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R. Fahan

What Makes Henry Run?

Wallace’s Social and Political Role

(February 1948)

From The New International, Vol. XIV No. 2, February 1948, pp. 54–57.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Henry Wallace’s most cherished possession is his claim to a political inheritance. In a recent editorial in the New Republic (January 19, 1948) he proudly calls the roll of American third parties with an erudition that speaks well for the magazine’s research staff. Wallace declares his movement to be in the tradition of the Locofocos, the Greenback Party, the Populist Peoples Party, and the LaFollette Progressives. Like anyone else uneasy about his present standing, Wallace itches for a family tree.

Which that happy genealogist of American liberalism, Max Lerner, hurries to provide. In a PM editorial (February 1, 1948) he declares:

Wallace comes, as Bryan and LaFollette came, out of the populist tradition of the Middle West. It is the tradition which glorifies rebellion and dissent, and is not fearful of being in a minority. There is an obstinate, hard cast to his jaw ... he is, in his basic thinking, as far from the Communists as Bryan was, or LaFollette. His thinking is populist – agin’ the trusts, agin’ imperialism, agin’ Wall Street ... through all his changes he has remained the Great Insurgent, unhappy unless he feels a ferment in his mind and unless he is leading his little band of Gideonites.

It is this claim to an insurgent ancestry which is certain to be a major talking-point in the Wallace campaign and which gains for him a considerable amount of popular support. To place Wallace’s candidacy accurately, we must therefore first examine his relation to the populist tradition.

For purposes of this discussion, the most important fact to remember about the populist movement is that it was a mass, largely spontaneous outpouring of rural discontent. It arose at a particular juncture in American history, which was not to recur and could not recur: the farmers, not yet completely subjugated by the encroachments of capitalism in agriculture, were able to play a somewhat, though decreasingly, independent role; while the working class loomed in the background, not yet fully cohered or aware of its strength. During this historical moment populism came into its own and blazed its brief, evanescent but not inglorious trail across this nation’s history. It was a movement aimed not against capitalism, but against some of its evils. All historians, whatever their bias, agree that populism was an indigenous, spontaneous mass movement. As V.L. Parrington notes:

Huge meetings gathered of the farmers of a county and daylong they listened to speeches that came straight from the hay-fields and the corn-rows, speeches that were an echo of the daily experience of the farmer and the farmer’s wife.

In the standard text on populism, John Hicks’ The Populist Revolt, there is detailed a mass of evidence showing how deeply populism sprang from the needs and experiences of the masses of farmers. Later historical studies have noted the degree of support the movement gained in the South.

Now my purpose in citing this evidence is not primarily to show that the populist movement was proportionately far larger than Wallace’s. Small movements sometimes become large. My point is another and more crucial one: populism arose from a pressing social need, the plight of the farmers; it was based on their conjunctural position which allowed them a certain leeway in organizing independently of either capitalist or working class; and it spoke, not without some justification, in the language of America’s greatest legend: the frontier.

Bryan or Stalin?

Nothing of the sort can be said about Wallace’s movement. The relationship of social classes that made possible agrarian populism in the 1890s simply does not exist today. The farmers cannot play the leading role they did then; and what is more, the present momentary prosperity granted them by war needs and post-war prices attenuates any inclination they might have to support Wallace.

By now populism is so historically untenable that it is not a paradox to suggest that if Wallace’s movement really were in the populist tradition it would enjoy far less support than it does, certainly far less in its major centers: New York and California. At present there is no large scale rural rebelliousness in America, no insistent mass “call” from the farms for Wallace to save the day. All the calling has been from the other direction.

Though Wallace’s personal roots are in a family deeply committed to the populist tradition, other facts in his life have adulterated his populism to the point where it is largely verbal. In any case, whatever his personal, nostalgic kinship with populism, his movement has no organic connection with it. No doubt, it may succeed in winning to its support the fossil residues of populist sentiment that persist throughout the country, but (Max Lerner notwithstanding) the Wallace movement does have more in common with Stalin than with Bryan.

