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The New Party's Smoke-Filled Room

Like the older Republicans and Democrats, the young third party is more than mass meetings and platform speeches. It also has top strategists and potent local leaders whose differences must be reconciled off-stage:

C. B. “Beanie” Baldwin, with one important difference, stands in the same relationship to Henry Wallace as Jim Farley did to FDR at the beginning of their political alliance. The difference is important in explaining much about the Wallace campaign. Farley came to his task ripe in political experience and rather disinterested in the ideas his candidate was to stand for. Baldwin plunged into politics convinced that his ideas could be carried out only within the framework of a new political party with Wallace as its head.

Baldwin has known Wallace for 15 years, most of the time working with him or near him. He was a small businessman in East Radford, Virginia, when Milo Perkins, a friend of Wallace’s, got him a job in the Department of Agriculture. In 1940 he became chief of the Farm Security Administration, then was area director for relief activities in Italy. He entered politics in 1943.

First as Sidney Hillman’s assistant in the CIOPAC, then as an organizer of the National Citizens’ PAC, Baldwin did yeoman service for FDR in 1944 and was one of the few who, to the bitter end, tried to renominate Wallace for the vice-presidency. The next year, with both FDR and Hillman dead, he was active in trying to merge the two PAC’s, the UDA, the Farmers’ Union and all liberals into a single political organization to perpetuate Roosevelt democracy before the 1946 congressional elections.

Baldwin set out in the spring of 1947 to gather the elements of a coalition capable of becoming a new political party. Without precinct-level experience, he had to build from the top down to that level, using whatever existing organizations he could entice. One of his problems was to make it a truly national movement, disciplined and coordinated. To do this, he collected a staff with marked political acumen, and worked closely with Wallace.

One of Baldwin’s innovations has been to use the fund-raising techniques usually employed by philanthropic groups rather than the conventional political methods of getting contributions. Whatever else may be said about Wallace’s campaign, its financial support has come from the masses of the people more certainly than any other campaign in recent times. Baldwin, using mass meetings to whip up money-giving enthusiasm, tries to make the donor feel that this is truly his own party and that he must work for its success. 

Thomas Irwin Emerson, people’s Party candidate for Governor in Connecticut, is one of the original New Dealers in the New Party hierarchy. Two years after getting his law degree at Yale in 1931, he was working for the reborn Democrats as an assistant counsel in the NTRA.

During the next 13 years he furthered his education in practical government through legal positions in the NLRB, the Social Security Board, the Attorney General's office, the OPA, the Office of Economic Stabilization, and the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion. During his OPA phase he was deputy administrator for enforcement in 1943-45, a time when enforcing price control was a highly disagreeable task. Since leaving the government in 1946, he has been a professor of law at Yale.

Emerson’s value to the New Party lies in his stature in the academic world whence Wallace draws so much support, and in his high intellectual qualities which enable him to exert great influence within the central Administrative committee. There he works for sound, long-range principles which he has thought out more carefully than many of his colleagues.

John Abt, as general counsel of the Wallace-for-President Committee, is co-equal with Campaign Manager Baldwin in running the campaign. Abt handles the administration and legal affairs of the main headquarters in New York. He also participates in all strategy decisions.

Abt, left-wing by conviction but conciliatory by nature, often acts as arbitrator when things get hot between some of the more seasoned politicians and the theoreticians. Long experience in liberal political organizations has acquainted him with such problems.

After his graduation from the University of Chicago Law School, Abt practised law in Chicago before joining the New Deal, first in the AAA and then in the WPA. He resigned to become counsel for the famous La Follette Civil Liberties Committee, then served as special assistant to the Attorney General.

During the halcyon days of the CIOPAC, Abt was Sidney Hillman’s closest confidant as general counsel for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers. Last year, when the CIO split over the third-party issue, Abt went along with the left-wing faction of his union. Primarily a technician, and an able one, he now has his hands full with the delicate personnel problems of a new political organization and with such legal intricacies as the electoral regulations of some 48 states.

Clark Howell Foreman, treasurer of the Wallace movement, is that increasinglyrecurrent phenomenon inthe South—a member of a notedSouthern family bent on winning civilrights for Negroes. Foreman, a nativeof Atlanta, started putting his beliefsinto practice early in the New Dealwhen he was made adviser on race relationsto the Secretary of the Interior.

One of his significant contributions was the work he did in drafting FDR’s economic report on the South, which revealed conditions below the Mason- Dijcon Line to be the nation’s gravest economic problem. Later he founded the Southern Conference for Human Welfare. Naturally, his championship of Negro rights has made him a bitterly controversial figure throughout the South.

Foreman brings few white Southern votes to the Wallace cause, but he has had valuable experience in organizing liberal political movements, and shows considerable fund-raising ability.

Elinor Kahn, sparkplug of California’sIndependent Progressive Party,served her political apprenticeship inthe Upton Sinclair and Culbert L.Olson campaigns during whichmany strange and wonderful elementswere united to capture the Californiagovernorship. The experience hashelped her hold together in the CaliforniaIPP such groups as the old-agepensioners and the more militant left-wingunions.

She has always been extremely popular in the waterfront unions. When sentiment for the creation of a third party developed, she was instrumental in showing Harry Bridges how such a party could be created in California. Welcoming all comers who would work for Wallace, she has kept the militant unions of Los Angeles and San Francisco hard at work getting their membership registered to vote.

