Friday, August 01, 2008

*From The Spartacist Archives- The 1948 Henry Wallace Progressive Party Campaign

Click on the headline to link to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the 1948 Henry Wallace-led Progressive Party campaign as background for the article below.

Workers Vanguard No. 918
1 August 2008

From the Archives of Spartacist

On Bourgeois “Third Parties” and the 1948 Henry Wallace Campaign

The following article, originally titled “Henry Wallace and Gideon’s Army,” is reprinted from Spartacist No. 7 (September-October 1966). The article is about Wallace’s 1948 Progressive Party presidential campaign. In the current election year, the “third party” capitalist Greens have nominated former Georgia Democratic Party Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney as their presidential candidate. The parallels between Wallace and McKinney are striking: the candidates’ rousing talk of “peace,” “justice” and a better deal for the little people is meant to corral dissatisfaction with the two main bourgeois parties into yet another capitalist electoral vehicle. Our forebears in the then-revolutionary Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in 1948 gave no political support to Wallace. Today, in contrast to reformist groups like Workers World Party, which has endorsed McKinney, we give no political support to the Green/McKinney “Power to the People” campaign. It represents no break with bourgeois politics.

Nor, as Marxists, would we run for executive office—such as mayor, governor or president—ourselves, although Marxists have and can run for parliamentary office as a tactic to propagate our revolutionary program and as part of the struggle to imbue the working class with the understanding that the capitalist order, including its parliamentary facade, must be overthrown through socialist revolution. As Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels taught long ago, the capitalist government is the executive committee that manages the common affairs of the capitalist class as a whole. In the U.S., the president is the chief executive responsible for the most massive military power in history and for the domestic machinery of repression that maintains social oppression and exploitation. To run for executive office means to aspire to be the next Commander-in-Chief who decides who gets tortured, who gets bombed, who gets invaded (see Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 60, Autumn 2007).

As we pointed out in Spartacist No. 7’s front-page article, “1966 Elections,” to which the Wallace piece was a companion, “In sum, independent campaigns must not only break with the Democratic Party, but must break with the system of bourgeois rule, and aim toward arousing the working class from its present passive allegiance to that system.” The 1966 midterm elections, two years after Democrat Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 landslide victory against Barry (“In your guts, you know he’s nuts”) Goldwater, saw growing opposition to the Vietnam War and recognition that the Democratic Party was, as we wrote, “the favored tool of those forces which are committed to maintaining American capitalist hegemony throughout the world.” In sorting out the various forces running “independent” candidacies, we relied on the working-class Marxist analysis developed in part by James P. Cannon, the founding leader of American Trotskyism, and the SWP.

* * *

In late 1947, Henry A. Wallace announced his intention to run for the presidency of the U.S. as an anti-war, pro-labor candidate. Wallace had been secretary of agriculture, vice president and secretary of commerce, all under Franklin D. Roosevelt, capitalism’s phony champion of the working man. But for the 1948 campaign Wallace ran at the head of the new Progressive Party, a third party challenge to the two established capitalist “front groups.”

During 1946 and early 1947, old-line New Dealers and some Democratic politicians; CIO President Philip Murray, left-dominated unions in the CIO and organizations based on the CIO; and the Communist Party [CP] had all shown an interest in such a third party. However by December 1947, the first two groupings, partially under the pressures of a growing red scare, had almost all retreated to the Democratic Party. Only the CP and groupings closely allied to it gave any substantial support after the end of 1947. The nature of that support can be seen by the continuing withdrawals throughout the campaign by Stalinist-led unions confronted by CIO pressure, and by the composition of the Progressive Citizens of America, a largely petty-bourgeois CP front group, a good section of which later formed the Americans for Democratic Action. Wallace, with his announcement, initiated not a wide-based movement but a petty-bourgeois “Gideon’s Army,” captained by Stalinists.

The Messiah Movement

The nature of the third party campaign waged by Wallace is accurately indicated in that term. Wallace himself relished the designation and seemed eager to portray himself as a latter-day Gideon. His appearances were accompanied by gospel singers, trumpets and a revivalist camp atmosphere. He campaigned on the basis of peace among nations, brotherhood among men and justice for all. Rather than use the first campaign of a new nation-wide party as a means for raising the consciousness of the working class, Wallace accepted the role of a messiah, come to save the American people.

Just before the election, Wallace proclaimed that the Progressive Party could count many victories: a third party had been put on the ballot in 45 states; moreover, his campaign had slowed the “cold war,” given pause to the assault on civil rights and eliminated the possibility of a witch hunt.

