Muste Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

A.J. Muste

Third Party Meet Sows Confusion; F.D.R. Safe

(20 July 1937)

From New Militant, Vol. I No. 30, 20 July 1935, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The chief accomplishment of the convention of the Third partyites just held in Chicago with Professor Paul Douglas of the University of Chicago as chairman and Alfred Bingham of Common Sense magazine as secretary, are [sic] to furnish some fresh evidence that Roosevelt has as yet little cause to worry over the outcome of the 1936 election and to give the Daily Worker another job of trying to make it clear that “this is not the kind of a labor party we are for.”

The two hundred and fifty representatives of Farmer-Labor groups and the Farmer-Labor Political Federation, League for Independent Political Action and People’s Political Alliance of Chicago, the last three all manned by the same group of liberals, who met in Chicago described’ themselves, as “native American radicals,” and “the direct descendants of the populist tradition.” They aim at a new social order based on “production for use.” They wish to “unite all the groups who want a change to come through the ballot box, which excludes Communists”. A delegate from Idaho, with the eagerness for quick and big results at the polls which characterizes the “native American radicals” argued eloquently for the exclusion of “all members of the Communist Party and also those who do not believe in the democratic process of government” (did he mean to imply that the C.P. with the new turn does believe in the democratic process?) on the ground that each Communist included in the new organization would cost ten thousand votes and “ruin the new movement.”

While not all the delegates supported these mathematical speculations, Plank Eight in the Platform for a Third Party drawn up by the group which, by the way, now calls itself the American Commonwealth Political Federation (in addition possibly to its other names) begins the declaration: “We reaffirm our faith in the democratic form of government.” This is a frank statement. It might seem that it would take some courage to make such a statement in these days. At any rate, it is well to have so unequivocally on record these people who often speak of themselves as the “true revolutionists,” who know how really to “stop fascism” in the U.S. and who regard Marxism as hopelessly discredited and dead. Congressmen such as Lundeen and Marcantonio, who have been C.P. pets recently, are among them. And it is said that the younger, “very radical” ones, among them receive advice and counsel from the Reverend Doctor Harry F. Ward, master mind of the League Against War and Fascism.

Despite their radical talk on their playing at revolution, this outfit consists of liberals, nothing more. In such a period as the present it cannot persuade any considerable number that it has more to offer than Roosevelt. If the crisis is again intensified, the chances are that Douglas and Co. will be swept aside like chips on a raging forest, as the genuinely revolutionary forces and those of reaction come to grips. If by chance and in combination with certain labor and farmer organizations, they were to succeed in forming a sizeable party some day, it could only serve to create illusions among the masses about salvation by “democratic process” which bitter experience would dispel and thus to postpone the unification of all the oppressed elements of society under the leadership of the. revolutionary Marxist party.

As we have suggested, the Daily Worker will have to get busy again, uttering disclaimers that these “radicals” are building the “right kind of Labor Party” and furnishing another detailed explanation of just what is a labor party which is not reformist and not revolutionary and so forth and so on.

Big Guns Very Absent

As things now stand, the Roosevelt strategy has taken the wind out of the sails of such movements as this at least so far as making a considerable showing in the 1936 election is concerned. Certain incidents of the Chicago conference itself bear this out. The LaFollettes were conspicuous by their absence. Young Bob, predestined to become the presidential candidate of these Third partyites when they make a bid for a real showing, does not see enough anti-Roosevelt, liberal-labor votes in sight yet. He is pursuing the “canny” course of building up a reputation as a “determined but constructive” radical and “friend of labor.” He tries to get Roosevelt to go farther but votes for Roosevelt measures, when he has made his attempt to get more and failed. Governor Olson, the Minnesota Farmer-Laborite, another big man in the estimation of the Chicago dabblers in politics, sent word that he was ready to support any movement standing for “production for use,” but also had other engagements and could not be present in person. Senator Nye came and made a speech as a sort of friend of the movement, but made it clear that the liberal forces must not be divided in 1936 and that in the forthcoming election it’s Roosevelt so far as he is concerned. Marcantonio, the New York Congressman who succeeded LaGuardia in Washington, and who was one of the signers, of the call for the conference, withdrew from the movement as did the Knickerbocker Democrats when a decision looking toward running a presidential ticket in 1936 was made. Upton Sinclair also made it clear that he is still for capturing the Democratic party for Socialism and Epic.

