Felix Morrow

So This Is John L. Lewis’ Program
for This Epoch of War and Fascism!

The Leopard Hasn’t Changed His Spots Since He Backed Wendell Willkie

(May 1941)

Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 19, 10 May 1941, p. 3.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2015 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Copyleft: Felix Morrow Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2015. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

Since the fiasco, of his campaign for the election of Wendell Willkie, John L. Lewis’ future course has been defined not too clearly. At the CIO convention last November where Philip Murray replaced him as president, Lewis retrieved much of his standing in the eyes of CIO workers by his leadership of the fight against the Hillman proposal to make a capitulatory peace with the AFL bureaucracy. Lewis rose a big notch higher in the opinion of these workers when, during the miners’ strike, he condemned the National Mediation Board for demanding that striker’s go back to work before the bosses agreed to settlements.

But what would be Lewis’ general program for the labor movement for this period of war? Lewis made no move to indicate that at the CIO convention. On the contrary, it was noticeable that he carefully stood aside while Philip Murray expanded as a cure-all the proposal for “industry councils” composed of labor, employers and government representatives which – just how, Murray did not make clear either at the convention or since – would solve the country’s major problems. In the four months after the CIO convention Lewis made no public statement on any question.

Was he sulking in his tent? Or was he pondering some bold steps to urge upon the labor movement? Rumor was rife, and the inside-dope columnists assured their readers that Lewis was coming forth under the banner of a real Labor Party. The Stalinists in particular, still hanging on to Lewis’ coat-tails – they even found aspects to praise in Lewis’ support of Willkie – have recently conducted a whispering campaign in the unions: Lewis would launch the Labor Party, Lewis was breaking with the pro-war Murray, Lewis had meant his criticism of the Mediation Board as, in reality, criticism of Murray and Kennedy for serving on it, etc. etc.

Lewis Names His Price

Well, Lewis has come out of his tent. The man-mountain has labored – and brought forth a mouse. He produced it in his speech at a testimonial dinner to Philip Murray at Harrisburg, Pa., April 30; the text is published in the May 5th CIO News; every worker ought to read it and study it.

The real point of Lewis’ speech was sugar-coated by an attack on Knudsen and Hillman. He accurately characterized Knudsen as a man “who has devoted a life time to the baiting of labor,” and obviously meant Hillman when he scathingly referred to “so-called representatives of labor in government who squirm in their seats, when Knudsen talks ...”

But then came the point to which Lewis was leading:


That, in a nutshell, is Lewis’ program for the American workers for this epoch of universal war and militarism. “Real” representatives are to be named by the CIO leaders to sit in the Roosevelt government. “This war,” said Lewis, “if there is to be a war, cannot be won by baiting labor.” In other words, the war is to be conducted with the enthusiastic participation in the government of “real” labor leaders supplied by Murray and Lewis. “Nor do we want to take part in any imperialistic war,” said Lewis at another point in his speech; presumably he meant that, if “real” labor leaders were in the service of the government, it would no longer be an imperialist war.

That this is what Lewis meant is indicated by his warm praise for the composition of the British war cabinet as contrasted to the present composition of the American government. Said Lewis:

“The difference between labor in the United States and Britain is that in England today labor is a part of the government; it sits in policy-making positions, and has a voice in formulating policies. In the United States, labor is not represented, it has no place in the government or in the cabinet. It has no adequate representation in the Office of Production Management or the National Defense Advisory Commissions or the War Department.”

How the British Model Works

So Lewis likes the British set-up? We’d like to know how he feels about its consequences. About the British government’s legislation outlawing strikes and rendering strikers punishable as sabotagers. The British government’s mobilizing strikers into the army as punishment for striking. The outlawry of the British Daily Worker (Lewis’ Stalinist admirers, who haven’t said a word about this speech of Lewis, ought, at the least, to ask him about that!); the conscription of women workers; the failure to keep prices down and profits from rising.

Above all, does Lewis’ approval of the composition of the British government mean that he approves of its war aims? Its incredibly inhuman, subjugation of the 475 millions of people in India, who have no more rights than the inhabitants of the lands dominated by Hitler? Its outlawry of the labor and peasant movement of Ceylon and British West Africa? Its plainly indicated aim of imposing another (even worse) Versailles Treaty on the German masses? All this inevitably flows from the kind of government that England now has.

Labor in “equal” partnership with capital in government – this is the government of England and what Lewis is proposing for this country. This at best – actually Lewis doesn’t even ask for equality in such partnership but merely says that “Mr. Murray will be proud to supply some real representatives.”

What Lewis’ Program Means

Suppose Roosevelt and his Democratic Party (including its poll tax Congressmen) were to accept John L. Lewis’ proposal. What, concretely, would happen? Lewis, Murray, Kennedy and their friends would sit in the cabinet, the OPM, the NDAC, the War Department. But who would play the tune to which they would dance? All the legal power would still be in the hands of the three main branches of the government – the Congress, the President and the Supreme Court. The CIO representatives in the government would be merely APPOINTEES of the president, removable by him at any time.

If the crisis of American capitalism becomes serious, Roosevelt may avail himself of just this proposal of John L. Lewis, appointing labor leaders as so many fig-leafs to cover up the reactionary nature of his regime. Or, to use an even more pertinent figure of speech, Lewis and Murray would in a revolutionary crisis serve Roosevelt as lightning-rods, harmlessly drawing off and burying the rising class consciousness of the workers.

