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Fourth International, December 1948


World in Review

The Truman Landslide and the Tasks of the Socialist Workers Party


From Fourth International, Vol.9 No.8, December 1948, pp.227-229.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The national election results mark a sharp political turn on the part of the masses. This turn not only modifies but actually upsets the relationship of forces on the political field which has existed since the termination of the war. The initial postwar period witnessed a steady drift to the right. Among other things, this manifested itself in the temporary revival of the Republican Party and most crassly in the composition and reactionary legislation of the 79th and 80th Congresses.

The landslide has swept Truman and the Truman Democrats from what appeared to be hopeless defeat to a stunning victory throughout most of the country. The most conservative capitalist newspapers have been obliged to admit that the Truman victory unquestionably represents a complete repudiation of the 80th Congress. What they carefully avoid mentioning is that it constitutes at the same time an overwhelming repudiation of the Republican Party itself and the monopoly rule which it represents in the eyes of the masses.

The Republican Party, above all its brain-trusters, mistook their temporary resurgence in the last few years for a complete consolidation of their own power on a national scale. They interpreted their partial victories as a mounting wave of reaction they were destined to ride much in the same manner as they did following World War I. They took it for granted that the good old days had returned and acted accordingly.

This was the reason for their indecent haste in deciding to cash in their chips before they really had the winning cards in their hands. Intoxicated by the fumes of a decisive victory, which had still to be won, they nakedly and brazenly revealed their reactionary visage.

The National Association of Manufacturers obviously believed that its campaign of “free enterprise” lies, under the cover of which they succeeded in smashing all price controls, would pass scot-free. In their utter contempt for the masses the monopolists likewise believed they could with impunity slash living standards, profiteer and gouge in all fields, disregard the elementary needs of the masses – of veterans in particular – for a housing program, for social legislation, for eradication of Jim Crow and the like. And on top of all this, they were sure the hour was ripe for strong-arm methods to destroy organized labor, and, as a good beginning on this road, they passed the Taft-Hartley Law.

The full meaning of this Slave Labor Act, which at the outset was clear to revolutionists and union militants, became quickly obvious to the mass of the workers through its operations over a period of more than a year prior to the presidential elections.

The Republicans owed their 1946 victory to a combination of circumstances. Far from being a victory for the Republicans among the working class, the 1946 result was due to the fact that a section of the middle classes, given no independent program or leadership by the labor movement, swung to the Republicans as a means of casting a protest vote. Among the workers there was a smaller vote than usual, owing in the first instance to the fact that the Republicans and Democrats appeared indistinguishable in their eyes. The Republicans, who were thus enabled to score a close victory, mistook the drop in the labor vote for a shift in the moods of the whole working class. There was no rightward shift in the political thinking of the working class, as we pointed out at the time in predicting that the workers were still capable of powerful resistance to the reactionaries.

In 1948, so far as the farmers were concerned, the downward slide of the agricultural price structure, which set in early this year, sufficed to reverse their swing toward the Republicans back again toward the Democrats.

Among the workers, on the other hand, under the impact of domestic and world developments, a process of political groping and radicalization was taking place all the while beneath the surface.

This process of mass politicalization assumed a peculiar form – the rise of the Trumanite power – precisely because there seemed to be no other channel for the practical organization or expression of the new mass moods and needs.

The rise of the Wallace splinter party was one expression of this postwar mass ferment.

But there was another and far more important development. This occurred inside the Democratic Party which was compelled by the logic of the situation to play the role of an opposition party and required a social-demagogic program in order to survive. Mere attempts to introduce such a program inside the Democratic Party (the “social equality plank,” etc.) led to a split of the extreme right wing – the Dixiecrats.

In the eyes of the masses the split itself endowed Truman’s party with a liberal coloration. This is turn gave the Democratic Party an impulsion to the “left.”

At the same time, the desperate and futile search of the labor bureaucrats for some other less compromised candidate than Truman (Eisenhower, Douglas and the rest) drove Truman himself to play more and more with the colors of social reformism (as witness the program enunciated by him, especially toward the close of the campaign). The mass of the people took all this seriously. They believed Truman and rallied to his program.

The more astute trade-union bureaucrats inside both the CIO and AFL, even more desperate than Truman, found themselves compelled to promise a third party and even a “labor party” by 1952 as bait to the masses for supporting the Truman Democrats.

Outside of Truman himself, it was primarily the CIO-AFL bureaucracy that did yeoman service in preparing the landslide.

In this way the mass ferment which had been building up was channelized in a desperate last-minute effort in support of Truman, as the “lesser evil.”

This combination of the trade union bureaucracy, the remnants of the “New Deal” liberals and Trumanites pushed the Wallace movement aside.

In domestic policies, which concerned the masses the most, there were no serious differences between them. And on foreign policy, Wallace failed to demonstrate that he held the key to peace, as he claimed.

