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Fourth International, September 1948


The Editors

The 1948 Election Campaign
of the
Socialist Workers Party


From Fourth International, Vol.9 No.7, September 1947, pp.195-197.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The July Convention of the Socialist Workers Party made a decision to participate in the 1948 election campaign. The Convention nominated Farrell Dobbs and Grace Carlson as the SWP standard-bearers in the presidential elections, recommending to the branches that they run, wherever possible, candidates in their localities (as has been done in New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, California and other states).

This was a bold decision. It was taken under circumstances with few parallels in the history of the labor movement either of this country or abroad. The obstacles facing the SWP appeared virtually insurmountable. There were the legal barriers erected by the American capitalist class to safeguard its two-party system which has thus far served the bourgeoisie even more efficiently than the one-party system in totalitarian countries.

To these and other innumerable hardships confronting all minority parties there must be added the extra handicap of our revolutionary party being blacklisted as “subversive” by the Hitlerite edict of Truman’s Attorney General. But this, too, was only one element in the fierce red-baiting which is instigated by the State Department and the top brass in the armed forces and which is inundating the country through a thousand state and local channels.

The party was, moreover, compelled to undertake this campaign with slender resources. The odds were indeed overwhelmingly against us when it came to electioneering, which has long been converted into a Big Business enterprise, monopolized by the Sixty Richest Families who pump into their two-party system millions upon millions of dollars to stage sham parliamentary battles.

And as if this were not enough, the SWP had to enter the field of national politics as a novice, having never before run presidential candidates. This by no means exhausts the long list of hardships of which the leadership and the party ranks were fully cognizant.

Nevertheless the party leadership and the rank and file alike entered the 1948 campaign with great enthusiasm and utmost determination. This undertaking and the spirited manner in which it has been conducted, along with the party’s undeniable achievements to date, constitute unquestionable proof of the Trotskyist party’s tremendous vitality and dynamism.

What is the fountainhead of this boldness, this enthusiasm, this dynamism of the SWP?

It does not at all spring from parliamentary illusions, from parliamentary cretinism which is the hall-mark of such organizations as the Thomas “Socialists” or the equally somnolent Socialist Labor Party, which awaken at election times only in order to doze off immediately thereafter, like the dormouse in the fable.

The real source of the party’s vitality lies in its profound conviction of its historic mission – a conviction which, in its turn, stems from the theoretical foundations of the party, its unified system of ideas, the most advanced, audacious and fruitful in mankind’s history, inspiring unswerving faith in the need and inevitability of socialism.

Whatever may be our shortcomings in parliamentary activity – and they are undeniably many – our party has demonstrated in all other fields of the class struggle its superiority over every other party inside the labor movement.

One of the distinguishing traits of our movement from its inception twenty years ago has been this, that we have never permitted our ideas to remain on paper, but, on the contrary, have, at every stage, no matter how limited were our forces and resources, sought to introduce them into the day-to-day life of our class, and to intervene to the fullest extent possible in order to raise the conscious level of the American workers. Indissoluble bonds unite us with the working class.

The whole history of our party eloquently testifies to this. Thus, the Trotskyist-led struggles of the Minneapolis teamsters and the famous Toledo Autolite strike of the early Thirties were the real precursors of the epoch-making battles which subsequently led to the birth of the CIO.

The most resolute and consistent fighters against Fascism have been the Trotskyists. We were the first to sound the alarm concerning the dire threat of Hitlerism in Germany; in 1939 we were the initiators of the huge anti-Nazi demonstration in Madison Square Garden, New York; we spearheaded the recent postwar struggles against incipient native fascist formations, in particular, the one led by Gerald L.K. Smith. It is not accidental that in the current campaign, the militant anti-fascist demonstrations in Minneapolis still echo through the columns of the press there.

No less crystal clear is our record as the most irreconcilable political opponents of Stalinism. Here, again, we were the first, and indeed for many years the only ones, to expose and fight this counter-revolutionary monstrosity inside labor’s own ranks, just as we fight Stalinism unfalteringly today.

We have been in the very forefront of the struggles for the rights of Negroes and other minorities. Every major postwar struggle in this field has found the SWP either in the role of initiators or the most active participants, as witness the Fontana Case, the Freeport (L.I.) Case, the Hickman Case.

