The Pseudo-Socialist Vote in U.S.
A million votes for Socialism! In exulting tones the worthy supporters of the body calling itself the Socialist Party of America tell us that this was, approximately, the vote cast for their candidate for the Presidency of the United States – Eugene V. Debs.
A million votes for Socialism! Would that it were true! Would not we too rejoice? But we have, in duty bound, to look into the matter before we join in the shouts of victory and – we decide to reserve our surplus steam.
This vote, perforce, compelled some attention at the hands of the capitalist Press. They found this vote a serious menace to “American institutions”, that is, of course, capitalist institutions, writ Uncle Sam. And probably the capitalist Press is not far wrong, for one may well admit that the vote for Eugene Debs for the Presidency is a presage of the fall of capitalism, without agreeing to the assumption that the U.S. working class have gone a million strong for the Socialist Republic.
A slight acquaintance with the S.P. of A. teaches one that its membership is made up of all sorts and conditions of men and women with, for the most part, very little more to recommend them for membership of a Socialist party than good intentions and enthusiasm. Only a small part have anything approaching a real grip of the proletarian position.
As was the case in the old S.D.F. in Great Britain, there is much talk of Marxism. But so little are the implications of Socialist economics understood and the conditions of the class struggle appreciated, that we find the party, in its respective State platforms, asking for the support of the working class for a long list of reforms, such as the Minimum Wage, the Eight Hours Day, Old Age Pensions, Sick Insurance, etc., much as we have been used to finding in S.D.F. programmes.
In fact, such emphasis and prominence were given these in the New York State platform that it was thought necessary to remind the public in large type on the last page, that the ultimate object was not overlooked.
Demagogue Roosevelt, the biggest bluffer Uncle Sam can boast of, created a distinct rustle by annexing a large slice of this reform program – and this on the recommendation of a prominent S.P. member, it appears.
This the membership seemed to think rather flattering, though, of course, it was, on the contrary, a tribute to the anti-Socialist character of their own party. For, surely, if those demands were Socialistic, capitalist Roosevelt would not even have looked at them.
However, one point is worth noticing, that is that the prophecy that Roosevelt would carry off a large part of the “Socialist” vote or prevent it increasing has proved entirely mistaken. Apparently his “revolutionary” candidatures did not keep a vote from Debs.
With regard to this reform question one hears from the S.P. members the same old confusing nonsense about a capitalism too rotten to be patched, and yet calling for a whole rag-shop full of patches in the shape of the S.P. “immediate demands”.
Reading the voting returns for the various parts of the country, one notices the great disparity of votes given for different candidates on the same local Party ticket – showing that many votes are cast for persons rather than for principles. Thus in Illinois an S.P. candidate came near being elected to an important legal office, while the remainder of the S.P. candidates ran hopelessly in the rear. In this case the party Press announces the intention to contest the election, thereby admitting the party’s readiness to accept office from voters who do not even indorse the party’s program, such as it is. Such a policy is an exhibition of weakness, and can only lead to failure, disappointment, and apathy. Inevitably the association of the name of Socialism with such a policy and its results must confuse the proletariat and hinder the cause.
In Milwaukee, where in a previous election V. Berger was elected to Congress in a three-cornered fight on the usual pledges of innumerable reforms, the party was defeated. The old parties combined to prevent the re-election of Berger. Likewise the city of Schenectady turned out of power the S.P. administration through an old party combination.
Now had the S.P. of A. at the previous election gone before the electorate with a simple statement of the Socialist objective, it is certain that these candidates would not have won office, and there would not have been built up the false hopes involving subsequent disappointment. Such would have been the better way, for the foundations of success would have been laid. For, surely, when a real Socialist majority has been developed and had its way at the ballot-box, the capitalist party combination will have done its worst and shown its impotence to affect the issue.
The experience of Schenectady and Milwaukee illustrates well the misleading character of the big vote for Debs. The possibility looms ahead of this vote growing on its present loose and unreliable lines to the point where the S.P. will find itself vested with the reins of Government and yet be so placed as to be quite unable to effect those revolutionary economic changes that alone can justify its assumption of the name Socialist. One shrinks from the contemplation of the likely outcome of such a situation, and can only hope that some of the pluck and enthusiasm of the American worker will soon get translated into that clear understanding of the problem of working-class supremacy that must precede any possibility of Socialist victory.
J. H. (New York)