And after the crisis were thus weathered? Then Roosevelt could unceremoniously boot out the door the labor leaders who have served his purpose – and the labor movement would, at best, have to start from the ground up at that time. Far more likely, having failed to take over the governmental power in its entirety during the revolutionary crisis, the labor movement would pay for that failure by being driven down, down into the dust by an “American” fascism or military dictatorship.

This is the dead-end to which John L. Lewis’ “new” program would lead us. There is nothing new about it. Just such coalitions between labor leaders and capitalists led to the downfall of the labor movements of Germany, France, Spain, Belgium. For such coalitions weakened, disrupted and discredited the labor movements of those countries and left them easy prey for native reaction and foreign invaders. Lewis is merely travelling in the footsteps of the Blums, Kautskys, Caballeros, who led the European working class to its doom. Like them, Lewis paves the way for a. native or foreign Hitler.

What Lewis Covers Up

Lewis glides over the “detail” that his “real representatives”’ would be APPOINTEES of Roosevelt. But that is the key to the, whole problem. The reactionary nature of such labor-capital coalitions is glaringly revealed by the specific form of the U.S. government; here the “labor representatives” would be appointed by a president and a Congress controlled by the capitalist parties. In Britain the reality that Bevin and the other Laborites are really nothing but appointees of Churchill and the Tory party is covered over by the parliamentary formula of an agreement between Conservative and Labor parties to form the government together. The U.S. form of government has this little virtue – it reveals more crudely the real relationship between a capitalist president and Congress and their appointee labor lackeys.

NO LABOR LEADER SHALL ACCEPT APPOINTMENT BY A CAPITALIST GOVERNMENT. It is this fundamental principle which Lewis’ proposed program violates.

Speaking of the Hillmans (without mentioning them), Lewis said in his speech:

“It is true that there are some individuals from labor in the (government) set-up. But they do not represent labor in government; they represent the government in labor. Their business is to chloroform labor so that it will be voiceless and supine and go along with any policy in the interests of those who would make a financial killing in this emergency.”

Accurate words – but they also describe, in addition to the present Hillmans, ANYBODY ELSE who would accept appointment by the Roosevelt government. What two or three appointees are doing, would also be done by twenty or thirty appointees. The same process, would operate in either case.

The Real Answer: The Labor Party

We Trotskyists want to see real labor representatives in government. But we mean just that. We want to see labor representatives and not appointees of a capitalist president and Congress. We want to see representatives of the working class who are in government in spite of and against the will of the capitalists. We don’t want to see labor leaders serving as labor lackeys of the political agents of the bosses. We want labor’s own, freely chosen by labor, without any commitments or “partnership” deals with bosses.

Which means that we want a Labor Party, created by and controlled by the organizations of the working class, launched with a class program. We want a Labor Party militant enough to arouse, not only the trade unionists, but also the unorganized workers, the toiling farmers, the oppressed and disinherited of city and country. A Labor Party whose candidates will be strictly controlled by the party and under no circumstances ever to be candidates of capitalist parties. Class against class – that is what is going on in the economic field and is long overdue on the political field. It is time to end the company unionism that Lewis and his type have for so long foisted upon the working class in politics!

One representative elected to Congress by such a Labor Party will be of infinitely more value to the working class than a hundred trade union officials appointed, to government posts by Roosevelt. He will be a real asset, where the hundred will be liabilities – chloroform, in Lewis’ word – on the working class.

It is not at all a question, of counting our lone representative’s vote as against the many votes of the capitalist Congressmen. The arithmetic of the class struggle operates differently than that – a Labor Party spokesman in Congress will stand up as a tribune of the people, summoning the masses to shout their demands so loud that even the deafest poll-tax Congressman will, hear. A Labor Party spokesman will speak, not to the Congressmen, but to the masses, summoning them to struggle in all fields and everywhere – in the economic field and in the armed forces, not merely at the ballot box.

That is why one such spokesman, genuinely representative of the working class, cannot even be spoken of in the same category with the labor lackeys appointed by a capitalist president and Congress.

A Workers’ and Farmers’ Government

Once the Labor Party would be launched, it would speedily confront, the capitalist class as the authoritative representative of the toiling masses – the great majority of the population. Long before the corrupt and manipulable electoral machinery would register more than a fraction of the Labor Party’s actual strength, the party would count millions of firm adherents. And they would register their votes in many ways beside the ballot box – they would register them every day wherever workers’ interests are involved.

This war is but the extreme expression of the bankruptcy of the capitalist class which Roosevelt represents. For the second time in a generation it can offer us nothing but death and destruction. And after the war it can offer us, at best, a return to the economic crisis of 1929–1940. Those who, at this critical juncture in the history of humanity, would tie the working class to the fate of the capitalist class, would thereby lead it to the fate of the European working class.

Labor must appear in the political arena not as appointed servitors of the ruling class, but as the rightful leaders of the nation. That is what the Labor Party means today.

Its goal js indicated by the needs of the masses – security against war and fascism, against want and hunger. That means that the Labor Party seeks the helm of the ship of society.

For a Workers’ and Farmers’ Government – that is why we need, why we must have, a Labor Party.


Last updated on: 2 November 2015