In the struggle against imperialist war we stand alone with an unblemished record. We were the only ones who came into a head-on collision with the capitalist state and still continued to challenge and expose its war, as is evidenced by the famous Minneapolis Case which resulted in the railroading to jail of 18 leaders of the SWP and of the Minneapolis Drivers 544-CIO.

The determination and ability of the SWP to continue class struggle policies in wartime were by no means confined to the Minneapolis Case, but were expressed in a whole series of struggles, including the struggle against the no-strike pledge, against Jim Crow in the armed forces and in industry, for the slicing scale of wages, for a break with the capitalist outfits like the National War Labor Board, for independent labor political action, and so on. The inception and spread of extensive mass movements. such as the one against the no-strike pledge, is a striking example of how a relatively tiny minority can exert influence and intervene in events far beyond its physical resources and size.

In wartime the SWP demonstrated how deep were its roots in the working class, as well as its ability to fight for the interests of its class under the most adverse conditions. It was precisely for this reason that the Civil Rights Defense Committee was able at the time to mobilize liberal and labor organizations representing 5 million members to back the demand for the liberation of the 18 victims of the Minneapolis Case.

With the termination of hostilities, the struggles of the SWP continued, altering not in substance but merely inform. The struggle against the warmakers goes on, as does the fight against reaction and its anti-labor offensive. Directly carried over from the war has been the struggle against inflation and for the sliding scale of wages; so, too, has been the fight against Jim Crow and for the preservation of civil liberties. The struggle against Taft-Hartleyism poses sharply the need of a united class front against enemy assaults and invests the call for a Congress of Labor with special urgency. In brief, what the SWP has been struggling and continues to struggle for is summed up in the different planks of its Election Platform, pointing the way for the establishment of a Workers and Farmers Government.

Here we come to the nub of our 1948 election campaign. It was undertaken by the party leadership and the ranks alike above all because it constitutes a component part of a consciously-set goal: the transformation of the party from a propaganda group into a party of mass action.

What the party sees in this election campaign and what it has seized so eagerly is an opportunity to accomplish a qualitative change in its methods of functioning, to divest itself of all the vestiges of a propaganda group. Such a change would actually amount to a leap forward on the road which the party consciously entered in its 1944 Convention – the road of transforming itself into a party of mass action.

Nobody claims that the SWP is already this kind of party at the present stage. But it is much further, advanced along this road than appears ‘from our limited resources and size, which all our opponents seize upon in order to denigrate us. But this external side is only one aspect of the matter. Far more decisive are the internal dynamic factors we have already mentioned,” above all, the party’s direct bond with the working class.

Furthermore, even in their treatment of our present material strength and numerical size, our adversaries are guilty of one-sidedness. It is not so much that none of them have themselves been able to build anything resembling a mass party. It is rather that they ignore the existing relation of forces between the parties in the American labor movement. In point of size and resources the only party that is able to match our.s is the Stalinist party, whose influence and strength are declining at an accelerated rate while ours are growing in the decisive aspect – the party’s relation to the working class, its indissoluble ties with the class – we have already surpassed all the others, despite the obvious handicaps.

We leave aside the overall difficulties of building a mass revolutionary party after decades of defeats of the world labor movement such as we have passed through. Suffice it to point out, however, that so far as this country is concerned, the period of formation of mass working class parties still lies in the future. It is this fact, coupled with the existing relationship of forces inside labor’s ranks, that makes the SWP such a powerful factor, despite all its limitations of resources and numbers. It is this that makes us all the more confident of the future.

When the period of mass radicalization does actually set in – as it must – where will the masses turn? Even the eventual formation of the Labor Party would solve only one problem, namely, the accomplishment of the long-belated break with capitalist parties and capitalist politics. But the moment this is accomplished, far bigger problems will inescapably arise – what policy, what program should labor follow? Mere we are bound to come into our own, for we alone have the answers capable of withstanding the test of events; we alone have assembled the cadres with demonstrated ability to apply the revolutionary program in action.

In this sense, too, our achievements in the 1948 election campaign, along with the lessons drawn from these experiences, mark a milestone in our progress toward the party of mass action.

This is the central task of our epoch. By solving this task we obtain the master key to the solution of all the other tasks. For this task is that of forging the decisive instrument that will enable the working class to fulfill its historic mission – the reorganization of society on a socialist basis.

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Last updated on 26.2.2009