conservative by early New Deal liberal standards. There is hardly a single prominent individual or group in the top echelons of either wing of either party who advocates a return to the relative freedom of this earlier period. One of the few exceptions, perhaps, is Senator Lehman but even he, the most outspoken and for a while the only opponent of rabid McCarthyism on the Senate floor, saw fit to vote with all other Democrats (except Fulbright) in favor of granting McCarthy the funds necessary for the perpetuation of his committee on the ground that he agreed in principle with the right of Congress to organize such investigations.

The method employed by the Democrats in their defense against the more fantastic of McCarthy’s charges has been me-tooism. Adlai Stevenson, now a liberal by our shift in values, but actually a conservative thinker, has proudly pointed out that it was under the Truman administration that loyalty oaths, subversive lists, government purges and the use of the Smith Act were initiated. This is presumably a “liberal” defense of a “liberal” regime by a “liberal” intellectual politician.

It is taken for granted among the Fair Dealers that at least for the duration of the cold war the democratic liberties which have been abandoned one after the other will continue to remain things of the past. It is interesting to note how the thinking of liberals has been so corrupted in the present period that the argumentation they offered in opposition to the Bricker Amendment was replete with anti-democratic overtones. They elevated the presidency to a point almost beyond the reach of Congress, a move dictated not by liberal conscience but, once again, by political expediency. Paradoxically enough, the proponents of the Bricker Amendment (an expression of McCarthyism in foreign affairs, thoroughly reactionary in its motives, objectives and would-be effects) proved capable of marshalling liberal arguments against the conservative arguments of their liberal opponents. More recently the behavior of the liberals in the McCarthy-Cohn-Schine-Army fracas reveals the fragility of their liberal values. Again, in the interests of political expediency they have resorted to an absolutely shameless defense of the military as a virtually untouchable caste, whose inviolability is not to be trespassed upon by popularly elected legislators, thus diluting their liberal appeal and at the same time weakening the struggle against McCarthy.

The conduct of the liberals on these two issues is a measure of their bankruptcy. McCarthyism has committed one outrage after another against liberal ideas, liberal institutions and liberal people and all that the liberals could do was seek cover or apologize, with but rare voices of principled liberal protest. The liberal world has rallied on only two occasions – not in defense of liberalism but in defense of the principle of the independence of the executive from the legislative powers, and the rights of the military!

At no other time in American history could one living in a retrograde era fail to see some hope for a dissipation of the reactionary mood and a democratic revival, even within the framework of capitalist governments. That the best that can be hoped for today under either a Democratic or Republican administration is a relaxation of the reaction, and possibly an attempt to restrain McCarthy is related to another distinctive feature of McCarthyism. Reactionary movements and moods in the United States in the past have been, for the most part, a product of internal conflict. Economic crises and acute class struggles provided their impulse. These elements are totally absent as causal factors in the rise of McCarthy and McCarthyism. McCarthyism was already flourishing when family income and employment were at the highest level in history, and the labor movement was not engaged in any militant class struggle activities which would sound the alarm for industrialists or politicians. It would be futile to seek primary reasons for the growth of McCarthyism strictly in internal political problems. McCarthyism was essentially generated by the fear of international Stalinism and thrived upon revelations of espionage. With or without McCarthy this movement has become the pathetic answer of the American bourgeoisie to Stalinism. Every victory of Stalinism has been accompanied by a McCarthyite advance, and every advance of McCarthyism facilitates further victories of Stalinism.

There is a third distinctive aspect of McCarthyism and one which bodes perhaps the greatest ill. For the first time we have a powerful force which operates within the framework of bourgeois democracy, yet in defiance of and against it. McCarthyism has achieved sufficient power in and outside of government to attack and at times devitalize institutions of government and state. Not only are Stalinists and non-conformists threatened and persecuted, but some of the most honored bourgeois personalities, liberal and conservative, have been victimized. The epithets “traitor,” “spy” and “conspirator” are hurled not only at alleged members of the Communist Party but also at the Democratic Party and the former president of the United States. In one instance after another we have seen how the State Department, the Voice of America, the United States Information Service, the American Occupation authorities in Europe have been demoralized by fantastic accusations. These accusations by McCarthy have proven to be more than just rhetoric, but have been acted upon by Congressional committees with only occasional token resistance by what may charitably be referred to as the more responsible heads of the administration.

