Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Fourth International, February 1949


George Clarke

The Radical Vote in 1948


From Fourth International, Vol.10 No.2, February 1949, pp.46-52.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


It is a risky venture to assess the degree of radicalization of the masses on the basis of election returns alone. The parliamentary barometer is an extremely inaccurate instrument for registering the mood of the working people. During periods of great social upheaval, its tardiness in registering changes in popular consciousness make its findings downright misleading.

In this country, the findings of the parliamentary barometer are still further distorted by the ingrained and even hereditary habits of voting produced by the two-party system, by the absence of mass working-class parties and by the denial of suffrage to the bulk of the Negro population. In addition, it is customary for capitalist politicians to tamper with the vote where radical parties are concerned.

However, once these factors are understood and accounted for, the study of election returns becomes extremely useful for Marxists in appraising their own strength and the class consciousness of the masses. That is the aim of this analysis.

An important observation must be noted from the beginning. Since 1924, when the Communist Party entered a presidential ticket for the first time, there have been only two presidential elections in which the influence of the radical parties was genuinely measured. These years were 1928 and 1932.

In 1924, the Socialist Party supported LaFollette. In most states election laws frustrated its intention to run LaFollette on the SP line and it is therefore impossible to uncover a truthful picture of SP influence in that election.

In 1936, the Stalinists supported Roosevelt. They appeared in their own name on the ballot only to avoid embarrassing the president with open Communist support. But as a consequence of their slogan “Defeat Landon at All Costs,” only a section of the party membership and supporters voted for Browder.

In 1940, the Stalinists had switched to opposition to Roosevelt because of the Hitler-Stalin pact. Browder was again a token candidate because it was impossible for the CP to openly declare for the Republican Willkie except at the peril of complete disgrace in the eyes of the working class public. Browder’s vote dropped to almost one-half of its 1936 size; the CP members and followers either stayed way from the polls or voted for Roosevelt in defiance of party instructions.

In 1944, the Stalinists had the war and national unity as the pretext to support Roosevelt openly without a sham independent ticket. Finally in 1948, the Stalinists again abstained from running their own candidate, this time throwing their unqualified support behind Wallace and his third party ticket.

With these facts as a background it is possible to establish certain trends and conclusions from the following table:



Total Vote


Radical Vote





   917,799 (1)




   379,789 (2)




   337,793 (3)




1,021,048 (3)




   278,415 (3)




   160,056 (3)




   125,854 (4)




   173,066 (5)


(1) For Debs as SP candidate.
(2) Combined SP, CP, SLP vote; SP vote calculated by totaling SP vote
for LaFollette in New York and candidates for state offices in other states.
(3) Combined SP, CP, SLP vote.
(4) Combined SP, SLP vote.
(5) Combined SP, SLP, SWP vote.

Our point of departure for a study of the radical vote is the combined figures in presidential elections for parties bearing the label “socialist” or “communist.” We are not unaware of the serious limitations imposed by such a method of analysis. There are, for example, the deep political gulfs which separate these parties and the widely varying motivations behind the votes cast for them. By lumping them all together as “socialists,” the Shachtmanites reveal more about their own break from Marxism and their animosity to authentic Trotskyism than they do about the radical vote. The sympathy with revolutionary socialism which motivates most Trotskyist voters is utterly different from the petty-bourgeois political sentiments which send the bulk of the Thomas, flock to the polls. Yet, since most of these votes represent a form of opposition to capitalism, it is convenient to designate them as the “radical vote.”

Debs and LaFollette

We have chosen the 1920 elections as our starting point because the First World War, the Russian Revolution and the emergence of the Communist International radically transformed the prewar political and social scene and created conditions which, with important modifications, have endured to this day.

The Debs vote, as is obvious, marked the highwater level of American radicalism as an independent force. It was the radiation of the Red dawn of October 1917 in the United States. It came in the midst of the biggest strike wave seen up to then in the country, which was to be exceeded by the strikes of 1946 only in numbers but not in militancy and violence. The revolutionary character of the vote was underscored by its defiance to the Palmer Red raids, then in full swing, and by the presidential candidate still behind prison bars for his revolutionary opposition to the war.

