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The New International, July 1939


The Editor’s Comment

From New International, Vol.5 No.7, July 1939, pp.195-197.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Republican Party Faces the 1940 Presidential Elections with a Search of a Program – Wherein It Seems to Differ from the Democratic Program and Wherein It is the Same Thing – The Negative Source of Strength of the Republicans Lies in the Failure of Rooseveltism and the Democrats

CONTROL OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE machinery of the United States government is a juicy enough morsel to water the mouth of almost any political party, quite apart from the political ideals or social interests that clash in the battle for office. Think of the seven or so hundred thousand jobs of the civil bureaucracy, the nine billion dollars of the budget, the billions more for loaning to the proper suppliants, the ladles of rich gravy for cousins and uncles and aunts, all the contracts to be allotted, and the pensions and dams and bridges. When these are added to the claims of patriotism and the need for the salvation of the system of free enterprise, little wonder that dry Republican tongues hang low from panting mouths as the months speed toward 1940. But for an election you need also, burdensome as it may seem to a busy and practical-minded politician, a program. The Republican Party, now that the Civil War and Reconstruction are pretty definitely over, and even the tariff not so burning an issue, is compelled to send its young hopefuls out searching for its lost program. Let us see what they have managed so far to turn up. By sifting out from recent speeches and articles, and lopping off the decorative hokum, we can sum up the result to date in a brief list:

  1. Economy. Stop the huge governmental expenditures, and balance the budget.
  2. Remove the deterrents to business initiative. Specifically: cut out the “punitive” taxes which make business unwilling to risk capital and to go ahead; and eliminate the excessive government regulation of business.
  3. Less intrusion of government on the field of private enterprise – keep the government from going into the utilities and banking and other businesses.
  4. Revision of the labor laws in order to make them “fair” to employers as well as to employees. In particular: the right of employers to demand union elections; the right of employers to “discuss” collective bargaining affairs with their employees; judicial review of all labor board decisions as to fact as well as to procedure and law; greater legal responsibility for unions; and possibly prohibition of closed and union shops.
  5. In some sections of the Republican Party, but by no means accepted by the party as a whole: opposition to the “provocative” foreign policy of Roosevelt, and return to modified isolationism.

This is fairly complete: government debt; taxes: government-in-business; labor; foreign policy.

It is in order to enquire:

  1. Is the Republican program as today formulated serious and realizable?
  2. Is it, apart from the answer to the first question, psychologically appealing to the electorate?

The Program Weighed in the Balance

THE SERIOUSNESS OF THE Republican program can be judged partly by relating it to the real needs of United States capitalist economy.

There can be no doubt that Roosevelt’s three billion dollar a year deficit is exceedingly dangerous for the entire structure of US economy. Moreover, it is probable that many Republicans would very much like to have an honestly balanced budget. Nevertheless, it is certain that the Republicans cannot mean the economy plank in their program seriously. This is notoriously proved by the actions of the Republicans during the present session of Congress. Far from having cut down on “executive extravagance”, Congress, with the aid and consent of the bulk of the Republicans, has exceeded the requests for funds made by the Administration by more than three hundred million dollars. On only one single item was a genuine cut made by Congress, and even this was a comparatively insignificant sum: on relief, where Congress – under the leadership not of Republicans but of Democrats – made a small cut in the deficiency appropriation. On everything else the Republicans have been willing to spend as freely as the wildest New Dealer. In the vote on the Townsend Plan, twice as large a percentage of Republicans as of Democrats lined up in the affirmative.

The impossibility of serious economy comes from two sources. In the narrow factional sense, economy would be electorally suicidal. The desperate farmers are not going to vote in 1940 for the Party which refuses them subsidies; Congressmen will not keep their local machines going if they decline to hand out post-offices and patronage. More fundamentally, economy is not possible on the present basis because, with the drying up of new investments and private capital expenditures, huge federal outlays are absolutely necessary to keep the beloved system of private enterprise from falling to pieces. The Rooseveltian economy period of late 1936, early 1937, had as its immediate result the crisis of August, 1937. The howls for economy, with things as they stand, are baying at the moon.

Only in connection with unemployment relief, which big business regards as not sufficiently productive expenditure and therefore insists on reducing, is the economy demand seriously meant. In all other fields, the demand for economy is neither serious nor realizable.

