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Emanuel Garrett

Henry Wallace – And His Place in Stalin’s Strategy

(March 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 11, 15 March 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

There is little reason to doubt that the most important single political event in the United States during these past few months has been the development of the Henry A. Wallace-Stalinist Third Party movement. It is an importance which is not alone to be measured by the size of the vote Henry Wallace polls in November; and certainly not by its effects on the Truman campaign. It derives its importance, rather, from a multiplicity of factors, included in which are: its damaging effects upon the development of a genuine labor party; its place in Stalinist strategy.

The Wallace-Stalinist Third Party, under its various state names – American Labor Party, Progressive Party, etc. – owes its existence entirely to the demands of this strategy. Whoever fails to understand this, understands nothing – but, nothing! – about this Third Party. Traditionally the Third Party, at least as understood in recent years, is a third party of capitalism, that is to say, a party seeking to patch the rotten and fear-inspiring foundations of capitalism by liberal concessions to the people. However, to discuss this particular movement in terms of “traditional” Third Partyism, and to debate its inadequacies, its incompetence and its illusions in those terms it to discuss and debate something which does not exist at all, or exists at best as a tiny fraction of the reality.

In actual fact the Wallace Party is a combination of a few (very few!) New Dealers and Stalinists, with the latter acting as creative force and veto apparatus. The organizational impetus comes from the Stalinists. The mass support, such as it now is, comes from the Stalinists. The program reflects completely the exigencies of the Stalinist line at this moment in this country. To be sure, Wallace and the few New Dealers who came along with him (the greater number having run back to Truman at the very moment that their brash talk about a new party threatened to become concrete) represent a segment of U.S. capitalism who wish to salvage what they can of capitalism, by dividing the world between Russia and the U.S. whereas the Stalinists are exclusively loyal to the bureaucratic-collectivist totalitarianism of Russia. But that is only an apparent conflict, and an inconsequential one for the present. They can “uphold” capitalism either Wallace – 1948 style or Roosevelt – 1942 style (no-strike pledges, etc.), so long as their major objective of upholding the Russian tyranny is served.

Thus, ground down to its essence, the program of the Wallace-Stalinist Party is not at all a domestic program for “reforming” capitalism or “improving” the lot of the “common man,” but an international program for the subjugation of the peoples of the world to the imperialisms of Russia and the United States. Therein is the real reason for its invention; therein is the clue to the Wallace candidacy.

“The Man and the Myth”

If the movement derives its energy from the Stalinists, the relation of Wallace to it is nonetheless important. Wallace serves as banner-bearer of the Party; he is the front. The Party is dependent on him to the extent that it would be difficult for the Stalinists to find another candidate of equal national reputation. Hence, it is necessary to know something about the man, his history and his program which coincides so neatly with the Stalinist program. And for that we heartily recommend a book which recently appeared, Henry Wallace: – The Man and the Myth, by Dwight Macdonald. (Vanguard, 187 pp., $2.50.)

Macdonald’s book is not the final word to be written on Wallace; it has serious shortcomings on the side of political and theoretical interpretation, but it is the best and most detailed examination of Wallace yet composed. (For those who have not read it yet, we also recommend Jack Ranger’s excellent study of Wallace in LA, Oct. 13, 1947.)

Willy-nilly the Stalinists are trying to sell the Third Party as the next best thing to a Labor Party, if not actually one; and trying to sell Wallace as the great champion of the people, hence a man fitted to head what is the next best thing to a Labor Party. Though the Party at its inception has only Stalinists behind it, hundreds of thousands of workers (possibly millions) will fall for this misleading trash – Which can only serve the purpose of discrediting the Labor Party, apart from the service this Third, Party does Russian imperialism. Therefore, we believe that no worker should fail to acquaint himself with Macdonald’s book, the facts and fancies of the Wallace myth.

Macdonald dissects the Wallace myth with a scalpel of the finest journalistic calibre, and finds that “Wallace has made a career of supplying to liberals a commodity they crave: rhetoric which accomplishes in fantasy what cannot be accomplished in reality.” Macdonald lists five fictions: “That Wallace is a man of integrity – That Wallace has great moral courage – That he is a dreamer, a visionary whose spirit moves in realms far above petty political considerations – That Wallace is rigid, even somewhat doctrinaire in his ideology – That Wallace has fought the good fight against privilege and injustice – and then cites the facts which disprove the myth. Thus, with respect to the last fiction:

“One of the most striking things about Wallace’s career is how much talking he has done about fighting for the Common Man, and how little acting ...

“(a) During the filibuster of Southern Senators against the Poll Tax Bill in 1942, Wallace, as Vice-President, presided over the Senate. Certain liberal Senators, including the late George W. Norris, urged Wallace to dramatize the issue by not leaving the chair, sleeping there if necessary. This might have had some practical value as well: Parliamentary opportunities might have occurred to end the filibuster. Wallace, however, refused to co-operate, turning the chair over to any handy Senator whenever he got tired.