It was McCarthy who popularized the new language of abuse. But his reduction of “Truman-Acheson” to an epithet has been taken over lock, stock and barrel without so much as a credit line by the Republican administration. Official spokesmen for the Republican Party now see fit to make public references to the previous administration in terms which just two years earlier would have been considered a trade mark of the junior senator from Wisconsin. These attacks, the denigration and sabotage of past and present government agencies, tolerated and sometimes fostered by the administration, identifies the McCarthyite reaction as one which is qualitatively different from reactionary movements in the past.

The unique features of McCarthyism can be summed up in a comparison with the reaction following World War I. At that time the Palmer raids, the activities of the Lusk Committee in New York, and the wholesale arrests, prosecutions and deportations carried out by local and federal agencies were a hysterical outburst by a bourgeoisie made newly aware of its role as a world power and terrified by the very real prospect of a European socialist revolution. This fear of international socialism – similar in effect to the present fear of international Stalinism – was aggravated by the rapid decline in living standards and the growing militancy of the labor movement. The bourgeoisie reacted with a violence then much greater than is the case today but one which did not outlast the decline of the European revolution, the disembowelment of the IWW and the Communist Party and the economic upswing of the early twenties. McCarthyism is different in that it is fed by an increasingly powerful world Stalinist force which shows no signs of abating its drive for world supremacy. It developed at a time when there was neither depression nor general strikes, and it victimizes more than Wobblies or Communists – it attacks the institutions of bourgeois democracy.

In discussing McCarthyism one must be careful to avoid the pitfall of characterizing this movement in the same terms which might be applied to a few of its more notorious spokesmen and supporters. Most pointedly, a distinction must be made between the man, McCarthy, and the movement named in his dubious honor. McCarthy may with justice be referred to as America’s totalitarian personality. He is brutal, ruthless, intolerant, demagogic, a conscientious liar, ego driven, power hungry, vigorous and a cunning political barbarian. He has, in more moderate words, all the pathological and political equipment of a totalitarian fascist type. This does not concern us at the moment. Of paramount importance is to recognize that McCarthyism, though it is a new phenomenon, cannot be equated to fascism nor does it present the nation with any imminent threat of fascism.

To maintain that McCarthyism in its present phase is the instrumentality of fascism is to impute to it characteristics it does not possess. It would imply, above all, that it is a well organized and integrated movement. It is not. McCarthyism has no recognized press of its own, no rounded ideology, no party of its own, no tight internal discipline, no acknowledged and consciously organized leadership. It continues to function within the framework of both parties, whereas every powerful fascist movement we know of has been conceived outside the framework of traditional bourgeois democratic parties.

Of greater import is the absence of those social conditions which have been proved essential to the rise of a powerful fascist movement. Fascism, as we know it, comes to power in periods of irreconcilable class conflicts and economic disintegration. The bourgeoisie does not turn to the mailed fist because of intellectual conviction or boredom with bourgeois parliamentarianism. It resorts to fascism out of necessity – when its life is menaced by its native working-class and its economic functioning is paralyzed.

Fascism, by definition, presupposes the ruthless suppression of the working-class, not only as a contender for power, but as an independent political force. But fascism, again by definition, imposes restrictions on the rights of individual capitalists, limiting their area of political and economic maneuverability. The bourgeois sacrifices in the interests of the bourgeoisie, placing power in the hands of a totalitarian elite, under which he may writhe, but seeing in it the only means of personal and class salvation.

We need not go beyond this elementary definition of fascism and its origins to rule it out as a possible evolvement from McCarthyism in the coming period. The American bourgeoisie can find neither reason nor need today to crush the American labor movement as an independent class force. On the other hand the labor movement, fifteen million strong, for all its apathy and class collaboration- ism is anything but an easily crushable force.

While we fail to see wherein McCarthyism can be equated to fascism we would be guilty of an ostrich-like self-deception not to recognize the seeds of an authoritarian movement in it. More than that, we should not exclude the long range possibility of this authoritarian movement coming to power, either through a successful struggle for control of the Republican Party or, failing that, through a consolidation of the forces of total McCarthyism in some new alignment of political parties and groups, the precise nature of which is impossible to foresee. This authoritarian government would not necessarily destroy every vestige of opposition political functioning as is the case with fascism. It would not necessarily be compelled to conduct a struggle for survival with the labor movement; it might instead attempt to neutralize it, partly through threats and in part by persuading the labor movement to accommodate itself. Such an authoritarian regime might liquidate the Communist Party without the total terror of fascism, it might eliminate any bi-partisanship in national or foreign affairs without eliminating all other parties, it might attempt to assert its authority over all cultural and social institutions without attempting to incorporate them fully into the state. It would be a repressive government, but not one of total terror.

