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James Burnham

Horse Trader’s Alibi

“Explaining” the Republican ALP Coalition

(August 1938)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 35, 27 August 1938, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In the history of the politics of the labor movement, there have been few more shameful and shameless deals than the coalitions recently entered into in New York City by the American Labor Party. With the workers genuinely striving to create a party of their own, the bureaucrats running the A.L.P. have treated them like a flock of cattle, and have handed them over to one of the old parties in every district where they were able to strike up some kind of contemptible bargain with the old party bosses.

The incipient mass protest from the ranks has finally stimulated an official statement from Alex Rose, Secretary of the A.L.P., published in full in the New Leader. This lick-spittling apology comes close to a new low.

Three Main Points

The statement makes three main points. To begin with, Rose explains that “only a few” Republicans and Democrats have been endorsed – so why should everyone be so excited? In other words, there have been only about 25 or 30 sell-outs, which is not bad for an imperfect world. He argues like the father of the Indian princess who was only “a wee bit pregnant.”

Secondly, he claims that there is a chance – just a chance, mind you – that with the coalition policy the A.L.P. will hold the balance of power in the State Senate. Few points could be worth less. In the first place, he doesn’t even pretend that the A.L.P. could also possibly hold the balance in the State Assembly – and even if in general a position of holding the balance is worth anything, it obviously does not do the slightest good to hold it in one house and not in the other. But in the second place, even holding a balance of power in the Legislature as a whole, when that balance would be bought at such a price as the A.L.P. is now paying, would not be worth a tinker’s damn to the workers.

Rose himself really proves this in his third point, which is, surprisingly enough, that neither of the old parties is any good. “The A.L.P. rejects the illusion that either one of the major parties, as a political party, as against the other is more concerned with progressive legislation.”

Argument Worthless

How this argument is in favor of the deal made with the regular Republican Party organization of New York County is beyond the powers of ordinary mortals to discover.

The truth is that for labor to organize its own political strength on the basis of numbers of officials immediately elected is always wrong and self-defeating. This holds not merely for the long term, but for the short term as well. Clearly, the A.L.P. can bloc up with one or the other of the old parties at Albany only by accepting a policy acceptable to the given old party: that is, only by accepting a capitalist policy and by throwing over a working-class policy.

Far more substantial and concrete gains, even on the short term, are made by the display of independent working - class strength: it is this which forces concessions much more thoroughly than drawing the teeth of working-class strength through coalitions. An A.L.P. candidate running a solid second or even third in Manhattan, but doing so on a clear-cut working-class program with firm working-class support will get a lot more attention in Albany, and everywhere else, than an A.L.P. candidate running with the support of Kenneth Simpson’s Republican machine, and on a program acceptable to Kenneth Simpson.

Only G.O.P. Wins

But what caps the climax is that the Republicans have endorsed A.L.P. candidates only in districts which are virtually certain to go A.L.P. without outside help, or virtually certain to to lose even with it; whereas the A.L.P. endorsements to Republicans are in each case absolutely essential to give the Republican nominees a chance to win. The sell-out was paid for by a rubber check.

Naturally, Bro. Rose does not see fit to explain why the whole deal was carried through in the dead of the night, with the membership of the A.L.P. given not one single chance to make its voice heard. Rose and his friends all express their eagerness to defend democracy on the battlefields which Roosevelt is preparing for them. But they are terrified even at the thought of a little democracy intruding into “their” party.

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