The rejoinders to Wallace’s claims are today obvious, but they need to be made because the type of victories which Wallace claimed are the same type that many peace and independent candidates seek today. Where is that third party today? What use, other than electoral, was made of the more than a million voters who supported Wallace? If the “cold war” has slowed, it has slowed only to be replaced by a series of U.S. maneuvered hot wars and CIA-run counter revolutions, most aided by the treacherous role of Stalinist parties. As for the last two claims, one need point only to the continuing police assaults on Harlem, Watts, Chicago, Cleveland and East New York and to the McCarthy period, followed by the HUAC period, followed by the Epton “trial.” [Epton, a leftist activist who at that time was in the Progressive Labor Party, was the first person in New York State since the 1919 “red scare” to be convicted of “criminal anarchy” for his courageous efforts to provide leadership and organization to the besieged black masses during the 1964 Harlem police riot. See “In Memory of Bill Epton,” WV No. 781, 17 May 2002.]

Role of the Guardian

The totally capitalist nature of Wallace’s third party can be seen by reading the early issues of the National Guardian and by comparing the specific items of Wallace’s platform to those in any Democratic Party platform.

The National Guardian began publication in October 1948, primarily as the propaganda organ for the Wallace campaign. Its very first issue (18 October 1948) proclaimed:

“This editorial point of view will be a continuation and development of the progressive tradition set in our time by Franklin D. Roosevelt…

“We conceive the progressive tradition to be represented today by Henry A. Wallace…

“We believe, with FDR and Henry Wallace, in expanding freedoms and living standards for all peoples as the essential foundation of a world at peace.

“We believe, with FDR and Henry Wallace, that peace can be secured only by seeking areas of agreement among nations, rather than seeking areas of disagreement.”

The high-blown rhetoric cannot conceal three basic fallacies in those few sentences: that FDR, capitalism’s front man par excellence, was in reality the advocate for the working man; that capitalism, which can do nothing to stem famine in India or prevent an approaching famine in Latin America, is able to improve the living standards of the whole world’s population; and that there is no significant difference between the capitalist U.S. and socialist Russia.

A campaign based on such fallacies can do nothing but dull the consciousness of the working class. Why should the labor movement back a minor party candidate who pleads, “Capitalism would be just fine if slightly reformed, so vote for me”? The Democratic Party asserts the same line and its candidates can be immediately elected. Such a campaign can have no outcome other than the strengthening of the Democratic Party’s hold over the working class.

When just that did happen in the ’48 election, the CP and others backing Wallace took credit for such a strengthening of the party which the bourgeoisie have increasingly realized is their protector. The Guardian exulted in its post-election issue (8 November 1948):

“The people of a whole world can look toward America today with renewed confidence. The American people have reaffirmed their progressive tradition. They have repelled the bold maneuvering of monopoly and reaction to take over America through Thomas E. Dewey and the Republican Party. They have handed Harry S. Truman an unmistakable mandate to return to the principles of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“The mandate would not have been possible if the Progressive Party had not introduced the Roosevelt program into the 1948 campaign.”

Wallace’s Program

The laughable absurdity of such a statement is apparent as soon as one analyzes the class nature of the Roosevelt program which Wallace introduced. Its demands have already been fulfilled or have been repeated as truisms in the Great Society of another messiah.

Wallace’s program broke down into two general areas, isolated from each other: the achievement of international peace and the progressive reform of U.S. capitalism at home. According to Wallace, the U.S. could achieve worldwide peace by establishing faith in the UN, by negotiating with Soviet Russia, by recognizing new small countries such as Israel and by abolishing military conscription at home.

The domestic reforms required slightly more complex solutions. On the social side, Wallace advocated abolition of Jim Crow laws and the establishment of legal guarantees for civil rights; federal aid to housing, health and education; and governmental promotion of science and culture. On the economic front, he called for a council of economic planning to assure high production, full employment and a rising standard of living; public ownership of key areas of the economy in TVA type developments; repeal of the Taft-Hartley law and a one dollar an hour minimum wage; anti-trust action against monopolies; and rollback of prices covered out of exorbitant profits.

A Bourgeois Program

Capitalism has been able to fulfill most of these demands or hold out the promise of their fulfillment without seriously damaging its own position. Thus the program posed no questions which capitalism itself could not appear to solve. It did not serve to link up the economic pressures at home with the already mounting imperialism of the “cold war.” Thus Wallace’s general evaluations of Progressive Party successes were all proved incorrect because his platform, accepted gladly by Truman, dealt with specific ills in a capitalist society and not with the capitalist mode of production which produces those ills.

There was no ideological content to the Wallace campaign—only the slogans of a messiah-reformer—and the one million votes formed no base for the development of a third party opposed to capitalist control.