Proof for this assertion is found in the way the movement was organized. The Progressive Citizens of America hardly exists in rural areas; its sole strength is in metropolitan centers. Ideologically the PCA is committed to what is unquestionably the most important current Stalinist demand: struggle against the Marshall Plan. In chronological development the Wallace candidacy follows from (a) the Stalinists drive to develop a front organization to oppose the Truman administration’s foreign policy; (b) the consequent appearance of the PCA and its inability to pressure Truman into a more conciliatory attitude toward Moscow; (c) the initial call for a third party made about a year and a half ago in the Daily Worker; (d) the subsequent commitment of the PCA to a third party. In this sequence the farcical climax is reached when Wallace broods over whether or not to accept the nomination, and is then impressed by the “Potemkin village” delegations which the Stalinists, masters at this sort of thing, shuffled up to the New Republic office.

Populism, indeed! Would William Jennings Bryan – who, whatever his deficiencies, could attract whole counties to his flaming speeches – have been taken in by delegations from such groups as the New York District Council of the CIO Electrical Workers, the Slovenian section of the Passaic IWO, and the Freiheit Mandolin Society?

The Wallace movement comes into existence from the top; it will no doubt attract considerable support from various dissident elements of the country but it does not stem from them; it does not even genuinely express their confusion.

In this connection, it is interesting to note that the Wallace movement is the first attempt to build a third party on a foreign-policy plank; all previous third parties have concerned themselves primarily with deeply-felt domestic matters. In an atomic age one cannot of course depreciate concern with foreign policy; but when one remembers that the tradition of American progressivism is linked to internal reform and lacking in any independent stand on foreign affairs, and when one remembers further that the single foreign-policy plank most important to the Stalinists happens to be Wallace’s major offering, then the coincidence is more than a little suspicious. Precisely because the Wallace movement is so artificial and synthetic does the “man in the street” think of it as based on a view on how “to get along with Russia.” And for once the “man in the street” is right.

The destruction of the myth that the Wallace movement steins from populism – a myth which is ultimately an historical slander – is of first importance in both analyzing and combatting it. Once that is done, however, several other questions remain.

The Price They Pay

What strikes one at first glance in the Stalinists’ sponsorship of Wallace is how much they stand to lose. For years now they have been doing their very best to infest the labor and liberal movements; and not without success. Now, by steering the Wallace movement into a third party, they lose their advantageous positions in at least four major arenas:

(1) Among the liberals. A number of prominent leaders of the PCA have already resigned: Hartley Crum, Frank Kingdon, Albert Deutsch. But this is only a portent of what is to come. Robert Kenney, the outstanding non-Stalinist PCA leader on the West Coast, is teetering between support of the Wallace party and loyalty to the Democrats. Others are in a similar position: there are times when political opportunists find it distressingly difficult to decide which course will be most advantageous to themselves. The newspaper PM, which has so consistently helped Stalinism, and also the Nation have both seized on Wallace’s candidacy as an occasion to put a period to their increasingly embarrassing flirtation with Stalinism. By driving the Wallace movement out of the Democratic Party, its Stalinist organizers have given their uneasy liberal “innocents” a convenient pretext for getting out from under. Though the Wallace candidacy may strengthen the Stalinist hold on those liberals who remain captive, the number of such liberals is certain to decrease. The domestic position of the American Stalinists is thus sure to be impaired.

(2) In the American Labor Party. When the Stalinists announced their support of Wallace, they gave the leaders of those right-wing CIO unions which had cooperated with them in the ALP the long-awaited “legitimate” basis for quitting. As a result, the Stalinists have been left holding each others hands in the ALP, with the value of their most useful political front in their political center considerably cut.

(3) In the CIO. Here the Stalinist losses may be less immediately perceptible, but ultimately more serious. Their support of Wallace forced Murray into openly chastising them, and made it next to impossible for him to continue his policy of maintaining an uneasy and unequal balance – but still a balance of a sort – between right-wing and Stalinist-controlled unions. In an immediate tactical sense, then, the Stalinists cleared the way for those CIO leaders, like Rieve and Reuther, who want Murray to take a more aggressive stand against the Stalinist CIO leaders. They must have known their support of Wallace would have this result They must also have known that they risked the ultimate danger of provoking a split in the CIO which would isolate completely those unions they control and expose them to possible destruction. Still they went ahead with the Wallace candidacy.

