The militant and splendidly organized strike of some 5,000 Minneapolis auto truck drivers and helpers, in May, 1934, which at one time showed strong signs of developing into a general strike of all trades, caused a crisis in the Minnesota state Farmer-Labor Party administration headed by Governor Olson, and threatened for a while to put a speedy end to his meteoric and demagogic career. The strike brought on a crisis in the ranks of the employers as a whole in Minneapolis, St. Paul and vicinity.
The Farmer-Labor Party administration and the employers escaped from the crisis at the expense of the working class by virtue of the policy of the Trotzkyites of the “Communist League” (the four Dunne brothers, with Cannon as their political advisor, whose leadership of Drivers Union 574 is a matter of record.
This policy, in spite of the efforts of the Communist Party, resulted in surrender to the employers, to Governor Olson, and to the official henchmen of Olson in control of the Central Labor Council; it resulted in the political and to some extent organizational isolation of the 5,000 drivers and their militant women’s auxiliary, in the demobilization of the aroused working class—and in the loss of the major demands of the strikers.
The into drivers struck for wage increases and recognition of their union. In the official settlement no wage increases are granted. But compulsory arbitration is instituted—as in the infamous auto-mobile agreement engineered by Roosevelt and President Green of the American Federation of Labor. The present wages are to stand for one year, unless increases are “mutually agreed upon”. Recognition is accorded—Clause 7A and the Minneapolis-St. Paul Regional Labor Board of the N.R.A.
This is a Trotzkyite victory! Will someone please page John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers and President William Green and advise them of the advance of their policies in Minneapolis under the Trotzkyite banner?
Such a “victory”—and the thick crust which enables the Trotzkyites and their sheet to herald it as such—especially in view of the militancy of the strikers and the wide mass support accorded them—shows that these leaders are wallowing, and inviting workers to follow their example, in the same filthy pool of class cooperation as the official A. F. of L. leaders.
This shameful settlement had not the justification that the workers were defeated. Defeated workers have to make compromises that irk them. But the 5,000 drivers and their sympathizers, the large numbers of unemployed who fought side by side with them on the picket line, had just begun to fight.
They had inflicted a whole series of severe defeats upon the employers and their army of special deputies. The morale of the strikers was high. Relief was well organized. The building trades had declared a general strike.
There was mass sentiment for a general strike among the other unions affiliated to the Central Labor Council. More than half of these unions had voted for a general strike, according to reports.
To a considerable extent the strikers and their sympathizers controlled the streets. The class lines were tightly drawn. And, so bad are the economic conditions in Minneapolis, that even large sections of the lower middle class sympathized with the strikers—in whose ranks a large number of taxi drivers was already included.
So strong was popular sentiment in favor of the strikers, that the Minneapolis Tribune and the Journal—two of the most reactionary sheets in the country, running neck to neck with the Chicago Tribune for this honor—did not dare openly to attack the strike editorially during the whole duration of the struggle. When one C. A. Lyman, a well-known business man and clubman who had made the mistake of thinking that a special deputy’s badge would prevent skull fracture while clubbing auto truck drivers on the picket line, was “killed in action”, the Tribune, instead of the usual capitalist press demand for workers’ necks in reprisal under such circumstances, dared only to publish a laudatory obituary. The well-organized Minneapolis working class, which has a splendid tradition of struggle, had the opportunity of inflicting a severe defeat upon the employers, substantially improving their wages and working conditions, and strengthening the entire labor movement. The struggle would have spread to St. Paul where the workers are even better organized, and in the present period, when there is such ferment among all sections of the working class and big battles are the order of the day, the effect of such a powerful movement on the rest of the American working class is incalculable.
The “truce” was agreed to, and the shameful settlement made, before even the full strength of the auto truck drivers’ union had been brought into play—l;to say nothing of the working class reserves.
One soldier sent in by Olson, one worker injured by troops, would have meant, in all probability, a general strike, victory for the labor movement, exposure and moral defeat of Olson and the Farmer-Labor Party administration. But this is what the Trotzkyite leaders were afraid of. If this is not so, why did they allow Governor Olson, during a truce—which in the military sense is supposed to stop all troop movements while it lasts—to mobilize the National Guard and keep it mobilized while the negotiations were going on?
Honest and capable leadership would have demanded the demobilization of the troops before one word was said about settlement of the strike. This was not done. Negotiations were carried on, the surrender was arranged with Governor Olson, while he held over the heads of workers the threat of military invasion.
The Trotzkyite leaders, thinking in terms of the Central Labor Council officials instead of in terms of the great mass of militant Minneapolis workers, quit cold like the palookas they are.
The working class reserves had not even gone into action when the fatal “truce” was agreed to. It spelled defeat.
The auto drivers and their working class supporters won on the field of action—in the street and on the picket lines. Their Trotzkyite leaders and Olson’s henchmen in the Central Labor Council called off the battle and gave away the fruits of victory at conferences with Olson, the employers, and N.R.A. representatives. Thanks to the policy of cowardice and capitulation of the American representatives of the still-born Trotzkyite “Fourth International”, Governor Olson, one of the most dangerous enemies of the working class, and the whole Farmer-Labor Party bureaucracy, come out of this clash of class forces with flying colors, colors borne by the 3,700 National Guardsmen mobilized during the “truce” by this friend of the working class for use against the strikers.
The exposure and defeat of Olson should have been the central political objective of the Minneapolis struggle. This was the basic necessity for winning the economic demands for the Drivers’ Union and the rest of the working class. Had Governor Olson dared to send a single soldier against the strikers and their supporters, the working class of Minneapolis would have answered with a general strike. He would have been driven from office. His upward climb on the backs of the workers and farmers would have been stopped for all time.
