More recall

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Sep 30 12:23:24 MDT 2003

Eli Stephens wrote:
> On the other question I raised, Walter, I take it you think it "makes
> excellent sense" for Peter to imply that the normal course of action of
> for progressives to "condemn" workers who fall for the Democratic trap?

Eli, you are looking things in the wrong way. If we were to rate
candidates simply on the basis of their statements, there is no doubt
that Al Sharpton would be higher up on the "radical" scale than Peter

But the key question facing us is not how many radical ideas can be
raised in the course of an election campaign, but how to break the
stranglehold on politics by the 2-party system. The Green Party is the
first electoral formation to the left of the Democratic party with any
kind of institutional viability since the Progressive Party of Henry
Wallace. Wallace himself was a life-long Democrat and only ran after it
was evident that the Democrats were bent on launching the Cold War. In
fact, as the curmudgeonly Carrol Cox once pointed out, McCarthyism
should really be called Trumanism since the loyalty oath was born during
his administration.

Ironically it was the turn of the US ruling class against the New Deal
consensus that precipitated a third party initiative in 1948, the
Progressive Party campaign of Henry Wallace. In many ways Wallace
symbolized the most progressive aspects of the New Deal. As Secretary of
Agriculture, he and colleague Harold Ickes played the role of liberal
conscience in the FDR cabinet. He took the principles of the New Deal at
face value and decided to launch the Progressive Party in the face of
what he considered their betrayal at the hands of Harry Truman.

The Wallace campaign has served as a whipping boy for dogmatic Marxist
electoral theorizing, much of which I took seriously when I was in the
Trotskyist movement. It was supposed to prove what a dead end middle
class electoral politics was, in contrast to the insurmountable power
and logic of a Labor Party. Unfortunately, the Labor Party existed only
in the realm of propaganda while the Wallace campaign, with all its
flaws, existed in the realm of reality.

While most people are aware of Wallace's resistance to the Cold War and
to some of the more egregious anti-union policies of the Democrats and
Republicans, it is important to stress the degree to which his campaign
embraced the nascent civil rights movement.

Early in the campaign Wallace went on a tour of the south. True to his
party's principles, he announced in advance that he would neither
address segregated audiences nor stay in segregated hotels. This was
virtually an unprecedented measure to be taken at the time by a major
politician. Wallace paid for it dearly. In a generally hostile study of
Henry Wallace, the authors begrudgingly pay their respects to the ourage
and militancy of the candidate:

"The southern tour had begun peacefully enough in Virginia, despite the
existence in that state of a law banning racially mixed public
assemblies. In Norfolk, Suffolk, and Richmond, Wallace spoke to
unsegregated and largely receptive audiences. But when the party went on
into supposedly more liberal North Carolina, where there was no law
against unsegregated meetings, the violence started. A near riot pre-
ceded his first address, and a supporter, James D. Harris of Charlotte,
was stabbed twice in the arm and six times in the back. The next day
there was no bloodshed, but Wallace was subjected to a barrage of eggs
and fruit, and the crowd of about five hundred got so completely out of
control that he had to abandon his speech. At Hickory, North Carolina,
the barrage of eggs and tomatoes and the shouting were so furious that
Wallace was prevented from speaking, but he tried to deliver a parting
thrust over the public address system: 'As Jesus Christ told his
disciples, when you enter a town that will not hear you willingly, then
shake the dust of that town from your feet and go elsewhere.' If they
closed their minds against his message, he would, like Jesus Christ,
abandon them to their iniquity."  (Henry A. Wallace: His Search for a
New World Order, Graham White and John Maze)

Wallace was trounced badly. Briefly, the campaign was undermined by
Truman's demagogic appeal to some bread-and-butter issues supported by
the trade union bureaucracy, which was also working overtime to purge
CP'ers out of the trade unions. Furthermore, since the CP had done
nothing to defend trade union prerogatives during WWII, even to the
extent of supporting speedup, many rank and filers considered them to be
enemies of the labor movement. On top of this, the 1948 CP coup in
Czechoslovakia against the social democratic government of Edward Benes
alienated many liberals and even some leftists. Despite efforts by
Wallace to keep Stalin at arm's length, the rightwing in the United
States was able to exploit resentment over the situation in
Czechoslovakia and paint Wallace as a "Communist dupe".

When the votes were counted, Wallace only received 2.37 percent of the
total. This disaster set the tone for a general offensive against the
left in the US, focusing particularly on the CP. In no time at all, the
witch-hunt was unleashed, mobs attacked the Paul Robeson concert in
Peekskill, and the Korean War broke out. There is very little doubt that
the Wallace campaign and the forces gathered around it were the sole
force capable at that time of putting a roadblock in the way of this
quasi-fascist movement. If the labor movement had not been put on the
defensive, if the civil rights movement had been able to move ahead
under the general framework of Progressive Party campaigns, perhaps the
dismal 1950s would have not been inevitable. This is not socialist
revolution, but it is the real class struggle nonetheless. Seeing the
relationship between the two processes requires some dialectical insight.



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