From Fourth International, Vol.15 No.3, Summer 1954, p.76-80.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
SENATOR McCarthy took the 36 days of the Army-McCarthy TV hearings as a priceless opportunity to shape a political image before millions of viewers – the image of himself as savior of America. He played up to the mass audience, pandering to .their, prejudices, shocking, arousing, repelling them – and at the same time fascinating them with his brazenness, his arrogant assurance, his utter contempt for his opponents. Above all, he pounded tirelessly on his fascist charge of “20” and “21 years of treason.”
The hearings over, the Wisconsin fascist leader retired to a secret hide-out to recuperate and plot his next move. The sudden relief the liberals felt from the daily fascist rasp on their nerves induced reckless speculation: they told each other that McCarthy was finished, and they held funeral services for him in their newspaper columns. He had turned out to be his own worst enemy, the liberals assured themselves. The American people, they declared, had got a good look at McCarthy and his methods and had decided they, didn’t want any part of either.
But life is unkind to illusions. McCarthy returned, and it became clear that the fascist beast was still alive and kicking, and that the nightmare wasn’t over by any means.
The next act of this political drama is now to be played against the backdrop of the 1954 elections. What will McCarthy’s role be? Will he split from the Republican party after the primaries and form a separate fascist party? Or will a new modus vivendi, based on common determination to win a witch-hunting victory over the Democrats, be established between McCarthy and the other Republicans?
To assess the role of McCarthyism in the coming elections, it is first necessary to make a realistic estimate of the results of the Army-McCarthy hearings.
It is possible to draw a pleasing sketch of McCarthyism in decline since the beginning of the year. A superficial comparison of McCarthy’s power before and after the hearings has led commentators to the hasty conclusion that McCarthyism is routed. Not only the highly impressionable liberal columnists but some of the more sober observers, including those in the official trade union camp, have drawn this conclusion. Labor’s Daily, July 13, announces in a headline, “Joe’s Strength Ebbing Fast,” and opens its story:
“Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy was under attack from all sides today and it appeared his strength was ebbing even in his home state.”
There is some truth to the contention that McCarthy has suffered a setback. But only a grain of truth. And this grain cannot be properly understood unless it is put in context. For while suffering blows and tactical setbacks, McCarthyism has in the same period made important advances in its basic development as a fascist movement.
The year 1954 opened auspiciously for McCarthy. Early in February, he went on national tour under the official sponsorship of the Republican National Committee, and proceeded to denounce the Democrats for their “20 years of treason.”
Within the Senate, McCarthy seemed unassailable. On Feb. 2 the Democrats and Republicans collapsed and voted 85 to 1 for the appropriations he demanded for his committee. McCarthy’s Senate power was further strengthened by his appointment to the all-important Rules Committee.
McCarthy’s prowess as a witch hunter was at a high point. In his first public skirmish with the Army, over the Peress and General Zwicker affair, McCarthy scored a hands-down victory, the Army beating a fumbling and apologetic retreat before him. The extent of his power in relation to the Army Department was revealed in the fantastic picture that came out later, in the Army-McCarthy hearings, of Army Secretary Robert T. Stevens chasing up and down the country trying to curry favor with Pvt. G. David Schine, a McCarthy protegé.
And McCarthy’s success in building a spy network in government agencies was evidenced in the appointment of his personal henchman, Robert E. Lee, to the Federal Communications Commission, and the placing of his lieutenant, Scott McLeod, in charge of State Department security.
If we now list the tactical blows and reverses McCarthy has suffered during the last few months, without examining the situation further, it is quite possible to draw the altogether erroneous conclusion that McCarthy’s power is being smashed.
Since the hearings, McCarthy’s faction has been on the defensive. A majority bloc of the three Democrats on McCarthy’s committee, plus Republican Sen. Potter, has forced McCarthy to accept the resignation of his personal favorite, Roy M. Cohn, chief counsel of the committee. Sen. Flanders’ resolution to remove McCarthy from his committee chairmanships is still pending. McCarthy’s attempt to investigate the Central Intelligence Agency has been temporarily blocked. And President Eisenhower himself has finally spoken out against McCarthy, censuring him for his “reprehensible” methods.