Her efforts also have resulted in building one of the best Students-for- Wallace groups in the nation. The block-by-block doorbell-ringing technique she helped develop for IPP produced enough petition signatures to assure Wallace a place on the California ballot.

In California, which has a larger proportion of pacifists than any other state, the students are more politically minded and the unions more aggressive. Both these groups are in Miss Kahn’s field of action. Under such leadership the New Party is expected to make at least as good a showing in California as anywhere else.

Albert Fitzgerald, chairman of the New Party’s Labor Committee, is an up-from-the-ranks leader of the United Electrical Workers’ Union and by all odds the most militant labor supporter that Wallace has won. The UE, the third-largest of all CIO unions, was one of the heaviest financial contributors to the old CIOPAC. Fitzgerald is a native of Massachusetts and a Catholic. He is not a colorful leader in the John L. Lewis style, bat a quiet man whose hold over his members seems to stem from his likeness to them. In no sense is he a dictator within his own union. He shares his power with a tightly disciplined handful of left-wingers—Jim Matles, organization director; Julius Emspak, the secretary-treasurer, and Russ Nixon, former legislative director.

Fitzgerald is still a vice-president of the national CIO. His job in the New Party organization is to attract as much organized labor as possible, since an already functioning political framework is one of the party’s most crucial needs.

Most of organized labor has taken a stand of opposition to the New Party, but certain sections declared themselves in its favor even before its Philadelphia convention. In addition to UE officials, support has come principally from the Marine Cooks and Stewards, the Fur and Leather Workers, the Food and Tobacco Workers and the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers.

No one yet knows how great a block of votes this section of labor might swing. Fitzgerald’s job is to expand it as far as possible and exploit all its potentialities.

Paul Robeson’s great baritone has thundered through countless meeting halls across the continent these last twelve months as the voice of the New Party. Many rallies have been rescued from dreariness by his artistry and passion. Often he has created the emotional tension so fruitful in a political campaign.

What most hearers have not realized is that the man with the great voice has also been making another significant contribution to the party. Robeson is an articulate and astute politician on the steering committee set up to direct policies of the pre-convention campaign. He is a political power in his own right in Harlem, where recently he has been involved in bitter struggles between left and right-wing progressives.

Of course, his greatest value to the New Party is probably symbolic. His artistic position is unchallenged. To other members of the Negro race he —the man of education, talent and renown—is the personification of what they, too, can accomplish.

Robeson’s own political creed is broader than mere advocacy of rights for one particular group. Since his own people have the least freedom, he concentrates has most fiery efforts on helping them. But his interest in all cultures is universal and his knowledge us extraordinary.

Vito Marcanionto is one New Party leader who holds political power. As such he won a hard fight to make his American Labor Party the only New Party group on the New York ballot. In turn, he promises to broaden the ALP after November, by giving representation to New Party leaders.

A dynamic, rowdy fighter, Marcantonio knows how to organize political action, how to stage a campaign, how to win elections. He has shown that in getting elected to Congress six times from New York’s tough 18th District. Threatened by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, Marcantonio has always been for a third party. He hopes to make the New Party the first party in New York City and later in the state.

In New Party councils, Marcantonio often disrupts the proceedings with rude laughter at what he considers the political amateurism of the less seasoned workers. Actually, some of his advice is extremely sound. He advocates the house-to-house-canvassing technique which such eminently successful organizations as Tammany Hall have used for generations.

Marcantonio also believes in stressing and dramatizing the issues closest to the lives of plain people—housing, veterans’ care, the high cost of groceries. These are things which, he says, Park Avenue liberals don’t really understand the way plain people do. By convincing people that the New Party is fighting their battles he insists that big blocks of voters can be won away from the two major parties.

Against party strategists who talk in generalities and abstractions, Marcantonio hits back with harsh singleness of purpose. He gives no quarter and asks none, because that is the way he grew up in Harlem. He maneuvers cleverly against the major parties. And, although he follows the Communist Party line on national issues, he bends it to his will on specific local matter.

Elmer A. Benson, national chairman of the Wallace-for-President Committee, is a passionate opponent of the idea that war is a necessary evil. He is vilified by the big newspapers of Minnesota as a “dangerous radical,” but he is known by the people as the man who once made a pact with the late Governor Floyd B. Olsen and the late Judge Vince A. Day that no one of them would ever speak in public without attacking war.

He began his long career in politics by peddling handbills for rallies promoted by his father, and he served as Senator from Minnesota before be coming the state's Governor in 1937. He was defeated by Harold Stassen, and this year his forces lost control of the D-F-L Party. Though not a polished public speaker, Benson can be eloquent in his attacks on racial discrimination and on the forces promoting war.

Benson is a prosperous businessman. Yet he never allows himself to forget the misery that the boom-or-bust advocates helped produce during the depression. He has helped organize small-town bankers into an independent association to fight monopoly banks in legislative matters.

He has not concealed his distrust and dislike of some national leaders of organized labor. As leader of the New Party in Minnesota, Benson is spoken of as its candidate for the Senate against Joseph Ball and the Democratic- Farmer-Labor Party’s Hubert Humphrey, who is expected to the D-F-L primary.

This article originally ran in the July 26, 1948, issue of the magazine.