Four years later the radical vote dropped by almost two-thirds. In this period, the open shop drive of the employers had been victorious, the revolutionary wave had ebbed in Europe and the last surge of agrarian radicalism finding expression in LaFollette’s Progressive Party, disoriented thousands of former socialist voters. The SP leaders of the time – the Hillquits, Bergers and Oneals and Waldmans – mightily contributed to this confusion by their support of LaFollette, the first major venture, of American socialism into People’s Front class collaborationism in politics. The Social Democracy here as in Europe established the precedent for subsequent Stalinist, betrayals. The Socialist Party never recovered from this move although other factors contributed to its decline.

On the other hand, the Workers Party (Communist) vote was small. The party had entered its first presidential campaign, getting on the ballot in fourteen states. It had just begun to recover from the blows of reaction and from the malignant disease of “leftism” and “undergroundism” which was accompanied by fierce internal factional struggles and splits. But for the intervention of Trotsky, it too would have succumbed to the LaFollette People’s Front.

Prosperity and Its Aftermath

Meanwhile the illusion of permanent capitalist “prosperity” spread like chloroform over the country. Marxism had been conquered by Henry Ford – that was the standard theme delivered from every pulpit and seat of learning. Hoover won the presidency in 1928 on the promise of the impending conquest of poverty under capitalism. The radical parties appeared like voices shouting in the wilderness, visionaries whose theories were confounded by the “facts.” Their combined vote dropped again by almost 50%.

The 1928 elections sent shudders of despair into the ranks of the radical movement. The ranks thinned out as the weak sisters, led by the impressionistic intelligentsia, broke camp in a procession to the honeyed fields of capitalist “enterprise.” Yet such is the speed of social change in our time that within one year of the election, this entire world was shattered. The reality of social crisis and class struggle replaced the Alice-in-Wonderland period of capitalist prosperity. Unemployment bred discontent which fuelled the fires of American radicalism. The struggles of the unemployed, the bankrupt farmers and the bonus marchers were partially reflected at the polls in 1932. The total radical vote trebled over 1928 and almost trebled in its percentage relation to the general electorate. The 1932 total was larger in absolute numbers than the high point of 1920 and came within one percent of the 1920 percentage of the total electorate. The Socialist Party was the chief beneficiary of this increase, receiving a total of 884,781 votes, almost four times larger than its 1928 vote. The Communist Party doubled its 1928 total with 102,991.

It is interesting to observe how the reformist party, although practically moribund, was the heavy gainer at the polls while the Communist Party did not at all reflect its growing strength and rising influence. Immersed in its adventurist and ultra-leftist course, which had not yet zigzagged to People’s Frontism and class collaboration, the Stalinists appeared as the revolutionary party in the eyes of the masses. “Class against Class” was their slogan as they called upon the workers to “Vote Communist.” They had at least ten times more active members than the SP and probably a hundred times its influence among the workers.

Mere is another inaccuracy of the parliamentary barometer. The first appearance of radicalization favors the reformist party at the polls and it generally retains this lead until the situation becomes revolutionary. Thousands of workers prepared to follow the leadership of the revolutionary party in daily struggles hesitate at first in voting for its candidates. Other thousands, on the sidelines, express their more passive class consciousness by voting for a more moderate party. It can be set down as an axiom: those who vote for the revolutionary party do so out of far greater consciousness than those who vote for the reformist party.

The Roosevelt Era

The second Roosevelt election in 1936 was preceded and followed by vast and far-reaching social changes. Militant moods spread through the masses. From coast to coast strikers battled cops, armed vigilantes, national guards and anti-labor judges. The sit-down strike – American equivalent of the revolutionary occupation of the factories – became an invincible method of class warfare. The mass production industries were at long last conquered by the unions, and a great new power came upon the scene – the CIO.

Beaten in the conflict, and. fearing worse if they continued the struggle by the same methods, the bourgeoisie was persuaded to drop the crude use of jungle warfare for the more subtle and “civilized” poison of class collaboration. Roosevelt was quick to make a virtue out of necessity. Under the imposing name of New Deal he concocted a “philosophy” of liberalism out of the concessions and social reforms he was forced to grant to avert revolution, and draw the willing labor bureaucracy into a ramified system of class collaboration. Its evil effects have persisted through the years, determining the outcome of every election including the most recent one. Each time the masses ware led to the polls to extend the “New Deal,” to safeguard it, to revive it or to prevent something worse from happening. In the process, no independent political instrument was created to complement the economic power of the CIO, the development of class consciousness was stunted and deformed and the radical vote declined sharply.