Even the press seems to have swung against McCarthy. The mass-circulation pro-McCarthy press has adopted a more cautious attitude, and the mildly critical tone of such papers as the New York Times and Herald Tribune has given way to a crusading anti-McCarthy editorial policy.
In the electoral field there are indications of a shift against McCarthy. The outspoken anti-Semite and McCarthyite, Jack Tenney, was badly defeated for State Senator in the California primaries. And in the Maine primaries, Robert L. Jones, McCarthyite opponent of incumbent Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, was swamped by a 5 to 1 margin.
Finally, it can be said that McCarthy’s prestige as a witch hunter has suffered. The fact that he was forced to defend himself at the hearings, and to demand nights he never gave others, damaged his awesome appearance as the grand inquisitor who stood above all questioning.
And yet, despite this superficially comforting picture of McCarthy’s fortunes in decline, it would be disastrous to fail to see that actually American fascism experienced a profound development precisely during the last months.
The point we must grasp is that while the incipient fascist movement has experienced tactical setbacks, these setbacks are related to the deepening of the process of formation of a distinct fascist faction in the administration and in the Republican Party. They are also related to the mobilization of a fascist mass following. Without such blows a fascist movement does not develop. The blows from the old-line capitalist political machines represent their resistance to the emergence of a powerful fascist threat to their own form of capitalist rule. Historically, the fascist movement has always used such attacks to enhance its appearance as the party of the “underdog,” the “little people” who hate the powers that be.
If we listen to pollsters who have sampled public opinion since the hearings and who prove that McCarthy has no more than 25 or 30% of the populace in his camp, we might conclude that McCarthyism is no longer a threat. But the conclusion is false – for the simple reason that fascism is not running for election in America. Is it necessary to recall that the Nazis suffered a serious election defeat immediately before Hitler took power?
When we look: at McCarthyism as a fascist movement in the process of formation, the figure of “only” 25 percent looms as the most ominous political fact of 1954.
If we regard the events of the first six months of 1954 as a test of whether McCarthyism was just another strain of the reactionary breed of capitalist politics, or something qualitatively different, then the fact that the McCarthy faction has withstood all attempts to integrate it into the Republican machine is a strong indication that McCarthyism is no ordinary current. The growing differentiation of a fascist faction within the capitalist parties is a sign of the maturity of the threat to the working class.
One of the gravest signs of the extent of the fascist danger is the hardening of the core of McCarthy’s following through the “ordeal” of the hearings. The fascist movement is crystallizing, not only among government functionaries and national politicians, but at the grass roots. The selection of a fascist cadre with a broad following is taking place: The process is by no means complete, and before it is complete the working class will have its opportunity to reverse it; but it is already developing in outline form. We leave it to people who believe in miracles and the Democratic party to ignore such a phenomenon.
We must look at the social base of McCarthy’s mass support. Who are the hard-core McCarthy supporters that make up 25 percent of the population? Unfortunately the pollsters do not take their point of departure from the reciprocal relations between the three social classes in American society – capitalist, middle class and working class. Nevertheless, they do indicate in their findings that the main support for McCarthy comes from sections of the lower middle class and among unorganized workers. Insofar as social composition is treated in the polls, there is a high percentage of the uneducated, the small farmers, small businessmen and declassed elements in the pro-McCarthy columns.
Will this mass following go all the way with the fascist movement? That depends. It depends above all on what the workers’ organizations do. During the hearings the labor officials stood aside and watched the Democrats carry the ball. All they did was to cheer a little from the sidelines. As a result McCarthy gained where it hurt labor most – in the consolidation of a mass following. History will not permit many blunders like this without visiting severe punishment on the working class.