As it is, Olson is more firmly entrenched. The frightened employers have been given a breathing spell in which to reform their battle lines. The Central Labor Council demagogues were never put to the test of actually mobilizing strike action in support of the auto drivers. They heaved a sigh of relief and wiped the beads of cold sweat from their brows. Illusions in regard to N.R.A. have been strengthened.
Everything is lovely and the goose hangs high-everywhere except in the homes of the auto truck drivers and the unemployed workers who bore the cruel brunt of the struggle. Here is the decisive section of the shameful settlement:
“In the hiring and discharging or laying off of employees, seniority rights shall prevail, except for just cause. . . .
“In the event that any employer affected hereby and its employees or their representatives cannot agree upon a wage scale or conditions of employment, such employer shall submit such subject or subjects to said Minneapolis-St. Paul regional labor board, for arbitration. And also in the event that any dispute between said members of local union No. 574 and any employer affected hereby shall arise with reference to sections (1), (4) or (5) hereof, said parties hereto agree to submit such subject or subjects to said board of arbitration. The board agrees to then immediately appoint two nominated employers, two nominated employees of local union No. 574, one labor board member and an industrial member of the board to such arbitration group, said arbitration group so constituted to name a seventh neutral member. Hearing on any arbitration hereinbefore referred to shall be called within five days after the appointment of said arbitration board. When arbitration is completed, the board of arbitration shall report its decision to said regional labor board, which shall immediately make a final order in the premises in accordance with the said decision of said board of arbitration.
“Hours of labor prevailing in the various business of the respective employers affected hereby shall be regulated by the respective codes applying thereto. Any board of arbitration created by Section 6 hereof may inquire into all complaints for violation of said codes with respect to hours of employment, and shall file its report with proper federal authorities.
“The term ‘employees’ as used herein shall include truck drivers and helpers, and such other persons as are ordinarily engaged in the trucking operations of the business of the individual employer. Any dispute as to an interpretation of this section shall be referred to the regional labor board for determination.
“The present wage scale of each employer for the various classes of employees, until and unless changed by agreement between employers and employees, or the representatives of employees, or by arbitration as provided in Section 6 hereof, shall remain in force’ and effect for at least one year from date hereof.”
How did this happen? What are the mechanics of a process which can turn victory for 5,000 workers—and potential victory for a huge section of the working class—into defeat overnight? How is it that with the employers on the defensive and the workers and their organizations masters of the situation one day, the strikers go to bed and wake up to find themselves defeated and bound with the galling chains of compulsory arbitration the next, with chains whose every link bears the tag, “Revolutionary Trade Unionism a la Trotzkyism”?
The more one shuffles the cards dealt in the final showdown to the members of the Minneapolis Drivers and Helpers Union 574 in the militant struggle in which the whole working class had a stake, the clearer is the proof that the workers were cold-decked by James P. Cannon, his lieutenants in the leadership of the union, and Governor Olson and his Farmer-Labor Party henchmen in control of the Minneapolis Trades and Labor Assembly.
The panic-stricken retreat from a developing general strike situation to abject surrender to compulsory arbitration under the regional labor board cannot be explained on the basis of a sudden shift in the relationship of class forces.
It is the result of the inherent and incurable opportunism which as inseparable from the Trotzkyite position and which is its main ideological base. It is all the more menacing to workers who come under the influence of its priests and altar boys, as the Minneapolis defeat shows, since these artful rascals can even be yelling for a general strike whale they prepare the machinery to make it impossible. This is the practical result for workers of opportunism covered by revolutionary phrases.
The signing of the “truce”, after the building trades council had declared a sympathetic strike and the general strike sentiment was mounting in the other unions, disrupted the working class ranks and spelled death for the main demands of the auto truck drivers and helpers. That the general strike was on the order of the day in Minneapolis is admitted by the Trotzkyite sheet for May 26. It says under a Minneapolis date line:
“The rank and file of the unions are ready for this action and it is possible that they may go out in a day or two.”
To show by a number of facts the general upsurge that was taking place in the labor movement—and to one who knows the Twin Cities they are of the greatest significance—we quote again from this sheet:
“The St. Paul drivers voted to go out but failed to do so at the last minute and agreed to arbitrate a point or two. . . . The street car men (Minneapolis) made a similar decision. The labor movement seethes with indignation against the leaders responsible for these actions in the face of the situation created by the drivers’ strike.”
In regard to the possibility of a general strike, Cannon wired from Minneapolis on May 22 that “sentiment for it is spreading like wildfire”. He stated further in the same dispatch: “If the negotiation’s fail a general strike of sympathy with the drivers may result.”
We can show by their own statements that the shameful settlement and surrender of the strikers to N.R.A. and compulsory arbitration were not the result of a defeated strike. We can show that it bore no relation to the actual disposition of class forces at the time. An editorial in the “Communist” League sheet for May 26 says:
“In pitched battles last Saturday and again on Monday the strikers fought back and held their own. And on Tuesday they took the offensive, with devastating results. . . . ‘Business men’ volunteering to put the workers in their place and college boys out for a lark—as special deputies—to say nothing of the uniformed cops—handed over their badges and fled in terror before the mass fury of aroused workers. . . . A second feature of the fight at the City Market . . . is the fact that the whole union went into action on the picket line in mass formation; thousands of other union men went with them. . . . It is not a strike of the men alone but of the women also.”
Does the foregoing—and the general facts are corroborated from all other sources-sound as if the 5,000 auto truck drivers were in a position which made it necessary for them to surrender?
On the contrary, it shows that the striking Drivers’ Union and huge sections of the working class were on the offensive. Leaders who surrender while their forces are on the offensive are either fools or crooks or both. There were plenty of all three types in the Minneapolis struggle, as we shall see.
