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Harry Truman, Too, Was a Self-Described Democratic Socialist

Eric Zuesse

This is from the public papers of U.S. President Harry S. Truman in 1952:

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https://web.archive.org/web/20190404174655/https://trumanlibrary.org/publicpapers/index.php/index.php

“Public Papers, Harry S. Truman, 1945-1953, October 10, 1952”

[rail-car campaigning for Adlai Stevenson in N.Y. State to become Truman’s successor, against Dwight Eisenhower]

Socialism is a scare word they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years.

Socialism is what they called public power. Socialism is what they called social security.

Socialism is what they called farm price supports.

Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance.

Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations.

Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.

When the Republican candidate inscribes the slogan “Down With Socialism” on the banner of his “great crusade,” that is really not what he means at all.

What he really means is, “Down with Progress–down with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal,” and “down with Harry Truman’s fair Deal.” That is what he means.

——

Politico headlined on February 24th, “Sanders sends Democratic establishment into panic mode” and reported that “A renewed sense of urgency washed over establishment Democrats, who fear it’s quickly becoming too late to stop Sanders.”

Today’s Democratic Party Establishment — the Clintonites and Obamaites and the supporters of every one of the current crop of Democratic Presidential candidates except for Bernie Sanders — are not in the tradition of Truman, and of his immediate predecessor Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but are instead in the post-Reagan tradition of the Democratic Party, the tradition that was well represented by Bill Clinton when he, for example, created “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and then joined with the Republicans in Congress to abolish FDR’s Glass-Steagall Act and also to allow unregulated trading in investment-derivatives, and generally to deregulate the economy, and to sign into law and promote NAFTA, which expanded U.S. corporate profits at the expense of America’s working-class. His wife wanted also that there would be expanded fracking, just like the Republicans wanted, and she wanted Iraq to be invaded, just like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney did. And the Democratic Establishment nowadays is pushing lots of proposals that the Republican Party had pushed for prior to the Reagan revolution, proposals for unleashing the nation’s mega-corporations and producing enormous wealth-inequality.

Bernie Sanders is the only Democrat who is running in today’s ‘Democratic’ Party Presidential primaries. All of the other candidates in those primaries are warmed-over pre-Reagan Republicans. Only Sanders is running against the Republican ‘Democrats’, who are, basically, spitting on FDR’s grave.

The revolt against Sanders, by the Democratic National Committee, and maybe by its 700+ superdelegates at the upcoming Convention so as to throw its nomination to Elizabeth Warren or one of the other ‘moderate’ ‘Democrats’, is simply the revolt against Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Democratic Party. It is their revolt against progressivism, and for conservatism, so as to keep today’s Democratic Party, a liberal instead of progressive party. Liberalism blends progressivism and conservatism. The founder of liberalism was the man who had blended conservatism and progressivism, John Locke, about whom John Quiggin has noted, with an honestly that is stunningly rare: “As secretary to the Earl of Shaftesbury, then chancellor of the exchequer, Locke assisted in drafting the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina. He was secretary to the Council of Trade and Plantations (1673–74) and a member of the Board of Trade (1696–1700), with responsibility for the American colonies. He was a major investor in the English slave trade through the Royal African Company and the Bahama Adventurers company.” This is what today’s Democratic National Committe (DNC) represents — that tradition, of the British aristocracy, even the slave-traders amongst them, not the progressive tradition, which FDR created in the Democratic Party, and which Bernie Sanders calls simply “democratic socialism” and cites Denmark and other Scandinavian countries as being contemporary examples of what has worked well elsewhere that can also work well here. (Although FDR created it in the Democratic Party, he was simply copying and adapting from the best of the European nations; for example, Social Security was instituted in 1935 but already six European nations had it by that time — and what Bernie Sanders is trying to do is in that tradition, of copying and adapting the best from abroad, not just continuing exceptionally bad existing U.S. practices.)

Today’s DNC, and its ‘Third Way’ mouthpieces (Third Way is now propagandizing against Sanders in South Carolina) are scaremongering against Sanders being a “socialist,” and (as that news-report said) “When Third Way held a meeting in Charleston in June 2019, one of the group’s founders referred to Sanders as an ‘existential threat’ to the future of the Democratic Party.” This is the line that the Democratic Party’s billionaires are now spreading. They’re determined to retain control over the Party, just as the Republican Party’s super-rich have always had control over the Republican Party since the very moment when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.