The Betrayal of Stalinism

Without in any way underestimating Roosevelt’s immense influence over the workers, it is correct to say that Stalinism in its own right became a mighty factor in deforming class consciousness. The Communist Party, having reversed its ultra-left policy, directed the cadre of militants it had trained in the struggles of the unemployed and the “Red” trade unions into the CIO drive to organize the unorganized. The belated impact on the American workers of the Russian Revolution, which appeared in the form of planning and industrialization in the Soviet Union as contrasted to unemployment and economic stagnation here, added new strength to the Stalinists. They became, in fact, the number one party of American radicalism, dominating or sharing control in almost every CIO international union and wielding the leadership of CIO central labor bodies in the major industrial centers.

Yet this tremendous growth, which presaged the transformation of the Communist Party from a propaganda group into a mass party, was not reflected at the polls as the foregoing table indicates. These organizational successes were accompanied by a political transformation which converted Stalinism into a servile class collaborationist party. Instead of becoming the instrument for the advancement of American radicalism, Stalinism became the medium for its subversion and stultification, the foe incarnate of every move towards political independence of the trade unions or socialist opposition to Roosevelt.

That the Stalinists themselves went into opposition to the Democratic Party on two occasions, against Roosevelt in 1940 and Truman in 1948, does not in any way mitigate this truth. Each time their opposition was dictated by the needs of the Soviet bureaucracy which made American Stalinism the pawn of its foreign policy. Par from reverting to a revolutionary policy, the CP sought merely to rebuild its Popular Front alliances with other sections of the ruling class: with the America Firsters in 1940; with Wallace in 1948.

The low radical vote from 1936 to 1948 is primarily a reflection of the crimes of Stalinism. Having won the confidence of tens of thousands of radicalized workers who turned to the CP as an anti-capitalist party, Stalinism deliberately miseducated them, turning them back to the very class collaborationist methods with which they had just broken. It is historical justice that, after having inflicted their damage upon the workers’ movement as a whole, the crimes of Stalinism boomeranged with terrible force against the CP as well. Confronted in their unions with a choice between two class collaborationist bureaucracies, the workers chose the native rather than the foreign-dominated agency of capitalism, deserting the CP in droves in its hour of greatest need. Confronted politically with a choice of two People’s Front candidates, the workers chose Truman over Wallace, as the more plausible “lesser evil” and the representative of the stronger party. This brief sketch should illuminate some of the trends and factors which, combined with the given conditions of the past few years, helped determine the size, allocation and significance of the radical vote in 1948. From this point of departure, we can now make our analysis:

1. The Wallace Vote

If we begin our discussion of the radical vote with the Progressive Party, it is not because we consider it a socialist, communist or anti-capitalist party. On the contrary, Wallace, by his character, his record, his position of unshared public leadership of the party, his unmistakable enunciation of “progressive capitalism” as the fundamental aim of the organization, stamped the party from the outset as a capitalist party. Yet the Progressive Party belongs in this discussion because of the considerable role played by the Stalinists in the apparatus and at the base of the party and in influencing its policy.

The first significant feature of the Wallace vote is its smallness. The Trotskyist press has already demonstrated that Wallace was outflanked in social demagogy by Truman, and that the Stalinists were outmaneuvered by the labor bureaucracy in the campaign to elect a “lesser evil.” We propose here to examine the size of Wallace’s vote by two comparisons.

Wallace did not even come within smelling distance of the vote received by his prototype, Robert LaFollette Sr., who campaigned on an analogous liberal capitalist program under the Progressive Party emblem in 1924. LaFollette received 4,822,856 votes or 16% of the total vote as against 1,157,416 for Wallace representing 2.3% of the total 1948 vote. Both parties made their appearance in periods of anti-labor reaction and growing discontent with the two-party system. Both parties dammed up a labor party tide and channeled this sentiment into their third party ventures. Both parties had the support of the strongest radical party, the Socialist Party backing LaFollette in 1924 and the Communist Party backing Wallace twenty-four years later.