The “truce” was signed under these conditions: the strike of the drivers—the militant core of the whole movement—was over, negotiations began, the working class forces were demobilized and the strikers’ demands went splashing into the slimy pool of class collaboration.
The “truce” was signed only to be violated by Governor Olson. What kind of a truce is it when the enemy is allowed to bring up powerful reinforcements while the working class and its organizations are disarmed? Speaking of the National Guard, the Minneapolis Journal on May 26 said:
“Almost simultaneously with the mobilization order was a truce agreement between the employers and strikers under which no trucks were moved and mass picketing discontinued. This truce continued until a settlement was reached.” [My emphasis—B.D.]
We have seen what the settlement was-wages to remain as at present for one year and compulsory arbitration.
As soon as Governor Olson entered the situation, backed by two infantry regiments and one of artillery, the shameful retreat of the leaders began. Having signed the “truce” jointly with the officials of the Central Labor Council and thus made a united front with Olson’s henchmen, the Trotzkyite leaders committed themselves to the negotiations while some of their own striking followers were being called to the armories as members of the National Guard!
The calling of the troops put Governor Olson at the mercy of the organized labor movement. Under no circumstances could he have defended this action by himself.
It remained for the Trotzkyites and the Central Labor Council officials to furnish the formula with which the whitewash for Olson was mixed. This is what it was:
“Governor Olson has got to make a showing or Roosevelt will send in federal troops from Fort Snelling.”
This typically opportunist formula was circulated widely among the strikers.
The next little job was to liquidate the general strike sentiment. Once more Cannon and the local Dunne dynasty furnished the required explanation. (We wish readers would scrutinize this counterrevolutionary contribution carefully because we shall encounter it again and again in the United States as the present struggles develop.) Here it is—mouthed over and over again by these leaders to bet all its delicious flavor and then expectorated into the clean arena of the class struggle where so far the main slogan had been “general strike”.
“We can’t have a general strike because there is no revolutionary situation.”
That general strikes produce revolutionary situations was hinted. An extension of their slogan was formulated as:
“You can’t fight bayonets with empty bellies.”
The defeatist character of this combination of slogans and rumors circulated by the Trotzkyite leaders and the Central Labor Council officials is obvious. They were designed to halt the growing mass movement and they accomplished their purpose.
Even the propaganda for a general strike circulated by the renegade-dominated Drivers Union was definitely limited. We quote from their leaflet entitled “Conciliation, But No Surrender, Offered by Strikers to End Strike and Disorder”
“We call on every employed worker in Minneapolis not under contract to lay down his tools. To declare a holiday.” [My emphases—B.D.]
For sheer anti-working class originality in devising ways and means of forming a united front with the treacherous bureaucrats of the labor movement this slogan is in a class by itself. Worship of the “sanctity of the labor contract”—the traditional shibboleth of the most treacherous official labor leaders in their efforts to keep workers’ ranks divided—has never been carried out with such reverence even by Tobin himself, the head of the A. F. of L. union, to which Drivers Union 574 is affiliated.
There was a fourth slogan. Without the real defeatist character of the sentiment being explained to the strikers—and, of course, not to the rest of the organized workers—the lying statement was widely circulated that: “We have won 90 per cent of our demands.”
By these propaganda methods the general strike situation was liquidated, Governor Olson’s face was saved, the drivers’ strike defeated, and compulsory arbitration fastened upon them. Arrested workers were fined and given workhouse sentences.
The capitalist press was jubilant. It had a right to be. What it and the employers had believed to be a new revolutionary leadership in process of formation had proved to be of the same gutless and unprincipled character as that which they had been dealing with for years.
The “truce” having been signed jointly with the officials of the Central Labor Council by the Trotzkyite leaders of Drivers Union 574, the picket lines were called in while Governor Olson maintained three regiments of National Guardsmen under arms. The movement for a general strike was demobilized by methods already described.
The “truce” itself, in addition to being entirely one-sided in view of the military mobilization, simply called for no attempted movement of auto trucks by the employers—trucks already stopped by the strike.
The next step was to put over the “agreement”. The methods by which this was accomplished would do credit to Edward McGrady, Assistant Secretary of Labor, and other highly skilled mechanics in the trade of making workers think they have won something long enough to vote against their own interests.
It is not too much to say that the militant truck drivers, who had cleaned the streets of professional scabs, special deputies, and astonished cops, and tied up truck transportation tighter than a bull’s eye in fly time, were stunned by the sudden right-about-face of their leaders. The strikers, of course, did not know that the strategy of their leaders was to avoid conflict with the henchmen of Governor Olson in control of the Central Labor Council, to avoid open conflict with Olson at all costs; and to establish a broader base for their anti-working class activities in the labor movement, regardless of whether the immediate economic and political aims of the workers were sacrificed.
In other words, with all the appropriate but meaningless democratic gestures, these leaders prevailed upon the strikers to accept while undefeated a settlement which runs counter to the interests of the drivers, the whole labor movement, and the entire working class. They did this in order that the special and separate anti-working class political interests of the Trotzkyite group might have a working class base—5,000 organized truck drivers—in which to find sanctuary and from which to conduct forays against the Communist Party and its leadership.
The pursuit of this objective of course fitted perfectly into the general crassly opportunistic policy followed throughout the strike in the relations with Governor Olson and his tools in the Central Labor Council. Not the least important aspect of this policy has to do with the question of “inside” strategy, that is, the description of the Minneapolis tactics given to the membership of the Trotzkyite group by its official organ in New York City and in signed articles by Cannon, contrasted with what was actually being done on the field of action.
In a dispatch dated May 22, published in their sheet for May 26, Cannon is quoted as follows:
“In a move to head off the general strike the regional labor board, on direct orders from Washington, is attempting to bring about a settlement. Dunne (V. R.), Skoglund and other militant leaders of the union have consistently explained the strike-breaking role of this agency and are warning the strikers now to watch out for any trap it may set for them.”