Conservative As Any

Nobody outside an insane asylum any longer believes that Roosevelt is going to put an end to the capitalist system and usher in the cooperative commonwealth. The Republican case against him is accordingly weak and no Republican of importance has yet shown any eagerness for the job of standard bearer in 1936. A little excitement has been stirred up about a tax program which asks a few more dollars from big incomes, about federal control of business invading states’ rights, about a big spending program, about Roosevelt’s hint that the Constitution might have to be amended to allow Congress to enact social legislation – but Roosevelt, the red revolutionist, does not register any more even with the Dr. Wirts.

On the other hand, unless new elements enter the picture, the liberals and the trade unions will be found on the Roosevelt bandwagon in 1936. Many jobs are dependent on the money appropriated for public works which Roosevelt has for disbursement. Liberals and union officials are subject to subtle influence from this source, being only human like the garden variety of local politicians and citizens.

Long, Coughlin and Townsend can declaim that the Roosevelt unemployment insurance and old age measures do not go far enough and that approriations for public works are too small. They can argue that the tax program which the incomparable publicity artist pulled out of his sleeve a few weeks ago just when Congressmen were all set to flee the heat of Washington, does not “soak-the-rich” enough. The fact of the matter is that the program of taxing big incomes, big corporations and big inheritance does not “soak” the rich at all. It represents a feeble start toward imposing income and inheritance taxes which the ruling classes in European countries have long since had to accept as a price for keeping the capitalist system on its feet. But when all the advantages on Roosevelt’s side are taken into account, what chance have any of these “extremists” of persuading the electorate that any candidate that may advance has a chance against Roosevelt or could accomplish anything more than Roosevelt will?

As for the trade unions, Roosevelt has “given” the A.F. of L. the Wagner Bill, the Magna Charta of Labor, as William Green does not tire of proclaiming. As the New Militant has pointed out, the employers will contest the constitutionality of the act, they will construct the National Labor Board, etc. In the end, the unions will realize that the Wagner Bill will do no more for them than the other Magna Charta, Section 7a. For the present, however, in spite of all the talk about a labor party and the fond hopes of the C.P. and all the varieties of the socialists, the union leaders, and that still means the unions, will stick to friend Roosevelt. They will not run any chances of a Republican slipping into office by putting up a Labor Party candidate against him.

Even if disillusionment with the Wagner Bill should come more swiftly than in the case of the labor sections of the NRA, Roosevelt has protected his position. His “impromptu” speech to the press a few days after the Supreme Court knocked the NRA into a cocked hat, will be recalled. The Supreme Court has acted on the philosophy of “the horse and buggy age.” Some time in the next few years the Constitution might have to be amended if the Supreme Court persisted in such interpretations. Nothing more along this line has emanated from the White House since this “trial balloon” was sent up. If the measures, already taken suffice to retain liberal and labor support until the elections then talk about an amendment can rest and timid souls will be reassured that after all Roosevelt will do nothing rash, even though in his genial way he sometimes “says the most radical things.” Should the pressure of industrialists and financiers, by means of an early adverse Supreme Court decision, or otherwise, emasculate the Wagner Act, however, and labor and other elements develop a belligerent attack, then the slogan of a constitutional amendment can be brought forward for the presidential campaign and as a basis for urging the unions not to “spoil their own case by resorting to direct action.”

On the part of many rank-and-filers the call for independent political action, for a labor party, etc., represents a radicalization, a consciousness that labor must pass beyond “pure and simple trade unionism.” The so-called progressive trade union leaders, however, aided and abetted by the C.P., S.P., and other political groups, are practicing tail-endism in this matter. Instead of educating the masses in the need for a revolutionary political solution of this problem and rallying them around the banner of a revolutionary Marxist party, they divert thought and energy into the channel of a labor party, a program which can produce no immediate gains for labor in this period and which, insofar as it succeeds, hinders the development of an effective revolutionary party which alone can effectively guide the daily struggles now and provide clear leadership and a bulwark against fascism when the crisis again becomes intensified. For us there is no more urgent political task than that of developing an offensive against the labor party propaganda. And “offensive” is here used advisedly. Negative criticism of the labor party idea is certain to appear to the rank and file as carping against him when he has become aroused to the necessity of “doing something.” His enthusiasm must be aroused for the positive alternative of the revolutionary party, for the real as against the fake solution of his problems.

Muste Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 23 February 2016