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Dwight Macdonald

Field Notes on Bronx Campaign

(October 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 29, 28 October 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Twenty-Third Congressional District, where Max Shachtman, candidate of the Workers Party, is running for Congress, embraces a large part of New York City. It includes about two-thirds of the Bronx by area and more than that by population: all of the “West Bronx”, the white collar and middle class districts over towards the Hudson, spreading out on both sides of the Grand Concourse; and most of the “East Bronx”, a vast area, bisected by Southern Boulevard, whose residents are mostly working men and women.

Both the Bronxes, East and West, are residential districts, with no important factory areas. The tens of thousands of workers in the East Bronx commute to their jobs by subway, going downtown or out to Brooklyn to work in garment factories, bakeries, printing plants, and so on. The Bronx is heavily Jewish in population, and in the East Bronx there is a sizable Negro section.


The Free Press is a wonderful institution, one of the pillars of our great American democracy, etc., etc. But what is it “free” to? Certainly not to the Workers Party. Last week we sent out a news release stating that over 7,000 residents of the Bronx had petitioned the Board of Elections to put Shachtman on the ballot, and that the Board had acted favorably on the petition. One might have thought that any action by seven thousand people was news, and that the appearance on a national ballot of a revolutionary anti-war candidate at this time was news – if only for its rarity value. Worth four lines at the foot of a column somewhere, or a paragraph in the Political Notes department. The release was sent out to all the daily papers and to about thirty other papers and magazines. How many will use it remains to be seen. But one thing has definitely been established: the daily papers don’t consider it news. Careful reading of the papers for the four days following the release fails to reveal a single reference to it. Even the BRONX HOME NEWS, a daily paper with a large circulation exclusively in the Bronx, has so far printed not a line about Shachtman’s campaign.


The Congressional election in the Twenty-Third District is a mysterious affair in some ways. The candidates, are: for the Democrats, Charles A. Buckley, now in Congress; for the Republicans, Lowell H. Browne; for the American Labor Party, Jack Altman, the ex-Socialist, now a New Deal patriot; for the Communist Party, the veteran Stalinist hack, I. Begun; and, for the Workers Party, Max Shachtman. But, except for the last-named, none of these gentlemen seems to have so far made any decided effort to make himself known to the people of the Bronx. I am told that Shachtman has made more speeches to date in the district than all the other candidates put together.


The only outward signs of the political struggle presumably taking place in the Twenty-Third Congressional District were the red, white and blue signs outside the various campaign headquarters. The Jackson Democratic Club at 1301 Boston Road had a huge sign out, with Roosevelt in large letters and Buckley in small ones. (The clubhouse was closed.) I dropped into two American Labor Party campaign headquarters, looking for some trace of Comrade Jack Altman At one place, on Southern Boulevard, they told me that no Altman campaign literature had yet been printed, but that some would be ready “next week”.

“All we have now is about Roosevelt,” they said, pointing to a table loaded with pamphlets and posters. They seemed to regard me with some suspicion, obviously puzzled why any one should take such a keen interest in Altman’s candidacy. At the ALP clubhouse at 1400 Boston Road, not only was there no Altman literature, but no one there seemed to place the name.


But the great mystery of the Congressional campaign is: who is the Republican candidate? The BRONX HOME NEWS doesn’t tell, there are no references to him even in the few store windows that display Willkie portraits. There is a rumor that his name is Browne, which I was able to verily by a call to Republican Bronx headquarters. (The person who answered the phone didn’t know his name and had to ask around to get it.) Bat nothing more is known of him. The reason for this obscurity, of course, is that in the Bronx, Boss Flynn’s Democratic machine is so all-powerful that the Republicans exist there only on sufferance, as a sort of His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. The Republican boss in the Bronx, in fact, is actually dependent on Flynn for the $6,000 a year courthouse job he lives on. Flynn gave it to him and Flynn can take it away any time he likes. So not much is heard of the Republican Party in the Twenty-Third Congressional District.

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