In the same issue, under a Minneapolis date line of May 20, we find the following:
“The swift developments of the strike are putting the governor on the spot. Whether or not to call out the militia—he can’t decide. No reliance can be placed upon the governor or the labor board to settle anything favorably for the workers.” [My emphasis—B.D.]
As we say, this appeared in the Trotzkyite sheet for May 26. On that very day, the Minneapolis Journal carried the following headline: “Strike Settled, Thousands Back at Work; Trucks Moving Mountains of Goods.”
On this very day, while the Trotzkyite sheet was still trying to delude the workers, Governor Olson had shown that he could “decide”. He had mobilized three regiments of troops—as Cannon and his lieutenants knew he would. Only they failed to prepare the workers for it and tell them that he would.
On this very day, May 26, the workers had been maneuvered into accepting the shameful settlement which did not contain, but which on the contrary ignored, more than “90 per cent of our demands”.
The N.R.A. regional board had been recognized by the leaders of the strike and yet the drivers had been turned over to it and compulsory arbitration with their wage demands ignored. “The strike-breaking role of this agency” had been conveniently ignored.
Governor Olson was whitewashed at the time his troops were under arms. The issues which would have produced general strike action over the heads of the Central Labor Council and State Federation of Labor officials, which would have exposed and defeated Olson and brought victory, were shoved deliberately into the background.
It is very interesting and informative, in this connection, to read the account in the Minneapolis Journal—a paper which cannot be accused of bias toward the strikers—of the reception by the union membership of the settlement terms and the method by which they were put across. We quote:
“The union’s strike committee, which had been in session throughout Friday, announced an acceptance of the peace terms shortly after 6 p.m. What took place in the strike committee meeting we do not know, but the 24-hour session shows that there must have been much opposition to the proposed settlement in this committee.”
We quote further from the Journal:
“Shortly after a vote by acclamation was taken of the crowd at the strike headquarters. It was so close that William, Brown, president of the union, did not want to be governed by it.”
According to Sender Garlin of the Daily Worker staff, who was present at this time, there was nothing close about it—it was definitely against the agreement.
“During the mass meeting discussion preliminary to the vote on the agreement,” continues the Journal, “the opposition became so vociferous that there was doubt the agreement would be ratified.”
The opposition came from the rank and file who were still thinking in terms of the general strike. Did the Trotzkyite leaders of the union, in their stage role of “principled Communists”, expose the rotten terms of the settlement?
Don’t ask foolish questions, comrades! Listen to the joyous announcement of the proceedings in the Journal:
“The strike leaders favored acceptance and urged the men to realize that it offered the union some important concessions. [A study of the agreement fails to disclose these “concessions.”—B.D.] The plea was made that the agreement is ‘an important first step’ [in what direction was not stated—B.D.] and it was pointed out that rejection meant a long and perhaps uncertain battle. It was the plea of the strike leaders that finally brought ratification by the big crowd.”
The phrase “an important first step” is part of the counterfeit coin with which the leaders short-changed the strikers.
This is final and clinching proof that Cannon and his local lieutenants are responsible for the defeat and surrender before the struggle had even begun to reach its peak. Cannon was in Minneapolis at the time. He was in a caucus with V. R. Dunne and others while the meeting was in progress. G. J. Dunne was left at the meeting to see that the shameful settlement went over as smoothly as possible.
What happened was simply this:
Governor Olson’s Central Labor Council henchmen, loyal to their master and afraid of the growing mass movement, knew that Olson was through politically with the working class if he ever sent in troops. They knew that if he had to choose in the case of a general strike, or even the continuation of the strike of auto drivers and building tradesmen, Olson would send in troops for the propertied class; in other words, that he would find his class level. They therefore flatly told Cannon and his lieutenants that they would oppose by all means any extension of the struggle.
As the Zulus say, “their bellies turned to water”. Thinking mainly in terms of this “more conservative leadership” (as Cannon’s sheet describes these hard-boiled bureaucrats, the Trotzkyite leaders folded up. They forgot all their brave words and pledged themselves to “go along” with this “more conservative leadership”.
They wrote another miserable page in the history of class collaboration in the labor movement. After all, picket lines alone cannot substitute for revolutionary politics. With one gesture the Trotzkyite leaders nullified the days and nights of heroic struggle by thousands of workers.
Cannon, self-appointed representative of the “Fourth International”, deserter from the ranks of revolutionary fighters, maligner of the Communist Party of the U.S.A. and the Communist International, was mainly responsible for this shameful fiasco. He can have his “settlement”. Let him try to justify it to the members of Drivers’ Union 574 and the rest of the Minneapolis working class three months from the day it was slipped over on them!
As for the four Dunne brothers, speaking only of the question of competency as leaders, the four Marx brothers would have done a better job for the strikers. Harpo at least knows enough to keep his mouth shut. None of these comedians has as yet been caught putting into the mouths of workers the stool-pigeon statement that “these ‘Communists’ are in the pay of the bosses”, as the Trotzkyite sheet does in its issue for May 26.
If Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, were alive today, even his cassock would turn green with envy after reading the latest number of the Trotzkyite sheet. In that issue, issued after the Minneapolis surrender, by the negative process so dear to the Jesuit heart, Cannon and his lieutenants, by not even so much as mentioning Governor Olson and the historical fact that he mobilized three regiments of National Guardsmen against the strikers, grant amnesty to this potential mass murderer. By this device they give support to him, the Farmer-Labor Party government in Minnesota, and to its henchmen in official positions in the labor movement.
As a matter of fact, the National Guard was kept mobilized in Minnesota—under the pretense of enforcing an embargo on the shipment of cattle into the State from other drought-stricken regions.
