Written: April 1932.
Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 16 (Whole No. 112), 16 April 1932, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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The recent elections in Local 9 of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union are ah event of great significance for the Left wing labor movement. In these elections the Left wing, under the direct leadership of the Communist Party elected five delegates to the national convention of the union out of a total of seven. Since Local 9 is one of the largest and most important locals in the union, having approximately 7,000 members (cloak finishers), the momentous import of the election result can be seen at once. On the face of things it would appear that the Left wing has captured one of the main strongholds of the “company union”. If this is really so, if the Left wing, which was expelled from the International and compelled to form its own union, and, then, in its convention two years ago, declared the I.L.G.W.U. to be a “company union” and forbade the formation of any organized movement within it, can come out now as the victor in the elections to the convention – then this is indeed an amazing testimony of the strength of the Left wing and of the Communists in the needle trades. If it is a genuine victory it portends momentous developments in the entire movement.
But here we run into a number of disturbing facts which are well known to the workers in the trade and its close observers. There are three groups in the local which have tested their strength in a number of struggles. The strongest group is the so-called “Center”, consisting of anarchists supported by the Lovestoneites and their sympathizers in a “Progressive Bloc”, and its strength is certified by the fact that it controls the present administration of the local. The second group, from the standpoint of numerical strength, is composed of the Schlesinger Right wing forces who have constituted the opposition to the “progressive” administration of the local. The third group, the weakest numerically and one that came to life only recently and has played very little part in the life of the local, is the “Left wing” group directed by the Communist Party.
This is the situation out of which the election “victory” of the Left wing emerged like a miracle. And as we examine another fact the strange story becomes stranger still. Despite the existence of the three clearly-defined groups, there were only two slates in the election. The “Progressives” had their candidates, and so did the Left wing. But the Schlesinger group, the black and yellow gang that has been distinguished always by its voracious appetite for office, was overcome with modesty and put up no slate of its own! And when this illuminating circumstance is considered in connection wth the result of the election – the victory of the weakest group over the strongest group – there is only one possible conclusion: the right wing forces voted for the Left wing candidates!
Already the victory, so bright and alluring at a distance, begins to look bad and to smell worse. However it came about it is the sort of thing which shames and discredits the Left wing movement. The Communist leaders who gained this shoddy success seem to be anxious to avoid discussion of it. Perhaps that is why the Daily Worker, which usually screams in big headlines about the smallest accomplishments, real or imaginary, passes the cloakmakers’ election off with a two inch notice on an inside page on April 8th. And even that little notice contains an outright lie that cannot possibly deceive any worker who knows about the needle trades. The left delegates were elected, they say, “despite all efforts of Schlesinger and the fake progressive anarchist-Lovestone combination”. Do they want anybody to believe that the Schlesinger group voted for the “Progressive Bloc” candidates and that the Left wing defeated their combined forces? That requires more faith in human credulity than even Barnum had. The best that any needle trades worker in the market will say for that explanation is that it is just another lie of the Daily Worker, and what’s another lie more or less?
The victory was a fake; that much is absolutely clear. But another question remains to be answered: Was it the result of a treacherous horse-trade with the Right wing fakers (Foster and Co. have played that rotten game before), or, was the Left wing the victim of favors it did not want? There are people who say openly that it was a bargain. The Lovestoneites, as is their custom whenever anything happens, tell about a secret meeting, about which they, as usual have “inside information”, between the Right and Left leaders where the deal was made. We can afford to pass this by. There are more reliable means of judging the affair than the dubious gossip of the Lovestoneites. The Left wing delegates will have to show by their stand at the convention whether they are obligated to the Schlesinger gang or not.
At the convention of the Needle Trades Industrial Union two years ago the I.L.G.W.U. was branded a “company union” and organized work within it was forbidden as an opportunist illusion. At that time, in our comments on the convention, we pointed out the falsity of this theory and the tactical conclusions drawn from it. Our arguments were unavailing and the theory and the tactics had to run their course. This course, strewn with tragedy for the Left wing, is just about finished. The facts of life have spoken their own word against these conceptions. The most revealing fact of all is the election in Local 9. The Daily Worker’s comments on this event, miserable and scanty as they are, leave very little to be said for the “company union” idea.
If you hide a smile and admit their claim that the Left wing has really carried the elections in a genuine fight what remains of the dictum of two years ago that an organized Left wing struggle in the International is not only wrong, but also hopeless? This Local alone has three or four times as many members as the Industrial Union. To win over a majority of these members for the Left wing, after the very attempt had heen forbidden as a deviation, shows a terrible contradiction between the theory and the event.
