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The New International, July–August

Notes of the Month

Why Labor Supports Democrats


From The New International, Vol. XVIII No. 4, July–August 1952, pp. 179–186.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The position of the official labor movement in the presidential election campaign could have been foretold without difficulty. Whether the Republicans nominated Taft or Eisenhower, their candidate was sure to face the opposition of the labor movement. It is true that not a few of the leaders of this movement had frantically urged the presidential candidacy of the same general at the 1948 convention of the Democratic Party against the nomination of the same Truman whom Philip Murray eulogized the other day as the “best friend labor ever had.” The lips of many of the most practical of labor’s statesmen will be bitten through in mortification this Fall, if we make the risky assumption that the General has enough political sense to remind them of their anxious enthusiasm of four years ago. However that may be, labor’s almost universal opposition to the Republican candidate is entirely justified and correct.

Eisenhower’s nomination was a victory for the liberal wing of the Republican Party only if you accept the grossly arbitrary and perverted interpretation of the term “liberal” that is now standard in the United States. Whoever favors the unlimited use of the political and economic power of the United States to cajole or coerce the rest of the capitalist world into the war to make the world safe for the ultra-aristocratic position of American imperialism, automatically rises, according to the liberals, into their wide-open category. Liberals then are Governor Dewey, Governor Stevenson, Governor Warren and Governor Byrnes; liberals are Senator Long as well as Senator Humphrey, Walter Lippman as well as the Dixiecrats, Edward Flynn, Edward Crump, Estes Kefauver, C.E. Wilson, the other C.E. Wilson and Paul Hoffman; a liberal is Eisenhower. What grounds there are other than this for regarding the General as a liberal, nobody can or will say, least of all the General himself.

In actuality, the perfectly engineered nomination of Eisenhower was an outstanding triumph for big industrial and financial capital. For the past several years, Taft has been its respectably authentic voice. But not because of his foreign policy position. That is tolerated or overlooked only because Taft and his followers cannot overturn the basic foreign policy which, regardless of how the election turns out, will be followed just as firmly by the incoming administration as by its predecessor. Taft is presently the ideal political leader of reaction or conservatism in domestic affairs.

But he cannot be entrusted with the post of president, in which he would also have to preside over foreign affairs – a field in which his ludicrously obsolete ideas would bring swift disaster to American capitalism. The Eisenhower candidacy was initiated in such outstanding centers of Republican big capital as New England, New York and New Jersey. These Eisenhower centers delivered the final blow to Taft’s aspirations when they were openly joined at the convention by delegations that are notoriously the property of two of the most important aggregations of monopoly capital in the country, Pennsylvania and Michigan. With the nomination of Eisenhower, the Republican Party, as the party of big capital, dressed its foreign and domestic policies into a much straighter line than Taft could ever draw – and did it without cutting off the Taftites.

Labor’s support of the Democratic candidate was assured in advance. In itself, this support represents no change in the situation that has obtained for twenty years. The workers in general and the labor movement in particular have overwhelmingly favored the Democratic nominees since the advent of Roosevelt and the New Deal, and have played an increasingly active and decisive role in their electoral victories. What was new at the Chicago convention of the Democrats was the appearance of an organized bloc of labor leaders, not as visitors or petitioners before the platform committee, but as regular convention delegates with voice and vote. This is a new political development. Its significance is worth dwelling upon.

If there is no real independent working-class party in the United States, as there is and long has been in every other more or less democratic country, the ungrateful American bourgeoisie has the New Deal to thank for it. The New Deal was launched as a series of improvisations aimed at restoring and expanding the prostrated economy of the country. From the standpoint of the political development of the American working class, however, the New Deal, although accompanied by an enormous increase in the political consciousness of labor, served at once as the greatest obstacle to the formation of an independent labor party and as the most widely accepted substitute for one.