If Cannon and the Dunne brothers were the ordinary type of trade union bureaucrats, we would not put so much emphasis on this point. But they call themselves the “Communist” League and claim to have charted the only road by which the American working class can march to power. They claim that we “Stalinists” of the Communist Party have forgotten and perverted the revolutionary teachings of Lenin. They claim that they are the only bearers of “true” Leninism.
We have dealt to some extent with the capitulation to the employers’ association and Governor Olson, engineered by the Trotzkyite leaders in the Drivers’ Union 574, Cannon, and the officials of the Central Labor Council; the surrender of the strikers to compulsory arbitration and the regional labor board; the systematic and deliberate sabotage of the general strike, and the demobilization of the mass movement long before it reached its peak.
Taken in connection with the present wide mass movement of struggle of American workers against intolerable living conditions and for elementary political rights, this was one of the most serious recent setbacks suffered by the working class. It was a needless retreat engineered by spineless and unprincipled leaders. The thought of surrender did not originate among the fighting masses of workers in the ranks of the unions and the Unemployment Councils.
Involved in this action are tactical questions of the highest importance—questions having to do with the speed, the methods and the direction of the vast strike movement in this country. Yet, for the revolutionary movement, the issues raised by omission in the Trotzkyite sheet for June 2 are of still greater importance.
Is Olson the executive head of capitalism’s State machinery in Minnesota or isn’t he?
Did Governor Olson mobilize three regiments (at least) of troops for use against the strikers and were not the “settlement” negotiations conducted under the threat of military force? Or is this a falsehood?
Is it not a fact that henchmen of Olson and the Farmer-Labor Party in official positions in the Central Labor Council and else where were determined to stop the general strike so as not “to put Olson up against it”?
Is it not a fact that rather than appeal to the rank and file over the heads of these leaders, the Trotzkyites agreed to the “truce” and advised workers to accept the official terms of surrender?
In the Trotzkyite sheet for June 2, is there a single word or phrase that says or hints, directly or indirectly, anything about these decisive facts of the Minneapolis struggle? There is not!
This is nothing more nor less than a deliberate attempt to conceal from workers the identity of the main enemy. It leaves the enemy undisturbed in his prepared positions, from which, camouflaged as a friendly force during the period of “peace”, he can advance once more upon workers in the next struggle.
One more question:
Where, in the writings or speeches of Lenin, is there to be found anything that can be interpreted as endorsement of a policy of concealing from workers—before, during or after a battle—the identity of the main enemy, the direction of his position, his strategy and tactics?
Nowhere! For the simple reason that this is a counter-revolutionary and, therefore, anti-working class policy. The apostles of the “Fourth” International use “realistic” trade union tactics that result in hailing as a victory the forced acceptance of compulsory arbitration by a union through official maneuvers and under threat of military invasion. But they do not like the word “counter-revolutionary” when applied to them, to their policy and their tactics in the American class struggle. They will work up a most fervent moral indignation against the use of the term in connection with the Minneapolis struggle.
But why should we mince words when dealing with a case in which the facts are so clear as to admit of no argument? In our simple-minded way, we cannot see any great difference between A. F. of L. officials’ silent whitewashing of the governors who called out troops against workers and ruined farmers in New Mexico, Iowa, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, etc., and the Trotzkyite amnesty granted Governor Olson—with this exception:
Governor Olson is the titular head of a party which pretends to oppose the two big capitalist parties and protect the interest of workers and poor farmers. It is all the more necessary to expose his real role. This is elementary.
The Trotzkyite amnesty also includes the Farmer-Labor bureaucrats in the Minneapolis unions. As in the case of Olson, there is not even a hint that they did not support the drivers’ strike one hundred per cent. The whole question of the Minneapolis general strike, of the troop mobilization, of the relationship of class forces, is dropped like a hot potato by the Trotzkyite sheet for June 8—published one week after the end of the strike.
But in Toledo—that is another question! About the situation in Toledo there are more brave words. The Trotzkyites are in favor of a general strike—in Toledo! Governor White is flayed as an enemy who threatens to use force against the workers. In Toledo, says the Trotzkyite sheet, “the strikebreaking role of the labor board [with whose Minneapolis counterpart they induced workers to sign a compulsory arbitration agreement, without a wage increase] and its multi-millionaire agent Charles P. Taft . . . must be exposed.”
In Toledo, says the Trotzkyite sheet, “the A. F. of L. bureaucracy must not be permitted to postpone the general strike any longer. Nothing can be expected from the strike-breaking labor board. . . .” No compromise in Toledo.
Well, well, well! The smell is not any more pleasant but the visibility is better. It is now clear that strikebreaking governors, strike-breaking labor boards and strike-breaking A. F. of L. bureaucrats are encountered only by workers in those localities where such demons have not been exorcised by the bell, book and candle of the Trotzkyite ritual. Let a few archangels of the Fourth (Dimensional) International appear on the scene and bayonets behind a Farmer-Labor Party governor become a boon so sacred that it cannot even be mentioned in mundane print.
This is the same process, on a smaller scale, which, accompanied by slanderous attacks on the Communist Party and the Communist International, cleared the road down which German fascism marched over the bodies of tortured and murdered workers. The Farmer-Labor governor and his troops are a “lesser evil” than the wicked employers and their special deputies.
There is something more here than a tendency. The omission of all criticism of Governor Olson—even the mention of the bare facts—and of the Farmer-Labor bureaucracy in the Trotzkyite sheet at a time when the strike settlement makes workers anxious to know the role played by every person prominent in the struggle, constitutes an alliance with Olson and his machine. Whether it is temporary or permanent does not matter so far as the principle is concerned.
Can Trotzkyites plead ignorance of the anti-working class character of the Olson program—the Olson whose immediate ambition is to lead a national Farmer-Labor Party movement? It is ridiculous. They know that he is a conscienceless demagogue. They know of the underworld and capitalist connections of his machine.