Wallace’s alliance with the utterly discredited Stalinists and his covering up for the bestial Kremlin regime tended to alienate many of his own followers.

Generally speaking, the Wallace movement appeared as a caricature People’s Front movement in a competition with a far larger and imposing combination operating with essentially the same ideas and on the same basis of class-collaboration.

The election results have fully disclosed how still-born this Wallaceite movement really was.

The debacle of the Wallace party is irrefutable proof that the need of the times is not another capitalist party, and that the key to the struggle for political power rests in the hands of the organized labor movement.

The Truman party that has emerged from the 1948 victory is not a simple revival or continuation of the Rooseveltian “New Deal” set-up. Its right wing (the Dixiecrats) and its “left” wing (the Wallaceites) have been clipped. In the next period these two formations have no perspective other than to capitulate or eke out a miserable “independent” existence.

Far more important, the specific weight of the trade union bureaucracy in the Truman party is far greater than it ever was in the Rooseveltian era. The organized labor movement is far stronger now than in the “New Deal” days. If under Roosevelt this bureaucracy felt indebted to him, then today it is Truman who finds himself indebted to them.

The masses especially in the unions will press more and more insistently for the fulfillment of their demands (and Truman’s campaign promises). Every delay will make them all the more restive, all the more impatient. At the same time the forces of naked reaction will be compelled to retreat and bide a more favorable opportunity. Truman will thus have to carry the ball for them out in the open in the next period.

The crushing defeat of the Republican reactionaries and the Dixiecrat counterparts will not moderate the mass ferment. On the contrary, the process of politicalization and a further leftward swing of the masses must find its sharpest expression in the days ahead.

How will this new People’s Front – the coalition of the Trumanites and the official labor bureaucracy – stand up under the stresses of the sharpening class struggle?

The Truman administration, as the executor of Wall Street’s foreign policy, is committed to the war program. These commitments are bound to collide more and more with the mass desires for sweeping social reforms at home. Huge burdens already exist in the shape of the arms program, growing militarization, expenditures for propping up crumbling capitalist regimes abroad, and so on. All these are costly and will increase, not decrease. Additional intolerable burdens will be imposed because of the unsolved internal economic difficulties at home.

Victorious Truman and his allies, after a honeymoon period, will find themselves confronted with insoluble contradictions. This refurbished Trumanite People’s Front will prove no more stable or lasting than did its European counterparts, organized under Stalinist auspices in prewar Europe. The new electoral combination which grew out of the crisis of the two-party system can serve only to pave the way for new and graver crises.

In the face of this new situation what are the tasks of the Socialist Workers Party? In essence, they are the same tasks which we undertook in our presidential campaign. What has to be modified, or more accurately adjusted to the new elements in the situation, is not the content but the form of our activity.

In our campaign we took advantage of an exceptional opportunity in order to drive through our class line to the American workers, above all, to raise the political consciousness of the largest possible layers we could reach. This remains our main task today.

Our struggle to transform the SWP from a propaganda group into a party of mass action made a giant leap forward in the course of the election campaign. New and even greater opportunities are now afforded to the party. We enter this incipient phase of labor radicalization with the party, its program and its spokesmen already known to large sections of the people. The same program and spokesmen should enable our party to intervene actively in the unfolding developments, provided we do in the next period what we did during the elections, namely couple our general agitation for the socialist solution with a concrete program of action; advance at each stage the suitable transitional demands in terms of specific actions.

Most important of all, the party in the next period must be in the forefront of the struggle to abrogate the Taft-Hartley Law; safeguard, restore and extend civil rights, realize the urgent social measures such as adequate housing, medical care, social security, minimum wages, etc.

The Trumanite coalition has made campaign promises. These played a key role in the elections and will continue to play a major role throughout the life of the 81st Congress. A rude surprise is in store for those capitalist politicians who may toy with the idea that campaign promises can be dismissed as lightly in our day as they have been in the past. Social demagogy proved highly successful in winning the elections; but social demagogy will prove of no avail in the face of unfulfilled pledges and the pressing needs of the masses.

Truman’s campaign promises won the votes. These millions are prepared to struggle for what was promised them. When they discover that very little or nothing will be handed them on a silver platter, their initial disappointment will give way to a determination to fight all the harder. The SWP must intervene in guiding the masses in this struggle to make every one of these campaign promises a reality.

No other party can provide a program of action for this struggle. If we do so, we shall have an exceptional opportunity for guiding the workers in a series of actions, in the course of which they will learn through their own experiences how urgently needed is a break with pro-war politics, as well as a break with capitalist politics in general. In the course of these actions the workers will be able to grasp the meaning and necessity of. such slogans as the Congress of Labor, the Workers and Farmers Government and all the other planks of our Election Platform.

Above all, we shall take another long stride on the road of converting the SWP into the instrument whereby the American workers shall learn to accept Marxism as their guide to action.

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