Labor Control Needed

James Cannon in a 1948 internal SWP discussion on the Wallace candidacy offered several criteria which can be used as measures today of these new third parties. He stated that Wallace’s policies showed only tactical differences in the camp of the bourgeoisie and that to support Wallace would mean an entrance into “lesser-evil” politics. He differentiated between the pseudo-radical party of a petty-bourgeois reformist like Wallace and the revolutionary labor party, which would proceed from the aim to assist the development of independent political action by workers and turn that action towards its revolutionary culmination. Finally he insisted that the class character of a party is determined not primarily by the class which supports it but by the class it supports, in its program, daily policy and practice.

The SWP Political Committee resolution on the Wallace candidacy developed on the basis of these criteria its minimum requirement for critical support to a third party: that the party be based on a significant section of labor and be subject to its control and pressure.

The incipient third parties could easily use these criteria in order to distinguish the class nature of their own demands, and therefore the possibility of those demands leading to a revolutionary culmination. More importantly, parties claiming to be Marxist need to establish such criteria as the basis for their own support to third party movements. (The SWP might well take note of its own past history.)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Political Thoughts in the Summer Doldrums

Of This and That


Just a couple of observations to while away the summer doldrums.

California Gay and Lesbian Marriage Vote

Earlier this year the California Supreme Court held that, as a matter of state law, legislation on the books that discriminated against gays and lesbians on the question of the democratic right to marriage was unconstitutional. As in Massachusetts, there was furious backlash by various right-wing elements, some organized religions notably the Catholic Church, other usual suspects on this issue and the usual quota of married (or, as is usually the case, re-married) heterosexual types who can’t breath right if marriage is not defined in law, society and the eyes of god as the bonding of one male and one female human being.

Needless to say, such groups have some resources and have enough wherewithal to have this issue placed on the ballot this November. As the presidential race in California is likely to be a walkover for Obama this fight may get more than its share of attention. At this point I am not sure how this initiative petition question will appear on the ballot so I do not know how to call the vote (any help here?). In any case, we want to vote against the overriding of the court’s action down with both hands. Defend, extend the democratic right of gays and lesbians to marry (Markin adds -and good luck to them, they will need it. We are already starting to see gay and lesbian divorces in Massachusetts, just like heterosexuals).

**Integration of the American military

Within the past couple of weeks there has been a ceremony in Washington, D.C. honoring the 60th Anniversary of President Harry S. Truman’s signing of an executive order integrating the armed forces of American imperialism. While militant leftists have a very definite position in opposition to American governmental foreign and military policy we nevertheless, until working people take power, have a very definite interest in fighting for equal access and rights for all in almost any bourgeois institution. We do not encourage people to join the military but if they do then the full range of rights and opportunity should be open to them. That premise also underlines our position on the question of gays in the military (the current ‘see no evil’ policy is not an example of equal access but a bandage) and permitting women soldiers to become combat troops.

In one article about this commemoration that I read an interesting point was made that while blacks (who the original order was directed toward integrating) make up a proportionally larger (at least until recently due to the Iraqi quagmire) part of the various branches of the services than in the population as a whole they are underrepresented in the higher echelons of the military (senior NCOs and General Staff officers). Despite, the occasional Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Barack Obama story this remains a deeply race-divided society with blacks STILL disproportionately at the bottom of the pile. Our job is to rectify that when the above-mentioned working people take power. And pronto.

I would also be remiss here in a comment about the American military machine if in the summer of 2008 after more than five years of constant war I did not put a reminder that our task is still- Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal From Iraq And Afghanistan of All American/Allied Troops And Their Mercenaries! Make that pronto, as well.

*** The Youth Vote

Although I have, in general, sworn off observations on the American presidential campaigns, such as they are, I have recently come across some statistical information that only verifies what I have been trying to point out about future political possibilities for extra-parliamentary militant leftists. Polls have shown that Barack Obama has significant leads among the young over Republican John McCain in several key states in the upcoming elections. Moreover that trend applies to the national picture, as well.

Ho hum you say. Well, in part, you would be right just on the basis of the age difference between McCain and Obama. To speak nothing of some of their policy differences and personal technological capacities (Obama can work an iPOd. McCain, apparently, is still using a transistor radio). However, I would point out that one Richard M. Nixon in 1972, a time beyond the high water mark of the 1960’s yet still within memory of those days, split the then just passed 26th Amendment –enhanced youth vote with George McGovern. And George McGovern was far, far to the left of anything that Obama has been saying (or, as of late, not saying).