When we examine the second plan, for the removal of business-deterrent taxes and regulations, we see at once that even if serious it is trivial. The fact of the matter is that the allegedly business-deterring taxes, such as the undistributed profits tax and the excess profits tax, were last year modified into little more than formalities. The greater part of the “regulations” introduced by the Roosevelt administration have proven in practice to be needed self-protective devices for big business. No serious financier would any longer wish to abolish the SEC, for example, though he might perhaps wish to change a few of its rules, particularly rules requiring important data to be made public. The Utilities Act is occasionally bothersome, but smart lawyers make out well enough with it. The big fellows are not hurt by the various trade and consumer agencies; on the contrary, the big fellows are aided at the expense of smaller fry. The virtual monopoly in radio manufacture and communication does not suffer from the FCC; rather does the FCC help in preventing small units from getting a foothold. And so in general. The Republicans could not seriously undertake to eliminate the great part of the regulative functions which the government has assumed; at most they would alter a few rules and procedures.

When this second plank is dissected, only one important serious fraction remains: the reduction, not of so-called business-deterrent taxes, but of high taxes on super-incomes. And even this, because of the mass unpopularity which it would excite, and because the taxes are after all not so high as they are made to seem, is probably excluded.

The third plank – less government-in-business – similarly falls to shreds. To begin with, the government is not now in business to any important extent in fields where it competes with private enterprise. The utilities program is spectacular, but a small percentage when compared with the private utilities and in most cases (Bonneville, Boulder, Grand Coulee, etc.) not at all competitive. In other cases (Tennessee, for example), the government’s going into the utilities business means fat profits for the utilities big shots. The government operates much the largest bank in the country. But most of its loans go into fields where private banking would not wish to take the risks. The Republicans would certainly not wish to eliminate those banking operations of the government which consist, as so many of them do (FDIC, Housing, etc.) in guaranteeing deposits, and loans made by banks – that is, guaranteeing the private banks’ profits. When you get down to cases, the government has “gone into business”, with rare exceptions, only where it has to in order bolster up capitalist enterprise, not to weaken or compete with capitalist enterprise.

In the fourth, labor, plank we find more substance. The Republicans do seriously wish to undermine the strength of the unions, and some but by no means all of the devices they propose toward this end are included in their current program. Here the actions of Republicans give evidence For example, last autumn the Republicans took over Pennsylvania and Michigan from the Democrats, Wisconsin from the Progressives and Minnesota from the Farmer-Labor Party. In these four States they have already passed reactionary labor statutes. They would undoubtedly amend the Wagner Act in the interests of the bosses in their first Congressional session after election.

In the final, foreign policy plank, it is to be observed that there is no even approximately united Republican opinion. Many of the most solid Republicans, such as Henry L. Stimson and Alfred M. Landon himself, go out of their way to make clear their solidarity with Roosevelt on foreign policy. The more talkative isolationists and critics are eccentrics like Ham Fish and Hiram Johnson, who carry little weight in responsible Party circles. Whatever the brand of talk, the underlying attitude of all the Republicans is conclusively proved by the fact that they vote all the war funds which the Democratic Administration asks, and more. It is Roosevelt, of course, who is spending and administering these funds. Even the dean of isolationists, Borah, has made clear in this session the meaninglessness of his critique. The anti-Roosevelt foreign policy of a certain part of the Republicans is not serious, but pure demagogy, employed for the sake of its vote-getting response among an electorate uneasy at the approach of the war. It is certain that no important change in foreign policy would or could result from a Republican victory in 1940.

With minor exceptions, then, and a more considerable exception in the case of labor policy, the current Republican program turns out to be not meant seriously, a vacuum. But a further observation can be made. Insofar as the program is meant seriously, it is also the current program of the Democratic Party. The Democrats stand exactly as do the Republicans on the question of economy. On relief and it alone is economy meant seriously; Democrats joined Republicans – including the Democratic leader, Barkley, in the Senate – to reduce the deficiency appropriation; it is Roosevelt who has proposed the drastic relief cut for the next fiscal year. In the matter of taxes, the Treasury Department has already proposed to this session of Congress to remove all the remaining sting from the business-deterrents. Roosevelt’s budget proposals for next year include no funds for PWA, the agency through which some of the government-in-business projects went through. Without waiting for any amendments to the Wagner Act, the Democrats are even now amending it in fact by altering its rules; they are subjecting the labor board altogether to the courts, permitting employer petitions, etc. In at least ten Democratic States, labor statutes similar to those passed in Minnesota and Pennsylvania, are now before the legislatures.

If the Republicans were today in office instead of the Democrats, there is no reason to believe that there would be any important differences in the current handling of governmental affairs, beyond minor alterations in method, procedure and verbal expression.

Will the Consumer Buy?

