Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

New International, January 1948


Notes of the Month

Why Wallace Is Running


From The New International, Vol. XIV No. 1, January 1948, pp. 7–9.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


It has been said that a politician needs three hats: one to throw into the ring, one to talk through, and one to pull rabbits out of. Henry Wallace has the first two; as a result he needs the third more than ever.

The reaction to Wallace’s announcement of his presidential candidacy already indicates the self-defeating character of the movement he is evoking. It is a third-party movement, but without labor’s backing. It is a self-styled “peace movement,” but one based on the program of appeasing Russian imperialism. It is a “liberal crusade,” but one repudiated by almost all liberals except the Stalinists’ private collection of anointed “progressives.”

The most wonderful thing about Wallace’s strategy is that in one fell swoop he succeeded in alienating more different groups, from more different points of view, than most politicians can usually do through not less than a half dozen separate blunders. Still, the extent to which the “flight from Wallace” by the people with “names” will have its counterpart among the nameless rank and file is still to be seen; it is by no means to be assumed.

Up to now, Wallace has been riding a wave in truth, the wave of the future: the feelings of discontent with and suspicion of the increasingly reactionary policies of both old parties on the part of the workers and little people of the country; the desire to break away from the two-in-one bi-partisan sham in Washington; and the instinctive sympathy of the underdogs with one who seemed to stand up and attack both sets of rulers in the name of democracy, peace and security.

This is still his strength. The tragedy lies precisely in the fact that hundreds of thousands of militants, who are ready to follow a strong lead for independent labor political action, do not know anyone else to whom they can look.

Their Criticism and Ours

To these workers Wallace offers not a labor party, not even a labor-based third party, but rather a mugwump movement hothouse-forced by the Stalinists. Wallace’s stumpers and door-bell ringers will try to sell this to the trade-union customers as “just as good as a labor party.”

Will the whole idea of independent political action thus be tied up with the brand of anti-labor reaction and pro-Russianism which is the Stalinists’ reason for existence? Insofar as this takes place, it can only serve to discredit and taint the idea of a real labor party and real workers’ politics in the minds of their dupes.

The labor leaders and liberals who are at present engaged in shoveling abuse on Wallace’s head are working to this end as busily as are the Stalinists.

The breakaways from the Progressive Citizens of America (Kingdon, Crum, Walsh, etc.); from the American Labor Party (the Amalgamated Clothing Workers’ people in New York); even previous Stalinist darlings like Senator Pepper; even more, the bureaucracies of the CIO and AFL unions who are now reviling Wallace with especial vulgarity – all these are outraged by Wallace’s candidacy.

And what is his crime in their eyes? It is the fact that he refuses to support Truman as the “lesser evil” to the Republicans. It is the fact that he is “splitting the ranks of the progressives,” as the refrain goes. It is the fact that Wallace says:

“We want a new party, an anti-Wall-Street party, an anti-war party, a party of the common man. The Democrats and Republicans are hopelessly sold to the big interests and cannot be reformed. We must start now to build a party that will speak for the workingmen. We cannot wait for ‘ideal’ conditions which never come!”

This echoes the healthiest sentiments among the restive masses, and if this were the primary content of the Wallace movement it would indeed be a landmark in American social history. Let there be no mistake about that! But the truth is that these fine words have as much meaning in Wallace’s mouth (or in his politics) as the fine word “socialism” has in the mouth of his impresario, the Communist Party.

For Wallace, the “dominant issue” is what he calls “peace,” by which he means a policy of stuffing Stalin’s belly with “concessions” in power politics so that American imperialism may suck at the rest of the world undisturbed. He proclaims openly that Truman has only to take a few steps in this direction to cause him to drop all the fine talk about new parties and political independence and the need to “stand up and be counted” against Wall Street. His remarks on Taft, discussed below, make it crystal-clear that his demagogic appeal to working-class interests is a tactical convenience and not a programmatic principle.

While he has for some time had the dual character of muddle-headed liberal and Stalinist cat’s-paw, like many others, in this election he explicitly presents himself to the people primarily in the second capacity.

Wallace’s Crime

We do not go for the notion that the antagonism of workers to Wallace as a Stalinist stooge springs only from exposure to the vicious anti-red drive of American reaction. Reaction is here taking advantage of a fact and playing it for all it is worth; but it remains a fact. Reaction may take advantage of workers’ healthy hatred for Russian totalitarianism and its agents, as it took advantage of their healthy hatred for fascism before and during the recent war; but it is the job of socialists to disentangle anti-Stalinism from red-baiting as it was our job to disentangle anti-Nazism from warmongering. In the present case it is our job to disentangle labor opposition to Wallace as a pro-Stalinist appeaser from opposition to him as a “splitter of the progressive front.”