The army-McCarthy hearings, which disclosed the whole anatomy of a conspiracy to shackle the United States with a fascist dictatorship, should have been the signal for a mighty offensive of the labor movement against this ominous threat. The moment was missed. And now a new test is before us – the 1954 elections.
The elections will not pass without McCarthy utilizing them in the same way he utilized the hearings – to build a mass following, to cultivate the legend of invincibility, and to grab every bit of radio and TV time possible for his fascist propaganda. He is planning to open his first big skirmish with the labor movement precisely during the election campaigns. What else does his plan to investigate “subversion” in defense plants signify?
But the labor bureaucracy persists in its strategy of leaving the defeat of McCarthy to the Democratic party. They preach that with the election of a Democratic majority in Congress in 1954, and a Democratic president and administration in 1956, all the basic problems of the working class, including the problem of McCarthyism, will be solved.
The Democratic stategists, in their turn, also promise that McCarthy will be taken care of if a Democratic majority is elected to the Senate. They argue that if they are the majority McCarthy would be removed as chairman of the Permanent Investigations Subcommittee without even a struggle – since under the ordinary rules of Senate procedure McCarthy would then be replaced by the senior Democrat on the committee.
Can anything more asinine be imagined? The whole problem of defeating American fascism is reduced to the electing of Democrats instead of Republicans – to a maneuver in Congress – to a re-shuffling of posts! And all this, after the experiences of Italy and Germany and Spain!
Perhaps salvation lies not with the Democrats but with the Eisenhower Republicans? After all, they have been doing the main fighting, even though they are somewhat inept and at times downright idiotic.
The extent to which the Eisenhower Republicans can be depended on to handle McCarthy can be measured by the fact that McCarthy has no reason to split from the Republican party at this time. McCarthy aims at 1956 and the presidency. The organization of a separate fascist party can wait until the experiment of capturing the Republican party has played itself out. In the meantime, the GOP is a perfect arena for McCarthy at this stage of development of his fascist movement.
The fact that McCarthy doesn’t have the support at this time of the main sections of the Big Business rulers of the Republican party is not decisive in his calculations. His is a long-term perspective. The crisis of world capitalism is having an explosive effect on the stability and inner equilibrium of the American capitalist political structure. McCarthy obviously senses this. He is ready for sharp turns, sudden upsets, and for any number of cleavages and weaknesses to develop in the most solid and conservative section of the bourgeoisie.
Those who think that the biggest and most powerful sections of American finance capital will never throw in their lot with McCarthy do not know these capitalists, their moods or their problems. It is not only the new and fabulously rich oil tycoons who are fascist-minded. The key sectors of America’s rulers would turn to fascism in a moment if they thought that it could solve their problems. That’s what McCarthy must prove to them, and that’s all he must prove.
The Republican aim is to win the elections. That’s the Democratic aim also. This is not meant to be facetious. American capitalist politics is unprincipled to the core, dominated as it is by an overriding concern for the enormous advantage that control of the administration gives to the capitalist group in power. In order to win, each side will resort to any lie, trick or device that can bring victory.
Last November Brownell showed how the Republican strategists operate. He accused Truman of harboring and promoting a Russian agent. The whole charge was calculated to swing the tide against the Democrats in the California Congressional race then pending. The string of Democratic victories in the nationwide off-year elections had unnerved the Republican high command, and they resorted to this smear to discredit the Democratic party and stop the Democratic election trend.
What was the result? In answering Brownell, Truman characterized Brownell’s method as “McCarthyism.” Whereupon McCarthy demanded and got equal time with Truman to answer him. Having seized the initiative, McCarthy took over the debate and beat the Republican party and even Eisenhower himself over the head with the same club he used on Truman. From then on it was McCarthy’s show.
But this experience didn’t inhibit the Republican high command from playing ball with McCarthy. They sent him out as their chief spokesman in opening the 1954 election campaign.