NO PROGRAM OF ANY bourgeois party is ever honest. It cannot be, for if it were it would have to state openly its

defense of the hideous system of misery and exploitation. We have, therefore, to perform a work of interpretation and translation when we try to estimate the genuine and serious program of a bourgeois party – the program, that is, upon which it is prepared to act. We must make a separate estimate of the psychological attraction of the ostensible program which a bourgeois party utilizes. In any given election, demagogy can win a good many votes.

Let us examine, then, the Republican program as it has been so far formulated, from the point of view of its appeal to the various sections of the electorate.

To the unemployed, the first four planks have obviously no appeal at all, but just the reverse. To the extent that the Republicans take over isolationism (and it is doubtful that they would dare write a clear isolationist paragraph into their election platform, though if desperate enough for votes it is perhaps conceivable) there is an element of appeal to the unemployed, most of whom do not wish to be killed in the war.

The same goes for the bulk of the proletariat. Why should the workers be interested in economy (on relief), in lower taxes for corporations and the rich, in anti-labor statutes?

There are factors of more substantial appeal to the farmers and the rest of the middle classes. Many of them look upon organized labor as an enemy, raising the price of manufactured goods, giving union ideas to agricultural labor, and in general a menace. They strongly support the labor-curbing proposals. Economy applied to relief is also all right with them, so long as the Republicans show by their actions – as they are showing – that they will vote large agricultural subsidies. And the covert isolationism is attractive especially to the middle-Western farmers.

The bourgeoisie on the whole favors the program, so far as it goes, and in fact has dictated it: before it appeared on the lips of Senators Vandenberg and Taft it was stated at meetings of the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. But the bourgeoisie understands pretty well that the whole program doesn’t amount to much and doesn’t solve anything. The private news letters from Washington during the recent months are notable for a growing indifference to Republican-vs.-Democratic politics. They seem to take for granted that nothing world-shaking is involved, and that the general trend, which they find most discouraging, is independent of contests between the two parties. Most of the bourgeoisie would prefer a Republican administration – as witness the recently announced gifts to the Republican National Committee from the Rockefellers, DuPonts and their friends – but they are getting over their tantrums.

This summary would make it appear that, unless the Republicans sharply revise their program between now and a year from now, they haven’t a ghost’s chance in 1940. And if the question were one only of positive appeal, this would certainly be the case. The Republican program is a joke: with the exception of the anti-labor plank, either meaningless or a hopeless anachronism harking back to days long past. The Republican Party is an outworn bureaucratic machine, kept moving by inertia. This, on the positive side. But the Republicans have one mighty source of strength, a wholly negative source: the growingly apparent collapse of the New Deal. It is safe to say that 95% of what appeal the Republican Party has and will have to the electorate is negative. The Democrats have failed; if there is nothing else in the field, then the Republicans, however empty their program, are the only alternative. This appeal is not, it should be remarked, enough to swing the unemployed; they will not go along with the Republicans, but if they break with Roosevelt will turn to fascism or the revolution. Nor will it swing the bulk of the workers; if nothing new occurs, they will for the most part either stick heavily with the Democrats or become passive. But it may turn the tide of the bulk of the middle classes and the sizeable majority of the bourgeoisie proper.

The Problem of the Big Bourgeoisie

THE PROBLEM FACED by the big bourgeoisie is to maintain their rule and profits in a universally declining social order. The experiences of the past decade have been teaching the US bourgeoisie that this can be done in the following ways only:

  1. by expanding their markets, which can only mean by extending them on the international arena – since the possibility of major expansion internally has ended;
  2. by increasing the rate of exploitation internally, which means a general speedup and general lowering of the level of real wages internally;
  3. by regulating business internally in the interests of big capital. The first of these steps means aggressive imperialist war.

The second and third mean the war dictatorship preceded or followed by fascism. Here and here only is to be found the real and serious program of US big business, known to some of its representatives today and to many more tomorrow.

It is true that this serious program is so harsh as to be unwillingly recognized even by big business itself, and to be incapable of use in the public program of a public party; yet only it corresponds to the real needs of big business. The current program of the Republican Party (like that of the Democratic Party, for that matter) is thus only a minor temporary stop-gap, while the scene is made ready for the decisive moves that are, before so long, to come. But this stop-gap is even now inadequate. The dam has already sprung its leaks. The fascist movement, with the Coughlinites today in the van, is surging through. Their eyes are no longer on the inane jockeying between Republican and Democrat. Will labor also turn its eyes, in time, from the past, and make ready to grapple with the inexorable future?

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