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Gertrude Shaw

A Liberal Shows His Hand

(8 May 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 19, 8 May 1944, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

I.F. Stone is a liberal journalist. He writes for The Nation and for PM. His heart is in the right place, as the saying goes. As a reporter who comes in contact with Washington, its scandals and intrigues, he is not afraid to grind a journalistic axe.

Yet Labor Action shouts from the house tops that such liberals have really nothing to offer when it comes to action in the interest of the working class. Mr. Stone proves this to the hilt in a recent piece he wrote in PM, entitled Some Facts of Life.

He starts out thus: “I think the time has come to open our eyes and look at a few facts of political life not at all pleasant to us assorted liberals and leftists.”

A Few Political Facts

Mr. Stone then proceeds to enumerate some of the evidence of the reaction that stalks the country. Senator Pepper of Florida comes out for “white supremacy,” not because he is anti-Negro, according to Mr. Stone, but because he is having a tough time in the Democratic primaries and must pander to prejudice. Lister Hill, “another good New Dealer,” in Mr. Stone’s words, compromises with the reactionary farm bloc in order to make the nomination in Alabama. Barkley of Kentucky is still “too much of a New Dealer” to suit the Democratic Party machine of that state. And in Wisconsin the liberal Willkie didn’t get a single delegate.

“Are these states exceptions?” asks Mr. Stone. “I have yet to talk with anyone from any part of the country who sees a progressive tide anywhere.”

A very dark outlook indeed! But –

Facts Mr. Stone Overlooks

The demise of the New Deal, the slinking away of New Dealers to other folds, the growing reactionary and anti-labor trend in the President’s policies, have taught ah outstanding lesson: CAPITALIST POLITICS, NO MATTER IN WHAT ENTICING MASK IT AT FIRST PRESENTS ITSELF, TURNS OUT TO BE NOTHING BUT CAPITALIST POLITICS.

From this lesson the conclusion is inevitable that labor must organize its political power into its own class party and take the lead to rally all truly progressive elements of the population.

“Assorted liberals and leftists” don’t want to see such facts as these. For on the road of independent labor politics lies inevitably the taking of power by the working people, and the end of the capitalist status quo – under Roosevelt. To present-day liberals, President Roosevelt and the demised New Deal are the be-all and end-all of “progress.” To be sure, the President “has made many compromises which we dislike and have quite properly criticized,” admits Mr. Stone. But, “can the President risk a strong affirmative, progressive policy on domestic issues at this time; can he defy prejudice and the political machines more than he already has, if he is to be re-elected?”

Anything to Be Re-Elected

Mr. Stone is saying, in extremely plain English, that it is quite in order to give up “a strong prggressive policy” – to court “prejudice and the political machines” – to compromise with reaction – IN ORDER TO WIN AN ELECTION.

This, of course, is not new either in the Democratic or Republican Parties. This is indeed the meat of their diet. What is new is that the “assorted liberals and leftists” now give political horse-trading their blessing – BECAUSE MR. ROOSEVELT IS THE TRADER. Mr. Stone even condones, “more, not less, compromise” which he predicts will be required if the President is to be re-elected and stand in with Congress.

Ah, but there is an out for the President.

“The extent to which labor and the liberals and the left can register the vote and change the temper of public opinion will largely determine the extent to which the President can abandon the policy of retreat.”

So Roosevelt is to be saved from his own policies by the “assorted liberals and leftists” – and by labor.

In the first place, the “assorted liberals, and leftists” who base themselves on the continued existence of the capitalist system and are only too happy when a capitalist politician comes along whom they can dub “progressive,” are not really a dominant force in politics. LABOR, HOWEVER, HAS INDEED THE POWER OF NUMBERS AND OF ECONOMIC IMPORTANCE TO CARRY DETERMINING POLITICAL WEIGHT.

But why should labor waste its power on horse-trading politicians whose “progressiveness” goes with the wind when re-election is in doubt? Mr. Stone would have labor continue to support a once “liberal” capitalist politician, hastily turning his coat. Labor is merely to hope that the President will “abandon the policy of retreat.”

Conclusions – And Conclusions

To sum up, Mr. Stone is right in his facts. The forces of reaction have become bolder and the New Dealers are scurrying for cover under its pressured But his political conclusions are incorrect – for labor.

Not seeing “a progressive tide anywhere,” the liberal Mr. Stone is willing to go with the reactionary tide. If Roosevelt can stay in power by compromising with reaction to a greater extent, the “assorted liberals and leftists” must not “push him over a political precipice” by criticizing him too much.

Perhaps Mr. Stone, being a liberal, doesn’t look in the right place for evidence of “a progressive tide.” It is a fact, however, that this very reaction, [before] which Mr. Stone, President Roosevelt, the New Dealers, and the “assorted liberals and leftists” quail, is awakening in labor a new political conviction, namely, THAT IN LABOR ALONE LIES THE LEADERSHIP FOR PROGRESS THROUGH AN INDEPENDENT CLASS PARTY OF ITS OWN.

Though officially through the CIO Political Action Committee, labor is “pledged” to its “friends” among the capitalist politicians, the rank and file has its tongue in its cheek. The recent formation of the Michigan Commonwealth Federation, though a fumbling and uncertain step, was prompted by this trend toward independent labor politics.

The trend is not yet a tide, to be sure. It is not yet dashing upon the political shore and sweeping all obstacles out of its way. But it is there – the most progressive thing in political life today.

But the “assorted liberals and leftists” hold onto Roosevelt for dear life. To them Roosevelt: can do no wrong though he makes “many compromises” which they “dislike and have quite properly criticized” – AND WILL MAKE “MORE, NOT LESS, COMPROMISES” TO GET RE-ELECTED.

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