They know that Olson will tolerate almost any kind of criticism from Communists—if they refrain from calling him an enemy of the working class. They know that Olson has tried again and again to maneuver with the Communist Party with the object of fooling workers into believing that it considers him a “friend of labor.”
They know that in 1923-24 Olson himself and his principal henchmen in the Minneapolis labor movement time and time again solicited an endorsement from Comrade Ruthenburg, leader of the Communist Party, from this writer, from C. A. Hathaway and others. So insistent were he and his supporters at one time, that the Party District Bureau met, made a decision in regard to him and his program and conveyed its adverse verdict to him formally by a committee in order to put a stop to the rumors spread by his supporters. These decisions of the District Bureau were made public.
At that time Olson had never been forced to show his true colors in a decisive situation involving the lives and liberties of workers on strike. But the Party gauged him and his movement correctly. Today he looks around again for some kind of revolutionary camouflage. The Minnesota air is charged with hectic phrases about “monopoly”, “the evils of capitalism”, “the beast of Wall Street”, the “rise of the class struggle”, etc. These phrases roll easily from the lips of venal leaders who received their early training in a State where the Socialist Party organization supported the Left Wing, where the State secretary and others went to prison for opposing conscription, where there was mass opposition to the Morgan-Wilson war.
The farmers are bankrupt and demand action. The recent drivers’ strike, the sympathetic strike of the building trades and other workers, the wide mass sentiment for a general strike, brought on a crisis in class relationships.
Governor Olson is looking for a “Communist” label to add to his collection. The Trotzkyites, at least for the last week, allowed him to wear their forged label pinned to the same coat from which dangles the badge of Commander-in-Chief of the Minnesota National Guard.
This is treachery and the working class will deal with it in the way the working class always does when it frees itself from the influence of its enemies.
The tremendous support, moral and material, received by the strikers of Drivers’ Union 574 from practically all sections of the Minneapolis working class—support whose volume was still growing at the time the shameful settlement was negotiated, and put over on the strikers by the Trotzkyite and Central Labor Council leaders—the rapid development and indomitable spirit of the main section of the strike, show that in Minneapolis there had arrived one of those moments when the working class is ready for deeds that make high points in the history of the class struggle.
The Party District has organized and led some splendid mass struggles—hunger marches to the State capital, relief struggles, etc. It had an important role in the struggles of the St. Paul packinghouse workers. It has exposed the anti-working class character of Olson’s Farmer-Labor Party government before large numbers of workers. The Communist Party members have access to many A. F. of L. unions, and workers listen eagerly to Communist Party speakers.
But the Communist Party leadership in the Minneapolis District did not gauge correctly the militant temper of the working class and did not foresee clearly the outbreak of the struggle, and therefore could not fully prepare the working class for it.
In this sense the Communist Party, although its members fought heroically side by side with the strikers on the picket line, although the Communists in the International Labor Defense rendered great services in the struggle, and the Communist Party fraction in the Unemployment Councils mobilized the unemployed in support of the strike, the Party District was unable to expose clearly the disastrous influence of the Cannon-Dunne leadership. It was only by consistent work within the union of the drivers and in the other unions that their defeatist policy could have been efficiently exposed and thwarted. As it was, the agitation, propaganda and work of the Party District, in the main correct, came for the most part from outside the main body of striking workers.
The Party District was not keenly aware of the developing wide mass support for the strike of Drivers Union 574. The pent-up resentment of the working class was released. The sympathetic strike declared by the building trades council is evidence of this. It had failed to estimate correctly the growing will of the workers to battle for the right to organize and for better wages and working conditions. It seems to have failed to sense at the beginning of the struggle the great feeling of the masses for solidarity with the Drivers Union, who were, so to speak, the shock troops of the working class offensive.
The Party District issued a call for general strike. There can be no doubt that this general strike leaflet attempted to bring some political clarity into the struggle and placed the question of the general strike as the next and necessary form of struggle against the employers, the threat to the elementary rights of workers and their organizations, and Governor Olson’s mobilization of the National Guard for use against the strikers.
The leaflet raised the following demands: Higher pay and improved working conditions; union recognition in all industries and shops in Minneapolis; stopping the police terror against workers; struggle against Governor Olson’s threat to use the militia to break the strike; no compulsory arbitration through the national or regional N.R.A. labor boards.
The leaflet called also for the election of rank-and-file committees—but did not tell workers why such committees were necessary. It did not give the names of the official leaders who were, in one way or another, sabotaging the general strike movement. It did not point out that the general strike against the use of troops was the main weapon of the working class; that it was necessary to assure victory for the drivers. The leaflet did not point out the anti-working class character of the Farmer-Labor Party government and its hangers-on in the labor movement.
It was only after the drivers’ strike had started that Communist Party members joined the union, and most of these were unemployed. There was no organized work of the Party comrades as a fraction and consequently no rank-and-file opposition group was farmed.
Most important of all, because of lack of any substantial and active group of workers in the Drivers Union, it was difficult to win support for the Party program in the militant core of the whole strike movement, in whose support the slogan of general strike found its most powerful appeal.
As a result of all this, the surrender of the Trotzkyite leaders and the Central Labor Council officials to Governor Olson, the regional labor board of the N.R.A.—and consequently to the employers—met only unorganized opposition.
There can be but one explanation of this. The Party District either did not know what was going on or if it did, it did not consider it important. It was not politically aware of the situation. How did this happen? We venture to suggest that the Open Letter can guide us to an understanding of what the situation was in respect to the splendid strike struggle of the drivers and to the relations to the other trade unions there. We quote:
“Because in the Party, and particularly among the leading cadres, there is a deep-going lack of political understanding of the necessity of strengthening our basis among the decisive sections of the American workers. From this follows the fact that the leadership of the Party has not adhered to a fixed course for overcoming the main weaknesses of the Party, allows itself to be driven by events, and does not work out carefully with the comrades of the lower organizations ways and means for the carrying through of resolutions and checking up on their execution.”