Senator McCarthy who represents the most conscious, outspoken and extremist type of McCarthyism, must be given credit for understanding that the limitations of McCarthyism today can be countered or turned to his advantage tomorrow. These boundaries are set by the following; one, as we have already mentioned, is the lack of a social program, and, second, is the current economic recession with no big upswing in sight.

Until recently McCarthy’s political pulse has been kept throbbing almost exclusively by the existence of Stalinism. The World Conspiracy of Communism Operating in the United States provided McCarthy with his enormous successes. The fact that his inquisitions proved nothing, exposed nobody, revealed no hitherto unknown espionage rings, is beside the point. His supporters were cleverly kept under the impression that McCarthy was single-handedly slaying the red dragon which threatened their way of life.

The recession is putting an end to the illusion that McCarthy is saving the Republic from chaos. The senator is no less active than last year in his witchhunting, the “Truman-Acheson gang” has been replaced by Eisenhower-Dulles, leaders of McCarthy’s own party; thus the “Red Menace” from within is obviously diminished, and, yet, despite all these “achievements” the average American feels immeasurably less secure this year than last.

Nothing is as sobering to the marginal man as having his margin narrowed down. The sound and fury of McCarthy begin to signify to numbers of his supporters exactly what Shakespeare said: Nothing. If the electoral success of the Republican Party and McCarthy’s free-swinging mace could not somehow keep the high living standard intact then suspicions are naturally aroused: first about the Republicans, second, about McCarthy’s activities. A man waiting on line for an unemployment insurance check is likely to get a little annoyed at another man who makes his fame and fortune by running around with the scalp of an army dentist.

McCarthy may well be no less aware of this limit to McCarthy and McCarthyism in its present form than we are. But he also understands that this economic factor which tends to stall McCarthyism – it can only be stalled, not repudiated, under either party given present conditions – can become the source of added strength for himself. What he requires is the broad social program as yet absent: McCarthy needs to develop views, not only on the menace of Communism, but on the very real and immediate problems which are hitting at the American budget. That McCarthy is toying with the idea of branching out is apparent from his provocative remarks directed at Secretary of Agriculture Benson in the middle of March. McCarthy criticized the secretary’s farm program, declaring himself in favor of no less than 100 per cent farm parity and warning the secretary that he has a bone to pick with him. The senator’s sudden interest in the plight of the farmers is motivated, (1) by his concern with the recall-McCarthy petition campaign now being waged in Wisconsin, a farm state; and (2) reflects a more general need to sustain his popularity by participating in genuine national political problems in such manner as to sustain and increase his prestige and power.

Our observation that McCarthy has not developed a social program needs some modification. In the realm of world politics McCarthy has achieved something which with some imagination might be called a foreign “program.” The essence of this program can be summed up in a single phrase: denounce Europe. It is an attitude which is neither responsible nor original but it is effective for a demagogue who wishes to maintain and enlarge his appeal among political illiterates. In the past two years the specific planks of this program have more or less crystallized: neither recognition nor trade with China or other Stalinist countries under any conditions, and eternal enmity toward European nations casting a covetous glance at the potential market behind the Iron Curtain. For England, particularly, which already carries on an insignificant trade with China, McCarthy’s anger knows no bounds. He proposes to cut the British off from any assistance as long as this trade continues; a proposal designed to please large numbers of Anglophobes in this country.

St. Joe of Appleton is not to be denied his red dragons or treacherous knights. Those he cannot find he manufactures out of papier-maché and tears to shreds with his poison-tipped lance which is now poised against Europe for all its treacherous and perfidious “dealings” with China, Russia and her satellites. This Europophobia is a natural by-product of his ferocious attacks on the Democratic Party as a party of “internationalists” and traitors. As long as McCarthy referred to the internationalist Democratic Party “betrayers” who sold out to Stalin at Yalta, Teheran and Potsdam he did not have too much to fear. But to transfer his criticisms of past performance to the tactic of denouncing, if not abandoning, America’s allies in Europe at present would bring McCarthy into conflict with the most powerful sections of the American bourgeoisie. For all its backwardness, the American ruling class knows one thing: America is in mortal combat with Stalinism and she cannot “go it alone.” If Europe and Asia – including their markets and sources of raw material – are abandoned to Stalinism then the effective capitalist world becomes an American island, which, for all its strength, could not maintain its position.