The growth and powerfulness of the political consciousness of the American working class is a milestone in its history. Never before has the working class of this country voted so clearly as a class, even though voting for a bourgeois party. Never before has the working class been so large in numbers – thanks to the merging of the New Deal into the war economy and the fusion of the Fair Deal with the permanent war economy – and its social weight so decisive. Never before has it been so well aware of the all-importance of political influence and political power for itself as a class, a development which is nothing but a reflection of the tremendous growth of state capitalism particularly since the advent of the New Deal, that is, of the political and economic power of the state machinery, of its power to regulate the distribution of the national income, of its power to regulate the unfolding of the class struggle. From this highly advanced political consciousness, which expresses itself almost entirely in bourgeois political forms, to a genuine class consciousness expressing itself in a politically independent movement of its own – will require a violent step, but only a step.

The “violence,” that is, the abruptness with which, in all probability, the labor movement will declare its own political independence and form the labor party, will result from such a gradual accumulation of experience as can no longer be contained within their present form of political existence. But before that occurs, the labor movement appears resolved to continue to the bitter end of bourgeois politics. (By “the labor movement,” we must perforce refer today – in the absence of a well-organized, articulate, challenging left-wing in the ranks of the unions – to the articulate, and especially the politically active, officialdom of the unions, against whom the ranks have not yet found their authentic voice.)

To the bitter end: this now seems to mean not only support of the Democratic candidates, but going deeper and deeper into the party itself, and by virtue of this integration, going farther and farther away from the prospect of a labor party. In turn this stimulates the belief among many weak thinkers and not a few weak characters that the political path for labor, in this most exceptional country, lies not in the Impractical Plan to form a labor party but in the Practical Plan to work carefully and even cleverly inside the Democratic Party in order to reform it and capture it for social justice and progress. The latest proof cited to show that the Democratic Party is already (or is still) going to the left and will go even farther – if the Practical Plan is pursued – is the appearance of the labor bloc at the Chicago convention and the record which the bloc achieved. In the very first place, it is supposed to include the fact that overnight the Democratic convention was confronted for the first time in its history with an organized bloc of labor, Negro and liberal leaders comprising something like a tenth of the entire delegation;

that this bloc won the most advanced F.E.P.C. plank in the platform and drove the Dixiecrats to cover and humiliation; that it won a platform plank for outright repeal of the Taft-Hartley Law; that it thwarted the right-wing plot to nominate Barkley for president; and obtained instead the nomination of a stalwart New Dealer like Stevenson. This, it is suggested, is only the beginning, the first time the liberal-labor coalition organized for direct intervention inside the Democratic Party. By continuing on this road, the famous “new political alignment” which we have often heard of from Walter Reuther, is visible on the near horizon, and the idea of forming a labor party may be left to the dreams of the Impracticals.

What are claimed as the great initial achievements of the labor bloc, can be rightly appraised only if two interrelated points are grasped:

The first is: the labor leaders know better than most people that the Democratic Party, the party of the New and Fair Deals, has been moving to the right, not to the left. In the heyday of the New Deal, labor was able to wrest its big economic and political concessions without meeting serious resistance within the ranks of the Democratic Party. For a long time now, the resistance has been increasing almost uninterruptedly. To the extent that there is such a thing as an authentic New Deal wing in the Democratic Party, it is now distinctly in the minority and growing weaker in real – not nominal, but real – influence within the party, growing weaker, above all, in its ability to translate into reality the positions it takes in words. Many of the labor leaders were brought up, as it were, in the period of the New Deal. The concessions granted them and the labor movement they lead, as well as the power they attained through the phenomenal growth of the unions in the last two decades, are associated in their minds with collaboration with the party of the New Deal. Timid and conservative as they are – and that includes the most advanced of them – they find it hard to conceive of a break with the New Deal party (actually, the ex-New Deal party), which they take to mean the same thing as the end of all the gains and concessions of the past. To preserve these gains, and all they mean to the labor movement and its officialdom, they feel themselves obliged to enter the Democratic Party in order to save the New Deal from extinction!