But here the similarities end. Where Wallace was practically ignored by a more or less satisfied rural population enjoying a high level of agricultural prosperity, LaFollette received a large part of his votes from a well-organized agrarian movement in the Midwest brought into being by the farm crisis after World War I. Where Wallace was actively opposed by the entire trade union movement with the exception of the small section under Stalinist control, LaFollette had the official endorsement of the AFL and most of the Railroad Brotherhoods unions, comprising the entire trade union movement of that time.

It is axiomatic – as is illustrated in the contrast noted above – that it is impossible to build a third capitalist party or to even receive a large vote without the support of the farmers or the organized working class. The Stalinists, who publish innumerable volumes of pseudo-Marxist studies on American history, should have at least understood this axiom. In any case, regardless of their understanding, the decision to form and support the Progressive Party was not in their hands but came from the-maslers in the Kremlin who, like the Bourbons, think their drive for self-preservation can counteract all the laws of history.

It may be objected that LaFollette received a bigger vote because he was not tainted with the support of a foreign power as Wallace was. This is absurd. ,A third party last year could not have been created without the active support of the. Stalinists. Unlike LaFollette, who relied upon his own powerful organization in Wisconsin and upon the farmer and farmer-labor party movements in’the Northwest, Wallace had no apparatus save that supplied him by the Stalinists. In those states where this apparatus embraced all or part of an electoral machine which had formerly been an adjunct of the Democratic Party, in addition to a strong Stalinist movement, Wallace received a larger percentage of the total vote than he did in the nation as a whole. In New York, the American Labor Party, supporting Wallace, accounted for 8% of the total state vote and 45% of Wallace’s national vote. In California, where the Democratic machine was badly shattered, Wallace received 4.7% of the total vote. And in Washington, where the Stalinists had at one time dominated the Democratic Party, the Progressive Party emerged with 3.5%. In all other states the Wallace vote hugged the national percentage of 2.3%.

The second historical contrast which emerges from the election returns is that offered between the Wallace vote in 1948 and the Debs vote in 1920. The higher percentage of the national total (3.5%) received by Deb’s as a revolutionary socialist speaks volumes about the effects of the crimes and degeneration of Stalinism in the United States. 900,000 votes for Debs signified a great victory for revolutionary socialism, a powerful challenge to the capitalist masters and the basis for the growth and extension of the revolutionary party. One million votes for Wallace was a terrible setback for Stalinist Popular Frontism, a shocking disappointment to thousands who had been led astray by the Pied Pipers of opportunism and a richly deserved body blow to the Stalinist ring-masters of the Wallace circus.

The size of the Wallace vote is nevertheless highly significant because at least this section of newly radicalized workers and intellectuals remained firm despite Truman’s radical demagogy, despite the repression and red-baiting directed against the Wallace party. It indicated the scope of the movement which could have been aroused by a genuine revolutionary party comparable in size and influence to the Stalinists.

On the other hand, the disciplined character of the Wallace vote illustrated the limited nature of the radical awakening of this stratum which is the product of Rooseveltian and Stalinist miseducation. The returns show that the bulk of the Wallace voters shifted their vote to the Democratic Party wherever the Progressive Party had withdrawn in favor of a “progressive” and “lesser evil” Democrat in a congressional or gubernatorial race. They voted as New Deal Democrats for such candidates as Humphrey in Minnesota, Bowles in Connecticut and Holifield in Los Angeles even though these gentlemen were supporters of the Truman-Marshall doctrine and violent opponents of Wallace’s foreign policy platform. Equally significant is the failure of any substantial number of this group to shift their vote to the Socialist Workers Party in these local elections although the SWP candidates were the most outspoken foes of the bipartisan administration.

The Stalinists, who won the first battle for leadership and influence over this newly radicalized section of workers and intellectuals, have led this group into a defeat and a blind alley. They have stifled all discussion on the reasons for this defeat not only in the CP but in the Progressive Party. To batter down the bars of bureaucratic suppression and to explain the significance of the election and the bankruptcy of People’s Frontism to the rank and file Wallaceites – that is an important task for the revolutionary Marxists.

2. The Rewards of Opportunism

Norman Thomas, campaigning for the sixth time for president on the Socialist Party ticket, received 139,547 votes as against 80,516 in 1944. Strangely enough this increase of 74% marks neither an increase of socialist sentiment in this country, nor does it signify the strengthening of the SP as an organization.