Abraham Lincoln had said:

The insurrection is largely, if not exclusively, a war upon the first principle of popular government — the rights of the people. Conclusive evidence of this is found in the most grave and maturely considered public documents, as well as in the general tone of the insurgents. In those documents we find the abridgement of the existing right of suffrage and the denial to the people of all right to participate in the selection of public officers, except the legislative boldly advocated, with labored arguments to prove that large control of the people in government, is the source of all political evil. Monarchy itself is sometimes hinted at as a possible refuge from the power of the people.

In my present position, I could scarcely be justified were I to omit raising a warning voice against this approach of returning despotism.

It is not needed, nor fitting here, that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions; but there is one point, with its connexions, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above labor, in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connexion with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it, induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered [Page  52] whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them, and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers, or what we call slaves. And further it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer, is fixed in that condition for life.

Now, there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed; nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital, producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and, with their capital, hire or buy another few to labor for them. A large majority belong to neither class — neither work for others, nor have others working for them. In most of the southern States, a majority of the whole people of all colors are neither slaves nor masters; while in the northern a large majority are neither hirers nor hired. Men with their families — wives, sons, and daughters — work for themselves, on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one hand, nor of hired laborers or slaves on the other. It is not forgotten that a considerable number of persons mingle their own labor with capital — that is, they labor with their own hands, and also buy or hire others to labor for them; but this is only a mixed, and not a distinct class. No principle stated is disturbed by the existence of this mixed class.

Would the post-Lincoln Republican Party assert any such thing as that “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”?

To anyone who would spout the line of America’s billionaires (either Republican or Democratic ones), Bernie Sanders would, as the Presidential nominee of, and standard-bearer for, a restored progressive Democratic Party, be able to quote both Harry Truman and Abraham Lincoln, in order to expose those persons’ frauds and take the White House away from them and restore it to the people.

—————

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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oldandjaded
February 25, 2020

Good piece Eric. No one called Truman a “socialist” or a “communist”. As I have mentioned before, even his Republican opponent, Eisenhower, used rhetoric that is economically left of Sanders position now. “Today in America, unions have a secure place in our industrial life. Only a handful of reactionaries harbor the ugly thought of breaking unions and depriving working men and women of the right to join the union of their choice. I have no use for those – regardless of their political party – who hold some vain and foolish dream of spinning the clock back to days when… Read more »

oldandjaded
Reply to  Eric Zuesse
February 25, 2020

The central point I am making Eric, is that the same rhetoric a right-wing candidate like Eisenhower used in the 1950’s would get you branded as a “socialist” in todays American political environment. Bernie won’t even touch the trade union “3rd rail”. You should read what groups like the National Assn of Manufacturers, or the Public Relations Advisory Board were saying in the post-war era, they were very much on the defensive at that time, and VERY concerned about how the public perceived corporate power. At that time they were VERY MUCH afraid of the antipathy the public felt toward… Read more »

oldandjaded
Reply to  oldandjaded
February 25, 2020
dhinds
dhinds
February 25, 2020

Truman was a Cold Warrior.

FDR’s replacing Henry Wallace with Harry Truman as his VP before his death gave rise to the current mess. (I delivered campaign literature for the Henry Wallace for POTUS campaign on my bike in 1948.
But by then it was too late. Now there’s the Internet – thanks to Tim Berners-Lee).

I stopped using isms except for one: “Organism” – as in “Living”.

Focusing instead in issues and priorities.

Olivia Kroth
Reply to  dhinds
February 25, 2020

BRAVO ????

Nicholas Hazen
February 28, 2020

Not sure about Harry Truman. He also invited Winston Churchill to Missouri to give his “Iron Curtain” speech and he also brought the CIA into being. Henry Wallace however was certainly a democratic socialist who should have succeeded Roosevelt but I think the Military Industrial Complex through their operatives in the Democratic Party put a stop to that by blocking his nominee. As Winston himself said, “politics is foul.”

What Assange’s Legal Team May Be Doing.

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