The LaFollette Fiasco
AFTER the split with Fitzpatrick, the miscarriage of the Federated Farmer-Labor party, and the tailspin of the Trade Union Educational League, the Communists were down but not out. The "Third Party alliance" gave them the rare opportunity of playing the same game twice.
The concept of this alliance arose out of Communist doctrine as it was understood and practiced in this period. According to this doctrine, the LaFollette movement represented a third party of the petty bourgeoisie as distinguished from the two parties of the big bourgeoisie, the Republican and the Democratic. To the extent that it signified a split between the petty bourgeoisie and the big bourgeoisie, the Communists welcomed it. On the other hand, they did not wish to be tainted by or accept any direct responsibility for a petty-bourgeois party, which, they insisted, could solve no problems for the working class but would inevitably mislead and betray it. To get around the difficulty of belittling the LaFollette movement and yet refraining from breaking with it, they conceived of an "alliance" between the Third Party, representing well-to-do farmers and small businessmen, and the Farmer-Labor party, representing workers and exploited farmers. They did not ask LaFollette whether he wanted to have Communist allies, but as long as he did not repudiate them publicly, a tacit understanding with a portion of LaFollette's following was possible.