Thomas’ campaign was the epitome of opportunist double-talk. He was excelled only by Dewey in meaningless effusions, pompous platitudes and glittering generalities. His campaign was less socialist than any of the preceding five – not an easy record even for Thomas to break. The SP candidate introduced himself to the general public with an article in Look magazine in which he complained that the Democratic and Republican parties had stolen his program. In that article he reduced socialism to the small change of reform measures such as old age pensions, unemployment insurance and workmen’s compensation. Although Thomas disturbed the elements by strange ranting during the campaign about “nationalizing the commanding heights of our economy” (whatever that means), the Look article gave a more truthful picture of his “socialist” conceptions.

A far more significant feature of Thomas’ campaign was his vulgar anti-Stalinism. Except for a few pacifist bleats about disarmament to appease some of his retinue of preachers and affluent old ladies of both sexes, Thomas stood cheek-by-jowl with the crudest of the war-mongers and State Department Brass Hats. Most of his criticisms of the Truman-Marshall world conquest plans came from the right, viewing with alarm any tendency to “appease” Stalin and bewailing the lack of sufficient “energy” and “firmness” in the prosecution of these plans.

The bourgeoisie began by viewing Thomas’ campaign with the customary good-humored contempt it has shown to SP campaigns since the death of Debs. The N.Y. Times wrote that Thomas can do no harm. But as the Wallace movement became a pole of attraction for millions of people in rebellion against the Brass Hats, against the encroachments of a police state, against the union-busters and the white supremacists, the bourgeoisie saw a new use for Thomas. Here was a safe and sane “socialist” antidote to Wallace, completely in sympathy with. the foreign policy of American imperialism who, they thought, might catch the votes of those who could no longer stomach. Truman. Furthermore, Thomas, it was felt, would serve as a good showpiece abroad, deflecting the attention received by Wallace and proving the devotion of the American bourgeoisie to “democratic” methods.

They showered him with affection and special consideration. The Denver Post hired Thomas as a columnist and syndicated his column in many papers. The N.Y. Times played up Thomas’ campaign and time and again printed full texts of his logic-murdering speeches. Thomas probably received more free radio and television time than all the other candidates combined. Under these conditions the significant factor is not so much the increase in the SP vote as the small size of the increase.

Thomas failed to attract any significant section of the millions of eligible voters who stayed away from the polls in disgust and revolt against the two-party fraud. There ,was nothing in Thomas’ campaign to inspire these masses even to the point of taking action at the polls. Who were the 60,000 voters who accounted for the SP increase over 1944? Obviously there are no accurate methods of discovering their class and political identity. But Thomas’ campaign suggests the answer to this question.

The new Thomas voters appeared to be in the main not socialist voters but “protest” voters, who were not more but less radical than the Wallace voters. In the main they consisted of those who were to the left of Truman but to the right of Wallace. They opposed Truman because of his domestic program but as supporters of the anti-Communist cold war of the administration, they preferred Thomas to Wallace.

Perhaps an even larger section of the new Thomas voters came from that group which would have voted for Truman if they thought he could be elected. Thomas played on this theme throughout his campaign. In casting a protest vote, this group also was voting more against Wallace than for Thomas. This view was openly expressed by anti-socialist intellectuals like Dorothy Thompson, Vincent Sheean, Max Lerner and others. They were joined by a few ex-Trotskyist intellectuals like James T. Farrell, Felix Morrow and Harold Isaacs, whose support of Thomas was the equivalent of a public declaration against Marxism and a notice that their swing to the right was proceeding apace.

Despite Thomas’ enhanced popularity as a “public figure,” his vote was a cruel disappointment to the SP. Their illusion that the SP would again become a mass party as a result of the election returns was completely shattered. This had begun to happen in 1932 when Thomas’ vote rose to 884,781 as against 267,420 in 1928. But this time there was no depression, the SP was practically non-existent as an organization and its own campaign meetings during the campaign were small disappointing affairs. The SP proved that it could purchase publicity by sacrificing socialist principles. But it also discovered that not all the support of the State Department, the capitalist press and radio can convert a moribund reformist sect into a mass working-class party.

The first result of the election ‘’victory” for the SP is the proposal of its National Committee to liquidate the organization by means of a merger with the Social Democratic Federation. Why not? After all the only difference between, the two will disappear when Thomas quits being a candidate. This development is to be hailed as one of the more constructive results of the election campaign.