The second is: those who really control and run the Democratic Party, and who are responsible for the steady shift to the right, nevertheless know perfectly well that the defection of the labor movement whose support, by and large, they have had since the advent of the New Deal, means breaking the back of the party, reducing it speedily to political impotence, and above all, turning off the rich stream of patronage and power on which the party bureaucracy, the machine men, have thrived and prospered. They must know that if such a defection should take the form of a labor party, that would be the end of the Democratic prospects to be the ruling party and, in a very short time, even the prospect of its being the second party in the land. To continue the shift to the right without losing the support of labor without which victory is impossible, that is the essence of the strategy of the Democratic machine men. Hence, bring the labor movement (and its indispensable votes) closer and closer to the party and its campaigns, and give every conceivable concession to the labor leaders that does not entail reversing the basic political direction to the right.

The real power at the convention, as in the party as a whole, is the northern and western big-city and big-state machine, variegated in its regional parts but single in its interests. It differs from its southern counterpart in a very simple way: it understands that the party cannot possibly win a national election under the leadership, the program and the candidates of the southern barbarians. At the same time a national victory would be imperilled by a southern bolt. The southerners, who not only threaten to bolt, but have bolted and can do it again, must be kept in the party; and because their threats are serious, they must be given serious and substantial concessions. The labor leaders, on the other hand, make only the mildest verbal threats, but since they are committed against the formation of a labor party, they can be kept tied to the Democrats by cheap verbal concessions. By balancing off its two wings – if such unequal treatment can be considered balancing – the machine men achieve their bureaucratic aims.

The labor officialdom has, however, different interests and different aims. For a favorable political and economic position of its own, it needs a labor movement that also enjoys a favorable position. This, to it, means re-dedicating the Democratic Party to the New Deal. It would hardly be possible for this officialdom to overestimate the power of the working class it represents. But it did not require many hours of convention sessions to show how grossly it overestimates the power that this working class wields inside the Democratic Party.

The first public appearance of the labor bloc at Chicago was its attempt to kick out the authentic political progeny of the southern slaveocracy. The parliamentary propriety of the proposal is of tenth-rate interest or importance. The really important point is that a responsible political party which solemnly pledged to liberate an entire people, like the Negroes in the South, from a monstrous injustice, would not have room in its ranks, let alone its leadership, for those who are criminally responsible for inflicting the injustice – provided the pledge was honestly and seriously intended. If it is allowed that the labor bloc was nobly inspired in its “loyalty oath” proposal which, in effect, means the ousting of the barbarians from the party, it should also be noted that the ouster would have increased the specific weight of the labor bloc in the party and greatly improved its bargaining position. In any case, it carried its proposal, but not without support from Kefauver and supporters whose nobility of purpose was completely obscured by their anxiety to kill off the Russell votes in order to grab the nomination. If the machine men were caught off guard by the victory of this sudden and not too principled alliance, it was not for long. They promptly showed that the party is controlled not by the labor delegates, even if allied to the gang- buster, but by the machine – Stevenson’s in the forefront. The contemptuously defiant southerners did not budge; they didn’t have to; they were warmly welcomed back without having to leave; the courage of the labor bloc and its allies shrank away and they all swallowed the rebuff by the real convention powers. The labor leaders were shown their real place in the picture.

Even more deceptive was the show of power that the labor leaders seemed to display in “vetoing” the nomination for president which was sought for Barkley. You would think that the absurdity of this claim for labor’s strength in the Democratic party would be evident on its face. It should be obvious that Barkley could at no time have been a serious contender in the eyes of those who make the decisions in the party. That he is a septuagenarian was the lesser of the handicaps of this altogether undistinguished politician. What decided his fate was primarily his complete association with Truman and the administration. The real powers in the party, North as well as South, would not accept a pronounced Trumanite as their candidate. It should hardly be necessary to add that if the party bosses had actually wanted Barkley, the labor veto would have had no effect on their decision. It should be even less necessary to point out that if the labor leaders were so strong that they could veto the candidacy of a staunch Trumanite, their failure or inability to veto the nomination of so odious a politician as Sparkman would be absolutely inexplicable. It was all as simple as the fact that Barkley did not have even a remote chance of winning the election, which was the main concern of the bosses. That did for Barkley. The strength of the labor leaders did not lie in the convention, any more than it does in the Democratic Party in general.