It is clear that thousands of auto truck drivers, helpers, gas station workers, etc., were looking for leadership and a militant program as a way out of their unbearable conditions. Workers in such a situation will find leaders.
With the exception of militant workers, honestly trying to find the way out, but whose lack of experience in dealing with demagogues and the maneuvers of misleaders is always a great handicap, no one but Communists uncompromisingly fight for the immediate interests of the masses and for their general interests—the struggle for power—as well.
Unless the Communist Party members are able to influence decisively the course of such struggles as that in Minneapolis, no matter how great the heroism and determination of the workers, they are led invariably into a blind alley. If the millions of the working class could, by themselves, without leadership, find and use the correct methods for the advance against capitalism, there would be no need for Communist Parties and the Communist International. Failing to secure Communist leadership, but needing leaders, workers accept, especially in periods of intense class struggle, even corrupt, crooked, cowardly and ignorant leaders. This is bad for the working class. It helps to maintain the influence of the capitalist class, sometimes direct and brazen, sometimes, as in Minneapolis, watered down so it will not gag masses of workers already skeptical of the right of capitalism’s mandate to rule forever.
This explains, partially at least, the comparative ease with which the Trotzkyites were able to organize and then mislead some thousands of militant workers. That they will retain this influence is unthinkable. But the weakness of the factory and trade union work of the Minneapolis Party District will have to be overcome speedily.
These Trotzkyites are really an unofficial wing of the Socialist Party and in this country a sort of extended arm of social-democracy in the labor movement. According to their official sheet, they went through a trying period of soul struggles trying to decide in what parade they would march on International May Day.
They marched on May First under the banner o f the Socialist Party-behind the reformist banners held aloft by James Oneal, Norman Thomas, Algernon Lee, Judge Panken, the New Leader and the Daily Forward.
The Trotzkyite call for a fourth international is nothing more or less than a covering for the discredited elements of the Second International. It is an attempt to create what in military parlance is called a “diversion”—an attempt to distract the attention of the working class from the main issues of the class struggle and to check the march of the more advanced workers to Communism. Their support and brotherly coaching of the chauvinist American Workers Party is but a recognition of kinship in a variant clique that has the same purpose, blocking the revolutionary path of the masses.
Perhaps no recent struggle has shown with such peculiar appropriateness the need for the daily application of the only method of carrying out a correct Party line, emphasized by Comrade Stalin at the Seventeenth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Unions as has the relation of the Minneapolis Party District to the recent mass struggles:
“After the correct line has been given, after a correct solution of the problem has been found, success depends on the manner in which the work is organized, on the organization of the struggle for the application of the line of the Party, on the proper selection of workers, on supervising the fulfillment of decisions of the leading organs. Without this the correct line of the Party and the correct solutions are in danger of being severely damaged. More than that, after the correct political line has been given, the organizational work decides everything, including the fate of the political line itself, i.e., its success or failure.”
The strategic importance of Minnesota in the mass struggles of workers and ruined farmers today makes the defeatist policy and acts of the Trotzkyites and the Central Labor Council officials in the recent strikes all the more damaging. The Twin Cities—St. Paul and Minneapolis—have a population of about a million. The working class population is a big majority. The hundred-mile circle which includes the Twin Cities is a densely populated area whose workers. and toiling agriculturists are dominated by the elevator and milling combines, the power monopoly and the railroads.
In the northern part of the State the Oliver Iron Mining Co., a subsidiary of United States Steel, reigns supreme. Duluth is the head of Great Lakes transportation for iron ore and wheat.
Before Minnesota was admitted to Statehood the rape of its magnificent white pine forests by the lumber barons (completed later by the Weyerhauser combine) had already begun. They robbed even the Indian reservations of their timber, they bought State legislatures, governors, congressmen and senators. They paid lumber workers a pittance and piled up huge fortunes for themselves. They cut and slashed without regard for anything but immediate profit. For years they took only the clear butt logs and left trunk sections and limbs to furnish fuel for a series of forest fires which destroyed whole towns. Today white pine is so scarce and valuable that the Mississippi is dredged for “dead-heads”—logs waterlogged and sunk during the drives to the mills. The rape by the lumber barons was followed by the robbery of public lands carried out by the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railways.
Iron ore was discovered in huge quantities in the cut-over timber area and what the railways had overlooked the steel trust stole. Flour mills replaced lumber mills. Pulp and paper plants sprang up utilizing the second growth timber for its raw material. Electric light and power interests found water-power galore and a wide field for their product. Minnesota was industrialized. The Twin Cities are the third largest railway center in this country.
Minnesota politics for years were dominated by the inner conflicts between these various exploiting interests—conflicts carried on inside the Republican and, to a lesser extent, the Democratic parties. About 1912 the Socialist Party developed great influence in Minneapolis and St. Paul—a reflection of the rapid development of a working class and its struggle against trust capital. Its influence in the St. Paul labor movement—especially among railwaymen—was powerful. In Minneapolis labor the S.P. was the dominant force.