3. Lament of the Sectarians

That the parliamentary barometer often deals in the compilation of pieces of paper rather than with social realities is well illustrated by the Socialist Labor Party vote. Since the death of its great leader Daniel De Leon before World War I, the SLP has neither influenced the course of the class struggle nor been influenced by it. A chemically pure sect, the SLP with haughty disdain eschews the daily struggles of the workers and turns its withering contempt upon their imperfect miss organizations. The SLP is not fazed because the bourgeoisie ignores its ultimatum of “unconditional surrender” or that the workers ignore its ultimatum to abandon their impure “capitalist” unions and form the unsullied Socialist Industrial Union. With Jovian confidence it awaits the visitation of the historic process.

Yet in every election campaign the SLP unfurls its banner, spends a small fortune for propaganda and the returns show a few tens of thousands of votes in its column. The vote is as passive as the party. It does not signify influence in the unions or activity in the class struggle hut platonic sympathy with basic socialist ideas.

The world-shaking events which pass the SLP by have little effect on its vote. In 1932, lor example, when the depression produced a radicalization which found expression in the trebling of the SP and CP votes over 1924, the SLP merely returned to its 192-1 total of approximately 33,000 after losing about 12,000 votes in 1928. In 1936 and 1940, they dropped to 10,000 and 14,000 respectively. But then for no ascertainable reason, in 1944, their vote rose to an all-time high of 45,000 at the very time the SP vote reached a twenty-year lowt

In 1948 the SLP vote dropped again to 29,240 although their program remained unchanged and if anything, they expended larger sums in the campaign. Of all their explanations only one interests us: the loss of votes due to confusion of names with the Socialist Workers Party. The weakness of this alibi is that the same confusion could also work to their advantage by receiving votes intended for the SWP. However, the facts permit no such simple explanation. In Minnesota for instance the SWP running under its own name received only 606 votes for its presidential candidates, where the SLP running as Industrial Government Party received almost four times that many. In Pennsylvania, where neither party ran under its own name, the SWP ran ahead by almost 700 votes.

The anger and worry concealed behind this complaint arises from a more fundamental cause. Obviously many former SLP voters switched to the SWP in this election but not because of confusion in names. These were revolutionary socialist and Marxist voters who in the past, bridling at the caricatured socialism of Thomas, cast their votes for the SLP. This time they had no difficulty in choosing between the dead but unburied SLP and the genuine practitioners of revolutionary Marxism, the Trotskyists. Slowly but surely the woods are being cleared, even of the petrified remains.

4. The Revolutionary Vote

The Trotskyist vote was small in number but large in significance. 13,611 votes were counted for Farrell Dobbs and Grace Carlson, the SWP presidential banner-bearers in 12 states. The SWP vote was lower than that of the SP or the SLP for two main reasons:

  1. The SWP received few general protest votes. Most of the “againsters” marked their ballot for Wallace or Thomas.
  2. The SWP could only get on the ballot in less than one-fourth of the states because lack of resources and electoral experience handicapped it in the struggle against discriminatory state laws.

Nevertheless in ten states where the SWP and the SLP were both on the ballot the vote was as follows: SLP – 18,653; SWP – 13,405. The figures draw closer if approximately 4,000 of the 4,274 SLP votes in Iowa are discounted because there the SLP was third on a ballot of eight parties; it had never received more than a few hundred votes in that state and there was no apparent sign of such an increased influence as to make its Iowa return second only to Massachusetts. In its first presidential campaign the SWP did as well as the SLP although the latter had over 50 more years of electoral experience and a much larger treasury.

Prevailing political conditions (in addition to the usual electoral frauds practiced against minority parties) kept the SWP vote down to a bare minimum of its strength and influence. Many workers who had voted for SWP candidates in local contests in previous years Were caught up in the “lesser evil” fever and considered it more important to defeat Dewey than to register their sympathies with Trotskyism. Others, awakened for the first time by radical ideas, were lured by the extreme left demagogy of Wallace. Finally, the SWP was the only party in the presidential race handicapped by the subversive blacklisting of the Department of Justice.