The most revealing of the self-deceptions of labor at the Democratic convention is the platform: particularly, the flat pledge to repeal the Taft-Hartley Law, the pledge to enact an F.E.P.C. law without mentioning that now offensive term, and the promise to put an end to the monstrosity of the southern filibusters in the Senate. These are the outstanding victories of the labor-liberal bloc. Only, they are meaningless victories, or better yet, they are worse than meaningless. They are perfidious, cynical, misleading, and a deliberate vote-catching trap for the innocent and unwary. That the labor leaders have acquiesced in the laying of this trap is nothing short of an outrage.

Not one of the labor leaders at the convention, or since the convention, or in any statement on the election, has made note of the fact that the pledge to repeal Taft-Hartley and to enact an F.E.P.C. was made at a convention of the party that has enjoyed government power for twenty years and was the government at the very moment of the convention pledges. What prevented the government party from repealing Taft-Hartley and enacting an F.E.P.C. against the filibusters up to now? It could not have been the Republicans, for they were and are the minority. Everyone at the convention, without exception, knew it was the southern Democrats who were responsible, and that their accomplices – for all their protestations to the contrary – are the rest of the Democratic leadership which has allowed them to continue their reactionary sabotage with elaborate impunity. The same convention, with straightened mendacity, condemned the record of the Republican reactionaries in Congress while passing over the record of the Democratic reactionaries in the silence of thieves’ solidarity. That silence was not broken even by the labor delegates, even by the A.D.A. delegates, and not even by the Negro delegates. It is a shameful thing to record. It is likewise shameful that nobody at the Democratic convention was asked to explain by what means the incoming Democratic administration would carry out the platform on Taft-Hartley and F.E.P.C., when the outgoing Democratic administration had failed to carry it out; to explain why any moderately intelligent person should have more confidence in the one to come in than in the one that is going out.

The platform planks on Taft-Hartley and F.E.P.C. were, without a possible doubt, concessions to the labor movement and to the Negro people, and their leaders are entirely justified in claiming them as such. These concessions were the irreducible minimum required to hold the increasingly disturbed and restless mass of workers and Negroes. That minimum was cheap; nobody ever got – or at least ever expected – a bigger return on a more modest investment. The labor- liberal-Negro convention bloc was given words. These words could have been matched by deeds in the nomination of the candidates called upon to win the victory and translate the platforms into legislative action.

There is no excuse for misunderstanding the meaning of the nominations that were finally made, Stevenson and Sparkman. Where they stand on controversial questions is a matter of familiar record, and so it was before they were nominated. When Stevenson calls himself, after Eisenhower, a “middle-of-the-road” man, he simply means he is somewhere between Taft-McCarthy and Truman, that is, well to the right of the New Deal. Before the convention, Stevenson took the trouble to make his views public in print: he was opposed to repeal of the Taft-Hartley Law and favored only amending it (was not Taft himself also opposed to repeal and in favor of modifying amendments?); and he is opposed to a compulsory national Fair Employment Practises law. The words in the convention platform on these points become a cynical joke in face of this unaltered position of its standard bearer. They become a downright fraud, mere election flypaper, in face of the nomination of Sparkman for the vice-president, whose record includes voting originally for the Taft-Hartley bill, opposing its appeal to this day, and opposing F.E.P.C. along with the filibustering gang from the South. The present advertising campaign to paint Sparkman as a liberal because he is not a full-fledged barbarian like other southerners, is disgusting; McCarthy, too, is a liberal compared with, say, Hitler. Stevenson and his Sparkman are authentic representatives of the continuing shift to the right in the party of the ex-New Deal.