(4) Among their bourgeois supporters. One of the least discussed sources of support which the Stalinists have found has been among certain bourgeois politicians: Senators Pepper and Taylor, ex-Ambassador Davies and others. By provoking the Wallace candidacy, the Stalinists forced these bourgeois allies into a position where the latter would either have to break with them or with the Democratic Party. Pepper has chosen the Democratic Party; anything else would, in Florida, mean political suicide. Taylor is, at the time of writing, not yet decided. Davies has not yet been heard from. But in any case, it is clear that this highly important, if numerically tiny, ally is no longer as accessible to the Stalinists as before the Wallace candidacy.

I contend therefore that, no matter how large a vote Wallace gets and no matter how many recruits and sympathizers the CP picks up during the campaign, the eventual result must be a loss of influence for the CP. If the Stalinists controlled the bulk of the labor movement, as in France and Italy, they might then have taken such a course with a certain ease; they would not be isolating themselves. But in the present situation in the U.S., the Stalinists are, appearances to the contrary, cutting themselves off from the sources of their sustenance. And this, too, their hard-headed strategists must have known.

“Neither Recovery nor Revolution”

Why, then, did they so fervently build up the Wallace candidacy? Why did they not let the Wallace movement remain within the Democratic Party, as it would have done had not the Stalinists steered it to a third-party perspective?

For an answer we must for a moment shift our sights to Europe. The recent policy of the Stalinists in Western Europe has been analyzed in sufficient detail not to require lengthy discussion here. Suffice it to say that the disastrous strikes which the French Stalinists whipped up during the latter part of 1947, though seizing on the legitimate and overdue demands of the workers, were for them a part of the Russian war against the Marshall Plan. At the present all of European imperialist politics revolves around one dimension: time. Can American dollars be pumped in fast enough to stop Russia’s expansion and perhaps push it back? Can the Stalinist parties so disrupt the economies of France, Italy, Western Germany and Greece that the Marshall Plan will not succeed in bringing even a partial and temporary economic rehabilitation, thereby preventing the organization of a strong western bloc?

That western capitalism will consolidate a hold on some part of Western Europe; that it will effect a certain increase in productivity; that it will help to prop up the wispy bourgeois governments of France and Italy seems well-nigh certain. Russia does not seriously contend for domination of France and Western Germany at present; despite all the threatening gestures of the Italian Stalinists, it is unlikely that the Kremlin will signal an all-out attempt to seize power in Italy. Stalin knows that a successful, and perhaps even an unsuccessful, attempt to seize power in France or Western Germany means a quick war, which he certainly does not want. But at the same time how can he weaken the hold of U.S. imperialism in Western Europe?

The answer has been excellently summarized in a formula which the French conservative paper Figaro has offered to describe the current Stalinist policy in Western Europe: neither recovery nor revolution. Put into more exact terms: neither an attempt to seize the power, with or without the aid of the Russian army, nor a readiness to allow the bourgeois regimes to consolidate themselves with the aid of the Marshall Plan.

The Stalinists therefore resort to a policy of constant minor upheavals, of constant irritations. Was this not obvious during the recent strikes when they were intent on causing as much economic damage as possible and yet had no policy to carry the strike movement to a climax, certainly no policy of trying to move toward a general strike and a seizure of power?

They thus risked loss of support by many workers disgusted and wearied by Stalinist-led adventures, which meant serious sacrifices leading to nothing but futility. Did the French Stalinist leaders know this? Of course. And yet they went ahead. It seems likely that they lost the support of certain sections of the workers.

Yet the Stalinists achieved Moscow’s aims. They set back the possibilities of even the most rudimentary economic recovery [1] by several crucial months. For the Kremlin this counted more than any losses the French CP might sustain. As C.L. Sulzberger reported in the New York Times a few months ago, the Kremlin is willing to sacrifice the Stalinist parties of Western Europe in order to achieve this aim. For surely if the French CP continues to engage in such criminal adventures-driving strikes to the point where they go beyond ordinary trade-union actions and tend to challenge the power of the bourgeois stare, while yet not actually desiring to upset that power – then it will lose influence among the workers. (And more important, it will exhaust their energies.)

Thus far the French CP has maneuvered rather cleverly; it has done Moscow’s bidding (not without some apparent balking) but has not provoked the situation to the extent where the U.S. would decide that de Gaulle is its only resort. For the French CP knows that a de Gaulle regime might very likely mean its illegalization: a prospect its comfortable bureaucrats do not relish. How long it will be able to maintain this uneasy balance of doing Moscow’s dirty work while not provoking its own destruction remains to be seen.