Precisely these reasons, when added to the uncompromising campaign waged by the SWP and the attitude of the capitalist press towards the party, give grounds for saying that most of the 13,600 votes were conscious revolutionary socialist votes. Further proof is the fact that SWP votes in the larger cities were a reasonable percentage approximation of the audiences which heard Trotskyist speakers. Finally, while local Progressive Party and SP candidates ran far behind the national ticket, local SWP candidates ran slightly ahead of Dobbs and Carlson in all cases except Minnesota where Vincent R. Dunne ran far ahead because of special conditions. The SWP vote was a party vote, another indication of its revolutionary character.

It was the campaign however that was of decisive importance. The entrance of the SWP in the presidential race marked the first time in 16 years that a workers’ party had openly championed the doctrines of Marx and Lenin (this time, however, free of Stalinist corruption) and preached the message of class struggle in a national election.

The SWP campaign was a high product of revolutionary consciousness and leadership. The times were exceedingly inappropriate for the entrance of a small and revolutionary party into the contest. A hurricane of reaction was beating down upon the masses who were in retreat before anti-labor legislation, red-baiting, loyalty purges and witch-hunting. The labor movement appeared passive and apathetic. The field was choked with competitors, not the least of which was the popular mass-supported Wallace movement. The SWP had not yet reached the numerical strength which made participation in a presidential campaign as natural a form of activity as trade union work or anti-Jim Crow actions.

The impulse for participation came entirely from within. It was imperative to present a revolutionary program and candidates to the working masses. Therefore, despite myriad obstacles, it was done. That is the essence of Bolshevism.

For the first time in its history, the SWP was unified nationally in a great public action in the name of the party. Other campaigns had been for strictly party building purposes or limited to this or that locality. More than that, it was an eminently revolutionary action. The campaign was conducted in the teath of reaction and in struggle against that reaction. The fight against the ‘’subversive listing” became a leading task of the campaign itself. The campaign put the party on its mettle, shaking up the conservative and routine circle habits which form so imperceptibly, thus preparing the membership for its role as the leader of great masses.

The campaign popularized the SWP, for the first time in its twenty-year history as a national party, as the extreme left wing of American politics. Millions heard and read about the SWP and its candidates and, of these, thousands who knew something of the deeds and writings of Trotsky discovered for the first time that his teachings were embodied in a living organization.

Although SWP meetings were twice as large as they had been for many years, the extant fear and apathy militated against any mass turnouts. More significant was the fact that at least 50,000 people heard national or local SWP candidates or party campaign workers at trade union meetings, at the factory gates, on the longshoremen’s picket line in San Francisco, on the street corners, at symposiums and forums arranged by the NAACP, tenants and community organizations and on the university campuses.

This comprises only a fraction of the millions who heard the SWP candidates in seven national hookups over the major networks in a total of 2 hours and 15 minutes. In addition, the SWP candidates spoke over 76 local stations throughout the country for a total time of 18 hours and 35 minutes. Except for 17 of these local broadcasts, all of this time was obtained through an aggressive struggle for equal rights under FCC regulations which the hookups and local stations are so prone to forget or ignore where minority parties are concerned.

Approximately 400,000 pieces of campaign literature, including the Militant, the national campaign platform, local platforms, folders, leaflets, pamphlets, stickers and posters were distributed, sold and posted from coast to coast. An achievement for an organization with extremely limited funds! Millions read about the SWP and its candidates in the newspapers and periodicals of the nation as the following figures show.

187 daily and weekly papers and magazines in 119 cities and 31 states carried writeups ranging from a brief mention or photograph to full length interviews, editorials or feature stories. This figure includes 1 national daily, 4 national weeklies, 15 Negro weeklies, 4 trade union periodicals, 4 university dailies and 3 foreign language papers. Like the radio time, much of this newspaper space was obtained through the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the campaign workers and by a constant struggle to force the press to observe, at least in part, its pretenses of fair play.

The first Trotskyist presidential campaign is a milestone in the history of the American working class and revolutionary movement. For the workers it marked the entry of a new revolutionary force on the national political arena. For the SWP, it provided a wealth of experience in electoral action and a surge of self-confidence for the membership which accomplished a task that appeared impossible. It was indeed a triumph of revolutionary audacity.

These results, although still for the most part intangible, will prove deep and enduring. The seeds have been sown. When the season arrives, the crop will be harvested.

Top of page

Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 3.3.2009