And that is not all. According to the Daily Worker, the victorious left delegates “ran on a program of class struggle, a program against clique control of the International, for a real strike under rank and file leadership”. We think the delegates were right in advocating “a program of class struggle”. But a company union has never yet been converted to such a program. To advocate such a program in the union is to admit the possibility of reforming its present character. But the Stalinists prohibited organized work in the International precisely on the ground that it was a company union and therefore couldn’t be reformed.
Further, the Daily Worker says the left candidates had a program “against clique control of the International”. Again we say they were right. But if you are against clique control of the International, you are saying thereby that you are in favor of a different control by a different leadership. What has this to do with the teaching that the union is a company union and, consequently, by its very nature, controlled by the bosses and subjected to no change? The program of the left delegates is in fact a direct contradiction to the whole conception of “company unionism”. But still the Party generals continue to mutter the phrase. This is trying to walk north and south at the same time.
A third plank in the program “a real strike under rank and file leadership” is an expression of I.W.W.ism that flagrantly violates Communist fundamentals. It deserves a separate discussion.
If one acquits Poster of a backroom bargain with Schlesinger the reasons which prompted the black hundred forces to support the Stalinist candidates must be explained. These people are not generous; they don’t give something for nothing. And they are not foolish either. Even without a direct agreement they could act in this case, in the way they did, with full deliberation, counting on the policy of the Stalinists to help them as it has in the past. The Schlesinger administration in the International is being pressed hard in the pre-convention campaign by the “Progressive Bloc” opposition. They have observed the present ultra-radical policy of the Party not without interest, and certainly not without profit. According to the ruling theory of the Party, the Lenin teachings on the united front are out of date; all groups and factions not under the immediate domination of the Party are lumped together in one “social-Fascist” mass; there can be no temporary agreements, even on the smallest questions, with any of them. Seeing this policy – and no doubt agreeing with it heartily – the Schlesinger forces, unable to elect their own delegates in Local 9, set out to cut down the representation of the “Progressive Bloc.” To accomplish this they voted for the Left wing delegates.
Did they get a direct promise that the Left wing delegates at the convention will fulfill their expectations that they will confine themselves to phrase-mongering denunciation and take no practical steps to unite the opposition? This question need not be answered in advance. But the Left wing workers in the needle trades have every right to demand that the left delegates clear themselves of this suspicion by their actions. These delegates will occupy the strategic position at a significant moment in the needle trades struggle. Many workers will judge them and the movement they represent, not by what they say there but by what they do there. The Left wing workers have heard enough of the frothy pseudo-radicalism of Stalinism. In the meantime they have been compelled to yield position after position to the Rights, and through them to the bosses. It is time for a decisive turn. The convention of the International is the place for it.
The first duty of the Left wing delegates to the convention is to frustrate the calculations of the Schlesinger machine and to clear the Left wing of suspicion in the elections. They must raise there the banner of unity in the needle trades, and make the convention the starting point of a new campaign to unite the needle trades workers into a single organization for a common struggle. The slogan of unity is the slogan of the day. It has more power to move the workers than any other because it corresponds most to their needs. By its false policy, the party leadership, which its also the leadership of the Left wing, has surrendered this slogan. That is one of the chief reasons for the defeat of the Left wing and the advances of the reactionaries. The left delegates at the convention of the International, acting in accord with the Industrial union on the outside, have a rare opportunity to turn the tide on this decisive question. That will be a powerful blow to the Schlesinger machine, and a proof that it miscalculated in the elections in Local 9.
The second task of the left delegates at the convention is to bring forward a united front program for the convention struggle. If the Schlesinger people can vote for the Left wing delegates because they count on their refusal to combine with the “progressive” opposition, then that fact in itself is a sufficient condemnation of the policy. The Party press these days is full of talk about “working within the reactionary unions”, but this talk doesn’t mean much without a realistic tactic. The united front of progressive and oppositional forces against the reactionary leadership is just a tactic, and a most necessary one. We have no confidence in the leaders of the “Progressive Bloc”. But the very fact that they come out as an opposition to Schlesinger and talk in radical terms is a proof of the sentiments of the workers behind them. The Left wing must find a road to these workers.
To do this they must force the “Progressive Bloc” leaders to the wall with proposals of a fighting united front against Schlesinger and his gang. Who gains by the counterfeit radicalism which rejects such a policy? The Schlesinger machine on the one hand, and the anarchist-Lovestone combination on the other. The Left wing and the workers lose all along the line. This is the bitter history of the past few years. Is it not time to turn the helm? The convention of the International is the place to make the turn.
Last updated on: 31.5.2013