In any case, that is the Stalinist policy in Western Europe: neither recovery nor revolution.

What the CP Gains

The extension of this policy to the U.S. takes the form of the Wallace candidacy. Since there is no depression as yet in the U.S. and since there is also, providentially, no possibility of the CP taking power, the formula “neither recovery nor revolution” cannot here be literally applied. But the results of the application of the formula in Europe are matched by those which will accrue to Russian Stalinism from the Wallace candidacy.

Though we hardly claim to be privy to the inner workings of the Stalintern, we do feel that if Moscow has not rewarded the present CP leadership with a winning smile for its work in promoting the Wallace candidacy, then it is really quite without gratitude. For even if Wallace were to withdraw tomorrow (say, after an astrological consultation) the mere fact of his announced candidacy has already proven to be of inestimable aid to Russia in its cold war with the U.S. The mere fact that a political leader of Wallace’s prominence could announce his candidacy on a platform which, both in fact and in the popular mind, is one of appeasing Russia helps the Stalinists in that

  1. it provides them with a spokesman against the Marshall Plan more prominent than any they could otherwise hope to find;
  2. it contributes a first-rate propaganda point to the Russians who can now point to the division in the U.S. as proof that there are “peace-loving” (i.e., pro-Russian) elements here;
  3. it creates immediate difficulties for the Truman administration’s hope of a quick passage of the Marshall Plan by encouraging congressional opponents to weaken and resist it.

From the Russian point of view, can there be the slightest qualms about such an achievement, even if it may isolate the CP – even if, in fact, it were to result in the destruction of the CP?

For such a destruction is now, for the first time since the Palmer raids, not quite out of the question. It is unlikely at present, but it is not out of the question. If, as a result of the Wallace candidacy, the Republicans feel they can win with anyone (”anyone” usually means Taft); and especially if Taft does come to office in a reactionary sweep, then the illegalization of the CP in the U.S. becomes a distinct possibility. That the CP is aware of this cannot be doubted; that it went ahead with the Wallace campaign in any case shows how deeply loyal Foster’s leadership is to Moscow. To the Kremlin this possibility of illegalization is a matter of no deep concern when their own higher stakes are in play.

What is important is to see the Wallace candidacy as an extension to the U.S. of the “neither recovery nor revolution” policy of West European Stalinism. Only in those terms can we understand it – as part of the “cold war.”

Wallace’s Appeal

To place Wallace’s candidacy as a part of the “cold war” is not, unfortunately, to dismiss its effects in American life. While there is at present no possible means of predicting what sort of vote he will get, there is reason to believe that it will be, in terms of third-party potentialities, rather large.

For Wallace does appeal to deep-rooted political desires: when he cries “peace,” he stirs the hopes of many who look with dread at the overwhelming evidence that a new war is in preparation; when he cries “New Deal,” he touches the secret fears of those who, despite the present full employment, still wonder if they will be employed a few years from now. He is the only one of the capitalist party politicians who even talks in terms of reform and change. For that reason, if for no other, Wallace will get votes.

There are at least two other reasons why Wallace is likely to poll a sizable vote. He has behind him one of the best and most efficient political machines in the country: the whole apparatus of Stalinist and semi-Stalinist front organizations. This apparatus is composed of loyal and devoted people who are genuinely enthusiastic about Wallace’s candidacy. They will work hard and will get votes.

Finally Wallace is certain to be helped by the monumental stupidity and blindness of the U.S. labor leadership. Every one of the arguments that labor leaders have offered against Wallace is reactionary; they oppose him exclusively in terms of a continued commitment to capitalist politics. Against him they can offer only ... Truman, a sad little man who would have been so much better off as a filing clerk. Do they expect the workers to become enthusiastic about Truman? Do Murray and Green expect their followers to vote for the man who broke the railroad strike? No doubt, in this country of conveniently short political memories, many workers will. But it seems just as likely that many will vote for Wallace if only because he stands for something “different,” if only because in some vague way he reminds them of the New Deal which was also something “different.” The tragic failure of the labor movement to provide an alternative that is really politically “different” here rebounds directly in favor of the Stalinist campaign for Wallace.