The labor leaders and liberals consciously amalgamate the two anti-Wallace motivations. “Look at what Wallace is doing,” they scream; “he rejects the ‘lesser evil” of Truman in order to pull Russia’s chestnuts out of the fire!” One is left to assume that rejecting Truman is equivalent to being a “Russia lover.”

Shortsightedly squinting down from their comfortable perches on top to the milling mass who are looking for a way out of the bi-partisan blind alley, they are working overtime to convince labor that the idea of independent political action is a Stalinist-invented trap. After only yesterday themselves denouncing Truman as a strike-breaker, they are now comforted by the thought that he is not as big a strike-breaker as Taft. Voting for the “lesser strike-breaker” is still the intellectual height of official CIO-AFL thought in the United States. It is known here as practicality.

We hope that the rank and file of labor will be as solidly anti-Wallace as their leaders, but we do not believe that large masses of them will be so from the same smug considerations, even if (as we fear) most of them will reluctantly cast their ballots the same way. Wallace’s crime is that, far from offering them a chance to vote between a candidate of their own and a capitalist candidate, his performance may only obscure the pressing necessity of the sole immediate solution of labor’s dilemma the formation of a genuine labor party by the trade unions themselves.

We leave for coming issues of The New International any further discussion of Wallace’s program and political ideas, insofar as he has such. Right now we wish to take up a question which has been widely raised by the entrance of the man into the presidential race, This question is: Why did Wallace do it?

No one can take Wallace’s own formal explanation entirely seriously as the decisive motivation – viz., one must stand up and be counted for what one believes, let the chips fall where they may, etc. This was the obvious sort of thing to say once the decision was taken. But Wallace has not been noted for always standing up and sounding off on what he believed, except on the subject of the fatherhood of God and the blessedness of the Spirit. It was not very long ago that he was himself arguing that he could not bolt the party because of the danger of “splitting the progressive front.”

What changed his mind? – assuming it was neither a sudden attack of galloping principledness nor a visitation like that of the archangel to Joan of Arc (although in Wallace’s case the second possibility is not to be dismissed lightly.)

The argument about not “splitting the progressive front,” whether made by Wallace in his previous incarnation or by his ex-friends now, is based on the view of Truman as the “lesser evil” to a Taft. From our discussion thus far, one might have a right to assume that Wallace has broken with the sterilizing concept of the “lesser evil” as such, in favor of principled politics. This would indeed be a noteworthy step of ideological emancipation for any man so bourgeois-minded as Wallace, and even a praiseworthy mark in his favor, however wrongfully applied. But the assumption would be unwarranted.

Troglodyte or Truman?

The fact is that Wallace is navigating by the light of the “lesser evil” theory as closely as before; he has merely changed his mind about whose breast the label should be pinned on. For Wallace today, the genuine lesser evil is – Taft.

... if the only choice were between a Truman advocating compulsory military training and military aid to reactionary regimes and a Taft strong against compulsory military training and shipment of arms abroad, I would vote for Taft. I have made this statement because I wanted to emphasize the supreme importance of peace in the strongest possible way. [Wallace, in the New Republic, December 29. Italics in original.]

Strong enough – it leaves nothing to be desired when the country’s “No.1 liberal” flatly asserts his preference for the country’s No.1 symbol of reaction, as against Truman. The startlingness of the antithesis also explains sufficiently, perhaps, why this application of the “lesser evil” theory does not lead him to the conclusion that Taft should actually be supported a possible conclusion which he vigorously repudiates but which required, at least, that he run himself. Outside of himself, he indicates, Taft is the best bet for “peace” (in the Wallacian sense) – and “peace,” you will remember, is the supreme issue.

Why is Taft, the arch-reactionary, yet the least warmongering of the field of candidates?

[1] ... he is not as violently anti-Russian as are most of the other potential Republican candidates ...

[2] ... he is the Republican least likely, among all those seeking the presidential nomination, to pursue a foreign policy backed with armed orce, and thus to sharpen the chances for war ...

[3] There are two types of Republican candidates today. One conforms to the Henry Luce, American Century type, and the other is Taft. The American Century type of candidate believes first, last and all the time, in the “menace of communism.”... This group, and their candidates, I look on as the most dangerous in America.