In sum:

The labor leaders got all the concessions in words that were needed to keep the labor vote; the reactionaries got all the concessions in deeds that were needed to keep the southern Bourbon vote.

The latest tactic of the labor leaders was bankrupt before it could net a single gain. There is a fundamental reason for it, which they are too primitive politically to see: the Democratic Party is, by its whole tradition, its whole structure, its whole training, its basic associations, its leadership high and low, a bourgeois party. That is how it will live and die. The strength of the working class lies not inside this party but outside of it. It was not even this class that sent the labor leaders to the convention as delegates: in every instance we know of, the labor leaders were appointed as delegates by the party bosses who needed them for one thing and only one: window dressing to attract the labor vote.

There is, to be sure, another, far from unimportant side to the new tactic of the labor leaders, that of entering directly into the Democratic Party in order to determine its course, instead of merely endorsing what the party decided by itself without laborites in its ranks. Between the officialdom of the labor unions and the officialdom of the bourgeois Democratic Party, there is deep-seated antagonism, which the cleverest tactical tenderness and diplomatic friendliness cannot erase. Each, in its own way, represents different social interests. The conflict between them can be concealed for a time, or dulled for a time, but never reconciled. To protect its own interests, and the interests of the class it represents, however inadequately, the labor officialdom is being driven to political measures of timid desperation. One of them is its spectacular appearance at the Democratic convention as a bloc; another is the taking over of the Democratic Party machine in a few places where it has collapsed almost entirely; another is the taking over of the Democratic election campaign in localities where the official party is prostrate. The old party machine, bourgeois and corrupt through and through on a national scale, will never allow the “laborite upstarts” to gain a decisive position in the party, let alone allow itself to be taken over and even serve under laborite politicians. Let the laborites in? By all means and with a maximum of paper concessions! To the fullest extent required to guarantee the voting support of the workers! And above all as guarantee that labor shall not form its own party! Let the laborites have the deciding vote, or even the power of the veto? Never!

Animating the secret dreams of some labor leaders, and sustaining the interest in life of some radicals converted to respectability, is the frail idea that they can sneak up quietly on the Democratic Party and make it into the political instrument of la

bor; that this, and not the formation of a labor party, is the true and unique American way. If they ever realize this dream in life, the second coming of Christ cannot be long off. For even if, by the most miraculous and earnest of organized efforts, the labor officialdom, organizing their followers in whispers, could win the decisive positions through the great American primary elections system, they would capture themselves and nobody else.

The Democratic Party is a big bourgeois political machine. Ever so shrewd labor leaders may join it. But the mass movement they represent cannot join it. The individuals who do, are quickly corrupted in it, as the Chicago convention already showed. The labor movement as a whole cannot bring its real strength to bear upon the Democratic Party: it is not represented in the machine which is the sum and substance of the party, and by its very nature it cannot be. As the political and economic pressure upon it continues in the land, it can and it will bring its strength to bear upon the labor leaders who are now so precariously represented in the Democratic Party. There is no sure way of telling at present which of two forms this pressure will take in the next period: forcing the labor leaders out of the Democratic Party and toward an authentic, representative, independent party of the working class, or forcing the labor leaders to take such actions inside the Democratic Party as will precipitate the muted conflict between the old machine and the new “interlopers” and lead by another road – an indirect, tortuous, discreditable and foul one – to the same inevitable conclusion: the declaration of. political independence of the American working class. But there is a sure way of telling what road should and will be taken by the conscious working-class militants and socialists whose principles on this vital question are buttressed by the entire history of the working class of all countries: The road of progress does not lie through the swamp of capitalist politics and capitalist political parties. In such a party as a minority, labor must take a responsibility for the politics of its class enemy which is at once degrading, incriminating and demoralizing. If ever a majority in such a party, it finds itself without the partners it captured, and is faced with the need of constituting itself as a class political party anyway. That is its need now; there is no way of cheating history and circumventing the need; and the road to it is clear and direct.

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