In short, youth as a segment of society is not always left, not always progressive or for that matter not always even political. What the above-mentioned statistics tell me though is that something more like the swirl around John Kennedy in 1960 is forming and not the resignation and acceptance of defeat represented by Nixon’s reelection in 1972 by a significant segment of the young. As I pointed out in a recent small commentary on Obama’s rush to the right in order to gain ‘victory’ we will get our share of the political spoils once the disillusionment with Obama sets in (as a look at his social networking site will already confirm) with all the weighty social problems confronting this society still in need of solution.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Tribute To The Blues Blinds- Johnson, Jefferson, McTell, Blake


The Complete Collection of Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson, Sony 1993

Blind Willie Johnson

A tradition developed early, and I am not sure how, but it was very early in the 1900’s of blind black men with musical ability (and probably some with none) going to the small town Southern street and singing for their dinner, so to speak. I, for one, am glad that they did because an inordinate part of early blues music would be missing without their collective contributions. Here we start our tribute with Blind Willie Johnson; this is Reverend Blind Willie Johnson, by the way. What makes Reverend Johnson a shade bit different from other blues singers of the period, with the partial exception of Skip James, is that the vast bulk of his music is religious in orientation unlike the more traditional moaning and groaning about work, women and whiskey.

For those who saw part of Martin Scorcese’s PBS Blues Project a few years back you might remember that Blind Willie (along with Skip James) was highlighted in Wim Wender’s section. You might also know then that Johnson’s Soul of A Man is traveling the universe as a selection of one of humankind’s musical expressions. Take that and You Have Friend In Jesus with female accompaniment and you are at the height of Blind Willie’s talent. As for the rest you will have to listen for yourself.

Blind Blake-Ragtime Guitar's Foremost Finger Picker, Blind Blake, Yahoo, 1989

Before the blues began to dominate the black Southern country music scene there was a transition period where the previously dominant ragtime commingled with the emerging blues picking sound. That is where Blind Blake comes into view. This CD shows off his masterly picking style but also shows that he gets the new blues country beat. This CD has liner notes that are very informative (as are most Yahoo liner notes) about these evolutionary moves and Blake's innovations. As to the music highlights here are Southern Rag, Hard Pushing Papa, Sweet Papa Low Down and a classic rendition of Rope Stretching Blues (about the thoughts of a black prisoner just before his scheduled hanging- legal this time- with the great line 'in a couple of days I will not be singing this song'. Reason enough, right there to get rid of the death penalty.). Get this if you need a nice clean country blues pick.


When The Sun Goes Down, Blind Willie McTell, BMG Music, 2003

Recently I have been doing a run of reviews on old time country blues players that have included the likes of Mississippi John Hurt and Son House. Here we are getting a little slice of what the acoustic blues looked like when it went to the Southern cities in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Hurt and House stayed on the farm, so to speak, but McTell, blind from birth I believe, went to the streets of the cities to sing his songs and make his daily bread. Along the way he worked with women singers and sometimes with the legendary Tommy Dorsey (no, not the bandleader from the forties). But mainly he worked the streets and joints alone.

A close listen immediately tells you that this artist is different from the country blues singers. The guitar work is more polished (check it out on Statesboro Blues, if you want a treat) but the whole presentation is also different. The lyrics are more polished and the presentation is clearly for an audience that can walk out the door if it does not like what it hears. Hell, there are seven other guys or gals down the street to listen to. This is really the first manifestation, in song, of the changeover in the blues from the chant like quality of the pace of the cotton field to the rhythms of urban life. It changes again latter when it goes north and gets electrified but here McTell and a little later Big Bill Broozey (and, as always, Robert Johnson) are pushing the work in new directions.

The Best of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Yahoo, 1990

Yes, I know it is hard to keep the names of all these male blind blues singers straight. Blind Willie, Blind Lemon, Blind Blake, etc. but there are differences in their styles from Willie Johnson's more gospel -oriented work to McTell's barrel house renditions. It is interesting that so many of these blind black singers, probably otherwise unemployable at the time due to their impairments, gave the blues (and sometimes their root music, gospel, also) a tryout on the streets and seemingly thrived on this market niche. The just mentioned gospel roots of many of these performers shows the tension between the godly church music of their youth and the `devil's' music of their maturity and I believe added to the authenticity of the music. It is the backdrop of Blind Lemon's works, as well.

This compilation, although technically not the best due more to problems with the old time recording material than anything else, highlights Blind Lemon's most enduring songs. The classic Easy Rider and Black Snake Moan are included here. Also included here and a must listen for anybody interested in this music is another Jefferson classic See That My Grave is Kept Clean that has been covered by many, many artists, including Bob Dylan.