[4] Taft ... believes that that encroachment [of government on business] can be delayed if our government has no active role to play overseas.

[5] ... today we have Taft standing for a “Little America” and the whole Luce stable of presidential hopefuls for a “Big America.” President Truman belongs to the “Big America” group just as certainly as Dewey or Vandenberg ... They are suited by temperament and ambition to build a strong and expensive mechanism to run the world.

[6] Compared with the “American Century” adventurers, Taft is a troglodyte of prehistoric vintage. [Ibid.]

This perfectly clear exposition of Taft’s relatively peaceful qualifications can be boiled down to one sentence: The “Big America” candidates are smart enough to know what American imperialism’s interests require; Taft, on the other hand, is stupid. (Troglodyte is defined as a cave-dwelling savage, any person of primitive or degraded ways of living, or an ape.) What better recommendation?

Why Stalinists Run Wallace

We forbear from probing Wallace’s mental processes any further. A more interesting question obtrudes: Where did Wallace get this interesting inversion of the lesser-evil doctrine?

Certainly not from the Kingdons and Crums of the PCA. We suggest further that (well founded as this view of Taft may be in its essentials) the process of reasoning from these premises to the conclusion that Taft is the lesser evil to Truman, as well as the complete de-emphasis of the domestic issues in favor of a glassy-eyed concentration on the question of foreign policy all this is politically completely alien to liberal patterns of thought. It is not too great a speculative leap to lay it at the door of those who are indeed today Wallace’s sole political chaperones – the Stalinists.

The original question is transformed. Not “Why is Wallace running?” but “Why is the CP running Wallace?” And this question can be examined without any psychological probings whatever.

(1) The CP is running Wallace because it prefers the election of a more isolationist Republican to Truman. Wallace, of course, cannot be elected, but he can defeat Truman. More than that: the very announcement of Wallace’s candidacy has already strengthened the chances of Taft’s winning the Republican nomination; the Republicans may feel that they can afford a less popular candidate. If Truman is defeated, no matter what Republican is elected, the Daily Worker will claim that the people have given an implied mandate against the Truman Doctrine and against Truman-Marshall arch-imperialism. Stalin has a real interest in choosing between a Truman and a troglodyte.

(2) The CP is running Wallace because the only alternative was to run an openly CP candidate. Obviously the Stalinists could not even dream of supporting Truman while in Europe they busily paint him in black colors as a deep-dyed arch-fiend. No matter how great the pressure at home, their well developed system of opportunistic adaptation to the labor bureaucracy could not carry to this point, where it would conflict with the major need of their Russian masters.

Then why didn’t the CP run its own party candidate? The obvious answer is that as long as Wallace was willing to bite, this was unnecessary. But in addition, an open CP candidate would have put Stalinist-controlled unions on a vary uncomfortable spot: whom could they endorse? It must be remembered in this connection that the Stalinists have not run a presidential candidate of their own in twelve years – really, in sixteen years, since in 1936 the CP “ran” Browder for the record but put its bankroll on Roosevelt (as they are now doing with respect to Wallace and Taft).

(3) The CP is running Wallace as the biggest possible sounding board for an all-out propaganda attack on the Marshall Plan – the No. 1 task assigned by Moscow.

(4) The CP is running Wallace as the best form of pressure upon Truman, for what it is worth. They can at least hope that, if the Wallace campaign takes, Truman will find it expedient to move over in his direction in order to keep from losing too many Wallacian-liberal votes. They can also hope that the Wallace campaign will stimulate the formation and spread of permanent Stalinist-third-party fronts (like the recently formed California Independent Progressive Party). In the absence of a real labor party or even of a native-sponsored third party, such groups could funnel social discontent into the hopper of Stalinist pressure politics.

One thing is made entirely obvious by the Wallace affair: a new independent party, which seeks to speak for the masses against the classes, can only be an abortion unless it is solidly based on the organized labor movement.

Even if the Kingdons and Crums had gone along with Wallace on this adventure, the realities of his situation would have been only slightly altered as long as the trade unions turned thumbs down. The purely “liberal” vote and social influence, as distinct from labor’s vote and social weight, is not quite a negligible quantity but it is a distinctly minor consideration.

The converse is, however, not true. Labor’s independent political strength is the unlit fuse of American society its explosion would shake the political framework to its foundations and send cracks ramifying into the social and economic substructures. In comparison the Wallace movement is a wet firecracker pinging inside an empty can.

Top of page

Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 24 June 2017