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The New International, March–April 1952

Notes of the Month ...

Labor and Elections


From The New International, Vol. XVIII No. 2, March–April 1952, pp. 51–52.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


With the withdrawal of Adlai Stevenson from the lists of the Democratic nomination possibilities, there has vanished another one of the slender hopes held by the labor leadership that they could get a “satisfactory” candidate for president in 1952.

How happy they would have been even with Stevenson is another matter. They would have had to wonder why Senator Russell of Georgia, another candidate for the nomination, whose platform in effect is white supremacy and Southern-type “states’ rights,” is reported to be so willing to accept Stevenson for top place on the ticket with himself as running mate. But since the Illinois governor has declared himself out, it is not even necessary to go into this.

The outstanding fact of the 1952 preliminaries, as we write, is not so much the dramatized contest between Taft and Eisenhower for the Republican mantle; it is the yawning pit of nothingness that looms before the labor political leaders as they confront the prospects for November.

After twenty years of tagging along with the Fair Deal and its ancestor, the New Deal, they seem to be left holding the bag. To be sure, the Democratic Party may yet save itself; it is certainly too early (even without the upset of 1948 to go by) to count it out of the running even against Eisenhower. It is not impossible that even a Kefauver or Harriman might make the grade. But could the CIO-PAC strategists make themselves believe that there is much left of the Fair Deal?

A two-decades-long strategy of labor is in the process of blowing up. Not until the candidates are finally named by the party convention can one be sure of this, of course; but this much is certain: the Democrats will have to pull a neat trick to assuage the labor leaders’ sinking feeling that this is the case.

It means the swan song of a theory – a theory long held by the leaders of labor. Let no one tell us that these men are not theorists but “practical men,” and that it has not been a “theory” that they have been acting on. Of course, the CIO leaders are scornful of “theories” and fondly regard themselves as “practical politicians,” but this is an illusion on their part.

Like others who scorn theory (by which they usually mean something unconnected with practical life), they are only all the more the slaves of the theories which do fill their thinking; for being unaware of their commitment, they cannot be critical of it.

One assumption of the real theory behind the Fair Deal politics of the labor movement in the United States is the idea that it is possible for labor’s interests to become a decisive and permanent component of the policies of one of the capitalist party machines. For a very short-lived interval after the victory of Truman in 1948, labor politics even dreamed of “capturing” the Democratic Party. Left-wingish supporters of CIO-PAC politics even argued that, after all, if the Democratic Party could be transformed into a labor party, in effect, why bother to take the hard route? Let us not be dogmatic, they argued – for to them a “dogma” is by definition a theory which they do not hold.

But that sort of talk went on only for a short period of virtual euphoria. It settled back into the more usual line that, while labor did not even want to transform the Democratic Party into a labor party, since allies and friends would be lost in such a drastic change, it was possible for labor to exercise the balance of power within the Fair Deal coalition so as to achieve its main ends.

One of the troubles with this theory of the “practical men” is that it looked at the Fair Deal coalition solely in terms of party power politics. What would the Democratic Party be without its labor wing, they asked themselves; and not without justification they answered: a hollow shell. Therefore the Democrats must continue to satisfy labor, or else bow to the Republicans. Self-preservation required it. This would keep the Fair Dealers in line.

But it is short-sighted to look on the leaders of the Democratic Party, from Truman to the Dixiecrats, solely as party-power politicians. It is indeed an unwarranted aspersion on these men. They are responsible for the destinies not only of a party but of a national state with great responsibility in the world That responsibility, in their eyes of course, is not to any allies in the Fair Deal coalition, in the first place, but above all to the basic interests of the “American system.” Translated, this means: the basic interests of American capitalism and imperialism.

It is the war economy, with its domestic and foreign policies, which has first priority in determining their politics, in the long run; and they can try to make concessions to labor only within its framework. It is this which is the disintegrating component of the Fair Deal coalition, just as it was this which changed “Dr. New Deal” to “Dr. Win-the-War” in Roosevelt’s phraseology. There is no inevitability that 1952 will be the year of that disintegration, for good and all, but it is clearly on the way.

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Last updated on 14 December 2018