McCarthy took advantage of this opening so aggressively and skillfully that the Republican administration had to make a stand against him. The line between the permissible and the impermissible had to be drawn – and the administration made its stand through the Army-McCarthy hearings. But it is precisely these hearings which revealed that their strategy is not to destroy McCarthy but merely to establish a modus vivendi in which the fascist demagogue would voluntarily restrict himself within certain limits. These limits are exactly what McCarthy must overstep in order to build his fascist movement. He overstepped them before, in taking advantage of the openings his Democratic and Republican opponents gave him. Such openings arise from, the official witch hunt and its inevitable consequence – inter-party and inner-party witch hunting. Is there any reason to believe that McCarthy’s opponents will now at long last refrain from creating new openings for him? It can be confidently predicted that the temptation to witch hunt opposing candidates in the prevailing fetid atmosphere will not be heroically resisted by the power-hungry contenders.
While McCarthy makes the “treason” charge the kernel of his fascist program to “save America” and to establish his own dictatorship, the old-line machine men of the Republican party can see a lot of merit in that charge as a formula for winning elections – if the necessary hysteria can be worked up to swing it into high gear. And isn’t the Republican administration, with Eisenhower and Brownell in the lead, working day and night to build the hysteria and create precisely such a national lynch atmosphere?
The moment another episode like Brownell’s smear of Truman last November takes place, McCarthy will at one stroke wipe out any tactical losses he suffered in his fight with the Army and the administration. He will be completely vindicated. All grounds for anti-McCarthy maneuvers within the party and administration will be removed. McCarthy will then be able to make a new and powerful push in building his fascist network in all government and military agencies, as well as in mobilizing a mass following.
The present relationship of forces between Democrats and Republicans in Congress is very close in both the Senate and the House. The Democrats are obviously depending on the usual mid-term swing against the “ins” during periods of economic decline. The Republicans also are worried that the recession – which looks very much like a depression to the workers – will provoke a swing to the Democratic party in 1954 that could roll on to 1956. At the same time, the farm vote hangs in the balance, and there is already evidence that a section of Eisenhower farm support has turned against him. Under all these circumstances, with the fate of their whole administration at stake, it can hardly be expected that the Republicans will not use the witch hunt technique.
There is no getting away from it. The witch hunt has a logic of its own, independent of the intentions of its authors and users. It was inevitable that the witch hunt, started by the Democrats under Truman, would develop until the capitalist politicians began to devour one another. And in this process, a fascist movement can maneuver with ease, gaining the initiative at every critical turn.
This election year of 1954 is not merely another year in the see-saw between the two capitalist parties. Something new has been added. For the first time in American history a powerful fascist movement is on the political scene. And the defeat of this fascist movement is now the main order of business before the working class of this country.
When the Socialist Workers Party says that the drive of a fascist movement toward power must be met by a counter-drive of the workers toward power, the labor officials and liberals smile indulgently and return to the “practical” questions of the day. But there were a lot smarter labor officials and liberals in Italy, Germany and Spain, who rejected the reality of the struggle with fascism – and woke up in concentration camps or in exile.
Other elements in and around the ideological fringe of the labor bureaucracy talk airily about “fighting fascism,” but are too sophisticated and too lacking in revolutionary faith in the capacity of the American proletariat, to talk of such “cliches” as a “struggle for workers’ power.”
The worst of these elements within the labor bureaucracy for trying to crash the bureaucracy) is the Stalinists. The Stalinists not only refuse to talk of an orientation toward workers’ power; it is their prime objective to prove that they have nothing to do with such “irresponsible” perspectives. For them, all strategy in fighting McCarthyism is reduced to the slogan: Get into the Democratic party.
And yet any sober reflection on the real situation in the United States and the experience of Europe shows that we face precisely that alternative: workers’ power or fascist power.
It may be objected: Are you serious? To whom, are you addressing this program of struggle for workers’ power as the only means to smash the fascist menace? To the American labor movement, with its corrupt, capitalist-minded labor bureaucracy? Isn’t this somewhat ludicrous?