In the Indo-Chinese situation McCarthy is in a potentially powerful position. If France makes a deal with Russia – one which could only improve the Stalinist position in Indo-China – at the forthcoming Geneva Conference, then McCarthy’s Europophobia will be heightened and appear justified. His attack on the foreign policy of the Eisenhower administration would become clearer and more blatant, winning a wide sympathetic audience among the voting population. If France does not make concessions on Indo-China then it is all the more probable that American combat troops will be sent to Indo-China on a large scale. This would be a war toward which the American people would be even more hostile than was the case in the Korean “police action.” McCarthy might not attack the preparations for this new military venture; he might even urge its extension to include the atomic bombing of China. No one can predict what McCarthy would do before possible American participation in Indo-China; it cannot be excluded that in an effort to increase his popular support he would adopt an isolationist line during the preparatory stages of military intervention. It is safe to predict, though, that if large American forces are sent to Indo-China McCarthy will blow his demagogic tune as American troops either meet reverses or the war becomes a prolonged and costly experience.

On the Indo-China question bipartisanship is getting a new lease on life. The Democratic Party has been begging for the opportunity to “educate” the American people to the importance of seeing Dulles’ “united action” against the Stalinists through to the end. Any attempt by McCarthy to sabotage this united front of both parties either before or during American participation in the war would meet strong opposition from American capitalism as a whole and would force McCarthy to collide with the Republican Party including some of its most reactionary, McCarthyist elements. However, by appealing to the American people’s natural isolationism McCarthy might be able to retain his influence even in the Republican Party, and could extend it outside the confines of party organization.

While McCarthy may develop a social program it would not necessarily presage a break with the Republican Party. On the contrary, there is no reason to believe that he is at all interested in organizationally splitting his party. Despite McCarthy’s power as an individual he would be a man without a future if he were now to foster a formal break. It is no accident that McCarthy has conspicuously avoided any obvious identification with reactionary and fascist organizations of the lunatic fringe. He has no direct public contact with men like Gerald Smith or organizations such as the KKK. McCarthy is too clever a politician to acknowledge support from these discredited types. Without pretending to a clinical analysis of the senator’s psyche – though a fit subject for such study – politics dictates that on this question the following must be the uppermost consideration in his mind:

McCarthy’s career was made in the Republican Party. Since his election to the Senate in 1946, the junior senator from Wisconsin has become one of the most powerful members of Congress, and one of the most influential men in American politics. He is certainly one of the most feared. All this was accomplished in less than a decade in the Republican Party. According to an article by William S. White (Look magazine, June 16, 1953), McCarthy’s power has been influential if not decisive in the election of eight to ten Republican senators. This represents almost one-fourth of Republican power in the upper chamber.

If McCarthy has achieved all this why should he break from the party to which he owes so much? It is not a question of gratitude, of course, but politics: McCarthy’s fame does not rest on any sense of loyalty (witness his clever antics in preparing to scuttle his protégé and adulator, Roy Cohn). McCarthy still needs the Republican Party, which offers him even more than he has already received.

McCarthy’s need for the Republican Party is a reciprocal relationship. The Republican Party needs McCarthy. Its leaders are “practical politicians” first and men of principle last. They are well aware of the effectiveness of McCarthy’s techniques for winning votes from the Democrats without soiling their own hands. McCarthy’s personal intervention in the last Senatorial elections in Maryland produced one of the filthiest campaigns in political history. But the result was that Millard Tydings, an extremely conservative Democrat who could not be purged by Roosevelt and Truman, was defeated by McCarthy’s candidate. Such services are appreciated by the Republican leadership.

McCarthy is not one to perform yeoman’s work without rewards. He knows that the Republican Party needs his services and his price is a free hand in his investigating activities and the approbation of Republican leaders in his bizarre mud-slinging campaigns against all opponents. Some Republicans may consider this price high but it has been given and McCarthy knows that it will be continued through the coming elections, at least.

Above all, McCarthy has no legitimate political basis for a break with the Republican Party. There may be a great deal of antipathy between the arrogant senator and some of his Republican colleagues but the gap is by no means wide between McCarthyism and the Republican Party. One must not mistake the pique with and fear of McCarthy by some Republicans as indicative of fundamental differences. The Republican Party is gradually becoming the party of McCarthyism, so much so that the Republican President, representing what might generously be called the “liberal” wing of the party, is frequently a minority leader in his own organization, with the Democrats coming to his rescue time and again: witness the vote on the Bricker amendment, on which the President was deserted by his Majority Leader, Knowland, along with the bulk of Republican congressmen. The advent of McCarthyism in the Republican Party does not necessarily mean the ultimate arrival of McCarthy, but it certainly does provide him today with a much better field of operations than anything he could organize independently.