Whom, or what, does Wallace represent?

He is a strange breed, is he not? He declares himself in favor of capitalism, yet advocates a foreign policy which by no stretch of the imagination can be considered as stemming from any section of the capitalist class. He declares himself in opposition to socialism (which he is), but speaks warmly of Stalinist Russia. [2]

Does Wallace represent “a section of the capitalist class” which wishes a “soft” foreign policy toward Russia? On the other hand, is he merely a quisling of Stalinism?

Character of Wallace Movement

The view advanced in some quarters that Wallace “represents” some unspecified “section of the capitalist class” which wishes to appease Russia strikes me as nonsense. Wallace is not the descendant and heir of the isolationism of the 1920s and 1930s which did characterize a section of American capitalism; he may feed on remnants of its influence, but that is another matter.

It is obviously not enough to refer (in vaguely pseudo-Marxist language) to “internal cleavages in the capitalist class” which produce the Wallace candidacy. Cleavages between whom? Which section of the American capitalist class does Wallace represent? What are the evidences of this cleavage in capitalism, besides the Wallace movement itself? Specific data and analyses are necessary before the phrases mentioned can be considered anything more than jargon. Does Wallace, perhaps, represent the same “section of the capitalist class” as does Taft?

I do not think any analysis can be made to prop up this view. From the standpoint of any section of the bourgeoisie, Wallace’s program makes no sense at all. The differences in Congress over the Marshall Plan represent differences in the degree of appreciation of the real needs of American imperialism, not differences in direction of policy at all equivalent to the isolation-versus-collective-security split of yesterday.

When Chamberlain appeased Hitler it was for the good and sufficient (capitalist) reason that English imperialism was not yet ready to fight its German rival. Chamberlain, a figure much abused by stupid journalists but no doubt privately appreciated by serious capitalist leaders, played for time while he feverishly built up the armed strength of British imperialism. His appeasement was an act of responsibility to his own class. Can one claim that for Wallace?

Rather, a Marxist analysis of the Wallace movement shows a dual character, as does Wallace himself.

On the one hand, Wallace is not merely a Stalinist quisling; he is not a complete Beirut or Del Vayo. First of all, he himself is not that; this indeed constitutes a matter of disquiet for the Stalinists since they cannot be quite sure what Henry is going to do or say next. But more important, Wallace’s program is essentially petty bourgeois, and his appeal is therefore primarily to reform elements among the urban middle classes and labor. His domestic economic program, insofar as he has one, is still oriented in the direction of a revival of small-business competition. On this side, his movement is primarily a capitalist-reform party.

But the decisive reason for existence of the Wallace movement is something else. Regardless of Wallace’s own peculiarities and personal role, the movement he heads is a Stalinist-inspired campaign and exists in actual life only as a Stalinist creature. The crucial proof of this statement may be seen in this fact: if tomorrow Wallace were to shift his line on foreign policy, he would quite suddenly find himself suspended in mid-air, without visible means of support. The organized and articulate basis for his movement, provided by the Stalinists, would evaporate; he would be left with the New Republic editorial staff and a few others of the same breed. Max Lerner, for once, spoke the truth when he called Wallace the “prize victim and trophy” of the Stalinists.

The Wallace movement is, in fact, a bastard formation. To characterize it with painstaking accuracy we would have to say the following: it is a petty-bourgeois capitalist-reform third-party movement primarily of the urban lower classes which has been aborted, sterilized, artificially licked into organizational shape, and run by the CP in the interests of the Kremlin’s foreign policy. As such we reject it, convinced that independent labor action remains the central political need for America in the coming period.


1. I suppose it is necessary to note that by this phrase I do not mean that a “permanent” or large-scale economic recovery of European capitalism is possible; it is highly doubtful, to put it mildly, if even the kind of temporary stabilization that took place in the twenties could be repeated. But this is not at all to deny the possibility that a certain very limited, temporary and brief economic upswing is possible in Europe if enough American aid is sent and if a measure of internal stability is reached to make possible the use of that aid. Such a possibility can be denied only by those who habitual stock in trade is to confuse historical tendencies with day-to-day events and thereby blur the meaning of both.

2. I am not troubling here to document these points, since Dwight Macdonald’s articles in Politics, now expanded into a book, did so with damning thoroughness.

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