In the struggle inside the Socialist Party during the War the Minnesota State organizations supported the Left Wing. So strong was the opposition to the war and to Gompers’ efforts to tie the labor movement to the war machine, that Gompers was compelled to make a special trip to the Twin Cities to combat it. It was in the struggle over the formation of the “American Alliance for Labor and Democracy”, the special instrument for winning the unions in support of the Morgan-Wilson war program, that the present lineup in the officialdom of the Minneapolis labor movement began to take shape. Masses of workers and farmers were opposed to the war. The political reflection of this was seen in the antiwar book written by Congressman Lindbergh (father of the flying son-in-law of a House of Morgan partner, in the pacifist activities of the Nonpartisan League—the farmers’ organization formed by ex-socialists, etc. Clever careerists like Van Lear, a former socialist mayor of Minneapolis, I. G. Scott, Bastis, etc.—prominent union men, aldermen and former socialists—formed an alliance with the Nonpartisan League, launched the Minneapolis Daily Star and began the maneuvers which resulted in the formation of the Farmer-Labor Party.
The Communist Party then favored the formation of a farmer-labor party. But it quickly became clear that this would inevitably be a party protecting the interests of big capital and would lead the working class away from the revolutionary path, deeper into the morass of reformist parliamentarism. The C.P. withdrew all support from the movement.
But even in this period elementary democracy prevailed in the trade union movement of the Twin Cities. There were strong Communist fractions in the Central Labor Unions of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Communist Party speakers had practically unrestricted access to these organizations and their affiliated unions. The Left Wing in the A. F. of L. unions was powerful.
In 1920-21 the Minneapolis Trades and Labor Assembly organized and financed a speaking and organizational tour for the writer throughout Minnesota in behalf of the Mooney Defense Committee, raising the issue of a general strike for his release.
Following the federal raid on and arrests of delegates to the Communist Party convention in Bridgeman, Mich., in 1922, the Minneapolis Central Labor Council wired the writer in jail that they had raised $1,000 towards bail of $10,000. Finances for bail and defense of C. E. Ruthenberg, William Z. Foster, and other indicted Communists were raised by Minneapolis unions. Many prominent trade unionists, including the editor of the official paper, professed support of and even at times defended the Communist Party.
In the nationwide strike of railway shopmen in 1922, nowhere was there more militancy, or greater mass support than in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
But as the Farmer-Labor organization acquired more vested interests, as the possibility of official careers took on concrete form, as more and more trade union leaders were elected or appointed to office (Mahoney, mayor of St. Paul, the inclusion of practically all the Minneapolis labor officialdom in the Farmer-Labor Party bureaucracy, etc.), a fight against the Communist Party was begun.
The campaign to rid the unions of all revolutionary workers, and thereby behead the struggle against the policy of “worker-management cooperation”, began with expulsions of Communists and Left-Wing rank-and-filers from the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, from the United Mine Workers, and some other organizations. It was dramatized by the unseating and expulsion of the writer as a delegate to the Portland convention of the American Federation of Labor in 1923. More and more pressure was brought to bear on unions and Central Labor bodies for the expulsion of all members opposing the program of surrender to the employers. A special A. F. of L. “organizer” was sent into the Twin Cities to plan and conduct the anti-Red drive.
With visions of city, county and State offices before their eyes, with their reformist program endangered by the activity of Communists in the unions, the officialdom of the labor movement surrendered to the A. F. of L. executive council and began an expulsion campaign. The labor movement became moribund—sunk in the swamp of class collaboration.
The Trotzkyites deserted the revolution and have since then not only furnished ammunition to the trade union officialdom but took the lead in the struggle against the Party and revolutionary unionism. “Every deed has its own logic”, and the defeatist tactics followed after the brilliant tactical achievements of the drivers’ strike and the wide mass of sympathizers, resulting in surrender on the eve of victory, show that the Minneapolis labor movement has not yet fully recovered from the effects of years of class cooperation.
But it is recovering. And here it is well to state that without the work of the Communist Party, insufficient as it has been in some instances, there would be no signs of recovery. The influence of the Party can be seen in many ways already mentioned, but in no way more definitely than in the militant character of the strike movement and the obviously growing desire for and evidence of solidarity in struggle in the ranks of Minneapolis workers, organized and unorganized.
It is also obvious that the Minneapolis District of the Party has no easy task. The struggle to destroy the illusions about the Farmer-Labor Party cannot be conducted in the same way that a struggle is carried on against the Republican and Democratic Parties. They are supported by a skillful trade union bureaucracy, familiar with and able to use the stock terms of class struggle whenever necessary. It requires constant vigilance to understand and follow the maneuvers of these leaders; it needs patient and continuous exposure of them and warning of workers against them.
A reformist movement which produces a clever and unscrupulous Olson and a demagogue of the type of Congressman Shoemaker is not something that can be fought successfully only by jibes and ridicule and denunciation-although these too have their place. There is plenty of ammunition in the experiences of workers in the recent struggle. For example, although Shoemaker and his broomstick wand played a role on the picket line, it was Shoemaker who was telling the strikers of the danger of federal troops while Governor Olson was actually mobilizing the National Guard against the strike. Once the attention of workers is called to such things, they understand them without difficulty.
To work effectively, the Communist Party must have members in the unions. It must win the best union men for the Party. Its members must be active in the daily life and struggles of the unions. This is an indispensable condition for strengthening the labor movement against all its enemies—inside and out—for effective exposure and struggle against Farmer-Labor Party reformism and betrayal, for the political and organizational defeat of the Trotzkyites and their bureaucratic allies.
The rank and file of the Minnesota unions will support a revolutionary program now if the members of the Communist Party who present it are an integral part of the labor movement, bound to the working class with the unbreakable ties of its basic combat organizations—its trade and industrial unions.
If this condition is fulfilled, the Minneapolis working class and its organizations will rapidly gather and increase their forces, rally for a new and successful offensive against the employers’ program of hunger and fascist suppression, will sweat out on the class battlefield the poison of Trotzkyism and Farmer-Laborism—and write a new and heartening chapter in the class struggle for themselves and the entire American working class. The Minnesota labor tradition, the recent militant strikes, the growing influence of the Communist Party, all point in this direction.
Next: Part 2. Permanent Counter-Revolution