McCarthy over-reached himself in his attack on the army. It was bad timing from a man who is, after all, ahead of his times. His public stock has dropped considerably – though not as much as the press makes out – and he frightened even his warmest supporters. It will take considerable time for McCarthy to recoup his losses. If only for this mistake a split with the party in which he takes the initiative is out of the question. If McCarthy is to split with the party he will choose the propitious moment when following some particularly dramatic event he feels capable of riding a tremendous wave of mass discontent.

For the moment, then, a split in the Republican Party is not in sight. McCarthy’s increasingly obvious tactic is to wear down any resistance to total McCarthyism inside the organization and to discredit the Eisenhower and Dulles “internationalists” in preparation for a bid for party power at the convention two years hence. The well-informed columnists for the Herald Tribune, Joseph and Stewart Alsop, detail in their March 5th column the feverish efforts of McCarthy’s fact-finders, collecting documentary proof of Eisenhower’s “coddling” of Communists from the period during the war, through his command in occupied Germany and up to the present.

The role of the labor movement vis-à-vis McCarthyism has been nothing short of disgraceful. With the exception of occasional speeches and articles, the leaders of organized labor are remarkable only for their do-nothing-ism. They have made virtually no attempt to actually mobilize the working class against McCarthyism or McCarthy. For a local union to pass an anti-McCarthyist resolution is an occasion for headlines. It is almost as if a truce existed between McCarthy and the labor leadership. McCarthy has shrewdly refrained from attacking the non-Stalinist labor movement as such; the labor leadership in return has placed narrow limits on their anti-McCarthy activities. Yet the labor leadership must be given credit for understanding that the end-all of McCarthy’s activities can only be an attack on the free labor movement. The existence of democratic institutions is a necessary element for a free labor movement and a free trade union organization is ultimately intolerable to authoritarian movements.

How is it possible, then, for the labor leaders to behave in so cowardly a fashion? They no doubt claim they would like to mobilize the workers against McCarthy but that the workers, themselves, do not feel particularly outraged by McCarthy’s activities. To the extent that this is true, it is a sad commentary, indeed, on the type of leadership with which the American working class is saddled. How is it possible that after 70 years of the AFL and 20 years of the CIO, the working class has not been sufficiently educated by its leadership to the minimum extent of recognizing and being willing to fight against one of its most deadly enemies today? For this political backwardness of the American working class, the labor leadership must accept its share of responsibility. It has failed to bring the working class into the political arena as an independent political force, aware of its own social needs and interests.

In some cases the labor leadership has not only failed to take a serious offensive against McCarthy or McCarthyism, but has tried to utilize the activities of McCarthy to its own benefit. In the case of the Schenectady G.E. Local 301, formerly of the Stalinist dominated United Electrical Workers, the role of the International Union of Electrical Workers, CIO, has been to take “advantage” of the activities of McCarthy, not to fight them in any principled and honorable fashion. At a time when McCarthy was busily engaged in attacking Local 301 of the U.E., submitting its members to all the abusive treatment which has made him notorious, forcing men out of their jobs because of their alleged political views, the CIO rival of the U.E. was busily engaged in jockeying for leadership of the 20,000 General Electric workers. Instead of waging an all-out attack on McCarthy’s tactics, instead of defending the elementary right of a Communist or alleged Communist worker to earn his livelihood the I.U.E. played on the fears and prejudices aroused by McCarthy’s invasion of Schenectady to consolidate its own power and oust the U.E. in a manner which was at best questionable.

Fundamentally, the union leadership is restricted in any fight against McCarthy by its lack of a dynamic, social program. It remains tied to bourgeois politics. It is deeply committed to the Democratic Party, above all to the Fair Deal wing which, when in power, created the acts, the precedents and the mood which fertilized the soil in which McCarthyism and McCarthy could grow like a rank and stultifying bed of weeds.

But for all the political infirmity of the American labor movement it is the only force today which is potentially capable of leading a major struggle against McCarthyism. The truce between McCarthy and the labor movement is tenuous and cannot be maintained permanently if the latter is to preserve its freedom of organization and movement.

McCarthyism has given an urgent note to the need of an independent labor party. Before the war socialists proposed the political organization of the working class in its own party as an offensive class struggle activity. Today, the need for a labor party is made more pressing by its additional importance as a defensive move against the inevitable encroachments of McCarthyism on the free trade union movement. Should the labor leadership fail to educate its rank and file, fail to respond to the need for building a party of labor, but, instead, cower before McCarthy, compromise with McCarthyism and sink deeper into the Democratic Party, then democracy will have been dealt a foul blow. This is not our ultimatum but one presented by the reality of the political character of the permanent war economy.

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Last updated: 26 April 2019