“(b) One of Wallace’s habitual strategies when confronted with a conflict is simply to be somewhere else. This was his tactic in the 1935 purge in the Department of Agriculture and in the controversy with Baruch about the atomic bomb. During the nation-wide effort to get a reprieve for Odell Waller, the Negro sharecropper who killed his white landlord in a fight and who was executed for what would normally have been a manslaughter case, a delegation of Negro and White liberals called on Wallace to ask him to intervene with Roosevelt. They were shown into the office of Wallace’s lieutenant, Harold Young, who received them with his feet on the desk and a cigar in his mouth. Without removing either, he informed them, in a Southern drawl, that the Common Man’s Friend was not in, and that, anyway, nothing could be done about their request. As they were filing out, they caught sight of Wallace leaving his office. Embarrassed, the tribune of the people put on speed. But the delegation included Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune, a woman of considerable determination. Although she walks with difficulty, using a cane, she hobbled after him, calling out loudly, “Oh, Mr. Wallace, I want to talk to you!” At which Wallace walked even faster, saying over his shoulder, “There’s nothing I can do in the matter, Mrs. Bethune.” Stories differ as to whether the pursuit was successful or not, but in any case the delegation got no help or sympathy from Wallace. He was, officially and spiritually, Elsewhere.” (pp. 21–23.)

Later in the book, Macdonald examines Wallace’s record in backing the big farmer against the poor farmer in the Agricultral Adjustment Act days (AAA). Particularly interesting are those pages of Wallace’s history which deal with the sharecroppers. In 1934 a committee, headed by Norman Thomas, prepared a report charging that the plight of the sharecroppers was becoming worse under AAA.

Wallace’s reactions,” writes Macdonald, “were those of a Secretary of Agriculture rather than a Champion of the Common Man. He issued a counter-statement accusing Thomas of exaggerating, for political purposes, the plight of the share-croppers; and he denied that AAA was affecting them adversely. When Mitchell (leader of the Southern ant Farmer’s union) and Thomas tried, repeatedly, to get an appointment to see Wallace about the sharecroppers, the Secretary was somehow always busy or out of town.”

In addition, Macdonald documents the conflict over whether Section 7 of the AAA should be interpreted for or against the eviction of recalcitrant sharecroppers, a conflict which was resolved by purging from the department the liberals who tried to pull a “fast one” by interpreting the Act as it was written.

There is much else in the book that completes the Wallace portrait: Wallace as mystic; Wallace as spokesman for the Common Man, but unable to, speak with or understand “common men”; Wallace as scientist (the one field – agricultural experimentation – where he has done some good); Wallace as editor of the New Republic; Wallace as sucker for applause (something which the Stalinists can provide in ample quantity). We pick at random. All of these contribute to an understanding of Wallace, and hence of his connections with the Third Party. (Macdonald’s cutting investigation of “Wallace,” the empty, pontifical generalizations of the “Wallesian” liberals makes especially interesting reading. A neat job that helps to deflate the windbags).

Slavemaster Agreement

With all of this, however, the main thing in the Wallace movement remains its tie with Stalinism, organizationally and programmatically. (It is here that Macdonald is weakest, revealing his political limitations in grappling with the complexities of Stalinism and Stalinoids. Our readers will find Comrade Hal Draper’s article on the “neo-Stalinist man” in the January 1948, New International, very illuminating).

The Wallace movement has many attractions for the people of the United States, above all for those workers who are thoroughly fed up with the endlessly hopeless choice between Democrats and Republicans. Wallace’s ace in the hole is that he appears to offer a program of peace and security, based upon harmony between the big imperialist rivals. He seems to offer an end to the cold war which is driving towards eruption into “hot” war of battling armies. The Stalinists know that this “peace” program is a chimera. They hope to stymie, disrupt and blackmail the war policies of U.S. imperialism, notably the Marshall Plan as an instrument of that policy. And it fits their plans to have Wallace prattle about “peace.”

Wallace’s “peace” program is nothing less than agreement between slavemasters to jointly operate the world, each ruling in his own sphere. Whether or not the Stalinists hope for a world under the single slave domination of Stalin (as U.S. imperialism looks toward a world exclusively under its domination), it nevertheless serves their purpose to promote acquiescence in the enslavement of the east-Europeam peoples, and others, right here and now. That is Wallace’s great value to them. Let him, they reason, do so to save capitalism as he thinks he needs to be saved; no matter.

Such a “peace” – even were it more than a temporary truce pending final contest, which it cannot be in an imperialist world – would be a peace based upon slavery, the slavery of the peoples of the world. Such a “peace” cannot be tolerated, even as an idea. It is inimical in every conceivable way to the working class and to the people of this country as of other countries. Every worker must be made to understand this, above all the worker who may yield to the lure of the pro-capitalist Wallace-Stalinist Party as a sign of his well-founded opposition to the two big capitalist parties. No worker must remain uninformed of this. We dare not permit the legitimate and healthy disgust which labor feels for the two big parties to be subverted into the reactionary channels of Stalinist strategy. And we dare not allow it to be beguiled by such types as Wallace. Whether Wallace sticks with “his” party, or switches (there is ample evidence in Macdonald’s book to permit us to expect anything of the man), his kind has nothing to offer but disaster. Henry Wallace – The Man and the Myth is sufficient of a dossier on this score. The answer to the captalist system, its political parties, its crises and its wars lies not in Stalinist reaction, or the scheming of their front men but in their very opposite: independent working class organization, socialist program.

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