League for Independent Political Action

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The League for Independent Political Action represented one of the last in a series of attempts to unite workers, farmers, and intellectuals into a viable political organization. In December 1928, Paul H. Douglas, Sherwood Eddy, and Norman Thomas assembled fifty-three activists to form a clearinghouse to coordinate information on existing organizations, while developing a program for a new party. In 1929 a national committee, consisting of numerous well-known progressives, was established, selecting John Dewey, whose political and economic views paralleled the League's own, as chairman, and Howard Y. Williams as executive secretary. Williams organized some 2,500 members into ninety chapters in thirty-five states. The League emphasized political action as the way to secure a cooperatively-managed, consumer-controlled, planned economy marked by full employment, equal distribution of wealth, and a "Cooperative Commonwealth" based on production for use. The League for Independent Political Action viewed itself as pursuing a pragmatic middle course between the moribund Republican and Democratic parties and the Marxist left.

In 1930, spurred on by the worsening Depression, the League for Independent Political Action endorsed Republican and Democratic candidates only when there were no third-party candidates. Half of these League-supported candidates were elected. The League's second goal, creating a broad-based national party, however, proved more difficult. After the election, Dewey unsuccessfully encouraged Senator George Norris (Republican-Nebraska) to lead Progressive Republicans into a new party. Undaunted, in January 1932 the League issued a "Four Year Presidential Plan" advocating many long-standing reforms, including federal relief and public work programs, more progressive tax rates, old-age pensions, and public ownership of public utilities. The document, which anticipated many New Deal programs, and the League itself attracted only modest support. In July, fewer than one hundred delegates attended a League-sponsored National Progressive Conference. The conference endorsed the Socialist ticket of Norman Thomas and James H. Maurer, a League vicechairman, and called for another gathering in 1933 to again try to establish a new party. Despite the endorsement, many members of the League, along with many other progressives, eventually supported Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Ultimately the League for Independent Political Action, with a membership under ten thousand, and viewed by some as dominated by an intellectual elite, neither gained broad support nor developed an appealing political vision for radical agrarian and labor groups. Always close to the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party, the League organized the Farmer-Labor Political Federation in 1933, and two years later created a more broadly based American Commonwealth Political Federation to continue local organizing and build a new party. Unable to differentiate itself from competing groups, and facing internal strife and shifting allegiances, these efforts proved futile. In the wake of Roosevelt's 1936 landslide victory, the League for Independent Political Action and its successor groups disappeared as viable political organizations.



Bicha, Karel Dennis. "Liberalism Frustrated: The League for Independent Political Action, 1928–1933." Mid-America 48, no. 1 (1966): 19–28.

Lawson, R. Alan. The Failure of Independent Liberalism, 1930–1941. 1971.

McCoy, Donald R. Angry Voices: Left-of-Center Politics in the New Deal Era. 1958.

Williams, Howard Y., Jr. Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

John Sillito