The need for a revolutionary socialist strategy to successfully fight McCarthyism is not a laughing matter. What is ludicrous is not the distance between our socialist program and the program of the labor bureaucracy, but rather the disproportion between the program of the labor bureaucracy and the objective reality. That is both ludicrous and tragic.
Our program conforms to reality. It is based on both theoretical analysis and historical experience. But the program of the American labor bureaucracy is based on memories of the past, on a relation of class forces that is about to be blown up by the deepening of the world capitalist crisis within the American sector. That’s why it is a worthless program.
The reformist program of the bureaucracy and the Stalinists had some semblance of “realism” in the epoch of the rise of capitalism, or in countries like the US where the crisis of capitalism was delayed by way of imperialist expansion – that is, by way of thrusting the rest of the capitalist world into a deeper crisis.
As long as capitalism operates more or less efficiently, the relations between the three classes, capitalist, middle class and working class, are maintained with a degree of equilibrium. The middle class follows the capitalist class, and even drags the workers along with them through the labor bureaucracy. The class struggle, while constantly upsetting this equilibrium, doesn’t fundamentally destroy it.
But as soon as capitalism enters its decline, this relationship of class forces is sharply altered and the brittle political superstructure resting on the previously stable class relationships begins to crack up.
The crisis of capitalism brings ruin and despair to the middle class and the working class. The alternating currents of boom and bust resolve into the alternatives of catastrophic war or catastrophic depression. This whole process creates an unbearable social tension, and a collective conviction arises that a change must absolutely be made.
In such times the working class is presented with the opportunity to take the helm and steer society out of the capitalist morass. The middle class, suffering acutely from the effects of the capitalist crisis, is at that point the natural ally of the working class and would readily follow its lead toward a fundamental change in the social system.
But should the working class falter, should it prove unable to rise to the tasks imposed by revolutionary times, then the whole situation deteriorates. All the worst features of the middle class – its prejudices, its inability to act as a cohesive class pursuing its own interests, its collective hysteria in times of crisis – become favorable factors for the rise of a fascist movement.
The fascists then issue a counterfeit of the revolutionary program that the workers’ organizations failed to present. They turn the program into its opposite. While appealing to the mass feeling that some change is absolutely essential, the change which they offer is a counter-revolutionary fascist change. All this is dressed up with whatever unrestrained demagogy the moment requires.
At the same time the capitalists, who have lost the ability to rule through middle-class liberal politicians and the labor bureaucracy, become receptive to the idea of using the fascist movement to establish their unquestioned rule by means of a blood-nurge of the working class and the establishment of the iron-heel dictatorship of Big Business.
This, in broad outline, is the perspective that confronts this country. There is no use looking the other way, or bemoaning our fate. There is no use complaining that the alternatives of fascism or socialism confront us too soon – that we need more time.
The alternatives are here, now. The fascist movement is not waiting. The workers cannot and dare not wait.
Thus the problem of problems now before us is to hasten the awakening of consciousness in the working class to the fact that the next few years will decide who will rule in the United States. A showdown crisis is before us. Either the capitalists will rule through a fascist dictatorship, or the workers will rule through a Workers and Farmers Government.
Those who think that all is lost and that fascism must succeed are the worst traitors and liars. The American workers have a tremendous capacity to rise to historic needs. The workers have learned a great deal since they first organized and beat the corporations, in the Thirties. Everything intelligent, everything heroic, everything that made the American workers the most productive and most militant working class in the world will become aroused and active in the mortal struggle with fascism.
For our part, we proceed with the utmost confidence. The present labor leadership will be shoved aside. Its pro-capitalist political program will be rejected by the new, young, militant layers of leader-fighters which are today taking shape even during the darkest moments of reaction. And the program and leadership of the revolutionary socialists will be embraced by these millions of proletarian fighters who will smash and scatter the fascist movement.
July 10, 1954
Last updated: 14 April 2009