Third parties are one test of the vitality of the American people. They test the capacity of Americans to restore to life our two-party system when one of the major parties ceases to function as a vital force.
The origin of the New Party lay in the recent failure of the Democratic Party to lead. In wartime, party government was abandoned in favor of national government by President Roosevelt. After the war, the Democratic Party lacked the vitality to reassert its liberal leadership. The alliance of Southern Democrats and Northern Republicans established a bipartisan conservative government in domestic affairs. A continuing world crisis led to bipartisan conservative government in world affairs. The New Party was formed from the body of political emotions and ambitions suppressed by bipartisan government.
The present position of the New Party is that it is officially on the ballot in ten states and has filed the necessary petitions in five others. Only in Florida has it been impossible to meet the legal requirements for appearing on the ballot, although in Oklahoma andOhio certification awaits a high-court decision. It has struggled against strong opposition in West Virginia and Ohio and spent its force in divisions among progressives in. Minnesota. Its major efforts seem to be in New York and California, but by November it plansto have a comprehensive slate in at least forty states.
In Illinois, for example, the New Party has filed an extensive ticket. In California it is backing twelve New Party candidates for Congress, only four of whom are also Democrats. In New Hampshire New Party candidates are running for Governor, Senator and for two House seats; in New Jersey, for one Senate and eleven House seats. In Missouri New Party candidates are entered in races for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, State Treasurer, State Auditor, Attorney General and four congressional districts. Many of these candidates stand for Wallace’s basic philosophy; many certainly do not, and in some cases are running against genuine progressives. New Party leaders claim that by increasing the size of the vote they will help to elect liberals in 1948. But a state-by-state breakdown indicates that the New Party candidates will contribute to an overwhelming Republican victory.
The support of the New Party comes largely from minority groups and left-wing trade unions. Its largest blocks of votes may come from Negroes, and from Jews embittered by the betrayal of Israel. Czechs, Poles, Hungarians and Bohemians, with left-wing traditions and close ties to Eastern and Central Europe, are other major sources of votes. Seven trade unions, with a total membership of 549,000, are officially backing the New Party. Five others, with a membership of 873,000, are active supporters. In general, in regions such as Massachusetts, Missouri, New York City and Chicago, where access to the Democratic Party is difficult for a liberal, the New Party has its broadest support.
The program of the New Party will be drafted in the convention under the direction of Rexford Tugwell. So far, the New Party is on record for, among other issues, the complete abolition of segregation and discrimination; continued price support for farmers; broadened social security financed by taxation; and the nationalization of the railroads and the aircraft industry. It opposes the Draft, and two New Party Representatives in Congress voted against supplementary arms appropriations. In international affairs, the New Party opposes Marshall Plan aid and is in favor of the withdrawal of foreign troops from Germany and China. Its central assertion is that the current cold war can be ended by an attitude of friendship toward the Soviet Union, and that only when the cold war has been ended can American living standards be raised.
In structure the New Party is organized generally on the state and chapter levels. Although the local organizations are largely autonomous on non-policy matters, the New Party has greater uniformity and centralization than the two major parties. It is still divided between the Wallace concept of a broad coalition organized around the idea of peace, the progressive concept of a militant movement based on labor as a class, and the Communist concept of a mass party reflecting its own extreme centralization, its insistence on class warfare and its intolerance of all viewpoints but its own.
The future of the New Party depends on its ability to become the Second Party. This requires the destruction of the Democratic Party, which often acts as a willing accomplice in its own doom. Yet the New Party is at present seeking to replace an outworn coalition of reaction and liberalism with a new coalition of liberals and Communists whose avowed purpose has always been the destruction of liberalism. This coalition, in the minds of labor leaders, is equally barren and doomed to failure. Normally, a third party coming at this time would reflect the demand of labor for greater political influence. The demand is real, but the opposition of most labor leaders to the New Party is bitter. They see in it a means of expanding the Communist influence against which they are fighting. They believe that by splitting the liberal vote it will help to elect a Congress bent on destroying the trade unions.
Third parties are one test of the vitality of American progressives. A test of their maturity is the time it will take for all democratic progressives to come together again and work together in the battles that will follow November. Whatever fights are waged by leaders on both sides, the millions who will vote for Wallace and the millions who will vote in the Democratic Party cannot endure without each other’s help.
This article originally ran in the July 26, 1948, issue of the magazine.