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Joseph Keller

What Can Labor Expect of Truman?

(21 April 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 16, 21 April 1945, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The death of Franklin D. Roosevelt has suddenly lifted into the office of the presidency of the United States a man who is little known to the majority of the American people. This comparatively obscure figure, Harry S. Truman, now stands at the head of the greatest military, industrial and financial power in the world. As the chief executive officer of the ruling capitalist class in the United States, his words and deeds will directly affect the lives of all American workers and the future welfare of the hungry, tortured, war-weary masses throughout the world.

Universal interest is now focused upon this political personage. Every thinking worker wants to know who Truman really is. What are his connections and background? Who are his advisers? What interests will he serve ? What policies will he pursue? American labor needs a clear and truthful answer to these questions as a guiding line for the period ahead of economic convulsions and world-wide social crisis.

One thing is certain at first glance. Truman commands the confidence of every sector of the capitalist class today. The entire capitalist press – from the extreme right wing to the so-called “liberal” – have hailed the new President. Their expressions of confidence and pledges of support are no mere products of sentiment and good-will. They are based upon a precise and well-founded appraisal of the policies they expect him to follow.

Wall Street’s Verdict

The New York Times, mouthpiece of the Morgan financial interests, on April 14 frankly headlined, “Turn To Right Seen.” It characterizes Truman as “imbued with basic conservatism,” “one whose philosophy is far more ‘a little right of center’ than the ‘little left of center’ of recent days.”

On this same theme, the New York Post, which professes liberalism, on April 17 indicated that the character of Truman’s advisers, who are expected to play a decisive role jn shaping his policies, “might be accurately described as ‘a little right of center’.” In more concrete terms, Ralph Hendershot, financial editor of the reactionary Republican New York World-Telegram, wrote on April 14: “The stock market yesterday gave President Truman a splendid vote of confidence ... businessmen have confidence in him.”

This confidence of Big Business is based on its conviction that Truman will effectively advance its program and protect its interests. This is amply demonstrated by a review of his background and political record.

More will be written about Truman’s boyhood on his father’s 600-acre Missouri farm and his activities as an artillery officer in the last war than about his political rise through the notorious Pendergast machine in Kansas City and his record as a loyal machine man in the Democratic Party councils of the big city bosses and Southern poll-tax politicians. The latter affiliations provide the real clue to his political role.

After the last war, Truman got his political start with the Pendergast gang – a number of whom, including the big boss himself, were sent to prison in 1937 for vote-fraud, graft and corruption. He was introduced to Tom Pendergast, the big boss of Kansas City politics, by Pendergast’s nephew who had served under Truman in the army.

Pendergast Protégé

Through Pendergast’s support Truman was elected as county judge, a post he occupied as a faithful henchman of Pendergast until 1934. In that year he was hand-picked by boss Pendergast for election to the U.S. Senate from Missouri.

To this day, as the New York Times points out: “Trained in the Tom Pendergast school of politics, President Truman is a party man, with small regard for dreamers in government who have no definite political affiliations.” Marshall Field’s professional liberal daily, PM, while trying to squeeze Truman into a “liberal” mold, confesses with misgiving that he is “fiercely loyal to old political associates... does not break old political school ties easily.” This was written apropos of his present connections with James Pendergast and reports of his intention to draw into influential posts a number of those machine politicians who helped boost Truman to the top.

In short, as one commentator expressed it with evident satisfaction, Truman will bring to his appointments the traits of a “good, shrewd horsetrader’’ – that is, of a practitioner of the political spoils system.

The liberal press and the union leaders are trying hard to represent Truman as a “practical liberal” on the scant record of his activities in the Senate from 1934 until his elevation to the vice-presidency after he got the backing of the late President Roosevelt, the big city bosses and the Southern poll-tax politicians at the 1944 Democratic convention.

Congressional Record

His record of routine support for “New Deal” measures does not weigh in the scale with his vote on two decisive measures. He voted originally for the Smith-Connally anti-strike law. He supported the last tax bill which Rooseyelt himself was compelled to characterize as “relief for the greedy.” He headed the Senate war investigation committee – which skimmed the surface of some of the more glaring scandals, but did little to halt the more than fifty-billions in graft that Comptroller General Lindsay Warren admitted has been made in this war beyond “reasonable profits.”

The real tip-off on Truman’s future policies lies in his associates and advisers and in his relations with Congress. The present Congress, in the opinion of almost every liberal and labor commentator, rates as one of the most reactionary in American history. Truman’s accession to the presidency, according to conservative commentator Arthur Krock, means “that Congressional influence will once again loom large in the American government, and the voice of the Senate will sway Executive decisions.” That is to say, Truman will act in harmony with the reactionary character of Congress.

This is more than borne out by the men associated with Truman and those he is expected to draw into his intimate administrative circle in the future.

Truman’s Close Advisers

First and foremost will be James F. Byrnes, former War Mobilization Director. He was the first man called back to Washington to advise Truman. A hardened Southern “white supremacy” reactionary, a target before his resignation of the most bitter attacks from all sections of the labor movement, Byrnes looms as Truman’s closest and most influential adviser, who is said to be slated for the key post of Secretary of State.

Others in the retinue of Truman’s advisers and possible new cabinet members include John Snyder, Hugh Fulton, Robert Hannegan. Snyder is a St. Louis banker, described by one of his friends as “holding about the same views as Emil Schram,” president of the New York Stock Exchange. Fulton was formerly associated with Cravath, de Gersdorff, Swaine and Wood, a wealthy New York corporation law firm associated with some of America’s most powerful corporations and cartel interests, including U.S. Steel and the House of Morgan. Hannegan is chairman of the Democratic Party National Committee, spokesman for the big city bosses.

These few facts cited here give a warning to labor of what it can expect of Truman.

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